"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, August 31, 2011

The "Green Patriarch"

The Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has long been known for his ecological activism, as I have noted before.

Now Oxford University Press, next month, will bring out his latest reflections on the topic: On Earth As In Heaven: Ecological Vision and Initiatives of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew (Orthodox Christianity and Contemporary Thought) 384pp.

About this book, the publisher tells us:
Over the past two decades, the world has witnessed alarming environmental degradation--climate change, the loss of biodiversity, and the pollution of natural resources--together with a failure to implement environmental policies and an ever-widening gap between rich and poor. During this same period, one religious leader has discerned the signs of the times and called people's attention to our dire ecological and social situation: His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the worldwide leader of the Orthodox Churches. As this new volume of his writings reveals, Patriarch Bartholomew has continually proclaimed the primacy of spiritual values in determining environmental ethics and action. For him, the predicament we face is not primarily ecological but in fact spiritual: The ultimate aim is to see all things in God, and God in all things.
On Earth as in Heaven demonstrates just why His All Holiness has been dubbed the "Green Patriarch" by former Vice President Al Gore (recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for his environmental activism) and the media. This third and final volume of the spiritual leader's selected writings showcases his statements on environmental degradation, global warming, and climate change. It contains numerous speeches and interviews in various circumstances, including ecological symposia, academic seminars, and regional and international events, over the first twenty years of his ministry. This volume also encompasses a selection of pastoral letters and exhortations--ecclesiastical, ecumenical, and academic--by His All Holiness for occasions such as Easter and Christmas, honorary doctorates, and academic awards.
On Earth as in Heaven is a rich collection, essential for religious scholars, those looking for a deeper understanding of Orthodox Christianity, and anyone concerned with the environmental and social issues we face today.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Pauline Perspectives

Earlier I noted the number of important "Companions" published by Wiley-Blackwell of interest to Eastern Christians. Another has recently been published and has three chapters--at least--of particular interest to Eastern Christians:

Stephen Westerholm, ed., The Blackwell Companion to Paul (Blackwell Companions to Religion) (Wiley-Blackwell, 2011), 632pp. 

The Blackwell Companion to Paul, the publisher says,

presents a distinctive dual focus approach that encompasses both the historical Paul and the history of Paul's influence. In doing so, expert contributors successfully address the interests of students of early Christianity and those of Christian theology. 
  • Offers a complete overview of the life, writings and legacy of one of the key figures of Christianity
  • The essays compass the major themes of Paul's life and work, as well as his impact through the centuries on theology, Church teaching, social beliefs, art, literature, and contemporary intellectual thought 
  • Edited by one of the leading figures in the field of Pauline Studies. The contributors include a range of world-renowned academics
Chapters of especial interest to Eastern Christians include:
  • 20 Origen (Peter Widdicombe)
  • 21 Chrysostom (Christopher A. Hall)
  • 30 Orthodox Readings of Paul (Theodore G. Stylianopoulos).

I would also note chapter 33, "Literature" (David Lyle Jeffrey). Jeffrey is one of the most distinguished scholars in the world today studying the relationship between the Bible (especially the King James version) and Western culture in general, and Western literature in particular. It was a great joy of mine, many years ago now, to have had Jeffrey as a professor when he was still at the University of Ottawa prior to his appointment at Baylor.  I heard him in the spring on NPR discussing the 400th anniversary of the KJV.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Church and State in Europe

Lavinia Stan, a political scientist, is married to Lucian Turcescu, a Romanian Orthodox theologian and patrologist. Together they have collaborated on past books of considerable importance, including Religion and Politics in Post-Communist Romania, which was favorably reviewed in Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies. Now, again from Oxford and in the same series, the couple have just published Church, State, and Democracy in Expanding Europe (Religion and Global Politics) (Oxford University Press, 2011, 304pp). 

About this book, the publisher tells us:

Lavinia Stan and Lucian Turcescu examine the relationship between religion and politics in ten former communist Eastern European countries. Contrary to widespread theories of increasing secularization, Stan and Turcescu argue that in most of these countries, the populations have shown themselves to remain religious even as they embrace modernization and democratization.
Church-state relations in the new EU member states can be seen in political representation for church leaders, governmental subsidies, registration of religions by the state, and religious instruction in public schools. Stan and Turcescu outline three major models: the Czech church-state separation model, in which religion is private and the government secular; the pluralist model of Hungary, Bulgaria and Latvia, which views society as a group of complementary but autonomous spheres - for example, education, the family, and religion - each of which is worthy of recognition and support from the state; and the dominant religion model that exists in Poland, Romania, Estonia, and Lithuania, in which the government maintains informal ties to the religious majority.
Church, State, and Democracy in Expanding Europe offers critical tools for understanding church-state relations in an increasingly modern and democratic Eastern Europe.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Ecclesial Repentance

I have written several articles on the whole concept of the "healing of memories" and the necessary exchange of forgiveness and repentance between Christians that is presupposed by the healing of memories--particularly, as I proposed, between Eastern and Latin hierarchs on the first Sunday of Great Lent during Forgiveness Vespers. In so doing, I was echoing a familiar request and practice of the late Pope John Paul II, who proposed just such a request on many times, but perhaps most centrally on the first Sunday of Lent in 2000, which he celebrated liturgically in the Vatican basilica as a "Day of Repentance."  More dramatically still, he made such a request for forgiveness in Athens in 2001 in the face of some Orthodox Christians demanding he apologize for the Fourth Crusade as though it happened last week. (As the great historian Robert Taft has said, some Eastern Christians have an unhelpful tendency to collapse history and act as though the events of, e.g., 1204 in Constantinople happened yesterday.)

When, in the late 1990s, the late pope proposed doing what he did in March 2000, some Catholics (particularly the Italians in the Roman Curia concerned about preserving la bella figura) objected that asking for forgiveness would confuse people into thinking that the Church, as the spotless bride of Christ, was asking forgiveness, which would be superfluous, if not sacrilegious. Au contraire, the pope patiently replied many times: the Church, like Christ, is dyophisite. In her divine nature, she is perfect as the Body of Christ; but in her human nature she is full of sinners, and we, as humans and sinners, need always to be asking forgiveness of the Lord.

This notion, only rarely analyzed before, is a concept at the heart of a new book: Jeremy M. Bergen, Ecclesial Repentance: The Churches Confront Their Sinful Past (T&T Clark, 2011), 352pp.
About this book, the publisher tells us:
Churches have been repenting, apologizing, and asking forgiveness for beliefs and practices they once justified. These often high-profile statements raise questions such as: Can a church repent for things that happened centuries ago? Is it possible for a church to sin or to be forgiven? What difference will repenting make? Is this just more church hypocrisy? In this book Jeremy Bergen tells the story of ecclesial repentance in recent decades and explores the theological issues its raises. He argues that because it is grounded in the doctrines of Christ and the Holy Spirit, ecclesial repentance requires the church to articulate in new ways its own nature and mission.
This book, alas, seems to pay scant attention to the East, and so I hope someone will write a companion volume for Eastern Christians lest the absence of such a reckoning merely reinforce the idea among some in the East that they have nothing to apologize for: the Western Church is entirely at fault for everything from 1054--and even from before that often wildly misunderstood and rather mythological date. But Eastern Christians thinking that they are always the victim, never the perpetrator, are merely continuing in their own delusions, recently and rightly denounced by Robert Taft, who noted, e.g., the appalling persecution of the Armenians and Copts by the Orthodox Church of the Byzantine Empire or the Greek pogrom against Latin Christians in Constantinople in 1182. Inter alia, Eastern Christians in our day have egregious sins to deal with, not least, as the Russian Orthodox theologian Antoine Arjakovsky has very recently shown in his En attendant le Concile de l'Eglise Orthodoxe, the collaboration, on the part of the Russian Church, in the violent suppression, in 1946, of the Ukrainian Greco-Catholic Church--a sin repeated two years later by the Orthodox Church in Romania against the Greco-Catholics there.

None of this should be taken as a vulgar tit-for-tat. As Taft has repeatedly shown, we have all sinned against one another, and we all have much to repent for. Bergen's book reminds of that, and therefore deserves attention for that reason.  

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Development of Nicene Trinitarian Doctrine

Khaled Anatolios, author of magisterial works on Athanasius the Great, has a new book coming out in October: Retrieving Nicaea: The Development and Meaning of Trinitarian Doctrine (Baker Academic, 400pp.).

About this book, which carries a slew of endorsements from Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant theologians, the publisher tells us:
Khaled Anatolios, a noted expert on the development of Nicene theology, offers a historically informed theological study of the development of the doctrine of the Trinity, showing its relevance to Christian life and thought today. According to Anatolios, the development of trinitarian doctrine involved a global interpretation of Christian faith as a whole. Consequently, the meaning of trinitarian doctrine is to be found in a reappropriation of the process of this development, such that the entirety of Christian existence is interpreted in a trinitarian manner. The book provides essential resources for this reappropriation by identifying the network of theological issues that comprise the "systematic scope" of Nicene theology, focusing especially on the trinitarian perspectives of three major theologians: Athanasius, Gregory of Nyssa, and Augustine. It includes a foreword by Brian E. Daley.
The contents in brief:
Foreword by Brian E. Daley
Introduction: Development as Meaning in Trinitarian Doctrine
1.   Fourth-Century Trinitarian Theology: History and Interpretation
2.   Development of Trinitarian Doctrine: A Model and Its Application
3.   Athanasius: The Crucified Lord and Trinitarian Deification
4.   Gregory of Nyssa: The Infinite Perfection of Trinitarian Life
5.   Augustine’s De Trinitate: Trinitarian Contemplation as Christological Quest
  Conclusion: Retrieving the Systematic Scope of Nicene Theology
I look forward to further discussion of the book on here and an interview with the author in the coming weeks. The book will receive expert scholarly attention in Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Eastern Christian History and Culture

Prof. Jenn Spock of Eastern Kentucky University has just sent me the draft preliminary program for the upcoming fourth biennial conference at Ohio State in Columbus of the Association for the Study of Eastern Christian History and Culture (ASEC).
To be held in the Pfahl Conference Centre/Blackwell Hotel on the OSU campus from Friday October 7 to Saturday the 8th, this promises to be a fantastic feast of scholarship. I greatly enjoyed the last one two years ago, but this one looks to be even better. Many of those presenting will be familiar to readers of this blog for we have either reviewed their books, or pressed them into service as scholarly reviewers of other books in their field.

Herewith the preliminary program:


8:00 to 10:00
Session 1: Teaching and Role Modeling Sanctity: The Creation of Saints

Chair/Discussant:  Jennifer Spock (Eastern Kentucky University)

Donald Ostrowski (Harvard University):  “The Making of a Princely Saint: Alexander Nevsky in the Sixteenth Century.

David Goldfrank (Georgetown University): “The Rhetoric of Eldership in Nil Sorskii and Iosif Volotskii

Mario Rodriquez Polo (University Complutense, Madrid): “Towards a Systemic Understanding of Yurodstvo as a Socio-Culture Cognitive Construct”

10:15 to 12:15
Session  2: National Churches and Ecumenism:  Regional Engagement in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries

Chair/Discussant:  Heather Bailey (University of Illinois, Springfield)

Lucien Frary (Rider University): “The Russian Foreign Ministry and the Ecumenical Patriarch in the First Half of the Nineteenth Century

Matthew Miller (Northwestern College): “Sustaining the Orthodox Commonwealth: The American YMCA in the Balkans, 1892-1940”

Jerry Pankhurst (Wittenberg University): “Russian Orthodoxy’s Growing European Engagement and Russia’s National Identity”

Lunch 12:15 to 1:30

Session 3: Developing Christian Communities: Architecture and Argument in the Middle Eastern and North African Christian Experience.

Discussant:    Lucien Frary (Rider University)

Darlene Brooks Hedstrom (Wittenberg University): “Environmental and Religious Objectives in Egyptian Monastic Construction”

David Bertaina (University of Illinois, Springfield):  “Arguing with the Orthodox in Arabic: Elias of Nisibis’ Invitation to a Melkite Brother”

Session 4: Christian Identity in the Late Antique East

Discussant:  David Bertaina (University of Illinois, Springfield)

Rod Stearn (University of Kentucky): “Regional Christian Identities in late Antique Palestine”

Joshua Powell (University of Kentucky):  “Ecclesiastical Politics and the Formation of Identity in the 530s”

Edward Mason (University of Kentucky): “Virtue and Roman Identity in Origen”

5:30-6:30  Keynote Address:  140 Pfahl Hall

Reverend Doctor John Chryssavgis
Divine Craving: Insights on Food and Gluttony from Sixth-Century Palestine”

6:30-7:30:  Reception


Session 5: Theological Debates of the Early Twentieth Century: Russia

Discussant/Chair:  Valeria Nollan (Rhodes College)

Betsy Perabo (Western Illinois University): “Mission, War, and Theological Ethics: Ortodox Debates on the Russo-Japanese War”

Scott Kenworthy (Miami University): “The Russian Holy Synod’s Condemnation of the Name Glorifiers, 1913”

Christopher Stroop (Stanford University): “The First World War as a Neglected Moment in the Development of Orthodox-Protestant Relations”

Paul Gavrilyuk (University of St. Thomas): “From Youthful Veneration to Bitter Condemnation: Florovsky’s Re-reading of Solovyov”

Session 6: Confronting North America: Adaptation and Apocalypticism

Chair/Discussant: Barbara Skinner (Indiana State University)

John-Paul Himka (University of Alberta): “Iconography in Ukrainian Churches in the Canadian Prairies”

Amy Slagle (University of Southern Mississippi: The Apocalypticism of Fr. Seraphim Rose”

12:15-2:00  Lunch

Session 7: The French Connection: Orthodox-Catholic Interaction in Modern France

Chair/Discussant: Matthew Miller (Northwestern College)

Heather Bailey (University of Illinois, Springfield): “Russian Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism in Civilization Narratives in Nineteenth-Century France”

Nicolas Prevelakis (Harvard University): “French Influences on 1970s Greek Orthodox Theology”

Erich Lippman (Bethany College): “the Problem of Action in Personalist Manifestos: French and Russian

Session 8: Viewing Orthodoxy as the “Other”

Chair/Discussant:  Page Herrlinger (Bowdoin College)

Eugene Clay (Arizona State University): “Spiritual Christianity in the Lower Volga River, 1760s-1917”

Charles Arndt (Union College): “Nikolai Leskov’s Re-Working of Orthodox Forms in his Series Tales of the Three Righteous Men

Slavic Iconographical History and Developments

Just yesterday I finally received from Penn State Press a book which I noted at the beginning of the year: Jefferson Gatrall and Douglas Greenfield, eds., Alter Icons: The Russian Icon and Modernity (Studies of the Harriman Institute, Columbia University), x+276pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
Passage into the modern world left the Russian icon profoundly altered. It fell into new hands, migrated to new homes, and acquired new forms and meanings. Icons were made in the factories of foreign industrialists and destroyed by iconoclasts of the proletariat. Even the icon s traditional functions whether in the feast days of the church or the pageantry of state power were susceptible to the transformative forces of modernization. In Alter Icons: The Russian Icon and Modernity, eleven scholars of Russian history, art, literature, cinema, philosophy, and theology track key shifts in the production, circulation, and consumption of the Russian icon from Peter the Great s Enlightenment to the post-Soviet revival of Orthodoxy. Alter Icons shows how the twin pressures of secular scholarship and secular art transformed the Russian icon from a sacred image in the church to a masterpiece in the museum, from a parochial craftwork to a template for the avant-garde, and from a medieval interface with the divine to a modernist prism for seeing the world anew.
With many plates, in both colour and black and white, this handsome book opens up absorbing areas of exploration. It begins with an introduction by Gatrall, and ends with an afterword by the well-known historian of the Russian Church, Vera Shevzov. In between, we have eleven articles by some well-known scholars, including Shevzov, Robert Bird, John McGuckin, and John-Paul Himka. Those articles are in four sections: (1) Empire of Icons; (2) Curators and Commissars; (3) Intermedial Icon; (4) Projections.

Those interested in Pavel Florensky (about whom Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies will be publishing an article in our upcoming fall issue) will find two articles of note: "Florensky and the Binocular Body" by Douglas Greenfield; and "Florensky and Iconic Dreaming" by McGuckin.

I have so far read with great interest two chapters. The first is "How America Discovered Russian Icons: the Soviet Loan Exhibition of 1930-1932" by Wendy Salmond. Though many of us in the US today take access to, and understanding of, icons for granted, in the opening decades of the twentieth century almost nobody here had any idea of what icons were, and the tiny handful who did--art historians, anthropologists, and the rest--almost invariably sneered at them as the primitive totems of backwards and stupid peasants, unfit for study or any serious consideration. The traveling exhibition of 1930-32 helped to raise awareness of icons in Russia especially, but it was also a very clever piece of Soviet propaganda. Interest in the Soviet Union was at an all-time high around 1930, and there were many articles constantly in the media. The exhibit was able to play into this interest, showing credulous Americans that an atheistic and iconoclastic regime ostensibly had a high aesthetic and religio-cultural sensibility. In reality this exhibit was used to deflect criticism of the Soviet persecution of the Orthodox Church (and the various Catholic and other Christian churches), and also used to drum up money by showing the world what fascinating artistic wares existed in the USSR and could be purchased. The Soviets undertook a mass "dumping" of icons and other cultural artifacts onto the international markets in order to raise desperately needed Western dollars to finance the campaigns of collectivization, dekulakization, terror-famine, and other crimes.

An even more fascinating article for me was "Moments in the History of an Icon Collection: the National Museum in Lviv, 1905-2005" by John-Paul Himka, author of the recent and related volume Last Judgment Iconography in the Carpathians.

As I have noted before, I visited the museum whose history Himka describes in lucid and crisp prose. (More recently I attended an exhibition in New York that had many icons from the museum, now recorded in the lovely companion volume, The Glory of Ukraine: Sacred Images from the 11th to the 19th Centuries.) The museum, as Himka illustrates, was at the cross-roads of all the various major events of the twentieth century: the First World War, during and as a result of which its host city of Lviv passed from being Hapsburg crown-land and capital of Galicia to Russian-occupied territory; the abortive West Ukrainian National Republic, declared on 1 November 1918 and leading to the Ukrainian-Polish war of 1918-19; the German invasion of Poland in 1939 followed weeks later by the Red Army; the 1941 German invasion of the Soviet Union; and the 1991 independence of Ukraine and emergence of the hitherto suppressed Ukrainian Greco-Catholic Church, then headquartered in at St. George's in Lviv. In most of these conflicts, the premises of the museum suffered only minor damage from shelling.

The central figure in the establishment of the museum was, of course, Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky, primate of the Ukrainian Greco-Catholic Church from 1900 until his death on 1 November 1944. As Himka succinctly puts it, Sheptytsky was a "scion of the upper elite [who] had toured Western Europe and studied its art firsthand. He had a finely educated aesthetic sense, a love of the visual arts, and great wealth." Sheptytsky's family patrimony, in fact, would be widely spent not only on buying icons about to be destroyed--whether by unknowing peasants convinced that wooden churches had to be torn down and replaced with modern brick ones, or hostile iconoclasts in the employ of the communists--but also on the land and buildings in which to house this ever-expanding collection.

The other figure to whom Himka pays careful attention is Vira Svientsitska, who worked for the museum under her father, the director, prior to being sent to the gulag from November 1948 to August 1956. After her release, she worked for the museum until her death in May 1991. She showed great cleverness in persuading the authorities to hang onto the icons, and amass others, by persuading them that far from being of religious significance, these icons were in fact "productions that expressed the Ukrainian people's longing for national and social liberation" (120).

For these and other fascinating stories and scholarly studies, I recommend Alter Icons: The Russian Icon and Modernity, which will be reviewed at greater length by an iconologist in Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies in 2012.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Religion and Politics in Lebanon

Earlier I discussed the rather singular nature of relations between Islam and Eastern Christianity in Lebanon. Along comes a new study to continue the exploration of these complicated questions:

Robert G. Rabil, Religion, National Identity, and Confessional Politics in Lebanon: The Challenge of Islamism (The Middle East in Focus) (Palgrave MacMillan, 2011), 230pp. 

About this book, the publisher tells us:
Tracing the rise of Islamism in Lebanon and its attempt to Islamize society and state by the reverse integration of society and state into the project of Islamism, this book looks at Lebanon against a background of weak and contested national identity and capricious interaction between religious affiliation and confessional politics, and attempts to illustrate in detailed analysis this "comprehensive" project of Islamism according to its ideological and practical evolutionary change. The author demonstrates that, despite ideological, political and confessional incongruities and concerns, Islamism, in both its Sunni and Shi'a variants, has maintained a unity of purpose in pursuing its project: jihad against Israel and abolishment of political sectarianism.
The publisher also helpfully provides us the table of contents:
Greater Lebanon and the National Pact: The Elusiveness of National Identity * The Confessional System Between Lebanonism and Pan-Arabism * Al-Jama'a al-Islamiyah and Fathi Yakan: The Pioneer of Sunni Islamic Activism in Lebanon * The Reassertion of Sectarianism and the Rise of Islamism * The Islamists and the Political System: Al-Infitah and Lebanonization * The Praxis of Islamism and Syrian Suzerainty * The Takeover of Beirut: The Struggle for the State * The Future of Islamism in Lebanon

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

In Praise of Reading

While looking for something else tonight on the Oxford UP website, I came across a new book by Alan Jacobs that should be of interest to all bibliophiles: The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction.

About this book, the publisher tells us:
In recent years, cultural commentators have sounded the alarm about the dire state of reading in America. Americans are not reading enough, they say, or reading the right books, in the right way.  In this book, Alan Jacobs argues that, contrary to the doomsayers, reading is alive and well in America. There are millions of devoted readers supporting hundreds of enormous bookstores and online booksellers. Oprah's Book Club is hugely influential, and a recent NEA survey reveals an actual uptick in the reading of literary fiction. Jacobs's interactions with his students and the readers of his own books, however, suggest that many readers lack confidence; they wonder whether they are reading well, with proper focus and attentiveness, with due discretion and discernment. Many have absorbed the puritanical message that reading is, first and foremost, good for you--the intellectual equivalent of eating your Brussels sprouts. For such people, indeed for all readers, Jacobs offers some simple, powerful, and much needed advice: read at whim, read what gives you delight, and do so without shame, whether it be Stephen King or the King James Version of the Bible. In contrast to the more methodical approach of Mortimer Adler's classic How to Read a Book (1940), Jacobs offers an insightful, accessible, and playfully irreverent guide for aspiring readers. Each chapter focuses on one aspect of approaching literary fiction, poetry, or nonfiction, and the book explores everything from the invention of silent reading, reading responsively, rereading, and reading on electronic devices.  Invitingly written, with equal measures of wit and erudition, The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction will appeal to all readers, whether they be novices looking for direction or old hands seeking to recapture the pleasures of reading they first experienced as children.

The Church in the Middle East

I have earlier and frequently drawn appreciative attention to the work that Anthony O'Mahony has been doing to make the plight of Christians in the Middle East (and particularly Jerusalem) better known, the state of relations between Eastern Christians and Muslims, and the state of Eastern Christianity in the Middle East in general.

Now he has edited a recent collection examining The Catholic Church in the Contemporary Middle East: Studies for the Synod for the Middle East (Melisende, 2010), 368pp.

About this book, the publisher tells us:
The Synod of Bishops Special Assembly for the Middle East called by Pope Benedict XVI in Rome in 2009 is a significant event for the Catholic Church in the Middle East. The Synod is also, however, an important event for the wider Christian Church (both in the region and in the West) and for the Christian tradition as a whole. The Conference, ‘The Synod for the Middle East: Catholic Theological and Ecclesial Perspectives’, 9-11 June 2010, held at the Centre for Eastern Christianity, Heythrop College, University of London, from which the papers in this volume originated, was organized with the intention of making a fraternal engagement with the preparations for the Synod, seeking to honour the importance of the event.
As stated by Archbishop Louis Sako in his Foreword: ‘The Middle East is the cradle of Christianity; Christianity was born in Palestine and rapidly spread to Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Egypt. The Churches of the Middle East are repositories of ancient Christian traditions: Syrian, Copt, Greek, Armenian, Latin and Arabic. Their liturgy, spirituality, monasticism and ecclesiastical discipline and canons have great importance for the whole Church. … In time Christians in the diaspora will lose their Eastern identity through integration into Western society and culture, and this is a significant challenge for all the Eastern Christian Churches.’

Monday, August 22, 2011

Theology and Therapy of Spiritual Illness

The Orthodox scholar Jean-Claude Larchet, whom LOGOS: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies published in 2009 ("La théologie des energies divines: l’enjeu, les dificultés et les perspectives du dialogue entre catholiques et orthodoxes") has been working for years on any number of important projects, including the ecclesiology of Maximus the Confessor as well as the letters of, and studies on, the Confessor's wider importance. But I think Larchet is best known for being a rare and very important voice seeking to integrate Orthodox theology with insights from the Fathers and modern psychology, particularly on questions of suffering and illness. This latter trajectory was perhaps best introduced to anglophone audiences in 2002 when we saw the publication of his The Theology of IllnessThis book, from Oakwood Publishers, we are told:

offers us fresh insight into the mystery of evil, sin, and illness, and their place within our struggle toward holiness... It gives us renewed hope, by locating the "problem of pain" in a profoundly theological framework, in which ultimate resolution of the mystery of illness and suffering is provided by the healing touch of Christ Himself, the Physician of our souls and bodies.... The Theology of Illness, already translated into several languages, now appears in English and explores biblical and patristic perspectives on sickness and redemptive suffering. The questions Larchet considers are fundamental: the origins of sin in a fallen world, its impact on physical health, and the healing of human nature by the incarnate Son of God. He explains healing as a means of glorifying God, stressing again the crucial role of prayer and sacramental grace in promoting genuine health. When illness plunges us into unfamiliar territory, even to the point of death, Larchet teaches us to marshal spiritual reserves in a society dominated by technology and materialism. In a time when the physician has been dubbed the high priest of the god of Modern Medicine, Larchet encourages us to situate these crucial experiences within the framework of their relationship to the unique reality of the Holy Trinity.
In 2005, we had his Mental Disorders and Spiritual Healing: Teachings from the Early Christian East. Also that year we had two other works in French: L'inconscient spirituel and Le Starets Serge. In 2008 we had a work on icons: L'iconographe et l'artiste. In June of 2010, we saw the publication of Une fin de vie paisible sans douleur sans honte.

Now Alexander Press is bringing out a handsome boxed trilogy of Larchet's Therapy of Spiritual Illness. For further details, go here

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Monasteries and the Formation of Identity and History

The creation, redaction, and re-creation of Eastern Christian history and identity is a fascinatingly endless and complex process. Monasteries often play a significant part not merely in Eastern Christian ecclesial life, but also in the drafting and preservation of history--whether in iconographic, textual, liturgical or other forms. Recent studies have begun to emerge taking account of this role of monasteries in the historiographical process. In late 2007, we saw Robert Romanchuk's book published (and reviewed in Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies by Jenn Spock): Byzantine Hermeneutics and Pedagogy in the Russian North: Monks and Masters at the Kirillo-Belozerskii Monastery, 1397-1501.

Last year we saw Scott Kenworthy's book on one of the most important monasteries in the East-Slavic world: The Heart of Russia: Trinity-Sergius, Monasticism, and Society after 1825. 

Kenworthy's book is being reviewed in Logos next year. We will have more to say about it in the coming weeks, and an interview with Kenworthy, whom I met two years ago at Ohio State, which hosted (as it will again in October of this year) the Association for the Study of Eastern Christian History and Culture. If you are free the first weekend of October, the ASEC Conference promises to be a splendid affair, as the last one was, and you should really consider attending. There is a feast of scholarship presented and a greatly convivial social life between papers and plenaries.

Also in late 2010, we saw David B. Miller's book, Saint Sergius of Radonezh, His Trinity Monastery, and the Formation of the Russian Identity (Northern Illinois U Press), 374pp. About this book, which will also be reviewed in Logos, the publisher tells us:

When Sergius of Radonezh founded a monastery near Moscow, his example spawned a movement of monastic foundations throughout Russia. Within three decades of his death in 1392, Sergius was recognized as a saint, and by 1450 many considered him the intercessor for the Russian land who freed its people from Mongol rule. Over the next century and a half, thousands sought St. Sergius’s intercession with gifts to the monastery. Moscow’s rulers made Sergius patron saint of their dynasty and of the Russian tsardom. By 1605, the Trinity-Sergius monastery was the biggest house in Russia. Miller presents Trinity’s dramatic history from the 14th century to the beginning of the Time of Troubles. Using extensive archival materials, he traces the evolution of Trinity’s relationship to Sergius’s venerators and its traditions, governance, social composition, and the lifestyle of its members. In lucid prose, Miller argues that St. Sergius’s cult and monastery became integrating forces on a national scale and vital elements in the forging of a Russian identity, economy, and cohesive society. The power of religion to shape national identity is a lively topic today, and Miller’s study will interest both medievalists and modern historians, as well as readers of Orthodox Church history.
Now another new book has come out to treat a famed monastery in Russia sometimes referred to as the Mt. Athos of the north: Kati Parppei, The Oldest One in Russia: the Formation of the Historiographical Image of Valaam Monastery (Russian History and Culture) (Brill, 2011), 300pp. 

About this book, the publisher says:

The post-Soviet resurrection of the Russian Orthodox Church has once again brought the idyllic borderland monastery of Valaam into public notice. The fame of the monastery is largely based on its long and honorable historic image as the “Northern Athos” . This book argues that the fascinating and colorful image of Valaam was exclusively a result of the National Romanticist historiographic efforts of the 18th and 19th centuries. The work contributes, for instance, to the fields of nationality and borderland studies. It is a versatile case study of the multifaceted ways in which contemporary ideological trends and politics have been reflected in history writing.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Syriac Iconography and Identity

I find fascinating the means by which people--singly and communally, especially ecclesially--construct their identities, especially in late modernity with its perennial temptation towards idiosyncratic bricolage. A recent book examines this process among Syrian Christians eight hundred years ago:

M. Immerzeel, Identity Puzzles: Medieval Christian Art in Syria and Lebanon (Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta) (Peeters, 2009), 334pp.

About this book, the publisher tells us:

Numerous churches decorated with medieval wall paintings can be found in Lebanon and Syria, especially in the former Crusader County of Tripoli and the Muslim-controlled Damascus area. In particular, the first half of the thirteenth century turned out to be a period of intensive artistic activity. This book addresses the matter of identity formation in the decoration of Maronite, Melkite and Syrian Orthodox churches during this artistic 'Syrian Renaissance', and explores the differences and similarities between the arts of these communities. Attention is given to the interaction between Latins and local Christians, the attribution of works of art to local and Byzantine artists, and the relationship with Islamic art. Furthermore, recent discoveries have revealed that indigenous painters and workshops involved in the embellishment of churches also produced icons which were formerly attributed to Latin artists, thus adding a new dimension to the research on the production of Christian art in the Middle East during the Crusader era.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Postcards from the Crusades

Ashgate continues to bring out important texts on a variety of topics, including a new series on Eastern Christianity set to begin appearing this fall; we will pay close attention to it later. One area in which they have published several important volumes is that of the Crusades, including this recent book:

Malcolm Barber and Keith Bate, trans., Letters from the East (Crusade Texts in Translation) (Ashgate, 2010), 206pp. 
About this book the publisher tells us
No written source is entirely without literary artifice, but the letters sent from Asia Minor, Syria and Palestine in the high middle ages come closest to recording the real feelings of those who lived in and visited the crusader states. They are not, of course, reflective pieces, but they do convey the immediacy of circumstances which were frequently dramatic and often life-threatening. Those settled in the East faced crises all the time, while crusaders and pilgrims knew they were experiencing defining moments in their lives. There are accounts of all the great events from the triumph of the capture of Jerusalem in 1099 to the disasters of Hattin in 1187 and the loss of Acre in 1291. These had an impact on the lives of all Latin Christians, but at the same time individuals felt impelled to describe both their own personal achievements and disappointments and the wonders and horrors of what they had seen. Moreover, the representatives of the military and monastic orders used letters as a means of maintaining contact with the western houses, providing information about the working of religious orders not found elsewhere. Some of the letters translated here are famous, other hardly known, but all offer unique insight into the minds of those who took part in the crusading movement.
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