Posts Tagged 'book reviews'

Review Essay: The Oecumenical Patriarchate in the Orthodox Church

maxresdefaultA couple of years ago, I contributed this piece to the sadly-now-defunct Red Egg Review. It seems quite relevant now, so I repost it in full here.

I find it curious that, amidst a series of heavier news reports of import to Orthodox Christians being covered in American media, such as the conflict between Ukraine and Russia and the civil war in Syria, the recent synaxis of the Orthodox primates at the Ecumenical Patriarchate made the Huffington Post via a Reuters story (although somebody at the HuffPo concocted an ill-informed headline on the piece, announcing that the synaxis had planned a new “ecumenical council” for 2016, and I’m not the only one who noticed this).  As can be typical, the writers of the piece seemed to stumble a bit when it came to explaining the role of the Ecumenical Patriarch; +Bartholomew is “the spiritual leader” of the Orthodox, the “senior-most Orthodox leader” who has a “prestige” position but a “tiny” church, with “no authority over other churches” and “none of the resources the large Russian church enjoys”.

The Ecumenical Patriarch is often a lightning rod for confusion and criticism by Anglophones, Orthodox and non-Orthodox alike. Not only is the American media not certain in what box to put him, but online chatter about the Patriarchate among American Orthodox converts is often sharply negative. He is critiqued for his support of environmental concerns and framing of them as a matter of Christian stewardship, for his willingness to interact with the Pope, for what the critics portray as a penchant for consolidating his own power, for a willingness to embrace political expediency in Turkey rather than bravely face martyrdom (as was at the heart of some critical reviews of his book, such as those by Rod Dreher and Charlotte Allen), and for a lack of concern for American issues besides shoring up support for the position of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese. Fr. Peter Gillquist’s allegation of the EP’s (+Demetrios in those days) poor treatment of the delegation from the Evangelical Orthodox Church is a story that is not easily forgotten, and it is trotted out with some regularity. Others offer the hypothesis that the Patriarchate seeks to establish itself as the “Orthodox papacy” specifically so that, when (so this line of thinking goes) +Bartholomew enters into reunion with Rome, it will be no conceptual difficulty to hand that authority over to the Roman Pope. Uncompromising reassertions of the primacy of the Ecumenical Patriarchate by Metropolitan Elpidophoros (Lambrianides) of Bursa have not helped the matter (at the same time, neither have similarly aggressive-sounding words from Moscow).

There are parallels here to the situation in 1970s. Greece had just emerged from its military dictatorship in 1974, the same year as the coup in Cyprus and subsequent Turkish invasion Lebanon’s civil war started in 1975; Soviet Russia was at its height – and the Orthodox world was preparing for a council. Preparatory meetings had been held since 1961, at Rhodes and at Chambesy, and in 1972, the same year that Patriarch Athenagoras passed away and a year after the Theological School in Halki was closed, a collection of the introductory reports of the Preparatory Commission were published under the title Towards the Great Council, the introduction to which contains the rather charming and confident statement that “[t]he Great and Holy Council of the Orthodox Church is planned to be held in all probability some time during 1974[.]”

The same year, Metropolitan Maximos of Sardes of blessed memory published a work of historical theology titled The Œcumenical Patriarchate in the Orthodox Church: A Study in the History and Canons of the Church, published by the Patriarchal Institute for Patristic Studies (Thessaloniki). The work begins in the Apostolic era, tracing the historical development of the office of the bishop through the Council of Nicea in 325, at which point +Maximos looks specifically at the episcopate as it developed in Constantinople. He spends quite a bit of time on the Council of Chalcedon, and then studies the way the role of the Patriarchate, as articulated at Chalcedon, was realized from the end of late antiquity up until the twentieth century. The book appears to have been conceived of in the context of an impending Great Council; +Maximos specifically has as his framing device the (then) recent memory of the first Conference at Rhodes in 1961, at which he was a delegate:

The conference was held primarily to demonstrate the unity which has held the Orthodox Church together in faith and service throughout the centuries, despite what at times has been considered as its injurious decentralization and the independence of the individual churches…  No doubt as a result of [such] misunderstandings, some curious articles have been published… about antagonism between the Oecumenical Patriarchate and the Russian Church, and about the victory of one over the other. Nothing could be further from the truth. No one scored a victory at Rhodes. Rhodes saw but one victory; the triumph of Orthodoxy (p. 15).

Space only permits a brief summary of +Maximos’ 327 pages’ worth of observations and conclusions; in a nutshell, the Church is a divinely-instituted, mystical (as in sacramental) Body; at the same time, it is a historical reality, with visible power and authority being given to the Apostles. The episcopate is a charismatic office that is derived from Apostolic origin but is not, essentially, apostolic in character; in other words, the Apostles had a fundamentally missionary role, whereas the episcopate has a fundamentally liturgical and pastoral role. Ultimately it is Christ who is the divine founder of the Church; it is the bishop who is the earthly – that is to say, historical – head; this power is properly considered to be within, rather than over, the Church, and the bishop is the personification of the organic unity of the Church.

As Christianity spread, and the need for bishops to decide things in synod developed, a system of precedence emerged out of necessity, with preference being given to the “mother church” of a given synod. As new communities started emerging in the periphery rather than the metropolitan centers, this practice of customary precedence came to represent concrete administrative power, but these prerogatives were accompanied with a “reciprocity” of obligation. As the 34th Apostolic Canon prescribed, the bishops in a given synod are not to do anything without their head, but neither is the head to act without his bishops, “because harmony and love must prevail amongst the bishops as an example to the clergy and people and for ‘the glory of God, through the Lord, by the Holy Ghost’” (322).

Within this system emerged metropolitans, then patriarchs of autocephalous churches, then the patriarchates of Rome and New Rome. This is a historical development that still must be seen as an organic necessity:

[O]nly in this organization can the Church continue to exist in the midst of human societies… Thus even the highest institutions of its historical development, such as the emergence of the office of patriarch in the oecumenical Church, must be seen as vitally necessary phenomena, deriving in ecclesiastical life by a gradual and continuous process from the ecclesiastical idea of order, organization, and perfection in administration, under the same conditions as those under which the whole administration of the oecumenical Church has evolved; phenomena fully in accord with the internal presuppositions of ecclesiastical order as these were recognized by the Church itself and were developed in its legislation… Thus even if all the bishops are equal by divine institution, enjoying to the same degree the gift of the episcopal grace and share the same unbroken Apostolic succession, they are not all equal-in-honor in the canonical system of the ecclesiastical administration… Some bishops emerge as senior to the others…Enjoying special privileges, they take the initiative in general ecclesiastical issues. (324-25)

In this context, the Patriarch of Constantinople has a precedence of honor that is related to his administrative function. This is not, +Maximos insists, a supremacy in all aspects of ecclesiastical life (the way he would define “neo-Papism”), but an authority in the context of the dual principles of “conciliarity and collegiality” and “non-intervention in the internal affairs of other churches” (326).

History does interfere, however. The Ottoman takeover of the former Empire is well-covered territory; more recently, +Maximos examines the problem of the rise of nationalism in the Balkans and Europe, where the boundaries of local churches were now being drawn according to self-consciously secular and political criteria – division by tribe; that is to say, racism. It was in this context that the Patriarchate condemned ethnophyletism in 1872: “We renounce, censure, and condemn racism, that is racial discrimination, ethnic feuds, hatreds, and dissensions within the Church of Christ, as contrary to the teaching of the Gospel and the holy canons of our blessed fathers which ‘support the holy Church and the entire Christian world, embellish it, and lead it to divine godliness’.” (300-309)

+Maximos also spends some time on the question of the diaspora (a loaded word for some in 2014 that presumably was assumed merely to be descriptive in the 1970s). He acknowledges the problem that the emphasis on national origins has posed in Europe, Canada, Australia, and North America: “This makes Orthodoxy appear divided and at odds with itself… with disastrous consequences when it comes to projecting its unity to the outside world” (309). +Maximos here suggests that the diaspora represents three problems to be solved: what the local principle in the organization of the Church means as an issue of dogma, the canonical jurisdiction of Constantinople over Orthodox Christians outside of the boundaries of established churches (per Chalcedon 28, which +Maximos deals with at great length in his fourth chapter), and the “so-called psychological question of ecclesiastical unity” (311). An article of Fr. Alexander Schmemann’s, dating from 1954 – sixteen years before Moscow’s granting of autocephaly to the Orthodox Church in America – is brought to bear in support of the Ecumenical Patriarch’s role in establishing unity in the diaspora. Apparently Schmemann was for the EP before he was against it.

The legacy of +Maximos’ book, particularly in Anglophone literature, is curious. The English translation was published in 1976. The Patriarchal Institute for Patristic Studies had commissioned Gamon McLellan, an Anglican who had been a student of +Kallistos Ware’s (now Metropolitan of Diokleia) and who was working with a team of paleographers at the Institute at the time of the commission. In preparation for writing this piece, I was fortunate enough to speak with Mr. McLellan by Skype, and I am indebted to him for his comments and his help in providing useful historical context for his work. He had a great deal of personal access to +Maximos, and they discussed his translation extensively. Mr. McLellan’s work was also reviewed by a team of senior theologians at the Patriarchal Institute. As much care as was put into the publication of the translation, however, it is unclear what the reception to the work was amongst English readers. WorldCat lists only forty-one libraries worldwide with a copy of Mr. McLellan’s translation in circulation, and the Patriarchal Institute in Thessaloniki has let the English edition go out of print. Indeed, while a second edition of the book was published in Greece in 1989, three years after +Maximos’ repose, no English translation has been published of that, and the Greek edition has proven impossible to acquire via Western interlibrary loan systems. On the whole, +Maximos does not appear to have been cited very much in English, save for a very small handful of scholarly works and a couple of essays on the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America website. And yet, a note of inquiry to +Elpidophoros of Bursa regarding the current appraisal of +Maximos’ study by the Patriarchate yields the following response: “…it does not merely reflect the thinking of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, it describes the Ecumenical Patriarchate as it is. After saying that I do not see any space for any Patriarch to change something about that.”

The book is, to be sure, a dense read. +Maximos’ command of historical sources is exhaustive. At the same time, Mr. McLellan’s translation renders the recounting of canons and Councils into English that is as readable as it could be, and it is rewarding and informative reading. While it is a different world today in terms of Anglophone scholarship than it was in 1976 – the translation of Metropolitan John (Zizioulas) of Pergamum’s ecclesiological studies into English has been monumental all by itself (and +Maximos relies on him greatly in the early chapters) – surely a refreshed translation of the 1989 second edition, along with perhaps a scholarly afterword bringing the study up to date, would be a worthwhile project for a publisher like Holy Cross Orthodox Press.

A thought that emerges in my reading of this work is the applicability of the Byzantine love of paradox;[1] certainly, +Maximos is careful to acknowledge the paradoxical nature of the picture he paints. “Power and service are indeed mutually contradictory,” he writes, “power usually destroying any idea of service… However, when the Oecumenical throne exercises the power given it by the canons and by history, the aspect which predominates is that of offering service in the entire Orthodox economy, thus imitating and carrying on the unique example of Our Lord Jesus Christ” (327). Mutual contradiction – that is to say, paradox – does not represent an impossibility; it represents the chance for Christ to make Himself known (and one need only attend a Salutations service during Great Lent to hear the manifold ways this is expressed regarding the Mother of God in the Akathistos hymn).

+Maximos’ presentation of the Ecumenical Patriarchate on its own terms serves as a useful corrective to the all-too-convenient picture that can be presented of a weak, ethnocentric, would-be Pope, and for that even if for no other reason, it is a work that deserves more of a hearing amongst Anglophone Orthodox than it seems to have received. Seen in the light of the picture +Maximos paints, +Bartholomew is an Ecumenical Patriarch who is trying to serve the oecumene – that is, the civilized world – not take it over and hand it to Rome in a neatly-wrapped package. Even if the reader, after giving him a fair hearing, still disagrees with +Maximos’ conclusions, it will be an exercise that, by the end, will make the reader more informed about Orthodox ecclesiological theology and the historical nature of Orthodox ecclesiastical structure, and will also be greatly illuminating in terms of where the Patriarchate and Patriarch are locating themselves in the scheme of Christian history.

[1] See, for example, Anthony Kaldellis’ exploration of this theme with respect to the Mother of God: ‘“A Union of Opposites”: The Moral Logic and Corporeal Presence of the Theotokos on the Field of Battle,’ in C. Gastgeber et al., eds., Pour l’amour de Byzance: Hommage à Paolo Odorico (Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 2013) 131-144.



Review: Garments of Salvation: Orthodox Christian Liturgical Vesture by Krista M. West

Kh. Krista West has made a name for herself as a wonderful tailor of Orthodox church vestments. She does lovely work; I bought an exorason from her three years ago to replace the cheap, ill-fitting, mass-produced cassock that I originally got when I was tonsured as a reader, and it is high-quality. I have heard people gripe about her work being supposedly “the exact same thing you can get through one of the ecclesiastical suppliers, just for three times the cost”, but I know the difference, and that’s just not true. If one follows the principle that the most cost-effective way of doing anything is to do it right the first time, then Kh. Krista’s work is definitely worth it. Yes, I may pay four times for an exorason from her what I paid for one from one of the supply houses, but I expect one of her garments to last me a lifetime if I take care of it properly, as opposed to replacing it every few years.

Kh. Krista has done a lot of work, through media efforts like The Opinionated Tailor, to try to inform laypeople about the importance of, not just vestments, but good vestments. She’s a practitioner of a liturgical craft who, to the best of her ability, tries to be as informed about her craft as she can be, and also an evangelist through that craft, and through education about that craft. This is something I truly respect. As somebody with similar objectives in the craft I work in, I find it intriguing, but also unfortunate, that the people who work seriously with the liturgical crafts of Orthodox Christianity are put in a position of having to be the best advocates for those crafts, rather than the leadership of the Church itself. Sometimes it can very much seem like lay and clerical leadership tries very hard to downplay advocacy for liturgical crafts, either out what is called “pastoral necessity” or a desire to “not reify worship” or simply from a lack of resources making it necessary to speak of them from a spiritual, rather than practical, standpoint. I’ve seen this with music, I’ve seen it with architecture, I’ve seen it with vestments. Orthodox Arts Journal I think is a good venue for discussion of a lot of these things, and I’d love to see Kh. Krista write a piece for them. Architect Andrew Gould also has pulled together his own workshop/cooperative for liturgical crafts, and vestments are among what his collaborators are producing. My hope here is that “more is more”, and that this points to more of quality being produced by all involved, in all disciplines.

So, the most recent fruit of Kh. Krista’s efforts is a book — Garments of Salvation: Orthodox Christian Liturgical Vesture, published this year by St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, and they were kind enough to send me a review copy.

I’ll talk about the book in a moment. Before I do so, however, I need to talk about how I approach reviews for this blog. As a blogger, I really try to review things first and foremost from an inherently friendly, constructive, and appreciative perspective. This isn’t to say I try to make every review an exercise in sending everybody off with a head pat and a “Good try!” at the very least, but I also don’t want to be a nitpicky critic who tears things down because he enjoys tearing things down, because I don’t enjoy tearing things down. I should also say that this is different from my persona as a writer of academic book reviews for scholarly journals, where it is my job to be critical and merciless where it is necessary (and I have most certainly done that when I have had to). Bottom line, I don’t like to be jerk if I don’t have to be, and even when I have to be, I try to not be any bigger of one than is necessary.

However, even within the rubric of “not being a bigger jerk than I have to be”, I still have to report fairly and honestly on things I review for this blog. If something has problems, I have to be up front about what those problems are — but I will endeavor to be as constructive in my discussion of those problems as I can manage. I don’t want to be in the business of hatchet jobs; I want to be helpful, not obnoxious.

So, all of this is is a very long-winded prelude to saying that there are severe problems with Kh. Krista’s book that can’t be sugar-coated, and this is going to be a negative review (one that I really don’t want to write). My hope is that it can be a constructive review, however, because there is a lot here that deserves a hearing; there’s just a long way to go yet before it gets there.

First off, this is a great topic. Vestments are, along with iconography and architecture, one of the most striking visual elements of an Orthodox service. Even if one is in a storefront church with two mounted print icons on easels at the front, there’s going to be a fully-vested priest (probably). The iconography of the priesthood that the vestments carry will at least go with with the person who himself stands as the icon of Christ at the altar, even if other iconography might be lacking. Kh. Krista seeks to cover a lot of ground with this topic, too, starting off with a Prologue that summarizes her own journey from recent convert to experienced vestment maker, with a discussion of Photios Kontoglou’s writings on Byzantine aesthetics as providing a basis for her understanding of the principles at work. The first chapter outlines the theological import of vestments in terms of incarnational theology, the sanctification of matter, and the heavenly beauty of the Church; the second chapter traces the historical development of garments from antiquity through late medieval Byzantium; the third chapter discusses in detail present-day use and practice; the fourth chapter looks at church furnishings or “paraments”; the fifth chapter is a discussion of the Byzantine perception of color and how that applies to the colors of vestments used throughout the liturgical year; the sixth chapter is about the history of textiles used for Orthodox liturgical vestments. There is then an Afterword that is something of a manifesto about how Orthodox Christians in this country need to approach the vestment tradition, and then appendices on the practical care of vestments, the prayers of vesting, and a glossary of terms.

Secondly, this is a great topic being tackled by somebody who clearly has a lot to say about it and has gone to great lengths to understand it from the inside out. As the above outline hopefully makes clear, Kh. Krista speaks about vestments from a number of different vantage points; the history of their development, the materials they’re made from, how rubrics in the service books about color assume a different perspective on color than our modern view, how they work in conjunction with other liturgical furnishings, how the textiles are made, and so on. These are all worthy things for Orthodox Christians to think about, whether they might be wearing them, making them, or simply looking at them being worn. What do these colorful garments mean, where do they come from, and why do our clergy wear them?

Unfortunately, this book is hampered by a lack of an obvious intended audience, which subsequently keeps the book from having sufficiently specific focus or a clear structure. It is further hampered — and this, I think, is the core problem — by an apparent lack of proofreading or outside readership at the pre-publication stage, which is made evident in some obvious factual errors and an approach to citations that is at once overdone to the point of being distracting, but also not as informative as one would want. To put it another way: this is a book that needs to decide whether it is primarily for clergy and interested laypeople, or if it is a more academically-shaded work (but perhaps still at the popular level). Right now it is trying to be both, but it manages to be neither.

Let’s start with the factual errors: the most obvious, and therefore the most troubling, are in the chapter on historical developments. Page 60, for example, tells the reader the following:

At the Council of Laodicea in Phyrgia [sic], at the end of the fourth century (AD 342-380), minor orders were forbidden to use the orarion, which demonstrates that the garment was already well established as an identifying mark of the clergy by that time.xxii In Canon 23, St John Chrysostom provides the first extant mention of the sticharion as a purely liturgical garment (although he refers to it as a “chitoniskos” which is linguistically related to “chiton,” the ancient Greek word for tunic).xiii [sic]

First of all, there’s the typo on Phrygia, but then there’s the reference to the Council being “at the end of the fourth century” with the years given as 342-380. 342-380 cannot be considered “the end of the fourth century”, but then Laodicea was actually in 363-64 to begin with, which also can’t be considered “the end of the fourth century”. And while she’s right that Canon 23 speaks of the orarion, to attribute Canon 23 of Laodicea to Chrysostom is a head-scratcher, since he wasn’t there and would have been all of 16 years old when it took place. To Kh. Krista’s credit, her footnotes help one track down the error — although, again, a typo hinders the effort somewhat; note that we go from citation xxii to citation xiii. Since the next citation is numbered as xxiv, I assume she means to give the notes in sequence, so looking at citation xxiii, she cites page 37 of Archimandrite Chrysostomos’ Orthodox Liturgical Dress, published by Holy Cross Orthodox Press in 1981. Page 37 of this book does indeed talk about the orarion and Chrysostom’s mention of it: “The first use of the sticharion as a purely liturgical garment is recorded in the writing of Saint John Chrysostom. Chrysostom describes a garment which in every respect is the sticharion, but he uses the word chitoniskos to identify it.” The author provides a footnote; it’s a Patrologia Graeca reference, and looking it up, it’s from chapter 6 of Chrysostom’s Homily on Matthew 26:26-28, not the acts of the Council of Laodicea. Finally, as a minor point, describing chitoniskos as “linguistically related” to chiton is too imprecise of a statement to be at all informative. “chitoniskos from chiton” would be sufficient here.

Another factual problem is Figure 10 on page 66 (below).

west page 66 figure 10

This is a mosaic she refers to as “[a] mosaic from Sant’Appolinare in Classe depicting courtiers wearing the pallium.” The trouble is, it isn’t; it’s the mosaic of Justinian from San Vitale in Ravenna, one of the most identifiable mosaics from Late Antiquity:

Again, to her credit, her footnotes help track down the problem. Kh. Krista cites Plate 27 of Sacred Fortress by Otto Von Simon [sic, actually Von Simson], which is this image:

von simson plate 27

This is, in fact, Sant’Apollinare in Classe, but it’s not the same image as what she shows. I grant that they are similar enough in the broad strokes that it’s easy to see how the error might happen, but this is still a major misidentification. It’s particularly unfortunate because later in the book Kh. Krista mentions seeing San Vitale in person; it’s clear she knows the difference, but this mistake made it into the manuscript and through the editorial process regardless.

The book’s citation system is helpful in cases like this, but it is also at once overdone and underdone. Kh. Krista, for some reason, uses both endnotes and footnotes, inserting numbered footnotes for additional commentary and Roman numeral endnotes for source citations. I’m not sure I understand what this accomplishes, and it’s certainly not a standard approach. Better to do all endnotes or footnotes, or, if one must separate source citations from comments, to use parenthetical citations. The problem isn’t just how she does it but also when, however; in the third chapter, she speaks extensively of practical matters concerning vestments — how they are made, what they look like, who wears them, and when — but cites almost nothing in terms of sources of this information, and this is particularly concerning when she asserts that this is the oldest tradition or that one is not in keeping with tradition.

To be clear, Kh. Krista is forthcoming about her own limitations in the acknowledgments and the Prologue; she describes herself as “just a tailor… I do not have any letters after my name and I certainly am not a scholar” (p. 16). Well, it is clear from the scope and the effort put into this book that she is more than “just a tailor”. At the same time, this is a big project with an expansive scope, and details such as those I’ve described are going to matter. Another point where the boundaries of her abilities don’t help her is with non-English sources; she is, again, up front about her limitations where this is concerned, but it means she isn’t able to engage things that should directly impact some of what she discusses. There is, for example, her discussion of the use of the exorason by cantors:

The outer cassock, known as the “exorason” in Greek or “ryasa” in Russian, is the more voluminous form of the cassock and is worn over the inner cassock in semi-formal, formal, and liturgical settings. Of elegant design, the exorason features the same front and back construction as the zostikon, but instead of angled fronts a triangular-shaped section is sewn to each front and the particular cut of this piece allows the fronts of the garment to overlap along the center without any closure, save for the hook-and-eye closure at the mandarin collar (whereas the zostikon has multiple collar variations, the exorason invariably features a mandarin collar). These front edge panels are fully lined so that, when they fall open as the wearer walks, the back side of the piece is as beautiful and finished as the front side. The garment employs the same general sleeve panel arrangement as the zostikon, but instead of a tailored sleeve-and-gusset combination it has a very large kimono sleeve sewn to a side panel which has eight-inch vents at the hem to allow greater freedom of movement while walking.The width of the sleeves is an indication of rank: chanter’s width sleeves are approximately thirty-six inches in circumference, the deacon’s and presbyter’s are forty-eight inches, and the bishop’s width is sixty inches. The sleeves have a six-inch deep lining that is made from the same fabric used for the lining of the front edge panels. The sleeves are worn long, typically two to three inches longer than inner cassock sleeves and thus covering the hands entirely when the wearer stands with his hands at his side. […]

In the Greek tradition the exorason is worn for services by chanters and sextons (liturgical assistants) with the narrowest-width sleeves and with no inner cassock underneath… Orthodox faithful in North America are sometimes puzzled by this liturgical use of the exorason by members of the laity, particularly when it is worn by women chanters. In this regard it is helpful to note that the narrow-sleeved version of the exorason is essentially the traditional Greek Orthodox Christian version of a choir robe. In Greece the chanter’s exorason is often made distinctive by the placement of galloon or colored, decorative banding upon the collar. (pp.114-116, emphasis mine)

This is certainly descriptive of some customs regarding the cantor’s use of the exorason; however, something that needs to be addressed here is the instruction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate that the psaltis‘ cassock is to be indistinguishable from that of the priest, and not made distinct by collars or sleeve width, precisely because the cantor is part of the clerical order and not something separate. Kh. Krista also does not mention in her historical discussion the distinctive vestments worn by the psaltes and domestikoi previous to the fall of Constantinople (and colorfully recreated by the Romeiko Ensemble).

There are three more problems I’ll mention briefly; there is a historiographical problem, in that her historical treatment (particularly of textiles in chapter 6) does not adequately acknowledge periodization. Does the rich textile industry she describe persist from late antiquity until the Latin Empire in 1204? How, then, to make sense of Liutprand of Cremona, who writes during his visit to Constantinople in the middle of the 10th century that the robes are “old, foul smelling, and discolored by age”? Periodization is always arbitrary, to be sure, but it will be helpful here to keep from misleading. There is also a bibliographic problem, in that even in English language literature, there is much missing from her citations that would help her discussion. One of the most interesting chapters in the book is about how the Byzantine conception of color is very different from the modern understanding of the spectrum, and the work of Liz James here would be incredibly useful — notably, Light and Colour in Byzantine Art (Clarendon Press, 1996), as well as her more recent article “Colour and Meaning in Byzantium” (Journal of Early Christian Studies 11.2, Summer 2003, pp223-33). Mark Bradley’s Colour and Meaning in Ancient Rome (Cambridge University Press, 2011) would also probably be a worthwhile reference.

Finally, there’s a theoretical problem, and it’s one that troubles everybody who would be a practitioner of traditional Orthodox liturgical crafts in this country; p.79-80 avers that “[t]he study of vestment construction… must be based upon the traditional apprentice and master model in which one desiring to learn the craft of vestments must study with a master tailor for a period of several years.” And yet, what Kh. Krista tells the reader of her own journey to being a master tailor she tells in largely the language of an autodidact. How do we reconcile this? I don’t know. It is certainly the reality of being an Orthodox Christian in this country that easy access to the sources for this kind of knowledge is not readily available — as I’ve recounted here before, the closest Byzantine chant teacher to where I live is five hours away, and I ultimately found it more practical to go to Greece for a summer and find somebody there.

All of this said — and I need to stress this, since I’ve spent around 2000 words talking about the problems — there is a lot here that’s good, it’s just a question of getting clear on the audience and reworking it accordingly. The good parts here are disjunct; her foregrounding of Photios Kontoglou’s aesthetic writings is really nice, for example, but it’s not threaded through the entire book sufficiently to feel like a framework. Besides that, it feels like there are pieces of at least three books here; a historical treatment, a description of present day practice, and a call-to-arms about what Orthodox Tradition means in the United States. These parts can be synthesized into an organic whole, but it’s not there yet.

Right now, the problem with citations aside, the chapter where she talks about present-day practice is her surest footing, and is what I would look to as the centerpiece of any revision. Perhaps the book is really for an audience that doesn’t need citations, just a list of books at the end titled “Additional Reading”, in which case the history chapter really could get away with being a summarized version of its present form that’s a few pages long. Or, maybe it really is a more scholarly treatment, in which case the third chapter is still a great anchor, it just needs to be clearer where she’s getting her information. In either case, once the focus is figured out, then the long block quotes from secondary literature need to be summarized rather than quoted, the citation system needs to be straightened out, the errors need to be fixed, and I would also make a strong plea for at least some color plates.

I’d like to close this review by saying that I think Kh. Krista has probably made about as honest of an effort as somebody in her position could possibly make on the first draft of a project like this. Errors happen, focus gets lost, chapters get away from people — even for the most celebrated of scholars! Unfortunately, much of the apparatus that used to be standard for publishers in terms of getting books to the next level after the first draft — outside readers, copy editing, fact checking, etc. — is, so people at my own lowly level are told when we attend publishing workshops, cost-prohibitive for all but the most financially secure of presses. It is unlikely that even a seasoned academic will be able to successfully edit and evaluate their own book without mistakes creeping through, so as far as I’m concerned, none of this really reflects badly on Kh. Krista, the “just a tailor” who is clearly more than “just a tailor”. My sincere hope, however, is that this feedback will help spur discussion between the author and the publisher on how to make the second edition the excellent book that it I have no doubt that it can be.

Thoughts on Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane

Blogging is quite obviously not the humongous priority for me it once could be. I’ve got my dissertation, I have a 13-month old, I’ve been in an intensive Arabic course this summer, I have a longer commute to church than I once did, and so on. It’s just hard to find the time. I have things that I’ve wanted to blog about for months, I have multi-part posts I need to finish, I have books I’ve been sent review copies of, I’ve got other responsibilities, and so on. The blog isn’t dead by any means, but it’s just harder than I’d like to make the time.

Sometimes, though, things rise to the surface and require dealing with. Such is the case with Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane. I’ve been a Neil Gaiman fan since 1997 when my friend Bjorn Townsend insisted I read the Sandman graphic novels, which ultimately I read aloud to Flesh of My Flesh starting about 11 years ago, and at the ending of which she cried, surprising herself at how moved she was by a “comic book”. Coraline we also read aloud, and of course American Gods, and some of his other children’s books and graphic novels were devoured. I was going to review The Graveyard Book when it came out but I never quite got around to it, and writing an essay on Make Good Art from the perspective of somebody who at least strives to be better than mediocre in the practice of an Orthodox liturgical craft is something I want to get to sooner than later.

Ocean I pre-ordered months ago, it arrived in June, and I’ve had to basically wait until Arabic was over to even think about reading it. Well, I started it two nights ago and finished it this morning — it really only took about two and a half hours to get through its 178 pages — and I wanted to get some thoughts up about it while they were still fresh. There are thematic spoilers here, I suppose, but I’m not going to talk about plot specifics beyond the general setup.

If you were to ask me what my worst memories of childhood are, there are a handful of things I might say. I might tell you about the memory I have, from when I was 3 or 4, of having my lip stitched up in the doctor’s office after… well, I’m still not exactly sure after what. I think my best friend at the time punched me in the face and knocked me down for some reason, and I have a very vague notion that it had to do with a toy crane truck, but all I really remember is crying while the needle was poking in and out of my bottom lip. Or I could say it was the time when I was eight, and there was this five or six hour stretch where my mom had left, she was going to separate from my dad, I didn’t know what was going to happen to me, and it was just my dad and I in our huge, brand-new, custom-built house, awkwardly not talking. But then my mom came home around midnight, and they patched things up, for awhile, anyway. Or, possibly, I could talk about the time when I was ten, during the time when we were trying to sell our big custom-built house (and it ultimately took us a year to do so, and then at a huge loss), when my parents caught me lighting pieces of paper and bits of thread on fire in the kitchen sink and all the stresses combined meant they absolutely lost it on me in their rage (the one time in my childhood I can honestly talk about having trouble sitting down for awhile, if you understand what I mean). The latest incident that might come to mind could be when I was 13 or so, and there was a sudden, explosive outburst from my dad, initially directed at me for reasons I didn’t at all understand, which then instantly turned into a confrontation between both of my parents that got so bad so fast that all I could do was run out of the house and keep going for two and a half miles through town to get to a friend’s house, the only safe place I could come up with at that particular moment.

Past that point chronologically, we get out of the “childhood memory” territory, where there are a lot of things going on around us we aren’t even aware of, or even if we are aware we don’t comprehend, and into a period where probably we usually understand things pretty well. Even 13 is a little old for that category, maybe, but that event was (and still is, all these years later) beyond my comprehension. Anyway, those are the main incidental things that come to mind; there are other systematic things I could talk about, like the way I was constantly shamed at home over my weight, or how it seemed like I was so often a target for bullies in elementary school, or this, or that. I should say that all of these things, while representing traumatic memories, are not the worst things I could say about my childhood by any means, nor are they intended to paint anybody as bad people; they’re simply what I remember of what happened.

So, here’s the thing — obviously the raw images that I remember don’t take into account things I didn’t or couldn’t know, but there is clearly a context that emerges, however skeletally, from some of the details (like the custom-built house that we’re newly in when I’m eight and then having to sell when I’m ten, or having a next-door neighbor best friend when I’m four but having to run two and a half miles away to get to a friend’s house when I’m 13), and then the way I recount those memories does in fact start to shade them with historical argument, like me contextualizing the playing with fire business by locating it in the year we had so much trouble selling our house and were all stressed out beyond belief. As an adult talking about those things, I can add details to justify, to explain, to excuse — but I wouldn’t have been sophisticated enough as a 10 year old to be able to do that. It’s an adult’s game to rationalize via historicity, and we don’t even know that we’re doing it sometimes because it’s just how you have to navigate the world and organize information as an adult, as I’ve written about before. Little kids, though, don’t — can’t — do that. They may well make sense of things by coming up with a story that explains them, and it may even be a story they decide they believe, but it’s not the same thing as what an adult does. An adult is trying to lie to himself with the truth; a little kid is trying to understand the true things he knows, filling in necessary gaps strictly as a matter of utility and without awareness that the gaps represent more than what he actually knows.

In The Ocean at the End of the Lane, we are given an account by a nameless first-person narrator, a not-entirely unknown device of Gaiman’s (Murder MysteriesViolent CasesMr. Punch), a narrator about whom we know very little except that he “makes art” for a living and who is having to go home as a middle-aged adult for a funeral. He does not tell us whose funeral, but it is hard to not connect it with Gaiman’s own blog posts about his father’s funeral from a few years ago. While visiting the location of his childhood home (now a block of flats), he stops in on a neighboring farmhouse that he vaguely remembers as the home of an old friend who moved away. The old friend’s… well, maybe she’s her mother, maybe her grandmother, but in any event, she welcomes him in. The visit brings back a flood of memories, which introduces us to the main thread of the narrative, about a series of events happening when he was seven years old.

That’s all I’ll really say about plot mechanics, but there’s plenty more I can say without having to spoil things. There seem to be a number of plot and thematic parallels to earlier Gaiman books like the aforementioned Coraline, Violent Cases, and Mr. Punch, but there is also a very strong Madeleine L’Engle vibe running through the book (there are characters who can’t but remind me of Mrs. Who, Whatsit, and Which, and the key image of the little boy and slightly older girl walking hand in hand through a menacing field kept making me think that a Cherubim was going to show up), and it is decidedly not a kid’s book in the way Coraline was marketed as (I chose my words carefully there), even though it’s told from the point of view of a child.

Although, even there, Gaiman tricks you a little bit, because it isn’t told from the point of view of a child. As with Violent Cases and Mr. Punch, it’s told from the point of view of an adult’s memories of childhood. But even there, is that exactly what’s going on? There are self-conscious present-day intrusions in the narrative, and then there are times when what he remembers himself saying as a child comes off as an adult dodgily trying to imagine what a child might say — Gaiman writes excellent children’s dialogue as a rule, so is this a choice he’s making deliberately, perhaps as a way of telling us that this isn’t “actually” what happened, but rather it’s how the narrator is trying to convince himself that something else didn’t happen? There’s a moment in the story that provides an internal mechanism for the alteration of a terrible memory — so is that maybe what’s going on throughout the whole book? That the whole narrative is just the protagonist’s cover story for the far more awful truth?

The way I’m inclined to read it is this. As I talked about, when we’re kids, terrible things can happen that we don’t understand. Maybe they’re just random occurrences, maybe they’re systematic problems. In any case, we rationalize them in ways that make sense to our little kid brains. I had somebody close to me once, for example, whose way of rationalizing a particular kind of abuse they had experienced was to reconceive of their identity so that they no longer thought of themselves as part of the human species.

And the thing is, adults will probably rationalize these same traumatic experiences, but they’ll do so in very different ways. They’ll justify, they’ll forget, they’ll historicize, and they’ll outright lie to themselves in order to rewrite history. As I said earlier, little kids aren’t really sophisticated enough to lie to themselves, but they can make up stories that they will themselves find convincing on some level.

But then, when we grow up, those stories don’t work, and the trauma still leaves wounds, so we either have to be honest with ourselves about what we experienced, or we have to find comfort in the “adult” forms of rationalizing. Both of these tactics might well require the adult self to remember the stories they told themselves as a child to explain what had happened, identify what really happened, and then make a choice about how to deal with it.

To me, this is isn’t a fantasy novel, although it could be taken as such. Ultimately — and this is where I guess I will mention certain other plot specifics — I take as the key “real world” events of the book the failed birthday party (bad for a seven year old boy), the death of the kitten (worse) and then the opal miner (terrible), then the nanny’s affair with the father (incomprehensible), and the scene in the bathroom between the narrator and his father (devastating). (The “Does it make you feel big to make a little boy cry?” confrontation sounds too much like wish-fulfillment, something that the adult self wished the child could have said, for me to take entirely literally.) The Hempstocks, then, are an image of what the women in his life would have looked like had they not been complicit (as he saw it) in these events. To me, it’s a book about what the narrator experienced as the worst trauma of his childhood, how he rationalized the very adult pain he experienced from death, betrayal, and violence at the hands of people who were supposed to care about him, how everybody ultimately covered it up and explained it away, and how as an adult he’s still covering it up to himself. In a way, while there are certainly similarities to Coraline et al., the Gaiman work it seems to be most like is Murder Mysteries, with the protagonist ultimately left unable, or perhaps unwilling, to admit what they’re carrying around on the inside, unwilling to put the pieces together because it would mean acknowledging that the whole is in fact a hole. The other work it reminds me of isn’t by Gaiman, but it certainly seems to me that Guillermo del Toro’s film Pan’s Labyrinth deals with many of the same issues (and, come to think of it, so does Twin Peaks, particularly Fire Walk With Me).

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a great book, no question, but it is very uncomfortable to read, particularly when one starts to suspect what Gaiman might be up to. It is not a children’s book (and it isn’t being marketed as such), even though it has some superficial characteristics of one and probably could be read and enjoyed by children. It’s the kind of thing I would have read it at nine or ten and enjoyed, but I would have gotten something very different out of it than what I get out of it as a reader in his mid-30s. As an adult reader, the pain at the core of the narrative is evident and catching, and the menace under the surface of the narrative that isn’t spelled out explicitly is a lot more frightening than stuff you’re told outright. What’s scarier — that you’re being abused by somebody who’s being manipulated into doing it by externalities, or by somebody who simply does it as part of their nature?

Book review: The Typikon Decoded by Archimandrite Job Getcha

French is, truthfully, not the hardest research language in the world to learn for an Anglophone, but there can be other issues of access that a translation put out by an Anglophone publisher can help minimize — like, well, access. For example, I don’t really think I would have too much of a problem with the French in Archimandrite Job Getcha’s Le typikon décrypté: manuel de liturgie byzantine (Paris: Cerf, 2009), but a quick consultation of WorldCat tells me that, were I to try to get it via interlibrary loan, my home library would have all of three options in the entire world from which they could try to acquire it. Were I to try to buy it, it would be probably close to $70 once all shipping charges and currency conversions had taken place. By contrast, even if I don’t have a problem with the French, getting Paul Meyendorff’s translation, The Typikon Decoded: An explanation of Byzantine liturgical practice (Yonkers: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2012), for $23 and free shipping is just a lot easier all around. That may not be the most scholarly attitude in the world, but I’m over it.

I will admit that I am first and foremost a bit befuddled by the title of this book. I assume it is intended to evoke Schmemann, who in Introduction to Liturgical Theology criticized the modern implementation of liturgical rubrics, arguing that liturgical taxis

was fettered and became the private possession of the typikonshckiki precisely because the ecclesiological key to its understanding and acceptance had been lost and forgotten. It is only necessary to read over the “rubrics” and prescriptions with new eyes, and to meditate on the structure of the Ordo, in order to understand that its major significance lies in its presentation of worship as the service of the new people of God… [E]verything that is important and basic in the Ordo is a Byzantine “transposition” of the original meaning of worship as the corporate act and “fulfillment” of the Church. (pp.218-19)

In other words, Schmemann is saying, the Typikon is best understood as a descriptive document of how the Church worships, not a prescriptive document of how churches should worship. I’m not here to argue or side with Schmemann; my point is simply that the title appears to be referencing this critique and suggesting that the author has taken Schmemann’s call-to-arms as his mission. The preface suggests something of this approach in talking about about how the Typikon, “…far from being merely a collection of dry and legalistic rules, is in fact a summary of two millennia of the Church’s experience… It is living Tradition and the foundation of Orthodox spiritual life” (p.7). Despite comments like that, Schmemann’s manifesto doesn’t really seem to be the practical trajectory of the book, however — which, I should hasten to say, is fine, because there are lots of other merits that make the book worthwhile, but perhaps a title less laden with baggage would have been more to the point.

So, what is the book doing? The first chapter is a very nice introduction to liturgical books used in the Byzantine rite; he uses Velkovska’s chapter “Byzantine liturgical books” in Liturgical Press’ Handbook for Liturgical Studies (1997) as a starting place, which has been a standard reference (to say nothing of the only real resource for Anglophone scholars available) up till now, but he’s able to bring a number of points up to date, which is most appreciated. It’s an excellent summary of what the different books are and the historical issues surrounding them. Following that discussion, the second chapter outlines the services of the Hours, the services celebrated daily apart from the Divine Liturgy — the Midnight office, Orthros, the Hours themselves (First, Third, Sixth, Ninth, the “Intermediary” Hours, Typika), Vespers, and Compline. Again, Archimandrite Job does a lovely job giving an introductory explanation of what the individual offices are and a brief account of where they come from.

The third, fourth, and fifth chapters are largely matters of application, dealing with the Typikon is applied for services governed by the Menaion, that is to say the observances tied to fixed calendar dates, then the Triodion, the observances leading up to Great Lent and going up through Holy Week, and finally the Pentecostarion, the services throughout Paschaltide, ending with the Feast of All Saints on the Sunday after Pentecost. As with the first couple of chapters, there are brief, useful summaries of historical matters throughout.

The Typikon Decoded is quite useful as an introductory treatment of Byzantine liturgical issues; one gets a sense of the various historical poles at work — city and monastery, Jerusalem and Constantinople, Studite vs. Sabaite, contemporary Greek practice vs. contemporary Slavic practice, etc. — and how these factors are synthesized over time. In conjunction with something like Robert Taft’s The Byzantine rite: a short history, a similarly accessible treatment of some of these issues, albeit from a bit of a different angle, Archimandrite Job’s book could serve as an excellent initial reference point. One also gets a picture of the foundational scholarship that is still yet to be done for Byzantine liturgy; critical editions of the liturgical books, for example. This is a baton that somebody needs to pick up and run with; there’s a lifetime’s worth of work out there for the textual scholar interested in Byzantine liturgy (and, it should be noted, Archimandrite Job is hardly the first person to try to encourage some reader somewhere to take it on).

Some caveats must be noted, however. Other reviewers have already noted the near-total absence of Greek language liturgical scholarship by important figures such as Gregorios Stathis; besides that oversight, with the exception of a small handful of significant references — the aforementioned Velkovska, for example, and Peter Jeffery’s work on the Georgian recensions of the Jerusalem liturgical books in relation to the Oktoechos — Archimandrite Job effectively treats Anglophone scholarship as so much chopped liver. It seems very odd to this reviewer, for example, in a discussion of the state of the question of psalmody in the Cathedral Rite of Hagia Sophia, to ignore Alexander Lingas’ studies of the Great Church’s Vespers and Matins services. Granted that the Matins study remains unpublished as a book (“yet”, I am assured), but the dissertation is readily available as a PDF with a simple Google search. In Archimandrite Job’s treatment of the historical circumstances surrounding Akathistos Saturday during Great Lent in particular, his representation of the current state of the discussion was very surprising, omitting entirely the recent work of Leena Peltomaa and Vasiliki Limberis. That said, the other side of this problem is that the book is a great bibliographic reference for the Anglophone scholar for non-Anglophone research, particularly French and — perhaps more important — Russian. As much as we English speakers may have no excuse when it comes to French (and vice-versa), many of us still make excuses where Russian is concerned (myself included!), and The Typikon Decoded is an excellent reference with respect to that particular language barrier.

Other caveats are more cosmetic; I know we’re not supposed to talk about copyediting issues in book reviews, but persistent errors become distracting. Meyendorff universally chooses the verb “incense” rather than “cense” to describe the ritual action of swinging a smoking thurible, and while the dictionary tells me that’s a perfectly acceptable option, I can’t help but instinctively feel, when I read a phrase like “The priest incenses the entire congregation”, that I’m reading about a cleric giving a particularly bad homily rather than filling the room with aromatic smoke. There’s also the matter of the page header for the fifth chapter giving the chapter title as “The Services of the Pentecostarian” (as opposed to “Pentecostarion”) on every page.

Still, I should stress that these issues are cosmetic rather than substantive. In terms of substance, SVS Press and Meyendorff’s efforts are well worth it, making a very useful introductory treatment of Byzantine liturgy accessible to a wider audience, and giving a much-needed initial glimpse into Russian scholarship for English speakers.

Update, 10:34pm 26 May 2013: Sorry, two other points — a confusing reality of translating this kind of work is that hymns tend by convention to be referred to by incipit; Χριστὸς ἀνέστη, for example, instead of the Apolytikion for Pascha. Well, you have three choices as to how to do that in the target language; if they’re in a liturgical language that you expect your audience to be familiar with, like Greek, you can leave them in Greek. Or, you translate the incipits anew; maybe I refer to Χριστὸς ἀνέστη as “Christ stood up”. Or, you can decide that you’re going to use the incipits of a commonly used set of liturgical books in the target language; the Triodion and Festal Menaion of Met. Kallistos Ware and Mother Mary, maybe, and you make that point of reference explicit in a translator’s foreword. Meyendorff does not leave them untranslated, but I’m not entirely sure what he is doing; the incipits are not what I’m used to, and while I’m able to identify them from context most of the time, he doesn’t explicitly identify a schema that he’s adopting (there is no translator’s foreword or notes, and more’s the pity).

The other point is reasonably brief: a topical index would have been most welcome. Alas.

Update #2, 10:52pm 26 May 2013: One other thing that occurred to me that I really appreciate about Archimandrite Job’s treatment of the Byzantine liturgical aesthetic vis-à-vis the application of the Typikon’s rubrics: he treats it as, in fact, a multisensory aesthetic, rather than strictly as a manipulation of texts. He makes reference to singing, to censing, to lighting of lamps, to ritual movement — he does a very nice job of presenting the services as a bodily experience of worship; it is not simply a cold transmission and reception of texts. He does this without drawing any particular attention to it, it’s simply assumed as being the case, which is why it just occurred to me that it’s one of the positive features of the book.

Review: Anton Baumstark, On the Historical Development of the Liturgy, trans. Fritz West

I first encountered the ideas of Anton Baumstark in the fall of 2005, when I wrote a paper for my undergraduate early music history course that (badly) attempted to compare Byzantine, Gregorian, and Old Roman use of Psalm 67 (“Let God arise…”), specifically one of the cornerstones of his comparative liturgy project, the so-called Gesetz der Erhaltung des Alten in liturgisch hochwertiger Zeit (usually translated as something like “law of preservation of ancient practice in especially solemn celebration”). There’s not really anything salvageable in that paper, but it pushed me towards many of the things I do now, and Baumstark was effectively a “gateway drug” to other liturgical scholars of the twentieth century, such as Dix, Schmemann, Taft, and so on.

Vom geschichtlichen Werden der Liturgie is a somewhat lesser-known work of Baumstark’s; it was published in 1923, a good eleven years before the publication of the lectures that would become the more famous Liturgie comparée (Comparative Liturgy). While the latter has been available in English translation since 1958, the former has only just been translated by Fritz West and published as On the Historical Development of the Liturgy.[1] West, a liturgical scholar and UCC minister, has produced a very accessible and thoroughly annotated edition of the book, which hopefully will be thought-provoking and generative for a current crop of both liturgical historians and historians interested in liturgy.

A truly useful outcome of West’s translation would be a re-articulation of Baumstark’s framework in a way that takes into account modern historiographical approaches; as West notes in his introduction, Baumstark’s perspective is notably weighed down for today’s reader by a reliance on “Great Man”-style theoretical models. Even more problematic, however, is his post-World War I resentment-fueled German nationalism (Baumstark would become a Nazi sympathizer in the 1930s). This is most clearly evident in chapter 11, titled “Language and Nation,” in which he attempts to show the relationship between ethnic identity (the German word he uses is Blut; West translates it as “race”) and liturgical development. This section of the book is frankly uncomfortable to read, given Baumstark’s own historical context; consider passages such as this one:

The readings in the Roman Breviary from the First and Second Books of Maccabees make for a singular impression, with their responses containing prayers for times of war and expressing a soldier’s delight upon seeing sunlight reflecting off of golden shields. Had the German people not become the preeminent guarantor of the Roman liturgy’s preservation and dissemination, these readings would have been hard put to maintain their impressive position in the lectionary of the office. Now they stand there as a towering monolith, recalling the proud days of the Vikings and bearing public witness against all would confuse the virile spirit of the church with programs for world peace, born of a weak and weary spirit. Could a nation in fact collapse utterly when suffering the heaviest blow fate could mete out in a national war of desperation if — in that decisive hour of its history — that nation were able to experience firsthand the Breviary prayer for the month of October in a liturgical setting? […] Without exception it was emotional values that the German people contributed to their adopted Roman liturgy… the full actualization of the German national character in liturgy was fettered by the use of Latin, a foreign language… one can only imagine how the Roman liturgy would have developed on German soil had the dialect of the Saxon troubadours, who chanted Heliand, had the opportunity of becoming the language it used for worship.[2]

Looked at another way, however, it is possible to see Baumstark’s project as tracing liturgical development in history as a way of constructing a Christian community that is truly universal, not just in geographic or national terms but in temporal terms — a way to establish a link to the Fathers, to putatively better times for German “Roman” Christianity in the person of Charlemagne (a figure constantly invoked by Baumstark), to Christ and the apostles themselves.

[The liturgical partcipant] participates in the deepest life of them all: the life of the millenniums. His individual prayer becomes for him an infinitesimally small ringlet in a virtually endless golden chain, stretching from the earthly days of the Son of Man, when Jesus wandered upon the shores of the blue Sea of Galilee, until that final day when he will await the return of the Son of Man in the glory of the Father.[3]

Baumstark’s proposal is that the impact of historical factors — such as political developments, missionary activity, theological crises, and so on — on liturgical development leads to identifiable strata in the evidence, explicitly invoking geology as a comparable image (chapter 1). He begins tracing this impact through identifiable modalities in pre-Constantinian Christianity: differing liturgical practices in the private home and public gatherings (chapter 2), the Jewish synagogue (chapter 3), and the Hellenized world in Greece, Asia Minor, and beyond (chapter 4). This examination leads to the preliminary conclusion that the trajectory of liturgical development has been a fundamental diversity which are molded into increasing conformity (chapter 5).

Following that, Baumstark examines how the fundamental diversity manifests regionally, with major cities functioning as strong centers of influence on surrounding regions (chapter 6). These centers tend to influence each other, such as Jerusalem and Constantinople in the East and Rome and Gaul in the West (chapter 7). The top-down influence of political and ecclesiastical elites on liturgical development, with Baumstark’s prime example being Charlemagne’s project of simultaneously forging a German identity that is Roman and a “Roman” identity that is unmistakably German (chapter 8). Monastic and urban practices represent another axis that tends to more or less blend together (chapter 9).

Baumstark also argues that the impact of notable historical actors upon liturgical development is paradoxical but undeniable. The end result of the liturgy for the worshiper of any given period is necessarily impersonal, an object fundamentally rooted in communal experience, but looking backward, the hand of individuals must be acknowledged, be they hymnographers, ecclesiarchs, or putative “authors” of entire rites — but he is careful to point out that sometimes it is less significant that an individual actually had a particular liturgical impact than the community believes that person to be worth the attribution (chapter 10). Language and ethnic identity, as already discussed, are also important factors to be considered for Baumstark (chapter 11).

At some point, rites tend to coalesce into more-or-less final forms with their own immutable tendencies and characteristics that reflect the various factors that have led to this point (chapter 12). This seems to inevitably give rise to a situation where liturgical language is frozen independent of vernacular usage, leading to a pastoral problem that a given rite has to figure out how to solve without losing its fundamental character. Baumstark argues that the West solved this problem by emphasizing Latin as a unifying characteristic of the Roman liturgy; the East by assigning to the deacon a role that mediates the action at the altar to the congregation (chapter 13).

Rites may tend to let their characteristic tendencies completely overshadow their core liturgical function; here Baumstark specifically criticizes the East’s allowance of liturgical poetry to become a “thicket of rank growth, proliferating out of control (chapter 14).[4] He also argues that the manifests in the East as a tendency towards overscripting the altar, turning the liturgy into a long exercise of personal devotion for the celebrant (chapter 15).

In the West, at least, the coalescence into a final form has led to formal, top-down mechanisms of reform and pruning, starting with the Council of Trent. These mechanisms, according to Baumstark, generally work as intended in the West, although in the East similar attempts appear to have messier results, such as the Old Believer schism in Russia (chapter 16).

Finally, Baumstark cautions, the scholar and worshiper must be careful with what they do with this kind of information, because of the clear limits of what we can conclude from our data. Of course, the methodology modeled by Baumstark is useless for predicting future changes, but epistemological boundaries exist looking backward as well. A historical understanding of the liturgy can enrich a present-day encounter, but without the context of direct experience, we can never completely ascertain the liturgical practices of a given time and place in their fulness (chapter 17).

It seems to me that it would be useful to reconsider many elements of Baumstark’s perspective anew. Off the top of my head, some possibilities of what could be done seem to be — how does a periodization model that includes late antiquity impact how these arguments are articulated?[5] How does a model of center and periphery clarify the relationships of geography and liturgy?[6] How could recent explorations of sensory experience in liturgy allow us to rethink the text-heavy emphasis?[7] How do frameworks such as Benedict Anderson’s imagined community illuminate the various social dimensions of the liturgy?[8] How does Paul Connerton’s work on inscribed vs. Incorporated memory suggest further pathways to better understanding Baumstark’s argument that the liturgy functions “trans-historically”?[9] How does the identification of orientalism as a problematic meta-narrative help us to tease apart Baumstark’s tendency to view development in the East as self-indulgent overgrowth, while the character of Roman liturgy is the standard to which everything else adheres or from which everything else falls away?[10] How might the methodology of ethnomusicology help us to better understand the ways in which the liturgy expresses characteristics and tendencies of the worshipping community?[11] If the liturgy is itself an object that belongs to the community, can we push that further and try to talk about a given rite, or a given section of a rite, as a “thing”?[12] Those are all very theory-heavy ideas from somebody who generally only half-jokingly introduces himself as a “paleostructuralist”, but they strike me as having the potential to be genuinely illuminating and generative of further discussion. They also have the extra advantage of being the kinds of approaches that would make liturgical matters relevant to historians who are not liturgical specialists.

West’s translation is quite lucid and readable; the annotations are generally very useful, if verging on repetitive at times. He also includes a collection of short biographies of all historical figures mentioned, which in and of itself is an invaluable reference. There are minor errors, such as the claim that the Syriac language is named for historic Syria[13] (it appears to have nothing to do with the historic region, with its origins as a distinct literary language apparently being in Mesopotamia)[14]. There also seems to be some fuzziness on the specifics of Eastern liturgical forms; Baumstark refers to the Latin Stabat mater text as “a Western counterpart to the ancient Syrian-Greek lament heard from Mary at the cross,”[15] most likely a reference to the genre of Eastern hymn known as the stavrotheotokion, but West’s note relates it to the ninth ode of the canon for Holy Saturday (“Do not lament me, O Mother…”), which seems to me improbable. Nonetheless, West has made a most valuable contribution by making this book accessible to English audiences.

I can’t help but wonder what Baumstark would have thought about the developments in the Roman liturgy post-Vatican II; would his framework have allowed him to understand the changes in terms of continuity? I expect not, but that may be something for others to argue about.

Works Cited

Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities. 2 ed. New York: Verso, 2006.

Baumstark, Anton. On the Historical Development of the Liturgy. Translated by Fritz West. Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2011.

Boulay, Juliet du. Cosmos, Life and Liturgy in a Greek Orthodox Village. Edited by Denise Harvey, The Romiosyni Series. Limni, Evia: Denise Harvey (Publisher), 2009.

Brown, Bill. “Thing Theory.” Critical Inquiry 28, no. 1 (2001): 1-22.

Brown, Peter. The World of Late Antiquity: Ad 150-750. Edited by Geoffrey Barraclough, Library of World Civilization. London: W. W. Norton and Co., 1989.

Coakley, J. F. Robinson’s Paradigms and Exercises in Syriac Grammar. 5 ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Connerton, Paul. How Societies Remember. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

Galtung, Johan. “A Structural Theory of Imperialism.” Journal of Peace Research 8, no. 2 (1971): 81-117.

Harvey, Susan Ashbrook. Scenting Salvation: Ancient Christianity and the Olfactory Imagination. Edited by Peter Brown, The Transformation of the Classical Heritage. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006.

Jeffery, Peter. Re-Envisioning Past Musical Cultures: Ethnomusicology in the Study of Gregorian Chant. Edited by Philip V. Bohlman and Bruno Nettle, Chicago Studies in Ethnomusicology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992.

Said, Edward. Orientalism. New York: Vintage Books, 1994. Reprint, 2003.

[1] Anton Baumstark, On the Historical Development of the Liturgy, trans. Fritz West (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2011).

[2] Ibid., 172-74.

[3] Ibid., 44.

[4] Ibid., 204.

[5] Peter Brown, The World of Late Antiquity: Ad 150-750, ed. Geoffrey Barraclough, Library of World Civilization (London: W. W. Norton and Co., 1989).

[6] e.g, Johan Galtung, “A Structural Theory of Imperialism,” Journal of Peace Research 8, no. 2 (1971).

[7] Notably, Susan Ashbrook Harvey, Scenting Salvation: Ancient Christianity and the Olfactory Imagination, ed. Peter Brown, The Transformation of the Classical Heritage (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006).

[8] Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities, 2 ed. (New York: Verso, 2006).

[9] Paul Connerton, How Societies Remember (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1989).

[10] Edward Said, Orientalism (New York: Vintage Books, 1994; reprint, 2003).

[11] e.g, Juliet du Boulay, Cosmos, Life and Liturgy in a Greek Orthodox Village, ed. Denise Harvey, The Romiosyni Series (Limni, Evia: Denise Harvey (Publisher), 2009). Also, Peter Jeffery, Re-Envisioning Past Musical Cultures: Ethnomusicology in the Study of Gregorian Chant, ed. Philip V. Bohlman and Bruno Nettle, Chicago Studies in Ethnomusicology (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992).

[12] Bill Brown, “Thing Theory,” Critical Inquiry 28, no. 1 (2001).

[13] Baumstark, Historical Development, 56, n. 1.

[14] J. F. Coakley, Robinson’s Paradigms and Exercises in Syriac Grammar, 5 ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 1, n. 1.

[15] Baumstark, Historical Development, 212.

Review: Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy: Exploring Belief Systems Through The Lens of the Ancient Christian Faith, by Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick

First of all, in an ideal world, this would have gone up about three months ago. I had requested a review copy back at the beginning of May, and for one reason or another the copy wasn’t sent out until the beginning of August or thereabouts, which meant that I wasn’t actually in physical possession of the book until I got home from Oxford, and by that point it was off to the races for the start of the academic year. More about all of that elsewhere, however.

About six years ago or so, I was corresponding with a gentleman named Charles Carter. Charles was a Baptist who was something of a presence in Anglican online discussion groups, often as something of a gadfly. He was a strict five-point Calvinist (although I don’t know that he himself used that phrase), he had no patience for any kind of sacramental theology, and liked to say things like, “The Reformers had to whitewash the churches and tear out the organs in order to give them back to the people,” or recount how, growing up as a Baptist in the South, he “sincerely” wondered whether or not Catholics were Christians.

When Charles discovered that I was a former Episcopalian who had converted to Orthodox Christianity, he was perplexed to say the least. How was that the least bit justified? “Did you even consider the ‘Geneva option’?” he asked. One of his sticking points was the practice of so-called “closed Communion”, and he argued that any church organization that would exclude other Christians from partaking is demonstrating its lack of catholicity, not affirming it. (“If Jesus visited your Orthodox parish, would you let him take Communion?” was another one of his rhetorical questions. I pointed out that actually, Christ would serve as the celebrant, since he’s the high priest. He wasn’t impressed.) I suggested that this in the context of the historical self-understanding of the Orthodox and Catholics, Charles’ point of view imposed a definition of “catholicity” on them that didn’t take them on their own terms. Charles insisted that in contemporary times, no group that claims to be a Christian organization may presume to be “the Church,” but he acknowledged being largely ignorant of pre-Reformation history, and was open to hearing the historical argument that one might make.

I walked Charles through the history as I understood it, explained how I had resolved certain questions for myself, and also had him read the Florovsky essay “The Worshipping Church” for some background on the relationship between liturgy, ecclesiology, and catholicity, and for a while it seemed like we might be getting someplace. Still, he ultimately couldn’t get past his own presuppositions, and while he initially was quite taken with Florovsky, for example, his last word on it was, “It’s a compelling piece on its own terms, but I’m pretty sure I can disprove his whole argument from scripture.” As far as the historical argument went, he saw it in the end as question-begging (not illegitimate, I suppose, from a Protestant point of view), and our correspondence petered out when it became clear that the differences were insuperable. I’m not entirely sure what happened to him, although there was a commenter who called himself “Bubba” on Rod Dreher‘s old Crunchy Con blog who had an eerily similar temperament and set of pet issues when it came to Christians coming out of a sacramental tradition. I asked “Bubba” once if he was Charles, and he gave a strange, non-responsive answer that seemed to amount to, “Don’t call me that around here,” so I let it drop.

Today, if I were to find myself in a similar exchange, I would still have the person read Florovsky, but I would give him Fr. John McGuckin’s The Orthodox Church: An Introduction to its History, Doctrine, and Spiritual Culture for the history, and Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick’s Orthodoxy and Hetorodoxy: Exploring Belief Systems Through the Lens of the Ancient Christian Faith for a clear statement of how Orthodox Christianity sees itself in the midst of religious pluralism, be that Christian pluralism or non-Christian pluralism.

The project of Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy is to give the reader a clear picture of where Orthodox Christianity positions itself relative to other Christian groups, major and minor, as well as select few non-Christian so-called “world religions”. To this end, Fr. Andrew starts out with a clear statement that, yes, this book is going to deal with doctrine, it is going to do so with the core assumption that Orthodox Christianity teaches the right doctrine, and while all humility is intended to be employed, that’s going to involve saying where we think we’re right and others are wrong. In calling ourselves Orthodox, that presumes that differences constitute heresy and/or heterodoxy, and we’re going to use those words. Key distinctives of Orthodox doctrine are sketched out, and Fr. Andrew then walks the reader through a number of issues, historical and doctrinal, having to do with Roman Catholicism, the various historic Protestant groups (that is, the offshoots from the “magisterial” and “radical” Reformers), Revivalists, fringe groups, and so on.

There’s a very tricky space that the book is staking out from the first page; how do you accomplish the stated objective using the stated methodology without the book seeming like a non-stop polemic? It’s very easy to be tarred with the “anti-” brush just by pointing out where there is disagreement. Well, turns out that there is in fact a way to do it. Fr. Andrew’s approach is to discuss differences, yes, but to also always note agreement and similarities (where possible, at least), as well as points where there could be agreement, or at least similarity, should the other side clarify one or two things or move a little bit in some direction. In short, he calls a spade a spade, but he endeavors to do so to an extent where it acknowledges the positive as well as the negative. An example may be found in the conclusion to his chapter on Roman Catholicism:

…it is critical for Orthodox Christians to note that twentieth- and twenty-first-century Roman Catholicism has seen a number of developments bringing some theologians closer to Orthodoxy and others further away. There is much in the Ressourcement (French, “going back to the sources”) movement with its fresh emphasis on the Church Fathers that should encourage the Orthodox. At the same time, certain disturbing distortions occurred in some sectors of the Roman Catholic Church in the twentieth century, such as Liberation Theology, an attempt to wed church dogma with Marxist politics.

Because of these kinds of developments — as well as the ongoing problem of the gap between official Vatican teaching and what the average Roman Catholic personally believes or is taught from the pulpit — Orthodox believers should tread lightly in discussing theology with Roman Catholics. They may be closer to or further from Orthodoxy than what is officially taught by the Vatican. It is critical to discern what the person in front of you believes before launching into any sort of detailed refutation of Roman Catholic dogman and practice.

I also believe that much of modern Orthodox criticism of Roman Catholicism is based either on pre-twentieth-century models of Rome’s thought or simply on mischaracterizations and oversimplifications of its theology and practice. In my opinion, many of the Orthodox writers of our time have borrowed heavily from Protestant polemics against Rome, which are often based either in exaggerations of misunderstandings of Rome’s theology or are instead based on Protestant theology which is not consistent with Orthodoxy. Again, it is critical that we understand the theology of the person in front of us as well as our own (pp58-9).

Now, I have no doubt that somebody could jump all over him for a point or two here and there (I can think of one or two people who probably would not take kindly to his characterization of Liberation Theology as a “distortion”, for example, and I suspect that any positive assessment of Ressourcement would also raise the hackles of some others), but for my money there’s a lot to this approach to like. There is disagreement between Orthodoxy and Catholicism, but it is not monolithic; this is what’s good, this is what’s problematic, and we’re not exactly perfect in our own approaches to criticism, so let’s have some humility. That is more or less the tone of the whole book, and it is a welcome one.

That said, there are some things that come across more sharply than others. It is accurate to point out, as Fr. Andrew does, that since Orthodox Christianity sees the Church as the New Israel and God’s chosen people, present-day Israel and Judaism have no special status from an Orthodox perspective. It is also uncomfortable to read stated so matter-of-factly in so many words. Again, as noted earlier, pointing out disagreement seems to lend itself easily to accusations of prejudice in the current era. Nonetheless, Fr. Andrew both makes it abundantly clear that’s not where he’s coming from and extends the same notice of similarities and agreement that he does to every other religion discussed in the book.

Fr. Andrew’s writing style is clear and accessible, but it is also articulate enough that one never gets the sense that he is dumbing anything down. He says what he has to say, and explains what he thinks needs explaining, and the end result should be quite readable for the average person while still being sophisticated enough for the reader who perhaps might assume that the book is written for a fifth grade reading level. There are occasional moments where his lucid prose style is interrupted with a logical leap I couldn’t quite follow, but these are few and far between. He demonstrates a wide familiarity with source materials for other religions, and also a wider knowledge of Orthodox sources than I might have expected. His is perhaps the first “mainstream” book on Orthodox Christianity in the English language I’ve encountered that cites Fr. Seraphim Rose to support an argument, for example (and to my mind, that’s progress).

For me, there is only one truly awkward moment in the book, and I’ll be up front and say it’s probably a personal issue. It is when he invokes the Civil War in discussing the differing concepts of the episcopate between Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy:

The vision of Church governance is not merely administrative but involves a theological outlook different from Orthodoxy’s collegial episcopacy. Students of American history will recognize a transition similar to the one in which centralized federal power won out in the Civil War against a looser federation of sovereign states. Just as Americans began thereafter to refer not to “these United Sates” but “the United Sates,” Roman Catholics who refer to the “the Church” most often have in mind the Vatican rather than a sense of the wholeness of the people of God (p35).

I will fully acknowledge that this quibble may well be my problem and my problem alone, but my godfather (himself the author of a book outlining the difference between Orthodox Christianity and Restorationist Christianity that would perhaps be a useful reference for Fr. Andrew in future editions) is a Southerner who refers to the Civil War as “the war of Northern aggression”, and Fr. Andrew is fairly outspoken publicly about his localist political views, so it is difficult for me to not see this carefully-worded paragraph as a moment where politics that are tangential to the topic are seeping through. It’s enough of a minor, subjective, and arguable point that I hesitate to even mention it, but I found myself reacting very strongly while reading it, so there we are.

If I have any suggestions for future editions or printings, consulting my godfather’s book for the chapter dealing with Campbell-Stone folks would be one; another would be to reconsider the subtitle. Last year I wrote a paper that used the word “lens”, much as this book’s subtitle does, to describe perspectives that shaped analysis (not the first time I’ve done so, mind), and the professor circled the word and wrote the comment, “In these troubled times, everybody is resorting to looking at things through lenses. It has become a cliché, so please find another way to phrase it.”

In sum, Fr. Andrew’s Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy is an articulate book that takes what could be treacherous subject matter and handles it with a lot of grace, authority, and humility. It strikes me as being a valuable resource for those who might have the responsibility of teaching adult catechism, as well as a worthwhile read for those non-Orthodox who want to get an adult-oriented, non-simplistic, reasonable take on just how much air there might be between Orthodoxy and their denomination. Recommended.

Repost — Review: Fellow Workers With God: Orthodox Thinking on Theosis by Norman Russell

I wrote this review about a year and a half ago for a group blog that I’ve discovered has closed up shop. So, here it is again.

There’s a reason I’m a historian and not a theologian – or a philosopher, for that matter.

See, I’m a pretty simple guy at heart – I like narrative. I like characters. I like finding out what happened next. As soon as people start talking about contemplating the Godhead or mystical union or appropriation of the means of production or things like this, my eyes glass over until something shiny crosses my field of vision. Somebody Who Is A Big Name once gave me advice that I should try to figure out how to incorporate Hans Urs von Balthasar into my research interests if I really wanted them to be marketable; I got about thirty pages into the first volume of The Glory of the Lord when I had to put it down and admit I didn’t understand a word.

From that standpoint, I think I’m a member of the target audience for Norman Russell’s Fellow Workers with God: Orthodox Thinking on Theosis (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2009). Dr. Peter Bouteneff’s foreword says that the book is the product of “a specialist [who] cares enough to rethink [his] subject in non-specialist terms,” and I am definitely a non-specialist.

So what is this non-specialist’s verdict? Well… I can’t say I know any more about the theology of theosis than I did before I started the book, but that’s not Russell’s fault, that’s just a result of me not being terribly smart. However, as a historian, the book is very useful to me as an outline of the major contributors over the centuries to the understanding of what theosis is, and how they differ from one another.

Or is it? This is the problem with being a non-specialist reviewing a book for a non-specialist. I have to take the book’s word for it, for the most part.

At any rate, the overall project of the book is to be a general resource on theosis – what it is, the history of how Orthodox Christians talk about it, who has clarified which idea, and who agrees with whom and who doesn’t. It also spends time discussing how contemporary Orthodox theologians are looking at the issue, and also at least tries to move theosis out of the theoretical realm and to examine just what it means as a practical matter of day-to-day life.

Russell’s core argument is that theosis was a concept that was not fully articulated until St. Gregory Palamas, it was not fully articulated because it was not a matter of controversy until his time (with Russell arguing that all the elements of theosis were in place as normative for Orthodox Christians by the fourth century), and even so it has only been in the last four decades or so that it has taken center stage as a “common expression summarizing the whole economy [of] salvation.” Within the discussion, from the New Testament to the early Fathers, from them to Palamas, and from Palamas to Metropolitan John (Zizoulas) and Fr. John Behr, while there may be disagreement in the particulars of how theosis is described, Russell nonetheless sees a fundamental conceptual unity and convergence.

The structure of Russell’s presentation appears to be to deal with aspects of theosis in order of increasing complexity, which is perhaps why my copy is underlined less and less in later pages. The first question is, of course, is “what is theosis?” with an implied “why do we care?” Russell’s working definition is as follows:

Theosis is our restoration as persons to integrity and wholeness by participation in Christ through the Holy Spirit, in a process which is initiated in this world through our life of ecclesial communion and moral striving and finds ultimate fulfillment in our union with the Father – all within the broad context of the divine economy.

Okay – my eyes didn’t glass over too badly, so I guess that will work. Why do we care? Well, we care because, as stated above, this is the “ultimate fulfillment in our union with the Father”, our end goal as Christians.

From that starting point, Russell works through reasonably concrete questions of the relationship between theosis and salvation and how this relationship is situated within the divine economy, the scriptural foundations of theosis, and the impact of theosis on notions of Christian anthropology. In the last third of the book or so, Russell turns more to questions of a very speculative nature – self-transcendence, participation in the divine life, and union with God. (And before anybody yells at me for just quoting the last three chapter titles, it’s just about the best I can do with this section of the book. Passages like this one from the chapter on self-transcendence are why I’m not a theologian: “This ultimate unity is unity with the divine and yet it is not a unity with anything outside ourselves. It is when the self knows itself in a direct and immediate way that it ‘sees’ the divine.” Uh, okay.)

Thankfully, the epilogue, titled “Do You Live It?” tries to provide something of a practical framework for the more rarefied speculations:

The face that theosis encompasses the whole of the economy of salvation means that it is intended for all believers without exception. To live theosis, then, means to lead our life in an eschatological perspective within the ecclesial community, striving through prayer, participation in the Eucharist, and the practice of the moral life to attain the divine likeness, being conformed spiritually and corporeally to the body of Christ until we are brought into Christ’s identity and arrive ultimately at union with the Father.

And Russell must have known there would be a none-too-bright historian whose eyebrows would be crinkling with the strain of almost getting it, because he finishes the paragraph by saying:

In simpler terms, it means for an Orthodox Christian to live as a faithful member of the Church, attending the Liturgy, receiving the sacraments and keeping the commandments. Nothing more – or less – than that.

The book has a number of strengths; Russell appears to have a great deal of facility with the relevant authors, ancient and modern, and this combined with his organizational structure makes the book accessible and informative either as a whole or in distinct parts. He is also able to adduce evidence that goes beyond literary sources, iconographic and liturgical evidence for example, in a manner that is convincing and helpful. From that perspective, Fellow Workers With God is a useful quick-and-dirty introduction to the historian who needs a rundown of certain concepts and people without getting too confused by the theology; it does not shy away from the theology, however, so it would also seem appropriate as an introductory text for somebody just getting their feet wet in the world of Orthodox theology.

The prospective reader should be aware that this is certainly a St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press publication, for better or for worse (depending on the reader, of course). Among other things, I suspect that Russell will draw criticism from some circles in how he treats St. Dionysius the Areopagite; he follows academic convention in drawing a distinction between the disciple of St. Paul and the author of Celestial Hierarchies. Perhaps this may be seen as tempered by the amount of ink he gives Fr. Dumitru Staniloe, who evidently argued against the later dating of Celestial Hierarchies. I am also not familiar enough with contemporary theologians to know if those whom Russell examines in taking the present pulse of the question represent a group weighted too far in a particular direction. Certainly the citation of Archbishop Anastasios (Yannoulatos), who has apparently suggested that theosis is “a fundamental human right” which thus “cannot remain the exclusive possession of the Orthodox”, leaves me scratching my head a bit. On the other hand, Russell quickly follows that up by reaffirming that “it is only within the Orthodox perspective… that theosis acquires its full theological, spiritual, and ecclesial dimensions.”

I don’t think that this will be a work that will be altogether convincing to scholars who are not already inclined to be sympathetic to the concept; Russell is rather too up front about the amount of human participation assumed in theosis to be able to assuage Calvinists, for example. In the epilogue, Russell references “Lutherans [who] have studied the notion of theosis closely to see how it can enrich their ideas of sanctification and justification,” but the obvious next two questions – which Lutherans, and how many – aren’t answered with any clarity. From this standpoint, it is unfortunate, if ultimately not problematic from a standpoint of Tradition or even in terms of how Russell handles the matter, that one of the shortest chapters in the body of the book is “The Biblical Foundations of Theosis,” clocking in at a mere sixteen pages.

In conclusion, this is a book that, for my purposes, was quite informative and will bear re-reading as a reference. I still can’t quite engage the guts of the subject matter, and I’m not sure I ever will, but I’m at least more informed than I was. I’m not sure that Russell’s work contributed to my theosis, but perhaps my review may contribute to his.


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