Recommended Reading Winter 2010

Beginnings
by Peter Bouteneff
Baker Academic
256 pages, $23

The question of the origin of humankind and the cosmos has perhaps never been so hotly debated as nowadays, with “evolution” and “creationism” presenting themselves as polar opposites. In this fine book, Peter Bouteneff presents a carefully researched and scholarly reading of early Christian readings of the creation account in Genesis. What emerges is a range of interlocking insights into God’s creative purpose and the human place in the cosmos. Genesis 1-3 is seen as neither a myth nor an outdated scientific account, but a poem of creation, yielding deeper meanings upon closer ponderings. Bouteneff unveils the often surprising riches of our patristic inheritance with a rare

Living with the Wolf:

Walking the Way of Nonviolence

Peter Ediger, editor

Pace e Bene Press, $15

Some people are impressive at first glance, others only as one gets to know them. Books can be the same.

Living with the Wolf is a collection of fifty essays, most of them brief. Parts of it are frustrating in their use of jargon, others are direct, personal and moving. It is for the latter that one should read this book..

Poet Denise Levertov is quoted in the foreword: peace, like a poem, / is not there ahead of itself / can’t be imagined / before it is made, / can’t be known / except in the words of its making…

This volume portrays the making of peace. Pace e Bene (peace and good) has amassed, since its founding in 1989, a record of on-the-ground performance information and promotion of nonviolence that each of us should know about. Its programs have addressed nuclear disarmament, the plight of the homeless, the School of the Americas, and relations with Iran.

The strength of this collection lies not in its cataloging of success, but in its glimpses of God working in individual lives: an Islamic leader who raises a nonviolent army, a Hispanic disk jockey integrating spiritual awareness and street dance, a family who chooses to receive their loved one’s killer with compassion and to embrace healing. It chronicles “this time of withering, and confusion … this time of transformation and indescribable grace.”

Alexander Patico

Raising Lazarus: Integral

Healing in Orthodox Christianity

Stephen Muse, editor; Holy Cross

Orthodox Press, 270 pages, $20

In the context of immense contemporary discourse about healing, finding a book that derives from the genuine sources of true healing is both encouraging and inspiring.

Raising Lazarus brings together papers given at the 12th and 13th conferences of the Orthodox Christian Association of Medicine, Psychology, and Religion, which has a strong tradition for scholarly work tracing the spiritual dimensions of health.

In an era of mechanical health care, when the triumph of depersonalization that started from medicine now threatens psychotherapy too (and alas! even pastoral care), awakening voices are quite precious to the degree that they allow us to be “baptized” in the streams of truth that flow in abundance amidst our faith and theology.

In the book’s introduction, Stephen Muse writes that “whatever our calling, whether to medicine, psychotherapy, or the priesthood, we all are called to personhood.” But how often do professional therapists these days, those in ministry included, promote personhood? Every professional must answer for himself or herself, but clearly, as Muse writes, “we desperately need healers … who themselves are struggling to enter into the fullness of relationship with God and the beloved community and so bring to the healing partnership humility, a loving awareness of the presence of God and the sanctity and mystery of everyday life.”

Perhaps this presupposition explains why such a book as this is recommended in a journal dedicated to peace. To be able to work effectively for peace in external contexts requires that we first achieve a minimum of internal peace of the soul, that we continuously cultivate a freedom from sins and serious intrapsychic conflicts.

Vasileios Thermos

Lectures in Christian Dogmatics

by Metropolitan John Zizioulas

T & T Clark International, 166 pages, $33

The mainstays of Metropolitan John’s “dogmatic hermeneutics” are collected in this volume. These include the nature of dogma, doctrine of God and personhood, creation and salvation, and the Church. His approach identifies a relational method by which dogmatics might be interpreted by every age of history, including our own.

The chapters were compiled by the author’s students across three decades of lectures delivered in Edinburgh, Glasgow, London, and Thessalonika. The book portrays a three-decade long conversation with students, to whom the author dedicates the book.

The author contributes to dialogue between Eastern and Western Churches by casting ecclesiology in terms of faith. Faith supports differences that enrich all Christians, thus dismissing a mistaken view that differences necessarily cause division. This idea is supported by Maximus the Confessor, among others, but its application to contemporary divisions and a spirit of divisiveness gathers collective assent.

Yet there are differences which have caused division. Metropolitan John addresses one of these in his cogent argument against the introduction of the Filioque into the Creed. His approach addresses history, then delves into theology, while grounding discussion in reference to the Church.

Ioannis Freeman

The End of Memory: Remembering Right�ly in a Violent World

Wm. B. Eerdmans, 244 pages, $15

Miroslav Volf addresses a compelling question: How should a Christian recall injustices suffered and forgive those who have committed them? This is not an abstract problem for Volf. He contends with memories of torture he experienced while a conscript in the former Yugoslavia’s military 25 years ago.

In Volf’s view, the proper goal of memory of wrongs suffered re-unites perpetrator and victim in the communion of Christ’s love. Memory is thus freed of unsettled scores which otherwise crystallize into an “eternity of evil.” Salvation from such torments in memory unburdens everyone of perceived need to recollect a grudge.

Volf addresses critics who might counter that bondage to penance is not only human, but is a duty which borders on being a sacred attribute.

Volf builds his case by distilling a sermon by St. Gregory of Nyssa (“On the Soul and Resurrection”) which sees the soul moving toward the eschaton in Christ, a process which “drives out memory from its mind in its occupation with the enjoyment of good things.”

Ioannis Freeman

In the World, Yet Not of the World

by Patriarch Bartholomew

We see little difference between watching a man being put to death and killing him.

Athenagoras of Athens

(ca. 133-190)

Athenagoras was a Greek philosopher who converted to Christianity.

John Chryssavgis, editor

Fordham University Press, 300 pages, $32

This text (subtitled Social and Global Initiatives) collects speeches and encyclicals of Patriarch Bartholomew. Many are published in English for the first time.

The text reveals a generous, self-effacing, pastoral voice capable of inspiring animated conversations not only among Orthodox Christians but among non-Orthodox Christians as well as all people of goodwill.

The editor’s introduction highlights the Patriarch’s engagement in ecumenical dialogue, bridge-building and peacemaking spanning 18 years since his enthronement. Chryssavgis groups the texts according to several themes (social insights, global perspectives and interfaith dialogue) plus a section of Bartholomew’s major declarations.

Read this book for its portraits of human freedom, faith in practice, and compassion. His writings witness “a seamless garment”  a frequent metaphor by Bartholomew of genuine relationships woven with humanizing threads.

Ioannis Freeman

Our Father: A Prayer for Christian Living

by Fr. William C. Mills

Orthodox Research Institute, 100 pages, $10

It is not a simple task keeping prayer simple, though Jesus makes prayer so accessible that even a small child quickly learns the words of the Our Father by heart and is capable of relating to the Person of the heavenly Father. The words of Our Father are few and simple, but understanding and practicing what they mean may require an entire life  for example to forgive others, and oneself, for great mistakes and grave sins. The child will eventually learn that enemies reside within himself, both inside and outside the family, and even in the Church in which we pray the Our Father with a single voice.

Each chapter concludes with “Food for Thought”  exercises and activities suitable for the individual reader or for a small group reading the book together. For example, one of the activities attached to the first chapter raises the question of how we feel and behave toward our earthly father, because this relationship influences how each of us feels and behaves toward our heavenly Father. The author suggests a seven-day plan of identifying good qualities in one’s father as a way not only of deepening our relationship with him, but of overcoming obstacles that may stand in the way of entering more deeply into the one prayer that Jesus gave to his followers, the Our Father.

As the author rightly observes, it is not simply the solitary self at issue. There is a “we” who embarks “on this path of love,” but it may take a lifetime to walk the path of love implied by the “our” in “Our Father.”

Ioannis Freeman

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Winter Issue IC 55 2010

IN COMMUNION 55 / FEAST OF ST. BASIL THE GREAT / JANUARY 2010