Recommended Reading Fall 2006

Christian Faith and Same Sex Attraction:

Thomas Hopko

Conciliar Press, 126 pp, $13

Writing with compassion, clarity and humility, Fr. Thomas Hopko (Dean Emeritus of St. Vladimir’s Seminary and a retired professor of dogmatic theology) draws on the wisdom of the Orthodox Church, the Bible, Patristic sources and many years of experience of giving counsel. His book helps readers better understand same-sex attraction and, for those living with such attractions, not despair.

Through the perspective of Orthodox theology, Hopko analyses the nature of gender identity and sexuality, pointing out that, in our damaged world, inevitably many people will have sinful passions of every sort. He argues that platonic same-sex love is normal, but that same-sex genital activity joins a pantheon of other sinful desires as something we may have urges towards but must struggle not to succumb to. Christian living, he says, quoting Fr. Alexan- der Schmemann, is “how you deal with what you’ve been dealt.”

“All men and women,” Hopko writes, “whatever their sexual feelings … are human beings who cannot be essentially defined in their God-given humanity by their feelings and desires – feelings and desires that have been produced in them by their biological, psychological, and cultural inheritance, and by the way they have been treated by others, particularly family members, within the corrupted conditions of the fallen world.”

Hopko passionately defends the civil rights of those in same-sex unions while chastising those who are too judgmental. He calls on those who counsel those who have same-sex attractions “to identify with them, to respect them, to listen to them, to put themselves in their place, feel their pain, and advocate for them before God.” Counselors “must abandon all stereotypes … and see each person as the unique person he or she is … They must never forget that God alone knows the culpability of every person’s thoughts, words, feelings and actions.”

This is a book that will be useful to those who experience same-sex desires, pastors, and anyone seeking a deeper understanding of the nature of identity and sexuality. The emphasis is on overcoming the passions through the traditional Christian ascetic struggle, an issue each person must face no matter what his or her sexual orientation.

The Open Door: Entering the Sanctuary of Icons and Prayer

Frederica Mathews-Green

Paraclete Press, 166 pp, $17

When traveling in a foreign country, it is helpful to have a guide who has visited your own land and can offer keen observations, appropriate context and lively translation. Frederica Mathewes-Green serves as such a guide, welcoming the reader to an imaginary Orthodox church filled with icons. The result is an examination of the role of icons in public devotion as well as private prayer, leading the reader to the edge of the sanctuary. Theological debates and historical explanations that might in other hands seem academic are in this work compelling and vivid.

Dividing her book into two sections, Mathewes-Green writes first on the major icons of the iconostasis and then on icons of feasts and saints that appear elsewhere in the church. She approaches each icon from a perspective of prayerful reflection and belief.

The Culture of Fear

Barry Glassner

Basic Books, $16

Thomas Merton once observed that “the root of war is fear.” Fears are occasionally well founded but many are manipulated by the political powers and the mass media. Glassner’s book, published six years ago in a less fearful period, has become more timely in the post 9-11 world.

“Culture of fear” refers to a dominance of fear and anxiety in public discourse and relationships between people. Barry Glassner, a sociologist, argues that fear is being intentionally promoted as a means for increased social control. Through the manipulation of words and news, fears are carefully and repeatedly created and fed by those who benefit from a culture of fear. The results influence personal behavior and justify governmental actions or policies both at home and abroad. Such a culture helps elect demagogic politicians and serves to distract public attention from such social issues as poverty, health care, unemployment, crime and environmental damage.

Glassner analyzes many commonly held beliefs about the threats of the modern world and exposes the media’s role in keeping citizens in a state of unnecessary fear.

Frightened citizens, he argues, make better consumers and more easily swayed voters. Glassner raises a series of public safety threats – for example, road rage, middle-class heroin addiction and domestic abuse – and then systematically strikes them down with statistics. Glassner has a sharp eye for what causes unnecessary goose bumps: “The use of poignant anecdotes in place of scientific evidence, the christening of isolated incidents as trends, depictions of entire categories of people as innately dangerous,” and unknown scholars who masquerade as “experts.” While Glassner rejects the notion that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself, he clearly shows that we have much less to fear than we think.

Sweeter Than Honey: Orthodox Thinking on Dogma And Truth

Peter Bouteneff

St. Vladimir’s Press, 213 pp, $16

Peter Bouteneff’s book confronts difficult questions that accompany professing Orthodox faith in the contemporary world. How can we assert that Jesus Christ is the only Truth in a culture that relativizes all truths to personal preferences? In addressing these questions, Bouteneff rejects both the relativism of contemporary culture as well as the triumphalism of an unthinking absolutism.

The reader is given an expression of traditional Orthodox teaching on how Jesus Christ is the Truth, and the only Truth, and how the Orthodox Church is the bearer of that Truth, but always with an eye to responding to the particular questions of the present age. There are discussions of creeds, of scripture, of saints, of church hierarchs, icons, and even the myth-structure underlying the Harry Potter novels, but all of them are geared toward the core question of how the Orthodox Church defends the Truth of the Gospel.

There is a pressing need for such a book, for these are questions that confront people on a daily basis. This is an excellent introduction to the Orthodoxfaith, written in a unique fashion, and with a view toward contemporary debates.

The author is Assistant Professor of Dogmatic Theology at St. Vladimir’s

Orthodox Theological Seminary.

Sergius Bulgakov: On Love

The God of Love created man for love. The human heart thirsts to love and to be loved. It suffers if it does not give or receive love. It longs to expand, to embrace in its own life other lives, many lives, all lives; it goes out and seeks to lose itself in another ; to become itself the other one, to be drowned in a sea of universal love. To lose one’s life that one may save it – that is the law of love as shown by the Word Himself, who gave it to us.

Man lives only according to what and how much he loves; he dies according to what and how much he fails to love. He who loves is rich; for God, who is Love, is richness itself. And man, formed in the image of God who creates and holds all things in love, is called to take all men and all things into his love. Here on earth he only begins his first lessons in love; but before him lie the life of the age to come and all eternity, waiting to be filled with love alone — for there is no life and no eternity where thereis no love.

The power of love is the capacity to become other to oneself, to include the other one in oneself, to be filled with universal life. This, however, is but one form of love; and if it were to exhaust the power of love, personality would dissolve and in the end be completely absorbed in cosmic love. Yet man cannot and should not be depersonalized in loving; he must lose his life that he may regain it and he should love his neighbor as himself. There must, therefore, be some measure of valid divinely-ordained self-love.

Egotism is, of course, a wholly unnatural condition for man. Indeed, in its extreme manifestations it verges upon delusion, and most commonly on moral immaturity. But normal self-love in the true sense of the word has its expression in personal love, in the irrepressible longing to love and to be loved by a particular person or persons.

- Fr. Sergius Bulkakov an extract from Jacob’s Ladder from Sobornost, no 33, June 1946 translated by Katharine Lampert

IN COMMUNION / FALL 2006