Archive for the ‘recommended reading’ 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

philokalia review image

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- Believing in Russia: Religious Policy after Communism by Geraldine Fagan

Friday, April 26th, 2013

Believing in Russia: Religious Policy after Communism

by Geraldine Fagan
Routledge, 2013, 291 pp.
Reviewed by Fr. Stephen Headley

The altar of the tiny stone church of the parish of St. Stephen and St. Germain in Vezelay, France where Fr. Stephen serves as priest.

The altar of the tiny stone church of the parish
of St. Stephen and St. Germain in Vezelay,
France where Fr. Stephen serves as priest.

The following article is an expanded review, relevant to this issue’s theme, as we continue to also explore the Russian Church’s role in Russian society and politics.

The title of this new publication Believing in Russia captures the ambiguity the author is studying. On the one hand, there is the question of nationalism: How do politicians encourage belief in Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union? On the other, the question of the plural expressions of religious belief as they have blossomed over the last twenty-five years: How does Russian society “share” common spaces in the Russian Federation? For general readers interested in the subject of religion in Russian public and political life, the book provides a “comprehensive overview of religious policy in Russia since the end of the communist regime,” written in an easily accessible, journalistic style. For someone like myself who has published a book on Orthodox parish life in Moscow, and other scholars, this book provides an indispensable complement to any detailed study of what Russians “believe in.” Fagan examines the pursuit of privilege of the Russian Orthodox Church, it’s relation to national culture, its courtship of the State, and its indis-putable place in Russian history juxta-posed against a pluralistic, “secularized” society mostly nominally religious, with a diverse cultural heritage. The docu-mentation provided by 82 pages of notes gathered over the author’s ten years reporting from all over the vast Russian Federation for the Forum 18 News Service is invaluable. She draws an arrow through history and tradition, all inclusive empire, Soviet homogeniza-tion, and a fractured modern State—not entirely lost but looking for its way—that points to a conclusion that “Russian society’s continuing failure to reach a consensus on the role of religion in public life is destabilizing the nation.”

While most human rights organizations take the moral high ground and blame the politicians for the unfortunate policies and lobbying that characterize contemporary Russia, Fagan does not bring to her analysis a preconceived opinion about who is a devil and who is an angel. She describes in detail different individual’s political posturing, time and again showing that the same person changes positions over the same issues, revealing that no neat classification into fundamentalist, conservative, and liberal works in describing the Russian reality. Fagan seeks out this broader understanding of the country Russians grew up in and live in; although one assumes she is Orthodox, she never makes the mistake of thinking she is a Russian Orthodox. She is always alert for elements of the puzzle she hasn’t yet grasped. All the authors of books written in English which I have previously read about contemporary Russia––some forty volumes worth––never seem to recover after discovering the appalling lack of legal culture in the Russia Federation. Non-Russian authors are invariably content to point out how the Russian government is violating its own constitution. In the United States, violations of constitutional law do not go unpunished, but in the Russian Federation one is pleasantly surprised if such a contradiction is even noticed. Fagan does not fall into these traps.

Fagan concedes that while many are trumpeting that Russia without Orthodoxy is not Russia, she subscribes to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew’s claim that the days of homogenous mono-religious nationhood are past and today pluralism is the best policy for the common good of all believers. Such freedom of conscience, the ability to practice one’s own beliefs, is foundational to any authentic practice of a belief, be it Buddhist, Jewish, Muslim, or Christian. In the past, Russian non-conformity (i.e. the Old Believers) has tended to take an eschatological turn, but in 2013 how does one deal with the Slavophile conviction that “their native land is protected by God”? If Russian Orthodox Christians are ready to admit that the millions who died under Stalin suffered so horribly because of the collective treason of their church, what is left of the notion of Holy Russia?

While “the Kremlin is growing ever more reliant upon cynical identification with national values in order to protect the elite,” Putin’s state functions more or less incoherently in terms of its own priorities legislating (half-heartedly) communality and obligation for the Russian Church in order to heighten its own sagging national prestige. It is away from the national stage where “the Kremlim’s fundamental indifference to religious freedom has allowed junior and regional state officials to pursue an Orthodox-centered religious policy in defiance of federal standards.” This fits uncomfortably with the lobbying of the Russian Orthodox Church as it tries to co-opt Russian public space where “the Russian Orthodox Church asserts itself as the definitive expression of Russian nationhood.” For Fagan any identification of Orthodoxy with so-called national values on the part of the elite, who are “oblivious to religious freedom concerns,” is a cynical maneuver to protect their own interests.

Fagan claims that individuality is a “central concern to Orthodoxy,” but only rarely does she point out how readily this same individualism is a potent tool of state secularism. She concedes that the Church is appalled by the practices of “laicite” in France, but if the Russian bishops were to give up on the collective salvation of the Rus, they believe they would be opening the door to a modern religious market for personal salvation rather than maintaining a vision of salvation as a sacrament. The Patriarchate is looking for a way to resist turning religion from a social to a private affair of individual persons each representing his own faith. As the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church entered the 1990’s, they had already decided that they were not prepared to indifferently share spaces with Catholics, or Lutherans, let alone Pentecostals, Baptists, and Jehovah’s Witnesses. From outside this is viewed as sectarian! The last two patriarchs lobbied for historical pride of place in a hierarchy of traditional Russia religions. This has had legal repercussions restricting public space for Protestants, who, predictably, “protested.”

In fact most people are agnostics or atheists. The fact that one is Kalmyk, for instance, does not make one more Buddhist any more than the fact that one is Russian makes one Orthodox. Seen from the perspective of the Patriarchate however, religious freedom contributes to a much sought after blurring of theological borders in just the way the secular European Union has tried to foster pluralism through secularization elsewhere in Eastern Europe. So how does one undo, deny, or go beyond Russia’s Orthodox past? Should all the churches in the Kremlin be re-made into museums, and liturgical services be banned there? Forced arrangements for salvation have always proved catastrophic, but so have forced efforts to secularize. Finally Fagan fears that the future of Christianity in Russia will be compromised by the Orthodox inability in the last twenty-five years to adapt a genuinely pluralistic attitude faced with what was an aggressive Protestant proselytism. Does the one excuse the other?

But who is this Orthodox church that is lobbying for primacy in the Russian Federation? The Russian Orthodox Church is not monolithic. It is in doctrinal unity with all the other synods of Orthodox bishops who define doctrine conciliarly. What is more, there has always been a decentralizing, “strong lateral authority” arising from the prominent roles of spiritual fathers (startsy) in the practice of the Orthodox faith in Russia, which was reinforced by the Soviet oppression of the official church hierarchy. Fagan states: “Therefore, the current Church state accommodation is once again the outcome of a balance of very modern interests.” In politics this also means that the Holy Synod can only support the Kremlin up to a point in the current atmosphere where the faithful have little good to say about their government.

If for the government an artificial homogeneity of religions facilitates administration, for the Patriarchate genuine freedom of conscience is a purely religious matter. Fagan insists that from within a political science point of view, because the state regards some of its citizens as second class because of their religion, these citizens will at some point revolt. This point is considered notably true of Muslims. Recognizing Muslims as full-fledged members of society means, as Fagan puts it, recognizing a real Islam “not shaped to fit someone’s ‘common human values.’” As can be expected from someone working for Forum 18 News Service, Fagan considers such abuse a legal problem for the State to address: “the post-Soviet deterioration of religious freedom for all, across Russian territory, is contributing to perilous fragmentation of the nation’s single constitution space.”

In section 5, titled “Fight Thine Enemy,” Fagan presents an interesting analysis of extra-legal tools invented to close down Protestant churches and sects. A new terminology was popularized with neologisms such as “totalitarian sects,” “spiritual security,” “canonical territory,” and “traditional religions.” These were used to generate animosity towards non-established religious groups. What lies behind the possibility of creating prejudice against expressions of Christian faith other than Orthodoxy? While Fagan does not deal with the answer, it lies in the space between two realities: the average Orthodox of Russia has an undeniably limited understanding of his/her faith, yet he/she may well have a basic intuition that whatever truth is revealed about God in the New testament, it is not subject to constant reinterpretation the likes of which they imagine the Protestants and Catholics are introducing––theologoumena that relativize the basic truths of the Orthodox faith reducing them to the status of just one more opinion.

When one combines this suspicion of non-Orthodox with the complete lack of pluralism that characterized the twentieth-century secularized Soviet Union, one can grasp the reasons for Orthodox intolerance. Inversely, one could hardly have expected the Protestant missionary to understand, to take into consideration, the Orthodox mindset which they were trying to displace or even subvert, for Western Christianity is separated at the grass roots by some five hundred years of separate “European” histories, and that is despite the first secularization of Russia under Peter the Great. What is lacking is a culture of dialogue that is based on an understanding of where the other party is coming from. A better educated Russian might try to explain to a Jehovah’s Witness or a Pentecostal why he cannot accept their expression of Christianity, but that is the privilege of those whose faith has been deepened by a real familiarity with the Bible and Church history.

Vladimir Putin and Patriarch Kirill

Vladimir Putin and Patriarch Kirill

The secular mentality which many missionaries bring with them to the Russian Federation, even when they are fundamentalists, leads them to suppose that this highly secularized Russia is like where they came from, a place where one can occupy a “religiously neutral zone open to value-neutral inquiry and deliberation.” But in Russia there is no continuity between a Christian understanding of the good and a modern Western liberal comprehension of the good. The good belongs to Christ as He loves and to mankind, making a commonwealth of faith called the Church; and in Russia for the last thousand years, this has meant the Russian Orthodox Church, which has often failed its faithful but has also accompanied them through all their trials. The fundamentalists’ materialization of the revealed truths of scripture cannot be expected to capture the Russian sense of what sharing spaces means, for the recent and less recent arrivals have a mobility across continents and oceans that the Russian Orthodox do not possess. Raimundo Panikar writing of Indian converts to Christianity some thirty years ago notes that “the problem of pluralism arises only when we feel––we suffer––the incompatibility of differing world views and are at the same time forced by the praxis of our factual co-existence to seek survival.” The issue for some Russian converts from agnosticism to Catholicism or Protestantism, especially those in the northwest of the Russian Federation, the heartland of Orthodoxy, is that their “new” religion means they must separate themselves from a virtual historical cultural matrix to which they in some sense still belong and the incoherence this usually creates in their worldviews.

Fagan diligently, methodically, and with careful analysis chronicles on the one hand how Russia’s long tradition of religious freedom is being eroded despite official policy and because of government neglect; and on the other how the current nationalist project to consolidate an exclusive Orthodox Russia is in the face of Russia’s “remarkable” ethnic and religious diversity and is doomed to fail. Whatever one believes ought to be the role of the Church in Russian society and politics or interprets the current drama on the Russian national stage to mean, Fagan’s book makes a powerful and long overdue contribution to the understanding of those outside Russia of what is real inside Russia.  IC

Fr. Stephen is an anthropologist, and the author of Christ After Communism, a book about lived Orthodoxy in Moscow at the parish level, published by the Orthodox Research Institute. 

In Communion / Winter 2013

Searching Every Which Way by Alex Patico

Friday, April 26th, 2013

Searching Every Which Way

by Alex Patico

The following is not so much a review as a topical commentary on a few readings related to this issue’s theme.

A recent article in UUWorld, the magazine of the Unitarian-Universalist Association of Congregations, talked of “The End of Church.” The author, Fredric J. Muir, is the pastor of a UU church in Annapolis, MD, not far from my home. He notes that figures from Thomas Jefferson to contemporary scholars have suggested that his denomination has a potential to do well in America, yet “we remaina small religious minority.” He believes that UU’s are being “held back by a pervasive and disruptive commitment to individualism.” Although in tune with one of the characteristic strains of American culture, he says, this individualism also presents a problem. How can people who are “allergic to authority and power” also be deeply involved in their society? Muir is asking more than just how his faith tradition can be more successful and expansionary; he is wondering how it can be more conducive to the development of what Martin Luther King and others have called “The Beloved Community.” In other words, how can one (recalling the words of Hillel) be “for oneself” while also embracing social consciousness and an ethic of service?

Muir cites Emerson: “No law can be sacred to me but that of my nature,” and even, “men are less [when] together than alone.” The Beloved Community, in contrast, expresses “the ethical meaning of the Kingdom of God….the divine indwelling that equally graces all people” (citing Prof. Gary Dorrien about King).

Certainly, the latter is more consonant with the standard one gleans from Orthodox tradition: “One Orthodox Christian is no Orthodox Christian,” we say; we are saved together, rather than in isolation from our brothers and sisters. Leitourgia is the work of “the people,” not of a lone actor.

But, if this is the case, why are Unitarians so much more prominent in social endeavors than we Orthodox are? Their congregations are regularly engaged in a variety of efforts to seek the common good. Sure, we can point to the Ecumenical Patriarch addressing environmental stewardship, or find archival footage of an Orthodox hierarch marching with civil rights leaders, but no one would say that we have placed our stamp on society to the degree that Catholics, Jews, Quakers, or Brethren have, relative to our numbers. Is there a reason why Matthew 25 is not a Bible verse that we find in the lectionary for our Divine Liturgy?

Another periodical caught my attention. This one, called Prism, comes from Evangelicals for Social Action. The articles in a recent issue treated the conflict in Israel/Palestine, air pollution, homelessness, and “transcending the culture wars to build bridges for the common good.” One author prayed, “Whether we veer to the traditional or the innovative, may our focus be on Christ alone as we seek to follow him in a world that will change regardless of how we feel about budging.”

We Orthodox take pride in the fact that we honor tradition and resist innovation (at least for its own sake). But would it really be an innovation for us to involve ourselves in the community as the early Christians did? They spread out far and wide spreading the Good News of Christ’s life and teaching, and also took care of the sick, protected widows and orphans, held their wealth in common and showed their unique character in “how they loved one another.”

It is not as though the concerns for justice, peace, and the poor in other communities are embraced to the exclusion of core values. In the wind these days is a strong current of active searching for deeper and more profound expressions of Christianity. In what is usually called the “Emergent Church”—an untidy phenom-enon that is not quite an organization, nor exactly a movement—thousands are looking for ways to go beyond what they have in their own ecclesial backyard. Whether Catholic, Methodist, Baptist or Mennonite, the “Emergents” say they want a more serious relationship with Jesus Christ—less bureaucracy but more joy, less comfort and more challenge. Some form separate gatherings to augment their own church, others propose change in the way of “doing church” in their denomination.

A recent book, The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier (Tony Jones), attempts to corral the disparate threads of this surprising and sometimes baffling new development in Christendom. Jones says that, “The modern church— at least as it is characterized by imposing physical buildings, professional clergy, denominational bureaucracies, residential seminary training, and other trappings— was an endeavor by faithful men and women in their time and place, attempting to live into the biblical gospel. But the church was never the end, only the means.” He posts, as sidebars throughout his book, a series of brief “dispatches,” such as these:

“Emergents reject the politics and theologies of left versus right. Seeing both sides as a remnant of modernity, they look forward to a more complex reality.”

“Emergents believe that church should function more like an open-source network and less like a hierarchy.”

“Emergents believe that theology is local, conversational, and temporary. To be faithful to the theological giants of the past, emergents endeavor to continue their theological dialogue.”

The idea of theology being “temporary” would strike many of us as anathema, yet we can relate to Jones’ description of emergents as embracing “the messiness of human life.” In our tradition of ekonomia, we recognize that intellectual formulations may often miss much of the mysterion that is God and His Kingdom.

Interestingly, the Emerging Church is, I’ve learned, quite open to exploring and accepting key elements of the Orthodox faith. Its members are seriously curious about contemplative and monastic traditions, and interested in rediscovering the Holy Spirit (and the Trinity in general), while they simultaneously “downplay the differences between clergy and laity.” They may haul out their pews and bring in overstuffed sofas as part of their “remodeling”—never considering that large parts of the Church never installed pews in the first place!

Personally, I am not ready yet to have communion bread come in “cinnamon raisin or cheddar jalapeno sourdough,” as in one congregation the book describes, but I admire the Emergents’ urge to seek God Himself, even if the way leads away from the temple they grew up in. They, Jones says, “are pushing over fences and roaming around at the margins of the church in America” like feral animals that have become de-domesticated. Time will tell where the movement leads.

So, while we may have something to learn about doing social action, what do we do well as Orthodox Christians? Another book I recently finished does a good job of elucidating the soul of our Holy Tradition. Everyday Saints and Other Stories features some elements that might cause evangelicals, emergents and Unitarians to blanche: exorcisms, gulags, and superstition. But it also shows the heart of Russian monastic life in all its “messy” richness. Written by a monk of the Pskov Caves Monastery, Archimandrite Tikhon (Shevkunov), the book is a series of memoirs and hearsay, a work of non-fiction but as readable as a collection by Gogol. One encounters dozens of figures who have been Fr. Tikhon’s elders, peers, or parishion-ers over several decades, during both the Soviet era and the period of perestroika.

Saints has sold millions of copies in Russia and is available in a dozen languages. The stories told so captivatingly are too long to be repeated here, but the author also offers, from time to time, brilliant and moving passages on life in the faith:

“For us it was somehow completely obvious that Soviet authority would some-day live itself out and collapse with a magnificent crash. This is not to say, of course, that it could not seriously ruin our lives, putting some of us in jail, for example, or even getting us killed. But we believed that unless it was the will of God nothing of the sort whatever possibly could happen anyway. In the words of the ancient ascetic Abba Forstus: ‘If God wishes me to live, He knows how to make this happen. But if God does not wish me to live, then why should I live?’”

“This new world Fr. Raphael had joined was full of joy and light, and governed by its own particular laws. In this world, the help of the Lord would always come when it was truly needed. In this world wealth was ridiculous, and glamour and ostentatiousness absurd, while modesty and humility were beautiful and becoming. Here great souls and just souls truly judged themselves to be lesser and worse than any other man. Here the most respected were those who had fled from all worldly glory. And here the most powerful were those who with all their hearts had recognized the powerlessness of their unaided humanity. Here the true power was hidden with frail elders, and it was understood that sometimes it was better to be old and ill than to be young and healthy…. Here the death of each became a lesson to all, and the end of earthly life was just the beginning.”

Place Everyday Saints alongside The Philokalia on your bookshelf, if you are not called to enter the monastery yourself. The search is mainly within each of us, after all. Poet Corey Carlson wrote that God’s love is “never hidden far, though we seek as though it were.  IC

In Communion / Winter 2013

Recommended Reading Summer

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012

Taking Jesus at His Word
by Addison Hodges Hart
Eerdmans, 2012, 166 pp
Reviewed by Jim Forest

With great economy—the book is only 166 pages—Addison Hart leads his reader on a brisk and challenging pilgrimage through those pages of the New Testament that contain what might be called Jesus’ inaugural address, chap-ters five through seven of the first Gospel, starting with the Beatitudes and concluding with the story of the house built upon sand that, when the floods came, collapsed into ruin.

Hart argues that “either we follow Jesus or we do not.” Full stop. Going to church doesn’t make one a Christian. Hart doesn’t for a moment minimize how hard it is to take Jesus at his word, but why wear a cross or attend Sunday services—why bow toward the Gospel—if we aren’t making a continuing attempt to do what Jesus calls us to?

Hart scatters no sugar over Christ’s words. For example, in writing about Jesus’ special blessing on peacemakers, Hart stresses that these are people “who oppose conflict of any kind, war included.” In keeping with this expecta-tion, no follower of Jesus is given license to justify the alleged “’need’ for this or that war. No war is in fact needful or good. War is always the infliction of an unnecessary evil” (p 30).

Hart quotes the satiric novelist, Kurt Vonnegut, who observes that there are many vocal Christians in America cam-paigning to have the Ten Command-ments displayed on courtroom walls but none advocating that the Beatitudes be enshrined in public places. Is the Christ of the Sermon on the Mount something of an embarrassment to his alleged followers?

The Holy Trinity: In the Beginning There Was Love
by Fr. Dumitru Staniloae, translated by Roland Clark.
Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 2012, 94 pp
Reviewed by Gregory McKinney

Fr. Dumitru Staniloae (1903-1993) was an Orthodox priest of the Church of Romania. His numerous works, includ-ing a Romanian translation of the Philokalia and his 1978 masterpiece The Dogmatic Orthodox Theology, have established him as one of the leading Orthodox theologians and academicians of the twentieth century.

The Holy Trinity  is one of a small, but growing number of Staniloae’s works available in English. Staniloae grounds this exposition on the nature of the Godhead and the purely loving re-lationship between the three Divine Per-sons within an intellectually consistent framework of Orthodox dogmatics and sacred Tradition. Quotes from Church Fathers and Scripture underpin his arguments throughout. The prose of this translation is fairly formal, as might befit a theologian, but still accessible. The little book doesn’t require one to be a theologian to appreciate it, but it re-quires some work on the part of a lay reader. You can expect to be richly rewarded for your effort.

The first two chapters are the weightiest, as Staniloae takes us through a proof of the necessity of God’s existence, concluding, “There must be a being in itself, perfect from eternity, in which there is nothing that preceded it” (5). That being’s omnipotence and omni-science are “placed at the service of [its] unlimited goodness, which desires that limited created things enjoy its love, with a joy that gives them the power to love and to draw nearer to infinite goodness” (12).

Chapters 3 and 4 are devoted to establishing the necessity of God’s triune nature: “If the divine being were in a single person, it would not be good or loving from eternity, which would mean that it was not divine” (17); and “A solitary being cannot even be human, let alone God. Its light and joy only exist in communion with other conscious beings…. In God, this conversation of the Father with the Son is only positive, involving only love and joy” (33).

In Chapters 5 and 6, the prose be-comes ever more uplifting as Staniloae describes the Divine Love revealed in Christ and the Incarnation. The grand themes of a cosmic, yet intimate, love challenge us: “If dominion in [God’s] kingdom belongs to the Trinity, humans cannot participate in the kingdom with-out uniting themselves with it, and living, through its power, in community with other men” (46).

Chapters 7 through 10 deal mainly with the Holy Spirit and bring a brightness into the flow of thoughts. Staniloae describes the loving rapport between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and how, through the Spirit, we are invited by grace to stand before God with Christ as our true brother. The final chapter includes Staniloae’s translations of and comments on four traditional prayers, all beautiful reflections on the Holy Spirit and the Trinity.

Although Staniloae doesn’t write at length on interpersonal bonds in light of the loving Trinity at the foundation of creation, pointed observations on human relationships run throughout the book. It is impossible to get through Chapter 7 without being struck by the family as a vision of the love of the Triune God. One would expect that those with children will find the resonance to be loud and clear: “We cannot forget a “Him” when we are in an “I-Thou” relationship. Perhaps the more we love each other, the more we will also feel love for him. We feel the need to be loved by a third and to love a third, and the more we love him together, the more we love one another” (56). The sense of confused loss when the triad of love between man, woman, and child is strained (think teenage years for many of us) and the exultation when a communicative, loving relationship is reestablished can only be a help in relating to the depths of Trinitarian love. Staniloae’s understated observations on the increase in mutual love resulting from our growth in the Faith and in our experience of God are often profoundly affecting and might be the book’s most valuable contribution to the lay reader.

❖ Summer Issue / IC 65 / 2012

Recommended Reading Spring 2012

Wednesday, September 12th, 2012

25 Books Every Christian Should Read: A Guide to the Essential Spiritual Classics

Compiled by the Renovare Institute
Harper One, 2011, 390 pp.
Reviewed by Alex Patico

It’s an ambitious project, selecting just a score–plus–five books to represent the entire Christian literary resource. It takes chutzpah. But no one tackled this alone; this compendium was selected by a multi–denominational editorial board, which included Frederica Matthewes–Green (the only Orthodox Christian), Phyllis Tickle, Franciscan Fr. Richard Rohr and others. They were asked to choose from over 400 titles that Renovar had assembled.

Subtitled A Guide to the Essential Spiritual Classics, the book obviously involved subjective judgments in culling through the possible selections. The authors do present their rationale for each selection, but some of those tend to be rather pedestrian or not much more than a regurgitation of the ideas presented in the work being treated. (Unfortunately, attribution of the authorship of these essays is not furnished.)

The works that made the cut include some that are likely well–known to Orthodox readers, such as The Philokalia, Sayings of the Desert Fathers, The Way of a Pilgrim, The Brothers Karamazov, and others. Other titles will likely be less familiar: Blaise Pascal’s Pensees, A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life by William Law, or the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins. The selections range in age from St. Athanasius’ On the Incarnation, 4th C. to J.M. Nouwen’s The Return of the Prodigal Son, 1992.

Each section also contains excerpts from the work itself, which serves to give readers a “flavor” of its tone, style, and content. Here are a few examples of those:

St. Augustine (b. 354), Confessions:

Fear shrinks from any sudden, unwonted danger which threatens the things that it loves, for its only care is safety: but to you nothing is strange, nothing unforeseen. No one can part you from the things that you love, and safety is assured nowhere but in you. Grief eats away its heart for the loss of things which it took pleasure in desiring, because it wants to be like you, from whom nothing can be taken away.

Dante Alighieri (b. 1265), The Divine Comedy:

he turned his footsteps toward an untrue path;

he followed counterfeits of goodness, which

will never pay in full what they have promised

Anonymous (ca. 14th cent.), The Cloud of Unknowing:

Every rational creature, every person, and every angel has two main strengths: the power to know and the power to love. God made both of these, but he’s not knowable through the first one. To the power of love, however, he is entirely known, because a loving soul is open to receive God’s abundance.

Thomas A Kempis (b. 1639), Imitation of Christ:

The person who understands all things as they are and not as they are said to be, is truly wise and is taught more by God than by others.… The person whose inner life is well–ordered and set in place is not troubled by the strange and twisted things that people do.

G.K. Chesterton (b.1874), Orthodoxy:

I tried to be some ten minutes in advance of the truth. And I found that I was eighteen hundred years behind it…I [tried] to found a heresy of my own; and when I had put the last touches to it, I discovered that it was orthodoxy.

In addition, a series of personal “best books” lists by various Christian leaders are interspersed with the other content. Interestingly those twenty-five writers, pastors and theologians do not often agree with the volume’s editors—fully 15 of them did not overlap with the book’s selections. One wonders if perhaps they interpreted their charge as being to submit their “favorite five,” rather that to assess each book’s standing in the Christian literary canon, or if they consciously tried to expand the catchment territory with their own picks.

The volume also includes, at the end of the book, a piece on “Best Contem-porary Authors”—writers such as Wendell Berry (b. 1934, author of A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems 1979-1997), Richard J. Foster (who founded Renovare, the organization responsible for the col-lection), progressive evangelical Brian McLaren and writer Anne Lamont.

I submit that the authors’ recom-mendation (in the Introduction) to read the text “in a nonjudgmental fashion” could, in fact, be the project’s downfall. If we treat all the sources as of equal validity, we find ourselves trying to square a number of circles, such as Calvin’s preoccupation with our “vileness, folly and impurity” as against Julian of Norwich’s identification of a “true, joyful and enduring soul-quality” in the human being. I submit that making such judg-ments—in a prayerful and open-minded way—is part of what being a Christian entails. God is the measure and even the “greats” are not all equally in tune with the Divine Will. This book could actually help the careful and watchful reader to divine it. At the very least, it provides a useful insight for the curious into what other Christians think about.

Blood Guilt: Christian Responses to America’s War on Terror

by Philip P. Kapusta

New Covenant Press, 2011, 530 pp.

Reviewed by Pieter Dykhorst

Blood Guilt delivers on its promised Christian responses to America’s War on Terror but in a couple of unexpected ways. The plural promised is seemingly contradicted on the first page of the introduction where the author states that the book is a compilation of his personal essays, which it is; but that would make his own response the sum of the thing, which it isn’t—a few chapters consist almost entirely of others’ words, though mostly included as a setup  of some central belief, idea, or point of either ideology or theology for Kapusta to knock down with his own arguments, always cogently and coherently argued. This results in 37 chapters of polemic aimed primarily at the war in Iraq, less the war in Afghanistan, and at the War on Terror only by application of the conclusions hammered home through-out its 530 pages. However, this stra-tegy exposes the reader broadly to the thinking of many of the most prominent leaders in America’s fundamentalist, Evangelical Christian Right on the subject of war.

Kapusta does his book a needless disservice by declaring early and with-out explanation that the book “uses the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as the backdrop for his personal essays about Christian separatism”. Notice the lower case “s” in separatism. Christian Separ-atism, on the other hand, is a  nutcase theology akin to those flourishing in the hills of Idaho, where adherents hide with guns pointed in all directions. Kapusta could set readers at ease and pique their interest by explaining that his brand of separatism is something else, more of a worked-out solution to the “in the world but not of the world” struggle of many Christians who seek to keep their loyalties unmixed while still living as responsible citizens who share the burden of community governance. He is clear throughout that he, unlike capital “S” separatists, is not against government or war—that would likely pit him against God—but that he simply does not support them, a compelling idea not fully developed but forcefully argued in the negative by making the hyper-patriotic, Christian nationalism of a significant block of American society so ugly that bagging that path looks like the only sane option. That Kapusta takes his non-violence seriously (again unlike most ideological Separatists) is demonstrated on nearly every page of the book.

Orthodox readers may find his arguments persuasive and thought-provoking, particularly those who, like this reviewer, have come from the uber-right background the author relentlessly exposes or have never really understood that perspective and want to. The reliance on negative persuasion easily crosses theological boundaries—the heretical thinking and stupid arguments in support of the war require little real theological training to knock down—so the lack of an Orthodox theological base should not deter an Orthodox reader.

Additionally, probably unintention-ally, this book may be a real help to those outside the Evangelical Right, not only Orthodox Christians, who want to understand crucial elements of that paradigm, namely the way that church and state can be separate yet conflated, placing America central to God’s plan of salvation for the world even while it holds all government in suspicion. This does help explain, for example, for those who find it nearly inexplicable, how George W. Bush won reelection—with-out this seemingly marginal but actually significant voting block, he would likely have been a one-termer. The shrillest and scariest of all the rhetoric heard from the White House during the war decade was in fact aimed at and an echo of what was weekly proclaimed from thousands of pulpits across America—echoes that resound throughout Blood Guilt.

What might ultimately make the book unsatisfying to the Orthodox reader is the tendency of the author to do what he criticizes others of doing. He relies almost entirely on his own ability to understand the Bible and to build good theological perspectives, and of course it is the failures in that effort of his ideological opponents that he criticizes. Now many Protestants have made an admirable job of such an impossible task, and Kapusta may well be one of them, but without the fullness of the mind of the Church under the leading of the Holy Spirit, the work is not fully compelling. Kapusta does quote from Church Fathers and theologians of various traditions (his own brand is not betrayed anywhere in the book) in numerous places, something better Protestant theologians do, but ultimately it is Kapusta all the way down (his interpretive take on the book of Revelation is interesting). He is not, however, alone out on a limb.

In the end, Blood Guilt is also a history book—using a decade of war as a case study—that chronicles the theo-logy, rhetoric, and spectacle of America’s trudge through the filth of a particularly nasty chapter in its war history and exposes how ready are significant segments of America’s Christian citizenry to blow the bugle. The book is heavily footnoted and gathers in its pages an impressive evidentiary case, taken from multiple sources, against not only the wars but one after another of the leaders of one of the most American of American movements, the Christian Right.

The book presents an occasional but  clear, if not complete, case for the promise of understanding the author’s separatist—small “s”—ideas. It is a niche book, but one well worth reading (one hopes it finds wide audience among conservative Christians in America), if you can bear the exhaustion of the work it takes to get through it and can set aside certain expectations to go after what the book forcefully delivers.

…and Listening

Angelic Light: Music From Eastern Cathedrals

Capella Romana

Reviewd by Kh. Rebecca Alford

The newest offering of the a capella choral group Capella Romana, Angelic Light: Music From Eastern Cathedrals, is a com-pilation of pieces from some of their earlier CDs. Fulfilling one of the group=s stated purposes, much of the music in-cluded on this CD is by 20th and 21st century composers. All the selections are liturgical music written for use in the services of the Orthodox Church.

The famous line from the first Blues Brothers movie: AWe have both kinds of music”—in that case, Country and West-ern—could also apply to Capella Romana. Under the leadership of founder and conductor Alexander Lingas, the singers expertly perform traditional Byzantine chant, skillfully embellishing the sonor-ous timbre of this ancient Eastern music. The example included on this recording is the Kontakion of the Mother of God for a hierarchical service dating around 1450.

Capella Romana is equally well-known for the performance of polyphonic music, which allows the combining and inter-weaving of many different parts to create a full, rich sound. Most of the music on this CD is in this style.

It may be a surprise to some that the question of which is proper for Orthodox worship, monophonic Byzantine chant or many-voiced polyphony and homophony, has been a controversial issue. The chant was the earliest music of the Church and remained the only expression, particularly in the East, for many centuries. When polyphonic settings of the sacred texts appeared at various times, it was usually during periods of greater Western in-fluence or in places where Western and Eastern cultures met. A lovely Paschal hymn by the 16th century Cypriot composer Hieronymos Tragodistes on this recording could easily be mistaken for an Italian Renaissance motet.

The bulk of the recording is made up of music by modern composers of sacred liturgical music who have chosen to follow the example of the creators of icons. When an icon is written, the artist does not attempt to innovate but rather follows the form, patterns, and methods estab–lished in the earliest days of the Church. By doing so, the artist ensures that the subject of the icon is readily apparent to the one venerating it, but his unique abilities and style nevertheless shine through. Most of the music on this CD has as its basis Byzantine chant—but chant which has been adapted, arranged, sometimes simplified, and harmonized by composers who have been educated in Western music composition, and the result is a wonderful cultural expression appropriate for Orthodox worship in the New World.

Six of the sixteen selections on this CD by Greek–American composers Frank Desby, Tikey Zes, and Peter Michaelides are based on the melodies of John Sakellarides (1853-1938), who was one of the most influential Greek composers attempting to move Orthodox liturgical music more in the direction of Western polyphony and away from what was at the time considered ATurkish@ style music. While these new compositions use the musical language of the West, they perfectly express the meeting of heaven and earth which the texts present and which is the purpose of Orthodox worship.

Other composers represented on this CD are Fr. Sergei Glagolev, another leading figure in the effort to create appropriate music for Orthodox America in English; Fr. Ivan Moody, a British-born composer who used polyphony and Byzantine chant alter-nately in his composition included on the CD; and Richard Toensing, whose choral piece in the style of an English carol uses a metrical version of a liturgical text adapted by Fr. Jack Sparks.

Capella Romana does a great service to many. The singers introduce Byzantine chant in its most traditional form to those who have never heard it; they present beautiful polyphonic settings of liturgical texts for those Orthodox worshipers who have never heard this kind of beauty in church; and they provide inspiration for choir singers and choir directors who strive to reach perfection in their more humble circumstances. And for those who merely wish to hear the most angelic sounds that a well–trained choral group can produce, Capella Romana will fit the bill. And they sing both kinds of music!

❖ IN COMMUNION / issue 64 / Spring 2012

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 – October IC 62

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011

Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy: “Ut Unum Sint” and the Prospects of East-West Unity Adam A.J. DeVille University of Notre Dame Press, 2011, $38.00 Reviewed by Fr. Ionnis Freeman

Adam A.J. DeVille, a recent graduate of the Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies at St. Paul University, Ottawa (Canada)—a crossroads of Byzantine/Roman Catholic and Orthodox studies—sets a goal to identify a common river of Patriarchal ecclesiology that flowed through both eastern and western Church(-es). This common river has remained intact despite points of confusion and confluence with varied understandings of the Roman papacy by East and West during the second Christian millennium.

However, a shared river of ecclesiology had already divided into respective East/West tributaries even prior to the Great Schism in 1054. Historical tributaries is a fact that receives adequate discussion in this text so that standard objections from “radical conservatives” (5) among Roman papacy defenders, and “radical rejectionists” (5-6) among Orthodox anti-ecumenists get a run for their money.

The author’s task in this book is to recover both an ancient shared understanding of the Patriarchal institution in the East and West as well as explore divergences from the same. Of course, divergences increased and became magnified after the Great Schism.

In fact, DeVille admits in the book’s Introduction that the Vatican’s 2006 Annuario Pontificio officially deleted the title of “Patriarch of the West” from papal titular honors. Yet the title and accrued entitlements of the official Roman papacy after the Great Schism bear inferior if not also an inverse relationship to the western Patriarchal institution. As the Patriarchal title declined in ecclesial importance for Rome, the Papal title became inflated and exaggerated, resulting in a principal excuse to widen the rift of schism.DeVille’s response to the 2006 deletion of “Patriarch of the West” appears in Chapter 3 by way of a defense—a defense of the title based upon a line of reasoning that none other than Josef Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) had advanced several decades prior to his election to the papal See. In fact, readers should consider DeVille’s “apologia” for “Patriarch of the West” a linchpin to understanding and critiquing overall aims in this book. Without a “renewed Roman Patriarchate” (47-77), the project would fold not only according to the two identified groups of “radicals,” but also moderate critics.To wit, “Rome cannot demand from the East regarding the primacy issue more than what has been expressed and applied during the first millennium” (54), according to Ratzinger in a 1968/70 article. DeVille also quotes Yves Congar as having observed, “the notion of patriarch has been neither understood nor honored by Rome” (55).

Nevertheless, despite incisive and authoritative Roman Catholic authors as Ratzinger and Congar, it is Michael Magee’s monumental work, The Patriarchal Institution in the Church: Ecclesiological Perspectives in the Light of the Second Vatican Council (Magee 2006) that provides a convincing argument for reinstating the title “Patriarch of the West.” DeVille acknowledges Magee’s historical contribution to salvaging the title, but doubts that it is sufficient to deal with the fact that the title is seldom encountered and virtually unknown in the West. Titles so crucial to East-West relations and ecclesiology do not disappear out of disuse.

If Magee is correct in his historical analysis of the title, then DeVille is right that Rome’s 2006 omission of the Partriarchal title cannot be attributed to obsolescence as a rationale. Therefore, the remainder of Chapter 3 presents observations about the Vatican’s 1990 revision of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches (CCEO is the Latin acronym), which contains a Vatican-acknowledged temporary understanding of how the Pope and Eastern (uniate) Patriarchs, metropolitans, and bishops ought to “honor,” “obey,” and “love one another.” Definitions for honor, obedience, and Christian charity among bishops might be temporary in the 1990 CCEO, but these definitions favor a “subordinate relationship to the Roman Pontiff” (75).Thus the rationale for deletion of the title “Patriarch of the West” might be temporary, just as relationships of Eastern (uniate) Patriarchs to the Roman Pontiff in the CCEO have been acknowledged to be temporary. However, it is the very same period of time in which the title disappeared in 2006 that the Eastern Orthodox-Roman Catholic Dialogue commission convened in Ravenna the following year to discuss papal primacy.

This review has been long on the linchpin issue of the book and short on the sterling recommendations that DeVille makes. If DeVille, Magee, Ratzinger, and Congar—among others—succeed in reviving an ancient collegiality among bishops, East and West, then DeVille’s suggestions will prove reasonable options. For example his ideas about creating six continental patriarchates in the Latin Church along with a permanent synod of these patriarchates and a full ecumenical synod “under papal presidency” (150-55) might be achievable.


For the Peace from Above: An Orthodox Resouce Book on War, Peace, and NationalismEdited by Fr. Hildo Bos and Jim ForestOrthodox Research Institure, 2011, $24.95 Reviewed by Pieter Dykhorst

The topics of nationalism and patriotism, individual and group identity, ethnicity and race, loyalty and faithfulness, peace and conflict, duty and refusal, freedom and obligation are all bound up together and simultaneously set against each other in today’s world and are not easy to sort out. Reading For the Peace from Above, one may be reminded of certain aphorisms like “drink deeply or not at all” or “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” But, as careful as one must be here, For the Peace from Above offers both milk and meat—milk to the one who seeks some basic understanding and meat for the serious scholar. Indeed, the hallmark of the book is that it does not attempt to really explicate anything but rather offers abundant source material. One can learn simple working definitions of terms like nation and state (they aren’t as clear as you might think, particularly if you are from the US where they are understood to be nearly the same thing!) and then turn to the Essays section to read an argument by Fr. John McGuckin that the deeply held notion of a rather uniformly pacifistic and separate early Church being precipitously co-opted and militarized post-Constantine is likely wrong. Within its pages you will find represented views like those of Fr. Alexander Webster, one of the few Orthodox scholars who would go on record arguing for an Orthodox notion of virtuous war, while you have also those who claim that war is always in all cases either sinful or the consequence of sin with no virtue in it possible.

This new edition of For the Peace from Above is beefier by over double the page count—460—than the original in 1999. While the essential outline of the book and chapter headings remain the same, most chapters now contain more material, and some material has been moved to other sections for a more logical grouping of texts. The addition of case studies provides examples of the struggle to work out the proper relation of Christians to the world, in particular to the world’s violent conflicts. These are simultaneously hopeful and problematic. In one example, a young 3rd century Christian, Maximilian, is resolutely prepared to have his life taken by the sword for refusing to serve in the Roman army on the basis of his faith in Christ; yet when he is confronted with the reality that other Christians serve in the army, he can only answer “They know what is best for them.” The struggle, ever immediate, for Christians seeking to answer the questions of if, when, and how violence is permitted is often resolved like that, as today, many sincere Christians risk their lives in shooting wars while others opt to pay the price for refusal. In another Case Study, we have the council in Constantinople in 1872 condemning ethnophyletism (the con-flation of church and state as a result of the creation of an exclusive national identity from the fusion of ethnic and religious components) at a time when Balkan ethno-religious nationalisms were in full bloom, only to fast forward over a century to a statement by the Ecumenical Patriarch condemning religious national-ism as a still present trouble of the modern Church.

What is needed today more than ever is broad, sustained, and deeply vigorous investigation into the complex subjects addressed in For the Peace from Above. Not only is this book a primer and an advanced sourcebook together but essentially also an annotated biblio-graphy. It does not contain easy answers. We find contradictions, ambiguities, solutions that worked in times past which do no comprehend many of the complexities of today’s world, and modern authors’ attempts to unravel the tight knots that bind our understanding of what it means to be peacemakers. Still, this should be considered an essential sourcebook and found on the shelf of every Orthodox Christian who grapples with its subjects. The Church and the world wait for those who would do the work necessary to make relevant the ethic and theology of peace contained in the Gospel from which today’s world has moved so far. What worked in the past in this kingdom or that empire, for this Saint or that soldier, when the work of war was often watched from a hilltop by the local citizenry and violent changes of imperial regimes may not even have made a difference at the village level, no longer suffices. The Gospel doesn’t change but its applications to a changing world must. This book serves as a vital tool for those who take on the burden and challenge of building a coherent Christian ethic of peace for today’s world from the disparate efforts of two millennia of reflection, thought, prayer, and conviction brought together in its pages.

Singing in a Strange Land: The Ancient Future of Orthodox PluralismRev. Dr. Elias BouboutsisHoly Cross Orthodox Press, 223 pp., $24.95Reviewed by Fr. Ionnis Freeman

This book explores what the author considers “the ancient future of Orthodox pluralism.” Bouboutsis draws an Orthodox Christian theological map of fresh but ancient territory by employing a reference to Psalms 135/136 before the title’s coda. This book is not alone in having borrowed the phrase. Three recent texts have stitched the phrase into titles by linking the Psalmist’s lament over residing in a “strange land” to 1) praying with the poor (Lindsey 1991), 2) the Black Church in transforming the voice of African Americans (Salvatore 2006), and 3) Jewish-American poetics (Shreiber 2007). What delights is the book’s deft portrayal of ancient Christian witnesses about the Holy Trinity and eternal Church as anticipating 20th century developments in semiotics and interdisciplinary culture studies. In short, this book entertains divine plurality as integrating all people with their myriad of differences and similarities, along with all things and Creation as a whole. As above, so below reflects an Orthodox harmony that this book illustrates in liturgical texts, Patristic and secular sources.
Far more treasures await readers in this book. The first three chapters present a polemical base of reasoning for the project, which are critical for how Fr. Elias steers the narrows of that separate eastern and western Christian sources. Moreover, he addresses Palamite teachings that pertain to Christian anthropology as well as post-colonial and post-structuralism theories about pluralism in sufficient depth for well-versed critics without sacrificing clarity. Thus, both critics and general readers will appreciate the book’s rich content and clear presentation.Where should general readers begin reading the book? I recommend they start by reading the book’s Introduction and then turn to chapters four and five. The book shifts voice from polemics to conversation in these chapters by speaking in an Orthodox ethos that explores popular literature, holy icons, other sacred art, sacred chant and secular music, and Orthodox liturgies. It will please general readers that these chapters paint a colorful canvas of global Orthodoxy, which includes hues from existing inter-Orthodox divisions and still avoids pedantic objections by readers over textual examples as being “too Greek,” “too Slavic,” and the like. For example, “In the words of Byzantium’s preeminent…translator, Cyril the ‘Apostle to the Slavs,’…this means a new cultural production, a new rendering for a different, non-Mediterranean world” (125). One might consider chapters four and five as reflecting a rich palette of primary and secondary colors by which—as content, tools, and form—the book presents an organizing vision of the Church’s eternal creative potential. Indeed, the pluralism of this book illustrates Beauty, as construct, by embracing the whole of Creation in the Church.

Concluding the text in an Appendix is a “fresh translation of Basil’s the Great eclectic method” (185-8). The translation is arguably the best in print bar none. Because this text is foundational to the book’s thesis and themes, it anchors the book in a genuine Orthodox pluralism, long anticipated among the Fathers and Mothers of the Church. This ancient but fresh view encourages Christians to sample non-Christian studies, such as philosophy, poetry, and even semiotics or intercultural studies, in the manner of the honeybee that “…derives that which is needful from the flower [and]…leaves the rest behind” (187).

All Is Grace: A Biography of Dorothy DayJim Forest Orbis Books, 352 pages, $27.00 Reviewed by Martha Hennessy (From the copyright page of the book: This is a substantially revised and enlarged edition of Love Is the Measure: A Biography of Dorothy Day, originally published by Paulist Press, 1986, revised edition published by Orbis Books, 1994.)


It is a pleasure to hold and read Jim Forest’s revised and expanded biography of Dorothy Day. She was a writer, Roman Catholic convert, co-founder of the Catholic Worker in 1933, and editor of a newspaper that served as the organ of this renowned movement for social justice.

Dorothy’s compelling story, set in the 1920s through the 1970s, is told through an array of lovely photographs and with her own writings woven into Jim Forest’s insightful reflections and careful documentation of people, places, and events. The book is a rich resource of American history formed from an insurgent perspective, an outcome of this woman’s unswerving journey of faith and her practice of Christian anarchism. But on a personal level, which was her gift to so many of us, this story is inspirational and a call to action concerning the very fate of humanity and creation. In her words, “we are urging revolutionary change,” we are made to think about how we live together and how we treat each other in today’s world.

Dorothy’s life and work show with clarity that she possessed an incredible sensitivity to and delight in the presence of God. Jim Forest brings this out beautifully. We see her celebrate the ordinary in life as wondrous; we sense her intense love of those around her, from early lovers, to friends, co-workers, and family.

Also shared are her profound experiences of grief over the human errors and tragedies of this world. All is Grace includes material from Dorothy’s journals and letters, compiled and edited recently by Robert Ellsberg in The Duty of Delight and All The Way To Heaven. Her writings over many years describe in detail her family life, the challenges of living in community, and the joys and sorrows of meeting the needs of the poor through the works of mercy. Her correspondence and interactions with both people of significance and those of humble stations reveals a person of great kindness and humility herself. Dorothy consistently set an example for overcoming our class system and the myriad forms of oppression and exclusion by seeing others as miracles or even as the face of Christ. This is indeed a radical message set in the center of a culture of discrimination, wars, and materialism. Yet Dorothy’s mode of indoctrination is always intertwined in great stories of her extensive travels, time in prison, and adventures through retreats and speaking tours. The book captures many of these stories, conveying to the reader the joys, humor, and grim realities of Dorothy’s visits across the United States and to the far reaches of Russia, India, and Africa.

For me, the most poignant selection is the chapter titled “Pregnancy, Faith, and Baptism.” As a woman and mother, Dorothy brings to us her intrinsic human experience of a conversion precipitated through the act of giving birth. “No human creature could receive or contain so vast a flood of love and joy as I often felt after the birth of my child. With this came the need to worship, to adore.” Such words, expressed in her exquisite writing style, are captivating.

The chronological arrangement of All Is Grace provides an easy, in-depth study of Dorothy’s varied life and the history of the Catholic Worker movement. She had a great interest and ability in reaching out to people and connecting with them on a personal level. This comprehensive book, which should bring enthusiasm and hope to our youth, is a fine tribute to Dorothy’s efforts to build community around the world.Martha is a peace activist who lives at the Maryhouse Catholic Worker in New York City. She is the grand-daughter of Dorothy Day.

❖ IN COMMUNION / issue 62 / October 2011

 

Recommended Reading – Summer IC 61

Tuesday, July 26th, 2011

Christian Peace and Nonviolence:
A Documentary History

edited by Michael Long
Orbis, 400 pages, $40

Christian Peace and Nonviolence is a major addition to any Christian library or, for that matter, to the library of anyone with a serious interest in war and peace. Michael Long has assembled a comprehensive survey of Christian voices for peace from the early days of the Church into the present day.

The book’s structure is historical, beginning with a selection of Old and New Testament scriptures on peace. Authors from the early Church include Justin Martyr, Athenagorus, Tertullian, Origen, Cyprian, Arnobius, Lactantius, Basil the Great, Pelagicus, Paulinus of Nola, Benedict of Nursia and Francis of Assisi. There are also extracts from the biography of Martin of Tours and accounts of the martyrdoms of Maximilian, Marcellus, and the brothers Boris and Gleb.

Erasmus of Rotterdam is included in a section of writings from the Reformation period. Among those represented in the 1600-1900 section that follows are George Fox, William Penn, John Woolman, William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Lucretia Mott, Jane Addams and Leo Tolstoy.

The book’s twentieth-century authors include Martin Luther King, Thomas Merton, Pope John XXIII, Oscar Romero, Stanley Hauerwas, John Howard Yoder, Dorothy Day, A.J. Muste and André Trocmé. The anthology concludes with twelve entries written in the past eleven years.

While the collection has a distinctly western orientation (the only Orthodox authors in the post-Schism sections are Fr. John McGuckin and myself), it belongs in the library of any Christian, Catholic, Protestant or Orthodox. The documents demonstrate that a nonviolent way of life and struggle is not a footnote to Christian history but, in the words of Stanley Hauerwas, “lies at the heart of what it means to be a follower of Christ.” He predicts this book “will become an essential teaching resource not only for thinking through nonviolence but also for understanding the very character of Christianity.”

Note: In September, the Orthodox Research Institute is publishing a book with an Eastern Christian tilt that will be a useful companion volume: For the Peace from Above: an Orthodox Resource Book on War, Peace and Nationalism. The editors are Fr. Hildo Bos and myself.
– Jim Forest

A Life Together:
Wisdom of Community from the Christian East
by Bishop Seraphim Sigrist
Paraclete Press, 200 pages, $16

An alternative title for this book might have been “Gatherings,” because Bishop Seraphim uncovers the experience of unity that became evident in Father Alexander Men’s “gatherings” during the last two decades of the Soviet era. The preface to the book explores the history of these “gatherings,” all the while reflecting on the gossamer and yet robust Orthodox Church transformed by the Holy Spirit. For example, the author quotes a paradox of Fr. Alexander: “Christianity is the religion of death, instantly transformed into life.” Readers will appreciate how the author employs quotes from Orthodox and non-Orthodox sources as he explores “Sobornost.” This book is ideal for discussion groups, inspiration for sermons, and contemplative reflection. If you are troubled by the lack of compassion in yourself and others, this book offers a way to increase compassion. But its way will prove both dangerous and joyful.
– Ioannis Freeman

When Hearts Become Flame:
An Eastern Orthodox Approach to the dia-Logos of Pastoral Counseling
by Stephen Muse
Orthodox Research Institute, 342 pages, $20

This book is arguably one of the best on pastoral counseling to have been published in the past twenty years. The author discusses how pastoral counselors must practice personal readiness in order to receive what God manifests in encounters between counselor and client. Muse follows the ancient ascetical path of Orthodox Christian therapy to teach and disclose a state of personal readiness, which leads toward prayerful listening not only to the “other,”or client, but also attention to subtle windows into heaven that appear in sessions. Counseling sessions become holy icons.

But this book has an audience far wider than pastoral counselors, because it is not so much a “how-to-do” text as it engages every reader in basic questions. Do I listen well? How do I discern the will of God when helping others? What is important in my encounters with someone? Do I pay attention when others speak to me? What is healing?

Make this a text to share among your friends. Give a copy to your favorite priests.
– Ioannis Freeman


Giver of Life: The Holy Spirit in Orthodox Tradition
by Fr. John Oliver
Paraclete Press, 129 pages, $16

An ancient yet contemporary voice from the Orthodox Church’s view of the Holy Spirit is present in this book. Fr. John discusses the invitatory prayer of the Holy Spirit, “O heavenly King,” according to its nine parts in this long-awaited text. Along with a discussion of each part, such as “the Spirit of Truth” and “Giver of life,” the author illustrates the mystical connection between the Spirit and ordinary ways that the Holy Spirit creates, corrects and refreshes the Creation. “He restores … but also chastens, and both restoration and chastening are proofs of His love.”

Fr. John presents the Holy Spirit in a familiar yet fresh way. For example, “When conflict with other persons brings our impurities to the surface, those persons become angels of healing.” What the Spirit fashions is a therapeutic milieu inside the Church, which provides a place for “healing” of effects from sin to occur, instead of symptom “relief.”

Of special interest is the author’s watchful approach to differentiating symptom relief from healing. Truth—“the Spirit of truth”— serves as the foundation for this difference, whereby relief is a short-lived outcome from engaging “half truths.” Half truths are thoughts that the devil “whispers into our minds,” which often bring initial relief from suffering followed by emotional extremes such as despair or smug pride.
– Ioannis Freeman

• I Came that They May Have Life
• Hagia Sophia: Light of our History
• Beauty will Save the World
• From Heraclitus to Elder Porphyrios

These four booklets are by Archimandrite Vaileios, abbot of Iveron Monastery on Mt. Athos.

The emphases of the first include the characteristics and actions of divine love, the patience of Christ as He knocks at the door to our hearts, and the radical way that the Lord of life offers healing to everyone. The author’s view of divine love provides a foundation for the entire series: “Love is the manner of teaching the truth that frees man.” Indeed, as stated in the last volume, “the Lord did not come to teach truths of a theoretical and juridical nature or to offer justification in worldly terms.”

Hagia Sophia poses an allegory on the “loss” of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople to the Ottoman Muslims. The allegory is also a paradox, for “in the Church, it is a proven fact that when you lose something important and the loss pains you, you are offered something more precious … which you would not have gained without the earlier loss.”

In the third booklet the ultimate beauty is seen as selfless service to others. “Exertion leaves you refreshed. You love the humble. You feel a bond of brotherhood with those who suffer.” The author sees such beauty in the service of Elder Porphyrios (1906-1991).

The fourth text, explores the theme of real poverty of spirit. Poverty of spirit identifies all that passes away, and adheres to the “gold” that lasts. He depicts Heraclitus as unconcerned with fame or rebukes from others. He presents Elder Porphyrios as “a divine child playing.” Confessing to him was “like holding a conversation, because he helped you to say what you were thinking.”

The booklets can be ordered via the publisher’s web site: www.alexanderpress.com . Each costs $6 to $8 (Canadian).
– Ioannis Freeman

❖ IN COMMUNION / issue 61 / July 2011

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