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

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Relics and Miracles

When I was a student, I remember a professor telling me a story, likely apocryphal and doubtless embellished, of why there are, in the Byzantine sanctoral, so many days (four, at least) devoted to finding various bits of John the Baptist--chiefly his chronically lost or "misplaced" head. The answer, it was said, lies in the rivalry of ancient monasteries to have relics of the Forerunner, and one way, apparently, for this to happen was for monks to visit a rival monastery with some or better relics and then to pilfer them away, often under a performance of piety: e.g., when going to kiss his finger-bone or some other appendage, certain monks would often not merely kiss but in fact suck up part or all of the bone in their mouth and thus smuggle it out of the monastery and back to their own place.

Relics are the focus of the latest translation of a book by Sergius Bulgakov. As I have noted before, we are seeing a revival in Bulgakov studies as the number of translations into English of his works continues apace, mostly from the hand of Boris Jakim (though T.A. Smith has also translated Bulgakov's book on angels) and the efforts of Eerdmans. Now another one has been set for release in October:  Relics and Miracles: Two Theological Essays (Eerdmans, 2011), 128pp.

About this book, the publisher tells us:
Esteemed translator Boris Jakim here presents for the first time in English two major theological essays by Sergius Bulgakov. In “Relics,” a 1918 response to Bolshevik desecration of the relics of Russian saints, Bulgakov develops a comprehensive theology of holy relics, connecting them with the Incarnation and showing their place in sacramental theology. In “Miracles” (1932) Bulgakov presents a Christological doctrine of the Gospel miracles, focusing on the question of how human activity relates to the works of Christ. Both works are suffused with Bulgakov’s faith in Christian resurrection — and with his signature “religious materialism,” in which the corporeal is illuminated by the spiritual and the earthly is transfigured into the heavenly.

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