"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, October 20, 2012

The Orthodox Christian World (I)

Part of what motivated me to start this blog was the unprecedented deluge of new publications in Eastern Christian studies. This happy but often overwhelming situation has only been growing in intensity since 1991 and the collapse of the Soviet Union. The rate of publications has increased exponentially in the last decade especially. Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies, to which you should subscribe here, reviews more new publications than many comparable journals combined. But even if, on average, we review somewhere between 50-60 new books a year, that is still only a percentage of what is out there. This blog aims to pick up and comment on yet more books, and to do things (e.g., author interviews) we are not able to do in the journal for lack of space.

Some of this deluge, of course, is attributable to the ease of electronic publishing today, and ready access to what are little more than "vanity publishers." But the books to which we try to pay attention are from top-drawer academic publishers, which makes this deluge all the more impressive. Princeton, Yale, Notre Dame. T&T Clark/Continuum, Oxford, Cambridge, Wiley-Blackwell, and Routledge all continue to bring out major works, and major collections of superlative quality. Examples include John McGuckin's The Orthodox Church: An Introduction to its History, Doctrine, and Spiritual Culture or his more recent two-volume Encyclopedia of Eastern Orthodox Christianity, on which I have commented extensively.

Routledge seems increasingly--as I have repeatedly noted--to be focusing its attention on Eastern Christians in the Middle East as part of a wider program of looking at Orthodoxy, Orthodox-Muslim relations, and related realities, particularly in and after the Ottoman Empire, on which several new books from Routledge are eagerly expected next year. But for 2012 it is enough--more than enough--to have had from them a wonderful new collection under the superb editorship of Augustine Casiday, The Orthodox Christian World (Routledge Worlds) (2012, 608pp). 

Casiday, author of such well received volumes as Evagrius Ponticus (in the Routledge series on the Fathers), has gathered together an impressive list of seasoned and new scholars to treat a really impressive array of topics from across the Eastern Orthodox spectrum. 

Let me just highlight a few of the articles that are especially noteworthy, and then return later to discuss them in detail. 

In the first place, it is wonderful to see a collection that does not suffer from what others have called "Byzantine snobbery." The Oriental Orthodox, and the Assyrian Church of the East, are all given very prominent attention in numerous chapters. The Canadian scholar Robert Kitchen has a chapter on "The Syriac Tradition" followed by "The Assyrian Church of the East," both very good. 

I found especially interesting and very substantive another scholar teaching in Canada, Alexander Treiger, in his "The Arabic Tradition," discussing the role of Arab Christians not only on their own tradition, but also on Islam. I'm greatly looking forward to his forthcoming volume from Northern Illinois Press, The Orthodox Church in the Arab World (700-1700).

Antoine Arjakovsky's article "Orthodoxy in Paris: the Reception of Russian Orthodox Thinkers (1925-40)" is a wonderful and fascinating piece, which should be no surprise given the careful, influential work from Arjakovsky we have seen in the past. He records the greatly cheering news (and hitherto unknown to me) that at her canonization by the Orthodox Church, Mother Maria Skobtsova was acclaimed also as a saint by the Roman Catholic cardinal-archbishop of Paris (who attended the canonization), who asked that her feast day also be kept each year by Catholics in France on the same day as the Orthodox Church fetes her. 

Dellas Oliver Herbel, the Orthodox priest and historian, whom we are publishing this fall in Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies, and whom I was delighted finally to meet at OTSA in September in New York, has an excellent piece "Orthodoxy in North America" that narrates that history calmly and lucidly, aware of what can be said and what gaps remain in the historiography.

The section on the Fathers and other significant figures includes good articles on Ephraim the Syrian (again by Kitchen), John Chrysostom (by Wendy Mayer, author, with Paula Allen, of John Chrysostom), and many others, ancient and modern. Paul Gavrilyuk's piece on Sergius Bulgakov is a cogently written overview of this hugely important Russian theologian of the early twentieth century. 

There is more--much more--to be said, and I hope to do that in the coming weeks. Suffice it now to say that this book belongs in every serious library that has any interest in Eastern Christianity.

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