"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).

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Sage of Sinai

Christians today, seeking guidance from the desert, have more opportunities to access the Desert Fathers and Mothers than at any time thanks to the many books published just in English and just in the last decade. Brepols continues the offerings with a new book:  J.A. Munitiz, ed. and trans., Anastasios of Sinai: Questions and Answers (Brepols, 2011), 264pp.

 About this book the publisher tells us:
The Questions and Answers, presented here for the first time in an English version, form a surprising text. Although put together some thirteen centuries ago (c. 700 A.D.), in what was then a territory newly overrun by Moslem invaders, they retain an astonishing topicality: many of the questions asked at that time by people who had problems with religious beliefs and practices are still being asked today. Anastasios, the person who tried to help people with his replies was linked to the isolated desert monastery of Sinai, founded near the tip of the Arabian peninsula by the great Justinian, probably for strategic defensive reasons as well as out of religious piety. Such a mixture of politics and religion is easy to appreciate today. Anastasios himself does not seem to have lived in any ivory-tower. He toured what is now Egypt and Palestine, preaching and taking part in the religious discussions dividing Christians. His numerous contacts were probably the source of the queries that reached him, and with his obvious delight in writing, he gladly penned replies that are models of pastoral moderation and good sense. The themes that surface have much to do with everyday life: trying to please God while living in a world where family obligations and business interests often leave one perplexed. In the historical background are the Moslems creating very harsh conditions for many Christians, while in the cultural background are the ways of thought that dominated medical and scientific thinking: the four elements that work as instruments of God; the biblical texts that have to be interpreted with common sense; the political and ecclesiastical institutions that need to be respected but not idolized. The danger with such a translation is that it may blur the profound differences that separate us from those who asked the questions then. But on the other hand many will discover with pleasure the common humanity that allows us to listen today with sympathy and understanding to such far-off voices. The source text of this volume appeared in Corpus Christianorum Series Graeca as Anastasius Sinaita - Quaestiones et responsiones (CCSG 59). References to the corresponding pages of the Corpus Christianorum edition are provided in the margins of this translation.

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