Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category

Loving Our Enemies: Reflections on the Hardest Commandment

Tuesday, October 7th, 2014

Loving-Our-Enemies-cover-medium

Loving Our Enemies: Reflections on the Hardest Commandment

Jim Forest, Orbis Books, 2014, 160 pp

reviewed by Pieter Dykhorst

Loving Our Enemies: Reflections on the Hardest Commandment may sound like the start of one of those tough theology lessons you want to dodge because you just don’t want to go through the pain of failing the exam. But it isn’t. Jim Forest isn’t a theologian—not in the way most of us think of them anyway—but something undeniably of the theological arts resides in good story telling, and Jim is a first rate storyteller. Mixing theology up with stories is like giving medicine with a spoon full of sugar. Loving Our Enemies is filled with stories that make the medicine go down, stories of those who were compelled by Jesus loving them—we all start out his enemies—to begin loving their own enemies.

But Jim doesn’t rely solely on story telling. He clearly understands that “thou shalt” may be the least compelling start to a moral lesson if changing lives is the aim. Each chapter delivers what the book promises—a reflection, a devotion really, on the theme of actively loving our enemies despite how we may feel about them, the obstacles along the way, the hope and joy inherent in the effort, and the promise of potentially converting enemies to friends though there are no guarantees. By the time you finish, you will come to believe—you will have arrived there unawares somewhere in the middle— it is not only right and necessary but possible and desirable to love your enemies.

How does the reader get there? It’s fine to know who our enemies are—Jim defines them all the way down to the the one staring at us each morning in the mirror—and that we should love them, but that’s barely the start. Inspiration or feeling aren’t enough either. The subject isn’t just hard, it’s the hardest, too hard for any of us to accomplish on our own, and Jim knows that. So do we. Conversion, transformation, being made into new creatures for whom the hardest love is possible is what is wanted. This is the aim of the book, and each chapter takes the reader one step closer to going all in.

The essential oil of Christian theology is derived from the stories Jesus told, and by his life, death, and resurrection, he illustrated them, making theology something of a practical art. The reflections of Loving Our Enemies are about the possibility of transformation when knowledge, need, and inspiration move us to choice and action. That is when the anointing oil is applied and change takes place. Loving Our Enemies is about imitating what Jesus did and what many of his followers have been doing till now, and receiving the same grace they did to become new creatures capable of love.

“Making friends of enemies––and making choices not driven by enmity–– happens thanks not only to an inner act of will but still more to the grace we receive from the Holy Spirit. The word grace is often used to describe the transformed state of being that occurs at moments when God enters into our conscious lives. While the obstacles within ourselves often seem impossible to overcome—deeply entrenched boredom, indifference, prejudice, anger and hatred—the wind of grace can suddenly blow away walls that seemed immoveable and impenetrable. We can speak of “graced moments” when we see another person in such a light that we realize that, until that moment, we were blind. We “saw” but in so superficial and limited a way that we were unaware of God’s presence in that other life. The other was more a thing than a person.

“Invariably those graced occasions when God breaks through in us are turning points. We are changed and, even if held captive within the stone walls of a prison, we experience a deep freedom and unspeakable happiness. For the rest of our lives we know that what the French writer Leon Bloy said is true: “Joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God.”

Ultimately, we don’t need to be convinced we have enemies, we need to know what to do with them. We need strategies, and Loving Our Enemies is about the hardest strategy, the counterintuitive strategy of love, introduced by Jesus to a desperate race wrongly convinced the only way to successfully deal with enemies is to neutralize, defeat, or eliminate them.

The book covers the tools needed for the journey: praying for enemies, confession, acts of mercy, regularly receiving communion, turning the other cheek, and more. All are amply illustrated by the lives of real people—many you’ll recognize, some appear frequently in Jim’s writing, a few might surprise you, and some you’ll likely meet for the first time. In many ways, in fact, Loving Our Enemies is not unlike Jim’s other books, but there is a key difference for me. More than any of his others, this book seems to contain more of the essential oil anointing Jim’s own life—I get the feeling as I read each chapter that I’m reading the words of someone who is beginning to close the circle, that Jim is now telling the lessons from his own life and using others’ stories to illustrate. I find few things more compelling than an old man telling his own story, having put-up as we say, but making me feel like it’s not about him.

The Philokalia: a Classic Text of Orthodox Spirituality

Tuesday, October 7th, 2014

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The Philokalia: a Classic Text of Orthodox Spirituality

Brock Bingaman and Bradley Nassif, eds., Oxford University Press, 2012, 349 pp

reviewed by Pieter Dykhorst

The Philokalia: a Classic Text of Orthodox Spirituality is a collection of essays compiled to introduce readers “to the background, motifs, authors, and relevance for contemporary life and thought” of the Philokalia. It is an easy to read work of scholarship that can help make the challenging spiritual insights of the Philokalia more accessible to the average Christian, while also serving as a serious textbook for seminarians.

A work by and for scholars, the book is apparently long overdue on academic shelves. Many readers will be surprised, as I was, to learn that the editors created it while doing their own Philokalic research and discovering that “a large lacuna exists in scholarly literature on the Philokalia.” To begin to fill that gap, Bingaman and Nassif produced an anthology on the “History, Theological implications, and Spiritual Practices of the ” by leading scholars of the Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant traditions. And the list of authors makes compelling bait! The Orthodox among them include Kallistos Ware (who also wrote the introduction), John McGuckin, Andrew Louth, John Chryssavgis, and Bradley Nassif.

The Philokalia: a Classic Text is also an aid for the rest of us. If the Philokalia itself is like a field manual for spiritual boot camp, Bingaman and Nassif’s book is like the Field Manual for Dummies. Anybody familiar with the Dummies series knows that it takes an expert to make a difficult subject easy to read. While the Philokalia is considered by many Orthodox to be an indispensable guide to spiritual growth, it often seems impenetrable to the newly initiated . The essayists in A Classic Text succeed in unpacking the various themes of the Philokalia in a way that invites one in to begin the work of making it personal.

Likewise, nobody would ever take reading about fox holes as a substitute for digging one and spending the night in it. While The Philokalia: a Classic Text should prove to be an enticement to opening up the Philokalia for anyone pursuing Orthodox spiritual growth, there are no shortcuts. Before reading either book, any notions of finishing with an easy certificate in Philokalic studies should be dispensed with.

While exploring themes like the Jesus Prayer, asceticism, theology, and others––those one would expect a book like this to examine––Bingaman and Nassif included essays on more mundane but necessary topics, like the history of the Philokalia, and a few surprising ones as well, like the last chapter: Women in the Philokalia?

Other expected areas are examined through lenses that make fundamental concepts in the Philokalia understandable and useful in a modern context. A chapter by Christopher C. H. Cook, Healing, Psychotherapy, and the Philokalia, looks at “the nature of the pathologies that the Philokalia diagnoses,” what Orthodox call the passions, from the perspective of a mental-health physician. Reading again some of St. Maximos’ texts on virtue and the lengthy list of vices found in Peter of Damascus through the lens of modern psychology only made their insight more relevant to my life in a modern context.

As I read through The Philokalia: a Classic Text, skipping from section to section, I realized I was also, unexpectedly, having fun. I was treating it as if it were not the manual it is but also a travel guide. You’ll see what I mean if you pick it up: the essayists are all familiar with a beautiful place they have visited—“philokalia” means “love of the beautiful”—and write to tell about it. The best travel books don’t simply tell you where to eat, how to catch a cab, or about local customs—they make you want to go and find all those things out for yourself. This book is no different. Its authors seem to know the Philokalia and entice others to get to know it as they do. John Chryssavgis’ insights on Silence, Stillness, and Solitude, something I’m currently exploring, are like photographs from a beautiful land.

For all that, the book isn’t exhaustive, and one is left hoping for a follow-on book. Until then, this book will serve well and word of it should spread quickly as it finds its way into homes and studies.

Recommended Reading – Winter 2012

Thursday, April 5th, 2012

On Earth As In Heaven: Ecological Vision and Initiatives of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew

Edited by Rev. Dr. John Chryssavgis
Fordham Univ. Press, 384 pp, $32
Reviewed by Fr. Ioannis Freeman

Considered the “Green Patriarch,” Bartholomew has devoted more attention to environmental concerns during his twenty years as Ecumenical Patriarch than any global church leader with similar tenure. The title of this third and final volume covering his twenty-year ecological legacy, edited by John Chryssavgis, draws upon a phrase in the Lord’s Prayer. “On Earth as in Heaven” indicates a present and future possibility that the will of God is to bring the orderliness and respect of His holy dwelling to the earth, as reflected in the order of the words in Greek: “as in heaven, so on the earth.”

Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, in the book’s Foreword, traces how the future Patriarch provided “inspired (global) leadership” for bearing Christian witness to the aims of the World Wide Fund for Nature in 1986 at its twenty-fifth anniversary in Assisi, Italy. Philip had served as president to the WWF throughout the 1980’s, during which time the 1986 Assisi-based general conference created the Alliance of Religious Conservation.

Chryssavgis identifies keywords as themes in each of these encyclicals. The encyclical for 1992 is titled “Matter and Spirit.” Not only is this text the first of Bartholomew’s encyclicals for the first day of September annually, but it also sets a tone of paradoxical and analogical reasoning that characterizes Orthodox theology, anthropology, and cosmology in general, and Batholomew’s prodigious contributions in particular. Illustrating this tone is the following passage: “Thus, ‘autumn’ and ‘spring,’ which to most people might signify diametrically opposed factors, actually converge and coincide in the inauguration of the ecclesiastical year as one entity established by God.”

Bartholomew dedicates reflections on “Creation and Idol” to the year 1998. He considers the relationship between “the Holy Orthodox Church” and “the natural world harmonious” because the Church accepts that “…the entire creation is very good.” According to Bartholomew’s reasoning, real harmony between human beings and the natural world is not only a present and future possibility, but also a present and future reality within the “Holy Church.”

Bartholomew minces no words to describe an Orthodox view of ecological sin as idolatry, which is caused by refusal to accept simple limitations that must be self-imposed. The result of failure to accept limitations is abuse of nature. In turn, “nature rebelled against humanity, which abuses it.” Thus, “creation continues to groan” as “awareness” increases while “action” decreases.

Readers with even limited knowledge of Orthodox theology will appreciate the texts collected in chapter three, the largest chapter, “Orthodox theology and the environmental general addresses,” which holds 79 pages. Additionally, the clear link, in chapter five, between prayer and spirituality and the twin themes of transfiguration and sacrifice points out to the twenty-first century Christian that care for the environment is part of the journey of salvation.

For example, in Bartholomew’s opening address to the 1997 conference on the natural environment convened on Mt. Athos, Greece, he reflects: “This means that it would not be excessive if one were to demand of those who chose the monastic life out of their own volition to care less for convenience and more for the preservation of the natural beauty and the silent character of the Holy Mountain … And in order to sharpen somewhat our discourse, we remind you with paternal love of the exact stating of Abba Isaac: ‘God and His angels rejoice where there are needs, but the devil and his friends do so at times of ease.’” Therefore, prayer draws Christians toward self-sacrifice from at least some “modern” conveniences in order to protect the natural environment.

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

by Amy Chua
Penguin Press, 256 pp, $25.95
Reviewed by Sheri San Cherico

Lost on many readers of Amy Chua’s now infamous Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother is that it is satire. But this book is no joke.

The three-part story walks the reader through Chua’s conscious choice and subsequent battles of raising her two Chinese-American daughters in the style of “Chinese parenting.” Early on, she defines this style by describing what her daughters Sophia and Louisa were never allowed to do: “attend a sleepover, have a play-date, be in a school play, complain about not being in a school play, watch TV or play computer games, choose their own extracurricular activities, get any grade less than an A, not be the #1 student in every subject except gym and drama, play any instrument other than the piano or violin, not play the piano or violin.” So begins Chua’s frontal attack on “Western” child rearing.

Frankly, to a Western reader, Chua’s parenting at times seems draconian. The most problematic moments are when Chua screams at her children, calling one lazy and stupid, and the other a disgrace as a daughter. Later she explains that everything she does is for them and for their futures, seemingly unaware that she could be fulfilling her own need for success. She drives her daughters hard, forcing them to practice their instruments for an hour and a half every day without fail, and for six hours a day on many occasions. She then includes moments of obvious satire and self-ridicule, such as when she describes her drive to Chinese-parent her dog, criticizing her husband for not having dreams for their daughters—and for their dog. Yet her satirical self-disclosure rings hollow, as she is still obviously trying to “win” the battle against the West in her pursuit of the alternative Chinese model.

For all of its scandal to our Western parenting sensibilities, two points shine: First, “What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you’re good at it. To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work.” Second, it is much better for a child’s self-esteem to teach her how to succeed rather than letting her simply give up—that is, a Chinese parent is protecting her child by “preparing them for the future, letting them see what they’re capable of, and arming them with skills, work habits, and inner confidence that no one can ever take away.”

After reading Chua’s book, I was fairly disgusted with her notions of success: Carnegie Hall, the Ivy League, high paying jobs, prestige. She wants her daughters to be at the top of everything they do. This begs two questions, at least: Who did they have to step on to reach the putative summit? What does such a perspective do to the humanity of those who do not (or cannot) reach this summit?

Another question is even more pressing: To what end? Is it worth sacrificing my daughters’ friendships, the experience of other activities, or their having a choice in their own pursuits in order to be “the best”—not to mention the elusive nature of “the best”?

Chua did make me question the end for which I am now preparing my children. Perhaps I do not want to ensure Carnegie Hall. But to be able to identify and care for the marginalized in their surroundings? Perhaps not an Ivy League school. But the ability to grasp and defend their Church’s beliefs? To be able to overcome their anger, or work through conflict peacefully? To know the Liturgy so well as to understand and be vivified by it?

Chua reminds us that we do not have to accept the play-date, video game, affirmations-only world of Western parenting, but that we as parents have a responsibility to be actively and inten-tionally involved in preparing our child-ren for the adults they will become, and that we can demand a whole lot more of our children than we do. And that they’ll thank us for it in the end.

 

❖ IN COMMUNION / issue 63 / Winter 2012

Recommended Reading – Pascha IC 60

Monday, May 16th, 2011

The Spiritual World of Isaac the Syrian
by Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev
Cistercian Publications, 320 pages, $16.50

In these days, when so many seek ever harsher punishments for those in trouble with the law, Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev has given us a valuable, delightful and crucial work, rich with quotations, on the life and writings of St. Isaac the Syrian. St. Isaac takes us back to love. St. Isaac puts the love of God, as expressed supremely in the Incarnation of Christ, squarely front and center.

In a short review, the best way to recommend such a book is to provide a few examples from Isaac’s own pen:

“When we find love, we partake of heavenly bread and are made strong without labor and toil. The heavenly bread is Christ, who came down from heaven and gave life to the world. This is the nourishment of the angels. The person who has found love eats and drinks Christ every day and every hour and is thereby made immortal. …When we hear Jesus say, “Ye shall eat and drink at the table of my kingdom,” what do we suppose we shall eat, if not love? Love, rather than food and drink, is sufficient to nourish a person.”

“Repentance is given us as grace after grace, for repentance is a second regeneration by God. That of which we have received an earnest by baptism, we receive as a gift by means of repentance. Repentance is the door of mercy, opened to those who seek it. By this door we enter into the mercy of God, and apart from this entrance we shall not find mercy.”

“Blessed is God who uses corporeal objects continually to draw us close in a symbolic way to a knowledge of God’s invisible nature. O name of Jesus, key to all gifts, open up for me the great door to your treasure-house, that I may enter and praise you with the praise that comes from the heart.”

“If zeal had been appropriate for putting humanity right, why did God the Word clothe himself in the body, using gentleness and humility in order to bring the world back to his Father?”

“O wonder! The Creator clothed in a human being enters the house of tax collectors and prostitutes. Thus the entire universe, through the beauty of the sight of him, was drawn by his love to the single confession of God, the Lord of all.”

St. Isaac’s ever-timely writings are redolent of Christ Himself. The author ties it all together with background and historical information to help the reader understand the issues and times in which Isaac lived and wrote. Not to be missed!

– Matthew R. Brown

Remembering and Reclaiming Diakonia:
The Diaconate Yesterday and Today
by Dn. John Chryssavgis
Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 190 pages, $23

This book recalls days gone by when the diaconate meant far more than functions of deacons in Church services. Using illustrations from our contemporary world to invite readers from all walks of life, Chryssavgis makes a case to reclaim the fullness of service that deacons are meant to provide.

This book breaks critical ground about the office of deacon in Church history and lays a solid theological foundation for the diaconate with superb interpretation of Holy Scripture and the Church Fathers. In addition to engaging remarks about deacons working among the poor and extensive discussion of women deacons, some of the author’s most compelling reflections appear in discussions of the deacon as related to the local community.

In his foreword, Metropolitan John Zizioulas of Pergamon emphasizes the personal touch provided by Chryssavgis, himself a deacon since 1984.

– Ioannis Freeman

Holistic Healing in Byzantium
John Chirban, editor
foreword by Jaroslav Pelikan
Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 326 pages, $25

This book claims the historical precedence of holistic healing in ancient and medieval Byzantium. Contributors address how historical inquiry might illumine contemporary healing practices of Orthodox believers who have been limited by academic disciplines and professional codes that have been set by healing specialties.

Chapters that focus on healing environments will be of particular interest to IC readers. For example, Chapters 3 and 4: Timothy Miller’s essay (Chapter 3), “Byzantine Hospitals and Holistic Medicine,” and Andrew Crislip’s, “Monastic Health Care and the Late Antique Hospital” (Chapter 4), explore ancient ways to create healing environments that strike me as very modern. In particular, these chapters illustrate practical approaches to resolving modern dilemmas caused by health-care economics and limited access to care in industrialized nations.

Taking the stigma out of illness of body and soul is a theme that runs throughout the 12 chapters. Pelikan mentions this fact in his foreword where he grounds the theme in the “Basiliados,” which were hospitals that institutionalized St. Basil’s Christian anthropology.

– I.F.

Remember Thy First Love:
Three Stages of the Spiritual Life in the Theology of Elder Sophrony
by Archimandrite Zacharias
Mount Thabor Publishing, 464 pages, $28

Archimandrite Zacharias of St. John the Baptist Monastery (Essex, UK) provides a third volume in a series of transcribed verbal teachings by his spiritual father, Archimandrite Sophrony (1896-1993), who was the spiritual son of St. Silouan the Athonite (1866-1933). The foreword by Bishop Basil notes that Archimandrite Zacharias serves as “one of the sponsors of my monastic tonsure.” Four generations of spiritual fathers [and sons] are evident in this third volume.

The book presents three stages to the spiritual life: (1) God reaches out to every person, which enables the forming of a covenant between God and the person; (2) a long and difficult period of faith when God removes His grace from a person; and concludes with (3) God’s grace flowing again to each person, which results in what Elder Sophrony and St. Silouan called “charismatic humility.”

An appendix with questions and answers amplifies the content that Elder Sophrony shared with Archimandrite Zacharias. For example, a question appears concerning why Zacharias often quotes from the Apocalypse of St. John, whether that was his own preference or else something that he learned from his Elder Sophrony. Zacharias answers with characteristic humility that is borne of love for his spiritual father, Sophrony.

– I.F.

Taught by God: Making Sense of the Difficult Sayings of Jesus
by Daniel Fanous
Orthodox Research Institute, 260 pages, $15

This book shakes the Pharisees and consoles the seekers among its readers. Faith emerges with understanding as the author explores such difficult narratives in the Gospels as “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit,” “I did not come to bring peace but a sword,” and “My God, why have You forsaken Me.”

Fanous links understanding to faith by providing just enough rabbinic background to show how Christ employed ideas in order to raise exciting questions that carry not only a punch, but also an answer. Orthodox readers need not leave their thinking caps at the door when reading this book, and they need not bring any more background in biblical exegesis than the interest of an average adult with faith in Christ who asks “What in the world did Christ mean by this or that?”

Fanous sees Christ’s encounter with the Canaanite woman (Mt 5: 21-28) as illustrating a spiritual and economic border between the people of Israel and the Gentiles. The woman asks Christ to exorcize her daughter, and persists despite Christ’s response about not throwing bread for the children to dogs. Fanous explores the narrative according to an imbalance in riches, whereby the Canaanite woman is the affluent representative of people around Tyre. Yet she conveys no such pride in her rank and prestige, but instead humbles herself in response. Comparing us with the woman, Fanous concludes: “Though we were content to sit even at His feet and receive these glorious remnants, it was not enough for Him.”

– I.F.

The Legend of the Valentine
by Katherine Grace Bond
illustrated by Don Tate
Zonderkidz, $15

http://katherinegracebond.com/files/books.html

A child in school, his father in jail. The child is Marcus, a nine-year-old African-American boy living in Alabama in the sixties. His father’s “crime” is that, along with Martin Luther King, he has been in a march against racism. A bully at school named Travis makes life hard for Marcus, first demanding a “skin-colored” crayon, then dumping Marcus’ lunch in his lap. Back at home, Marcus resists telling his mother and grandmother what has happened, but finally he confesses that he hates Travis.

It so happens that the story is set on the eve of Valentine’s Day. Grandma suggests to Marcus that they make valentine cards together and uses the occasion to tell the story of St. Valentine and how, when he refused to worship the emperor, he was beaten and thrown in jail. His prayers for the daughter of his jailer led to her being healed of her blindness.

Finally Marcus is moved to make a valentine card for Travis with the message, “Let’s be friends.” Travis tears up the card but then other students take up the message. The story ends with Marcus extending his hand to Travis. How does Travis respond? Is there is a happy ending? The reader has to decide.

Katherine Grace Bond tells the story with a sure hand and without a wasted word, bringing to life one of the most difficult aspects of Christian life – the love of enemies.

– Jim Forest

From the Pascha 2011 issue of “In Communion” (issue 60)

❖ IN COMMUNION / Pascha / Spring 2011 / Issue 60


Recommended Reading Fall 2010 IC 58

Wednesday, November 24th, 2010

Towards a Truly Free Market
by John Medaille
Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 282 pp, $27

The economy is very sick, perhaps terminally, because of an economic system that provides capitalism for the profits in good times – and socialism for the losses in bad times, but mostly for those “too big to fail,” whose folly typically brought on the catastrophe. Thus, good times and bad times alike lead to an increasing concentration of wealth – and the economic and social precariousness that entails.

The system is broken, but Medaille’s book argues that both traditional alternatives – socialist or laissez-faire capitalism – are deeply flawed. Both ignore the essential human need for control of productive property, and not merely consumer goods. These ideologies lead to economics based on flawed analysis of labor, land, and money – since all of them act very differently than normal commodities. A flawed anthropology, combined with flawed economic analysis, lead inevitably to an “economic science” which consistently fails to predict economic downturns.

Medaille proposes an alternate analysis which provides an economic defense of Distributism – the wide dispersal of productive property – as a more efficient and more just system. He provides a number of case studies. For instance, the 80,000 owner-employees of Mondragon Cooperative Corporation do many of the things anarcho-capitalists and socialists demand, but do them in the real world and not simply on paper. Most of the profits go to the owner-employees, but also fund social insurance programs, training institutes, research centers, a school system, and a university. Medaille also provides a number of policy suggestions for reducing the cost of government, ending bailouts, and reforming health insurance.

Medaille’s book may cause you to rethink both what economies are for and how they should work to achieve a greater degree of justice and efficiency.
Daniel Lieuwen

Atheist Delusions
by David Bentley Hart
Yale University Press, 252 pp, $17

One often hears sweeping generalizations about how evil Christians have been and the malign influence of Christianity in general in the development of civilization. It’s true that Christians, individually and collectively, have committed many horrific sins, but, in summing up the past, we are simply often believing and repeating conclusions that come from historians and journalists hostile to religion in general and to Christianity in particular. The result is often worse than caricature – a comic book disguised as history.

Hart carefully looks at some of the charges, then turns on the light. Christians did not, he shows, burn the Library of Alexandria, or torture millions during the Inquisition, persecute Galileo, or wreak havoc across Europe during the Reformation in the name of religion. Christianity gave the world hospitals, modern science, and the moral framework to regard all as worthy of life. Hart even points out that it would not even be possible for contemporary promoters of atheism like Dawkins and Hitchens to make their arguments were it not for concepts of justice and fairness rooted in the “Christian Revolution.”

The primary focus of Hart’s book is the “Christian Revolution” – the social impact of a religion radically different than any other in the centuries when Christianity replaced paganism. Since the Enlightenment, pagan civilization has been eulogized as an era of wisdom, progress and scientific advance that was derailed by bigoted, sex-denying, book-hating Christians. Hart shows that, much as we owe to the ancient world, it was a culture of slavery, infanticide, and of contempt for the faceless men and women of the vast underclass. Christianity, “the only true revolution in history,” changed everything from the bottom up.
This is a book that I’ll be recommending to friends for years to come. Jim Forest

Christ after Communism:
Spiritual Authority and Its Transmission Today
by Fr. Stephen Headley
Orthodox Research Institute, 560 pp, $26

The resurrection of Orthodox Christianity in the post-Communist Russia after decades of persecution by an atheist regime remains one of the most remarkable stories of recent decades. A gifted scholar of religion in both eastern Asia and Russia, Fr. Stephen Headley (now rector of an Orthodox parish in Vezelay, France) provides a complex and sensitive portrait of Orthodoxy in Russia during the post-Soviet period drawn from his close relationship with several Moscow parishes and many in-depth interviews. He tells the story of Russian Christianity from within, with an eye for religious devotion, church reconstruction, the revival of iconography, and the remarkable vitality of religious expression in films. The result is a beautiful and informative book, a must for anyone interested in religious life in modern Russia and its lessons for Christians in other countries.
— JF

Hidden and Triumphant:
The Struggle to Save Russian Iconography
by Irina Yazykova
Paraclete Press, 194 pp, $27

Irina Yazykova’s book traces the history of iconography during the Soviet era. Her main concern is with the process of icon-making, an art passed down from master to student. How did this transmission occur in Russia when nearly all the living icon painters were persecuted, locked up or killed?

In the years before World War II, Maria Sokolova may have been the last remaining iconographer in the country. Having been fired as a schoolteacher for refusing to deliver a classroom lecture advocating atheism, she traveled across the country in search of boarded-up churches and monasteries in order to make copies of the ancient icons. “It is difficult,” writes the author, “to even imagine the courage … of this woman. … But when she saw her country in a state of moral and physical collapse, Maria Sokolova viewed it as her duty, and made it her personal mission.”
A major theme of the book is the complex relationship between the “canon,” the standard forms used in icons from time immemorial, and the force of living faith within a particular iconographer. Yazykova stresses the paradox that a slavish adherence to the canon can be lifeless, while too much personal intrusion turns an icon into a mere religious painting. Iconography is a spiritual discipline, and, like all spiritual disciplines, one in which “[Christ] must increase, but I must decrease.”

Mercy Without Borders
By Mark and Louise Zwick
Paulist Press, 228 pp, $20

The Zwicks present stories, from their time in El Salvador when death squads stalked the land to the streets of Houston where refugees and immigrants have fled over the last thirty years.

The Zwicks went to El Salvador to live with the poor, landed in the middle of a civil war, and then returned to the United States to begin Casa Juan Diego House of Hospitality in San Antonio, Texas, to receive refugees from the Central American wars and later immigrants from many countries.

In attempting to follow the Gospel in a particular historical situation, using the approach of Catholic Worker founders Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin, they have listened to the stories of joy and sorrow, violence and benevolence, crosses and small miracles, told by men and women who have undertaken incredible journeys.
— JF

Beauty for Ashes: The Spiritual
Transformation of a Greek Community
By Stephen Lloyd-Moffett
St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 240 pp, $20

This is just the book to read for anyone who has given up on the church. It provides a portrait of a northeastern town in Greece, Preveza, where the history of corruption in the local church will strike readers as both scandalous and ordinary.  The book covers the religious and political history of the region from the time of the Apostle Paul to the arrival of Metropolitan Meletios in 1980. With great sensitivity, the author deals with the issue of sexual misconduct within the church, the restoration of the local church to spiritual health, and renewal of trust between church leaders and laity. He also provides a short biography of Meletios, a bishop who applied the ancient faith in a modern context to inspire social and religious change. The author writes: “For Meletios, the church is the place where the individual should feel most at home, for it is closest to one’s divine origin.”

This is a book for parish leaders, priests, prelates and anyone able to appreciate how a simple prayer of the heart can transform the church and change the minds of even its most cynical critics.
Ioannis Freeman

On the Neurobiology of Sin
by Archbishop Lazar Puhalo
Synaxis Press, 88 pp, $15 (Cnd)
synaxis@orthodoxcanada.org

This small book is intended to be controversial and provoke debate and discussion on some extremely important subjects.
In both Christianity and Islam, religion has fallen prey to fundamentalists and political demagogues. A major part of the collapse of Christianity in the West and the radicalization of Islam results from pre-occupation with superstitions and our disconnect from reality. For Christians, this entails dogmatizing the notion that mental illness is a demonic possession, making passions and “sin” into abstractions that somehow infect people like phantoms, insisting on black and white absolutes and over-dogmatizing the human condition. Both Islam and right-wing, fundamentalist Christians impose their political ideologies on their religion and end up with a religio-political ideology in place of a living faith. Seeking to dogmatize every mystery of the human person, and impose absolutes where none can exist, morality has collapsed into ideological moralism and so deadened the life-giving Gospel of Jesus Christ among Christians, and turned ordinary Islamic citizens into violent murderers.

The book invites a closer look at the gap between destructive moralism and life affirming morality, between superstition and reality in the Christian life.
— JF

Creative Suffering and the Wounded Healer
by Byron J. Gaist
Orthodox Research Institute, 456 pp, $30

Gaist, an Orthodox psychotherapist living in Cyprus, has built a bridge between Orthodox Christian theology and Carl Jung’s analytical psychology. Most appealing about the book is that it neither diminishes Orthodox theology nor weakens Jung’s conceptual boundaries. Rather than interpreting spiritual experiences as psychology, Gaist builds a bridge out of similar beliefs about human experience shared by Orthodoxy and analytical psychology, something many other authors have been unable to construct due to their doubts about what is real. There are chapters on the meanings of suffering and passion, asceticism and the imagination, and dynamics of healing. This book should be read by Orthodox Confessors, spiritual counselors, psychotherapists, anyone interested in the Church Fathers, and people concerned about contemporary psychology when it comes to care of the soul. Ioannis Freeman

Why Forgive?
By Johann Christoph Arnold
Orbis Books, 232 pp
free download at: www.plough.com/
ebooks/pdfs/WhyForgive.pdf

In this book ordinary people tell astonishing stories of forgiveness. Why forgive? Each contributor has his or her own way of answering the question.

For example, Steven McDonald, a former policeman, tells of having been shot at close range by a teenager on a Harlem street back in 1986. “Before I knew what was happening, there was a deafening explosion, the muzzle flashed, and a bullet struck me above my right eye,” Steven recalls. He was left a quadriplegic, dependent on a mechanical ventilator.

A major element in his journey to forgiveness was the birth six months later of his son Conor.
“Conor’s birth,” McDonald writes, “was like a message from God that I should live, and live differently. And it was clear to me that I had to respond to that message. I prayed that I would be changed, that the person I was would be replaced by something new. That prayer was answered with a desire to forgive the young man who shot me. I wanted to free myself of all the negative, destructive emotions that his act of violence had unleashed in me: anger, bitterness and hatred. I needed to free myself of those emotions so that I could love my wife and our child and those around us.”

Other stories pertain to forgiveness and marriage, forgiving parents, and accepting responsibility while managing to forgive ourselves. This is an excellent book for discussion group use. Let the participants write their own accounts of forgiveness.
Ioannis Freeman

In Communion / Fall 2010 / issue 58

Recommended Reading – Summer 2010

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

The Compassion of the Father
by Fr. Boris Bobrinskoy
St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, $15

The book is a collection of essays arranged around three themes. The first is that of facing evil and suffering. Here Bobrinskoy addresses the reality of sin, the challenge of loving one’s enemies and the mystery of forgiveness. This is clearly no cheap Gospel, but neither is it a set of abstract moral demands that leave us wallowing in our powerlessness to respond, for healing and forgiveness become possible by entering into the life of the Trinity, into a life of repentance.

This leads into the second theme, that of the liturgy of the heart, in which entering into the depths of our heart becomes the only way in which we can respond to suffering without becoming hardened or embittered by it.

Here we encounter the invocation of the Name, not simply as a technique, but as a theological and ecclesial reality that links us to the earliest Christian invocation and longing. It is an inner Eucharist that remains inseparable from the Liturgy of the Church and which, like that Liturgy, has cosmic implications.

The third theme, on our knowledge of God, includes essays on the relationship between theology and spirituality, on the relationship between theology and language, and on tradition. These essays help to ground the book in a rigor that is not only theological but also spiritual. There is no escaping the centrality of dogma, of the Church and of the tradition, but if these are merely abstract realities then it is too easy for them to become tools for our hardened hearts. Instead our intellects need to be baptized and the ascetical life and the life of the theologian are deeply connected, for everything converges “in the one crucible of holiness.”

– Macrina Walker

Tall Grass
by Carlos Rodriguez Soto
300 pages, $30

Carlos Rodriguez Soto, a Catholic from Spain, worked in Uganda from 1984 to 1987, then again from 1991 to 2008. In the northern part of Uganda he witnessed a horrific civil war which he describes in Tall Grass. (The book is published by Fountain Publishers in Kampala, Uganda. It is distributed in North America by Michigan State University Press and in Europe by the African Books Collective in Oxford, UK.)

These are stories of the effects of war on ordinary people, forgotten by the charismatic leader who led the insurrection, the government and military of Uganda, most of the leaders and diplomats of other nations, and most of the media. The rebels killed and mutilated many, also abducting boys to make them soldiers and girls to make them sex slaves. The economy was ruined. Families that once owned droves of cattle were driven into poverty and had to live in camps.

Fr. Carlos remarks that the sound of war is not explosions but a deep silence, pregnant with fear, waiting for shots and shouts to ring out somewhere not far away. He relates stories of great courage. Fr. Carlos himself displayed it, driven as he was by love for God and for suffering people. He is also brave enough to talk about the consequences that he suffered because of his work for others. But he was not the only person of great heart in this struggle – he tells of many others, some of whom sacrificed their lives in the service of peace.

These are also stories of a resilient and beautiful people. Before suffering these most recent crimes, the people of northern Uganda had long been bought and sold as slaves both in the Americas and Muslim nations. The people who remain there now know suffering and poverty – but also faith, hope and joy. The book tells of one man who defined peace. He said, “Peace is when a man fears only snakes.”

Many lessons are to be gained from this deeply moving book, but I think one is especially important: theology matters. On the one hand, the war that exists in northern Uganda today would never have happened if the people had had a deeper understanding of the Ten Commandments and the work of the Holy Spirit. On the other hand, the reconstruction and peace in northern Uganda now would never have happened if the people had lacked the fundamental attitudes of love and forgiveness that they do in fact have. Western Christians might profit from a study of people who are poor both in possessions and in spirit. They give us a glimpse of the Kingdom of Heaven.

– David Holden

Hidden & Triumphant:
The Underground Struggle to Save Russian Iconography
by Irina Yazykova
Paraclete Press, 196 pages, $27

Irina Yazykova, an Orthodox art historian teaching in Russia, relates ancient and medieval episodes of iconoclasm leading up to 20th-century Russia. The modern part of her story happens more than a thousand years after St. Maximos the Confessor and St. John Damascene defended the veneration of icons.

Bridging a millennium by exploring the theme of iconoclasm is reason enough to read this book – namely, to glean how the author draws simple but poignant links between Byzantine and Marxist iconoclasts.

In addition to historical links, Yazykova writes superb stories of personal and collective sacrifice. Each story is long on details and short on platitudes. The stories make this book a gem for families to read aloud. Even a middle-school child can identify with characters and situations, while adults can plumb complex details likely to encourage re-reading and discussing the book.
Hidden and Triumphant answers a general question: What broke the yoke of Soviet suppression of icons and iconography? Her answer unfolds across 196 pages. Beauty triumphed over totalitarian oppressors.

– Ioannis Freeman

Talking Back: A Monastic Handbook
for Combating Demons
by Evagrius of Pontus (Evagrius Ponticus)
Cistercian Publications, $16.50

Professor David Brakke translates Antirhetikos, a work authored by the fourth-century monk Evagrius of Pontus, as “Talking Back.” To whom is Evagrius talking back? To demons. Indeed, his book has been a staple for Christian combat with demons ever since.

The benefits of identifying demonic thoughts and dismissing them are many. Talking back to demons with scripture “cuts off” any chance for the seeds of proto-passions to take root in the soul. The demons under attack are gluttony, fornication, love of money, sadness, anger, listlessness, vainglory and pride. In every case, Evagrius proposes using passages from scripture as weapons of self defense. By quoting biblical passages aloud, we don’t let the demons get as far as a tempting thought – a simple method but one that works.
– Ioannis Freeman

Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh: Essential Writings
Gillian Crow, editor
Orbis Books, 188 pages, $18

As a young physician working with the Resistance in France during the German occupation, Anthony Bloom decided that, should he survive the war, he would become a monk. He did so and went on to become a priest and later a bishop. For half a century, he led the Russian Orthodox Church in Britain. Thanks to his frequent BBC broadcasts, he became one of the major voices of Christianity in both the English and Russian-speaking worlds, making a difference in many people’s lives, both Christian and non-Christian.

It often seemed to me that, in being with him, I was meeting one of the original Apostles gathered together by Christ. He spoke not as an expert on Christ, but as someone who knew him personally and had been among the first witnesses of the resurrection.
This is well-edited anthology gathered from his principal writings plus a selection of talks and sermons. An excellent introduction is provided by his biographer and the book’s editor, Gillian Crow.
– Jim Forest

Toward the Endless Day: The Life of Elisabeth Behr-Sigel
by Olga Lossky
University of Notre Dame, 344 pages, $35

Elizabeth Behr-SigelElisabeth Behr-Sigel was one of the most challenging – often controversial – Orthodox theologians of the last century. For decades, until her death in 2005, she was a key participant in building up an Orthodox presence in France in a process that integrated both refugees from Eastern Europe and converts from the West.

Born in 1907 in Alsace, France, to a Protestant father and a Jewish mother, she received a master’s degree in theology from the Protestant Faculty of Theology at Strasbourg and began a pastoral ministry, but it lasted only one year. Attracted by the beauty of the Orthodox liturgy as well as its spirituality and theology, at age 24 she embraced the Orthodox faith.

Her many friends and mentors included Sergius Bulgakov, Mother Maria Skobtsova (St. Maria of Paris), Vladimir Lossky, Georges Florovsky, Lev Gillet, John Meyendorff, Olivier Clément, and Kallistos Ware.

During most of World War II, with her husband André Behr and their children, she lived in Nancy, France, where she taught in public schools. Living under military occupation was her apprenticeship in ecumenism, when people of different Christian traditions came together in the Behr-Sigel home for religious dialogue, at the same time finding the inner strength to oppose Nazism, hide Jews, and provide escape routes.

The book includes many extracts from the prophetic letters Elisabeth wrote during a year spent in Berlin shortly before Hitler came to power. No less remarkable is the diary she kept during the war. In the midst of falling bombs, the Jesus Prayer became vitally important to her – “a cry of the heart, a cry of despair and of hope, an irresistible and never-ending need to call upon Christ to help us in our powerlessness.”

After the war she studied at St. Sergius Theological Institute in Paris, later joining the school’s illustrious faculty. She wrote and published essays and books on Orthodox theology, spirituality, and the role of women in the Church. When at last the role of the deaconate of women is restored in the Church, it will be in part thanks to the labors of Elisabeth Behr-Sigel.

During the last year of her life, she met weekly with Olga Lossky, discussing her life and providing access to her journals and letters, thus giving this biography a climate of intimacy.

I only regret the biography does not include attention to Elisabeth’s engagement with the Orthodox Peace Fellowship. She was a member of its advisory board, wrote for this journal, and took an active part in several OPF conferences.

– Jim Forest

* * *

Peacemaking and the love of enemies

One of the greatest dangers that face peacemakers: that peacemakers themselves become the victims of the evil forces they are trying to overcome. The same fear of “the enemy” that leads warmakers to war can begin to affect the peacemaker who sees the warmaker as “the enemy.” Words of anger and hostility can gradually enter into the language of the peacemaker. Even the sense of urgency and emergency that motivates the arms race can become the driving force behind the peacemaker. Then indeed the strategy of war and the strategy of peace have become the same, and peacemaking has lost its heart.

One of the reasons why so many people have developed strong reservations about the peace movement is precisely that they do not see the peace they seek in the peacemakers themselves. Often what they see are fearful and angry people trying to convince others of the urgency of their protest. The tragedy is that peacemakers often reveal more of the demons they are fighting than of the peace they want to bring about.

The words of Jesus go right to the heart of our struggle: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who treat you badly.” (Luke 6: 27-28)  The more I reflect on these words, the more I consider them to be the test for peacemakers. What my enemies need is not my anger, rejection, resentment, or disdain, but my love. Spiritual guides throughout history have said that love for the enemy is the cornerstone of the message of Jesus and the core of holiness.

— Henri J. M. Nouwen

in Peacework: Prayer, Resistance, Community (Orbis Books)

❖ In Communion / Summer 2010 / issue 57

Recommended Reading (Pascha 2010)

Saturday, May 22nd, 2010


The Saint and the Sultan:
The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi’s Mission of Peace

by Paul Moses
Doubleday, 320 pages, $26

Paul Moses presents us with a thorough examination of a singular 13th century incident that had enormous implications for Christian life, then and now: the meeting between Sultan al-Kamil and St. Francis of Assisi in the summer of 1219. Regarding this event as not simply a remote historical event, the author is convinced “that Francis and the Sultan have something important to say to us today: we can find common ground despite our differences.”

Moses paints well the historical context. The Fifth Crusade was raging. Both sides had committed horrendous atrocities against the other – a city of 80,000 people was being destroyed just a few miles from the place where Francis and the Muslim leader were in conversation. The stakes included control of Egypt, the holy city of Jerusalem, and more.

“The greatest Christian saint since the time of the apostles … opposed the crusades and peacefully approached Muslims.” Meanwhile, Moses writes, “a great sultan of Egypt, and a nephew of Saladin, was so tolerant of Christians that he allowed one of them to preach to him in the midst of a Crusade.”

The story of Francis and al Kamil suggests that “there is a better way than resentment, suspicion and warfare. It opens the door to respect, trust, and peace.”

The author show us that Francis “had discovered that peaceful submissiveness was his best weapon when dealing with a more powerful force, whether it was his aggressive father, assorted street bullies and robbers, or the papal court.” It was this realization that he took with him ‘into the valley of the shadow of death.”

Moses reminds us that “there was a tradition in medieval times that demanded repentance from those who killed in combat” and that even a “lover of chivalry and the privileged son of a wealthy merchant,” as Francis was, could be “reborn as a peacemaker.”

This is a book that calls into question the demonizing of Muslims, as well as the standard Christian response to external threats.

Christians have often chosen to be war-makers rather than peacemakers. Everything that Francis had hoped to accomplish “by going peacefully into the Muslim world was subverted, even within his own Franciscan order, to serve the politics of the day.”

– Alexander Patico

The Prayer of St Ephrem: A Biblical Commentary
by Fr. William C. Mills
Orthodox Research Institute, $11

This book will help Christians learn to pray the Prayer of St. Ephrem the Syrian with deepened understanding and motivation. The layout of the book follows sections of the Prayer, called petitions.

A chapter for each of three petitions groups similar ideas together, making it possible to get to know one petition well before moving on to the next. This structure fits the rhythm of the Prayer itself.

In his introduction, Father William comments on the importance of doing prostrations at designated points in the Prayer – an integration of spiritual and physical action that encourages humility and understanding.
Mills writes in a clear and accessible voice. When he uses unfamiliar words, he explains what they mean.

A “Food for Thought” section with appropriate questions at the end of each chapter provides a practical aid when the book is used for group discussion in parishes. One example: “Do you find yourself gossiping about other people? If so, try to identify some ways in which you refrain from gossip and idle talk.”

Again and again, Mills focuses attention on the virtue of love. Recommended for readers from early-teens upward.

– Ioannis Freeman

The Triumphant Church:
A Daily Synaxarion of the Eastern Orthodox Church

by D.H. Stamatisremote
Orthodox Research Institute, 718 p, $37

This is a vibrant and substantial collection of lives of the saints written by a respected Orthodox educator and chanter in the Greek Orthodox Church in America.

His synaxarion is not limited to the Greek saints. Instead, the volume includes descriptions of about a thousand saints from across Greece, Persia, Arabia, Romania, Serbia, Russia, among others. Many entries inspire the reader with examples of a saint’s perseverance in seeking to make peace – to love God, one’s neighbor and the Church with intensity. The author’s engaging style of writing helps make the saints he writes about both appealing and challenging.

This is a book that lends itself to daily reading, something to be read not only for private devotion but during a family meal or parish event.

– Ioannis Freeman

The Life of Saint Brigid
by Jane G. Meyer
Conciliar Press, $13

Jane Meyer’s life of Saint Brigid is a wonderful addition to anyone’s library of saints’ lives told for young people.

Brigid is one of the great figures of western Christianity, loved not only in her native Ireland but around the world. The daughter of a pagan chieftain and an enslaved Christian mother, she grew up to become a nun and abbess. A special stress is put on the saint’s eager hospitality, a trait that revealed itself early in life. “Brigid saw Christ in everyone she met, and had a particular love for those less fortunate than herself. When the poor came knocking at the kitchen doors, Brigid handed out loaves of bread and jugs of milk.”

One of the stories Meyer relates is Brigid’s modest request to a king for a piece of land no bigger than her cloak – but when she shook out the garment, it spread across a huge area of fertile land until it had covered “the rolling green Curragh itself.”

The book ends with the Irish rune of hospitality, which includes the words “often, often, often goes the Christ in the stranger’s guise.”

Meyer’s telling of her life is a pleasure to read aloud. The colorful artwork by Zachary Lynch is inspired by the Celtic tradition.

– Jim Forest

Christ the Conqueror of Hell
Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyev
St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 232 p, $18

4562775246_129c844ff9The primary Paschal icon portrays Christ in the mysterious space between his burial and resurrection. He has destroyed the gates of hell and is freeing Adam and Eve from their tombs along with all the other righteous ones who have awaited their liberator. It is an icon which explains, via visual metaphors, an event we might otherwise not be capable of imaging.
In this exceptionally engaging book, Archbishop Hilarion explores texts – biblical, apocryphal and liturgical poetry – that stand behind the “harrowing of hell” icon. His sources are numerous, beginning with Peter’s speech on Pentecost, recorded in Acts, in which he stated that Christ “was not abandoned to Hades nor did his flesh see corruption.” Again, it was Peter who said that, after his execution, Jesus “preached to the spirits in prison.” (1 Peter 3:18-21)

It is a theme developed in a second century text known as “The Epistle of the Apostles”: “I went down into the place of Lazarus and preached unto the righteous and the prophets … that they might come up into that which is above…” (p 24)

Hilarion lucidly explores text after text (many of which were new to me) that will assist anyone who has ever been fascinated by the icon to better understand its meaning. Hades, the author shows, is not to be understood as the hell of everlasting, inescapable torment, but as a place of the divine presence where the fate of any person may change. Those who long to be rescued by Christ from death will indeed, like Adam and Eve, be pulled into resurrected life by his strong hands out of their tombs.

The book was first published in Russia in 2001. As no translator’s name is given, presumably it was done by the author himself, who speaks English fluently.

– Jim Forest

Spring Issue IC 56/ PASCHA  2010

Recommended Reading Winter 2010

Friday, January 29th, 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

* * * end * * *

Winter Issue IC 55 2010

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

Recommended Reading: Winter 2009

Thursday, February 26th, 2009

The Living Body of Christ

by Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh

Darton, Longman & Todd, 235pp. 10.95

Metropolitan Anthony does not offer a systematic treatise on the nature of the Church. Instead, we see multifaceted views of the Church, as if through a kaleidoscope. The book is a compilation of talks, lectures and letters which required consideration of different aspects of the Church according to their particular circumstances.

He reminds us that the Church, though a society of repentant sinners, is, nevertheless, the body of Him who is both God and Man. This theandric “extension of the incarnation” transcends our abilities to understand and explain. It should come as no surprise, then, that the book reflects the multifaceted perception of this mystery that Christians have had from the earliest times.

He warns us of the perils of a “godless approach to divine things.” Theology “is not to God what ornithology is to birds.” It is, rather, “an increasing knowledge of God through communion.” There is a primacy of experience which means that the Church can only be truly known from within.

I was struck by his teachings about hierarchy, authority and power. “Power consists in the ability of a given person or persons to enforce their will and decisions upon others. Authority is something quite different. In a sense authority has no power; it is the persuasiveness of truth that is authority.”

In practical terms, this is expressed  or should be expressed by the Church’s structure as a genuine hierarchy of service. “If in the Church we are simply a hierarchy of power because we have different titles and ranks, that is a negation of the very substance and life of the Church.”

We may also draw some comfort from Metropolitan Anthony’s observation on “the vision of the Church as the Holy Trinity mirrored: alive, dynamic, living.” This can only be demonstrated in small dioceses where everyone is known to the bishop.

The Living Body of Christ is characterized by an attitude of openness to the world beyond the canonical boundaries of the Church. This includes willingness for the Church to engage in dialogue with other Christian communities and with the broader cultural life of society.

Metropolitan Anthony teaches us that the Church betrays its vocation if it adopts the characteristics of any kind of ethnic, cultural or social ghetto. It even does so if it defines itself exhaustively as a gathered Eucharistic community. This is not to demean the liturgical life of the Church in any way or to suggest that we should become woolly minded in matters of doctrine or ethics. The Church is a prophetic body. This should not, however, be seen only, or even chiefly, in negative or censorious terms.

Metropolitan Anthony teaches that we are called to receive truth and acknowledge holiness wherever we discern them. The temptation to retreat into a “safe,” unchallenged religiosity, which can be locked away in some hermetically sealed part of our brains, is to be rejected.

Metropolitan Anthony does not stand alone in calling for this spirit of openness. It is a theme which runs through the teaching of Fr. Alexander Schmemann. It is also writ large in the works and lives of Fr. Alexander Menn and St. Maria of Paris. Given such a unified witness from people such as these, how can we fail to conclude that it is a vital message for our time? Ian Page

The Peace Church and the Ecumenical Community

by Fernando Enns

Pandora Press and WCC Publications, 360 pp., $28.81

The “historic peace churches” include the Quakers, Church of the Brethren and Mennonites. Enns is a Mennonite theologian who heads the Institute for Peace Church Theology in Hamburg. The book clarifies these churches’ emphasis on ethics as a core part of their identity, and a basis for providing an example to other Christian denominations. He alludes to “the urgent need for the Christian traditions to present nonviolence, peace-building and reconciliation as axioms of their theology.”

Enns acknowledges that Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism contribute a greater appreciation of mystery and apostolic continuity, but asserts that “it is not enough to preserve the church’s attributes in doctrine. … There must be a comprehensive connection between those attributes and the life of the church.” The book points out the dichotomy of “the believed church” (the ideal Body of Christ) and “the experienced church” (that which actually exists). He quotes another writer who says, “Ecclesiology and Christian ethics must stay in close dialogue, each honoring and learning from the distinctive language and thought-forms of the other.”

“In a free church understanding, Christian faith is expressed in terms of experiential religion. The life of faith is known through first-hand experience, with no room for a second-hand or substitute faith. Dogmas, confessions, rational theology, and office bearers could at best offer supportive help for personal faith.” Yet, Enns says, “the koinonia of the church is a unity within a continuous plurality…” “Diversity as well as unity is a gift of God,” states a 1993 WCC paper. He goes further when he states: “Christ is present outside the church as well, for the Spirit ‘blows where it will’ and works in many areas.” Alex Patico

Not by Bread Alone

Homilies on the Gospel According to Saint Matthew

by Archbishop Lazar Puhalo

Dewdney: Synaxis Press, 2008

There is a variety of scholarly and devotional books on the Gospel of Matthew, and there is a long debate between the devotional and scholarly world about how to interpret and exegete such a text. The academic is often more concerned about intellectual rigor and the insights of historic criticism. The devotional tradition tends to be more interested in the significance of the text for the heart and personal life journey.

It is from within the wisdom tradition of Orthodoxy that a more contemplative reading of biblical texts has emerged that avoids both approaches. Not by Bread Alone stands very much within the classical Orthodox tradition of contemplative exegesis.

Archbishop Lazar Puhalo is certainly one of the wisest and most insightful theologians of our day. The verses and chapters that are interpreted go straight to the pure gold of Matthew, then present such distilled wisdom to the listening ear, heart and head. Needless to say, this book deserves many a meditative reading.

Not by Bread Alone is a must for anyone interested in how to read, interpret and internalize sacred texts in a way that leads to transformation and deification.

Ron Dart

Winter 2009 issue of In Communion / IC 52

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Recommended Reading: Fall 2008

Tuesday, December 16th, 2008

Dimitri’s Cross:

The Life of St. Dimitri Klepinin

by Hèléne Arjkovsky-Klepinine

Conciliar Press, 189 pages, $17

In February of 1943, Father Dimitri Klepinin, a 39-year-old Orthodox priest, was arrested by the German occupiers of Paris for issuing false baptismal certificates to Jews, an action he had performed time and again without hesitation, though well aware of the dangers involved. A year later he died at Dora, a German concentration camp known as “the Man-Eater.” His final action, done with the help of another prisoner as he was too weak to do himself, was to make the sign of the cross.

Before his arrest Fr. Dimitri worked side-by-side with Mother Maria Skobtsova at the house of hospitality she had founded in 1933. After the German occupation began, the community turned much of its attention to Jews and all others who were in danger.

While undergoing interrogation at the Gestapo headquarters in Paris, Fr. Dimitri was asked, “How dare you talk of helping those swine [the Jews] as being a Christian duty!” Fr. Dimitri responded by holding up the cross hanging over his cassock. “Do you know this Jew?” The Gestapo officer instantly struck Fr. Dimitri on the face. “Your priest did himself in,” he said afterward. “He insists that if he were to be freed, he would act exactly as before.”

Fr. Dimitri along with Mother Maria, Yuri Skobtsov and Ilya Fundaminsky were glorified by the Orthodox Church in 2004. Their icons are now found in many churches, but only now has a detailed account of Fr. Dimitri’s life become available to the English-speaking world.

Some of the most memorable stories concerns small moments of family life for example how Fr. Dimitri was so distressed when his daughter banged her head on a corner of the kitchen table that he nearly sawed off all four corners of the table in order to prevent future injuries. Only his wife’s intervention saved the table from ruin.

Hèléne Arjkovsky-Klepinine last saw her father when she was a child of six. In preparing this account of his life, from childhood in pre-revolutionary Russia (he was born in 1904) to his martyrdom 40 years later, she has sought out many who knew him well and even found a few witnesses who were with him at the Dora concentration camp. It is a story of remarkable constancy in caring for others, from his wife and children to each stranger at the door. Fr. Dimitri is among those saints who can be described as “a man for all seasons.”

The final section of the book consists of Fr. Dimitri s letters to his wife from his initial confinement until no more letters were allowed. In them, the reader meets a priest whose reliance on Christ was absolute and love for his neighbor excluded no one. His humility was profound and his courage never wavered. JF

The Life of Saint Martin

text by Verena Smith

color illustrations by Emile Probst

Seattle: St. Nectarios Press, 24 pages

There are quite different ways of looking at history. The dominant one is to regard it in terms of wars and warriors and the clash of civilizations. Another is to focus on the lives of the saints, who, by living Christ-revealing lives, help us to better understand what it means to follow Christ. The one route centers on power and bloodshed, the other on conversion. For those of us trying to follow Christ, one of the ways the Church helps us is by remembering the great saints and retelling their stories.

Would that there were more children’s few books about saints, but here is one of them a life about a saint of the fourth century, Martin of Tours.

So important was Martin’s role in the conversion of Europe to Christianity that to this day, in several European countries, the eve of his feast day, November 12, is still the occasion of festivities, especially processions of children carrying lanterns as they go from door-to-door singing St. Martin songs in exchange for gifts of fruit or candy. The idea behind the tradition is that St. Martin should make all of us more generous.

In some towns and cities, a man dressed in a Roman officer’s uniform and riding a white horse leads a parade of lantern-bearing children and their parents. The man of horseback represents, of course, St. Martin, dressed as he was in the period before his baptism. The great event in his early life was to notice a freezing beggar at a city gateway and to cut his officer’s cape in two, giving half it to the man in need. It’s a scene represented in countless carvings, paintings and stained glass windows, especially in churches and monasteries bearing Martin’s name. That same night, Martin had a vision in which he realized that the man he helped was none other than Christ.

The other important story from Martin’s younger life occurred soon afterward, when he refused to take part in a great battle that was due to begin the next day. “I am a soldier of Christ,” he told Caesar. “To fight is not permissible for me.” Accused of cowardice, Martin offered to stand before the opposing army unarmed, but instead was put in chains for his disobedience. When the opposing army instead chose not to enter into battle, Caesar saw this as a heavenly sign, freeing Martin and granting him a discharge.

Martin was still a catechumen at the time, but soon afterward was baptized, became a monk, and eventually was conscripted by local believers to become the bishop of Tours in France. It was a fate Martin tried to avoid, regarding himself as unworthy. He went into hiding, but the noisy geese with which he took shelter gave him away. (Poor geese! In Austria, Germany and France, many of goose are roasted on St. Martin’s feast day.)

While this brief account of St. Martin’s life leaves out some of my favorite details of his life (the reason Martin left the army is not made clear), nonetheless the book will open a door for any family in which it is read. The illustrations are excellent and the story told in an engaging way. JF

The Hermit, the Icon, and the Emperor: The Holy Virgin Comes to Cyprus

by Chrissi Hart, illustrated by Niko Chocheli

Conciliar Press, $17

Chrissi Hart tells the story of how an icon of the Mother of God, painted by the Evangelist Luke, journeyed from a palace in Constantinople to a remote hilltop in Cyprus, where it remains to this day as part of the iconostasis of the monastery church of Kykkos. It’s a tale that begins with the song of a cuckoo and involves a resolute hermit, a governor stricken with paralysis, a princess close to death, and an emperor whose greatest treasure is the icon painted by St. Luke. Niko Chocheli’s vibrant illustrations bring the story to life and will give many young readers their first glimpse of Byzantium. The story also introduces the realization that some dreams are God-given.

It’s a book that will engage both children and their parents and no doubt will inspire more than a few readers to make their way as pilgrims to the Kykkos monastery on Cyprus. -JF

The Uncreated Light

by Solrunn Nes

Eerdmans, 187 pages, $25

The Uncreated Light is centered on the Gospel accounts of the Transfiguration, as rendered in four representative portrayals spanning the 6th through the 15th centuries, and supplemented by four other works.

The book is also a statement about the human person in his relation to God. One can find the key to Nes’s thesis in this: “Theosis [deification] does not imply that the difference between the divine and the human is erased. On the contrary, greater likeness with God will make man more human since the deified man has developed his God-given potential. … Iron which is heated by fire is still iron, but is different from cold iron in that it can be formed.” The point is that the human person is not made to vanish in his encounter with God. Nothing of the truly human, including personal identity, is left behind, but is taken up and made more fully itself in communion with the deifying Christ human iron infused with divine fire.

While Nes does what most art historians do, her book is theological in a way that art history books rarely are. She interprets her examples through two theological controversies: 8th-century iconoclasm and the 14th-century hesychasm. Without a grasp of the relevant theology, one misses so much that is vital to the iconography itself.

The three-part structure of the book ascent, vision, and descent assumes the shape of the Transfiguration accounts and, by extension, the eastern-patristic path of the mystical journey. Nes shows how the various depictions themselves elucidate the Incarnation, the glory of the Cross, eschatology, and human deification.

The highest compliment I can pay Solrunn Nes’s book is that it induces one to pray and to conceive a desire for the True Beauty objectively reflected there.

Fr. Addison Hart

Violence and Christian Spirituality: An Ecumenical Conversation

by Fr. Emmanuel Clapsis

Foreword by Patriarch Bartholomew I

ISBN: 9782825415054

WCC Publications, 329 pages, 35 francs

For those who wished they might have attended the conference on violence and spirituality held in 2005 at the Hellenic College and Holy Cross Orthodox School of Theology, it’s not too late to at least listen in. Fr. Emmanuel Clapsis, Professor of Dogmatic Theology at Holy Cross, has gathered together all the papers that were presented and also included transcripts of a panel discussion on domestic violence. The topics include Christian witness in overcoming violence, religious freedom, forgiveness and reconciliation, the saints as models of Christ’s peace, and nonviolence in the Orthodox tradition.

Fall 2008 issue of In Communion / IC 51