"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
mattress,/
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Holy Spirit in Eastern Christian Worship


It is a commonplace that the West's Pneumatology is weak while the East's is strong--but is that the case always and everywhere? Is that not one of those received stereotypes or shibboleths--like saying the West is always "scholastic" and "rationalist" while the East is always "patristic" and "mystical"--that was tendentiously reasserted again and again as an excuse for East-West division, and even a justification for their ongoing separation? As David Bentley Hart has rightly noted, we have too often allowed bad history to be used by many Orthodox Christians to justify their disdain of, and separation from, the Catholic Church. Such ideas as a supposedly defective or deficient Western Pneumatology--in contrast to the supposed superiority of the East on this point--are usually based on only a passing familiarity with actual history, and rightly do not withstand serious scholarly scrutiny. We see precisely such welcome scrutiny in a new book, bringing together some leading North American liturgists to examine the issues:

Teresa Berger, Bryan Spinks, eds., The Spirit in Worship: Worship in the Spirit (Liturgical Press, 2009).

Among the articles of particular note to Eastern Christians will be, first, Peter Galadza's "The Holy Spirit in Eastern Orthodox Worship: Historical Enfleshments and Contemporary Queries." With his characteristic lucidity and cogency, and his usual willingness to pull no punches, Fr. Peter shows fairly that the accepted ideas about Orthodox Pneumatology are not always borne out in practice, and the theology of Chrismation raises more questions than is usually thought. What, e.g., are we to make of the fact that St. John Chrysostom held that the prebaptismal anointing was sufficient to convey the "seal" and "gift" of the Holy Spirit, obviating the need for "chrismation" as a second, separate sacrament? These and other questions he discusses by combing sources, ancient and modern, in Greek, Russian, Slavonic, French, English, and Ukrainian. The influence of the historical-comparative methods of Anton Baumstark and Robert Taft can be seen throughout the article. 

Other articles of note include Simon Jones on Syrian baptismal theologies and Habtemichael Kidane on the Holy Spirit in the Ethiopian Orthodox tradition.

Look for this book to be reviewed in Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies next year.

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