"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, July 29, 2022

Muslim Converts to Greek Orthodoxy

I am greatly looking forward to reading this new study which will begin filling a very considerable gap in the literature on conversion: Proselytes of a New Nation: Muslim Conversions to Orthodox Christianity in Modern Greece by Stefanos Katsikas  (Oxford UP, 2022), 248pp. About this study the publisher tells us this:

Proselytes of a New Nation analyzes questions such as: Why did many Muslims convert to Greek Orthodoxy? What did conversion mean to the converts? What were their economic, social, and professional profiles? And how did conversion affect the converts' relationships with Muslim relatives in Greece and the Ottoman Empire?

Because Sharia law and the Ottoman legal system could keep Muslim apostates--Muslims who had converted to other religions--from inheriting family property, Stefanos Katsikas examines the ways in which conversion complicated family relations and often led to legal disputes. This volume also discusses the method used by the Greek state to adjudicate legal disputes on property issues between neophytes (converts) and their Muslim relatives.

Proselytes of a New Nation maintains that religious conversion in the era of nationalism was far more consequential for the convert, their family, and their social relations. Converts received not only community attention, but also national. Depending upon the religious affiliation and nationality of an individual, they regarded neophytes as either "traitors" or "heroes." Against this sociopolitical backdrop, conversion more drastically affected the social fabric of communities than in the pre-modern era, and more often led to violence and conflict.

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

The Albanian Orthodox Church

Is it just me, or has Albania long been difficult to see as part of the Eastern Christian world? It seems about as obscure as, say, the Moldovan Orthodox are, or perhaps the Carpatho-Rusyns. In any event, two new books will remedy our ignorance or deepen our knowledge. 

The first is an affordable paperback version of a book published two years ago: The Albanian Orthodox Church by Ardit Bido (Routledge, 2022), 256pp. 

About this book the publisher offers this description:
Religion in Albania has had a complicated history, with Orthodoxy, Bektashi and Sunni Islam, Catholicism coexisting throughout much of the history of this Balkan nation. This book traces the rise of the Albanian Orthodox Church from the beginnings of Albanian nationalist movements in the late nineteenth century until the end of the Second World War and the Communist takeover. It examines the struggles of the Albanian state and Church to establish the Church’s independence from foreign influence amid a complex geopolitical interplay between Albania, neighbouring Greece and its powerful Ecumenical Patriarchate; the Italian and Yugoslav interference, and the shifting international political circumstances. The book argues that Greece’s involvement in the Albanian "ecclesiastical issue" was primarily motivated by political and territorial aspirations, as Athens sought to undermine the newly established Albanian state by controlling its Orthodox Church through pro-Greek bishops appointed by the Patriarchate. With its independence finally recognized in 1937, the Albanian Orthodox Church soon faced new challenges with the Italian, and later German, occupation of the country during the Second World War: the Church’s expansion into Kosovo, the Italian effort to place the Church under papal authority, and, the ultimate threat, the imminent victory of Communist forces.

The second is Communism, Atheism and the Orthodox Church of Albania: Cooperation, Survival and Suppression, 1945–1967 by Artan R. Hoxha  (Routledge, 2022), 252pp. 

About this book we are told:

This book examines the relations between the Albanian communist regime and the Albanian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (AAOC) from 1945, when the communists came to power, to 1967, when Albania became the only atheistic state in the world, and religion of all kinds was completely suppressed. Based on extensive archival research, the book outlines Orthodox Church life under communism and considers the regime’s strategies to control, use, and subordinate the Church. It argues against a simple state oppression versus Church resistance scenario, showing that the situation was much more complex, with neither the regime nor the Church being monolithic entities. It shows how, despite the brutality and the constant pressure of the state, the Church successfully negotiated with the communist authorities and benefited from engaging with them, and how the communist authorities used the Church as a tool of foreign policy, especially to strengthen the regime’s ties with their East European allies.

Monday, July 25, 2022

Orthodox Theology and the Politics of Transition

Since Russia invaded Ukraine, I have been moderately surprised at the level of commentary in the Western media about the role Orthodoxy plays in both countries. I suspect we will see a spate of new books on this intersection of theology, culture, and war. Indeed, we are already seeing some, as in this new book: Orthodox Christianity and the Politics of Transition by Tornike Metreveli (Routledge, 2022), 196pp. 

About this new book the publisher tells us this:

This book discusses in detail how Orthodox Christianity was involved in and influenced political transition in Ukraine, Serbia, and Georgia after the collapse of communism. Based on original research, including extensive interviews with clergy and parishioners as well as historical, legal, and policy analysis, the book argues that the nature of the involvement of churches in post-communist politics depended on whether the interests of the church (for example, in education, the legal system or economic activity) were accommodated or threatened: if accommodated, churches confined themselves to the sacred domain; if threatened, they engaged in daily politics. If churches competed with each other for organizational interests, they evoked the support of nationalism while remaining within the religious domain.

Monday, July 4, 2022

On Maximus the Confessor

I do apologize for the silence on here the last few weeks. I was busy running my annual iconography camp and that is an exhausting period in late June. As ever for those interested in such things, I always recommend Jeana Visel's book, copies of which I give to my students every year. 

But if, in my absence, you were parched for news of forthcoming Eastern Christian publications, then you may more than slake your thirst now with the imminent advent of the first book by one of the most gifted, profound, and promising theological scholars of his generation: Jordan Daniel Wood, The Whole Mystery of Christ: Creation as Incarnation in Maximus Confessor (University of Notre Dame Press, October 2022), 390pp. 

About this book the publisher tells us this:

A thoroughgoing examination of Maximus Confessor’s singular theological vision through the prism of Christ’s cosmic and historical Incarnation.

Jordan Daniel Wood changes the trajectory of patristic scholarship with this comprehensive historical and systematic study of one of the most creative and profound thinkers of the patristic era: Maximus Confessor (560–662 CE). His panoramic vantage on Maximus’s thought emulates the theological depth of Hans Urs von Balthasar’s Cosmic Liturgy while also serving as a corrective to that classic text.

Maximus's theological vision may be summed up in his enigmatic assertion that “[t]he Word of God, very God, wills always and in all things to actualize the mystery of his Incarnation.” The Whole Mystery of Christ sets out to explicate this claim. Attentive to the various contexts in which Maximus thought and wrote―including the wisdom of earlier church fathers, conciliar developments in Christological and Trinitarian doctrine, monastic and ascetic ways of life, and prominent contemporary philosophical traditions―the book explores the relations between God’s act of creation and the Word’s historical Incarnation, between the analogy of being and Christology, and between history and the Fall, in addition to treating such topics as grace, deification, theological predication, and the ontology of nature versus personhood. Perhaps uniquely among Christian thinkers, Wood argues, Maximus envisions creatio ex nihilo as creatio ex Deo in the event of the Word’s kenosis: the mystery of Christ is the revealed identity of the Word’s historical and cosmic Incarnation. This book will be of interest to scholars and students of patristics, historical theology, systematic theology, and Byzantine studies.

I have known Jordan somewhat in a personal capacity, and when the book is published in the fall, I fondly look forward to discussing it with him in an interview on here. 

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