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

Friday, May 29, 2020

Liturgical Mysticism

I have used David Fagerberg's Theologia Prima in my classes for fifteen years now. And after reading that one book, students always very enthusiastically seek out his other writings, including, more recently, Liturgical Asceticism. But he has several others worth your time, including the one discussed here in my interview with him.

At the very end of last year, his latest book was published: Liturgical Mysticism (Emmaus Academic, 2019), 200pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
Some think that liturgy is formal, public, and for ordinary people, while mysticism is uncontrollable, private, and for extraordinary saints. Is there a connection between the two? In this volume, David Fagerberg proposes that mysticism is the normal crowning of the Christian life, and the Christian life is liturgical.
We intuitively sense that liturgy and theology and mysticism have an affinity. Liturgical theology should reveal liturgy’s mystical heart. Liturgical theology asks “What happens in liturgy?” and liturgical mysticism asks “What happens to us in liturgy?”, and perfects our interior liturgy. In Liturgical Mysticism, Fagerberg directs the reader to look fixedly at Christ, who is the Mystery present in liturgy, and who bestows his resurrection power upon his adopted children.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

In the Shadow of Constantine

Interest in Byzantine history always seems to remain relatively high, and will be further fed in July with the publication of a book in the publisher's New Approaches to Byzantine History and Culture series: The Sons of Constantine, AD 337-361:In the Shadows of Constantine and Julian, eds., Nicholas Baker-Brian, and Shaun J. Tougher (Palgrave Macmillan, 2020), 466pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
This edited collection focuses on the Roman empire during the period from AD 337 to 361. During this period the empire was ruled by three brothers: Constantine II (337-340), Constans I (337-350) and Constantius II (337-361). These emperors tend to be cast into shadow by their famous father Constantine, the first Christian Roman emperor (306-337), and their famous cousin Julian, the last pagan Roman emperor (361-363). The traditional concentration on the historically renowned figures of Constantine and Julian is understandable but comes at a significant price: the neglect of the period between the death of Constantine and the reign of Julian and of the rulers who governed the empire in this period. The reigns of the sons of Constantine, especially that of the longest-lived Constantius II, mark a moment of great historical significance. As the heirs of Constantine they became the guardians of his legacy, and they oversaw the nature of the world in which Julian was to grow up. The thirteen contributors to this volume assess their influence on imperial, administrative, cultural, and religious facets of the empire in the fourth century.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Nationalism and Conservatism in Orthodox Churches

The problem of nationalism within the Christian East is so well known as to almost be something of a commonplace. But that doesn't mean the problem has gone away, or does not shape-shift as the years go by, or is unworthy of continued study and critique. A recently published collection looks at all these issues anew: S.B. Ramet, ed., Orthodox Churches and Politics in Southeastern Europe:Nationalism, Conservativism, and Intolerance (Palgrave Macmillan, 2019), 267pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:

Orthodox Churches, like most religious bodies, are inherently political: they seek to defend their core values and must engage in politics to do so, whether by promoting certain legislation or seeking to block other legislation. This volume examines the politics of Orthodox Churches in Southeastern Europe, emphasizing three key modes of resistance to the influence of (Western) liberal values: Nationalism (presenting themselves as protectors of the national being), Conservatism (defending traditional values such as the “traditional family”), and Intolerance (of both non-Orthodox faiths and sexual minorities). The chapters in this volume present case studies of all the Orthodox Churches of the region.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Daniel Galadza, Robert Taft, and the History of Communion Spoons

I should hope you count no savages among your so-called friends who might utter such horrifying phrases as "Byzantine liturgical history is of no use in the 21st-century." If they do say such things, send them here for some remedial therapy at the hands of a young practitioner who has already proven himself a worthy successor to the late Robert Taft. I refer, of course, and not without some bias, to Daniel Galadza, author of Liturgy and Byzantinization in Jerusalem. I interviewed him here about that book.

Daniel quotes in there one of the most valuable of many quotable lines from Taft: history is instructive, but not normative. Each generation of the Church remains free to determine events and affairs for itself. It is not "traditional" simply to copy what some past practice was without consideration of what has changed, of what is different now. We were all given minds by God to use in our own time and by our own lights, guided, to be sure, by the past, but never its prisoner.

If you wish a powerful but short explanation of why this is so, then you would do well to track down a copy of Hans Urs von Balthasar, either in his 1939 essay "The Fathers, the Scholastics, and Ourselves" or, perhaps more readily to hand, the very eloquent introduction to Presence and Thought: An Essay on the Religious Philosophy of Gregory of Nyssa.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Athanasius of Alexandria

Lois Farag, whose scholarship on Coptic Christianity I have previously noted on here, has turned her hand to the most prominent of the prelates ever to occupy Egypt, and one of the theological giants of that crowded and eventful fourth century: Lois Farag, Athanasius of Alexandria (Cascade, 2020), 188pp.

About this new book we are told this by the publisher:
Athanasius of Alexandria, a famous theologian and historical figure, is quoted by many but known by few. His famous dictum, "For he became human that we might be made god (theopoiēthōmen)" is explained within the context of his theology and spirituality. The Introduction familiarizes the reader with Athanasius's writings and the historical context of his theology. The reader will engage with the Athanasian language and thought that shaped the Christian understanding of the Trinity. The reader also takes a journey through Athanasius's understanding of the human person, created in the image of God and living the life of renewal. The Introduction aims to guide the reader to a Christian theologian who had the courage to oppose emperors and bishops, and to endure exiles and other threats because of his unwavering theological convictions.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Catching up with the Armenians

If you read my first book on the papacy, or my book last year on the sex abuse crisis in the Catholic Church, then you will know (with more detail than you could possibly want!) just how deep my admiration and love for the Armenian Church is. I focus primarily on their utterly unique ecclesial structures, but there is so much to admire in their forbearance in the face of a singular history of suffering and genocide, in their liturgical and theological traditions and, perhaps mundanely, in their hospitality and food which I have been very graced to receive on several occasions.

2020 is promising to be a banner year for further scholarly studies about the Armenian Church. We started off in January with Monastic Life in the Armenian Church: Glorious Past - Ecumenical Reconsideration edited by Jasmine Dum-Tragut and Dietmar W. Winkler (Lit Verlag, 2020), 224pp.

About this book the publisher tells us the following:

Monasticism is a vital feature of Christian spiritual life and has its origins in the Oriens Christianus. The present volume contains studies on Armenian Monasticism from various perspectives. The task is not only to produce historical studies. The aim is also to contribute to and reflect on monasticism today. Authors come from the Armenian Apostolic Catholicosate of Ejmiacin, the Holy See of Cilicia, the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem, and the  Armenian-Catholic Church, as well as from the Benedictine and  Franciscan Orders of the Catholic Church. The experts reflected on the glorious past of Armenian monasticism and agreed to evaluate future challenges ecumenically to give more insight into both past and present Armenian monasticism.

In early June, Stanford University Press is bringing out Brokers of Faith, Brokers of Empire: Armenians and the Politics of Reform in the Ottoman Empire by Richard E. Antaramian (SUP, 2020), 224pp.

About this book the publisher offers us this précis:
The Ottoman Empire enforced imperial rule through its management of diversity. For centuries, non-Muslim religious institutions, such as the Armenian Church, were charged with guaranteeing their flocks' loyalty to the sultan. Rather than being passive subjects, Armenian elites, both the clergy and laity, strategically wove the institutions of the Armenian Church, and thus the Armenian community itself, into the fabric of imperial society. In so doing, Armenian elites became powerful brokers between factions in Ottoman politics—until the politics of nineteenth-century reform changed these relationships. In Brokers of Faith, Brokers of Empire, Richard E. Antaramian presents a revisionist account of Ottoman reform, relating the contention within the Armenian community to broader imperial politics. Reform afforded Armenians the opportunity to recast themselves as partners of the state, rather than as brokers among factions. And in the course of pursuing such programs, they transformed the community's role in imperial society. As the Ottoman reform program changed how religious difference could be employed in a Muslim empire, Armenian clergymen found themselves enmeshed in high-stakes political and social contests that would have deadly consequences.
Finally in mid-July we will have the publication of Russia's Entangled Embrace: The Tsarist Empire and the Armenians, 1801-1914 by Stephen Badalyan Riegg (Cornell University Press, 2020), 328pp.

About this book the publisher provides this blurb:
Russia's Entangled Embrace traces the relationship between the Romanov state and the Armenian diaspora that populated Russia's territorial fringes and navigated the tsarist empire's metropolitan centers.
By engaging the ongoing debates about imperial structures that were simultaneously symbiotic and hierarchically ordered, Stephen Badalyan Riegg helps us to understand how, for Armenians and some other subjects, imperial rule represented not hypothetical, clear-cut alternatives but simultaneous, messy realities. He examines why, and how, Russian architects of empire imagined Armenians as being politically desirable. These circumstances included the familiarity of their faith, perceived degree of social, political, or cultural integration, and their actual or potential contributions to the state's varied priorities.
Based on extensive research in the archives of St. Petersburg, Moscow, and Yerevan, Russia's Entangled Embrace reveals that the Russian government relied on Armenians to build its empire in the Caucasus and beyond. Analyzing the complexities of this imperial relationship―beyond the reductive question of whether Russia was a friend or foe to Armenians―allows us to study the methods of tsarist imperialism in the context of diasporic distribution, interimperial conflict and alliance, nationalism, and religious and economic identity.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Byzantine Liturgical Emotions

It seems to me that it may have been Susan Ashbrook Harvey's 2006 book Scenting Salvation: Ancient Christianity and the Olfactory Imagination that started this century's ongoing interest in the role of the senses, the corporeal, and the emotional within Eastern Christian studies. Along comes a new book expanding this ever-growing picture for us of embodied life in the Christian, especially Byzantine, East: Andrew Mellas, Liturgy and the Emotions in Byzantium: Compunction and Hymnody (Cambridge University Press, Aug. 2020), 222pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
This book explores the liturgical experience of emotions in Byzantium through the hymns of Romanos the Melodist, Andrew of Crete and Kassia. It reimagines the performance of their hymns during Great Lent and Holy Week in Constantinople. In doing so, it understands compunction as a liturgical emotion, intertwined with paradisal nostalgia, a desire for repentance and a wellspring of tears. For the faithful, liturgical emotions were embodied experiences that were enacted through sacred song and mystagogy. The three hymnographers chosen for this study span a period of nearly four centuries and had an important connection to Constantinople, which forms the topographical and liturgical nexus of the study. Their work also covers three distinct genres of hymnography: kontakion, kanon and sticheron idiomelon. Through these lenses of period, place and genre this study examines the affective performativity hymns and the Byzantine experience of compunction.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Old Believers and the Search for Unity

Having very recently drawn attention to a new book about the Old Believers, I am pleased to see they and their plight are getting more attention this year, in a book set for release this autumn: James White, Unity in Faith?: Edinoverie, Russian Orthodoxy, and Old Belief, 1800–1918 (Indiana University Press, Nov. 2020), 282pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
Established in 1800, edinoverie (translated as "unity in faith") was intended to draw back those who had broken with the Russian Orthodox Church over ritual reforms in the 17th century. Called Old Believers, they had been persecuted as heretics. In time, the Russian state began tolerating Old Believers in order to lure them out of hiding and make use of their financial resources as a means of controlling and developing Russia's vast and heterogeneous empire. However, the Russian Empire was also an Orthodox state, and conversion from Orthodoxy constituted a criminal act. So, which was better for ensuring the stability of the Russian Empire: managing heterogeneity through religious toleration, or enforcing homogeneity through missionary campaigns? Edinoverie remained contested and controversial throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, as it was distrusted by both the Orthodox Church and the Old Believers themselves. The state reinforced this ambivalence, using edinoverie as a means by which to monitor Old Believer communities and employing it as a carrot to the stick of prison, exile, and the deprivation of rights. In Unity in Faith?, James White's study of edinoverie offers an unparalleled perspective of the complex triangular relationship between the state, the Orthodox Church, and religious minorities in imperial Russia.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Doukhobors in Canada

Growing up in Canada in the 1980s, I well recall several history classes in which we discussed the arrival of various immigrant groups, the treatment (shameful, even today) of First Nations, and the presence of certain distinct religious minorities, including the Doukhobors, who are featured in a newly translated work: The Chronicles of Spirit Wrestlers' Immigration to Canada: God is not in Might, but in Truth, ed. and trans. Veronika Makarova with Larry A. Ewashen (Palgrave Macmillan, 2019), 304pp + illustrations.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
This book describes the history in late 19th-century Russia and immigration to Canada of an ethnic and religious group known as Doukhobors, or Spirit Wrestlers. The book is a translation into English of the Russian original authored by Grigoriǐ Verigin, published in 1935. The book’s narrative starts with the consolidation of Doukhobor beliefs inspired by the most famous Doukhobor leader, Pëtr Verigin. It describes the arrival of Doukhobors in Canada, their agricultural and industrial accomplishments in Saskatchewan and British Columbia, and the clashes and misunderstandings between Doukhobors and the Canadian government. The narrative closes in 1924, with the scenes of Pëtr Verigin’s death in a yet unresolved railway car bombing, and of his funeral. The author emphasizes the most crucial component of Doukhobor beliefs: their pacifism and unequivocal rejection of wars and military conflicts. The book highlights other aspects of Doukhobor beliefs as well, including global community, brotherhood and equality of all the people on earth, kind treatment of animals, vegetarianism, as well as abstinence from alcohol and tobacco. It also calls for social justice, tolerance, and diversity.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

New Blog

Readers may or may not be relieved to know that I have started a second blog, reflecting a new phase in my life: Books in Psychotherapy, Psychoanalysis, and Counselling. I will therefore be posting books in those categories almost exclusively on the new blog, and thus far less frequently than I have in the past few years on this blog, whose focus on Eastern Christianity will remain. I will from time to time cross-list posts that I think readers of both blogs may wish to read if you are not in the habit of checking both.

Friday, May 8, 2020

A History of Muslim-Christian Relations

The original of this book is now twenty years old, and I read it many years ago now, finding it profitable in places. I shall be keen to see what is updated in this second edition of Hugh Goddard, A History of Christian-Muslim Relations (Edinburgh University Press, 2020), 256pp.

The publisher gives us this short description of the book:
Christians and Muslims comprise the world's two largest religious communities. This book looks at the history of their relationship - part peaceful co-existence and part violent confrontation - from their first encounters in the medieval period up to the present. It emphasises the theological, cultural and political context in which perceptions and attitudes have developed and gives a depth of historical insight to the complex current Christian-Muslim interactions across the globe.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Ps-Denys and Christian Visual Culture

Recently released is a book that treats one of the most mysterious and debated figures of Christian antiquity in the context of ante-iconoclastic history: Pseudo-Dionysius and Christian Visual Culture, c.500–900eds. Dell’Acqua, Francesca, Mainoldi, Ernesto Sergio (Palgrave Macmillan, 2019), xxix+329pp; 8 b/w illustrations, 25 illustrations in colour.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
This book uses Pseudo-Dionysius and his mystic theology to explore attitudes and beliefs about images in the early medieval West and Byzantium. Composed in the early sixth century, the Corpus Dionysiacum, the collection of texts transmitted under the name of Dionysius the Areopagite, developed a number of themes which have a predominantly visual and spatial dimension.  Pseudo-Dionysius’ contribution to the development of Christian visual culture, visual thinking and figural art-making are examined in this book to systematically investigate his long-lasting legacy and influence. The contributors embrace religious studies, philosophy, theology, art, and architectural history, to consider the depth of the interaction between the Corpus Dionysiacum and various aspects of contemporary Byzantine and western cultures, including ecclesiastical and lay power, politics, religion, and art.

Monday, May 4, 2020

Bulgakov on the Apocalypse of John

The Aschendorff Verlag of Münster sent me their new catalogue a few weeks ago and in it I note their  very recent publication of The Apocalypse of John: An Essay in Dogmatic Interpretation by the great Russian theologian Sergius Bulgakov (2019), xiii+392pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
The Russian Orthodox theologian Fr. Sergii Bulgakov's final work, The Apocalypse of John, is more than an epilogue to his major systematic trilogy, On God-humanity. Published posthumously in 1948, this commentary on the final book of the New Testament can be considered the conclusion of his work as a whole. Written "in the face of the very apocalypse of life" during the Second World War, Bulgakov's commentary is not focused on trepidation before final judgement, but reflects deeply on the possibility of hope in the midst of the tragedy of human history, and joy at the prospects of God's final triumph, the transfiguration of creation: it is 'the divine story of the victory of the Lamb'.

Friday, May 1, 2020

Orthodoxy and Contemporary Thought

The relationship between philosophy and theology has been endlessly debated in Western terms, somewhat less so in Eastern ones. A new collection will right that balance at least a little bit. Some prominent names, including that of David Bentley Hart, are found in this recent collection edited by Christoph Schneider: Theology and Philosophy in Eastern Orthodoxy: Essays on Orthodox Christianity and Contemporary Thought (Pickwick, 2019), 196pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
Even in the twenty-first century, critical and creative engagement with modern and postmodern philosophy is still a rarity in Orthodox circles. This collection of essays makes a contribution to overcoming this deficit. Eight scholars from six different countries, working on the intersection between Orthodox thought and philosophy, present their research in short and accessible essays. The range of topics spans from political philosophy to phenomenology, metaphysics, philosophy of self, logic, ethics, and philosophy of language. This book does not promote one particular approach to the relationship between Orthodox theology and philosophy. Yet all authors demonstrate that Orthodox scholarship is not confined to historical research about the Byzantine era, but that it can contribute to, and enrich, contemporary intellectual debates.
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