"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).

Friday, September 30, 2011

Orthodox Diversity on the Problem of Primacy

Met. Hilarion Alfeyev, of whom I was recently critical, has come out with a restatement of his views--already in circulation since the fall of 2007 at least--on the issue of Orthodox understandings of primacy, correctly observing that “there are certain divergences, and there are different positions, of the Orthodox churches on the question of the primacy." He further noted that "we do not have a very clear picture as to what should be the role of the primate in the Orthodox tradition....Without having this clear and unified vision, we cannot easily discuss the issue of how we see the role of the 'primus inter pares' in the universal Church.” In other words, until Orthodoxy deals with its internal notions of primacy, external discussions about papal primacy with Catholics will probably not go very far.

I've heard this argument before, and rejected it. As I have argued in several places, most fully and with more detail than anyone else has ever done in my Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy: Ut Unum Sint and the Prospects of East-West Unity, the problem of primacy within Orthodoxy only becomes an issue after East and West part company.

I am convinced (and here follow the suggestion of Met. John Zizioulas in his essay in The Petrine Ministry: Catholics and Orthodox in Dialogue) that Met. Hilarion's proposed method for resolving this disagreement needlessly extends the process to a superfluous second step. He says Orthodoxy must treat internal notions of primacy first and then papal primacy. On the contrary, I am convinced that Orthodoxy and Catholicism must have this discussion together: "solving" the problem of papal primacy will ipso facto solve the problem of internal Orthodox orderings of primacy. For that, and many other germane arguments, you really will want to read Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy: Ut Unum Sint and the Prospects of East-West Unity.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Authorial Interview: George Tsakiridis

As I have previously noted more than once, interest today in Evagrius of Pontus is at what we could regard as an all-time high. Another recent book on him was published by George Tsakirdis, Evagrius Ponticus and Cognitive Science: A Look at Moral Evil and the Thoughts

I asked the author for an interview and here are his thoughts:

AD: Please tell us about your background:

I currently teach philosophy and religion at South Dakota State University. I hold a PhD from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago in religion and science/theology. My research focuses on both the patristic period as well as broader religion and science dialogue. I have lectured in the past at Saint Xavier University, Chicago, and been an active participant in the Pappas Patristic Institute at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, Brookline, MA.

Tell us why you wrote this book:

This book is a slightly revised version of my dissertation. I am very interested in both the ancient church as well as the modern sciences, and this project was a chance to integrate my many interests while also doing constructive theology. To be honest, I started with the notion of writing a dissertation that combined patristics and religion and science, and had (and still have) a great interest in sin and evil (don’t we all?) so it was a natural progression to combine these topics in a constructive way.

For whom was the book written—did you have a particular audience in mind?

As I mention in the text itself, it is written for those who may be believers in Christianity and the supernatural, but who also hold the sciences in high regard. Unfortunately the conversation in many fields of religion and the sciences divides people into those that hold to science or those that hold to the supernatural. There is a middle ground that may be attained. That is probably my target audience, but it is really my hope that it appeals to a broader reading group, as it presents connections between the ancient and the modern. Still, the conclusions one draws still are somewhat open-ended in large part because the science itself is not conclusive. The interesting thing about the science and religion dialogue is that often the final conclusions are open, and philosophy still becomes the lens through which one makes one's own decisions.

What about your own background led you to the writing of this book?

My undergraduate degree is in electrical engineering, and from a young age I had a great interest in the sciences. Although I shifted my program of study to religious topics, that love for the sciences has not disappeared. Throughout my studies, I have found myself torn between many different areas of research and this interdisciplinary interest lent itself well to this project. My Greek heritage also played a role in specifically choosing Evagrius to study. My educational background is reflected in the diversity of the text, so in some ways the text is a reflection of me.

Were there any surprises you discovered in your writing?            

Yes and no. When I undertake a project that puts different voices in dialogue, I am trusting that in the end I do find a common link in the conclusions. It is sort of a “faith seeking understanding,” so I suppose Anselm would be proud. In that sense there are always surprises, as I take a line of thought and let the conclusions and connections emerge for me. In another sense, the surprises appeared more in the process of research leading up to the text. Pierre Hadot was a recommended author, and his work was a pleasant surprise. For anyone looking at ancient philosophy/theology I think he is an essential source.

Are there similar books out there, and if so, how is yours different?

That is a tough question. When looking at the combination of patristics/eastern orthodoxy and science the work of Alexei Nesteruk is similar in that he is one of the few authors that is doing religion and science work in an Orthodox context that isn’t focused on the environment. In addition, a volume co-edited by Gayle Woloschak is due out this fall: Science and the Eastern Orthodox Church.

From the perspective of Orthodoxy and psychotherapy, books by Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos (Orthodox Psychotherapy) and Archbishop Chrysostomos (A Guide to Orthodox Psychotherapy: The Science, Theology, and Spiritual Practice Behind It and Its Clinical Applications) are useful texts, both of which I reference in my own book.

To answer the question, what makes my text different is that it engages authors in cognitive science within the religion and science dialogue, and uses Paul Ricoeur as a bridge. The combination is unique to my knowledge, and brings together patristic thought, philosophical theology and the cognitive sciences and melds East and West together in ways that are typically not explored. The religion and science dialogue does not engage patristic thought often, so this alone makes it unique.

Sum up the key ideas and insights of Evagrius Ponticus and Cognitive Science: A Look at Moral Evil and the Thoughts:

I think the blurb on the back cover may say it concisely, so allow me to quote it here:
This study puts the thought of Evagrius Ponticus, a fourth-century theologian, into dialogue with modern cognitive science in regard to the topic of evil, specifically moral evil. Evagrius, in his writings about prayer and the ascetic life, addressed the struggle with personal moral evil in terms of the eight "thoughts" or "demons." These "thoughts" were transmitted by John Cassian to the Western church, and later recast by Gregory the Great as the Seven Deadly Sins. Though present understandings of evil appear to differ greatly from those of Evagrius, his wisdom concerning the battle against evil may prove to be of great help even today. Using the work of Pierre Hadot to recover Evagrius' context, and the work of Paul Ricoeur to discuss how we construct descriptions and myths of evil, Evagrius is brought into dialogue with the cognitive sciences. Using current research, especially the work of Eugene d'Aquili and Andrew Newberg, this study reveals the contemporary relevance of Evagrius' approach to combating evil. In addition, the interdisciplinary study of patristics and cognitive science opens the pathway to a better understanding between Christian tradition and the modern sciences.
With that said, the book is meant to show that the eight thoughts of Evagrius have relevance for today, while also showing that sin and evil can be connected both in theology and science. Still a lot of the questions are open, but the work of d’Aquili and Newberg give us an opportunity to explore further. The text also works as a nice summary of the eight thoughts, the work of Ricoeur on the symbols of evil, and on some of the cognitive science positions, so it is an introduction to a variety of authors that are not always at the fore of many people’s theology.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Orthodoxy and Philanthropy

The Sophia Institute of New York has recently very graciously made the proceedings of their 2009 scholarly symposium "Philanthropy and Social Compassion in Eastern Orthodox Tradition," edited by M.J. Pereira available on-line in a PDF, which you may access here. There are many articles of interest in it.

Creation According to the Fathers

Many Eastern Christians fondly imagine themselves as the "Church of the Fathers" even if such a notion is often wildly misunderstood.  As Alexander Schmemann memorably put it, "It is my impression that with a few exceptions, the 'patristic revival'… is a return much more to patristic texts than to the mind of the Fathers, as if these patristic texts were self-sufficient and self-explanatory." Along comes a new book that may help us explore not only patristic texts on creation, but the patristic phronema behind those texts: Marie-Anne Vannier, éd., La Création chez les Pères (Peter Lang, 2011), viii+228pp.

The publisher's book synopsis

S'il y a aujourd'hui un regain d'intérêt pour la Création, avec des découvertes de l'astrophysique, les Pères, pour des raisons différentes dues au contexte où ils vivaient, ont largement réfléchi sur ce sujet et ont développé toute une théologie de la Création. A la suite du colloque du même nom qui s'est tenu à Metz en novembre 2008, des spécialistes présentent dans cet ouvrage les thèses de ces différents auteurs, aussi bien les plus connus comme Irénée, Ambroise, Augustin que d'autres moins célèbres à l'image des Pères syriaques, autant de textes qu'il est bon de revisiter et qui ne manquent pas d'actualité. A partir d'une exégèse des premiers chapitres de la Genèse, réalisée avec différentes méthodes, les Pères sont souvent passés d'une interprétation cosmologique à une interprétation anthropologique de la Création, centrée sur le commentaire de Genèse 1, 26 : la Création de l'être humain à l'image et à la ressemblance de Dieu.

Marie-Anne Vannier : Avant-propos
Marie-Laure Chaieb : Irénée, une des premières synthèses sur la création
Agnès Bastit: Dieu créateur selon l'Adversus Haereses II d'Irénée
Laurence Gosserez : Sous le signe du phénix (Ambroise de Milan, Exameron, V, 23,79-80)
Gérard Nauroy : Ambroise de Milan, émule critique de Basile de Césarée
Gérard Remy : Création : commencement ou éternité chez Augustin ?
Yves Meessen : De l'usage du double concept aristotélicien matière-forme dans la pensée augustinienne de la Création
Thomas Kremer : D'Adam à Noé
Colette Pasquet : L'homme créé à l'image de Dieu chez les Pères syriaques
Jacques Elfassi : La création du monde chez Isidore de Séville
Donatella Pagliacci: Originalità e attualità della concezione agostiniana della creazione.

Early Christian Thought

Routledge has brought out a number of helpful collections recently, including one I've used in several classes, The Routledge Companion to the Christian Church. Like all such collections, the quality of the articles is uneven, but there are some really excellent ones in it and it makes for a good textbook in survey courses on ecclesiology.

More recently, another collection has just been sent to me with much in it of interest to Eastern Christians: D. Jeffrey Bingham, ed., The Routledge Companion to Early Christian Thought (Routledge, 2010), 360pp.

About this book the publisher says:
The shape and course which Christian thought has taken over its history is largely due to the contributions of individuals and communities in the second and third centuries. Bringing together a remarkable team of distinguished scholars, The Routledge Companion to Early Christian Thought is the ideal companion for those seeking to understand the way in which Early Christian thought developed within its broader cultural milieu and was communicated through its literature, especially as it was directed toward theological concerns.
Divided into three parts, the Companion:

  • asks how Christianity's development was impacted by its interaction with cultural, philosophical, and religious elements within the broader context of the second and third centuries.
  • examines the way in which Early Christian thought was manifest in key individuals and literature in these centuries.
  • analyses Early Christian thought as it was directed toward theological concerns such as God, Christ, Redemption, Scripture, and the community and its worship.
There are numerous chapters in here of particular interest to Eastern Christians, including:

6) Ignatius and the Apostolic Fathers (Clayton Jefford)
7) Justin and the Apologists (Oskar Skarsaune)
8) Irenaeus of Lyons (D. Jeffrey Bingham)
10) Clement and Alexandrian Christianity (H. Fiska Hägg)
11) Origen (Ronald Heine)
14) God (M.C. Steenberg)
15) Christ: the Apostolic Fathers to the Third Century (John McGuckin)

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Symeon of Thessalonika's Liturgical Commentaries

The Pontifical Medieval Institute Press has now sent me a copy of Steven Hawkes-Teeples, ed. and trans., The Liturgical Commentaries: St. Symeon of Thessalonika (PIMS Press, 2011), viii+301pp.

This volume, the publisher tells us:
contains an edition and facing English translation of Explanation of the Divine Temple and “On the Sacred Liturgy,” the two commentaries on the pontifical (hierarchal) Byzantine Divine Liturgy by St. Symeon of Thessalonika (†1429). This edition is based on MS Zagora 23, which contains extensive corrections and additions apparently added to the text by the author himself. The book opens with a historical and theological foreword on liturgical commentaries and mystagogy by Archimandrite Robert Taft. The introduction surveys the life and career of St. Symeon, analyzes the structure and theology of the commentaries, and concludes with an account of technical and editorial questions. The index includes references to names, places, and topics in Symeon’s text and in the introduction and traces key terms in the commentaries in both Greek and English.
In his foreword, Taft notes that this volume "fills a gaping hole in the scholarly literature," a hole that is surprising when one realizes that "St. Symeon is an author of the first importance." From here Taft mounts a defense of the genres of "mystagogy" or "liturgical commentary" that some have sometimes derided as mere "allegory." After reviewing briefly the hermeneutical and exegetical theories and methods of Origen and Theodore of Mopsuestia, and the liturgical commentaries of St. Germanos I of Constantinople, Taft argues that "what St. Symeon does at the sunset of Byzantine eucharistic theology is return to a more spiritualistic Alexandrine-type liturgical mystagogy inherited from the works of Pseudo-Dionysius and Maximos Confessor" (8). Such a theological-spiritual vision will in turn influence Kievan Christianity after the conquest of Thessalonika in March 1430, just after Symeon's death--and only twenty-three years before the fall of Constantinople which destroyed forever the last vestiges of Byzantium. But, Taft argues, notwithstanding those dolorous events, Symeon continues to live onas Peter Hammon notes in his The Waters of Marah--an example of Byzance après Byzance.

After this foreword, Hawkes-Teeples begins with a lengthy and detailed introduction and then an outline of the commentaries before turning to the commentaries themselves, which are presented in facing columns, Greek on the left and English on the right.

Look for this handsome book to be expertly reviewed in Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies in 2012.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The End of the Ottomans

As I have noted before and elsewhere, there are still great gaps in what we know about Ottoman and Turkish history, including in particular relations between Eastern Christians in the Ottoman Empire, and between those Christians and the Muslim majority. We are seeing a welcome increase in the number of studies on Ottoman realities, and now Oxford University Press has just brought out a paperback version of a book first published in 2009: Ryan Gingeras, Sorrowful Shores: Violence, Ethnicity, and the End of the Ottoman Empire 1912-1923 (Oxford Studies in Modern European History, 2011, 272pp).

About this book, the publisher tells us:
The Turkish Republic was formed out of immense bloodshed and carnage. During the decade leading up to the end of the Ottoman Empire and the ascendancy of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, virtually every town and village throughout Anatolia was wracked by intercommunal violence. Sorrowful Shores presents a unique, on-the-ground history of these bloody years of social and political transformation. 
Challenging the determinism associated with nationalist interpretations of Turkish history between 1912 and 1923, Ryan Gingeras delves deeper into this period of transition between empire and nation-state. Looking closely at a corner of territory immediately south of the old Ottoman capital of Istanbul, he traces the evolution of various communities of native Christians and immigrant Muslims against the backdrop of the Balkan Wars, the First World War, the Armenian Genocide, the Turkish War of Independence, and the Greek occupation of the region.
Drawing on new sources from the Ottoman archives, Gingeras demonstrates how violence was organised at the local level. Arguing against the prevailing view of the conflict as a war between monolithic ethnic groups driven by fanaticism and ancient hatreds, he reveals instead the culpability of several competing states in fanning successive waves of bloodshed.

Orthodoxy and Primacy

According to the Vatican Information Service, Pope Benedict XVI met on Saturday with representatives of many of the Orthodox Churches in Germany, telling them that "among Christian Churches and communities, the Orthodox are theologically closest to us; Catholics and Orthodox both have the same basic structure inherited from the ancient Church. So we may hope that the day is not too far away when we may once again celebrate the Eucharist together." He then went on to stress the need
to clarify theological differences. ... The resolution of these questions is indispensable for restoration of the full unity that we hope and pray for. Above all it is on the question of primacy that our continuing efforts towards a correct understanding must be focused. Here the ideas put forward by John Paul II in the Encyclical 'Ut Unum Sint' on the distinction between the nature and form of the exercise of primacy can yield further fruitful discussion points.
I have recently had rather a lot to say on the topic, and you may read the fruits of that research and writing here: Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy: Ut Unum Sint and the Prospects of East-West Unity.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Eastern Christianity and Islam (III)

I have previously noted some of the problems with books treating the encounter between Eastern Christianity and Islam, and how much work remains to be done in the area. Facing Islam: What the Ancient Church Has to Say about the Religion of Muhammad, alas, does not help us much. I met the author at a little conference on Orthodoxy and Islam in Ohio in late August of this year. He is an affable fellow who is clearly brave enough to discuss some deadly serious issues that too many people cravenly run away from when talking about Islam today. But this is not a scholarly book. Indeed, I am reluctant even to call it a "book" for it lacks the coherence we often associate with that term, especially in monographs. This is, rather, something like an omnium gatherum. It throws together bits and pieces of the thought of St. John Damascene with verbatim quotations in extenso from several websites (including Wikipedia) and other publications alongside news reports and blog postings treating the death of the Russian Orthodox priest Daniil Sysoev at the hands of Muslims in Moscow in November 2009. And then there is extensive commentary from the author.

To put it bluntly, the book is more or less self-published even if it bears the name of "KBS Press," an utterly recondite outfit I had never heard of (and I think I may, at risk of being immodest, know more about publishers of Eastern Christian books than most) until now. We are witnessing far too much self-publishing today and that serves nobody well. Editorial and peer-review at reputable journals and presses usually performs an often invaluable service not just to the publisher and the reading public, but especially to the author himself. This book needed more such critical scrutiny from serious scholars. Inter alia, it needed to acknowledge and deal with:

The obvious rejoinder to all this is that quite likely the author never meant to write a scholarly book, only a "popular" one. As he himself admitted to me at the conference mentioned above, he is not a scholar, holding only an undergraduate degree. But one can write a "popular" (or, better, "accessible") book and still attend generously and judiciously to relevant scholarship while steering clear of dodgy sources, relentlessly polemical interpretations, and "confessional propaganda" (Robert Taft) masquerading as history. Let us have an end to that. Relations between Eastern Christians and Muslims are very complicated in many places, relatively amicable in a very few, deadly in others but in all cases too important, and the stakes far too high above all for Eastern Christians, to treat these relations, both historic and current, with anything other than scrupulous, contextualized, wide-ranging, and exacting study that has been carefully edited and reviewed.

    Friday, September 23, 2011

    Author Interview: Khaled Anatolios

    I noted earlier the advent of Khaled Anatolios's new book, Retrieving Nicaea (Baker Academic, 2011, 322pp.), which I have now most happily adopted for a course I am teaching next year on Trinitarian theology. The book is a splendid balance of history and theology in a most felicitous combination, the former illuminating the development of the latter in a way that makes both accessible to students.

    I asked the author for an interview to discuss his work, and he are his thoughts:

    Please tell us about your background:

    I was born in India, of Egyptian parents and then shuttled back and forth between Egypt and Canada as I was growing up. I started out studying creative writing in college (I wanted to be a fiction writer), then English literature, and finally landed in theology. I completed my doctorate in systematic theology at Boston College, where I did a dissertation directed by Fr. Brian Daley (now at Notre Dame) which became my first book, Athanasius. The Coherence of his Thought. I am a member of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church.

    Tell us why you wrote this book:
    Throughout my adult life as a Christian, I have been gripped by the mystery of the Trinity and profoundly impressed and moved by the way that this mystery was contemplated (and vigorously debated) in the early Church. In teaching a course on “The Development of Trinitarian Doctrine,” I have found that students go through a real conversion in engaging the early debates and reflections on this mystery, from thinking that it involves some forbidding theological math to seeing it as concretely embedded in the entirety of Christian faith and experience such that the whole of Christian life becomes Trinitarian doxology. I wrote this book primarily to share this experience.

    For whom was the book written—did you have a particular audience in mind?

    It is written primarily for scholars, both in the areas of systematic theology and early Christian studies. But it also aims to be accessible to any fairly educated Christian who wishes to have a more lively awareness of the central mysteries of Christian faith--the most central of all being the distinctly Christian identification of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

    What about your own background led you to the writing of this book? 

    This book is informed by my training in both systematic theology and patristics and tries to emphasize the continuing relevance of patristic theology for contemporary systematic discussions. It is also informed by my experience of talking to ordinary Christians in a parish setting and trying to share how Trinitarian doctrine is central to Christian life. 

    Were there any surprises you discovered in your writing?

    Perhaps one surprise was the affection I developed for Gregory of Nyssa--the beauty of his theological vision but also the warmness of his humanity that comes through in his writing in various ways, such as his adulation of his brother Basil and his sister, Marcrina.

    Are there similar books out there, and if so, how is yours different? 

    I am sure that this book will be immediately associated with John Behr’s The Nicene Faith: Formation Of Christian Theology (2 Volume Set) and The Way to Nicaea (The Formation of Christian Theology, V. 1) as well as Lewis Ayre’s Nicaea and Its Legacy: An Approach to Fourth-Century Trinitarian Theology, both of which I greatly admire. I think its distinction lies in its more systematic trust, its effort to show that the very development of Trinitarian doctrine involves an interpretation of the entirety of Christian faith.

    Sum up briefly the main themes/ideas/insights of Retrieving Nicaea: The Development and Meaning of Trinitarian Doctrine
    • That the development of Trinitarian doctrine involved an interpretation of the entirety of Christian faith and thus grasping the meaning of Trinitarian doctrine necessitates re-living the process of its development and learning how all of Christian faith and life is “Trinitarian.”
    • That the development of orthodox Trinitarian doctrine was enabled especially by a Christological re-interpretation of God and divine transcendence, whereby the greatness of God was defined less by oneness or distance from the world but rather by compassionate love.
    • That the meaning of Trinitarian doctrine does not lie in figuring out how “three are one and one is three” but in understanding how every aspect of Christian life relates us to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

    Thursday, September 22, 2011

    Russia and Islam

    As I have remarked before, relations between Eastern Christians and Muslims are not at all the same everywhere. Relations between Copts and Muslims in Egypt are vastly different from Eastern Christians in Lebanon, Syria, or Russia.

    Now Routledge, which has previously published some important works on Muslim relations in Russia and its republics, has just put out a new collection edited by Roland Dannreuther and Luke March: Russia and Islam: State, Society and Radicalism (Routledge Series on Russian and East European Studies, 2011), 256pp.

    About this book the publisher tells us:
    Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, both the Russian state and Russia's Muslim communities have struggled to find a new modus vivendi in a rapidly changing domestic and international socio-political context. At the same time as Islamic religious belief and practice have flourished, the state has become increasingly concerned about the security implications of this religious revival, reflecting and responding to a more general international concern over radicalised political Islam. This book examines contemporary developments in Russian politics, how they impact on Russia's Muslim communities, how these communities are helping to shape the Russian state, and what insights this provides to the nature and identity of the Russian state both in its inward and outward projection. The book provides an up-to-date and broad-ranging analysis of the opportunities and challenges confronting contemporary Muslim communities in Russia that is not confined in scope to Chechnya or the North Caucasus, and which goes beyond simplistic characterisations of Muslims as a 'threat'. Instead, it engages with the role of political Islam in Russia in a nuanced way, sensitive to regional and confessional differences, highlighting Islam's impact on domestic and foreign policy and investigating sources of both radicalisation and de-radicalisation.
    The publisher also provides us a helpfully detailed table of contents:
    1. Introduction. Part 1: Discourses and Frameworks of Analysis 2. Russian Approaches to Extremism, Nationalism and Religion Alexander Verkhovsky 3. Discourses and Approaches to Islam and Islamism in Russia Roland Dannreuther Part 2: Russia and Islam in Comparative Perspective 4. Comparing Islamic Communities in the North Caucasus and Volga-Urals Region Galina Yemelianova 5. Comparative Approaches to Muslim Integration: Russia, France and the UK Ekaterina Braginskaia 6. Moderating Anti-Islamicism: The Comparative Dimension Stephen Hutchings and Galina Miazhevich 7. Radical Islam in the North Caucasus: Domestic and International Aspects Domitilla Sagramoso Part 3: Russian Muslim Communities: State Interaction and Responses 8. Moscow and Muslims: The Limits of Multiculturalism Luke March 9. Tatarstan: Islam and Nationalism Azat Khurmatullin 10. ‘Kadyrov’ Strategies against Radical Extremism in Chechnya and Beyond John Russell 11. North Caucasus: Dynamics of Radicalisation and De-Radicalisation Akmet Yarlykapov Part 4: Russia and the Muslim World 12. Russia and the Muslim World: Interests, Power Projection and Identity Dina Malysheva 13. Framing Islam : Religion, Regime Stability and Security and Russian-Central Asian relations Matteo Fumagalli 14. Russia and Iran: The Limits of Pragmatism Elaheh Koolaee 15. Conclusion

    Wednesday, September 21, 2011

    ASEC Program: A Reminder

    Prof. Jenn Spock of Eastern Kentucky University 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, which I posted earlier but am re-posting to encourage people to attend. Just look at this feast of scholarship and ask yourself why you would want to miss it.


    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

    Armenians in the Islamic World

    Though a great deal of attention has rightly been focused on modern Muslim-Christian relations in Armenia, above all in the genocide of 1915, wider studies, reaching farther back into history, are not nearly as plentiful. A new projected three-volume series will help fill some of the lacuna: Seta Dadoyan, The Armenians in the Medieval Islamic World: Paradigms of Interaction Seventh to Fourteenth Centuries (Volume 1) (Transaction Publishers, 2011), 214pp. 

    About this book the publisher tells us:
    In this first of a massive three-volume work, Seta B. Dadoyan studies the Armenian experience in the medieval Islamic world and takes the reader through hitherto undiscovered paradigmatic cases of interaction with other populations in the region. Being an Armenian, Dadoyan argues, means having an ethnic ancestry laden with narratives drawn from the vast historic Armenian habitat. Contradictory trends went into the making of Armenian history, yet most narratives fail to reflect this rich texture. Linking Armenian-Islamic history is one way of dealing with the problem. Dadoyan’s concern is also to outline revolutionary elements in the making of Armenian ideologies and politics. This extensive work captures the multidimensional nature of the Armenian experience in the medieval Islamic world.

    The author holds that every piece of literature, including historical writing, is an artefact. It is a composition of many elements arranged in certain forms: order, sequence, proportion, detail, intensity, etc. The author has composed and arranged the larger subjects and their sub-themes in such a way as to create an open, dynamic continuity to Armenian history that is intellectually intriguing, aesthetically appealing, and close to lived experiences.

    Tuesday, September 20, 2011

    Byzantine Elites

    Jonathan Shepard has written a number of important books, and edited other major volumes, not least The Cambridge History of the Byzantine Empire c.500-1492. In February of this year, Ashgate brought out a collection of Shepard's specialized studies in their Variorum series: Emergent Elites and Byzantium in the Balkans and East-Central Europe (Ashgate, 2011), 434pp. 

    About this book the publisher tells us: 
    According to Byzantium's leaders, their imperial order anchored in Constantinople was the centre of excellence - spiritual, moral, material and aesthetic. They rewarded individuals willing to join, and favoured outside groupings prepared to cooperate militarily or politically. Interactions with outsiders varied over place and time, complicated by the sometimes differing priorities of Byzantine churchmen and monks on or beyond Byzantium's borders. These Studies consider the dynamics of such interactions, notably the interrelationship between the Bulgarians and their Byzantine neighbour. The Bulgarians' reaction to Byzantium ranged from 'contrarianism' to the systematic adaptation of Byzantine religious orthodoxy, ideals of rulership and normative values after Khan Boris' acceptance of eastern Christianity. For their part, Byzantine rulers were readier to do business with their Bulgarian counterparts than official pronouncements let on, occasionally even adopting aspects of Bulgarian political culture. Byzantium's interrelationship with other ruling elites was less intensive, but the process of Christianisation and the need to format this in readily comprehensible terms could make even distant potentates look to the template of effective Christian sole rulership which Byzantium's rulers embodied. Hungarian and Rus leaders were of abiding geopolitical interest to imperial statecraft, and the studies here show how during the generations around 1000 Byzantine political imagery resonated throughout the region.

    Sunday, September 18, 2011

    The Grand Dame of Pittsburgh Makes Her Entrance

    Recently I noted David Fagerberg's review of Edith Humphrey's new book, Grand Entrance: Worship on Earth as in Heaven. I asked Edith for an interview to discuss this most recent work of hers, and here are her thoughts.

    AD: Please tell us about your background:

    EH: I have served at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary since 2002, and as the William F. Orr Professor of New Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary since 2005. Before PTS, I taught at a variety of post-secondary schools in Canada, including St. Paul (Ottawa), McGill (Montréal), Regent College (Vancouver) and Toronto School of Theology.  I was also a founding member of Augustine College, Ottawa, where in my final year of teaching Scripture there I served as dean. Much of my study has centered around the literary and rhetorical aspects of the Bible, a continuation from my undergraduate work in English and Classics.  My writing includes  And I Turned to See the Voice: The Rhetoric of Vision in the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007), Ecstasy and Intimacy: When the Holy Spirit Meets the Human Spirit,

    the Sheffield Guide to Joseph and Aseneth, The Ladies and the Cities: Transformation and Apocalyptic Identity in Joseph and Aseneth, 4 Ezra, the Apocalypse and The Shepherd of Hermas, and Grand Entrance: Worship on Earth as in Heaven. I am a member of the Orthodox Theological Society of America, the vice-president of the Canadian Society of Biblical Literature, and an executive member of two seminars within the Society of Biblical Literature.

    In popular and church writing, I have tackled the Jesus Seminar, the Trinity, sexuality and the human person, Christian spirituality and the question of Scriptural authority within the Great Tradition. (I am now completing a book tentatively entitled What the Bible REALLY Says About Tradition. I am, I think, driven to integrate my academic with my church life: no doubt this springs from my earliest formation in the Salvation Army (Toronto, Canada), a Christian movement that cares for the whole person.  In my earliest adult years, I trained and served with my husband Chris as a Salvation Army Officer, pastoring small churches and leading mission and social service work. Even during that time, I was intrigued by questions of ecclesiology, and read with keen interest such authors as C. S. Lewis, Chesterton and Charles Williams.  In 1984, under the influence of these authors, as well as contemporary friends and theologians (N. T. Wright and Oliver O’Donovan), my husband and I were received into the Anglican Church.  During the mounting crisis faced by that communion, I served in parish, diocesan, national (Canada, then the U. S.) and international venues, both as a musician and as a lay theologian and teacher. Finally, in Pentecost 2009, after over 13 years of inquiry, I was chrismated in the Orthodox communion, and am now a member of the Orthodox Church (St. George’s Antiochian Church, Oakland).  Retaining strong ties with friends in various settings, I am continue, with delight, to serve and speak at various church retreats, ecumenical conferences, and seminary events. For enjoyment, I sing in two choirs, play oboe in a symphonic band and practice piano concerti with a friend. Chris and I have a daughter who is in college, two married daughters and are expecting our sixth grandchild in March.

    Tell us why you wrote this book:

    Grand Entrance is the fruit of questions posed by Christian friends concerning worship, my own quest for the Church and my love-affair with corporate worship.  I would argue that ecclesiology is at least one of the major questions of twenty-first century Christians, if not the major concern, whether we are speaking of bodies with a self-conscious ecclesiology, mainline churches facing schism, or evangelical bodies searching for roots in a time of turmoil. As one with a varied experience of worship, I am dismayed to see Christian friends (both lay and ordained) at a loss to know what to do about the strife that has come to their congregation due to changes in worship style and differing views about the nature of the Church and the reasons for worship. Grand Entrance is an attempt to get behind the pressing questions of the worship wars—what kind of music?  What form of liturgy? What style of teaching?—to suggest that worship is not primarily about relevance, aesthetics or utility.  Rather, worship is a gift that involves God’s invitation—we are invited, with the whole of creation, to enter into worship together.

    For whom was the book written—did you have a particular audience in mind?

    I suppose that the most obvious audience for this book would be those who have been embroiled in the “worship wars,” or evangelicals who are seeking “an ancient future faith.” It is my hope that the book will open these friends up to those deeper parts of their worship that are in continuity with Scriptures and with the life of the entire Church, past and present, so that they will recognize how some habits of the twenty-first century obscure the call of the Holy Spirit that we join together in the “grand entrance.”  To this end, I have included both a “trouble-shooting” chapter as well as a one that “visits” a number of different churches, with an eye to the wonder of worship as entry into God’s presence. Beyond this, I hope that the book will also engage those who worship in a long-standing tradition (Roman Catholics; Anglicans, Orthodox, Eastern Catholic, and liturgical Protestant groups), but who can hardly avoid the questions of today regarding what makes worship Christian, and how they should respond to traditions other than their own.  When I consider the mutual questions asked by those who worship in either an Eastern or Western classical liturgical style, I yearn for my friends in these communities to recognize the family likeness of the other—even where serious theological and ecclesial questions remain unanswered. Especially it is important, I believe, for Roman Catholics to recognize Eastern-rite friends, and for Eastern Orthodox to accept those in their communion for whom arrangements have been made to worship according to the Western liturgies. Despite the differences, here are particular strengths to be valued in the liturgies of both East and West.  This should not be a surprise, since these liturgies find their inception prior to the time of the Great Schism, and have brought into the holy City of worship those riches of the cultures in which they were formed, and in which they developed. Fruitful discussion, whether liturgical or theological, can never occur in an atmosphere where Christian brothers and sisters caricature or dismiss what may seem “foreign,” when these worship moves have indeed been naturalized in Christ and in his Church, and actually constitute the casting down of crowns in adoration before the Lamb.

    What about your own background led you to the writing of this book?

    My earliest formation was in an ecclesial body that sometimes eschewed the very word “church” (the Salvation Army) and that did not practice the sacraments. This forced me to begin thinking very early about the nature of the church—at first, indirectly, but as the years passed, more and more actively.  The Army was a good place to learn who Jesus was, but it was, so to speak, a “hard case” scenario for anyone asking “where is the Church?’  When I became an Anglican, I was delighted by worship that was Trinitarian and God-centered (over against the introspection of my earlier worship experience).  However, the controversies over churchmanship (evangelical, charismatic, Anglo-Catholic), sacramentalism, church orders, and increasingly shrill revisionism led me to renew my questions with regards to the purposes of worship and the nature of the Church. My international experience in the rather broad Anglican fellowship brought me face-to-face with the diversity of approach and practice in that body.  In attending an unknown Anglican parish, I wondered: Would I receive an absolution or not?  Would we have communion or simply morning prayer? Would someone alter the name of the Holy Trinity for more politically-correct language? Would we sing hymns or praise songs? Kneel and bow as the cross processed or raise hands in adoration? Hear the words, “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us” OR “Christ our Passover has been sacrificed…” And on what basis were these decisions being made?  Recently I came across the plaintiff words of C. S. Lewis regarding “the liturgical fidget:” “if grave doctrinal differences are really as numerous as variations in practice, then we will have to conclude that no such thing as the Church of England exists” (Letters to Malcolm, ch. 1).  Now that discernment is certainly not mine to make, nor did I make it in entering Orthodoxy.  Such were the formal questions, however, that forced themselves upon me as I moved from a “dissenting” non-church ecclesial body, through Anglicanism, to the historic Eastern Church. As a musician and director of Church music, these academic questions took on a particularly acute form: how, in all this distraction and disarray, could I serve my brothers and sisters and at least help to clear the way so that we can concentrate on the “one thing needful”?

    Were there any surprises you discovered in your writing?

    I am not a liturgical specialist, but  biblical scholar, so there were plenty.  The first was to discover that the Western penchant for thematically-organized worship is not a novelty among evangelicals, but has its analogue in the classical Gregorian liturgy.  The second was to discover that it is not merely “relevance” that can distract from the major role of worship, but also an over-concern for aesthetics. I expected that the contemporary thief of authentic worship would come in the form of contemporary casual worship-songs, but saw that the problem was more deep-seated, and afflicted more high-brow congregations as well.

    Are there similar books out there, and if so, how is yours different?

    I am sure that there are.  I think of  Cornelius Plantinga, Jr. and S. A. Rozeboom, Discerning the Spirits: A Guide to Thinking About Christian Worship Today (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), T. Howard, Evangelical is Not Enough, F. R. Mitman, Worship in the Shape of Scripture and S. Chan, Liturgical Theology.  There are also wonderful monograph and collections on worship in the Bible, too numerous to mention.  My book tries to marry a biblical and historical study of worship with contemporary concerns, with a special attention to worship as entrance into the presence of God with the whole of God’s people.

    AD: Sum up briefly the main themes/ideas/insights of the book

    Here, then, is what I have hoped to accomplish, at least in part: I have tried to show the deep significance of the theme of “entrance” into cosmic worship in the Scriptures, and in key liturgical texts from the eastern and western Christian traditions. My deepest hope is that my readers will come to love the worship of the Church as I have, even where a specific tradition under study somewhat from their own. I have also tried to enter into and illuminate various expressions of contemporary worship, noting the importance (or absence!) of “entrance” in contemporary Christian understandings.  In this, I have given attention to music, lyrics, visuals, specific prayers, architecture, and the shape of the liturgies.  Throughout, my aim has been to show how biblical and traditional understandings of worship address points of contention concerning worship in twenty-first century settings. In this, I have been very specific, pointing to strengths and  problem areas in a variety of traditions. Above all, I have tried to encourage those engaged in worship to move beyond visceral reactions or personal preference towards a larger perspective (including temporal, geographical and inter-confessional insights) in their thinking about worship. Our Scriptures end in the Apocalypse, where all creations joins those adoring angels and prostrate saints who now see more than we do.  “More glorious than the seraphim,” lead our praises!
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