Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category

Recommended Reading: Summer 2008

Saturday, August 2nd, 2008

His Broken Body

by Fr. Laurent Cleenewerck

Euclid University Consortium Press; 438 pages, $33.50

Not often is a book published which has the potential to serve as a catalyst for history-making events. His Broken Body: Understanding and Healing the Schism between Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christians may have that potential. Certainly it will make a book that will greatly help any Christian who is saddened by the disunity of those claiming ancient and apostolic Christian roots.

His Broken Body tells both sides of the story in a comprehensive manner. New light is shed on a multiplicity of concurrent, and competing, early church viewpoints and practices such as Eucharistic vs. universal ecclesiology and Petrine succession not only in the bishop of Rome, but in every bishop. There is also the fascinating concept of the “Church as Hologram.”

For many readers, seeing this material for the first time will be an epiphany. It was for me. I know of no other single source that addresses so much in one volume. I’ve had to dig for years through both Roman Catholic and Orthodox resources to gain even a small portion of what is made available in His Broken Body. Both uncritical ecumenists and unyielding traditionalists will likely be surprised to find controversial topics addressed in such a balanced, truthful and faithful way.

Fr. Laurent’s style is almost conversational, yet rigorous: outstanding both in its directness and charity, sticking to the point like a laser, irenic in its approach. It’s an example of “speaking the truth in love.”

Fr. Laurent helps us understand the Church as it understood itself during the first millennium, with all its glory (and shame), in unity (and schism), replete with concurrent differences and agreements.

Not everyone will agree with Fr. Laurent’s conclusions and perspectives, but his analysis will be hard to fault and his obvious desire to move in a forward direction with concrete steps is worthy of admiration and emulation.

- Darrin Roush

Recovering the Icon:

The Life and Work of Leonid Ouspensky

by Fr. Patrick Doolan

St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, $33

Few people did so much to recover the understanding of classic iconography and the theology of icons as Leonid Ouspensky. Thanks to Fr. Patrick Doolan, we now have an excellent introduction to Ouspensky’s work in a superbly illustrated book, with the added benefit of a biographical essay by Lydia Ouspensky.

In his youth in Russia, Ouspensky despised the Orthodox Church. Going from village to village preaching atheism, the future iconographer entered houses and threw out the icons he found within. In 1918, he joined the Red Army. Captured by White forces, moments before execution by a firing squad, his life was saved by a compassionate colonel. His attitude toward bloodshed was soon after transformed by being witness to the execution of an unarmed captive. “Brothers,” said the man to those who were his killers, “what are you doing?” Ouspensky, his wife writes, “afterward remained unconditionally intolerant throughout his life to the killing of any living creature.”

Like so many other Russians fleeing the disaster of revolution, Ouspensky later settled in France, first working in a coal mine. Later, following study at an art school, he made his living as a commercial artist. Interest in icons opened the doorway to baptism. In time his love of icons became so compelling that icons became his life’s work. Iconography had been in decline since the seventeenth century. By careful study of representative ancient icons, Ouspensky set out to rediscover an all-but-lost tradition and its methods. His icons are now renowned throughout the Orthodox world.

For more than four decades, Ouspensky taught iconography in Paris to pupils who came from many countries. Each student heard his humble admonition: “The old icons are the best teachers.” An icon was not an aesthetic creation, he taught, but a vision in lines and colors of the Divine World, and it pervaded, conquered, and transfigured the fallen world.

“If you want to know Ouspensky,” Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh writes in the book’s foreword, “stand in silence a long while before an icon of his.”

Fr. Patrick Doolan, himself a well known iconographer, was one of Ouspensky’s last students. He oversees the icon workshop at Saint Gregory of Sinai Monastery in Kelseyville, California.

- JF

Questioning God

by Fr. Ted Bobosh

Light & Life Publishing, 210 pages, $18

Fr. Ted Bobosh has written a verse-by-verse meditation on the first three chapters of the Book of Genesis, chapters which he sees as foundational to Christian theology.

Here is an extract concerning the Adam and Eve passages in Genesis:

“For the first time in Genesis, God finds something ‘not good’ – man is alone. A flaw in God’s paradise? Hadn’t God foreseen this? Did he assume he was to be Adam’s partner? …. [And so Eve is created.] …. But when it comes to making a ‘helper fit for man,’ the Lord does not once again go to the ground but rather takes part of the man to form the woman. To do this, God has to put the conscious being into unconsciousness. The woman like the man was especially created…. God does not consult with Adam or get Adam’s approval. God takes the initiative, the man is passive. The woman is made to share Adam’s life and to be his helper…. [But] clearly being a helper does not imply inferiority. Woman is a helper equal to man…. The solution to man’s problem [his aloneness] is found in man, not in the stars…. Each human since Adam is really brought forth from the side of humanity – from humans who already exist. We are dependent on one another…. Each human conceived is a fit helper for other humans and each has a God-ordained role in the universe… We each are bearers of the image of God, having a soul where God’s own breath interacts with our physical nature.”

Digging in the rich soil of Genesis, and drawing deeply from the writings of the Fathers, Fr. Ted has produced a book which cannot help but deepen the reader’s appreciation of the primary stories on which our tradition has its foundations.

- JF

Summer 2008 issue of In Communion / IC 50

Recommended Reading: Winter 2008

Thursday, January 31st, 2008

Mountains Beyond Mountains

by Tracy Kidder

Random House, 2003. 317 pp.

Paul Farmer graduated from Harvard University with degrees in medicine and anthropology. Instead of following the usual paths expected of hyper-achievers, he and a few colleagues founded a clinic in central Haiti, where Farmer still spends half of his year, practicing medicine among some of the world’s poorest. In recent years he has written and spoken with disturbing clarity about the connections between the ailments of his Haitian patients and the worldwide maldistribution of wealth, medicine and power.

Tracy Kidder has written a profile of Farmer and his work that is by turns inspiring and daunting. For the first time in any of his books, Kidder inserts himself into the narrative, recording his conversations as he accompanies Farmer on housecalls in Haitian villages and flights to Peru or Russia to aid world campaigns against the spread of drug-resistant tuberculosis, a deadly and increasingly common companion of poverty. Mountains Beyond Mountains is deeply heartening in its portrayal of a few people’s power to make a profound difference.

The Haitian clinic has changed the lives of people throughout much of Haiti; Farmer’s campaigns have changed attitudes toward health care for the poor throughout the world.

Paul Farmer is not portrayed as a saint: he can be sarcastically critical even of those who share his concerns but disagree with him on small points of implementation. Often, though, his acerbic words can go to the heart of an issue, as when he dismisses popular talk of “appropriate technology” as a polite way of reserving the best technology for the wealthy.

Farmer is relentless in his insistence that the poor are as entitled to medical care of the same quality as those of us who live in the wealthy world.

His own willingness to live out the implications of this view – in Haiti he lives in a house not much different from that of the average peasant – make his words hard to dismiss.

As Farmer’s and ways of speaking is deeply influenced by Liberation Theology, I was frustrated by the book’s near silence about Farmer’s faith. Does he pray? Is he a practicing Catholic? Either Kidder or Farmer himself are reticent about these matters – odd given Farmer’s free use of religious language and his strong association with some Catholic institutions.

One of the most important, but least visible, characters in the story is Tom White, a Bostonian who made a large fortune in the construction business, then devoted himself to giving it away to the poor, mostly through his funding of Farmer’s work. At the end of the book, White’s fortune is almost spent, and the reader wonders how the clinic in Haiti will survive.

I would have liked to learn more about White, whom Tracy Kidder could have made the subject of another excellent book. White’s willing renunciation of privilege parallels Farmer’s own in interesting ways, and hints at a response to Christ’s difficult words “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!”

Mountains Beyond Mountains will inspire, fluster and challenge any of us who hear its call to look squarely at world poverty and to resist the demonic voices telling us that there is nothing one person can do.

- John Brady

Freedom to Believe: Personhood and Freedom

in Orthodox Christian Ontology

by Archbishop Lazar Puhalo

Synaxis Press, second edition, 2007, $10

Archbishop Lazar has ventured, faithfully and steadfastly, into intellectual and political terrain that few Orthodox theologians in North America have dared enter. The journey into such deep and demanding places has done much to reveal the splendor of the Orthodox tradition.

Many Orthodox theologians have been rather shy about addressing the existential tradition of philosophy. Existentialism, for some, has a bad name, and should be shunned and avoided at all costs. But should it?

Freedom to Believe ponders how and why existentialism has been knocked, and yet, true to thoughtful form, why the existential tradition has much truth to it that should not be avoided or missed. In fact, Freedom to Believe makes it more than obvious that the Orthodox Tradition, in both thought and deed, is the true fount and foundation of existentialism.

Freedom is a sacred word for the Western tradition, but the meaning of freedom often lacks meaningful content. It is often used as a justification for all sorts of behavior. The rights of the individual are, also, front and center for most in the midst of the culture wars of our time.

Freedom to Believe walks the extra mile to clarify the differences between “personhood” and “individualism,” and how freedom can be distorted and abused if the language of individualism dominates the day, but, if the notion of “personhood” is properly understood, the deeper meaning of freedom will emerge.

- Ron Dart

Many American Christians demand that the Ten Commandments be posted in public buildings. I haven’t heard one of them demand that the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, be posted anywhere. “Blessed are the merciful” in a courtroom? “Blessed are the peacemakers” in the Pentagon?

- Kurt Vonnegut

The Rublev Trinity

by Gabriel Bunge

translation by Andrew Louth

St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, $27

An important event in the renewal of iconography occurred in Russia in 1904. This was the year that a commission was created to restore Rublev’s “Holy Trinity” icon, then nearly four hundred years old. As was the case with many old icons, over time the smoke of candles had been absorbed by the varnish, gradually hiding the image beneath the varnish. In the centuries when no safe method existed for removing the varnish without harming the image, the cure for blackened images was the repainting of icons. Thus a similar, often cruder, image was painted over the older one. In many cases, ancient icons bear several icons layered one on top of the other.

Often a more permanent solution was to place an oklad over the icon: a relief image in metal – silver or gold – that covered everything but the faces and hands. In 1904, the restoration commission carefully removed the oklad covering the Trinity icon. Then began the slow and painstaking removal of the layers of overpainting that masked Rublev’s work. It took years, but what their effort finally revealed has ever since amazed those who have been privileged to stand in front of the actual icon (now in the care of the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow). The uncovering of the icon was a momentous event, doing much to inspire the return to classic iconography, and the restoration of a great many other old icons.

The author of this handsomely published book, the Benedictine monk Gabriel Bunge, has undertaken a parallel work of restoration, exploring many earlier images of the three angels who were the guests of Abraham and Sarah’s hospitality by the oaks of Mamre, a story related in Genesis.

In this work of profound theological examination, the reader discovers how many centuries of meditation, biblical reflection and earlier artistic effort lie behind the icon painted by Rublev in the 16th century.

The book is also a presentation of one of the most loved but least known Russian saints, Sergii of Radonezh. As the author writes in a chapter analyzing the Rublev image: “Father Pavel Florensky was not completely wrong when he maintained that St. Sergii was, alongside Andrei Rublev, the true creator of [the icon]. One may even go a step further and suggest that this icon, painted in ‘the dwelling place of the Holy Trinity’ built by Sergii, is intended to depict this mystery of the grace of the Holy Spirit… The attributes that Rublev used to make visible his interpretation are the postures and gestures of the three angels.”

For anyone who seeks a deeper appreciation of icons in general, or of the Trinity icon in particular, this fine book, with its many color illustrations, is a treasure.

- Jim Forest

Mystic Street

by Steve Georgiou

Novalis Press, $25

OPF member Steve Georgiou’s new book invites readers to discover that they live not only at a certain postal address known to the postman but (more significantly) on Mystic Street – a street that begins at one’s front door and stretches to wherever you happen to be going on a given day, whether to the supermarket or a mountain top.

Mystic Street is not a line on the map but a way of life in which the main project is to be fully present wherever you happen to be, and thus to be continually rescued from boredom and be snapped awake in a state of surprise. Steve presents his invitation autobiographically, recalling particular experiences he has had while traveling his own Mystic Street.

Yet this is less a book about his own life than an invitation to the reader to be more attentive, to live a more contemplative life, to discover beauty in unexpected places. The book’s many photos add another level to the text. The cover photo – light shining on wet cobblestones – might have been taken on one of the Greek islands, perhaps Patmos, where parts of the book are located.

Altogether a refreshing read!

- Jim Forest

Greek East & Latin West:

The Church AD 681-1071

by Andrew Louth

St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, $22

In the series “The Church in History,” St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press has now added a volume that starts with the Sixth Ecumenical Synod and ends with the Battle of Manzikert in 1071. This is the tragic period in which what had once been only a language border, no more than a thin line in the sand, steadily grew into a wall of division, until finally Christians East and West were no longer in communion with each other.

At the same time it was also a period of Byzantine growth, with Byzantium once again the most powerful Christian empire, if not the empire it had been in Justinian’s day.

Fr. Andrew, professor of Patristic and Byzantine Studies at Durham University, carefully follows many of the crucial events of this four-century period, including the two periods of iconoclasm in the East, the rise of the Carolingians in the West, the monastic reforms that reshaped Christian life and civilization in both East and West, the mission activities that brought Christianity to the north and east of Europe, and the crisis in relations between Rome and Constantinople that culminated in the break of communion between the two patriarchates.

Yet, as Fr. Andrew points out, the break was far from complete in 1054:

“To contemporaries of the event, and for many years after, it did not seem that anything had changed in 1054. Tensions between East and West were long-standing, and they occasionally flared up, but for the most part Christians of East and West acted as it they belonged to a common cumene. This was particularly true … among the monks…”

One of the chief issues of division in the early eleventh century was the question of whether the eucharistic bread should be leavened or unleavened. Other points of dispute included the celibacy that had been imposed on priests in the West, and the West’s introduction of the Filioque into the Creed. Might patient dialogue have restored unity? No doubt. But it has yet to happen. In both East and West today, there are many who would rather die than see the Great Schism ended.

For any Christian reader who wishes to better understand the divisions we still live with, but also the possibility of finding common ground that might at last restore our shattered unity, this is an essential book.

- Jim Forest

The Book of Pastoral Rule

by St. Gregory the Great

St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press

St. Gregory the Great (also known as Gregory the Dialogist because of the Dialogues he wrote) was the first Bishop of Rome to come from a monastic background. Born in 540, he died in 604 after fourteen years as pope.

Born into a wealthy Roman family, he was the great-great-grandson of Pope FelixIII. Following his father’s death, Gregory converted the family home into a monastery dedicated to the apostle St. Andrew, which he entered as an ordinary monk. Later, after being ordained deacon by Pope Pelagius II, he was delegated to heal a schism in northern Italy.

In 579, Pelagius chose Gregory as his representative to Constantinople, where Gregory gained attention by opposing the view advanced by Patriarch Eutychius that the risen bodies of the elect would be “impalpable, more light than air.” Gregory argued that the physical actuality of Christ’s risen body made clear that the elect were to rise, not only spiritually, but physically.

The controversy was so intense that finally the emperor intervened. After a hearing in which both sides presented their views, the matter was decided in favor of Gregory’s position. Both disputants fell ill due to the strain of their controversy. Gregory recovered, but the patriarch succumbed, recanting his errors on his deathbed.

After nearly seven years in Constantinople, Gregory returned to Rome to serve Pelagius as secretary. After Pelagius’ death, Gregory was elected to succeed him. It was Gregory who first described the role of the Bishop of Rome as being “servant of the servants of God.”

Among his deeds as bishop was arranging for the daily feeding of the poor of Rome. He carried on an extensive correspondence, much of which survives, with Christians in both East and West, and wrote essays on a many topics, including a biography of St. Benedict. He is remembered for compiling the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts.

It was Gregory who said, “Non Angli, sed Angeli” (they are not Angles, but angels) when he happened to see blue-eyed, blond-haired Anglo-Saxon boys being sold at a slave market in Rome. This led to his dispatching St. Augustine of Canterbury to England to convert the Anglo-Saxon tribes.

Once in Canterbury, Augustine wrote Gregory to ask whether to use Roman or Gallican customs in the liturgy in England. Gregory advised that it was best to do whatever would best advance the Christian Faith, for “things are not to be loved for the sake of a place, but places are to be loved for the sake of their good things.”

George Demacopoulos has chosen to translate St. Gregory’s Book of Pastoral Rule, which addresses with wisdom and sobriety a wide range of questions that remain relevant not only to bishops, priests and monks, but are of value to anyone bearing a pastoral responsibility. A significant part of the book provides practical advice to anyone witnessing confessions or providing spiritual guidance.

- Jim Forest

From the Winter 2008 issue of In Communion / IC 48

Recommended Resources – Summer 2005

Sunday, July 31st, 2005

The Return of the Icon

an 85-minute film produced by Bill Smith

In the summer of 2004 the icon of the Tikhvin Mother of God, one of the several icons attributed to the hand of St. Luke, was returned to Russia after nearly 60 years in the United States.

The story begins in a Chicago house and ends in at the monastery at Tikhvin, east of St. Petersburg. The film includes wartime footage in its explanation of the extraordinary events which lead to the icon’s miraculous escape from both the Nazis and the Soviets. Moving footage provides a vivid glimpse into the revival of Orthodoxy in Russia and Latvia. It is especially impressive to see the hundreds of thousands of people processing with the Tikhvin icon down Nevsky Prospekt in St. Petersburg.

The film is available in both DVD and VHS formats for €20, including postage and packing. Contact: Bill and Masha Smith, Great Takes TV, The Old Rectory, Church Road, Wreningham, Norwich NR16 1BA, UK; billsmith@greattakestv.com. (In North America: Dr. Constantine Kallaur, 108 Oakwood Drive, Syosset, New York 11791; kallauc@ncc.edu.)

Salt of the Earth

a film about Palestinian Christians in the West Bank

“Salt of the Earth” documents the lives of Palestinian Christians living in the northern West Bank. This skillfully made DVD is the work Marthame and Elizabeth Sanders, Americans who lived for three years in the mainly Christian Palestinian village of Zababdeh.

One of the nine segments focuses on an Orthodox priest, Fr. To’mie Daoud. First we meet him as he presides at the Divine Liturgy and then meets with the minority Christian community in Tubas. The next day he prays with the “living stones” of the ancient church of Burqin, while on the next he serves in his home town of Zababdeh.

The film can be ordered via www.saltfilms.net.

The Trial of Job

By Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon

Conciliar Press, $11

The figure of Job is elusive to us – possibly because he seems so comfortably distant; or perhaps because he seems so frightfully close. What Fr. Reardon achieves with this book is to render Job comprehensible, tangible and accessible. Ultimately, all of us identify with one or another aspect of Job’s life. As life inevitably informs and as this book intuitively confirms, one cannot sing the Psalms without having read Job.

- Fr. John Chryssavgis

Tending the Flame of Feminine Holiness by Demetra Velisarios Jaquet

The author’s study draws on data collected from a conference of 80 Orthodox women held last year. Attendees supported the restoration of the Order of Deaconess and urged hierarchs and clergy to support women in emerging ministries such as chaplains and pastoral counseling. The author reviews the recommendations of twelve conferences held in Europe since 1976; she summarizes Orthodox theological arguments regarding ordination and women’s roles in lay ministry; and offers guidelines for women’s ministries.

The full text is available electronically without charge and can be requested by e-mailing: womenusa@aol.com.

Book Reviews

Sunday, December 5th, 2004

God With Us: Critical Issues in Christian Life and Faith

by Fr. John Breck

St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press

285 pp, ISBN 0-88141-252-X

Fr. John’s book begins with an evocative description of his first experience of being inside an Orthodox Church as a young theological student visiting Paris. Nearly 40 years later, he has become a re­spected Orthodox theologian. He is currently Professor of Biblical Interpretation and Ethics at St. Sergius Theological Institute in Paris.

His latest book is a collection of many columns he has written in the past several years.

The first section focuses on moral issues: When does human life begin? How can a person be so pro-life about an unborn child and so eager to see a person on death row be hurried to his grave? Do embryos have souls? What do we say to those who regard suicide as a human right? Do we really want a world in which killing children with Downs Syndrome is regarded as an act of mercy? Is pornography socially destructive? He also ad­dresses such issues as clergy burnout, the link between stress and lack of sleep and fear of losing one’s memory.

In the book’s second section, we meet Fr. John as an interpreter of scripture and liturgy. Again his short essays are often responses to questions: Are the words of Jesus authentic? How are we to read the scriptures? Who wrote the Bible? Why the incarnation? Is there room for innovation in painting icons? How could Jesus suffer temptation?

Finally there is a section of reflection on various topical issues: the events of September 11, the mystery of suffering, the experience of God’s seeming absence, the impact of secularism on theological discourse. He also addresses such issued as weeping icons and bishops who recite the Creed but do not believe it.

Fr. John has a rare gift to be clear without over-simplifying and to be a knowledgeable person who is haunted by what he doesn’t know.

The Bond of Unity

Syndesmos – Fifty years of work for Orthodox youth and unity

Hildo Bos, editor

€15 plus postage; 250 pages

orders via: www.syndesmos.org

or contact the Syndesmos secretariat:

syndesmos@syndesmos.org

This sturdy volume brings together some of the best writing to have been generated by Syndesmos, the pan-Orthodox youth move­ment that this year is celebrating its 50th birthday. Syndesmos has been one of the main areas of contact linking Orthodox jurisdictions and a factor in stimulating reflection on many issues that have troubled or challenged the Church.

The authors include Fr. John Meyen­dorff, Metropolitan George Khodre, Bishop Kallistos of Dio­kleia, Fr. Heikki Huttunen, Archimandrite Lev Gillet, Archbishop Anthony Bloom, Fr. Alexander Schmemann, Paul Evdoki­mov, James Cou­chell (now Bishop Dimi­trios), Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia, and Archbishop Anastasios of Tirana. The book also include a photos section.

Steps of Transformation

An Orthodox Priest Explores the Twelve Steps

by Fr. Meletios Webber

Conciliar Press: $14.95

ISBN 1-888212-63-2

For those suffering from an addiction or trying to better understand and befriend those so afflicted, Fr. Meletios Webber’s book is required reading. For many readers it may prove quite literally a life-savi­ng resource.

The twelve-step program that was developed for those struggling to overcome alcoholism has gradually found its way to many people with other dependencies and has also been found useful simply as a structure for spiritual growth.

While many books have been written on the twelve steps, this is the first to consider them from an Orthodox Christian perspective.

“Here is a book that will help many who, so far as they know, are not themselves alcoholics,” writes Bishop Kallistos is his introduction, “for there are numerous kinds of addictions besides addiction to alcohol, and who among us can claim to be free from all addictive weakness? This is a humble and realistic book, that bears witness to the immense patience and mercy of God. Let us read it in the spirit of humility and self-questioning.”

Three Treatises on the Divine Images

by St. John of Damascus

translation: Andrew Louth

163 pp, ISBN 0-88141-245-X

On the Cosmic Mystery of Jesus Christ

by St. Maximus the Confessor

translation: Paul Blowers & Robert Wilken

183 pp, ISBN 0-88141-249-X

St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press has a long-running project of making available fresh and reliable translations of patristic texts in compact, inexpensive editions that are useful to scholars yet accessible to lay readers who want to better know the great voices of Orthodox theology.

The latest additions to this excellent series includes a new edition of the three essays on icons by St. John of Damascus, written in the eighth century during the era of iconoclasm from a monastery near the Dead Sea. St. John’s defense of icons remains the best reply to those who regard veneration of icons as idolatry. The lucid translation as well as the introduction is the work of Andrew Louth, professor of Patristics and Byzantine Stud­ies at the University of Durham.

With interest in St. Maximus on the rise not only within the Orthodox Church but also among other Christians, this edition of some of the saint’s most important work will surely be welcomed by many in the English-speaking world. “This is the ideal volume,” comments Andrew Louth, “from which to learn first hand the depth and insight of St. Maximus’ cosmic vision and grasp of the complexities of human nature and consequences of the renewal of all things in Christ.”

Book Reviews (Spring 2004)

Sunday, November 14th, 2004

The Virtue of War

Reclaiming the Classic Christian Traditions East and West

by Alexander Webster and Darrell Cole
Salisbury MA: Regina Orthodox Press, 2004;
ISBN 1-928653-17-0; $20

This book is a work of polemic. The opening chapter is a clarion call to the Christian West to realize the danger of militant Islam and gird itself to fight back and defeat it. “Nine-Eleven” is presented as a belated moment of awakening for the West, and the purpose of this book is to convince Christians of the “virtue of war,” as the title puts it: that is, to demonstrate that in certain circumstances (which include the present circumstances of an Islamic attack on Western civilization) war is not only a regrettable necessity, but a positive good, in which good ends are achieved by the virtuous means of warfare.

The book is co-written by an Orthodox priest and theologian, Fr. Alexander Webster, and a Western theologian, of probably Protestant credentials, though with a deep and articulate sympathy for the Western Catholic tradition of the just war. The aim is to demonstrate broadly-based Christian support for an offensive war against evil, and especially to include the Orthodox tradition, that has often been presented as viewing war in deeply mistrustful terms. The opening chapter, as part of its clarion call, presents an alarming account of Islam, centrally and essentially committed to jihad in military terms, in the course of which there are several references to Orthodoxy’s long familiarity with Islam, as compared with the West.

This might be a good place to begin an assessment of the book, as it is certainly true that the Orthodox have a long familiarity with Islam, reaching right back to the beginnings of that religion. In the centuries since, Orthodox have often had Islamic states as close neighbors, and also lived cheek-by-jowl with Muslims, in Palestine and later under the Ottomans and the states that succeeded that empire. At times this relationship has been sharply antagonistic; so it was in the first century or so of Islam, when the Umayyad Empire sought to take Constantinople. But more often, the Orthodox have found a modus vivendi with their Muslim neighbors, as the Western crusaders found out to their annoyance, when they discovered that the Byzantine Emperor was engaged in diplomatic negotiations with the Muslims, to their mind simply enemies of the faith.

Plenty more examples could be cited for this Orthodox quest for a modus vivendi: Manuel Komnenos’ modification of the rite of conversion for Muslims, making it clear that Orthodox and Muslim worshiped the same God, however different their conceptions of him; Gregory Palamas’ favorable impressions of the mullahs with whom he met and engaged in theological discussion during the couple of years he spent as a prisoner of the Sultan (only Palamas’ more conventional, “apocalyptic” view of Islam is cited here).

In contrast, the West has tended to see Islam in terms of extremes: either the infidel, against whom one waged crusades, or a representative of an alluring “orientalism,” explored by the late Edward Said in his famous book of that name. Fr. Alexander, in his chapters in this book, seems anxious that the Orthodox should not be left out of this crusading drive against Islam, which is very much the fruit of such extremes of perception on the part of the West.

The chapters by Fr. Alexander are not a little confused. He seems to accept the virtual pacifism of the Church before Constantine, and seems uneasily aware that the Byzantine attitude to war was ambivalent; he speaks of a “penitential gloom” in Orthodox attitudes to war, but it is this that he seeks to dispel. His argument advances along several lines. First, he draws attention to the bloodthirsty God of the Old Testament. He is certainly right to warn against the potential Marcionism of opposing a God of love in the New Testament to a God of armies in the Old, but in his resolution he seems to obscure the prevailing impression left by the Lord’s teaching.

The canonical tradition poses a fairly daunting challenge. As he admits, there is virtually no exception to the canonical requirement of penance for any Christian soldier who killed in war before the eleventh century, and it is only thereafter in the West that this requirement comes to be forgotten. He might have mentioned, but does not, how the Byzantine Emperor Nikephoros Phokas — disturbed that Muslim warriors went into war with the promise of eternal bliss if they fell in battle, whereas Christian warriors had no such promise, but rather faced penance if they killed — pleaded with the patriarch and the bishops to change this canonical regulation, but in vain. Instead, Fr. Alexander tries to suggest that the canon of St. Basil requiring three years’ penance (that is, three years’ exclusion from communion) is in some way ambivalent.

Another argument draws attention to the Byzantine military martyrs: but what is striking about these martyrs is that none of them died in battle, indeed in many cases their military careers are largely, or entirely, posthumous (e.g., the historical Procopios or Demetrios). These are not glorified combatant soldiers, but rather notable participants in the struggle against evil, and defenders of Christian cities and peoples.

Fr. Alexander draws attention to prayers for the armed forces in the Divine Liturgy; true, he mentions the threefold petition for peace at the beginning of the Great Ekteny, but not the fivefold petition for peace in what the Greeks call the Eirenika. It is clear on which side the weight falls. A good deal is made of the services for the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.

Here we touch on something that needs to be brought out into the open. There is no question that, in the wake of the conversion of Constantine, the Church, both in the East and the West, lent not only its prayers for the peace and prosperity of the Empire, but also its blessing (within the limits noted above) to armed Defense of the Empire.

But is this part of the Church’s tradition, or a betrayal of it? The way in which the cult of the Holy Cross became part of the Imperial cult was dangerously close to idolatry, even if it is reflected in prayers and songs we still use. The way in which these remnants of the Christian imperial cult have come to serve a questionable role in modern Orthodox nation states might be regarded as one of the more dire consequences of “phyletism,” condemned, at least notionally, as a heresy by all Orthodox Christians.

I have concentrated in this review on Fr. Alexander’s contribution, because this is an Orthodox journal (and, indeed, the Orthodox Peace Fellowship is singled out for criticism by Fr. Alexander). The rest of the book presents the Western case. There we have a fine presentation of the Western case for a just (or justifiable) war, and an exploration of its history. Some good points are made, notably that the idea of a just war in which the virtue of the warrior is displayed and tested actually provides a means by which justice in war can be maintained. It is still the case, however, that Dr. Cole favors quite a hawkish conception of the “just war”; he is unhappy with the idea of such a war as a “mere” last resort. His position here leaves this reviewer with the impression that for him a just war can actually be a good thing, something that can be pursued with enthusiasm, rather than regret.

Whatever the merits of some of the arguments advanced, this book’s wider purpose is to justify a modern crusade against Islam — even though it recognizes, though to no noticeable effect, that Islamic terrorism is not actually a tautology — and calls on Western civilization to commit itself to such a crusade. This seems to me to leave no ground for questioning the right of the United States, or any other state powerful enough, to set itself up as a world policeman, the consequences of which seem to me profoundly alarming.

For a world power to take upon itself the role of being a world policeman raises Cicero’s question: Quis custodiet custodes ipsos — who will guard the guards themselves? The damage that well-intentioned people can do with the resources of a state (especially one so wealthy and powerfully armed as the US), as opposed what terrorists can do (and I certainly am not defending terrorism, or minimizing the guilt of terrorist action), seems to me immense. Consider Kosovo.

Look even at Iraq, where it more and more looks as if the military action there has destabilized the country and region in ways that are likely to have unfortunate long-lasting consequences. Simply in terms of numbers (which are ultimately irrelevant), the body count from allied action in Iraq exceeds that of the terrorists — and there is also the question, still quite unresolved, as to whether attacking Iraq had any impact on al Qaedi, or even was ever expected to. The metaphor of the policemen makes one think of friendly people keeping the peace. But the reality depends on who you are.

Here in England there is growing consciousness of the dangers of “institutionalized racism”: the policeman is not perceived as friendly — and often isn’t — if you are a black and living in South or East London. I know about this from teaching in South London for ten years. Similarly in Iraq: for a great many people there, the American “policemen” are not welcome, and thus are finding it more and more difficult to fulfil a police role. The atrocities in the Shia holy cities, almost certainly the work of Sunnis, are blamed by the Shiites on the Americans.

But are such factors irrelevant to the book, The Virtue of War? They would be (or only tangentially relevant) if the book confined itself to a discussion of the question of war and the Christian conscience, but it doesn’t. The first chapter — drawing on a one-sided use of Huntingdon’s “Clash of Civilizations” thesis — is, as I said above, a clarion call for Christians to support the American attack on militant Islam, supported by arguments that Islam as a whole is potentially militant.

It is interesting to see what Christos Yannaras makes of the Huntingdon thesis, which sees Orthodoxy as a separate civilization from the West, something Yannaras welcomes with undue enthusiasm, though I think he is right in saying that Orthodoxy has at least as much in common with Islam as with the West. This might lead one to the conclusion, which Yannaras does not seem to draw, that we Orthodox are in an unusual position to mediate in what could become a fatal fault-line for the history of the 21st century.

– Fr. Andrew Louth

Fr. Andrew Louth is an Orthodox priest of the Diocese of Sourozh in Great Britain and Professor of Patristic and Byzantine Studies, University of Durham, UK.

Faith of Our Sons

a Father’s Wartime Diary

by Frank Schaeffer
Carroll & Graf; 320 pages
ISBN: 0786713224, $25

In 1998, Frank Schaeffer’s 18-year-old son, John, joined the Marines straight out of prep school, a family journey recounted in Keeping Faith. In Faith of Our Sons, Schaeffer picks up his family’s ongoing story as Corporal John Schaefer is deployed to the Middle East on the day Gulf War II begins.

Schaeffer offers his often moving reflections on the torments of having a son at war, as well as incisive observations on the place of the military in our society. Schaeffer observes how military culture has overcome class and race barriers much more effectively than its parent society, and writes about how a life of service seems to have become a lower-class occupation. He notes that in the Second World War many government officials had sons in combat and wonders how government policy would be different if this were still true. He is pained and bewildered by the ways in which we praise our soldiers, expect almost infinite sacrifices from them, but at the same time hold them at arm’s length. The book is not a pro-war diatribe, but a very personal reflection of the thoughts and feelings shared by many Americans in the last several years.

The book devotes several highly critical pages to the Orthodox Peace Fellowship’s Iraq appeal and Schaeffer’s reactions to it.

– John Brady

John Brady is treasurer of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship in North America.

For a Culture of Co-suffering Love

the Theology of Archbishop Lazar Puhalo

by Andrew J. Sopko
Archive Publications, 2004, 148 pages.

The Orthodox tradition in North America has done much in the last few decades to make its presence felt. The ethnic Orthodox and the Orthodox Church of America have waged their wars to make the Orthodox way relevant to the North American context, with the OCA establishing itself as a leading and articulate voice in this debate. Many has been the fine volume and seminary that has walked the extra mile to articulate a view of Orthodoxy that comes as a needful and necessary critique of western theology and denominational schism. Many has been the Orthodox mystical theologian that has made the Orthodox way appealing and attractive. Many have heard of Kallistos Ware, Vladimir Lossky, John Meyendorff, Alexander Schmemann, Thomas Hopko and John Zizioulas. But, there is a form of Orthodoxy in North America that is not as well known. It is this mother lode that Andrew Sopko has attempted to unpack and unravel in his book on the theology of Archbishop Lazar Puhalo.

Archbishop Lazar has dipped his bucket deep in the wells of Metropolitan Anthony Khrapovitsky, John Romanides, Michael Azkoul and George Florovsky.

Archbishop Lazar Puhalo is, without doubt, the most prolific Orthodox theologian in Canada, and he is certainly one of the most prolific Orthodox theologians in North America. It is about time that Archbishop Lazar was given his due, and For a Culture of Co-Suffering Love does such a deed well. The book is divided into seven sections: Orthodox Christianity and Culture, Gender as Prophecy, Beyond Morality and Ethics, Science and Theology as Empirical Quest, The Aesthetics of Reality, Last Things and Church and/or World.

The book’s strength lies in Sopko’s highlighting the ways in which Archbishop Lazar has engaged the culture he is living in rather than retreating into an idealized past, an ethnic subculture or a reactionary and right of center political theology. A weakness of the book is the way that Sopko has excluded economic and political questions from culture. Archbishop Lazar has never done this. Again and Again, Archbishop Lazar has faced and confronted many tough economic and political questions. He has dared to address, at times to the annoyance and chagrin of other theologians, many issues of injustice rather than either slip into an insulated pietism or genuflect to Americanized forms of Caesar worship. It would have helped if Andrew Sopko had highlighted how and why Archbishop Lazar has articulated a political theology that cannot be taken captive by the right, sensible center or political left, and done so from the unique Canadian Red Tory tradition.

For a Culture of Co-Suffering Love is a fine primer on the work of one of the pre-eminent Orthodox theologians of North America.

– Ron Dart

Ron Dart teaches in the department of political science/philosophy, religious studies at University College of the Fraser Valley, Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada.

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