"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 23, 2011

Books for Christmas: Some Recommendations

I am not infrequently asked by colleagues, students, and friends to recommend books in certain areas. I thought I would reproduce here some of those recommendations for those of you who are unsure what to get the Eastern Christian bibliophile on your list for Christmas. This is not, of course, anything like a comprehensive list and I'm sure everyone will immediately think of fifty titles I should have mentioned and a few that I should not but perhaps this will be helpful to some. (Feel free to add other titles in the comments.) I've divided the list into several categories.

Reference Books:
2011 was a happy year in this category with the publication of the two-volume Encyclopedia of Eastern Orthodox Christianity under John McGuckin's editorship. I discussed the encyclopedia extensively in a series of posts you may read here. See also the recent paperback publication of the Blackwell Companion to Eastern Christianity under Ken Parry's editorship.

Introductory Texts:
McGuckin is also the author of another recent Wiley-Blackwell publication, The Orthodox Church: An Introduction to its History, Doctrine, and Spiritual Culture. This is a serious, detailed study, ideal for those who already have some background and familiarity with Orthodox Christianity. Those needing such familiarity and background would do well to first read Kallistos Ware's classic The Orthodox Church or the book I use in my introductory classes on Eastern Christianity, David Bell, Orthodoxy: Evolving Tradition.

Dogmatics:
I have used in several classes this wonderful work by him who is regularly introduced as the greatest Greek theologian writing today, John Zizioulas: his Lectures in Christian Dogmatics is a distillation of much of his thought over the course of his lifetime, and this book makes that thought accessible in four chapters. For those wanting to break into reading Zizioulas, this is the place to start. He made his name, of course, in what is his most famous work, widely cited in Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox ecclesiology and anthropology: Being as Communion. But there are other works since that one was first published in English in 1985, including the recent collection The One and the Many: Studies on God, Man, the Church, and the World Today.

In addition to Zizioulas, John Behr's two-volume work The Way to Nicaea (The Formation of Christian Theology) is a significant work.

Covering some of the same territory, but in a significantly different way, is the new book by Khaled Anatolios (whom I interviewed here): Retrieving Nicaea: The Development and Meaning of Trinitarian Doctrine.

2011 has been a banner year in an already long cycle of renewed interest in Trinitarian theology. I drew attention to several new books here and here, but of these I am most impressed by, and have adopted for one of my courses, the collection edited by Gilles Emery and Matthew Levering, The Oxford Handbook of the Trinity. Levering is also the author of a fantastic study on ecclesial matters that I reviewed in detail here.

Also not to be missed here is the work in English translation by Boris Bobrinskoy, The Mystery of the Trinity: Trinitarian Experience and Vision in the Biblical and Patristic Tradition, a really substantial one-volume treatment by an Orthodox theologian.

Patristics:
Eastern Christianity makes the frequent claim to be the "Church of the Fathers." For those new to them, John McGuckin has written the handy Westminster Handbook to Patristic Theology. In a review in Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies a few years ago, he highly praised the English translation of Patrology: The Eastern Fathers from the Council of Chalcedon to John of Damascus under Angelo di Berardino's editorship. Norman Russell's The Doctrine of Deification in the Greek Patristic Tradition is a welcome contribution and good overview

as is his other volume on the same topic, Fellow Workers With God: Orthodox Thinking on Theosis. Michael Christensen and Jeffrey Wittung's edited collection, Partakers of the Divine Nature: The History and Development of Deification in the Christian Traditions brings together a number of scholars to show that theosis or deification/divinization is no longer limited to Orthodox theology but has been appropriated and studied by Catholics and Protestants alike.

Social Issues:
Under the editorship of Susan R. Holman, Wealth and Poverty in Early Church and Society (Holy Cross Studies in Patristic Theology and History) brings us a rich collection of scholarly articles treating various aspects in the earliest centuries of the Church.
In their welcome "Popular Patristics" series, St. Vladimir's Seminary Press has recently published On Social Justice: St. Basil the Great (C. Paul Schroeder, trans.).

Iconography:
As I have frequently noted, of the publishing of books on icons there is no end. Everybody is in on it today: secular, academic, and religious presses from Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox backgrounds. Here are just a few from several areas. For recent studies in an East-Slavic context, see here. See also this book for how icons fared in Soviet hands. For a good overview
of the technique of icon painting, see here. For a general overview of the history of icons and their veneration, see here for a re-issue of a work by the pre-eminent historian Jaroslav Pelikan. For icons in Byzantium see here. For a charming overview of the earliest icons in the pre-iconoclast period, and also proto-Coptic iconography, see the lovely little book I review here. For the Protestant on your list, interested in but theologically uneasy about icons, see here and here. But also see here for a very well done book that links images of Christ with their biblical texts, often side-by-side on facing pages. For a handsome coffee table book on East-West connections in icons, see here. Finally, for iconoclasm, see here for several recommended texts.

Ecclesiology:
I would be amiss of course if I did not mention my own recent book, Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy: Ut Unum Sint and the Prospects of East-West Unity.


But there are many other books in the area very much deserving attention, including the splendid Radu Bordeianu, Dumitru Staniloae: An Ecumenical Ecclesiology which I mentioned earlier this week and will be discussing at length in the coming weeks. There is--once more--John Zizioulas's Being as Communion, noted above. See also Nicholas Afanasiev's superb and hugely influential study The Church of the Holy Spirit.

History:
Oxford University Press recently reissued Joan Hussey's classic work The Orthodox Church in the Byzantine Empire, about which you may read here. General historical overviews of Orthodoxy in a broad context may be had in the McGuckin and Ware volumes noted above under Introductory Texts. For North America, the United States in particular, see John Erickson's Orthodox Christians in America: A Short History.


Sacraments and Liturgy:

For liturgy and sacraments, there is nobody better to start with than, of course, Alexander Schmemann in his For the Life of the World: Sacraments and Orthodoxy. His book on the Eucharist should also be consulted (as should Zizioulas's latest book on the topic), along with his other titles, especially Of Water and the Spirit: A Liturgical Study of Baptism. For marriage, there is no finer book than Paul Evdokimov's The Sacrament of Love. (See here for a discussion of many of Evdokimov's other works.)

Liturgy:
If Schmemann is the person to start with for liturgy, then for liturgical history there is, of course, really one name that towers above all others: Robert Taft. Start with his early, short, "popular" book, The Byzantine Rite: A Short History. Of his many other books, see especially his Beyond East and West: Problems in Liturgical Understanding. It is a collection of essays, and, alas, rather hard to come by now, but contains many riches. See also Taft's more recent book that begins a movement in a different direction for liturgical history today: Through Their Own Eyes: Liturgy as the Byzantines Saw It. This book is useful--as all Taft's works are--in debunking many fallacious or romantic notions some may have about the patristic period.

Oxford's Hugh Wybrew has also written an excellent one-volume treatment in The Orthodox Liturgy: The Development of the Eucharistic Liturgy in the Byzantine Rite. For more specialized liturgical topics, especially in the new year as we move out of the Christmas season and into Great Lent, see the highly acclaimed recent work of S. Alexopoulos, The Presanctified Liturgy in the Byzantine Rite: A Comparative Analysis of its Origins, Evolution, and Structural Components. For a less specialized and much more accessible study, see Schmemann's Great Lent: Journey to Pascha, a wonderfully lyrical and deeply moving little book that I re-read every Lent. In it I find Schmemann at his best, expounding on the "bright sadness" that attends that beautiful time of askesis. Another recent study not to be missed is Thomas Pott's recently translated Byzantine Liturgical Reform: A Study of Liturgical Change in the Byzantine Tradition. Finally, for a good overview of liturgics in general, both East and West, see the Orthodox biblicist Edith Humphrey (whom I interviewed here) and her Grand Entrance: Worship on Earth as in Heaven.

Geography:
Where are Eastern Christians and their traditions and institutions to be found, and in what numbers? That is not always an easy question to answer, but Alexi Krindatch's recent Atlas of American Orthodox Christian Churches, discussed here, is a good start. See also several recent scholarly studies, broadly treating "geographical" and related questions, including that of Christopher Johnson (whom I interviewed here): Globalization of Hesychasm and the Jesus Prayer: Contesting Contemplation. Juliet Du Boulay's Cosmos, Life and Liturgy in a Greek Orthodox Village, as I noted here, is a wholly unique book, deeply moving in all sorts of ways. While also looking at Greece--so much in the news today because of its financial problems--see this welcome study on her Orthodox Church. Finally, Mount Athos was in the news this year after a 60 Minutes documentary (on which see below). I noted also a new book on the holy mountain, a very unique book, by Veronica della Dora (whom I interviewed here), Imagining Mount Athos: Visions of a Holy Place, from Homer to World War II.


Spirituality:
"Spirituality" is all the rage today, often a vacuous catch-all label for narcissism and self-indulgence by those too fat and lazy to get out of bed on Sunday, to fast on Wednesdays and Fridays, or to train their minds beyond the "banality of pseudo-self-awareness" (Christopher Lasch) in order sentire cum Ecclesia. A new book this year attempts to take us to the heart of Eastern Christian spirituality: Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer: Experiencing the Presence of God and a Pilgrimage to the Heart of an Ancient Spirituality. Older works, invaluable for any serious library, include Tomas Špidlik's two volumes, Spirituality of the Christian East: A Systematic Handbook and Prayer: The Spirituality Of The Christian East (Vol.2). Also not to be missed is the collection by Olivier Clément, Roots of Christian Mysticism: Texts from Patristic Era with Commentary. (I note some other important works by Clément here.) Finally, see the several books by Bill Mills (whom I interview here), discussed here and especially here for his lovely book on Ephraim the Syrian's famous Lenten prayer.



Orthodox-Muslim Relations:
Islam continues to dominate the headlines of our day, and can be expected to remain a topic of great interest and concern for some time to come. Few today know, however, that trying to understand Islam, and examine its relations with non-Muslims, has a 1400-year history, begun precisely by Eastern Christians. Relations between Eastern Christians and Muslims remain very difficult in most places, but not all (Russia being a key example here), as I noted in the first part of an on-going series that began with Lebanon, continued on to a Greek context, paused to look at one inadequate recent analysis, and most recently focused on the Syriac churches encountering Islam. There have been dialogues between the traditions over the years, as David Bertaina's new book shows. (I interview Bertaina here.)

Auto/Biographical Studies:
While the publication of The Journals of Father Alexander Schmemann, 1973-1983 was a welcome event, they are not the full diaries, as Michael Plekon (whom I interviewed here about his own scholarship) noted in his review of the much longer and more complete French version of the diaries. Other biographical studies of note here include Andrew Blane's Georges Florovsky: Russian Intellectual & Orthodox Churchman. Two biographies not to be missed are those of Lev Gillet and especially that of Elisabeth Behr-Sigel. For shorter biographical treatments of these two, along with many others, see Michael Plekon's Living Icons: Persons of Faith in the Eastern Church.


Audiovisual Materials:
If you feel like doing more than reading over the Christmas holidays, several DVDs have emerged recently, including a fascinating look into northern Russian monasticism in Ostrov (The Island).


Also released this year are two programs tied to books noted above on the Jesus prayer and Mt. Athos respectively:

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