"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, August 31, 2013

In Honor of Michael Plekon: Priest, Scholar, Friend

A forthcoming book I noted a month ago is now available in print and can be ordered:  William C. Mills, ed., Church and World: Essays in Honor of Michael Plekon (ORI, 2013).

As I noted last month, I have the gift of being friends with both the editor and the honoree, both of them Orthodox priests and theologians of distinction, and have contributed an essay to this collection, which I am looking forward to reading myself.

About this book the publisher tells us:
The 2012-2013 academic year is a special one for Michael Plekon as he celebrates two major anniversaries: his sixty-fifth birthday as well as his thirty-fifth anniversary at Baruch College, where he teaches in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology in the Weissman School of Arts and Sciences at the City University of New York (CUNY). The essays in Church and World focus on ecumenism, faith and freedom, pastoral ministry, holiness and sanctity, and mentorship. These essays also reflect the wide and expansive view of our life in Christ, one that explores the greatness of the Tradition yet one that is open to creative theological answers to our modern day challenges. This book includes essays by Antoine Arjakovsky, John W. Culbreath-Frazier, Nicholas Denysenko, Adam A. J. DeVille, Brandon Gallaher, Sarah Hinlicky Wilson, John A. Jillions, William C. Mills, Teva Regule, Brother Christopher (Savage) and Rowan Williams.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Andrew Louth on Orthodoxy

To have read anything in Eastern Orthodox theology or patristics over the last thirty years is to have encountered regularly the name of Andrew Louth, widely respected as one of the pre-eminent patrologists and historians of our time. I first came across him in one of his early works: Discerning the Mystery: An Essay on the Nature of Theology. Since that time he has written important and noteworthy books on St John Damascene: Tradition and Originality in Byzantine Theology as well as Denys the Areopagite. He has also translated the Damascene's Three Treatises on the Divine Images and written important works of Church History among numerous other studies.

This year he has published a much more "popular" treatment in his Introducing Eastern Orthodox Theology (SPCK, 2013), 208pp.

About this book we are told:
The author is a world authority on Orthodox thought. This introduction is written in lively, non-technical language for readers of all religious backgrounds. 1. Introduction: Who are the Orthodox 2. Thinking and doing, being and praying: Where do we start? 3. Who is God? The doctrine of the Holy Trinity; apophatic theology 4. Creation; Wisdom of God (Sophia); Angels and humankind 5. What went wrong? Sin and death 6. Who is Christ? The life of Christ; the Paschal mystery; Christology 7. What is it to be human? Being in the image of God; becoming God; deification. 8. Icons and Sacraments: the place of matter in the divine economy 9. Time and the Liturgy 10. Where are we going? The last things and eternal life

Thursday, August 29, 2013

"The World Will Be Saved by Beauty!"

SVS Press has just released what appears to be a more "popular" treatment of the question of liturgical vestiture within the Orthodox Church. It will be interesting to read Krista West's The Garments of Salvation: Orthodox Christian Liturgical Vesture (SVS Press, 2013), 290pp. alongside a much more academic treatment last year on the vestments in Byzantine history.

About West's book we are told:
Is beauty within the Church optional or essential? What is the origin of Orthodox Christian liturgical vestments and what is their significance? What meaning is contained in the textiles, colors and designs used in Orthodox Christian liturgical practice? Answering these and many other questions, master vestment maker Khouria Krista West invites us to explore the fascinating and colorful world of Orthodox Christian vesture and church adornment. The first comprehensive book on this topic in the English language, The Garments of Salvation is an engaging and compelling presentation of the nearly 2000-year tradition of liturgical garments within the Eastern Orthodox Church

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Syrian Antioch's Churches

Somewhere in the vast Churchill canon I read the late prime minister despairing in a letter to a confidante during the dark days of World War II. He wrote to the effect, "You can always count on the Americans to do the right thing....after they've exhausted every wrong-headed option." Today, however, that is too optimistic by half and one is therefore left alternating between rage and despair that the US, Britain, and others seem determined to pick only the stupidly wrong-headed option in Syria, as they did in Egypt. As a result we will see one more country's indigenous Eastern Christian population destroyed (as the Assyrians and others have been in Iraq since 2003, and as the Copts continue to be in Egypt), and for what? For the sanctimonious frisson of feeling "we have done something"? There are no "national interests" at stake; there is no realistic hope of a real "democracy" being put into place, and even if, as in Egypt, there are relatively "free" democratic elections, one runs the risk of electing tyrants all over again. To change Churchill's observation, then, one today sadly realizes "You can always count on the Americans to back the anti-Christian side anywhere in the Middle East and much of the world besides." My only (mild) consolation in all this is that current American public opinion is very strongly against intervening but this will have little or no effect on the imperial masters who make these decisions. As Churchill knew only too well, everyone from Roosevelt onwards was happy to fatuously condemn Britain for her supposed "imperialism" but none of these sanctimonious Yanks acknowledges that the American imperium in the last decade alone bears direct responsibility for destroying hundreds of thousands of Christians in the Middle East and their ancient communities, some dating back 2000 years.

The continuing violence in Syria, and the threatened escalation of the same by the Obama regime and the revoltingly oleaginous David Cameron in the U.K., will put at further risk not only the Christian populations living there today, but also the remaining evidence of Christian history in that country as uncovered and documented by two important historians, Wendy Mayer and Pauline Allen: The Churches of Syrian Antioch (300-638) (Peeters, 2012), xviii+372pp. 

About this book we are told:
In The Churches of Syrian Antioch (300-638 CE) Wendy Mayer and Pauline Allen for the first time draw together all of the existing evidence concerning the Christian worship sites of this influential late-antique city, with significantly new results in a number of cases. In addition to providing a catalogue of the worship sites, in which each entry critiques and summarizes the available data, supplemented by photographs from the excavations, the authors analyze the data from a number of perspectives. These include the political, economic and natural forces that influenced the construction, alteration and reconstruction of churches and martyria, and the political, liturgical and social use and function of these buildings. Among the results is an emerging awareness of the extent of the lacunae and biases in the sources, and of the influence of these on interpretation of the city’s churches in the past. What also rises to the fore is the significant role played by the schisms within the Christian community that dominated the city’s landscape for much of these centuries. 

Why Do We Suffer?

If you've ever been sick yourself for an extended period, or watched others with chronic illness, the question inevitably arises: why is this happening? One may generate all sorts of "medical" ideas as to etiology of the illness, which may go some distance towards providing something of an answer to that question; but the spiritual and theological question remains: what, if anything, is the purpose of this experience? What, if any, meaning can be discerned in my suffering?

A new book from St. Vladimir's Seminary Press treats of these questions: Daniel Hinshaw, Suffering and the Nature of Healing (SVS Press, 2013), 262pp.

About this book we are told:
Author Dr. Daniel Hinshaw explores the central relationship between the Incarnation of the Word of God as Jesus Christ and the nature of healing within the understanding of traditional Christianity. This understanding and teaching regarding sin, suffering, and death have had tremendous impact on the care of the sick. With increased secularization, the unique perspective of traditional Christianity is largely being lost from health care. There is much in modern health care that is very good and could be recognized and blessed as consistent with traditional Christian teaching and practice; there is much that is not.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Irenaeus of Lyons

As I have frequently noted on here, we have seen a very considerable resurgence of interest in Irenaeus of Lyons in the last decade. Along comes another book from one of Orthodoxy's foremost patrologists, John Behr, set for release next month: Irenaeus of Lyons: Identifying Christianity (OUP, 2013), 320pp.

About this book we are told:
This book provides a full, contextual study of St Irenaeus of Lyons, the first great theologian of the Christian tradition. John Behr sets Irenaeus both within his own context of the second century, a fundamental period for the formation of Christian identity, elaborating the distinction between orthodoxy and heresy and expounding a comprehensive theological vision, and also within our own contemporary context, in which these issues are very much alive again. Against the commonly-held position that 'orthodoxy' was established by excluding others, the 'heretics', Behr argues that it was the self-chosen separation of the heretics that provided the occasion for those who remained together to clarify the lineaments of their faith in a church that was catholic by virtue of embracing different voices in a symphony of many voices and whose chief architect was Irenaeus, who, as befits his name, urged peace and toleration.The first chapter explores Irenaeus' background in Asia Minor, as a disciple of Polycarp of Smyrna, his activity in Gaul, and his involvement with the Christian communities in Rome. The theological and institutional significance of his interventions is made clear by tracing the coalescence of the initially fractionated communities in Rome into a united body over the first two centuries.The second chapter provides a full examination of Irenaeus' surviving writings, concentrating especially on the literary and rhetorical structure of his five books Against the Heresies, his 'refutation and overthrowal' of his opponents in the first two books, and his establishing a framework for articulating orthodoxy.The final chapter explores the theological vision of Irenaeus itself, on its own terms rather than the categories of later dogmatic theology, grounded in an apostolic reading of Scripture and presenting a vibrant and vigorous account of the diachronic and synchronic economy or plan of God, seen through the work of Christ which reveals how the Hands of God have been at work from the beginning, fashioning the creature, made from mud and animated with a breath of life, into his own image and likeness, vivified by the Holy Spirit, to become a 'living human being, the glory of God'.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Once More into the Breach

Thomas Madden, one of North America's leading scholars of the Crusades, has a new book about them coming out next month. Those most misunderstood and tendentiously treated of events will be examined anew in The Concise History of the Crusades (Rowman and Littlefield, 2013), 264pp.).

About this book the publisher tells us:
What is the relationship between the medieval crusades and the problems of the modern Middle East? Were the crusades the Christian equivalent of Muslim jihad? In this sweeping yet crisp history, Thomas Madden offers a brilliant and compelling narrative of the crusades and their contemporary relevance. Placing all the major crusades within their medieval social, economic, religious, and intellectual environments, Madden explores the uniquely medieval world that led untold thousands to leave their homes, family, and friends to march in Christ’s name to distant lands. From Palestine and Europe's farthest reaches, each crusade is recounted in a clear, concise narrative. The author gives special attention as well to the crusades’ effects on the Islamic world and the Christian Byzantine East.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Remembering, Repeating, and Working Through Catherine Pickstock

I was cleaning up my garage the other day and discovering old files of articles from the 1990s I read with great interest then. One of the most interesting, as I noted earlier this summer, is the Cambridge Anglican Catherine Pickstock, whose thinking on matters liturgical, especially the revisions to the Latin liturgy in the aftermath of Vatican II, remains to my mind the most serious criticism as yet unanswered (so far as I have seen). I'm not referring to her idealization of the medieval guilds and societies or her treatment of Plato, Derrida, and others in After Writing: On the Liturgical Cosummation of Philosophy. Rather it is her insightful understanding of the structural repetitions of the pre-conciliar liturgy that I find so compelling, and their elimination in the Pauline missal so unnecessary and damaging. (Sacrosanctum Concilium's sneer about "useless repetitions" has to be the most fatuous line in the whole document, and its invention of the idea of "noble simplicity" is romanticized twaddle, if not borderline iconoclasm.) Here the Byzantine rite, and other Eastern traditions, retain a crucial "advantage" it seems to me, by maintaining such repetitions which, far from superfluous, are in fact reflective of human psychology and human prayer: a constant start-and-stop; a beginning and re-beginning; a "praying that we might pray" as Pickstock would put it.

In an article I wrote more than a decade ago now, I used Pickstock's insightful understanding of the role of repetition to examine the Byzantine liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. It was nothing special, and I confess that I have not been able to go back and make myself re-read it, fearing that my younger self probably said things I would find at least slightly cringe-making now; but the whole issue will bear renewed thinking early next year when Pickstock's next book comes out: Repetition and Identity: The Literary Agenda (Oxford UP, 2014), 216pp.

About this series and this book we are told, respectively:

The Literary Agenda is a series of short polemical monographs about the importance of literature and of reading in the wider world and about the state of literary education inside schools and universities. The category of 'the literary' has always been contentious. What is clear, however, is how increasingly it is dismissed or is unrecognised as a way of thinking or an arena for thought. It is sceptically challenged from within, for example, by the sometimes rival claims of cultural history, contextualized explanation, or media studies. It is shaken from without by even greater pressures: by economic exigency and the severe social attitudes that can follow from it; by technological change that may leave the traditional forms of serious human communication looking merely antiquated. For just these reasons this is the right time for renewal, to start reinvigorated work into the meaning and value of literary reading.

Repetition and Identity offers a theory of the existing thing as such. A thing only has identity and consistency when it has already been repeated, but repetition summons difference and the shadow invocation of a connecting sign. In contrast to the perspectives of Post-structuralism, Catherine Pickstock proposes that signs are part of reality, and that they truthfully express the real. She also proposes that non-identical repetition involves analogy, rather than the Post-structuralist combination of univocity and equivocity, or of rationalism with scepticism. This proposal, which is happy for reality to make sense, involves, however, a subjective decision which is to be poetically performed. A wager is laid upon the possibility of a consistency which sustains the subject, in continuity with the elusive consistency of nature. This wager is played out in terms of a performative argument concerning the existential stances open to human beings. It is concluded that the individual sustains this quest within the context of an inter-subjective search for an historical consistency of culture. But can ethical consistency, and the harmonisation of this with an aesthetic surplus of an 'elsewhere', invoked by the sign, be achieved without a religious gesture? And can this gesture avoid a tragic tension between ethical commitment and religious renunciation? Pickstock suggests a Kierkegaardian re-reading of the Patristic categories of 'recapitulation' and 'reconstitution' can reconcile this tension. The quest for the identity and consistency of the thing leads us from the subject through fiction and history and to sacred history, to shape an ontology which is also a literary theory and a literary artefaction.
As the above indicates, Pickstock is a writer not easy always to understand at first glance, and overprone to the use of jargon, but the deeper thought merits attention. I hope to have more to say in the spring when I've read the book. 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

What is the Colour for Missing Mothers?

When children go missing (which God prevent), there is an "amber alert" issued; when demented seniors wander off from their institutional cages, we have a "silver alert." What colour shall we have for missing mothers? Shall it be a different shade if those mothers are Eastern Christian?

Such, less flippantly, is the question raised by Samuel Tadros in his new book, Motherland Lost: The Egyptian and Coptic Quest for Modernity (Hoover Institution Press, 2013), 262pp. 

About this book we are told:
In Motherland Lost, Samuel Tadros provides a clear understanding of the Copts—the native Egyptian Christians—and their crisis of modernity in conjunction with the overall developments in Egypt as it faced its own struggles with modernity. He argues against the dominating narratives that have up to now shaped our understanding of the Coptic predicament--their eternal persecution, from the Roman and Byzantine emperors to the rule of Islam, and the National Unity discourse--asserting rather that it is due to the crisis of modernity.
Linking the Egyptian and Coptic stories, the book argues that the plight of Copts today is inseparable from the crisis of modernity and the answers developed to address that crisis by the Egyptian state and intellectuals, as well as by the Coptic Church and laypeople. The author asserts that the answers developed by Egyptian intellectuals and state modernizers to the challenge modernity poses revolved around the problem of Islam. The Copts, then, although affected, like their fellow Egyptians, by the challenge of modernity, were faced with a separate crisis: a specific challenge to their ancient church and the need for a new orientation and revival to be able to deal with modernity and its discontents. Tadros concludes that the prospects for Copts in Egypt appear bleak and are leading to a massive Coptic exodus from Egypt.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

LOGOS: Spring and Fall 2013

I am already much at work on the fall issue of Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies (to which you can and should subscribe here), and wanted to offer updates on both the spring issue now and, in a few days, on the fall issue as its shape becomes clearer.

The spring issue has been very much delayed--the first long delay in over a decade since I started editing the journal and ruthlessly enforcing deadlines--because shortly before finishing up the spring issue two major events struck: the managing editor and publisher, who is concomitantly the director of the Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies, finished his second and final term in office in Ottawa and departed for new work in Edmonton; and then, very sadly, Basil Onuferko, the son of one of our layout editors, Fr. Andrew Onuferko, was killed in an airplane crash. The whole spring issue ground to an understandable halt and was only this month capable of being finished. I apologize for the delay, but know that everyone who has asked about the spring issue has been most understanding and compassionate in view of this tremendously sad news. The issue should be in the mail to you in the next few weeks, and it will contain:


Bishop Julian (Voronovsky) 1936–2013

Bishop Michael (Hrynchyshyn), CSsR (1929–2012)


"The Surprising Eastern Connection of Pope Francis" by Andriy Chirovsky. Pope-watchers will want to pay particular attention to this article because it reveals some hitherto unknown and little known details about the extent to which Jorge Bergoglio, as a student, Jesuit seminarian, priest, and archbishop, was influenced by the Christian East through contacts with Ukrainian Catholic priests and hierarchs.

"On the Acquisition of the Holy Spirit: Sergius Bulgakov and the Theotokos" by Walter Sisto. The article's abstract:
The pneumatology and Mariology of Sergius Bulgakov, widely believed to be the most important Russian theologian of the twentieth century, is here examined to discover the links between the Holy Spirit and the Mother of God, and the implications for the divinization of humanity, especially as we share in the sufferings of Mary and Christ, and “so complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.” These connections are developed in Bulgakov’s controversial sophiology whose development and implications for both Trinitarian theology and ecumenical methodology are discussed.

"Fractured Orthodoxy in Ukraine and Politics: The Impact of Patriarch Kyrill’s 'Russian World'” by Nicholas E. Denysenko. The article's abstract:
This article analyzes the intersection of “church” and “state” in Ukraine and the many complexities of a situation involving a multiplicity of both ecclesial and political actors: in the latter category, both Russia and Ukraine itself, in the context of a globalized world; in the former category the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate; the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (in both pre- and post-war iterations); the Ukrainian Greco-Catholic Church; and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyiv Patriarchate. Adding to the complexity of these relations among these churches and between these states is a new theopolitical ideology being sponsored by the current Patriarch Kiril of Moscow under the heading of a “Russian world,” which is supposed to unite at least East-Slavic Orthodoxy (if not other Orthodox Churches) and their host countries against the perceived threats of “Western” globalization. This “Russian world” is analyzed here for what it says, what reactions it has evoked among the four major churches in Ukraine; and for what it might portend for Orthodox Christians in Ukraine and well as relations between Moscow and Constantinople in the ongoing struggle for understanding of global primacy among Orthodox hierarchs.

"The Role and Meaning of Miracles and Relics in the Christological Thought of Sergius Bulgakov" by Robert F. Slesinski. The abstract:
Bulgakov’s Christology (particularly in his recently translated The Lamb of God) is here examined for what it says about miracles and relics, including the relics of the bodies of saints and the body of Christ himself, both of which are treated by Bulgakov not as mere “corpses” but as still life-bearing bodies capable of resurrection. In addition, the category of miracle in Bulgakov is larger than healings or other manifestations of divine power: the very creation of the world is itself a miracle, and considered by Bulgakov in a teleological fashion in the context of Divine Providence. In this context, miracles are seen by Bulgakov not as violations of some material-spiritual boundary but as the singular outworking of divine purpose in the world. Miracles are given not to overwhelm or coerce people into belief, but entirely as invitations to follow Christ and share in the glorification of the Father. All this is tied into a unique and challenging discussion about the dyophysite nature of Christ and the relation in Him of His two natures, especially in their encountering death.

Notes, Essays, Lectures:

"Transfiguring Voluptuous Choice: An Eastern Orthodox Approach to Marriage as Spiritual Path" by Stephen Muse 

"The Body of the Living Christ: The Patristic Doctrine of the Church Report on a Recent Symposium at Princeton University and Seminary" by Seraphim Danckaert

"Reclaiming Psychology?" by Gregory Jensen

Book Reviews:

Michael Plekon reviews Diana Butler Bass, Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening.
He also reviews  Lillian Daniel, When "Spiritual but Not Religious" Is Not Enough: Seeing God in Surprising Places, Even the Church.

David Bertaina (whom I interviewed here) reviews David Wilmshurst, The Martyred Church: A History of the Church of the East.

Thomas Weinandy reviews Khaled Anatolios, Retrieving Nicaea: The Development and Meaning of Trinitarian Doctrine. I interviewed Anatolios here and commented on his book here and especially here.

David Fagerberg reviews William C. Mills, Church, World, and Kingdom: The Eucharistic Foundation of Alexander Schmemann's Pastoral Theology. I interviewed Mills here about this book. Further interviews with him here and here.

Matthew Levering reviews Marcus Plested's superb new book, Orthodox Readings of Aquinas. I reviewed the book here, and interviewed the author here.

Jack Turner reviews two books in the field of Orthodoxy and science: Efthymios Nicolaidis, Science and Eastern Orthodoxy: From the Greek Fathers to the Age of Globalization.

Turner also reviews Danil Buxhoeveden and Gayle Woloschak (whom I interviewed here), eds., Science and the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Monday, August 19, 2013


I used to have strong views about the various calendars in use in the Eastern Christian world, but I've come to realize that of all the things to be exercised about, calendars are not among them. And yet, as I've mentioned before, Eastern Christians are, sadly, divided amongst ourselves, and from Western Christians, when it comes to calendars.

What are calendars? Whence came they? What is their history? A recent scholarly book may help us understand these vexed questions: Sacha Stern, Calendars in Antiquity: Empires, States, and Societies (Oxford UP, 2012), 512pp.

About this book we are told:
Calendars were at the heart of ancient culture and society, and were far more than just technical, time-keeping devices. Calendars in Antiquity offers a comprehensive study of the calendars of ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt, Persia, Greece, Rome, Gaul, and all other parts of the Mediterranean and the Near East, from the origins up to and including Jewish and Christian calendars in late Antiquity. In this volume, Stern sheds light on the political context in which ancient calendars were designed and managed. Set and controlled by political rulers, calendars served as expressions of political power, as mechanisms of social control, and sometimes as assertions of political independence, or even of sub-culture and dissidence.

While ancient calendars varied widely, they all shared a common history, evolving on the whole from flexible, lunar calendars to fixed, solar schemes. The Egyptian calendar played an important role in this process, leading most notably to the institution of the Julian calendar in Rome, the forerunner of our modern Gregorian calendar. Stern argues that this common, evolutionary trajectory was not the result of scientific or technical progress. It was rather the result of major political and social changes that transformed the ancient world, with the formation of the great Near Eastern empires and then the Hellenistic and Roman Empires from the first millennium BC to late Antiquity. The institution of standard, fixed calendars served the administrative needs of these great empires but also contributed to their cultural cohesion.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Edith Humphrey on Scripture and Tradition

Nearly two years ago now, I interviewed the Orthodox biblical scholar and theologian Edith Humphrey about her book on liturgy, published in 2011. Well, she's a busy woman, and has another book out this year: Scripture and Tradition: What the Bible Really Says (Baker Academic, 2013), 192pp.

AD: Tell us about your recent background, and in particular what led you from your last book on liturgy to this new book, Scripture and Tradition

EH: Thanks for the opportunity to talk to you about my new book. In some ways, Scripture and Tradition may seem like a spin-off from Grand Entrance: Worship on Earth as in Heaven because one of the major questions people ask about worship styles is why a particular liturgical (or “non-liturgical”) tradition has developed in the way that it has. Why is there no instrumental music in the East, while organs and other instruments are used in the East: is this simply circumstance, or do these things have theological foundations and implications? Or why does my childhood ecclesial community, the Salvation Army, not baptize or celebrate the Eucharist, but instead dedicates babies and calls worshippers to the altar and holiness table to “give their lives as a living sacrifice.” Are the shape and content of such rites optional, responding to felt needs with “no disputing about tastes,” or are there some traditions that have been given and that we are to receive from the apostles and thus from the Lord? Is there “Holy Tradition”? If so, how do we tell the difference between mutable traditions, good in their own time but not necessary for every age, and the ongoing Tradition of God? No doubt I was thinking about some of these issues as I did the comparison of worship services in my book on worship, Grand Entrance, but the focus of that book was very particular—to remember that our worship is entrance into the very presence of God.

My book on worship touched frequently upon questions of tradition, but it was not these hanging threads that led me to write Scripture and Tradition. Instead, my husband asked me one of his annoying but tantalizing questions one day, “Why don’t you write a book about what the Bible says concerning tradition?” and I promptly responded that I was too busy. Then, one night when I couldn’t sleep, the question came back to haunt me. So I sat down in the living room, searching my Greek New Testament for places where the verb paradidomi (“I give over as a tradition”) and the noun paradosis (“tradition”) are found. I was stunned, because, being raised on the King James and then the original NIV Bible as a Protestant, I did not remember these particular passages as speaking specifically about tradition. A quick search in those translations confirmed my memory. For in these translations, the English word “tradition” is used in negative contexts, but avoided and paraphrased where the same Greek words are used positively, such as in St. Paul’s “Be steadfast firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught, whether by our spoken word or by our letter” (2 Thess. 2:15). This midnight treasure-hunt and discovery became the nucleus of a new book. The more I read, the more I discovered the rich teaching about worship that is both latent and explicitly articulated in various books of the Bible. To start with what the Bible itself says would, I hoped, turn a topic that is a source of conflict among Christians into words of encouragement. From there the book grew.

AD: Drawing on Jaroslav Pelikan among others, you recognize the tension in discerning what constitutes tradition and how to relate to it--what to keep, what to jettison. Tell us a bit about that tension. 

Jaroslav Pelikan (of blessed memory!) distinguishes between “tradition” as the “living faith of the dead” and traditionalism as “the dead faith of the living.” Perhaps we might want to respond to his first statement, that the dead are “alive” in Christ. However, his point is well taken. Tradition is God’s gift to the Church, and has an honoured place among us: some traditions, for example, the creeds and ecumenical councils, are indispensable--part of our DNA, so to speak.

Other traditions, however, we know very well have changed through the years, and are not the same across the world, even among a single communion. For example, the Russian jurisdictions of the Orthodox church sing the beatitudes at the opening of Divine Liturgy, while the Antiochian do not. The Antiochian Church of North America retains a full 40 days of feasting at Easter, whereas other jurisdictions revert to Wednesday and Friday fasts after Bright Week. It would be easy for the more rigorous to scorn those whose tradition is different, or for a liturgical enthusiast to deplore differences in liturgy in another jurisdiction. (“What is the difference between a terrorist and a liturgist? You can negotiate with a terrorist!” Ba-dum-dum!) Our brother Jaroslav, now among the blessed himself, reminds us that our focus is to be the Lord, the Holy Trinity, and not any “ism” at all. Tradition is good, kept where it belongs, and not worshipped. Tradition for its own sake rather than for the sake of the One who gave it, is a deadly thing. This would be parallel to those Jewish rigorists who made the Torah the center, rather than the Lord of the Torah, and so missed God’s greatest action in Jesus. We might think, too, of some fundamentalists who formally make the Bible the center, but forget that the Incarnate Word is the one to whom the Bible witnesses. (And they sometimes don’t notice that it is really their interpretation or tradition about the Bible that becomes the center of their teaching, either!) So, then, what we have received is a great gift, but our adoration goes to the Giver!

AD: As director of programs in theology at my university, I realized shortly after starting here that basic biblical literacy could no longer be presupposed, even in homes of self-identified church-going Christians. So I put together a new course, "Introduction to the Bible" for our students. Your introduction also tells of your experience with such illiteracy among your students, both in Montreal and Pittsburgh. What do you think are some of its causes today? What can be done to mitigate it? 

The causes of biblical illiteracy are not so very difficult to trace. First, there is a lack of interest in disciplined reading in general: our culture is more oriented to the image, and schools do not give priority to repetition or rigorous memorization today. Then, there is the postmodern distrust of history in general, and the Bible is considered one of those “old books”—a classic that culture has, by and large, outgrown. The Bible is relegated in many minds to the same place as that foggy and eccentric bishop in The Princess Bride who rapsodized on “mawwiage, that dweam within a dweam.”

In the Catholic and Orthodox communion, perhaps we have considered that an intimate knowledge of the Bible is the purview of the clergy, and that we only need what we get in the liturgy on Sunday. (This may have been mitigated partially since the changes at Vatican II, but at the same time that Bible study became more common in the Catholic communion, discipline in general also flagged.) Even though Protestants historically have stressed knowledge of the Bible, many from these churches have abandoned close study of the Bible due to a fixation upon personal spiritual experience as the end-all and be-all of the faith, and an over-emphasis upon God’s grace freely given (which sometimes obscures the need for human effort, including Bible study). Besides this, the multiplicity of new translations (however helpful) has obscured our common knowledge of specific verses of the Bible, which Christians used to know by heart. Whatever the reason, it is absolutely the case that the Scriptures are not known one tenth as well today as they were 60 years ago, and this holds true across the Christian communities in North America, though it is a more egregious problem in some places than others.

AD: Your introduction references your time in the Salvation Army, and also draws on the insights of Anglicans among whom you spent some time. (I first came across your name in the 1990s in Canada when you were associated with the Anglican Essentials movement, yes?) What do you think Eastern Christians can learn from those two traditions in particular? What are they lacking in light of Eastern Christian theology? 

Well, I suppose that a look at the daily life of a Salvation Army congregation might encourage historic churches to recover a love for Bible study, because that this continues to be the life-blood of Salvationists. Perhaps some of these studies are not deep, and rarely do they incorporate the insights of the Fathers, but it is simply true that the detailed and personal knowledge that an ordinary Salvationist has of the Bible would put most members of the Eastern churches to shame. Also, love and care for the poor and the marginalized is palpable there: I recently attended a “meeting” (divine service) with my mom, and the presence of the handicapped and minority groups was remarkable! (Those caring for them before, during and after the service were not the pastors, either: most members consider that they have a ministry).

As for those Anglicans who take the Scriptures and their tradition seriously (over against the revisionists who have over-run the national churches of the US and Canada), we can, I think, consider their zeal for evangelization and their strong exegetical preaching and teaching as helpful models. These communities call us back to our roots, for of course the early Church devoted itself to the teaching of the apostles, and continued in the apostolic mission: in their strengths, such sectarian communities are reminders to us of aspects of our identity that we may have put on the back-burner. My Orthodox father in Christ once commented that we could compare an Orthodox parish to an evangelical Protestant mission, likening one to a state-of-the-art hospital, while the other is more like a tiny clinic in a developing country. That is, the historic Church has all the riches of the Christian tradition at its disposal, all the “tools” and spiritual resources for healing, whereas a Salvation Army corps only has the bare minimum (and not always that), for it knows nothing of the mysteries, of the disciplines of corporate fasting, of the deep traditional prayers of the Church. However, if it uses what it has, some healing will come to folks where a perfectly equipped but indifferent parish can fail. May it not be that we, with all that we have, are less dedicated to the work of the Church in the world that God loves—more is demanded of us because so much more has been given (or received)!

AD: I wonder if you are familiar with the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre, who speaks of an "epistemological crisis" that often develops between traditions. Such a crisis, he says, happens when Tradition A is challenged by Tradition B and the latter seems to have better answers to the issue at hand. Tradition A must then decide whether to scornfully ignore B, collapse and admit defeat, or incorporate (critically but appreciatively) B's insights into A's life. I mention this because you seem to have taken the third route with regard to your time in Protestant traditions. You don't scorn those traditions, but graciously draw on them to help Eastern Christians see what is good in them--and what is lacking. Is that a fair assessment? 

What you say makes some sense to me, although I think that MacIntyre’s typology doesn’t quite do justice to the reality. There is also a situation where Tradition A has become weak in some areas that are rightfully part of its own tradition, and Tradition B has accentuated this part, while neglecting other important things, perhaps while jettisoning these things. In that case, Tradition A can take a page, so to speak, form Tradition B’s notebook, while also being wary of the entire trajectory that Tradition B has taken. I think that the emphasis upon evangelism is perhaps obsessive in some evangelical communities. (For example, there is a common saying among evangelicals: “The Church is the only institution that exists for the benefit of others rather than its own members.” But this forgets that the purpose of the Church is to worship first, and that evangelism is not is primary raison d’être.)

Yet, it is also the case that the historical churches, in many places today, have become lazy, and are content to present the Church as a kind of fulfillment to those who have already been evangelized, rather than serving and speaking to those who know almost nothing about the Way. The Holy Spirit's free and can go where he wishes—so indeed, we can learn from sectarians. But this does not mean that we should relativize the difference, or back off from what we have been taught about the one holy catholic and apostolic Church.

AD: Tell us to what extent you think Christian differences over "tradition" are related to the difficulties of translating into English the Greek terms you discuss in your first chapter. 

Earlier I mentioned that several influential English translations (e.g. the KJV and the original NIV) avoid the word “tradition” when paradidomi and paradosis are used positively. There is also a difficulty simply in the English in that we don’t have a verb “to tradition” that parallels our noun, so that we have to use a paraphrase like “to pass on.” Both the avoidance of the terms (which come from the early Protestant allergy to Roman Catholic tradition) and the peculiarities of English certainly reinforce a tendency among some Protestants to consider tradition to be a category that is at odds with the gospel. But it is not all in the translations. The translations that avoided the term “tradition” are reflecting teaching from “non-traditional” or protesting communities, not creating this attitude. More crucial for Christian differences concerning tradition are the disagreements of the past (between Protestants and Catholics) and the inability to understand these disagreements from the inside (Orthodox). That is, there is now a long tradition of dispute concerning the meaning and place of tradition in the West, beginning with the fight of sola scriptura versus Scripture and Holy Tradition, complicated by the Anglican tradition of the “three-legged stool” (Scripture, Tradition and Reason) and hopelessly confused by various expressions of the so-called “Wesleyan Quadrilateral” (Scripture, Tradition, Reason and Experience) which is now appealed to in many different communities. Western Christians often do not even know why they have a visceral reaction for or against tradition. Eastern Christians who have not known the debate from the inside are apt to walk into a minefield in talking to those who have such reactions. This is not a matter, then, merely of translating the Greek New Testament, but of the history of the Church, especially from the Reformation to today.

AD: The end of your third chapter briefly refers to some Anglicans who "privilege" (to use a favored academic pseudo-verb!) their own views in matters of sexuality and abortion over Paul and Scripture generally. How can O/orthodox Christians respond to such claims--or can they? 

It may be helpful for Orthodox Christians (and others who hold to Scripture as interpreted by Holy Tradition) to point out that these are not single hot-button issues, but indicative of an entire stance of faithfulness, or lack of it. The rise of the “Wesleyan” Quadrilateral as an interpretive method has emboldened some biblical scholars and pastors to appeals to “experience” (their own, or that of contemporary Western society) as a “trump card” in deciding whether to follow the Bible and the consistent witness of the Church in these matters. The words of the Apostle Paul are neutralized because he is said simply not to have had a broad enough experience in matters of gender, for example: if he were among us today, he would change his mind in accordance with the broad inclusivity of the gospel. Similarly, the traditional understanding of the Church regarding the sanctity of life, a stance drawn from Scriptures as a whole, and its applicability to the unborn, is questioned because (say some) we now understand that personhood is to be “in relation.” The unborn child does not have this capacity, and the rights and needs of the mother are more significant. But we worship a God who created them “male and female” and who himself became an embryo, sanctifying childbirth, human life, and human sexuality. Attention both to the specific texts that deal with gender and the sanctity of life, attention to the consistent witness of the Church in these issues, and attention to the entire story of salvation are all important in this time of confusion. This balanced approach removes the issues from the center of attention as stand-alone issues, helping us to keep the focus upon our Incarnate Lord, born of a woman, who graced a wedding between a man and a woman at Cana. It prevents moralism, but allows us to show why these issues matter today.

AD: Your sixth chapter talks about trying to discern between Tradition and human traditions. Does Scripture itself offer any guidance here? 

Yes, indeed, I think so, though sometimes the difference can only be seen in retrospect. The best clues we receive are, I think, in the decision-making passages of the early Church. In the first council of the Church, decisions were taken regarding which instructions should be given to Gentiles who had become Christians—did they need to be circumcised or not? The decision the James and the others took is presented with reference to custom, knowledge and reason, and it appears as a kind of compromise. The Gentiles did not need to keep the whole law, but should avoid meat offered to idols, avoid porneia (sexual immorality, or possibly, the specific immorality of close inter-sanguinal marriages), and not eat meat with blood still in it. Though this was an early and general council, its specifics have not been maintained by all Christian communities since, especially the command having to do with properly-bled meat. Why have Christians not felt so bound? The clue is in the language of deliberation (“it is my judgment,” Acts 15:19), and the reasons given by James for the decision—“For Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath" (Acts 15:21).

Why these rules? Because they know Moses and will understand why we are saying these things. (Notice he does not give theological reasons, but cultural ones). The ruling made it possible for Jewish and Gentile Christians to live in peace, and its main reason was summarized in some later versions of the Acts passage which omit the actual commands, and simply put a version of the Golden Rule in its place. This was a compromise measure meant to promote the harmony of the early Church.

The spirit of the regulation continues, as do the principles of morality and faith in one God, but its specificity is no longer necessary in later contexts. We may also take note of the decision process—the witness of various members of the community is heeded, the Old Testament Scriptures are searched for words about the Gentiles, and the focus is upon God’s action in Christ. The issue at hand is put in the context of the larger picture; there is collegial discussion among the leaders; and the bishop speaks, taking all of this into consideration. This tells us that when making decisions about tradition in the Church, this is not a solitary or hasty affair, but it requires care, discernment, and deference of one to the other. As I say in the book, deciding between mutable traditions and Holy Tradition is not a matter for the arrogant, the hasty, or the faint of heart.

AD: Your conclusions speaks of "newcomers" engaged in "'cherry-picking' of the Tradition." That, it seems to me, is an especial danger for Catholic and Orthodox converts today. What suggestions would you have to avoid the pitfalls of such an approach? 

That is interesting. My experience with converts is that they tend to go whole hog and become purists about everything rather than engaging in a pick-and-choose cherry-picking! I was actually thinking more about intrigued Protestants who fasten upon a particular part of the tradition without seeing how it relates to the whole. Consider the Reformed Christian who stumbles upon icons, and blithely puts them up on his or her wall without a thought of Calvinist theology, and without understanding that these icons are not little illustrations of the gospel, but part of an entire theology of Incarnation. Or the more sophisticated theologian who loves the Eastern emphasis upon “mystery” but uses it to downplay the importance of the ecumenical creeds. Or the biblical scholar who fastens upon the “Christus Victor” approach to atonement in order to get away from sacrificial language—but doesn’t notice that the Eastern liturgy is full of the language of sacrifice! For those who are tempted to flirt with aspects of Eastern Christianity, as well as for new converts, I recommend that they start reading the Fathers (start with St. John Chrysostom’s sermons!), and attend Divine Liturgy and Vespers. This puts the elements that they are in love with in context, and prevents distortion or one-sidedness. It also is in the worship that we really come to understand. As Jesus invited, “Come and See!”

AD: Sum up the book briefly and tell us who you think should read it. 

The book demonstrates from the Bible that Scripture and Tradition are intertwined, and that if one accepts the authority of Scripture, one will not dismiss Tradition. It discloses some of the history of the debate, and current tendencies today. Its target audience is evangelical Protestants, but I think that it holds interest for for Catholics, Orthodox and mainline Protestants as well. It is always helpful for traditional Christians to appreciate the biblical center of our Holy Tradition, and it may be helpful for more “liberal” Protestants to consider how we have come to be polarized in these areas, that is, the reasons for our disagreements today.

AD: What are you at work on now? What are the upcoming writing projects? 

I am finishing off an article on “sacrifice and sacrament” for a volume to be edited by Hans Boersma and Matthew Levering, a "Handbook on Sacramentality."  I am also about to begin a long-term work, reading the apostle Paul’s passages on righteousness and justification through the eyes of the fathers, moving towards a book entitled (provisionally) "Let Us Meditate Upon Your Righteousness."   I am also planning a more popular book about the importance of mediation in the spiritual life, tentatively entitled "Mediation and the Immediate God."

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Mother of Life Passes into Life

On this lovely summer festival of the Theotokos and her translation from life to life, I draw your attention to a book about her Dormition whose author I interviewed on this day last year. I would also point out an earlier book, and a lovely rendition of the festal troparion here.

We also have fresh studies to note, including this rather comprehensive collection bearing a slew of endorsements from some major scholars of our time: Brian K. Reynolds, Gateway to Heaven: Marian Doctrine and Devotion, Image and Typology in the Patristic and Medieval Periods: Volume I: Doctrine and Devotion (New City Press, 2012), 470pp.

About this book we are told:
This first volume lays out all the Marian doctrines and their evolution in a clear and easy-to-follow format as well as providing two chapters on patristic and medieval devotion. (Doctrines discussed include Mary's divine motherhood and its impact on Christology; Mary's virginity -- before, during, and after the birth of Jesus; intercession and mediation, and Marian co-redemption.) It provides, for the first time, extensive citations from original works, both patristic and medieval, many of which have never appeared in English before. Thus, it gives a firsthand insight into the figure of Mary and her religious and cultural importance. The author's principal purpose is to focus on the internal dynamics of Christianity in the development of Marian doctrine and devotion so that, without pushing a Catholic or even Christian point of view, the book seeks to counter erroneous interpretations that are all too frequently found in well-known and oft-cited works.
There is, in addition, a recent book devoted to Marian icons: Maria Terzopoulou, Byzantine Aegina: Faces of the Mother of God (2012).

About this book we are told:
This publication is the result of a photographic pilgrimage through Medieval Byzantine Churches on Aegina Island in Greece. The author visits the Byzantine Churches there in search for Medieval fresco paintings. The publication accompanied a photographic exhibit held at the Janalyn Hanson White Gallery at Mount Mercy University, Cedar Rapids from 13-21 May, 2012. This excellent collection of photographs of Byzantine and Ancient Greek monuments also contains information on development of Orthodox iconography and the influence of the Virgin and Child composition on western sacred art.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Re-evaluating Theodosius II

Interest in all things "Byzantine," as I have often noted on here, remains high. A book set for release next month looks at one of her emperors often sneered at in the last three centuries, but in for a fresh re-examination here: Christopher Kelly, ed.,  Theodosius II: Rethinking the Roman Empire in Late Antiquity (Cambridge UP, 2013), 338pp. 

About this book we are told:
Theodosius II (AD 408-450) was the longest reigning Roman emperor. Ever since Edward Gibbon, he has been dismissed as mediocre and ineffectual. Yet Theodosius ruled an empire which retained its integrity while the West was broken up by barbarian invasions. This book explores Theodosius' challenges and successes. Ten essays by leading scholars of late antiquity provide important new insights into the court at Constantinople, the literary and cultural vitality of the reign, and the presentation of imperial piety and power. Much attention has been directed towards the changes promoted by Constantine at the beginning of the fourth century; much less to their crystallisation under Theodosius II. This volume explores the working out of new conceptions of the Roman Empire - its history, its rulers and its God. A substantial introduction offers a new framework for thinking afresh about the long transition from the classical world to Byzantium.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Jean Bethke Elshtain on the Problem of Sovereignty

A year ago at this time I was finishing up a paper on the problem of "sovereignty" in ecclesiology, which I would deliver in September to OTSA in New York. As I was doing the research for that paper, one book I found useful and informative was that of Jean Bethke Elshtain, Sovereignty: God, State, and Self (Basic, 2008, 352pp.). Elshtain died on Sunday. She was a prolific and formidable scholar part of whose "charism," it seems to me, was to make connections between philosophy, politics, and theology.

About this book, which began as her Gifford Lectures in Scotland, we are told:
Throughout the history of human intellectual endeavor, sovereignty has cut across the diverse realms of theology, political thought, and psychology. From earliest Christian worship to the revolutionary ideas of Thomas Jefferson and Karl Marx, the debates about sovereignty—complete independence and self-government—have dominated our history. In this seminal work of political history and political theory, leading scholar and public intellectual Jean Bethke Elshtain examines the origins and meanings of “sovereignty” as it relates to all the ways we attempt to explain our world: God, state, and self. Examining the early modern ideas of God which formed the basis for the modern sovereign state, Elshtain carries her research from theology and philosophy into psychology, showing that political theories of state sovereignty fuel contemporary understandings of sovereignty of the self. As the basis of sovereign power shifts from God, to the state, to the self, Elshtain uncovers startling realities often hidden from view. Her thesis consists in nothing less than a thorough-going rethinking of our intellectual history through its keystone concept. The culmination of over thirty years of critically applauded work in feminism, international relations, political thought, and religion, Sovereignty opens new ground for our understanding of our own culture, its past, present, and future.

Social Conflict in Justinian's Age

One of the "turns" in contemporary historiography, including that of Eastern Christianity to some extent, is towards what are sometimes said to be "neglected" sources, asking questions from these distinct if overlooked vantage points--women, slaves, the lower classes, and others. This is often combined with an emphasis on "social" history and the creation of various identities and "imaginaries." A recent book from Oxford University Press would seem to continue this trend: Peter N. Bell, Social Conflict in the Age of Justinian: Its Nature, Management, and Mediation (OUP, 2013), 416pp.

About this book we are told:
Our understanding of Late Antiquity can be transformed by the non-dogmatic application of social theory to more traditional evidence when studying major social conflicts in the Eastern Roman Empire, not least under the Emperor Justinian (527-565). Social Conflict in the Age of Justinian explores a range of often violent conflicts across the whole empire -- on the land, in religion, and in sport -- during this pivotal period in European history. Drawing on both sociology and social psychology, and on his experience as a senior British Civil Servant dealing with violent political conflicts in Northern Ireland and elsewhere, Bell shows that such conflicts were a basic feature of the overwhelmingly agricultural political economy of the empire.

These conflicts were reflected at the ideological level and lead to intense persecution of intellectuals and Pagans as an ever more robust Christian ideological hegemony was established. In challenging the loyalties of all social classes, they also increased the vulnerability of an emperor and his allies. The need to legitimise the emperor, through an increasingly sacralised monarchy, and to build a loyal constituency, consequently remained a top priority for Justinian, even if his repeated efforts to unite the churches failed.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Middle Eastern Co-Existence

With regular recent reports of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry shuttling around the Middle East in the hopes of some kind of "settlement," a forthcoming book reminds us of the inexorable complexities of the region which has for so long so thoroughly thrown together Eastern Christians, Jews, Muslims, and others, and so thoroughly mixed categories of "race," "religion," ethnicity, nationlism, and other markers of identity: Julie Droeber, The Dynamics of Coexistence in the Middle East: Negotiating Boundaries Between Christians, Muslims, Jews and Samaritans in Palestine  (I.B. Tauris, 2013), 256pp.
About this book we are told:

Palestine is often viewed, from afar, through the frame of insurmountable difference and violent conflict along religious and ethnic lines. Julia Droeber looks beyond this, as she draws out the way in which sameness and difference is constructed and dealt with in the day to day relationships and practices of different religious communities in the West Bank town of Nablus. She follows the reality of coexistence and the constant negotiation of boundaries between Christians, Muslims and one of the last remaining Samaritan communities worldwide, and how these relationships are complicated by an occupier perceived as 'Jewish'.

This is a sensitive and nuanced study of cultural and religious space in a much-contested region. It illustrates how differences are reconciled, accommodated and emphasised, while existing alongside a common sense of belonging. Droeber's findings resonate beyond the town of Nablus, and the West Bank, and into the broader fields of Middle East Studies, Anthropology, Comparative Religion and Peace and Conflict Resolution Studies.

Friday, August 9, 2013

The Literary Heritage of Eastern Christianity

Certain publishers continue to offer an invaluable service in making major scholarly works on Eastern Christianity better known. Peeters is one such publisher, with an on-going series, the latest volume of which, under the editorship of J.P.  Monferrer-Sala, H.G.B. Teule, and Tovar S. Torallas, Eastern Christians and their Written Heritage: Manuscripts, Scribes and Context  (Peeters, 2012), 282pp.   

About this book the publisher tells us:

This volume gives the text of the contributions presented at the Second International Congress on Eastern Christianity organised in Madrid in April 2008. The focus of the conference was on the written heritage ("manuscripts, scribes and contexts") of Eastern Christians in different periods and from different confessional backgrounds, but it was thought appropriate to include some contributions on the Jewish heritage as well. 
Part I of the volume is devoted to manuscript collections and archives in Spain, Portugal, Alexandria and St Petersburg. Part II deals with Christian Arabic, Coptic, Greek and Slavonic manuscripts written by members of different religious communities. Part III discusses a variety of contextual issues such as the Egyptian monastic environment (book binding and manuscript illumination, women readers), schools (school texts on papyri) and Christian sources in Ibn Giqatela's psalm commentary.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Byzantine Emperors and Imagination

As I have had many occasions to note, interest in all things "Byzantine" (however anachronistic that label is) remains high. Another recent book contributes to our understanding of the history, imaginary, and imperial rule of the East-Roman Empire: Alicia Walker, The Emperor and the World: Exotic Elements and the Imaging of Middle Byzantine Imperial Power, Ninth to Thirteenth Centuries C.E. (Cambridge University Press, 2012), 288pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
Byzantine imperial imagery is commonly perceived as a static system. In contrast to this common portrayal, this book draws attention to its openness and responsiveness to other artistic traditions. Through a close examination of significant objects and monuments created over a 350-year period, from the ninth to the thirteenth century, Alicia Walker shows how the visual articulation of Byzantine imperial power not only maintained a visual vocabulary inherited from Greco-Roman antiquity and the Judeo-Christian tradition, but also innovated on these artistic precedents by incorporating styles and forms from contemporary foreign cultures, specifically the Sasanian, Chinese, and Islamic worlds. In addition to art and architecture, this book explores historical accounts and literary works as well as records of ceremonial practices, thereby demonstrating how texts, ritual, and images operated as integrated agents of imperial power. Walker offers new ways to think about cross-cultural interaction in the Middle Ages and explores the diverse ways in which imperial images employed foreign elements in order to express particularly Byzantine meanings.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Searching for the Sacred in Fort Wayne

A report and final reminder, as I wrote a few weeks ago, about the upcoming conference here in Ft. Wayne this weekend. We really hope to have a good turnout for its own sake, but also as an indication of interest sufficient to turn this into an annual event. So do come if you are at all able, and do spread the word. As I wrote last month: 

I have the happy and high privilege of collaborating with my friends at the OCA parish in Ft. Wayne, the Archpriest Andrew Jarmus and the Protodeacon Michael Myers, in co-hosting a conference entitled "Searching for the Sacred." To be held the evening of August 9 and all day on the 10th, at both St. Nicholas parish and on the campus of the University of Saint Francis, the conference will feature three speakers, including the OCA's bishop of the Bulgarian diocese, Alexander (Golitzin), who taught at Marquette University for more than two decades. Fr. Silviu Bunta of the University of Dayton and Fr. Peter Galadza of Saint Paul University, Ottawa, are the other two speakers.

Details of the conference may be had here. I do encourage all within the area not only to come, but to continue to spread the word. Fort Wayne is an easy drive from many major cities (Chicago, Detroit, Columbus, Cleveland, Indianapolis, etc.) where there are large numbers of Eastern Christians of all traditions. Others, Catholics especially, but also Protestants and Jews interested in the topics, are heartily encouraged to register and come. It is designed not as a "heavy" academic conference but as something to benefit lay people interested in the search for the sacred in liturgy, the Scriptures (especially the Jewish scriptures), and monastic-ascetical life, showing the connection of all these with "everyday" life.

His Grace Bishop Alexander is a scholar of the Fathers, of the spiritual life, and of early Christianity in general. This fall he has a book coming out that builds on some of his earlier work: Mystagogy: A Monastic Reading of Dionysius Areopagita, ed. Bogdan Bocur (Cistercian Press, November 2013), 416pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
Mystagogy proposes an interpretation of the Pseudo-Dionysian corpus in light of the liturgical and ascetic tradition that defined the author and his audience. Characterized by both striking originality and remarkable fidelity to the patristic and late neoplatonic traditions, the Dionysian corpus is a coherent and unified structure, whose core and pivot is the treatise known as the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy. Given Pseudo-Dionysius fundamental continuity with earlier Christian theology and spirituality, it is not surprising that the church, and in particular the ascetic community, recognized that this theological synthesis articulated its own fundamental experience and aspirations.

Monday, August 5, 2013

"When You Were Transfigured On the Mount, O Christ our God"

Tonight we prepare to keep vigil for one of the loveliest feasts of the year. The Transfiguration has long remained my favourite feast of the year, perhaps because of its obvious Paschal character--to say nothing of the fact that is so wonderfully captures the "dyophysite" nature of humankind: called to transfiguration ourselves, beholding the glory of Christ as far as we can bear it (as the troparion puts it), we are also at the same time like the apostles: falling down the mountain, our faces half-covered in cowardice and bewilderment. The brilliant luminosity of the icon of this feast, attributed to Theophanes the Greek (at right), captures these dynamics well it seems to me.

Fittingly set for an official release today is a new book from two of the leading patrologists of our time, one Catholic and the other Orthodox: Brian E. Daley, trans. and John Behr, ed. Light on the Mountain: Greek Patristic and Byzantine Homilies on the Transfiguration of the Lord (SVS Press, August 2013), 378pp.

About this collection, which is volume 48 in the SVS series "Popular Patristics," we are told by the publisher:
The episode of the Transfiguration of Jesus plays a key role in the narrative of the Synoptic Gospels. Peter and his fellow Apostles have just acknowledged Jesus to be Israel s long-awaited Messiah, and have been shocked by Jesus immediate prediction of his coming passion and death. Now Peter, James and John are allowed to share an extraordinary vision, marking him out as truly God s own Son, radiant with divine glory. Early Christian commentators and preachers recognized the crucial importance of this incident for Christian faith and discipleship, as pointing in advance to the power of the cross and resurrection of Christ. The liturgical feast of the Transfiguration, anticipating that of the Exaltation of the Cross by forty days, came to be celebrated in the Eastern and Western Churches, beginning in the seventh century; yet since at least the third century, theologians have reflected on the significance of this event for the life of faith.

This volume brings together, in a new translation, a comprehensive collection of homilies on the Transfiguration of Christ from the Greek Patristic and Medieval Church, from Origen in the third century to St. Gregory Palamas in the fourteenth. Together they form a profound and moving set of meditations, from many perspectives and in many voices, on the light of the recognition of the glory of God in the face of Christ (II Cor 4.6), and on its importance for our lives.

Homilies include:

Origen, Commentary on Matthew 12.36 43 (on Matthew 17.1 9)
John Chrysostom, Homily 56 on Matthew (on Matthew 16.28 17.9)
Proclus of Constantinople, Homily on the Transfiguration
Cyril of Alexandria, Homily 51 on Luke (on Luke 9.27 36)
Pantoleon, Sermon on the Transfiguration of the Lord
Leontius, Presbyter of Constantinople, Homily 14 on the Transfiguration
Patriarch Anastasius I of Antioch, Homily on the Transfiguration (Homily 1)
Timothy of Antioch, Homily on the Cross and Transfiguration of Jesus
Anonymous, Incomplete Homily on the Transfiguration (7th-9th c.)
Anastasius of Sinai, Homily for Feast of the Transfiguration
Andrew of Crete, Homily for the Feast of the Transfiguration
John of Damascus, Homily for the Feast of the Transfiguration
Emperor Leo VI (the Wise), Three Homilies for the Transfiguration:10,11,39
Philagathos of Cerami, Homily 31 on the Feast of the Saving Transfiguration
Neophytos the Recluse, Catechesis on the Transfiguration
Theoleptos of Philadelphia, Catechesis for the Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ
Nikephoros Choumnos, On the Holy Transfiguration of Christ
Ps-Chrysostom, Discourse on the Transfiguration (Sicily, 14th c.?)
Gregory the Sinaite, Discourse on the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord
Gregory Palamas, Two Homilies for the Feast of the Transfiguration (34 and 35)
If your parish is not keeping vigil today, you will be edified by this video from the most liturgically splendid Byzantine parish in all of North America.
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