"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).

Monday, November 30, 2020

Orthodox Identity in Western Europe

I'm happy to be able to report that I've made contact with the author of this just-released book, and so you will soon be able to hear directly from Sebastian Rimestad about his new book, Orthodox Christian Identity in Western Europe: Contesting Religious Authority (Routledge, 2020), 370pp. I hope to interview him in the coming weeks and will report that here. In the meantime, the publisher tells us this about the book: 

This book analyses the discourses of Orthodox Christianity in Western Europe to demonstrate the emerging discrepancies between the mother Church in the East and its newer Western congregations. Showing the genesis and development of these discourses over the twentieth century, it examines the challenges the Orthodox Church is facing in the modern world.

Organised along four different discursive fields, the book uses these fields to analyse the Orthodox Church in Western Europe during the twentieth century. It explores pastoral, ecclesiological, institutional and ecumenical discourses in order to present a holistic view of how the Church views itself and how it seeks to interact with other denominations. Taken together, these four fields reveal a discursive vitality outside of the traditionally Orthodox societies that is, however, only partly reabsorbed by the church hierarchs in core Orthodox regions, like Southeast Europe and Russia.

The Orthodox Church is a complex and multi-faceted global reality. Therefore, this book will be a vital guide to scholars studying the Orthodox Church, ecumenism and religion in Europe, as well as those working in religious studies, sociology of religion, and theology more generally.

Friday, November 27, 2020

God, Tsar, and People: The Political Culture of Early Modern Russia

I went through a monarchist phase in my youth, and still have something of a soft spot for various royalist and monarchist movements and histories. Though related to them by inter-marriage, the Romanov monarchs of Russia seem to have singularly and tragically lacked the ruthlessly pragmatic streak that their Windsor cousins used to survive the Great War and down to the present day. Nevertheless, there was a great deal of change and upheaval in Russia before this period, some of it told in this new book: Daniel B. Rowland, God, Tsar, and People: The Political Culture of Early Modern Russia (Northern Illinois University Press, 2020), 420pp. 

About this book the publisher tells us this:

God, Tsar, and People brings together in one volume essays written over a period of fifty years, using a wide variety of evidence―texts, icons, architecture, and ritual―to reveal how early modern Russians (1450–1700) imagined their rapidly changing political world.

This volume presents a more nuanced picture of Russian political thought during the two centuries before Peter the Great came to power than is typically available. The state was expanding at a dizzying rate, and atop Russia's traditional political structure sat a ruler who supposedly reflected God's will. The problem facing Russians was that actual rulers seldom―or never―exhibited the required perfection. Daniel Rowland argues that this contradictory set of ideas was far less autocratic in both theory and practice than modern stereotypes would have us believe. In comparing and contrasting Russian history with that of Western European states, Rowland is also questioning the notion that Russia has always been, and always viewed itself as, an authoritarian country. God, Tsar, and People explores how the Russian state in this period kept its vast lands and diverse subjects united in a common view of a Christian polity, defending its long frontier against powerful enemies from the East and from the West.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Christianity in Soviet Armenia

Readers of my two books will be aware of how deeply I esteem the Armenian Church for many reasons, and how fascinated I remain by her history. A new book gives us glimpses into one particularly difficult period of that history: Soviet captivity. I look forward to reading Jakub Osiecki, The Armenian Church in Soviet Armenia: The Policies of the Armenian Bolsheviks and the Armenian Church, 1920-1932, trans. Artur Zwolski (Peter Lang, 2020), 272pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:

This book presents the results of comprehensive study on the history of Soviet Armenia and the Armenian Church in the years 1920-32. Through documents uncovered in the Communist Party Archive in Yerevan and the Georgian Historical Archive, press antireligious propaganda, oral testimonies, and biographical interviews conducted by the author, The Armenian Church in Soviet Armenia expands the discussion on the history of the Armenian Church in the 20th century, especially regarding the relations between the spiritual leaders of the Armenian Church and the Bolsheviks. In accordance with stipulations laid out by the Central Committee in consultation with the GPU, Khoren Muradbekian was elected as the Catholicos of All Armenians. His election was the principal reason behind the schism inside the Church– which, especially in the Armenian diaspora, divided not only clergy, but laymen themselves. These divisions, even after hundred years, are still vivid in Armenian society.

Monday, November 23, 2020

Schmemann and Florovsky's Correspondence

I just got the new (and very thick!) catalogue of St. Vladimir's Seminary Press in the mail. There are, as you can imagine, all sorts of gems in it, but the first that leapt out concerns two pivotal figures I first read and studied in one of my doctoral classes almost 20 years ago now: Alexander Schmemann and Georges Florovsky. Both are towering figures of 20th-century Orthodoxy, and both are always fascinating to read. 

Both men entered into a post-war correspondence that has just been published under the translation of Paul Gavrilyuk (whose previous superlative study of Florovsky I discussed in detail here): On Christian Leadership: the Letters of Alexander Schmemann and Georges Florovsky (1947-1955) (New York: SVS Press, 2020), 416pp.

I am a great reader of and believer in the value of letters, diaries, and journals and the utility of all of them to scholarship. So I shall greatly look forward to reading this new collection, about which the publisher tells us this:

Fr Georges Florovsky (1893-1979) and Fr Alexander Schmemann (1921-1983) profoundly shaped twentieth-century Orthodox theology. Their correspondence, edited and translated for the first time, provides a unique window into their theological visions, leadership styles, and interactions with their contemporaries. Most of the letters were written when Florovsky had recently moved to the US to lead and organize the fledgling St Vladimir s Orthodox Theological Seminary in New York, while Schmemann was still teaching at the St Sergius Orthodox Theological Institute in Paris. The correspondence also reveals the circumstances of Schmemann s move to the US at the request of Florovsky, and offers glimpses into their subsequent collaboration at St Vladimir s Seminary until their tragic rift in 1955. Reminiscent of the style of Schmemann s Journals, the letters lay out the challenges of leadership with brutal honesty and good humor, bearing an eloquent testimony to their authors dedication to launching a new era of seminary education.

Friday, November 20, 2020


I just finished teaching my re-designed ecclesiology class this semester. We made good use of my 2019 book, Everything Hidden Shall Be Revealed: Ridding the Church of Abuses of Sex and Power for one unit. Our major text was the Oxford Handbook of Ecclesiology

Speaking of handbooks, I see that T&T Clark has one just released a few weeks ago: T&T Clark Handbook of Ecclesiology, eds. Kimlyn J. Bender  and D. Stephen Long (2020, 504pp.). About this new book the publisher tells us this:

Divided into 3 parts, this handbook provides a wide-ranging survey and analysis of the Christian Church. The first section addresses the scriptural foundations of ecclesiology; the second section outlines the historical and confessional aspects of the topic; and the final part discusses a variety of contemporary and topical themes in ecclesiology.

Compiled and written by leading scholars in the field, the T&T Clark Handbook of Ecclesiology covers a range of key topics in the context of their development and importance in each stream of historic Christianity and the confessional traditions. The contributors cover traditional matters such as creedal notes, but also tackle questions of ordination, orders of ministry, and sacraments. This handbook is extensive enough to provide a true overview of the field, but the essays are also concise enough to be read as reference selections.

I note that one of the major Orthodox contributors to this new handbook is my friend Will Cohen, whose own work in ecclesiology and ecumenism is an important contribution about which I interviewed him here

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Demons, Psychology, and Chrysostom

The lunatic fringe in both Catholicism and whatever this thing called American evangelicalism is, have both been active in the last few days, flinging around in absurd and irresponsible manner the language of both angels and demons in a desperate and risible attempt to claim that the removal of the manifestly worst president in American history was somehow the result of supernatural forces which they claimed to "rebuke" and "exorcise." 

No real churchman of any intelligence or seriousness would go within a thousand miles of such antics, including John Chrysostom, subject of a new study: Samantha L. Miller, Chrysostom's Devil: Demons, the Will, and Virtue in Patristic Soteriology (IVP Academic, 2020), 216pp. About this new book the publisher tells us this: 

For many Christians today, the notion that demons should play a role in our faith―or that they even exist―may seem dubious. But that was certainly not the case for John Chrysostom, the "golden-tongued" early church preacher and theologian who became the bishop of Constantinople near the end of the fourth century. Indeed, references to demons and the devil permeate his rhetoric. But to what end? In this volume in IVP Academic's New Explorations in Theology series, Samantha Miller examines Chrysostom's theology and world, both of which were imbued with discussions about demons. For Chrysostom, she contends, such references were employed in order to encourage Christians to be virtuous, to prepare them for the struggle of the Christian life, and ultimately to enable them to exercise their will as they worked out their salvation. Understanding the role of demons in Chrysostom's soteriology gives us insight into what it means to be human and what it means to follow Christ in a world fraught with temptation and danger. In that regard, Chrysostom's golden words continue to demonstrate relevance to Christians in today's world.

Monday, November 16, 2020

Understanding World Christianity: Russia

Fortress Press recently sent me their catalogue of new and forthcoming publications, and in it I spied a book co-authored by a widely respected scholar I have heard at conferences over the years: Understanding World Christianity: Russia by Alexander S. Agadjanian and Scott M. Kenworthy (Fortress, 2021), 160pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:

Christianity is a global religion. It's a fact that is too often missed or ignored in many books and conversations. In a world where Christianity is growing everywhere but in the West, the Understanding World Christianity series offers a fresh, readable orientation to Christianity around the world. Understanding World Christianity is organized geographically, by nation and region. Noted experts, in most cases native to the area of focus, present a balanced history of Christianity and a detailed discussion of the faith as it is lived today. Each volume addresses six key "intersections" of Christianity in a given context, including the historical, denominational, sociopolitical, geographical, biographical, and theological settings. Understanding World Christianity: Russia offers a compelling glimpse into the vibrant and complex picture of Christianity in the Russian context. It's an ideal introduction for students, mission leaders, and any others who wish to know how Christianity influences, and is influenced by, the Russian context.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Sex Abuse and Episcopal and Papal Cover-Up: What to Do?

As a Canadian (as well, of course, as a man of heroic modesty and saintly humility) I am constitutionally averse to promoting my own work, but if there is any moment where it might be helpful to people, now is it. 

The McCarrick report came out of Rome this week. I have been interviewed about it already and asked to write about it. The first article came out this morning in the Catholic Herald. More will follow, there and likely elsewhere. 

The question I have already been asked by editors is this: what can be done about the catastrophically broken system of governance and episcopal appointment in the Church? 

My answers are the same as those I began giving more than a decade ago: the closed system of papal appointment and promotion must be destroyed. Not tinkered with, moderately reformed, mildly changed, slightly altered: destroyed. Blown up. Annihilated. Cremated, and its ashes fired out of a space cannon to the dark side of Saturn or Jupiter.  

That system, people must come to learn, is a total novelty anyway, scarcely a century old. The idea that it is some longstanding part of sacred and holy Tradition is a pernicious fantasy that must itself now die. Only with the 1917 code of canon law is the claim--the novel and wicked claim--made that the pope of Rome has the right to appoint all the world's bishops. That claim is so staggering, so modernist, so untraditional, so without theological justification, that the eminent historian Eamon Duffy has rightly called it a coup d'Eglise. 

What must also die is the even worse fantasy that the current system is somehow required by the claims of Vatican I (repeated verbatim at Vatican II) that "universal jurisdiction" of the pope of Rome requires him to appoint bishops universally. That is nonsense, and the easiest proof of that is the existence of the Eastern Catholic Churches, most of whose bishops are not in fact appointed by the pope but elected by their own synods. So the current system is neither required nor any longer defensible. Indeed, it is a millstone around the neck of the Church: either we kill it or it will continue to kill us all. 

What might or should replace it? Synodal election is the best system to my mind. I argued this out in some detail in my Everything Hidden Shall Be Revealed: Ridding the Church of Abuses of Sex and Power, published early last year. Have a look and let me know if you can think of a better way forward. 

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

On Receiving--or Not--the Great Schoolman Thomas Aquinas

One of the most fascinating books I read in the last decade was and remains Marcus Plested's Orthodox Readings of Aquinas, about which I interviewed him on this blog. It must surely be counted as a key piece of scholarship in dismantling the bogus and tendentious tales told by Orthodox apologists about the Big Bad Schoolmen, and in that way serving as "ecumenical scholarship" of the most precious sort. 

Plested now teams up with the indefatigable Matthew Levering to bring us, early next year, The Oxford Handbook of the Reception of Aquinas. The book contains several chapters on Eastern, Byzantine, and Orthodox responses to Aquinas in a variety of different historical contexts--along with many other riches. About this book the publisher further tells us this: 

The Oxford Handbook of the Reception of Aquinas provides a comprehensive survey of Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant philosophical and theological reception of Thomas Aquinas over the past 750 years.This Handbook will serve as a necessary primer for everyone who wishes to study Aquinas's thought and/or the history of theology and philosophy since Aquinas's day. Part I considers the late-medieval receptions of Aquinas among Catholics and Orthodox. Part II examines sixteenth-century Western receptions of Aquinas (Protestant and Catholic), followed by a chapter on sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Orthodox reception. Part III discusses seventeenth-century Protestant and Catholic receptions, and Part IV surveys eighteenth- and nineteenth-century receptions (Protestant, Orthodox, and Catholic). Part V focuses on the twentieth century and takes into account the diversity of theological movements in the past century as well as extensive philosophical treatment. The final section unpicks contemporary systematic approaches to Aquinas, covering the main philosophical and theological themes for which he is best known. With chapters written by a wide range of experts in their respective fields, this volume provides a valuable touchstone regarding the developments that have marked the past seven centuries of Christian theology.

Monday, November 9, 2020

Cold War Mary: Ideologies, Politics, and Marian Devotional Culture

I confess that I have long found the myth of Fatima among Catholics to be impossible to take seriously for reasons I have written about on here and elsewhere. It is so clearly a species of illusion in the strict Freudian sense (that is, as an infantile wish-fulfilment) that I am surprised the great man of Vienna did not feel moved to use it as Exhibit A for his Future of an IllusionAny idea that the Mother of God talks in the hectoring and quasi-narcissistic fashion she is reported to have in 1917 is as impossible to believe as is the idea that her "message" had nothing to do with "Red scares" of the time, a thesis I expect to receive some attention when a new book is published next year: Cold War Mary: Ideologies, Politics, and Marian Devotional Culture (Leuven University Press, 2021), 432pp. 

About this forthcoming collection, the publisher gives us these details: 

One hardly known but fascinating aspect of the Cold War was the use of the holy Virgin Mary as a warrior against atheist ideologies. After the Second World War, there was a remarkable rise in the West of religiously inflected rhetoric against what was characterised as "godless communism". The leaders of the Roman Catholic Church not only urged their followers to resist socialism, but along with many prominent Catholic laity and activist movements they marshaled the support of Catholics into a spiritual holy war. In this book renowned experts address a variety of grassroots and Church initiatives related to Marian politics, the hausse of Marian apparitions during the Cold War period, and the present-day revival of Marian devotional culture. By identifying and analysing the militant side of Mary in the Cold War context on a global scale for the first time, Cold War Mary will attract readers interested in religious history, history of the Cold War, and twentieth-century international history.

Contributors: Michael Agnew (McMaster University), Marina Sanahuja Beltran (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona), William A. Christian, Jr. (Independent, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria), Deirdre de la Cruz (University of Michigan), Agnieszka Halemba (University of Warsaw), Thomas Kselman (University of Notre Dame), Peter Jan Margry (University of Amsterdam / Meertens Institute), Katharine Massam (University of Divinity, Melbourne), David Morgan (Duke University), Konrad Siekierski (King's College London), Tine van Osselaer (University of Antwerp), Robert Ventresca (Western University Canada), Daniel Wojcik (University of Oregon) and Sandra L. Zimdars-Swartz (University of Kansas)

Friday, November 6, 2020

Russian Conservatism

It is striking but not surprising that we have both president and patriarch pictured on the cover of a book that was published in 2019 in hardcover, and in the spring of next year will come out in paperback: Paul Robinson, Russian Conservatism (Northern Illinois University Press, 2019/2021), 300pp. 

About this book the publisher tells us this: 

Russian Conservatism examines the history of Russian conservative thought from the beginning of the nineteenth century to the present. As Paul Robinson shows, conservatism has made an underappreciated contribution to Russian national identity, to the ideology of Russian statehood, and to Russia's social-economic development. Robinson charts the contributions made by philosophers, politicians, and others during the Imperial, Soviet, and post-Soviet periods. Looking at cultural, political, and social-economic conservatism in Russia, he discusses ideas and issues of more than historical interest. Indeed, what Russian Conservatism demonstrates is that such ideas are helpful in interpreting Russia's present as well as its past and will be influential in shaping Russia's future, for better or for worse, in the years to come.

Through Robinson's research we can now understand how Russian conservatives have continually proposed forms of cultural, political, and economic development seen as building on existing traditions, identity, forms of government, and economic and social life, rather than being imposed on the basis of abstract theory and foreign models.

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Invisible Weapons: Liturgy and the Making of Crusade Ideology

I have often commented on here and elsewhere over the last five years or so how fascinating and relentless is the retelling of Crusades history in our time. I am hard-pressed to think of other areas where the historiography is so controverted so regularly if not continuously. Adding to what we know of this period is a hardcover version of a book that came out in 2017 but the paperback will appear in 2021: M. Cecilia Gaposchkin, Invisible Weapons: Liturgy and the Making of Crusade Ideology (Cornell University Press, April 2021), 376pp. 

About this book the publisher tells us this: 

Throughout the history of the Crusades, liturgical prayer, masses, and alms were all marshaled in the fight against the Muslim armies. Invisible Weapons is about the prayers and liturgical rituals that were part of the battle for the faith. M. Cecilia Gaposchkin tells the story of the greatest collective religious undertaking of the Middle Ages, putting front and center the ways in which Latin Christians communicated their ideas and aspirations for crusade to God through liturgy, how liturgy was deployed in crusading, and how liturgy absorbed ideals or priorities of crusading. By connecting medieval liturgical books with the larger narrative of crusading, Gaposchkin allows us to understand a crucial facet in the culture of holy war.

Monday, November 2, 2020

Women of the Soviet Catacombs

Early next year, will see the publication in English translation of Women of the Catacombs: Memoirs of the Underground Orthodox Church in Stalin's Russia, trans. W.L. Daniel, with an introduction by the late Aleksandr Men (Northern Illinois University Press, March 2021), 252pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:

The memoirs presented in Women of the Catacombs offer a rare close-up account of the underground Orthodox community and its priests during some of the most difficult years in Russian history. The catacomb church in the Soviet Union came into existence in the 1920s and played a significant part in Russian national life for nearly fifty years. Adherents to the Orthodox faith often referred to the catacomb church as the "light shining in the dark." Women of the Catacombs provides a first-hand portrait of lived religion in its social, familial, and cultural setting during this tragic period.

Until now, scholars have had only brief, scattered fragments of information about Russia's illegal church organization that claimed to protect the purity of the Orthodox tradition. Vera Iakovlevna Vasilevskaia and Elena Semenovna Men, who joined the church as young women, offer evidence on how Russian Orthodoxy remained a viable, alternative presence in Soviet society, when all political, educational, and cultural institutions attempted to indoctrinate Soviet citizens with an atheistic perspective. Wallace L. Daniel's translation not only sheds light on Russia's religious and political history, but also shows how two educated women maintained their personal integrity in times when prevailing political and social headwinds moved in an opposite direction.

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