"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).

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

In Praise of Robert Slesinski (II): The Liturgical Feasts

Continuing on in our series, begun Monday of this week, with the focus on the many books of Robert Slesinski published by Eastern Christian Publications, let us turn next to his liturgical and festal commentaries. I count at least three.

In the first place, if we start at the beginning of the civil calendar, we have The Holy Theophany: A Catechesis on the Mysteries of the Incarnation and the Holy Trinity (ECP, 2011). The publisher's description of this is brief:

This book continues the series of adult education on the feast days of the Byzantine Churches, their theology and liturgical texts. 200 pages with icons. 

Next up is the feast that all right-thinking people know closes out the Christmas season: the Encounter/Purification/Candlemas. Fr Robert has turned his hand to this great feast in The Holy Encounter: Meditations on the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple (ECP, 2008), 116pp. About this book we are told this:

This book of reflections investigates the feast of the Encounter of Christ with Simeon in the Temple, celebrated on February 2nd, from several theological perspectives.

Finally we come to my favourite feast of the year: The Holy Transfiguration: A Symphonic Presentation (ECP, 2009). 120pp. About this book the publisher tells us this:

The in-depth educational book reflects on the feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord from a scriptural perspective, comparing the Gospel accounts and writings of Luke, Matthew, Mark, John, Peter and Paul. 

Monday, September 27, 2021

In Praise of Robert Slesinski (I)

The indefatigable Jack Figel, who seems to run Eastern Christian Publications single-handedly, is owed many debts by Eastern Christians, and those others interested in the liturgical and theological works of the Christian East. I met him over a decade ago at the Orientale Lumen Conferences he has hosted for decades in Washington, DC, and again in 2019 at the last one I attended in those far-off days we now fondly recall as the Before Times. 

In any event, he recently kindly sent me a box full of all the books ECP has published by Robert Slesinski. Slesinski, for those who do not know him, is an independent scholar and pastor, and author of many works, including most recently his The Theology of Sergius Bulgakov. Most of Slesinski's work focuses on Russian philosophical and theological thought, especially in the so-called Silver Age. 

As I mentioned, he is not only a scholar but also a pastor, and combines these two roles to great effect in nearly a dozen books published from ECP over the years. As a tribute to the unsung labours of both men, I want this week to draw your attention to those books. They are, broadly, grouped into three categories: those that focus on liturgical feasts and texts; those that focus on people; and those that are "ecclesiological" in nature, examining not just the nature of the Church but the place of law and Tradition within the Church and the sacramental nature of the Church as well. 

But let us begin with his newest book, which seems in some ways to be in a category of its own, not least by its title: OMG! A Shout in the Street? A Dare to Millennials to Believe (ECP, 2011). 

Here is the publisher's blurb about the book: 

Digressing from his usual catechetical and theological works, Father Robert Slesinski targets this book on philosophy at millennials and those who might be searching to find true meaning in their lives.  Mostly marked by secularism, the author of this book, a philosopher himself as well as a Byzantine Catholic priest, strives to awaken the “inner philosopher” in all people by plumbing the depths of human interiority.  This inevitably draws the person out of his or herself, ultimately enabling the person to soar beyond themselves toward worship of the One, True God.  164 page.  Color illustrations.  $20.00.

In the coming days I will draw some attention to some of his other books, few of which are available on Amazon, so you will have to do the meet, right, and just thing by ordering them directly from ECP


Friday, September 24, 2021

Eastern Orthodox Theology and Lacanian Psychoanalysis

I was of course very excited upon espying notice of the impending publication of this new book, which unites two of my most closely held intellectual and clinical interests. So I shall be glad when my review copy shows up and I have a chance to read Lacanian Psychoanalysis and Eastern Orthodox Christian Anthropology in Dialogue by Carl Waitz  and Theresa Tisdale (Routledge, October 2021), 172pp. 

About this new book the publisher tells us this: 

This book vigorously engages Lacan with a spiritual tradition that has yet to be thoroughly addressed within psychoanalytic literature―the Eastern Orthodox Christian tradition.

The book offers a unique engagement with a faith system that highlights and extends analytic thinking. For those in formation within the Orthodox tradition, this book brings psychoanalytic insights to bear on matters of faith that may at times seem opaque or difficult to understand. Ultimately, the authors seek to elicit in the reader the reflective and contemplative posture of Orthodoxy, as well as the listening ear of analysis, while considering the human subject.

This work is relevant and important for those training in psychoanalysis and Orthodox theology or ministry, as well as for those interested in the intersection between psychoanalysis and religion.

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Arabic Christianity: Between the Ottomans and Europeans

The historical experiences of, and current realities lived by, Arabic Christians continue to fascinate me. Happily a new book further unfolds this world for us: Arabic Christianity between the Ottoman Levant and Eastern Europe, being the third volume in the series Arabic Christianity, eds. Ioana Feodorov, Bernard Heyberger, and Samuel Noble (Brill, 2021), 384pp. 

About this international scholarly collection, the publisher tells us this:

This volume sheds light on the historical background and political circumstances that encouraged the dialogue between Eastern-European Christians and Arabic-speaking Christians of the Middle East in Ottoman times, as well as the means employed in pursuing this dialogue for several centuries. The ties that connected Eastern European Christianity with Arabic-speaking Christians in the 16th-19th centuries are the focus of this book. Contributors address the Arabic-speaking hierarchs’ and scholars’ connections with patriarchs and rulers of Constantinople, the Romanian Principalities, Kyiv, and the Tsardom of Moscow, the circulation of literature, models, iconography, and knowhow between the Middle East and Eastern Europe, and research dedicated to them by Eastern European scholars. 

Monday, September 20, 2021

Eastern Orthodoxy and the Sciences

I confess I have always found utterly tedious the supposed "debate" between something unhelpfully called "religion" and something equally unrevealingly labelled "science." But I know others for whom these "debates" are very real and live things, and I respect the scholarship they bring in service of such questions. A new book continues the scholarly exploration: Eastern Orthodox Christianity and the Sciences: Theological, Philosophical, Scientific and Historical Aspects of the Dialogue, eds. C. Knight, A. Nesteruk (Brepols, 2021), 210pp. 

About this book the publisher tells us this:

Eastern Orthodox Christianity and the Sciences

 is the second volume of a series exploring  Eastern Orthodox Christian perspectives on the relationship between theology and science.

Orthodox Christian theology is based on a living tradition that is deeply rooted in Greek Patristic thought. However, few systematic proposals about how this theology can respond to questions that arise from modern science have yet appeared. This volume, consisting of eleven essays by different authors about how this response should be formulated, therefore represents a significant contribution to Orthodox thinking as well as to the broader science-theology dialogue among Christians. The variety of approaches in the essays indicates that there does not yet exist among Orthodox a consensus about the methodology that is appropriate to this dialogue or about how the questions that arise from specific scientific insights should be answered. Nevertheless, they indicate the ways in which Orthodox approaches to science differ significantly from most of those to be found among Western Christian scholars, and in this way they point to an underlying unity of perspective that is rooted in the Orthodox tradition.

We are also given the Table of Contents and its various sections:

General Aspects of the Dialogue between Orthodox Theology and Natural Sciences:

Christopher C. Knight, Tradition Seeking Understanding 

Doru Costache, One Description, Multiple Interpretations 

Sergey S. Horujy, Cosmic Liturgy, Orthodox Theology, and Integral Ecological Expertise  

Philosophical Aspects of the Dialogue between Orthodox Theology and Science:

Alexei Nesteruk, The Dialogue between Theology and Science in View of an Irreducible Ambiguity in Hermeneutics of the Subject 

Tatiana Litvin, Knowledge of God and Phenomenological Foundations of Religious Experience  

Orthodox Theology of Nature, Ecological Insights and Bioethics:

Elizabeth Theokritoff, Orthodox Theology, Ecology and Science  

Bruce Foltz, ‘The Lord Is in this Place, Yet I Did Not See It’

Gayle E. Woloschak, Reflections on Gene Editing Technology 

Historical Aspects of the Relationship between Orthodox Theology and Science: 

Adrian Lemeni, References of Father Dumitru Staniloae’s Thought in the Dialogue between Theology and Science  

Kirill Kopeikin, Contemporary Russian Orthodoxy 

Gheorghe Stratan, Orthodoxy and Future Science

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Medieval Egyptian Euchology

As part of their new series Christian Arabic Texts in Translation, Fordham University Press, early next year, is bringing out Guides to the Eucharist in Medieval Egypt: Three Arabic Commentaries on the Coptic Liturgy by Yūḥannā ibn Sabbā‘, Abū al-Barakāt ibn Kabar, and Pope Gabriel V of Alexandria, trans. Deacon Arsenius Mikhail (FUP, February 2021), 240pp. 

About this book the publisher tells us this:

The fourteenth and fifteenth centuries witnessed a rising interest in Arabic texts describing and explaining the rituals of the Coptic Church of Egypt. This book provides readers with an English translation of excerpts from three key texts on the Coptic liturgy by Abū al-Barakāt ibn Kabar, Yūh.annā ibn Sabbā‘, and Pope Gabriel V. With a scholarly introduction to the works, their authors, and the Coptic liturgy, as well as a detailed explanatory apparatus, this volume provides a useful and needed introduction to the worship tradition of Egypt’s Coptic Christians. Presented for the first time in English, these texts provide valuable points of comparison to other liturgical commentaries produced elsewhere in the medieval Christian world.

Friday, September 10, 2021

The Ottoman Empire at Sunset and its Last Wars in Europe

I hope there are archives in heaven, and books too, for I do not think I will ever have the time in my remaining years on Earth to acquire the languages necessary to immerse myself in all the works both published on, and still hidden away in the archives of, the Ottoman Empire. In the meantime, I will have to content myself with benefiting from the work of living scholars, including this new book which sounds very fascinating indeed:The Last Muslim Conquest: The Ottoman Empire and Its Wars in Europe by Gábor Ágoston  (Princeton University Press, 2021), 688pp. 

This book is, the publisher tells us, 

A monumental work of history that reveals the Ottoman dynasty's important role in the emergence of early modern Europe

The Ottomans have long been viewed as despots who conquered through sheer military might, and whose dynasty was peripheral to those of Europe. The Last Muslim Conquest transforms our understanding of the Ottoman Empire, showing how Ottoman statecraft was far more pragmatic and sophisticated than previously acknowledged, and how the Ottoman dynasty was a crucial player in the power struggles of early modern Europe.

In this panoramic and multifaceted book, Gábor Ágoston captures the grand sweep of Ottoman history, from the dynasty's stunning rise to power at the turn of the fourteenth century to the Siege of Vienna in 1683, which brought an end to Ottoman incursions into central Europe. He discusses how the Ottoman wars of conquest gave rise to the imperial rivalry with the Habsburgs, and brings vividly to life the intrigues of sultans, kings, popes, and spies. Ágoston examines the subtler methods of Ottoman conquest, such as dynastic marriages and the incorporation of conquered peoples into the Ottoman administration, and argues that while the Ottoman Empire was shaped by Turkish, Iranian, and Islamic influences, it was also an integral part of Europe and was, in many ways, a European empire.

Rich in narrative detail, The Last Muslim Conquest looks at Ottoman military capabilities, frontier management, law, diplomacy, and intelligence, offering new perspectives on the gradual shift in power between the Ottomans and their European rivals and reframing the old story of Ottoman decline.

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Sergius Bulgakov's Sophiology of Death

It is cheering to see how much fresh and increasingly widespread attention Sergius Bulgakov has gained today. In the twenty years I have been moving in Eastern Christian scholarly circles, he has gone from being moderately well-known to arguably the most discussed Orthodox theologian today. Young scholars and old alike gathered just last week in Switzerland for a major conference devoted to his thought.

One such young scholar has given us a translation of a collection of the great man's essays: Sergius Bulgakov, The Sophiology of Death: Essays on Eschatology: Personal, Political, Universal, trans. Roberto J. De La Noval (Cascade Books, 2021), 193pp. 

No less a figure than David Bentley Hart has written a foreword to this book, whose translator I am hoping to interview on this blog once my review copy of the book shows up from Cascade. About this book that same publisher tells us this: 

What will be the final destiny of the human race at God's eschatological judgment? Will all be saved, or only a few? How does Christian eschatology impact Christian political action in the here and now? And what is the destiny of each individual facing the prospect of earthly death? In these essays, Russian Orthodox theologian Sergius Bulgakov (1871-1944) brings the resources of Scripture and tradition to bear on these vital questions, arguing for the magnificent final restoration of all creatures to union with God in a universal salvation worthy of the infinite scope of Christ's redemption. Bulgakov also provides insight into how Christians can strive to bring God's kingdom to earth in anticipation of the peace and justice of the heavenly Jerusalem. The reader will also find in these pages profound theological reflections on the nature of human death and Christ's accompaniment of all humans in their dying, based on Bulgakov's own near-death experience. Together, these essays shed new light on eschatology in all its facets: personal, political, and universal.

Monday, September 6, 2021

Rape in the Bible

Growing up in Canada in the 1980s I found myself finishing high-school the same year the celebrated literary critic and biblical scholar Northrop Frye died. As someone who adored all my high-school English teachers while also having an interest in theology, I was, at their recommendation, soon checking out a couple of his books from the library. They were dense and much beyond me in some ways, but I've never forgotten his useful aphorism that the Bible is a "sprawling, tactless book." It is certainly not the kind of book your modern PR person, vaguely horrifying creatures that they are, would recommend to anyone trying to (vile phrases) "capture market share" or engage in "branding" of some new movement called "religion," least of all one that aims at being thought "respectable" to the bourgeoisie and the pious. For the Bible has rather a lot of murder, adultery, prostitution, bribery and theft alongside erotic love poetry and apocalyptic visions some overeager and uncultured psychiatrist today might diagnose as psychosis--and all that's before we get to the ostensible story about all of creation being destroyed in a flood. 

It also has horrific torture and physical abuse of innocent people along with rape and sexual violence. (Most of this is not on offer to you if your exposure to Scripture consists in listening to the delicately excised and tastefully edited bits ["pericopes"] the middle-class minders of lectionaries offer you during Sunday liturgy.) A new book, from the world's preeminent academic publisher, puts all of this horror and trauma squarely before us, where it belongs: Texts after Terror: Rape, Sexual Violence, and the Hebrew Bible by Rhiannon Graybill (Oxford UP, 2021), 248pp. 

About this book the publisher tell us this:

Texts after Terror offers an important new theory of rape and sexual violence in the Hebrew Bible. While the Bible is filled with stories of rape, scholarly approaches to sexual violence in the scriptures remain exhausted, dated, and in some cases even un-feminist, lagging far behind contemporary discourse about sexual violence and rape culture. Graybill responds to this disconnect by engaging contemporary conversations about rape culture, sexual violence, and #MeToo, arguing that rape and sexual violence - both in the Bible and in contemporary culture - are frequently fuzzy, messy, and icky, and that we need to take these features seriously. Texts after Terror offers a new framework informed by contemporary conversations about sexual violence, writings by victims and survivors, and feminist, queer, and affect theory. In addition, Graybill offers significant new readings of biblical rape stories, including Dinah (Gen. 34), Tamar (2 Sam. 13), Bathsheba (2 Sam. 11), Hagar (Gen. 16), Daughter Zion (Lam. 1-2), and the unnamed woman known as the Levite's concubine (Judges 19). Texts after Terror urges feminist biblical scholars and readers of all sorts to take seriously sexual violence and rape, while also holding space for new ways of reading these texts that go beyond terror, considering what might come after.

Friday, September 3, 2021

Almsgiving and Therapy in the Thought of Chrysostom

One of the things I learned in the early days of the pandemic last year, when so much was so unknown and we were all stuck at home doomfully ruminating, was that one of the best ways to manage my anxiety was to do something very concrete for others--take my kids for a walk, get groceries for an elderly shut-in neighbor, help pack boxes at the foodbank. If I were inclined--and I am most certainly not--towards immediately racing out to copyright this idea and market it as every other psychotherapist on the continent seems hell-bent on doing--I might call this ARCS ("Anxiety-Reducing Community Service"). Almost all such "modalities" and their jumble of acronyms are merely mercenary repackaging (dread and ugly word: "branding") of what has been obvious for centuries. 

In any event, my very minor and perhaps even banal discovery about myself not only took the focus off myself and the tendency to catastrophize, but even more important it helped serve someone else. Thus in my late 40s did I remember something I had once learned in my early 20s (when I did extensive volunteer work) but then gotten crowded out of my memory by the press of having a family and full-time job. 

In any event, my realization seems to have a long pedigree as a new book suggests. This does not really surprise me for as I've been arguing for some time in a variety of places, much that is good in modern psychotherapy was already to be found, however inchoately, in early Christian monastic practice. This seems confirmed by the recent advent of John Chrysostom: On Almsgiving and the Therapy of the Soul by Junghun Bae (Brill, 2021), 207pp. 

About this book the publisher tells us this: 

In recent years, there has been significant scholarly focus on John Chrysostom’s appropriation of ancient psychagogy, demonstrating that he was a skilled Christian physician of the soul who sought to promote the somatic and psychological health of his congregation by proposing preaching and various ascetic disciplines as medical treatments. 

In these studies, however, relatively little attention has been devoted to his use of philosophical therapy in relation to almsgiving. To address this, this book aims to take a closer look at Chrysostom’s view of almsgiving and soul therapy within the context of ancient philosophical therapy. Ancient philosophers identified passions (πάθη), desires, and distorted thought as the diseases of the soul and developed various kinds of cognitive and behavioural remedies to cure these. Adopting an interdisciplinary approach between Greco-Roman philosophy and social ethics in early Christianity, particularly in the tradition of the Greek Fathers, what follows pursues a giver-centered analysis which has largely been ignored in the previous receiver-oriented research. 

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Catholics Who Are Not Latins

On the strength of Bryn Geffert's 2009 book, Eastern Orthodox and Anglicans: Diplomacy, Theology, and the Politics of Interwar Ecumenism, which was utterly fascinating (and which I discussed briefly here), I am very much looking forward to 2022 when we will see the publication of Catholics without Rome: Old Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Anglicans, and the Reunion Negotiations of the 1870s by Bryn Geffert and LeRoy Boerneke (University of Notre Dame Press, May 2022), 544 pages with 39 b&w illustrations. No doubt this book will remind us of many important insights of 150 years ago that were then forgotten but might perhaps need, in part, to be revived today, not least by Catholics with Rome who are struggling to contain the maximalizing busybody that the modern papacy has become. 

About this book the publisher tells us this: 

Catholics without Rome examines the dawn of the modern, ecumenical age, when “Old Catholics,” unable to abide Rome’s new doctrine of papal infallibility, sought unity with other “catholics” in the Anglican and Eastern Orthodox churches.

In 1870, the First Vatican Council formally embraced and defined the dogma of papal infallibility. A small and vocal minority, comprised in large part of theologians from Germany and Switzerland, judged it uncatholic and unconscionable, and they abandoned the Roman Catholic Church, calling themselves “Old Catholics.” This study examines the Old Catholic Church’s efforts to create a new ecclesiastical structure, separate from Rome, while simultaneously seeking unity with other Christian confessions. Many who joined the Old Catholic movement had long argued for interconfessional dialogue, contemplating the possibility of uniting with Anglicans and the Eastern Orthodox. The reunion negotiations initiated by Old Catholics marked the beginning of the ecumenical age that continued well into the twentieth century. Bryn Geffert focuses on the Bonn Reunion Conferences of 1874 and 1875, including the complex run-up to those meetings and the events that transpired thereafter. Geffert masterfully situates the theological conversation in its wider historical and political context, including the religious leaders involved with the conferences such as Döllinger, Newman, Pusey, Liddell, Wordsworth, Ianyshev, Alekseev, and Bolotov, among others. The book demonstrates that the Bonn Conferences and the Old Catholic movement, though unsuccessful in their day, broke important theological ground still relevant to contemporary interchurch and ecumenical affairs. Catholics without Rome makes an original contribution to the study of ecumenism, the history of Christian doctrine, modern church history, and the political science of confessional fellowships. The book will interest students and scholars of Christian theology and history, and general readers in Anglican and Eastern Orthodox churches interested in the history of their respective confessions.

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