Recommended Reading Spring 2009

A Palestinian Christian

Cry for Reconciliation

By Naim Stifan Ateek

Orbis Books, 224 pp, $24

Fr. Naim Ateek has played a major role in promoting Palestinian nonviolent resistance. Rejecting the misuse of scripture by both Jewish and Christian Zionists, his book offers helpful insights to biblical texts that help sustain Palestinian Christians, descendants of the first Christians.

The book may be even more important for Christians in the West, however, who often have little knowledge of scripture’s rejection of domination and the violence of empires.

The author applies his knowledge of history and culture to stories and parables with such simplicity that they can be told to children. Writing about the Book of Jonah, for example, he shows how literalism and the lack of historical knowledge robs great literature of its power and meaning. He asks if readers today understand the revolutionary nature of the story or its implications for modern-day Israel and its relationship with Palestinians?”

Ateek founded of the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem as a means of taking the Gospel beyond scholarship to discipleship and witness, to checkpoints, demolished houses, refugee camps, barrier walls and prisons.

Franz Jäggerstätter:

Letters and Writings from Prison

edited by Erna Putz

Orbis Books, $25, 260 pages

Franz Jäggerstätter, an Austrian farmer, devoted husband and father, was executed in 1943 for refusing to serve in the Nazi army. Before taking this stand, Jäggerstätter had consulted both his pastor and his local bishop, who instructed him to do his duty and to obey the law.

For years Jäggerstätter’s solitary witness was honored by the Christian peace movement, while viewed with discomfort by many of his fellow Austrians. Now, with his beatification by the Catholic Church in 2007, he has become better known a martyr as challenging to Orthodox Christians as he has been to Catholics.

Here is an extract from his last letter: “Dearest wife and mother, it was not possible for me to free both of you from the sorrows that you have suffered for me. How hard it must have been for our dear Lord that he had given his dear mother such great sorrow through his suffering and death! And she suffered everything out of love for us sinners. I thank our Savior that I could suffer for him, and may die for him. I trust in his infinite compassion. I trust that God forgives me everything, and will not abandon me in the last hour. … And now all my loved ones, be well. And do not forget me in your prayers. Keep the Commandments, and we shall see each other again soon in heaven!”

How could a humble farmer imagine he had a clearer conscience than those who led the Church in his homeland? We find in Franz Jägerstätter a living answer to such questions.

Jim Forest

The Evidence of Things Not Seen

by Archbishop Lazar Puhalo

Synaxis Press, 135 pages

In The Evidence of Things Not Seen, Archbishop Lazar moves with ease from specific topics in Orthodox theology to corresponding topics in physics, demonstrating that (in contrast to fundamentalist Christian religions) the Orthodox faith and modern physics are compatible.

Lazar distinguishes between facts and meaning. In a physical experiment, one can take very accurate measurements, but without interpretation they have no meaning. Lazar points out that an early astronomer, Brahe, took accurate astronomical measurements, but still ended up with an incorrect theory of cosmology. His facts were useless until they were correctly interpreted after his death by Kepler, his assistant.

Similarly the creation narrative, from the beginning up to the time of Abraham and Sarah, condenses enormous time and vast prehistoric oral tradition into a simple narrative. This narrative is about meaning, not historical or scientific detail. We are reminded that we derive our theology from meaning, not from supposed “facts.”

In comparing modern microphysics to Orthodox theology, Lazar points out that there is no separation between the observer and the observed. The observer in both instances is not extraneous to the observed, but is a participant at different levels of experience, being part of the process by seeking to understand and quantify it. In theology, the observer has intentionally involved himself, hoping to become part of it the living theology of Orthodoxy whereas in quantum physics the observer unavoidably impacts directly on the observation, becoming a part of the process being observed.

One of Lazar’s key points is that almost all apparent conflict between science and faith is the result of “models of reality” rather than of reality itself. When we become rigid and frozen in our models by, for example, using a journalistic understanding of scripture, we deprive ourselves of reality itself. As an historical example, Lazar goes to the year 1500 when the general model of reality for our universe placed a stationary earth at the center of the universe, around which the sun and other heavenly bodies were rotating. The great philosophers as well as the Scripture agreed that this was reality rather than a model of reality, so concrete as to be a dogma of faith.

But the observations of the heavens by Galileo proved the old model was wrong. Galileo came up with the more accurate model of reality in which the earth and the planets rotate around the stationary sun, which caused a conflict between Galileo and the Catholic Church. Galileo’s doctrine was condemned by Rome and Galileo was forced to recant. But even Galileo’s model of reality was not the last word. The sun is no longer seen as a stationary object but a star racing through space as part of a spiral arm of a galaxy a better model, but one which may need to be modified as more discoveries are made.

“Orthodox Christianity is not an arbiter of facts,” writes Archbishop Lazar, “but the healer of humanity, the source of meaning, the path to the authenticity of life and the doorway to eternity and immortality.”

Dr. John Mavroides

The Healing Word

by Bishop Basil of Amphipolis

Darton, Longman & Todd, 13

It is not just the case that much of the universe is not seen; it cannot be seen. This was well known in patristic times, and it is consonant with biblical revelation and the tradition of the Church. In his sensitive and illuminating reading of scripture and the Fathers, Bishop Basil encourages us to look afresh at the creation by acquiring the mind of Christ through word and sacrament and membership of the Church. He is concerned to show that “the universe is ultimately a single integrated whole and in God each part of it is linked with every other.”

In “Healing in the Life of the Individual,” Basil helps us to see new truths in familiar texts by a kind of running exegesis, which assumes without laboring the insights of modern scholarship.

There follow chapters on baptism, forgiveness, the mystery of the Church and the Eucharist, ecumenism and the royal priesthood of the Church.

Bishop Basil breaks new ground in the third section, “Becoming a Healing Presence in the World,” in his use of the work of Dionysius the Pseudo-Areopagite and of Maximus the Confessor.

Here are real treasures. I found myself putting ticks against every illuminating quotation from Maximus, just as I was putting question marks against much of Dionysius. But then so does Bishop Basil, who frequently has to fill out gaps in the Dionysian arguments himself.

“We cannot today ignore the development of science,” writes Bishop Basil, “if we are to present our case as Christians in the world in which we live.”

Dr. John ArnoldOne day, a man who was visiting Mount Athos asked several wise elders the following question: “What is the most important thing in your life?” Each time he was answered like this: “It is divine love; to love God and to love one’s neighbor.” He said: “I don’t have love, either for prayer, or for God, or for other people. What must I do?” And then he decided by himself: “I will act as if I had this love.” Thirty years later, the Holy Spirit gave him the grace of love.

Archimandrite Sophrony

Spring 2009 issue of In Communion / IC 53

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