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

Saturday, April 30, 2011

On Pope John Paul II and Eastern Christianity

In thinking about Pope John Paul's pontificate on the occasion of his beatification this weekend I am reminded of many things he accomplished but I want to focus on only three of especial relevance to Eastern Christians.

First, he made it his priority, in line with the express wishes of the Second Vatican Council in its decree Unitatis Redintegratio and Orientalium Ecclesiarum to continue seeking Christian unity. He first visited Constantinople and the Ecumenical Patriarch in 1979. In the next quarter-century he would visit with many heads of Orthodox Churches.

Second, he realized that part of the task of seeking unity with the East depended on something he advocated from the beginning of his papacy: the healing of memories. He himself put this into practice with Eastern Christians most memorably and movingly in 2001 when he visited Greece and in a dramatic gesture asked forgiveness for those Latin Catholics who had sacked Constantinople in the Fourth Crusade of 1204 and prayed that the memory of this would finally be healed.

I have elsewhere in several places analysed this notion of the healing of memories, but it remains as important today as when he first began to talk about it. Indeed, the newly elected patriarchal head of the Ukrainian Greco-Catholic Church has recently spoken eloquently about how important such healing remains for more than a few Eastern Christians who seem, perversely, to be unwilling to let go of those memories of hurts, whether real or imagined, but hang on to them as an excuse not to have to be united with the still-hated Catholic Church.  I have seen proof of that only this week in a few fanatics elsewhere attacking my book, Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy: Ut Unum Sint and the Prospects of East-West Unity

which they proudly--perversely--claim not to have read because it is a work of "ecumenism," that supposed "pan-heresy." O la fatigue du Nord! Such an attitude is--more than being predictable, tedious, and silly--really very sad because it evidences no desire to do what the Lord wants by seeking unity. Such people are perversely content not merely to hang on to their hurts but to lash out at anyone who suggests we have no choice but to press for unity.

But what type of unity? That is the real question. As those who will actually bestir themselves to read the book will discover, I am not at all one of those who sees unity as being a process of trade-off, of dogmatic compromise or doctrinal relativizing. No Catholic or Orthodox hierarch involved in the process today sees unity in these terms. Quite to the contrary. My entire project is about finding a way for Catholicism to be true to itself, Orthodoxy true to itself, but both to be converted anew to the truth Himself and His express wish that all might be one so that the world might believe (John 17:21). The notion of watering down the truth to reach unity is as much anathema to me as it is to the most fervent Athonite parading about with his "Orthodoxy or Death" banner.

How could such unity ever come to pass? Some assert--even the more hopeful--that while we may have resolved the filioque, and can conceivably overcome any other issue that might remain, the papacy remains the unbridgeable chasm.

But that notion fails to grapple with the third part of the legacy of Pope John Paul II: his genuine request for helpful responses to his real and acute question in Ut Unum Sint:
I insistently pray the Holy Spirit to shine his light upon us, enlightening all the Pastors and theologians of our Churches, that we may seek—together, of course—the forms in which this ministry may accomplish a service of love recognized by all concerned." This is an immense task, which we cannot refuse and which I cannot carry out by myself. Could not the real but imperfect communion existing between us persuade Church leaders and their theologians to engage with me in a patient and fraternal dialogue on this subject, a dialogue in which, leaving useless controversies behind, we could listen to one another, keeping before us only the will of Christ for his Church and allowing ourselves to be deeply moved by his plea "that they may all be one ... so that the world may believe that you have sent me" (Jn 17:21)?
My Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy: Ut Unum Sint and the Prospects of East-West Unity was one attempt to respond to that request in the name of, and reflecting faithfully the mindset of, Eastern Orthodoxy. You might not like my response or disagree with it (though I note with gratitude that several Orthodox clerics and theologians have read it and lauded it), in which case: where is yours?

Friday, April 29, 2011

Political Hesychasm

Hesychasm is coming in for renewed scholarly attention, as I have noted previously. A new book from Lexington Books (an imprint of Rowman and Littlefield) continues the exploration: Daniel Payne, The Revival of Political Hesychasm in Contemporary Orthodox Thought: The Political Hesychasm of John Romanides and Christos Yannaras (Lexington Books, 2011), 336pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:

The Revival of Political Hesychasm in Contemporary Orthodox Thought focuses on the retrieval of the spiritual theology of the Orthodox Church and how it is being used in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries to develop a political ideology that allows for the creation of a unique Eastern Orthodox identity, which is against western globalization. Paramount in the creation of this identity is the thought of John S. Romanides and Christos Yannaras.

This sounds like a very interesting, almost paradoxical combination: hesychasm, on the one hand, usually associated with the quiet contemplative in a monastery, and the bustle of politics-in-the-world on the other; and a second paradox: Christos Yannaras, a serious thinker, paired with John Romanides, whom some Orthodox (inter alia) regard as a crank.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Dante and Byzantium

The Syriac scholar Robert Murray has noted that Christianity has produced (at least) two truly towering theological poets: St. Ephraim the Syrian and Dante Alighieri.* In the fall issue of Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies we will have a review of a new book about the latter and his Eastern influences:  E.D. Karampetsos, Dante and Byzantium (Somerset Hall Press, 2009), 194pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:

No other writer has succeeded as extravagantly as Dante in putting a face on the invisible. Thanks to his inheritance from Byzantium, Dante possessed a wealth of visual resources, a means of organizing them, and a theoretical justification for their use. One discovers in Dante an extended network of Byzantine influences—St. John of Damascus, St. John Climacus, Plotinus, the Pseudo-Dionysius, and others. In this book, E.D. Karampetsos uncovers the profound influence of Byzantine theology, art, and ideas on Dante and his writing.

I asked the well-known Dante translator and scholar Anthony Esolen of Providence College to review this for Logos, and am greatly looking forward to his review.

Somerset Hall Press is a small press, but they have now published several books of interest to Eastern Christians in addition to the above. Perhaps most notable is their 2004 book by Athanasia Papademetriou, Presbytera: The Life, Mission, and Service of the Priest's Wife treating the topic of a married priesthood from the perspective of the "presbytera," that is, the wife of a presbyter. This is a rare and important contribution. 

In 2005 they published a collection of articles looking at the connections between Hellenism and Christianity: Demetrios J. Constantelos, Christian Faith and Cultural Heritage: Essays from a Greek Orthodox Perspective, which I briefly reviewed in Logos

In 2007, they published George P. Liacopulos, ed., Church and Society: Orthodox Christian Perspectives, Past Experiences, and Modern Challenges. I reviewed it in Logos also, drawing attention to several really important articles in the book, including:
  • The Christology of St. Gregory of Nyssa, by Christos Th. Krikonis 
  • Comments on Bible Translation, by Theodore Stylianopoulos
Stylianopoulos, whose The New Testament: An Orthodox Perspective I have used in my classes to great benefit, has here written an article that is important and alarming in drawing attention to the  serious defects in many modern translations of the Bible; he focuses especially on the NRSV, showing how the ideological methods used in that translation have, especially in John's gospel, compromised the Christological nature of the text.  Stylianopoulos demonstrates how the NRSV not only obscures the relationship between Christ and His Father, but cannot even accurately translate basic Greek conjunctions and prepositions in some cases.
*That excellent if little known scholarly revue Hugoye: Journal of Syriac Studies has an entire issue devoted to Ephraim the Syrian for those new to him and desirous of an introduction to his life and work. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

On Heretics and Heresies

Some people bandy about the label of "heretic" too easily and casually, and sometimes that process of condemning people ends up creating enormous problems down the road when we realize that the label, if it ever applied, no longer does. What then does one do with, e.g., centuries of hymnody demonizing people as heretics, deviants, destroyers of orthodox doctrine?
That is one of the problems currently bedeviling the search for unity between the Oriental Orthodox and the Byzantine Orthodox, as Kenneth Yossa's fine study, Common Heritage, Divided Communion: The Declines and Advances of Inter-Orthodox Relations from Chalcedon to Chambésy  (which I discussed earlier) makes painfully clear. 

Nevertheless, if we need to be very cautious in our use of these labels, we need also to avoid the pitfall of abandoning the category of "heresy" as such. It has become fashionable on the part of some academics to bewail the very creation of "heresy" and its cognates. How unjust, they moan, to condemn some people and their ideas; how repressive, they drearily claim, "orthodox" Christianity is. To that there is, of course, no greater nor more spirited rejoinder than that of G.K. Chesterton:
People have fallen into a foolish habit of speaking of orthodoxy as something heavy, humdrum, and safe. There never was anything so perilous or so exciting as orthodoxy. It was sanity: and to be sane is more dramatic than to be mad......
The orthodox Church never took the tame course or accepted the conventions; the orthodox Church was never respectable. It would have been easier to have accepted the earthly power of the Arians.... It is easy to be a madman: it is easy to be a heretic....It is always simple to fall; there are an infinity of angles at which one falls, only one at which one stands. To have fallen into any one of the fads from Gnosticism to Christian Science would indeed have been obvious and tame. But to have avoided them all has been one whirling adventure; and in my vision the heavenly chariot flies thundering through the ages, the dull heresies sprawling and prostrate, the wild truth reeling but erect.
This year we will be seeing several books treating of heresies and heretics, and will take note of them on here. One, to be released at the end of April, is

Jonathan Wright, Heretics: The Creation of Christianity from the Gnostics to the Modern Church (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011), 352pp.

About this book, the publisher tells us:
In Heretics Jonathan Wright charts the history of dissent in the Christian Church through the stories of some of its most emblematic heretics—from Arius, a fourth-century Libyan cleric who doubted the very divinity of Christ, to more successful heretics like Martin Luther and John Calvin. As he traces the Church’s attempts at enforcing orthodoxy, from the days of Constantine to the modern Catholic Church’s lingering conflicts, Wright argues that heresy, by forcing the Church to continually refine and impose its beliefs, actually helped Christianity to blossom into one of the world’s most formidable and successful religions.

Today, all believers owe it to themselves to grapple with the questions raised by heresy. Can you be a Christian without denouncing heretics? Is it possible that new ideas challenging Church doctrine are destined to become as popular as have Luther’s once outrageous suggestions of clerical marriage and a priesthood of all believers? A delightfully readable and deeply learned new history, Heretics overturns our assumptions about the role of heresy in a faith that still shapes the world.
In perusing the table of contents, one sees that much of the focus is on the West, but there are Eastern heresies treated, not least iconoclasm, on which we've seen several recent and important studies.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Liturgy of St. James

Aschendorff Verlag of Münster has just sent me a new book: 

Liturgia Ibero-Graeca Sancti Iacobi.
Editio – translatio – retroversio – commentarii.

Die Liturgie des hl. Apostels Jakobus (georgisch – griechisch)
The Old Georgian Version of the Liturgy of Saint James
published by Lili Khevsuriani – Mzekala Shanidze – Michael Kavtaria and Tinatin Tseradze
La Liturgie de Saint Jacques.
Rétroversion grecque et commentaires par Stéphane Verhelst Erschienen 2011, 472pp.

About this book, the publisher tells us:
The Divine Liturgy of James the Apostle and Brother of the Lord“ was up to medieval times the primary liturgy in Jerusalem, Palestine and the Antiochene Patriarchate and it still is, in its Syrian form, the principal anaphora of the Syrian Oriental Church. Even more ancient than all Greek manuscripts available is the Georgian version, made in Palestine monasteries of Late Antiquity. This volume offers a new edition of the Georgian text, for the first time based on all ancient manuscripts found on Mount Sinai and in Georgia. An English translation, a Greek retroversion as well as substantial commentaries and specimina of the main manuscripts complete this volume.
The book is divided into two parts. The first part, consisting of four chapters, is written in English (with facing Georgian text on many pages); and the second part, consisting of an introduction and five chapters, is written in French. There are a dozen appendices, many containing variant texts or discussing Syriac, Arabic, Greek and other codices and varia. 

Daniel Galadza, who drew my attention to this, will be reviewing it for us in Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies.

Cypriannic Ecclesiology

St. Cyprian of Carthage, as I recently noted, continues to hold sway over a great deal of ecclesiological thinking both East and West. His notions of ecclesial order and jurisdiction have been more than a little influential across the entire Church. Now from Allen Brent, who has reviewed books in the past for Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies and is the author of such important earlier studies as Political History of Early Christianity, we have

Allen Brent, Cyprian and Roman Carthage (CUP, 2010), 382pp.

About this book, Cambridge University Press tells us:
Thascius Caecilius Cyprianus believed fervently that his conversion experience had been a passage from the darkness of the world of Graeco-Roman paganism to his new vision of Christianity. But Cyprian's response as bishop to the Decian persecution was to be informed by the pagan culture that he had rejected so completely. His view of church order also owed much to Roman jurisprudential principles of legitimate authority exercised within a sacred boundary spatially and geographically defined. Given the highly fragmented state of the non-Christian sources for this period, Cyprian is often the only really contemporary primary source for the events through which he lived. In this book, Allen Brent contributes to our understanding both of Roman history in the mid-third century and of the enduring model of church order that developed in that period.
I very much look forward to reading this and seeing it reviewed in Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies.

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Orange Revolution

Well do I recall being part of the peaceful gathering on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on a bitterly cold November day in 2004 when many came out to show solidarity with those who were, for days and weeks, in the streets of Kyiv, Lviv, and other towns and cities in Ukraine in support of a new government, free--it was thought at the time--of the machinations, incompetence, and corruption of its predecessor, which had been composed of Soviet-era bosses hastily remade as "democrats."  The government that took over did not bring about the new Jerusalem, but such is the way with all governments of whatever kind: "put not your trust in princes" indeed.

A new scholarly work has come out to analyze what happened during and after the revolution:

Paul J. D'Anieri, Orange Revolution and Aftermath: Mobilization, Apathy, and the State in Ukraine (Woodrow Wilson Center Press)

About this book, the publisher tells us:
In 2004, hundreds of thousands of Ukranian protestors mobilized in the streets of Kyiv against authoritarian rulers who had clearly falsified the Fall elections. The size and efficacy of the Orange Revolution, as the protest became known, surprised political observers -- and even the participants themselves. In the aftermath, many observers concluded that civil society, long thought dead in Ukraine, was alive and well.

After the success of the Orange Revolution, it was widely expected that civil society groups would take an increasingly prominent role in Ukrainian politics, reinvigorating democracy. Yet that influence diminished rapidly, and when the new government also became tainted with corruption, there was no protest or counterattack. This book explores why the influence of civil society groups waned so quickly.

The contributors to this volume probe civil society in Ukraine from a variety of disciplinary perspectives to understand the contest for social mobilization in Ukraine. The essays provide a wealth of new data based on surveys, interviews, documentary analysis, and ethnography.
The Churches in Ukraine played a special role in the revolution, especially the Ukrainian Greco-Catholic Church which, for many decades, had operated for some as a "surrogate state" and the repository of nationalist aspirations of some Ukrainians, especially Galicians. The role of the Churches in the revolution is addressed in Orange Revolution and Aftermath: Mobilization, Apathy, and the State in Ukraine in chapter 11, "Encompassing Religious Pluralism: The Orthodox Imaginary of Ukraine" by Vlad Naumescu. Because of its attention to the role of the Churches, we will be reviewing Orange Revolution and Aftermath in Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies later this year.

Also recently reviewed in Logos are two works of Naumescu: Modes of Religiosity in Eastern Christianity: Religious Processes and Social Change in Ukraine. About this book, the publisher tells us that

this volume offers original insights into the religious transformations taking place in postsocialist western Ukraine. Applying a cognitive theory based on two modes of religiosity, the doctrinal and the imagistic, Vlad Naumescu reveals the mechanisms of reproduction and change that make the local eastern Christian tradition a living tradition of faith. He combines rich ethnographic materials with historical and theological sources to depict a religion in equilibrium between the two modes, maintaining revelation at the core of its doctrinal corpus. He argues that religion is a potential source for social change that empowers people to act upon reality and transform it. With his innovative exploration of the dynamics of an eastern Christian tradition, Naumescu makes a major contribution to the emerging anthropology of Christianity as well as to studies of postsocialism.

Naumescu has also recently authored a second volume:  Churches In-between: Greek Catholic Churches in Postsocialist Europe. About this book, the publisher, Lit Verlag of Berlin, tells us:

Eastern Rite Catholic Churches occupy an ambiguous position between two religious worlds and challenge the idea of a sharp religious and political dichotomy between Eastern and Western Europe. After decades of repression under socialism, the churches known popularly in Central Europe as Greek Catholic have successfully undertaken a process of revitalisation. This has been marked by competition with other churches, both over material properties and over people's souls. How can a Greek Catholic "identity" be recreated? Can these churches provide a distinctive "product" for the new "religious marketplace"? By exploring such questions the contributors to this volume shed fresh light on the social and political shaping of religious phenomena in the era of postsocialism and also on more general issues of belief, practice, transmission and syncretism.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Mount Athos (2)

I'm watching the 60 Minutes special on Mount Athos and much of it is very good. It is quite something to see the Holy Mountain given such coverage, and much of it is very edifying. But there is, alas, the usual credulity on the part of Western journalists in accepting without question or quibble the usual propaganda about, e.g., how Orthodoxy is the only part of Christianity that has never changed, a theme first mentioned at the beginning of the piece, and in the concluding line: "Mt. Athos will not have changed at all." Many of the practices are indeed longstanding, and it is wonderful to see such fidelity to such age-old monastic life. But Mt. Athos and the attitudes of its diversity of monks have changed, and continue to change, not least in the various attitudes (largely negative) towards fellow Orthodox and fellow Christians. Anyone who believes otherwise might want to purchase the Brooklyn Bridge, which I'm selling on Craig's List for fifty cents. To be clear: I have the highest respect for Mt. Athos, but this kind of notion that they have never changed is the kind of fatuity that cannot be allowed to pass without comment.

Earlier I drew attention to a new book about Mt. Athos, which continues, of course, to occupy an enormous and singular place within Eastern Christian monasticism. The very first book review I published many years ago now was about Athos: M. Basil Pennington's The Monks of Mount Athos: A Western Monk's Extraordinary Spiritual Journey on Eastern Holy Ground. It is a charming book warmly, openly, humbly narrating the journey of a Roman Catholic monastic on Mt. Athos, during which he was alternately treated with "great love" by some who welcomed him hospitably and yet he also experienced "great pain" when others denounced him as a heretic, refused him entry even into the narthex of their church, and asked him such absurd questions as whether it was true that Catholics made the sign of the cross with four fingers because they believe not in the Trinity but in a quaternity! (Who would be the fourth? the pope? the Theotokos? Pennington's monastic inquisitors do not specify.)

Some monasteries on the mountain thus function as self-appointed guardians of what they imagine fatuously to be some kind of pure Orthodoxy unadulterated by contact with those contaminating Catholics and other heretics, including their fellow Orthodox (e.g., the Ecumenical Patriarch) who commit the unpardonable sin of dialoging with Catholics rather than condemning then tout court. Others are not nearly so fanatical. Mount Athos functions, then, not merely as some kind of monastic "powerhouse" but also as a "social imaginary" for many people on and off the mountain, shaping images and perceptions of what constitutes "Orthodoxy." Now a new book comes along to look at the various ways in which Mt. Athos has been perceived:

Veronica della Dora, Imagining Mount Athos: Visions of a Holy Place, from Homer to World War II (University of Virginia Press, 2011), 328pp. + 58 illustrations.

The author teaches in the School of Geographical Sciences at Bristol University. What makes her authorship of this text remarkable is that Mt. Athos forbids women to visit: only men may do so, after applying for permission.

About this book, the publisher tells us:
For more than one thousand years the monastic republic of Mount Athos has been one of the most chronicled and yet least accessible places in the Mediterranean. Difficult to reach until the last century and strictly restricted to male visitors only, the Holy Mountain of Orthodoxy has been known in the Eastern Christian world and in western Europe more through representation than through direct experience. 
Most writing on Athos has focused on its Byzantine history and sacred heritage. Imagining Mount Athos uncovers a set of alternative and largely unexplored perspectives, equally important in the mapping and dissemination of Athos in popular imagination. The author considers Mount Athos as the site of pre-Christian myths of Renaissance and Enlightenment scholarship, of shelter for Allied refugees during the Second World War, and of a botanical and sociological laboratory for early-twentieth-century scientists. Each chapter considers a different narrative channel through which Athos has entered Orthodox and western European imagination: the mythical, the utopian, the sacred, the scholarly, the geopolitical, and the scientific.
Della Dora has assembled a wealth of unique textual, visual, and oral materials without ever having had the opportunity to visit this holy place. In this sense, in addition to making an important contribution to existing scholarship on Mount Athos, the book adds to current theoretical debates in cultural geography and humanities generally about the circulation of knowledge.
Imagining Mount Athos’s appeal is international and spans Hellenic studies, cultural geography, environmental history, cultural history, religious studies, history of cartography, and art history. The book will be of interest to scholars as well as to a general audience interested in this unique place and its fascinating history.
I look forward to reading Imagining Mount Athos: Visions of a Holy Place, from Homer to World War II and seeing it reviewed in Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies.

The Paschal Homily of St. John Chrysostom

If anyone is devout and a lover of God, let him enjoy this beautiful and radiant festival.
If anyone is a wise servant, let him, rejoicing, enter into the joy of his Lord.
If anyone has wearied himself in fasting, let him now receive his recompense.
If anyone has labored from the first hour, let him today receive his just reward. If anyone has come at the third hour, with thanksgiving let him keep the feast. If anyone has arrived at the sixth hour, let him have no misgivings; for he shall suffer no loss. If anyone has delayed until the ninth hour, let him draw near without hesitation. If anyone has arrived even at the eleventh hour, let him not fear on account of his delay. For the Master is gracious and receives the last, even as the first; he gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour, just as to him who has labored from the first. He has mercy upon the last and cares for the first; to the one he gives, and to the other he is gracious. He both honors the work and praises the intention.
Enter all of you, therefore, into the joy of our Lord, and, whether first or last, receive your reward. O rich and poor, one with another, dance for joy! O you ascetics and you negligent, celebrate the day! You that have fasted and you that have disregarded the fast, rejoice today! The table is rich-laden; feast royally, all of you! The calf is fatted; let no one go forth hungry!
Let all partake of the feast of faith. Let all receive the riches of goodness.
Let no one lament his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed.
Let no one mourn his transgressions, for pardon has dawned from the grave.
Let no one fear death, for the Saviour's death has set us free.
He that was taken by death has annihilated it! He descended into hades and took hades captive! He embittered it when it tasted his flesh! And anticipating this Isaiah exclaimed, "Hades was embittered when it encountered thee in the lower regions." It was embittered, for it was abolished! It was embittered, for it was mocked! It was embittered, for it was purged! It was embittered, for it was despoiled! It was embittered, for it was bound in chains!
It took a body and, face to face, met God! It took earth and encountered heaven! It took what it saw but crumbled before what it had not seen!
"O death, where is thy sting? O hades, where is thy victory?"
Christ is risen, and you are overthrown!
Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen!
Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is risen, and life reigns!
Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in a tomb!
For Christ, being raised from the dead, has become the first-fruits of them that slept.
To him be glory and dominion unto ages of ages. Amen.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Go to Dark Gethsemane, Ghenna, and Beyond!

In the hymnody for these great and terrible days of the Bridegroom, we move inexorably towards the death and descent of Christ into hell before shattering its gates in the resurrection:

Behold, the Bridegroom comes at midnight,

and blessed is the servant whom He shall find watching;

and again, unworthy is the servant whom He shall find heedless.

Beware, therefore, O my soul, do not be weighted down with sleep,

lest you be given up to death,

...and lest you be shut out of the Kingdom!

But rouse yourself, crying: “Holy, holy, holy, are You, O our God!”

Through the Theotokos have mercy on us!

One recent book helps us to understand more deeply this great mystery of salvation. Written by Met. Hilarion Alfeyev, one of the most influential young theologians (and talented musicians) in the Russian Church today, and author of previous works on St. Symeon the New Theologian, St. Isaac the Syrian, Orthodox faith and witness, and the structure of the Orthodox Church: Hilarion Alfeyev, Christ the Conqueror of Hell: The Descent into Hades from an Orthodox Perspective (SVS Press, 2009), 232pp.

About this book, the publisher tells us:

This in-depth study on the realm of death presents a message of hope held by the first generation of Christians and the early church. Using Scripture, patristic tradition, early Christian poetry, and liturgical texts, Archbishop Hilarion explores the mysterious and enigmatic event of Christ s descent into Hades and its consequences for the human race. Insisting that Christ entered Sheol as Conqueror and not as victim, the author depicts the Lord's descent as an event of cosmic significance opening the path to universal salvation. He also reveals Hades as a place of divine presence, a place where the spiritual fate of a person may still change. Reminding readers that self-will remains the only hindrance to life in Christ, he presents the gospel message anew, even in the shadow of death.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Welcome Journal-Gazette Readers

Welcome Journal-Gazette readers.  The arguments briefly deployed at the end of that piece are explored in full in my Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy: Ut Unum Sint and the Prospects of East-West Unity.

As the publisher says about this book:
Among the issues that continue to divide the Catholic Church from the Orthodox Church--the two largest Christian bodies in the world, together comprising well over a billion faithful--the question of the papacy is widely acknowledged to be the most significant stumbling block to their unification. For nearly forty years, commentators, theologians, and hierarchs, from popes and patriarchs to ordinary believers of both churches, have acknowledged the problems posed by the papacy.

In Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy: Ut Unum Sint and the Prospects of East-West Unity, Adam A. J. DeVille offers the first comprehensive examination of the papacy from an Orthodox perspective that also seeks to find a way beyond this impasse, toward full Orthodox-Catholic unity. He first surveys the major postwar Orthodox and Catholic theological perspectives on the Roman papacy and on patriarchates, enumerating Orthodox problems with the papacy and reviewing how Orthodox patriarchates function and are structured. In response to Pope John Paul II's 1995 request for a dialogue on Christian unity, set forth in the encyclical letter Ut Unum Sint, DeVille proposes a new model for the exercise of papal primacy. DeVille suggests the establishment of a permanent ecumenical synod consisting of all the patriarchal heads of Churches under a papal presidency, and discusses how the pope qua pope would function in a reunited Church of both East and West, in full communion. His analysis, involving the most detailed plan for Orthodox-Catholic unity yet offered by an Orthodox theologian, could not be more timely.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Eastern Christianity and the Encounter with Islam (1)

Timothy Becker has a good, though brief, article "Orthodoxy and Islam" in John McGuckin, ed., The Encyclopedia of Eastern Orthodox Christianity on which
I have commented previously. It is a good article though it largely confines itself to relations in the Ottoman Empire. It does not deal much in the contemporary period, nor does it have much to say about other Eastern Christian countries that did not fall under Ottoman suzerainty.

Orthodox-Muslim relations remain an under-studied area in which we need more scholars working. I teach courses on the encounter between Eastern Christians and Muslims and keep a close eye on texts that might be suitable especially for undergraduates with no background in either religious tradition. There have been some recent studies, not all of them entirely reliable. Better ones include the edited collection Byzantine Christianity and Islam: Historical and Pastoral Reflections. One outstanding work remains that of Sidney Griffith: The Church in the Shadow of the Mosque: Christians and Muslims in the World of Islam. Griffith's work, however, remains largely above most undergraduates today.

The need for further study of Eastern Christian-Muslim is all the more acute today given the turmoil in countries such as Syria and Egypt. How will relations between Copts and Muslims be in the post-Mubarak era? It is anything but clear, and observers have many reasons to be anxious. Though several recent books have been devoted to Coptic life in Egypt, and attention was focused on the country in January of this year, we need continued study of relations not only to continue to draw attention to one of the longest persecuted Christian churches in the world but also, of course, to describe the fate of Copts in the months and years ahead. Too many Christians in North America remain deplorably ignorant about the plight of their co-religionists in other parts of the world--perhaps especially the Islamic world--and this must change.

Relations in Syria also remain precarious, as, indeed, does the entire country. Eastern Christians have generally had an easier time of it in Syria, though here too reliable, accurate, on-the-ground information about Christian-Muslim relations has been difficult to obtain. As Emma Loosley put it in her article "Christianity and Islam in Syria: Island of Religious Tolerance?" "Syria remains remarkably mysterious" because "so little is generally known about Syria" (162). Loosley's article appeared in an excellent volume (which I reviewed earlier) she edited with Anthony O'Mahony: Christian Responses to Islam: Muslim-Christian Relations in the Modern World.

Apart from Loosley's article, we are only now starting to see scholarly treatments of relations between Syriac Christians and Muslims. Recent volumes include Dietmar Winkler, ed., Syriac Churches Encountering Islam: Past Experiences and Future Perspectives (noted here).

Loosley and O'Mahony also collaborated on editing another fine and important collection (discussed here) that treats Syrian realities:  Eastern Christianity in the Modern Middle East.

I am looking forward to Noriko Sato's volume (if and when it is ever published, having been so often delayed): Orthodox Christians in Syria (Durham Modern Middle East and Islamic World Series)

And now we have a new volume, from Somerset Hall Press, that may shed further light on Orthodox-Muslim relations:

George Papademetriou, ed., Two Traditions, One Space: Orthodox Christians and Muslims in Dialogue (Somerset Hall Press, 2010), 350 pp. 

About this volume, the publisher tells us:

"For centuries Orthodox Christians and Muslims have co-existed in close proximity to each other. This volume gathers scholarly studies about their historic connections, as well as contemporary efforts at dialogue that promote understanding between adherents of these two world religions."

I very much look forward to reading this and to seeing it reviewed in Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies. 
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