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

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Religious Freedom in Russia

I know several Christians who, even before the Olympics shone the light on Russia, have been willfully indulging in what I can only regard as a certain kind of historically myopic romanticism about the country for its stance on certain moral questions, chiefly "homosexuality." They think they have found in Russia, Vladimir Putin, and the Russian Orthodox Church perhaps the last remaining powerful Christian bulwarks against trends that seem irreversible in the rest of Europe, North America, and elsewhere (at least outside the Islamic world). As tempting as it is to think in these terms, I find it untenable to do so for several reasons, not least recent Russian history, much of which is within very recent memory. This is a country with too long a track record of destroying its own citizens in the name of various ideologies and totalitarian thugs, some with crowns on their heads. To assume that all traces of this libido dominandi have been wiped out, that all perpetrators of various forms of torture, persecution, and execution have been extirpated from every inch of the country--or even modest sections of it--is, it seems to me, absurdly naive and a gross violation of the psalmist's counsel to "put not your trust in princes and in a son of man in whom there is no help."

My unease with seeing Russia today as an unadulterated incarnation of "Holy Russia" or the "Third Rome" or a new model of Christian "symphonia" or other pious rubbish is only magnified after having just finished reading Koenraad De Wolf's fascinating and moving new book, Dissident for Life: Alexander Ogorodnikov and the Struggle for Religious Freedom in Russia (Eerdmans, 2013), xii+303pp. About this book we are told:

This gripping book tells the largely unknown story of longtime Russian dissident Alexander Ogorodnikov -- from Communist youth to religious dissident, in the Gulag and back again. Ogorodnikov's courage has touched people from every walk of life, including world leaders such as Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, and Margaret Thatcher.
In the 1970s Ogorodnikov performed a feat without precedent in the Soviet Union: he organized thousands of Protestant, Orthodox, and Catholic Christians in an underground group called the Christian Seminar. When the KGB gave him the option to leave the Soviet Union rather than face the Gulag, he firmly declined because he wanted to change "his" Russia from the inside out. His willingness to sacrifice himself and be imprisoned meant leaving behind his wife and newborn child.

Ogorodnikov spent nine years in the Gulag, barely surviving the horrors he encountered there. Despite KGB harassment and persecution after his release, he refused to compromise his convictions and went on to found the first free school in the Soviet Union, the first soup kitchen, and the first private shelter for orphans, among other accomplishments.

Today this man continues to carry on his struggle against government detainments and atrocities, often alone. Readers will be amazed and inspired by Koenraad De Wolf's authoritative account of Ogorodnikov's life and work.
Though having read works on the Gulag, the de-Kulakization and collectivization campaigns of mass starvation, the NKVD/KGB, the Russian Revolution, the state of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church under communism, and biographies of figures such as Stalin, Khrushchev, and Solzhenitsyn--as well as wider works on imperial policy, the tsars, the Romanovs, Russian spirituality and iconography, Russian theologians, and Russian wars, including the Crimean War, and World War I and II--I was still repeatedly taken aback by the descriptions of the abuse suffered by Ogorodnikov for simply being a Christian. I was well aware of what communism did to Christians, and the millions of martyrs it created. But perhaps my memory has gone a bit soft after two decades since the collapse of the evil empire. This book is a fresh reminder of all those horrors, and not just in the dark days of the Brezhnev era, but even well after the USSR officially collapsed and ended. Even through the 1990s, and into the last decade, Ogorodnikov was still being severely harassed by various Russian officials for the "crime" of running a shelter and soup-kitchen near Moscow. How he has survived all this can only be seen as a miracle and gift of God.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Then Cometh the End

One of the high points of my tenure as editor of Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies was when Stanley Hauerwas sent me an article to publish, which we happily did in 2006. It was an essay treating the thought of St. Gregory the Theologian on poverty and learning. Hauerwas used Gregory to ask the question of whether a Christian university that really cares for the poor can continue to operate as its secular counterparts do, or whether it needs to be structured differently.

Back in the mid-1990s, Hauerwas and I became, as he insisted, friends--even if it was an epistolary friendship, with our not actually meeting until 2004 when we both gave papers at a conference in Prince Edward Island. He was very helpful in getting my MA thesis defended, and providing much counsel along the way. He, Alasdair MacIntyre, and Cardinal Newman (the "three wise men") laid the intellectual groundwork for my becoming Catholic.

But never mind this tedious autobiography. Hauerwas's significance and importance stretches far beyond my little world. He has been, for more than twenty years now, widely thought of as one of the most important Protestant theologians in North America. Indeed, in 2001, Time magazine (back when it was something of an institution and people actually read it--does anybody bother with it today?) put him on its cover as theologian of the year in the aftermath of Hauerwas's controversial comments on the 9/11 attacks.

Hauerwas recently retired from Duke, but continues to publish. As he moves through his 70s now, the title of his most recent book seems doubly fitting: Approaching the End: Eschatological Reflections on Church, Politics, and Life (Eerdmans, 2013), xvii+251pp. About this book we are told:

In this book Stanley Hauerwas explores the significance of eschatological reflection for helping the church negotiate the contemporary world.

In Part One, "Theological Matters," Hauerwas directly addresses his understanding of the eschatological character of the Christian faith. In Part Two, "Church and Politics," he deals with the political reality of the church in light of the end, addressing such issues as the divided character of the church, the imperative of Christian unity, and the necessary practice of sacrifice. End, for Hauerwas, has a double meaning -- both chronological end and end in the sense of "aim" or "goal."

In Part Three, "Life and Death," Hauerwas moves from theology and the church as a whole to focusing on how individual Christians should live in light of eschatology. What does an eschatological approach to life tell us about how to understand suffering, how to form habits of virtue, and how to die?

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Post-Soviet Secularism

Certain starry-eyed romantics see in today's Russia a resurgence of perhaps the last "great" Christian power in Europe and perhaps the world. Certain critics see in it a thinly disguised version of the old USSR. The truth is messier than that, as it so often is. While the Orthodox Church post-1991 has experienced massive growth, by far the majority of Russians today do not darken the doors of a church with any regularity. So it is correct to say that in the last two decades both "religiosity" and "secularism" have made inroads, and scholars continue to publish numerous books trying to make sense of all this. One such recently reissued effort is Sonja Luehrmann, Secularism Soviet Style: Teaching Atheism and Religion in a Volga Republic.

About this book we are told:
Sonja Luehrmann explores the Soviet atheist effort to build a society without gods or spirits and its afterlife in post-Soviet religious revival. Combining archival research on atheist propaganda of the 1960s and 1970s with ethnographic fieldwork in the autonomous republic of Marij El in Russia's Volga region, Luehrmann examines how secularist culture-building reshaped religious practice and interreligious relations. One of the most palpable legacies of atheist propaganda is a widespread didactic orientation among the population and a faith in standardized programs of personal transformation as solutions to wider social problems. This didactic trend has parallels in globalized forms of Protestantism and Islam but differs from older uses of religious knowledge in rural Russia. At a time when the secularist modernization projects of the 20th century are widely perceived to have failed, Secularism Soviet Style emphasizes the affinities and shared histories of religious and atheist mobilizations.

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Orthodox Church in the Arab World

I have known of the impending publication of this book for over a year, and my impatience to read it has grown with each passing month. As I have too often noted, there is still a great deal to learn about early Christian encounters with Islam, and this book will help us do that in a very important way. Now at last it has been published: Samuel Noble and Alex Treiger, The Orthodox Church in the Arab World, 700 - 1700: An Anthology of Sources (Northern Illinois University Press,2014), 355pp.

About this book we are told:
Arabic was among the first languages in which the Gospel was preached. The Book of Acts mentions Arabs as being present at the first Pentecost in Jerusalem, where they heard the Christian message in their native tongue. Christian literature in Arabic is at least 1,300 years old, the oldest surviving texts dating from the 8th century. Pre-modern Arab Christian literature embraces such diverse genres as Arabic translations of the Bible and the Church Fathers, biblical commentaries, lives of the saints, theological and polemical treatises, devotional poetry, philosophy, medicine, and history. Yet in the Western historiography of Christianity, the Arab Christian Middle East is treated only peripherally, if at all.

The first of its kind, this anthology makes accessible in English representative selections from major Arab Christian works written between the 8th and 18th centuries. The translations are idiomatic while preserving the character of the original. The popular assumption is that in the wake of the Islamic conquests, Christianity abandoned the Middle East to flourish elsewhere, leaving its original heartland devoid of an indigenous Christian presence. Until now, several of these important texts have remained unpublished or unavailable in English. Translated by leading scholars, these texts represent the major genres of Orthodox literature in Arabic. Noble and Treiger provide an introduction that helps form a comprehensive history of Christians within the Muslim world. The collection marks an important contribution to the history of medieval Christianity and the history of the medieval Near East.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Byzantine Architecture

Interest in all things Byzantine remains high, and it is a happy time to live in an age in which so much scholarship is being published about Byzantine art, architecture, iconography, and much else besides. A new book, set for release at the end of next month, further deepens our understanding: Nicholas N. Patricios, The Sacred Architecture of Byzantium: Art, Liturgy and Symbolism in Early Christian Churches (I.B. Tauris, 2014), 384pp.

About this book we are told:
The churches of the Byzantine era were built to represent heaven on earth. Architecture, art and liturgy were intertwined in them to a degree that has never been replicated elsewhere, and the symbolism of this relationship had deep and profound meanings. Sacred buildings and their spiritual art underpinned the Eastern liturgical rites, which in turn influenced architectural design and the decoration which accompanied it. Nicholas N Patricios here offers a comprehensive survey, from the age of Constantine to the fall of Constantinople, of the nexus between buildings, worship and art. His identification of seven distinct Byzantine church types, based on a close analysis of 370 church building plans, will have considerable appeal to Byzantinists, lay and scholarly. Beyond categorizing and describing the churches themselves, which are richly illustrated with photographs, plans and diagrams, the author interprets the sacred liturgy that took place within these holy buildings, tracing the development of the worship in conjunction with architectural advances made up to the 15th century. Focusing on buildings located in twenty-two different locations, this sumptuous book is an essential guide to individual features such as the synthronon, templon and ambo and also to the wider significance of Byzantine art and architecture.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Visiting Prisoners

In the ante-Lenten period of preparation we have now begun, Byzantine Christians will presently hear the chilling passage from Matthew's gospel on the Sunday of the Last Judgment, sometimes popularly called Meatfare Sunday, which this year is February 23. There Christ poses a series of questions to disturb us all, asking, inter alia, when we visited Him by visiting those in prison. From priestly friends in pastoral ministry, I have several times heard how the number of Christian, especially Catholic and Orthodox, chaplains in full-time prison ministry in this country is abysmally low. And we have repeatedly heard recently about the outrageously high rates at which people are clapped into gaol in this country, at far higher rates than any other major country in the world. Clearly there is much brokenness here on many levels.

A new book by Amy Levad, then, is very welcome in reflecting theologically on these problems: Redeeming a Prison Society: A Liturgical and Sacramental Response to Mass Incarceration (Fortress Press, 2014), 192pp.

About this book we are told:

The United States criminal justice system is in a state of crisis, from unprecedented rates of imprisonment and recidivism to the privatization of the prison system and the disproportionate representation of particular racial, ethnic, social, and economic groups, all of which is within a larger social justice context. Catholics and Protestants have largely failed to offer vital theological responses. Amy Levad offers a Catholic perspective that directly addresses the concrete issues from a strongly interdisciplinary approach and utilizes the rich liturgical and sacramental resources of penance and Eucharist to offer a theological vision of reform.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The God Who Is Beauty

It is of course a topos of Eastern Christianity that "beauty is God's middle name" as I've heard one priest put it--that beauty, in the almost hackneyed phrasing of Dostoevsky, will save the world. A recent book by Brenda Thomas Sammon explores the role of beauty in depth in two pivotal philosopher-theologians of East and West: The God Who Is Beauty: Beauty as a Divine Name in Thomas Aquinas and Dionysius the Areopagite (Princeton, 2013), 402pp.

About this book we are told:
When in the sixth century Dionysius the Areopagite declared beauty to be a name for God, he gave birth to something that had long been gestating in the womb of philosophical and theological thought. In doing so, Dionysius makes one of his most pivotal contributions to Christian theological discourse. It is a contribution that is enthusiastically received by the schoolmen of the Middle Ages, and it comes to permeate the thought of scholasticism in a multitude of ways. But perhaps nowhere is the Dionysian influence more pronounced than in the thought of Thomas Aquinas.

This book examines both the historical development of beauty's appropriation as a name for God in Dionysius and Thomas, and the various contours of what it means. The argument that emerges from this study is that given the impact that the divine name theological tradition has within the development of Christian theological discourse, beauty as a divine name indicates the way in which beauty is most fundamentally conceived in the Christian theological tradition as a theological theme. As a phenomenon of inquiry, beauty proves itself to be enigmatic and elusive to even the sharpest intellects in the Greek philosophical tradition. When it is absorbed within the Christian theological synthesis, however, its enigmatic content proves to be a powerful resource for theological reasoning.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Iconoclasms Past and Present, East and West, Christian and Otherwise

The field of iconoclasm studies has been putting out several interesting books and articles in the past few years. I earlier noted James Noyes's recent book here. Then, this past weekend, I had an opportunity to finish another recent study, a collection of articles edited by Stacy Boldrick, Leslie Brubaker and Richard Clay, Striking Images, Iconoclasms Past and Present (Ashgate, 2013), 236pp.

About this book we are told:
All cultures make, and break, images. Striking Images, Iconoclasms Past and Present explores how and why people have made and modified images and other cultural material from pre-history into the 21st century. With its impressive chronological sweep and disciplinary breadth, this is the first book about iconoclasm (the breaking of images) and the transformation of broader sets of signs that includes contributions from archaeologists, curators, and museum conservators as well as historians of art, literature and religious studies.The chapters examine themes critical to the study of iconoclasm: violence, punishment, memory, intentionality, ruins and relics and their survival. The conclusion shows how cross-disciplinary debate amongst the contributors informed Tate Britain's 'Art Under Attack' exhibition (2013) and addresses the challenges iconoclasm presents to the modern museum.By juxtaposing objects and places usually considered in isolation, Striking Images raises provocative questions about our understandings of cross-cultural differences and the value of representational objects from the broken swords of pre-historical bog graves to the Bamiyan Buddhas and contemporary art. Are any such objects ever 'finished', or are they simply subject to constant transformation? In dialogue with each other, the essays consider this question and expand the field of iconoclasm - and cultural - studies.
This collection is valuable for several reasons, not least that it reveals that "iconoclasm" is not merely an episode in eighth-century Byzantine history. Indeed, as Leslie Brubaker's short introductory article makes clear (too briefly, in my view, which is why you'd be better off buying her recent, and vastly more affordable, book discussed here), the whole idea of "iconoclasm" is a twentieth-century neologism. The East-Romans never knew the term, and instead spoke of "iconomachy" or "image struggles."

But apart from Brubaker's chapter, almost none of the remaining chapters treat Christian iconoclasm. Instead they look at examples from other cultures and traditions, ancient and modern, taking a welcome and expansive view of the destruction of images variously conceived. One consistent theme is how often iconoclasm is a prelude to, and indeed already a part of, an ascendant new political ideology, again variously conceived. This book, while not inexpensive, would nonetheless make a good survey text for introductory courses on iconoclasm and art history more generally, helping students and general readers see that neither Christianity nor Islam has a monopoly on the destruction of art that conflicts, or appears to conflict, with regnant political and ideological arrangements.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Be Still!

Those of us in the Byzantine liturgical tradition have begun the ante-Lenten period leading up to the Great Fast in about three weeks. Happily this year, Pascha is the same on both the Julian and Gregorian calendars, and quite late in April, too, where it belongs--when one has a reasonable hope, in the northern hemisphere, of it being at least semi-warm and green outside.

Part of the prescribed practice of the fast is the regular recitation of the prayer of St. Ephraim, who is the patron of my firstborn son. In that prayer, we ask the Lord to spare us from the temptation of "idle chatter." If you are an academic, or know or are related to an academic (or, dare one say, a cleric!) you know what a vast temptation "idle chatter" is. It is therefore important to have a reminder of the importance of resisting this temptation, and we have that in a new book, released only this month, by Norris Chumley, Be Still and Know: God's Presence in Silence (Fortress Press, 2014), 173pp.

About this book we are told:
Early Christian spirituality is a topic of enduring fascination today among scholars and general readers alike. Stories of hermits living in the desert in their pursuit of God catch our fancy. What motivated them? What drove them, or drew them, to silence on their path to God? And what do those lessons mean for us today?

In this gracious tour through our tradition, Norris J. Chumley introduces us to Hesychasm, or the practice of silence and contemplative prayer, and the lives of its early practitioners. Then, as only a teacher and mentor can, he opens up those important meanings for today.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Upcoming Scholarly Presentations on Eastern Christianity

If you are around

a) Princeton, NJ,
b) Pittsburgh, PA, or
c) Ft. Wayne, IN in the coming weeks, you may want to check out the following presentations on Eastern Christianity:

a)  The fourth annual Florovsky symposium, this year on the theme of creation and creaturehood. Details are here.
b) Symposium on Romanian Spirituality at Duquesne University, featuring a number of Orthodox scholars I have interviewed on here, including Edith Humphrey, Nicholas Denysenko, and Radu Bordeianu. Details are here.
c)  A public lecture on religious art and iconoclasm, which I am giving with a colleague of mine, Dr. Esperanca Camara, an expert on Italian renaissance art. We will be looking at contemporary schoalrship on iconoclasm in both Eastern and Western and Christian and non-Christian contexts. Details here.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Eastern Engagements Entre Nous and with the West

I am very pleased indeed that Fr. Oliver Herbel, whom I interviewed last week and whose book I discussed on here recently, has asked me to be part of a new venture in which Catholics and Orthodox engage together on some of the controverted issues of our time. You may read more about that venture here. Spread the word!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Religions of Iran

One of the interesting aspects of the study of Eastern Christianity is that the further East you go, the more you encounter people who regard Eastern, i.e., Byzantine, Christians as "Western" in geographically relative terms if nothing else. If one travels down the Silk Road, one encounters Assyrian, Persian, and other "far" Eastern Christians who are quite often even more obscure, at least in contemporary scholarship, than Byzantine and Syriac Christians are. Still, we are seeing this change, and a recent book by an author whom I previously discussed on here, may well help: Richard Foltz, Religions of Iran: From Prehistory to the Present (One World, 2013), 368pp.

About this book we are told:
Although today associated exclusively with Islam, Iran has in fact played an unparalleled role within all the world religions, injecting Iranian ideas into the Jewish, Buddhist, Christian, and Manichaean traditions of the merchants who passed along the Silk Road. This vivid and surprising work explores the manner in which Persian culture has interacted with and transformed each world faith, from the migration of the Israelites to Iran thousands of years ago to the influence of Iranian notions on Mahayana Buddhism and Christianity. Foltz considers Iran’s role in shaping the Muslim world, not only in the Middle East but also in South Asia in an evocative and informative journey through the spiritual heritage of an ancient and influential region.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Oliver Herbel on Turning to Tradition

Last week I posted a review of Fr. Oliver's splendid new book. I had previously sent him some questions for an interview, and here are his replies. 

AD: When we last talked on here, it was about your book on Serapion of Thmuis. How, in the last two years, have you moved from ancient Egyptian patristics to Turning to Tradition: Converts and the Making of an American Orthodox Church? Was this a planned development or an unexpected move? What, if anything, links the progress from the first book to the second?

OH: I admit that is a jump!  Would it surprise you to know I published an article on Anselm and one on Bonaventure during the interim (in addition to articles on American Orthodoxy)?  The move was both planned and unplanned.  Dr. Lois Malcolm at Luther Seminary told our systematics class (and presumably she tells each class this) that it is wise and helpful to have two periods of church history from which to draw when developing one’s theology.  That stuck with me and so I have always felt it to be important to have a handle on some geographical and temporal location in the early church together with a later period.  I privately decided to one-up Lois’ class challenge and committed to finding three periods, to triangulate my theology. It’s been a slow go to develop the third (Byzantine theology of the eighth, ninth, and tenth centuries, which is slowly coming to the fore and lies behind the Anselm and Bonaventure articles and guides a current project in collaboration with Brian Matz of Carroll College on the filioque dispute of the ninth century—may we see that through!). 

In my case, I wanted to be grounded in patristic thought and at St. Vladimir’s, I encountered Sarapion, who intrigued me, as he was a desert father, but also clearly an astute, philosophical intellectual.  I also admitted that I had sympathy for him as a little known saint—there’s something about a “dark horse.”  Anyhow, when I went to SLU, I fully intended to write a dissertation on Sarapion.  About a year-and-a-half into my studies, though, I found American historical theology to be not only the second area in which to ground my theology, but the area that interested me more.  I didn’t expect that.  So, finding a second, modern period was planned (because of that class at Luther) but finding it to be “American” and finding that to be more interesting to me than fourth century Egypt was unplanned.  Up to that time, I had a relatively generic view of Orthodox history in America.  As I researched and wrote my paper-turned-article on Nicholas Bjerring, the first convert priest in 1870, however, I realized just how much Orthodox overlapped with theological movements in America.  I also realized that many of the generalizations of that generic history needed to be questioned.  It was all downhill after that.  By that time, I had done so much translation work on Sarapion (with encouragement from Fr. McLeod) that I decided to finish that up and complete a manuscript, which I did.  It took a little while for it to go through the publication process, but it did.  So, I published a book on what would have become a dissertation and then completed a dissertation and have now published that book. 

I should note that Cornelia Horn gave as good a pitch as any to get me to re-prioritize my areas of research, and I’m thankful for working with her as well, but American Orthodoxy is too fascinating to me.  There is also the fact that Fr. John Erickson, who was on my dissertation committee, and my advisor, Michael McClymond, have an interest in American Christianity that is contagious.

So, in the last few years I have found myself writing articles on American Orthodoxy and completing this book.  I’m quite thankful to be where I’m at in terms of research and publications.

AD: In your introduction you use several striking and revealing terms such as "ecclesiastical restorationism" Could you elaborate a bit on that term for us?

OH: Sure.  By using the phrase ecclesiastical restorationism, I meant to highlight two things.  First, that what is going on here is something more than merely switching denominations on the one hand (say, going from Lutheranism to Presbyterianism).  The converts were doing more than denominational hopping.  They were operating within a restoration paradigm, seeking to restore, or reconstitute, something. 
The second (and most important) thing I hope this phrase highlights is that the converts in question were not simply looking for a past historical standard but a past historical ecclesiastical standard—a past church that set Christian norms.  This is why tradition was such a concern.  They were concerned not merely with a tradition of ideas, but a tradition of a kind of religious existence.  In fairness, of course, any restorationist Christian movement will seek to reestablish the early church but in the case of these converts, it went beyond that, with them looking for a “church” that could be found to have existed early on and to have set the standards to which, they believed, we are all to adhere.  That is to say, “church” was not a secondary or derivative concern, but a primary one.

AD: You speak of the role of theology in conversion. Is there one consistent role for theology? At risk of generalization, could one inquire as to whether theology plays a major role positively--coming to embrace Orthodox theology for its own sake as the fullness of truth--or is the role of theology largely "negative" for converts insofar as Orthodoxy represents what my former tradition is not (liberal, pro-gay, etc)? Or perhaps it's a mixture of both?
OH: This is an interesting question.  When I began looking at theology as a factor, I had primarily the work of Lewis Rambo and Amy Slagle in mind.  For Rambo (and for Scot McKnight who has adopted Rambo’s system), theology sets patterns of behavior.  I didn’t think that was really the primary role of theology in these conversion narratives, at least not initially.  Additionally, Slagle’s study had noted theological factors but it wasn’t her task to assess them.  I decided to investigate what theological conclusions were driving  the conversion process and whether those conclusions fit within any larger trend(s) within American Christianity.  Interestingly, what I found could be argued to have brought me back full circle, inasmuch as three of the four converts studied pioneered theological norms for intra-Christian conversion to Orthodoxy.  That is to say, they promoted their way of looking at things and it guided many into the Orthodox Church. 
I say all this by way of preface, because what I found was that theology was, indeed, a “mix.”  It could operate both positively or negatively, in the ways you describe.  I think the primary way in which it functioned as “positive” was that the converts were making legitimate conclusions to the best of their ability.  If we deny that, then I think we end up down-playing what was motivating them at their core.  That said, this positive use was very much wedded to a negative use at times.  You see that in Toth with his polemics, which could be quite vehement.  You see this in Morgan and Berry on the issue of race and in Berry’s case in seeking something that isn’t too tied to “this world.”  You see it in Gillquist in his disgust with “parachurch.”  Others within the EOC who converted with Gillquist and are mentioned likewise had some negative motivations.  These negative motivations were important, but the motivations in and of themselves did not create the conclusions, for the converts could have chosen any other number of possible solutions than Orthodox Christianity.

AD: Your chapter on Alexis Toth also discusses Josaphat Kuntsevych, and it has long been a question of mine as to how each side should regard the other's saints, especially as one works towards unity. To put it crudely, one church's heretic is another church's hero. Toth, of course, was a former Eastern Catholic who became Orthodox and was canonized by the OCA while Kuntsevych went the opposite route, ending up a canonized martyr in the Ukrainian and Roman Catholic Churches. What are your thoughts on these competing martyrologies? How should we regard them today--as embarrassing emblems of nasty practices from the past we think we would never do again today? Or should their holiness be considered primarily on its own more individual and personal terms without regard to the ecclesial politics? (This issue came up in the Byzantine-Oriental dialogues where both liturgical traditions have canonized saints and anathematized heretics that are the direct opposite of each other, and neither side seems to know what to do about that since they do not want to simply abandon liturgical texts that have been prayed for centuries.)

OH: Oh, wow.  This is a tough one and one I will admit not having thought about nearly as much as I probably should, even though I first encountered this in a real way at seminary, when Dr. Bouteneff asked us the same question in a class looking at Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox relations.  So, I can only tell you where I’m at currently, which may not be my mature thought as I give this more time. 

I would say that what makes this question seem difficult is our sinful desire to hold grudges and identify with an imagined past.  It seems to be easy to identify with our own church brothers and sisters who were wronged in the past and then to retain the accusation of abuse against the contemporary expression of the opposing religious body.  One might claim this is a “sacramental” aspect to “church.”  This could be especially so in the case of Orthodox and Catholics.  Something like:  “My church is the body of Christ and therefore I am mystically present with the past abused persons when I go to liturgy/mass and therefore those past abuses are still meaningful and real.”  At other times, it’s much less profound and is simply a way of attacking the church you do not belong to simply because it doesn’t agree with your church.

However it is expressed, it seems to me that what is needed a reconfiguration based on the fact that the Church is, indeed, the Body of Christ.  If I believe my church is the Church (or at least part of it) then I should see the past martyrs as being able to exist at a level in which they can say “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  This perspective should then be combined with humility, such that we no longer think it pertains to us to continue the violence (even if by way of rhetoric).  If these are combined, we can then become open to the fact that each church has canonized people who helped people against abuse from the other side.  That is, we will realize our side sinned too.  Our side also helped create tensions and violence. 

So, to return to your examples: a faithful Roman Catholic should be able to say that Toth was right to oppose the prejudice he encountered from Western Catholics and a faithful Orthodox Christian should be able to say Josef Kuntsevych’s murder was wrong, as were the subsequent exaggerations later told to “justify” his murder.  At the same time, each side should hope that in a reunited church, a former Roman Catholic could say Toth’s faith is now dogmatically acceptable (even if he himself was mistaken at times) and a former Eastern Orthodox could say Kuntsevych’s faith is dogmatically acceptable (even if he was mistaken at times).  Their faiths would be seen as reunited.  So, in that context, I really don’t see the problem for canonizing both men.  In fact, I think reunion would require that both remain canonized.  For a real, lasting peace never ignores the difficulties, but reconciles them.

AD: I'm struck by the very different ways in with Catholic and Orthodox immigrants in the last century adjusted to the American context. Archbishop Ireland seems to be a paragon of the Catholic attempt to prove, as strenuously as possible, that Catholics were just like Americans--they spoke English, they were patriotic, they worked hard, they tried to blend in; but Orthodox seem more content to have retained indigenous languages and practices and more comfortable, perhaps, appearing as "exotic." And yet, the main burden of your book is in showing just how very much Orthodox did strive to become American through, as you aptly put it, the very American "anti-traditional tradition." Tell us a bit more about what you mean by that phrase.

OH: Yes, well, that gets at the central irony running through this book.  Here you have this faith that many Americans would still categorize as “exotic,” that has received many converts who have operated according to a very American pattern, and on the basis of that American pattern have, in turn, sought to evangelize other Americans.  That American pattern is one of anti-tradition (which could be called an anti-traditional tradition).  America has a long history of religious mavericks who emphasize a part of their previously received tradition in order to create something new.  This has led to an increasingly diversified and complex religious scene.  Restorationist movements embody this anti-traditional tradition by emphasizing aspects of what they had received in order to recreate what had once allegedly existed prior to that tradition that was given to them.  So, it is “anti-tradition” in trying to by-pass the received tradition but a “tradition” nonetheless by virtue of being an ongoing way of doing religion in America.  One restoration bequeaths another.  What has happened in the case of many American Orthodox converts, especially those I examined in my study, was that their very desire to find tradition was undertaken in a manner that represented the anti-tradition tradition. 
What is more, these converts then used this approach to lead and/or attract other converts.  This is important to note because some have taken such actions by new converts as simply perpetuating Orthodoxy’s “defensiveness” in the face of American culture when, in fact, it is evidence of engaging American pluralism.  One sees this in the case of Gillquist, for instance when he went on to encourage other Christians to join the Orthodox Church by arguing the Orthodox Church exists not merely as a non-denominational church but as a pre-denominational church.  It also becomes a way of trying to present the Orthodox Church to America in a way that Americans could appreciate it.
AD: In your discussion about the reception of many former Evangelical Orthodox into the Antiochian Archdiocese, it occurred to me that in some clear ways Met. Philip is precisely an embodiment of your 'anti-traditional tradition," yes? I'm thinking here of his handling of the Joseph Allen affair as well as his performing a "mass" ordination for the EO clergy in one liturgy. Is that a fair assessment of him?

OH:  Hmmm.  Interesting that you should ask this.  Not long after the book came out, a colleague and friend emailed me and wrote that Metropolitan Philip came off looking more like a lone ranger than this friend had previously thought.  I should point out that Metropolitan Philip was not a focus of my study.  He did, however, play significant roles in the conversions of Gillquist and the most of the former Evangelical Orthodox Church and so he appeared with some frequency in the last two chapters of this work.  He was connected to controversial decisions that affected that group of converts, including that of their ordinations and the remarriage of Fr. Joseph Allen, which you mention.  And, to be fair, he performed other actions surrounding those decisions that were (and are) controversial in themselves and this doesn’t even touch on Ben Lomond and fallout from that.  So, I can see how one might wonder if Metropolitan Philip doesn’t represent the anti-traditional tradition, but I would argue he does not fit the anti-traditional tradition as I set it out in my narrative.  Whatever one might think of his actions at times, he has not, from the sources I consulted, sought to recover and reestablish a previous norm.  He may be a religious maverick, but he did not exhibit the intention to reestablish a previous norm by establishing a new church or some larger church reform.  Indeed, the only common denominator I saw was himself.  I suppose if one were to broaden anti-traditional tradition far enough, he would fit, but then the phrase would merely be a synonym for a religious maverick of any kind whereas I wanted to highlight the founding of new denominations, religions, or reform efforts.  Perhaps someday someone will study his legacy, for all its complexities.  When that day arrives, I would encourage that scholar to consult the sources I did in addition to other sources that are relevant and to seek to be as unpartisan as possible, allowing the sources to speak for themselves.

AD: Your work shows, as you sum up at the end (p.156) that many converts "prioritized an earlier expression of Christianity and have identified the Orthodox Churches as continuations of that earlier church." This gets at something I've been thinking about more and more over the past year--and have discussed in my reviews of the new collection, Orthodox Constructions of the West: how many Eastern Christians (and in a different direction, but with similar methods, many "traditionalist" Roman Catholics also) appropriate history. I've heard it said that few of us read history on its own terms. Instead we "plunder it for present political purposes." Do you think that's generally true?
OH: That’s a great question because suspect there will be Orthodox who are not yet prepared to allow the historical evidence to be what it is but will believe that somehow I must have slanted it so that things did not look as neat and tidy (and triumphalistic) as might be found in books such as Orthodox America, 1794-1776 or Becoming Orthodox. What I would counter with is that we need to distinguish between plundering for our own purposes and investigating to address current concerns.  One can cherry pick any period of history to “prove” nearly anything but that is different from saying, “here is a topic that is important to us today—what is its history, its back story and what can we learn from this”?

AD: Following this, have you set out, or have other especially Orthodox historians set out, any basic hermeneutical and historiographical guidelines on reading and writing about church history? It's often seemed to me that some guidelines or ground-rules like that would be useful in trying to talk about (and defuse the tensions surrounding) controverted issues like, say, the Fourth Crusade or the Union of Brest and similar issues.

OH:  You’re determined to turn this interview into a book project of its own!  I actually think that what is eventually needed is an Orthodox philosophy/theology of history.  I actually have that as a long range goal, sometime later in my career.  I’m not even close to that yet, but I suppose there are a few things I could say.  I have outlined what I think historical theology means (see attached PDF).  I think the most important element is the ascetic—the effort to remain dispassionate as one researches and studies.  This is not easy, for any number of reasons.  One might already have a predetermined outcome one wants.  For instance, I suspect this happens at times when we want to canonize a particular person or particular kind of person.  One might also be cherry picking in order to defend a particular point of view.  This is an extreme version of the predetermined outcome.  Alternatively, one might simply be too colored by one’s political or ecclesiastical allegiance.  Here, the historian may be looking at all the evidence but the way in which it is weighed might seem questionable.  We all have perspective and that shouldn’t be denied but I think the biggest lesson we need to learn is to go into historical inquiry as an act of disciplining the soul and achieving dispassion.  It may be a never ending goal, but must be our goal nonetheless, especially those of us who would ground dispassion in theosis, which comes through Christ. 

AD: Sum up your hopes for this book:

OH: I have several hopes for this book.  First, I hope it provides scholars a way to assess many Orthodox conversions, if not the majority of them.  As a by-product, I think my thesis could be applied to analogous situations within the church, as you suggested by asking about Metropolitan Philip.  It didn’t work in his case, but maybe it could still apply in others.  Second, I hope this provides scholars, Orthodox clergy, and Orthodox laity with a more realistic view of some important converts and convert movements.  Orthodox have developed a fair amount of mythology surrounding Orthodox converts, a mythology that has often been wedded to triumphalism (talk about a lack of dispassion!).  This work clearly breaks through that and in that way, I hope it can serve as an example of the kind of historical inquiry Orthodoxy in America needs (whether internally, from Orthodox such as myself, or externally).

AD: What projects do you have on the go now? What will the next book likely be?

OH: In  true fashion for one who could simultaneously work on Sarapion and American Orthodox converts, I have three projects in progress. 

First, I am collaborating with my friend and colleague Brian Matz on translations of texts from the ninth century filioque dispute.  We hope to have a manuscript that we could submit a year from now.  Ed Sciecienski mentioned our work in his book, but Brian and I got distracted by our other projects, so it will be nice to return to this and publish it. 

Second, I am also working on a project that develops a virtue ethic from iconography.  This work is intended not simply as an academic piece, but as something that will be easily accessible to clergy and interested laity.  I am not sure how soon I will have something to a publisher with this project.  It will depend on what this spring and summer bring. 

A third project I am working on is more in-depth than the first two.  It builds from my convert book, taking up the idea of engaging American pluralism.  This project will be an exploration of American Orthodox engagement with religious freedom.  I believe this is a much needed area of exploration and in the conclusion I will directly engage some Orthodox political theology, and argue for an Orthodox-informed “Christian secularism.”  So, if I hope the first two will be to publishers within a year or so, this one will likely take a couple of years just to get into (rough) manuscript form.  This one might take a little while but I hope it will be worth it.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Alaskan Connection

Coming out in July of this year is an anthropological history of some of the earliest encounters with Orthodoxy on this continent: Sergei Kan, Memory Eternal: Tlingit Culture and Russian Orthodox Christianity through Two Centuries (University of Washington Press, 2014), 696pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
In Memory Eternal, Sergei Kan combines anthropology and history, anecdote and theory to portray the encounter between the Tlingit Indians and the Russian Orthodox Church in Alaska in the late 1700s and to analyze the indigenous Orthodoxy that developed over the next 200 years. Sergei Kan is professor of anthropology and Native American studies at Dartmouth College.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Bulgakov Between Tradition and Modernity

There is only one Orthodox theologian officially condemned in the last century, and his name still has the capacity to arouse denunciation today on the part of some, particularly those who have not read him. But those who have read him widely regard him as the most important Russian theologian of the twentieth century. A new book attempts to link his thought with historical changes in Russia from the sunset of the tsarist empire: Scott Lingenfelter, Between Tradition & Modernity: Sergei Bulgakov, Russian Orthodoxy, and Progressive Reform in Late Imperial Russia (Scholars Press, 2013), 252pp.

About this book we are told:
What is the role of Russian Orthodoxy in modern Russian history? Has it been a progressive or regressive force? Sergei Bulgakov's answer, conceived amid the prevailing winds in late Imperial Russia, is as relevant today as it was a century ago. Bulgakov's call for an open public square represented an attempt to reconcile opposing forces in the Russian Empire on the eve of war and revolution: imperial officials, the revolutionary intelligentsia, Russian Orthodox prelates, and the provincial parish clergy. On one hand, their challenge was to sustain an ongoing conversation about religious liberty, modernist cultural trends, and political and ethnic pluralism. On the other, the empire spoke with an inflection shaped by centuries of centralized power and eastern Slavic folkways. It was caught between tradition and modernity, as is twenty-first century Russia. Bulgakov's insights into this dilemma, examined comprehensively in this book, are a rich, largely untapped resource for navigating that journey today.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Celebrating Andrew Louth

Andrew Louth is one of the leading lights in Orthodox theology and history today, writing important and critically well received works in church history, patrology, and other areas. And so it is only fitting to see him honoured in a forthcoming Festschrift set for publication in April: Celebration of Living Theology: A Festschrift in Honour of Andrew Louth (T&T Clark, 2014), 272pp.

About this book we are told:
This volume brings together an international range of world-class scholars to engage with Andrew Louth’s work and its influence on modern Theology. Andrew Louth is well known and influential in the English-speaking circles but also in the non-English Orthodox world, especially across Eastern Europe. The interaction between these theological groups remains sparse and intermittent. By drawing together scholars from the three main branches of Christianity and from around the world, this volume helps to increase our knowledge and exposure between these different spheres. This volume comprises of articles on Patristics, Byzantine Fathers, Latin Fathers, Modern Christianity, Theology as Life and the reception of Louth’s work outside the English-speaking world. The papers are written by the leading scholars, such as Lewis Ayres, John Milbank, Kallistos Ware and Thomas Graumann.

The publisher also helpfully gives us a detailed table of contents:

Editors' Introduction

The work of Andrew Louth: An Assessment, Lewis Ayres

Part I: Patristics
1. Authority and Doctrinal Normation inPatristic Discourse, Thomas Graumann
2. Studying the Fathers in the TwentyFirst Century, John Behr
3. The Possibility of a Pan-Patristic Theology,Lewis Ayres
Part II: Byzantine Fathers
4. The Concept of 'Image' according to an Eight-Century Byzantine Bishop: St Andrew of Crete'sResponse to ps-Dionysius the Areopagite, Mary Cunningham
Part III: LatinFathers
5. The Far-Western Synthesis of East and West: Eriugena's Promise forthe Future, John Milbank
6. Boethius the Theologians, Augustine Casiday
Part IV: Modern Christianity
7. For a New History of Christian Orthodoxy,Antoine Arjakovsky
8. The Evolution of Florovsky's Reading of VladimirSolovyov and the Waywardness of Russian Theology
Part V: Theology as Life
9. The Future Path of Orthodox Thought: 'Culture and Society' or 'MysticalTheology'?
Part VI: The Reception of Louth's Work Outside theEnglish-speaking World
10. British Patristic School: Its Impact on ModernOrthodox Theology, Archimandrite Cyril Hovorun
11. Response, Andrew Louth
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...