"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).

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Christmas 2013: Book Recommendations

Twice in as many years I've put together a list of books that interested readers may peruse when trying to find something to buy for the Eastern Christian bibliophile on their Christmas list, or otherwise seeking to enrich their own libraries. The 2011 list is here, and the 2012 list is here.

I've done that again for 2013, focusing for the most part on books published just this year--which, as you'll soon see, is a formidable list but even this list is just a sampling of what has emerged this year. I expect that 2014 will be at least as prolific in publications if not more so. Though most of the books noted below presuppose some intellectual formation and academic background on the part of readers--that is, they are for adults--I did note here some recent, vibrant publications for children that I commend to your attention.

One of the most fascinating large and hefty collections of academic articles on icons, Icons in Time, Persons in Eternity: Orthodox Theology and the Aesthetics of the Christian Imagewas noted here. Ashgate also brought out another scholarly collection on icons, which was noted here.

This new book, which I have read and continue to think about, and of which I hope to have a review posted in the coming weeks, also deserves attention by those interested not just in iconography, but especially in politically motivated forms of iconoclasm: The Politics of Iconoclasm: Religion, Violence and the Culture of Image-Breaking in Christianity and Islam. 

Also on the topic of iconoclasm is a new book by the leading scholar of it today in its Byzantine context, Leslie Brubaker, Inventing Byzantine Iconoclasm, some details of which are here, where I also note other recent books on the topic by Brubaker.

Finally, this past summer I discovered a new (to me) book on Romanian iconography, which I discussed here.


2013 was itself an anniversary year--the 1700th anniversary of the legalization of Christianity under Constantine, whose legacy, as I noted here, continues to be vigorously debated.

2013 is also, of course, the lead-up to the centenary of the Great War, about which we have already seen a steady stream of books in anticipation of the anniversary next year. I discussed a number of those books here and more recently here. That war, of course, brought down many empires, and one study of their collapse was noted here


The papacy was also, of course, the object of much comment this year, a good deal of it, however ironically, from me. See here, e.g. Or for a vastly more authoritative treatment, perhaps even bordering on infallible, see here.

From Orthodox scholars, see this very important book by an Orthodox theologian, of which I have a review forthcoming next year for the British journal, Reviews in Religion and Theology: George Demacopoulos, The Invention of Peter: Apostolic Discourse and Papal Authority in Late AntiquityAs I noted in my review, this book shows--as other recent studies have--that the history of the papacy, and of East-West relations, is considerably more complicated than either Western apologists for the papacy, or Eastern critics of it, have usually allowed.

Much discussion in the last six weeks or so has focused on Pope Francis and his plans for reforms in the structure of the Catholic Church and his calling of a so-called synod of bishops in Rome. That misnamed institution was recently studied here.

The Ethiopian Church, the largest Orthodox church in Africa, is starting to garner more scholarly attention. One recent study of Ethiopian ecclesiology was noted here.

Finally, papal primacy is treated in a new book by an Orthodox theologian which I read in mss. form and am happy to see in print. It deserves careful reading from Catholic and Orthodox Christians alike.


Just recently Eerdmans published an English translation of a book written a number of years ago in German by Thomas Bremer:
Cross and Kremlin: A Brief History of the Orthodox Church in Russiasome details here.

The role of the YMCA in 20th-century Russian Christianity, and Russian relations with Western Christians, was treated in a fascinating new book which our reviewer praised. That book was was noted here.

A new book on post-Soviet religious life, which has been treated in at least a dozen books in English alone in the last decade, was noted here. The rise and role of "secularism" in Russia and Ukraine was discussed here.

A big new book, which I'm told is in the mail to me this week, treats one of the most important Russian theological journals of the past century: Antoine Arjakovsky (whom I will interview in the new year about his book),  The Way: Religious Thinkers of the Russian Emigration in Paris and Their Journal, 1925-1940. Details about the book are here.

Russia has long been a "front" for action by, and conflicts with and between, her native Orthodox Church and various Western churches and para-church institutions. One recent book treats a fascinating episode of that: Russian Bible Wars: Modern Scriptural Translation and Cultural Authority, which was noted here.


As we know, over the last quarter-century or so, there have been considerable numbers of Christians raised in a Western tradition who have headed East. (Some of them, alas, then begin ranting about the "pan-heresy" of ecumenism, an absurd notion discussed here.) Several recent books treat their stories, including converts to Orthodoxy who are philosophers of one sort or another (for more on philosophy in a Byzantine context, see here.) At the beginning of the year I noted a book on converts in general here. Then at the end of the year we had, as I noted a few weeks ago, what promises to be a fascinating and serious scholarly study whose author I hope to interview in the new year. That book, by the Orthodox priest and historian Oliver Herbel, was noted here.

Social Issues: 

I've followed a number of on-line discussions this year about the problems of "bourgeois Christianity." The entanglements of economics, class, and faith in North America remains a question I hope to write more about in the coming year.

At the beginning of this year I interviewed an author about her fascinating new book, They Who Give from Evil: The Response of the Eastern Church to Moneylending in the Early Christian Era

Western Phantasmagoria:

I've spent more time than I liked this year on the uses and abuses of history, not least by Orthodox Christians against the West. Most happily indeed, we had two first-rate studies this year from Orthodox theologians and historians taking on some of the grossest and most absurd of the caricatures. The first of these was from Marcus Plested on Orthodox Readings of Aquinas. I interviewed Plested here. His book was reviewed this year in Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies, and the review was entirely laudatory.  

The other collection that was supposed to be out in the summer was just released last month under the editorial direction of Fordham's two outstanding Orthodox theologians: Orthodox Constructions of the West. This highly welcome and overdue collection was noted in some detail here. I will continue to discuss it in the weeks ahead. If you could only buy one book this year, I'd give this one the most serious consideration.

Middle East:
For more than a decade now we have watched a steady stampede of Eastern Christians out of the Middle East. For the last three years, those who remained, especially in places like Egypt and Syria, were said by some early and hopeful commentators to be living through a so-called Arab "spring" but today we more correctly speak of the lack thereof, as noted here.

But the Arab world is not dead intellectually, and so I noted a new book on Trinitarian theology in an Arabic context here. And it was a very welcome event in May to have published The Bible in Arabic: The Scriptures of the 'People of the Book' in the Language of Islam, authored by one of the world's leading scholars on the encounter between Islam and Eastern Christians.

The role of Coptic Christians in the ongoing political struggles of Egypt came in for scrutiny in a new book noted here

One of the great Byzantinists of our time treated the world on the eve of Islamic conquest in her new collection, Late Antiquity on the Eve of Islam.

Muslim-Christian Relations:

Continuing the theme of Muslim-Christian relations more widely, I noted a new Routledge Reader on this topic here.

Ayse Ozil's fascinating new book, which I hope to read over the Christmas break, was released only in late October: Orthodox Christians in the Late Ottoman Empire: A Study of Communal Relations in Anatolia.

Here I noted another book on the endlessly debated Crusaders and Ottomans. 

Finally, I spent some time commenting on this very careful and deeply fascinating study from Nicholas Doumanis: Before the Nation: Muslim-Christian Coexistence and its Destruction in Late-Ottoman Anatolia, which I discussed here. It is a very welcome study and deserves a place on every bibliography devoted to Muslim-Christian relations. Similar studies include one on Jews and Christians under Islam, noted here, and a recent study on, surprisingly, dhimmis in the West, noted here.


A short little introductory handbook to the Byzantine liturgy was noted here, while here I noted the reprinting of one of the standard scholarly works in the field, Hugh Wybrew's The Orthodox Liturgy: The Development of the Eucharistic Liturgy in the Byzantine Rite.

For the specialists among us, this collection of Byzantine liturgical manuscripts may be of interest.

Finally, for sacred architecture in Byzantium, see here

The death, just two weeks ago, of the well known and Orthodox composer John Tavener put me in mind of several of his beautiful and deeply haunting pieces. For those see these two CDs (inter alia): Tavener: Sacred Music and Best of John Tavener.

Developments in Byzantine chant were noted in this new book.


In teaching a new class this year, I turned to one of the classics in the field, The Way of a Pilgrim: The Jesus Prayer Journey— Annotated & Explained, which was discussed here.

Holy Trinity Jordanville recently published a series of small little book on the spiritual life, several of which I noted here.

The role of asceticism was discussed here, where I noted a welcome new book, that draws extensively on the East, by David Fagerberg: On Liturgical Asceticism

The Rule of St. Basil the Great was again available in English after a long hiatus as I noted here.


In addition, of course, to Aristotle Papanikolaou's new book (which actually came out at the end of last year), The Mystical as Political: Democracy and Non-Radical OrthodoxyI also noted a new book on Orthodoxy and human rights here.

Author Interviews:

The lovely Edith Humphrey, Orthodox biblical scholar and theologian and author of Scripture and Tradition: What the Bible Really Says, was interviewed here. (My 2011 interview with her is here.)

My dear friend Bill Mills was interviewed here about the Festschrift he recently published about our mutual friend Michael Plekon, Church and World: Essays in Honor of Michael Plekon.

The blogger Rod Dreher was interviewed here about his book The Little Way of Ruthie Leming: A Southern Girl, a Small Town, and the Secret of a Good Life..

As noted above, Brenda  Llwellyn I hssen was intereviewed here about  They Who Give from Evil: The Response of the Eastern Church to Moneylending in the Early Christian Era.

Augustine Casiday was interviewed here about his big new collection The Orthodox Christian World. In 2014, I hope to interview him about his even more recent book on Evagrius.

Finally, just last weekend I interviewed Sarah Hinlicky Wilson about her book on Elisabeth Behr-Sigel.

Finally, though it has been out for several years, I only got around to seeing Ostrov (The Island), this year with my students. My thoughts on it are here. If you've not seen it, do yourself a favor over Christmas and watch it.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Cambridge History of the Bible

It is a happy development, as more and more major academic and commercial publishers bring out big "companions to" or "histories of" Christian topics, that they include more than a token chapter on Eastern Christian realities. This recent hefty collection from one of the oldest and most prestigious academic publishers in the world is a good example: James Carlton Paget and Joachim Schaper, eds.,  The New Cambridge History of the Bible: From the Beginnings to 600 (Cambridge UP, 2013), 1006pp. 

About this book we are told:
Recent years have witnessed significant discoveries of texts and artefacts relevant to the study of the Old and New Testaments and remarkable shifts in scholarly methods of study. The present volume mirrors the increasing specialization of Old Testament studies, including the Hebrew and Greek Bibles, and reflects rich research activity that has unfolded over the last four decades in Pentateuch theory, Septuagint scholarship, Qumran studies and early Jewish exegesis of biblical texts. The second half of the volume discusses the period running from the New Testament to 600, including chapters on the Coptic, Syriac and Latin bibles, the 'Gnostic' use of the scriptures, pagan engagement with the Bible, the use of the Bible in Christian councils and in popular and non-literary culture. A fascinating in-depth account of the reception of the Bible in the earliest period of its history.
The table of contents reveals several chapters devoted to the Septuagint, to Syriac versions, to Syriac exegesis, to Coptic translations, and to patristic treatment of Scripture in the hands of such towering figures as Origen. 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Papal Reform in Service to the Gospel

In the late 1990s a book was published by the prolific and erudite English Dominican Aidan Nichols whose argument about Orthodox-Catholic unity has long stayed with me, and deeply influenced me when, just over a decade ago, I began my doctoral program that led to a dissertation which more recently was turned into a book, Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy: Ut Unum Sint and the Prospects of East-West Unity,

That book of mine was influenced by Nichols' Christendom Awake: On Re-Energizing the Church in Culture. In that book, Nicholas suggests that the Catholic Church, greatly weakened by the post-conciliar experience, very much needed unity with Orthodoxy not only for its own sake, and for the sake of the fulfillment of the gospel, but also for the ballast that Orthodoxy could provide to the Catholic Church, particularly in the areas of liturgy, monasticism, and asceticism. Once united, the Catholic-Orthodox Church would be vastly stronger than either "lung" separated from the other, and as a result could turn from ecclesiological issues to re-evangelizing an increasingly rebarbative world.

I mention this bit of intellectual genealogy only so that you will understand my amazement at the new document released today by Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, which you may read here on the Vatican website (PDF). I'm not claiming the pope has read Nicholas (possible) or me (entirely unlikely), and I'm not done reading it yet (for all the hype about a new style, he has, alas, held to the old-style prolixity of John Paul II with a document clocking in at 224pp--oy!) but there are at least two paragraphs that, verily I say unto you, jumped off the page and made me more than a little amazed at how much they accord with what Nichols suggested and I expanded upon at length. (These are not, of course, entirely surprising given that they are in accord with other recent papal utterances on the topic, as I noted here.):

"Nor do I believe that the papal magisterium should be expected to offer a definitive or complete word on every question which affects the Church and the world. It is not advisable for the Pope to take the place of local Bishops in the discernment of every issue which arises in their territory. In this sense, I am conscious of the need to promote a sound 'decentralization'" (no. 16).

This is followed some time later by a longer and even blunter paragraph which references Ut Unum Sint on which my own book was based:
Since I am called to put into practice what I ask of others, I too must think about a conversion of the papacy. It is my duty, as the Bishop of Rome, to be open to suggestions which can help make the exercise of my ministry more faithful to the meaning which Jesus Christ wished to give it and to the present needs of evangelization. Pope John Paul II asked for help in finding 'a way of exercising the primacy which, while in no way renouncing what is essential to its mission, is nonetheless open to a new situation'. We have made little progress in this regard. The papacy and the central structures of the universal Church also need to hear the call to pastoral conversion. The Second Vatican Council stated that, like the ancient patriarchal Churches, episcopal conferences are in a position 'to contribute in many and fruitful ways to the concrete realization of the collegial spirit'. Yet this desire has not been fully realized, since a juridical status of episcopal conferences which would see them as subjects of specific attributions, including genuine doctrinal authority, has not yet been sufficiently elaborated. Excessive centralization, rather than proving helpful, complicates the Church’s life and her missionary outreach.
Ecclesiology is not, or should not be, ultimately about constant self-referential fussing over who gets the cushiest chair or the biggest hat. The story of the rebuke of the libido dominandi of the sons of Zebedee (Mark 10:35-45) should ring loudly and constantly in the ears of every churchman and ecclesiologist. The point of working for unity--the same point of this encyclical--is so that we can all stop focusing on ourselves and instead focus on bringing the world to Christ, who summed it up best: "that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me" (John 17:21).

Monday, November 25, 2013

Orthodox Constructions of the West: I

If I were a rich man, I would immediately order at least a thousand copies of Orthodox Constructions of the West and send them to every serious Christian academic library. Then I would order another thousand copies or so and send them to various ecumenical institutions and leaders around the world. After that I'd start sending copies to anyone and everyone who has ever commented on or thought about Orthodox-Catholic relations, Christian history, the historiographical process, Byzantium, liturgical history, and much else.

Edited by Fordham's two Orthodox theologians, George Demacopoulos and Aristotle Papanikolaou, this book is the collected proceedings of a 2010 conference held there under the same title. It is a goldmine of insights and wonderfully refreshing blunt talk, making it an excellent book for the scholar and general reader alike. I thought I would dip into articles individually to give you a taste of what to expect, but only a taste because you need to buy and read this book. 

Naturally enough, even before reading the introduction, I turned immediately to the chapter by the philosopher (and Greek Orthodox priest) John Panteleimon Manoussakis, "Primacy and Ecclesiology: the State of the Question." It is a short article, and was given at a conference nearly a year before my own Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy: Ut Unum Sint and the Prospects of East-West Unity was published so it is not (unlike my book) a comprehensive coverage of the question, but it is very valuable nonetheless. I greatly enjoyed the author's take-no-prisoners approach. He comes out swinging: "the phenomenon of antipapism, understood as the denial of a primus for the Universal Church and the elevation of such a denial to a trait that allegedly identifies the whole Orthodox Church, is, properly speaking, heretical" (229). He notes that for too many would-be defenders of Orthodoxy--Manoussakis focuses almost entirely on contemporary figures in the Greek Church--"heresy is all they see" when looking Westward.

What I found especially depressing was how recent some of the attitudes are. E.g., a 2010 statement of a conference in Greece at which several metropolitans of the Church were present makes the demonstrably foolish claim that there is no theological justification at all for any kind of primacy in the Church. Obviously, as I wrote sarcastically in the margins of the book, Metropolitan John Zizioulas did not get this memo--nor the dozens of other Orthodox theologians I surveyed. Zizioulas, precisely one of the finest theological minds of contemporary Greek Orthodoxy, has been arguing cogently for decades in a variety of books and articles that primacy and synodality stand or fall together, and no Church properly so called can function except with both primacy and synodality exercised together. For hierarchs trying to argue otherwise reveals an ignorance of their own tradition, which is truly intolerable. You can say whatever you want about Catholicism; but when you try telling me what Orthodoxy is or stands for when it can easily be proven otherwise, you've just revealed yourself as a completely unserious person.

The author gives other examples of what he calls the "rogue fanaticism of para-ecclesial groups" (239) before showing how they do not even understand the very Orthodoxy they purport to defend. He himself has no patience for them, and instead sets forth in a calm and lucid fashion some of the principles needed for the proper understanding of primacy. The whole essay, while short (he tells me via e-mail that he has a longer work coming out in 2014, For the Unity of All: Contributions to the Theological Dialogue between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, for which I will be eagerly watching in the new year) is a wonderfully bracing blast of the cool air of reason.

In Part II: comments on the introduction and Robert Taft's essay. Stay tuned. In the meantime, buy this book, which deserves the widest possible audience. 

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Sarah Hinlicky Wilson on Elisabeth Behr-Sigel

Last week I received from the publisher a copy of Sarah Hinlicky Wilson's book Woman, Women, and the Priesthood in the Trinitarian Theology of Elisabeth Behr-Sigel (T&T Clark, 2013).

I have been reading it with great interest after being introduced to Elisabeth Behr-Sigel by my friend Michael Plekon who, over lunch a few years ago, gave me a copy of a wonderful biography he edited, Toward the Endless Day: The Life of Elisabeth Behr-Sigel. If you are interested in her fascinating life, or simply want a good biography about an unusual figure who led a long and interesting life, this biography is for you. 

(photo credit: Jim Forrest)
Elisabeth Behr-Sigel (EBS) (left) is not as well known as some of her other contemporary Orthodox theologians, perhaps in part because she does not fit into the usual categories. Her thought on several issues stands out, but it is perhaps on the question of women, and their possible sacramental ordination in the Orthodox Church, that most marks Behr-Sigel's thought. This question has been treated in a new book just published by Sarah Hinlicky Wilson, whom I asked for an interview. Here are her thoughts:

AD: Tell us a bit about your background:

SHW: I’m an east-coast American Lutheran of assorted European heritage who lived in a very Lutheran bubble until leaving college. Thereafter I worked at a journal under the leadership of an ardent Catholic, went to a Presbyterian seminary, and ended up the consultant to the international Lutheran-Orthodox dialogue at the Institute for Ecumenical Research in Strasbourg, France, which serves the Lutheran World Federation, itself an organ of communion among about 95% of the world’s Lutherans.

Sarah Hinlicky Wilson
AD: How did you, an American Lutheran writing a dissertation at the Presbyterian-affiliated Princeton Theological Seminary, end up writing about a French Orthodox theologian?  

SHW: The easy and uninteresting answer is: I needed a topic I could finish in a year, so that meant Luther was out of the question! I highly recommend doing dissertations where the secondary literature is virtually nonexistent. 

The more interesting answer is this. During my college years, I was in a very Catholic-oriented crowd of Lutherans, and some of them thought that eliminating the ordination of women in Lutheranism would increase our chances of ecumenical reconciliation with Catholics. (Now I think that’s not only placing an unfair burden on women but ignores the vast number of other issues that continue to separate us.) At the same time, one of my mentors said to me, “You’re the only reason I still believe in the ordination of women.” I was really shocked by this ad hominem (ad feminam?) argument, which I knew he would refuse in any other context. Ironically, I didn’t actually have any intention at the time of becoming a pastor—for awhile I myself was opposed to the ordination of women because it was the surest way to keep safe from such a terrible fate! 

Enter my friend Michael Plekon, an esteemed Orthodox theologian and priest, who said: you need to read Elisabeth Behr-Sigel’s book. I did, and it cleared my head beautifully. Here was a woman outside of the Lutheran-Catholic crossfire, who knew and appreciated feminism but did not consider it determinative for Christian faith, and who built on Scripture, patristic studies, and contemporary Orthodox theology to make a case for the ordination of women. Though the set of arguments on this topic is different depending on one’s confessional location, tracing the argument in another church’s setting was extremely illuminating of my own. I went to France to meet her the following year and exchanged occasional letters with her until her death. In many ways, my dissertation was paying a debt of gratitude to this remarkable woman. (And I did end up getting ordained after all. Oh well.)  

AD: You currently hold a position at the Institute for Ecumenical Research in Strasbourg. Among some Orthodox (and others) “ecumenical” is a bad word (the “pan-heresy” even), thought to mean the evacuation of all doctrine and the reduction of Christianity to the lowest common denominator. Tell us how you understand ecumenism and the search for Christian unity. 
I think we can get at ecumenism best via a cultural analogy. The gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost was not to make everybody speak and understand one language, but to make all the people there understand the gospel in their own language. In mission, we don’t seek to draw all people into one single culture that alone houses the gospel, but for the gospel to move out into every culture and make each culture its dwelling place. This means that people are entitled to remain “at home” in their own cultures, even as the gospel takes hold of those cultures, inhabits them, and transforms them. But Pentecost also implies that we need to step outside of our home cultures, out of those places comfortable for us, to see what other people’s homes are like. Note how hard it was even for the apostles to leave Jerusalem; the Spirit had to keep nudging them out—sometimes only persecution would do the job! It is an essential part of growth into Christian maturity not to make the mistake of thinking that the gospel and our home culture are logical equivalents; we will naturally equate the two if not pushed beyond our boundaries. The tension between “at home” and “away” has to be maintained, not eliminated. We are allowed to be at home where we are at home; we are not allowed to deny other people the right to be at home where they are at home. 

Analogously, ecumenism should not demand that no one feel at home anymore, leaving one theological tradition for an ecumenical super-theology or minimum-theology that belongs to everybody and nobody. But ecumenism should drive people to travel beyond the borders of their home theology and home church to see what else is out there, which will then help them to be better Christians both at home and abroad. Ecumenical voyaging helps people see the weaknesses and failures in their home church—every church has them, for none can manage everything perfectly—and also to recognize their own real strengths. It should make them discover that there are real Christians over there—and thus that their church is also Christ’s church, which means it is also our church, even if in different clothing! We may legitimately critique other Christians, but we may not deny them the baptism that made and keeps them Christian. I think there has to be a lot more of this “ecumenical voyaging” before any further talk about unity can even be meaningful.

AD: Elisabeth Behr-Sigel herself had an interesting “ecumenical” path in her own life, moving from the Protestant tradition to Orthodoxy but continuing to be deeply engaged with the World Council of Churches and other Christians. What message does her life have for Orthodox Christians today--and others?

I think of Elisabeth as a shining example of the beauty of hybridity in Christian faith. We have only one God, but where creation is concerned we are not to be locked boxes or fall into essentializing delusions. Elisabeth’s earliest experience was of the cultural hybridity of Alsace (where I live now!), a place both French and German, always negotiating those two realities. Then there was her multilayered religious hybridity: her father was a Protestant Christian but her mother was Jewish. Elisabeth was baptized in a Lutheran church but experienced the friendly engagement of Lutherans and Reformed, something that has been impossible or rejected in other parts of the world, and her most significant mentors in her teen years were Reformed. Then she became Orthodox through chrismation, not rebaptism—but even after that, she served as a lay pastor in a Reformed church for eight months. She married a Russian, learned the language, and participated in Orthodox churches whose identity at the time was much more Russian than French. Her dearest friend Lev Gillet had a Catholic-Orthodox hybrid identity. And on and on. 

The basic thing she calls into question is the idea that authenticity means closure. I resonate deeply with this part of her witness. Earlier in life I would have thought that ecumenism would mean watering down my Lutheranism; in reality, I think it’s made me a better Lutheran, because I am no longer an ideological Lutheran: I have a better sense of our genuine strengths as well as a humbling sense of our serious weaknesses. (I also am an American living in France, and a white mother of a brown child, so I experience hybridity at many levels of my being.) I once thought ecumenism was a winner-takes-all struggle to be the true church—whether through the triumph of one confession over the others, or a reduction of all local and confessional details to a minimal acceptable homogenous standard. These kinds of perspectives only survive if you assume that you have to be one thing and one thing only. If hybridity is OK, proper to the church instead of alien to it, the whole question shifts radically. I think this is the challenge that world Christianity especially poses to “historic” churches.

AD: You note in your introduction that the question of The Ordination of Women in the Orthodox Church is assumed by some to be an “intrusion” of “secularism” or “feminism.” You argue that it was not so with EBS. Tell us how she approached the question.

It wasn’t an intrusion, because Elisabeth went out after it herself! Again, such a perspective assumes a “locked box” attitude toward the church, which is further premised on some kind of competition between creation and redemption. They’re not the same thing, but they’re not mortal enemies, either. Changes and movements in the world’s history and culture may have prompted the discussion about women in the church, but Elisabeth was convinced that these changes were already the long-term outcome of the gospel itself: that the leaven of Galatians 3:28 had taken nearly two millennia to raise the heavy lump of pagan societies. To assume that questions about women are an intrusion is basically to assume that being a woman is somehow not natural or proper to Christian life. Well, you can find remarks to that effect here and there—but these must be considered as much a heresy as a radical feminist denial of the Fatherhood of God or the incarnation of Jesus Christ.

AD: Your second chapter is devoted to Paul Evdokimov’s thought on women. I’ve heard it repeatedly said that, had he lived longer, he would have revised his writing and thinking in the area. If so, what in his thinking likely could or should have been revised?

He said as much to his wife, who reported this in a letter to Michael Plekon—that’s my hard proof—though I think others heard him say the same. Evdokimov was a pioneer: nobody had thought and written so extensively but also positively about women in the Orthodox world before him (and it wasn’t exactly an ancient tradition in the Western world by his time, either). He wanted to validate and honor women in the church and criticize their maltreatment. He also perceived a particular variant of feminism that actually despised sexual difference and wanted to make women the same as men, so he set out to oppose that. (I find many people think that this is the single unanimous goal of feminism; it is certainly not.) So it always happens that people at the forefront are starting from scratch, trying things out, making things up—and some things work, while others don’t. What Elisabeth ultimately came to differ with Evdokimov on was his essentializing of feminine being and attributing it to the being of God the Spirit. The more she searched, the less she could find to support such a notion. Had Evdokimov lived longer and stayed in conversation with Elisabeth, I think he probably would have begun to revise in the direction she laid out.

AD: Your third chapter begins by noting that prior to 1976, EBS had never put anything in print about women in the Church. What led to the change in her thinking and writing? 
I expect she thought about it quite a bit before. But the impetus for writing was her invitation to give the keynote address at the first-ever international gathering of Orthodox women at the Agapia convent in Romania. By then, the ordination of women was in the air in the West, so she touched on the matter briefly (and rejected it). But I think a lifetime’s experience as a woman in the Orthodox church was ready to erupt, and once she got started there was no holding her back!

AD: Tell us a bit about the female diaconate, treated in your sixth chapter. I’ve often heard it remarked by competent historians (e.g., Robert Taft) that the evidence of female deacons cannot be doubted. How did EBS approach the question? 

She accepted the conclusions of many scholars that there had once been an active female diaconate, and she spearheaded a petition to the ecumenical patriarch asking for it to be reinstated—however, not simply re-created from the past, but adapted to present needs. At the same time, she was concerned it could be seen as “throwing a bone” to women as a way of giving them an office but avoiding further discussion of ordination to the presbyteral and episcopal offices. My own sense is that the interrelationship of the three offices is strong enough that there is great fear that a real female diaconate today would inevitably lead to a female presbyterate—and that has been enough to strangle all progress on reinstating a female diaconate.  

AD: Ultimately your argument, if I understand it correctly, is that discussions about the ordination of women to the priesthood depend less on what Tradition says, or which passages of Scripture one consults. Ultimately everything rests on Trinitarian theology—an argument I’ve made elsewhere in writing about same-sex marriage. Tell us what light Trinitarian theology sheds on these debates. 
Yes, the Trinity is determinative, but probably not in the way expected. Elisabeth doesn’t follow the social trinitarian approach of community-in-diversity. In fact, had she known it, I think she would have been suspicious of it, because it was precisely the assertion of gender diversity within God that she found so problematic. Evdokimov had argued that the Son is masculine, the Spirit is feminine, the two together image the unknowable Father; Thomas Hopko made this line of thought famous, and it was finally accepted by the Rhodes Consultation on women in the church in 1998. Elisabeth, by contrast, followed the trail blazed by Vladimir Lossky and his work on personhood in both God and humanity. To be a person is to be fully one’s nature and yet not reducible to one’s nature, not enclosed by it or self-identical to it. For Lossky, this was the proper reading of what it means to be in God’s image—we don’t share God’s nature, but we share God’s non-reducibility to His nature in His tripartite personhood. For Elisabeth, this is how Jesus could take on and redeem the flesh of women without sharing their “female nature,” and therefore why women could iconically image Jesus as priests. The last chapter of my book traces this out at greater length, for while Elisabeth referred to Lossky frequently, she never developed the exact line of correspondence between her thinking and Losksy’s, so I tried to reconstruct her line of thought to make it clearer.

AD: Having finished this book, what writing projects are you at work on now? 
Most immediately in front of me is a kind of handbook on Pentecostalism and charismatic movements for Lutheran churches in the Lutheran World Federation, as Pentecostalism is our most pressing ecumenical challenge at the moment (and the other side of my responsibilities at the Institute, along with Orthodoxy). Longer term, I’m working on re-evaluating the practice and theology of saint veneration within Lutheranism. While we definitely dispensed with the invocation of the saints, I see compelling evidence that we quietly created our own Lutheran version of veneration, including of our own indigenous Lutheran saints. Once again, Elisabeth was a huge help to me here, as a practitioner of the “new hagiography”: one that doesn’t shy away from the flaws and failures of the saints but takes them up into the greater view of God’s transformation of humanity. I think there is a great deal of ecumenical potential to be found in attention to one another’s saints. For my basic perspective on the matter, see my contribution to Church and Culture!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Anglicans and Orthodox

It is sad to think of what has become of the Anglican Communion, which seems to have been engaged in a decades-long, slow-motion suicide. It once held such promise, and was looked up to by Catholics and Orthodox alike who saw in Anglicanism (as the pre-1845 Newman did) a great deal of the Christianity of the Ecumenical Councils and Church Fathers. (The patristic influences have been studied in some welcome detail in Benjamin King's recent book, Newman and the Alexandrian Fathers: Shaping Doctrine in Nineteenth-Century England.) Even as late as October 1970, Pope Paul VI could speak of the "legitimate prestige and the worthy patrimony of piety and usage proper to the Anglican Church" and look hopefully to the day when "the Roman Catholic Church—this 'humble Servant of the servants of God'—is able to embrace her ever beloved Sister in the one authentic Communion of the family of Christ, a communion of origin and of faith, a communion of priesthood and of rule, a communion of the saints in the freedom of love."

Those days seem long gone now; but one of the "counter-factuals" of the last forty years that I like to entertain is: how different--which is to say, how much better--would the reform of the Latin liturgy after Vatican II have been if Roman Catholics and Anglicans had united, and the latter had influenced the liturgical life of the former, at least in the anglophone world. Would that Catholic liturgists had even a scintilla of the inspiration of the poets and musicians who have bequeathed to us Cranmer's Book of Common Prayer, the King James Bible, and of course the great beauty of the Anglican choral tradition as exemplified in such splendid institutions as the King's College Choir of the University of Cambridge.

Today so much of that beautiful legacy is rapidly disappearing. The dissolution of the last several decades, however, has long roots, as the historian John Shelton Reed made clear more than forty years ago in his deeply fascinating book Glorious Battle: The Cultural Politics of Victorian Anglo-Catholicism. The "ritualists" and Tractarians, inter alia, simply pleaded to be left alone, arguing that Anglicanism should be wide enough to accommodate all manner of belief or disbelief and attendant liturgical practice. In so doing, they were sowing the seeds of their communion's demise, which was already glimpsed at the time by some beyond Newman, whose shadow, of course, looms large over everyone. But David Newsome's elegiac and wonderfully written book The Parting of Friends: The Wilberforces and Henry Manning does great justice to some of the other large figures apart from Newman who were so prominent in the Church of England, and later the Catholic Church, of the nineteenth century. (For Newman, of course, one must simply read the magisterial John Henry Newman: A Biography by Ian Ker, the world's leading Newman scholar whom I met in 2004 and who could not have been kinder or more gracious to me, a complete nobody writing a doctoral dissertation which, for a time, included a chapter on Newman.)

At the turn of the twentieth century, as the ecumenical movement began to take shape, there was for a time a great deal of goodwill between Anglicans and Orthodox. Some of the groundwork for that had been laid a considerable time earlier by an active interest that the Church of England took in Eastern Christianity through "missions" from England to places like Syria, and through the erection in England of institutions for the study of Eastern Christianity. Peter Doll's fine 2005 book Anglicanism and Orthodoxy 300 years after the 'Greek College' in Oxford documents one such institution.

As the ecumenical movement got off the ground following the famous 1910 Edinburgh mission conference, some Anglicans thought they might be able to secure from some Orthodox recognition of Anglican ordinations, whose validity was denied by the Catholic Church  in the 1896 papal bull Apostolicae curae. For a time, it was thought that the Ecumenical Patriarch had recognized Anglican orders though that opinion is held by few today and was never widespread.  One of the best books I have read on Anglican-Orthodox relations remains Bryn Geffert's Eastern Orthodox and Anglicans: Diplomacy, Theology, and the Politics of Interwar Ecumenism (University of Notre Dame Press, 2009), 536pp.

One of the fruits of the ecumenical movement was the Fellowship of St. Alban and St. Sergius, which brought Anglicans and Orthodox together, including some well known figures of the time. A recent erudite essay by Brandon Gallher looks at Sergius Bulgakov's role in the Fellowship. That essay was recently published in Church and World: Essays in Honor of Michael Plekonwhose editor I interviewed here. The Plekon volume also features an essay by Rowan Williams, recently retired archbishop of Canterbury and an important scholar in his own right of Eastern Christianity. 

Now another book has been released treating relations in the period before Geffert's book, and focused on one church in particular: William Taylor, Narratives of Identity: The Syrian Orthodox Church and the Church of England 1895-1914 (Cambridge Scholars Press, 2013), 275pp.

About this book we are told:
The relationship between the Syrian Orthodox Church in the Ottoman Empire and the Church of England developed substantially between 1895 and 1914, as contacts between them grew. As the character of this emerging relationship changed, it contributed to the formation of both churches' own 'narratives of identity'. The wider context in which this took place was a period of instability in the international order, particularly within the Ottoman Empire, culminating in the outbreak of the First World War, effectively bringing this phase of sustained contact to an end. Narratives of Identity makes use of Syriac, Garshuni, and Arabic primary sources from Syrian Orthodox archives in Turkey and Syria, alongside Ottoman documents from the Basbakanlik Osmanli Arsivi, Istanbul, and a range of English archival sources. The preconceptions of both Churches are analysed, using a philosophical framework provided by the work of Paul Ricoeur, especially his concepts of significant memory (anamnesis), translation, and the search for mutual recognition. Anamnesis and translation were extensively employed in the formation of 'narratives of identity' that needed to be understood by both Churches. The identity claims of the Tractarian section of the Church of England and of the Ottoman Syrian Orthodox Church are examined using this framework. The detailed content of the theological dialogue between them, is then examined, and placed in the context of the rapidly changing demography of eastern Anatolia, the Syrian Orthodox 'heartland'. The late Ottoman state was characterised by an increased instability for all its non-Muslim minorities, which contributed to the perceived threats to Ottoman Syrian Orthodoxy, both from within and without. Finally, a new teleological framework is proposed in order to better understand these exchanges, taking seriously the amamnetic insights of the narratives of identity of both the Syrian Orthodox Church and the Church of England from 1895 to 1914.
Further details and excerpts are available here in this PDF.  

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Thorns in the Flesh

While recently looking for something else, my attention was drawn to this recent publication in the "Divinations" series of the University of Pennsylvania Press, which has recently published a number of very interesting volumes I've previously commented on. This book, by Andrew Crislip, focuses extensively on Eastern realities, drawing heavily on Coptic monastic sources and other monastic texts of Eastern Christianity: Thorns in the Flesh: Illness and Sanctity in Late Ancient Christianity (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012), 248pp.

About this book we are told:
The literature of late ancient Christianity is rich both in saints who lead lives of almost Edenic health and in saints who court and endure horrifying diseases. In such narratives, health and illness might signify the sanctity of the ascetic, or invite consideration of a broader theology of illness. In Thorns in the Flesh, Andrew Crislip draws on a wide range of texts from the fourth through sixth centuries that reflect persistent and contentious attempts to make sense of the illness of the ostensibly holy. These sources include Lives of Antony, Paul, Pachomius, and others; theological treatises by Basil of Caesarea and Evagrius of Pontus; and collections of correspondence from the period such as the Letters of Barsanuphius and John.

Through close readings of these texts, Crislip shows how late ancient Christians complicated and critiqued hagiographical commonplaces and radically reinterpreted illness as a valuable mode for spiritual and ascetic practice. Illness need not point to sin or failure, he demonstrates, but might serve in itself as a potent form of spiritual practice that surpasses even the most strenuous of ascetic labors and opens up the sufferer to a more direct knowledge of the self and the divine. Crislip provides a fresh and nuanced look at the contentious and dynamic theology of illness that emerged in and around the ascetic and monastic cultures of the later Roman world.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Icons of Death

Driving home the other day, I turned off the radio in a fury when some nitwit on the local NPR station kept referring to people who recently "passed." To that insufferable recent usage, I always reply with heavy sarcasm: Passed what? wind? the off-ramp on the highway they were supposed to take? a school examination? "Passed away" was bad enough--which I never used not only because I abhor death-denying euphemisms but also because it's shoddy theology--but this "passed" business really is intolerable. People die; when they have done so, they are dead. We are--as Evelyn Waugh noted, in his own myth-busting, euphemism-mocking satire of death and funerals, The Loved One--parched for this kind of straight-talk today, stranded in a desert of denial and obfuscation. The inability or unwillingness to speak candidly about death serves nobody well.

Released this month is a Kindle version of an interesting book that reveals a very different approach to death taken by Eastern Christians, an approach that looks death in the face and avoids the cowardly dodges so many take today. Originally published in 1997 by a leading classicist and historian who is well acquainted with Byzantine iconography is Robin Cormack's Painting the Soul: Icons, Death Masks and Shrouds.

About this book we are told:
Icons are among the most elusive subjects in the history of art, but at the same time their study constitutes possibly its fastest expanding field, and with the opening-up of the former Soviet Union many new objects are being discovered, studied and exhibited. In this book, Robin Cormack considers the icon as an integral document of society and gives us new insights into the nature of Byzantine art. Painting the Soul explores both the creation and the development of the icon. After the early Christians – like the pagans before them – had come to expect their god to be visually present among them, endless questions confronted both the artist and the Church. What did Christ look like? How should Christ be represented? Should Christ be represented (as he is for example on the Turin Shroud)? Appropriately, Cormack’s study ends with Venetian Crete, where the icon underwent its final development and transformation into the art of the Renaissance. Here, established Byzantine forms of religious art confronted developing Renaissance modes of expression: the first ‘icons’ of El Greco were painted in Crete. Painting the Soul is beautifully illustrated, featuring many little-known works of art. Even so, Cormack treats the icon not as a mere artistic product, but as the symbolic face of medieval Europe. He shows how this new field within the history of art – the study of the icon – will transform our understanding of European art and culture.
As noted, Cormack is the author of Byzantine Art (Oxford UP, 2000), 256pp. as well as Icons (Harvard UP, 2007), 144pp.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The War on Christians

John Allen has long remained one of the most astute analysts of and commentators on the state of the Catholic Church today. Author of previous books such as  All the Pope's Men: The Inside Story of How the Vatican Really Thinks and The Future Church: How Ten Trends Are Revolutionizing the Catholic Church, Allen manages the by no means easy feat of offering an informed, intelligent, sympathetic "insider's" portrait of the Church while also managing to be helpfully and charitably critical where warranted. If I had heaps of money and power, I'd make religion reporters from around the world take a class or six from Allen so as to learn how, and how not, to write about the Catholic Church in an intelligent and credible way.

He has recently published a book that Eastern Christians can only welcome, focusing as it does on so many who are today under such threat across the Middle East and elsewhere: The Global War on Christians: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Anti-Christian Persecution (Image, 2013), 320pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
One of the most respected journalists in the United States and the bestselling author of The Future Church uses his unparalleled knowledge of world affairs and religious insight to investigate the troubling worldwide persecution of Christians.

From Iraq and Egypt to Sudan and Nigeria, from Indonesia to the Indian subcontinent, Christians in the early 21st century are the world's most persecuted religious group. According to the secular International Society for Human Rights, 80 percent of violations of religious freedom in the world today are directed against Christians. In effect, our era is witnessing the rise of a new generation of martyrs. Underlying the global war on Christians is the demographic reality that more than two-thirds of the world's 2.3 billion Christians now live outside the West, often as a beleaguered minority up against a hostile majority-- whether it's Islamic fundamentalism in the Middle East and parts of Africa and Asia, Hindu radicalism in India, or state-imposed atheism in China and North Korea. In Europe and North America, Christians face political and legal challenges to religious freedom. Allen exposes the deadly threats and offers investigative insight into what is and can be done to stop these atrocities.

“This book is about the most dramatic religion story of the early 21st century, yet one that most people in the West have little idea is even happening: The global war on Christians,” writes John Allen. “We’re not talking about a metaphorical ‘war on religion’ in Europe and the United States, fought on symbolic terrain such as whether it’s okay to erect a nativity set on the courthouse steps, but a rising tide of legal oppression, social harassment and direct physical violence, with Christians as its leading victims. However counter-intuitive it may seem in light of popular stereotypes of Christianity as a powerful and sometimes oppressive social force, Christians today indisputably form the most persecuted religious body on the planet, and too often its new martyrs suffer in silence.”

This book looks to shatter that silence.
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