A new book from Oxford looks interesting: Orthodox Christianity: A Very Short Introduction, by Edward Siecienski (Stockton University). The book seems to address only Eastern, as opposed to Oriental Orthodoxy, that is, the Chalcedonian churches that derive from the Byzantine experience (Greeks, Russians, and so on), rather than the Non-Chalcedonian churches (Armenians, Copts, Ethiopians, and so on). Well, the title does say it’s a “short” introduction. Here’s the description from the publisher’s website:
To many in the West, Orthodoxy remains shrouded in mystery, an exotic and foreign religion that survived in the East following the Great Schism of 1054 that split the Christian world into two camps–Catholic and Orthodox. However, as the second largest Christian denomination, Orthodox Christianity is anything but foreign to the nearly 300 million worshippers who practice it. For them, Orthodoxy is a living, breathing reality; a way of being Christian ultimately rooted in the person of Jesus and the experience of the early Church. Whether they are Greek, Russian, or American, Orthodox Christians are united by a common tradition and faith that binds them together despite differences in culture. True, the road has not always been smooth — Orthodox history is littered with tales of schisms and divisions, of persecutions and martyrdom, from the Sack of Constantinople, capital of the Byzantine Empire and seat of the Ecumenical Patriarch, to the experience of the Russian Orthodox Church under the Soviet Union. Still, today Orthodoxy remains a vibrant part of the religious landscape, not only in those lands where it has made its historic home (Greece, Russia, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe), but also increasingly in the West. Orthodox Christianity: A Very Short Introduction explores the enduring role of this religion, and the history, beliefs, and practices that have shaped it.
A book out this summer from Baylor University Press, Ethiopian Christianity: History, Theology, Practice, explores the history of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, which has shaped that country’s culture and politics for centuries–even today, more forty years after the end of the monarchy. The author is Philip Esler of the University of Gloucestershire. Here’s the description from the publisher’s website:
In Ethiopian Christianity Philip Esler presents a rich and comprehensive history of Christianity’s flourishing. But Esler is ever careful to situate this growth in the context of Ethiopia’s politics and culture. In so doing, he highlights the remarkable uniqueness of Christianity in Ethiopia.
Ethiopian Christianity begins with ancient accounts of Christianity’s introduction to Ethiopia by St. Frumentius and King Ezana in the early 300s CE. Esler traces how the church and the monarchy closely coexisted, a reality that persisted until the death of Haile Selassie in 1974. This relationship allowed the emperor to consider himself the protector of Orthodox Christianity. The emperor’s position, combined with Ethiopia’s geographical isolation, fostered a distinct form of Christianity—one that features the inextricable intertwining of the ordinary with the sacred and rejects the two-nature Christology established at the Council of Chalcedon.
In addition to his historical narrative, Esler also explores the cultural traditions of Ethiopian Orthodoxy by detailing its intellectual and literary practices, theology, and creativity in art, architecture, and music. He provides profiles of the flourishing Protestant denominations and Roman Catholicism. He also considers current challenges that Ethiopian Christianity faces—especially, Orthodoxy’s relations with other religions within the country, especially Islam and the Protestant and Roman Catholic churches. Esler concludes with thoughtful reflections on the long-standing presence of Christianity in Ethiopia and hopeful considerations for its future in the country’s rapidly changing politics, ultimately revealing a singular form of faith found nowhere else.
“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God.” These words open the thirteenth chapter of St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans, one of the earliest Christian reflections on the proper relation of church and state. Last fall, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press released a new commentary on Romans, Romans: An Orthodox Commentary, by Patrick Henry Reardon, senior editor at Touchstone Magazine and an Orthodox priest. Here’s the publisher’s description:
God seems to have chosen the Apostle Paul to demonstrate—arguably more than in any other person in Christian history—how the life “in Christ” arrives at insight through experience. If this is the case of Paul more than any other person in Christian history, the reason may be simply that Paul’s words are the Word of God. His epistles stand forever as the divinely chosen model of how the Christian arrives at truth through experience. Unlike so many theologians of later times, Paul did not inherit a Christian worldview. His vocation, rather, was to create such a thing from his own experience. For this reason, Paul’s thought ever remains the Church’s cutting blade, the biting edge of her apologetics and evangelism.
To affirm, as everyone does, that Romans is unique in the Pauline corpus should serve to indicate the necessity of caution in using it as a guide to the other epistles. But in recent centuries the Christological and ecclesiological core of Paul’s thought has been displaced by a preoccupation with religious and moral psychology; all the epistles were interpreted through a Romans lens. This is a false turn, which runs the risk of reducing salvation itself to a sub-division of religious anthropology. To misinterpret Paul is to misunderstand the Gospel itself. Fr Patrick Henry Reardon guards against this error and offers a fuller and more balanced picture of the Letter to the Romans, reading it in the context of the entire Pauline corpus and relying upon the best ancient sources, the Apostle’s earliest disciples and defenders, those Christians in the churches that Paul had a hand in founding. These churches, closely associated with the composition and copying of the epistles rightly enjoyed a recognized authority in the determination of early Christian doctrine.
Yesterday, we posted a new book from Baylor’s Frank Beckwith on the relevance of Aquinas for Evangelical Christians. Here’s another book out this month from Catholic University Press, Thomas Aquinas and the Greek Fathers, a collection of essays on Aquinas’s debt to the Greek Church Fathers. The editors are Michael Dauphinais (Ave Maria), Andrew Hofer ( Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception), and Roger Nutt (Ave Maria). The publisher’s description follows.
Scholars have often been quick to acknowledge Thomas Aquinas’s distinctive retrieval of Aristotle’s Greek philosophical heritage. Often lagging, however, has been a proper appreciation of both his originality and indebtedness in appropriating the great theological insights of the Greek Fathers of the Church. In a similar way to his integration of the Aristotelian philosophical corpus, Aquinas successfully interwove the often newly received and translated Greek patristic sources into a thirteenth-century theological framework, one dominated by the Latin Fathers. His use of the Greek Fathers definitively shaped his exposition of sacra doctrina in the fundamental areas of God and creation, Trinitarian theology, the moral life, and Christ and the Sacraments.
For the sake of filling this lacuna and of piquing scholarly interest in Aquinas’s relation to the Fathers of the Christian East, the Aquinas Center for Theological Renewal at Ave Maria University and the Thomistic Institute of the Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception at the Dominican House of Studies co-sponsored an international gathering of scholars that took place at Ave Maria University under the title Thomas Aquinas and the Greek Fathers. Sensitive to the commonalities and the differences between Aquinas and the Greek Fathers, the essays in this volume have sprung from the theme of this conference and offer a harvest of some of the conference’s fruits. At long last, scholars have a rich volume of diverse, penetrating essays that both underscore Aquinas’s unique standing among the Latin scholastics in relationship to the Greek Fathers and point the way toward avenues of further study.
In the Turkish language, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, the first primate among equals in the Orthodox Church, is known as the “Rum,” or “Roman” Patriarch. This is no accident: the Ecumenical Patriarch is the direct descendant of the Patriarch of the Eastern Roman Empire–what we commonly refer to today as the Byzantine Empire. The Byzantines spoke Greek, but thought of themselves as thoroughly Roman. That we think of them as something else reflects Western suspicion and hostility, as well as an effort to retain the heritage of Rome exclusively for its descendants on the European continent.
A new book from Harvard University Press, Romanland: Ethnicity and Empire in Byzantium, by classicist Anthony Kaldellis, explains how, in the Western mind, Byzantine Romans became Greeks. Looks fascinating. Here’s the description from the Harvard website:
A leading historian argues that in the empire we know as Byzantium, the Greek-speaking population was actually Roman, and scholars have deliberately mislabeled their ethnicity for the past two centuries for political reasons.
Was there ever such a thing as Byzantium? Certainly no emperor ever called himself “Byzantine.” And while the identities of minorities in the eastern empire are clear—contemporaries speak of Slavs, Bulgarians, Armenians, Jews, and Muslims—that of the ruling majority remains obscured behind a name made up by later generations.
Historical evidence tells us unequivocally that Byzantium’s ethnic majority, no less than the ruler of Constantinople, would have identified as Roman. It was an identity so strong in the eastern empire that even the conquering Ottomans would eventually adopt it. But Western scholarship has a long tradition of denying the Romanness of Byzantium. In Romanland, Anthony Kaldellis investigates why and argues that it is time for the Romanness of these so-called Byzantines to be taken seriously.
In the Middle Ages, he explains, people of the eastern empire were labeled “Greeks,” and by the nineteenth century they were shorn of their distorted Greekness and became “Byzantine.” Only when we understand that the Greek-speaking population of Byzantium was actually Roman will we fully appreciate the nature of Roman ethnic identity. We will also better understand the processes of assimilation that led to the absorption of foreign and minority groups into the dominant ethnic group, the Romans who presided over the vast multiethnic empire of the east.
Roughly half of those Americans who marry today choose a spouse from a different religious tradition. The high rate of intermarriage, which both reflects and promotes a basic American tolerance of religious difference, has major implications for the future of religion in our country. It also poses canonical and pastoral problems for those traditions, like Orthodox Christianity, which discourage and, in some circumstances, prohibit mixed marriage. A new book from St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, Mixed Marriage: An Orthodox History, by church historian Anthony Roeber (St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary) offers some perspective on the question from an Orthodox perspective. Here’s a description from the publisher’s website:
Fr. Roeber’s excellent book offers a lucid and fascinating history of marriage and its relationship to the Church, the authority of the bishop, pastoral practice in relation to the administration of the Mysteries (how can a couple sharing in the sacrament of Orthodox marriage not be allowed thereafter to share in the Eucharist from which it flows?) and how that important, but often ill-defined term of oikonomia can address the issue of mixed marriage today. The study’s strength is that it looks to the historical documentation of what happened in relation to mixed marriage in Orthodox past history, rather than following what is vaguely ‘supposed’ to have happened. Brilliantly and elegantly written, with a calm and surefooted perspective, it offers great interest for the specialist and layperson alike. This book will surely become a standard work on the subject.
This past weekend in Kiev, two independent Orthodox bodies united to form a new communion, the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, and elected a 39-year old bishop as the church’s patriarch. The patriarch will travel to Istanbul next month to receive a tomos of autocephaly from the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople — a recognition that the new church is autonomous from the Moscow Patriarchate, or Russian Orthodox Church, which claims jurisdiction under a 17th-century decree from the Ecumenical Patriarch, now overruled.
All this might seem esoteric to Western Christians, but in the Eastern Christian world, it is very big news, with geopolitical implications. Indeed, at this weekend’s ceremonies, Ukraine’s President, Peter Poroshenko, lauded the creation of the new body as a national declaration of independence from Russia.
The situation of Orthodoxy in Ukraine has been deeply contentious for at least 100 years, as Valparaiso University Professor Nicholas Denysenko recently wrote over at the Public Orthodoxy blog. Last month, Denysenko published a longer history of the conflict, The Orthodox Church in Ukraine: A Century of Separation (Northern Illinois University Press), which looks to be very helpful in understanding what’s going on. The publisher’s description follows:
The bitter separation of Ukraine’s Orthodox churches is a microcosm of its societal strife. From 1917 onward, church leaders failed to agree on the church’s mission in the twentieth century. The core issues of dispute were establishing independence from the Russian church and adopting Ukrainian as the language of worship. Decades of polemical exchanges and public statements by leaders of the separated churches contributed to the formation of their distinct identities and sharpened the friction amongst their respective supporters.
In The Orthodox Church in Ukraine, Nicholas Denysenko provides a balanced and comprehensive analysis of this history from the early twentieth century to the present. Based on extensive archival research, Denysenko’s study examines the dynamics of church and state that complicate attempts to restore an authentic Ukrainian religious identity in the contemporary Orthodox churches. An enhanced understanding of these separate identities and how they were forged could prove to be an important tool for resolving contemporary religious differences and revising ecclesial policies. This important study will be of interest to historians of the church, specialists of former Soviet countries, and general readers interested in the history of the Orthodox Church.
The Orthodox Churches–and here I speak broadly of Chalcedonian and Non-Chalcedonian Eastern Churches–lack a major presence in the United States. Actually, that’s an understatement, at least in terms of numbers. A recent Pew Survey put the percentage of Americans who are Orthodox Christians at only 0.5%. Many Orthodox Christians are immigrants or the children of immigrants. Yet Orthodoxy has established a foothold in this country, and attracts a steady trickle of converts, especially among intellectuals. And American Orthodoxy has established seminaries and monasteries that contribute to the Orthodox theological tradition.
Vigen Guroian, now retired from the University of Virginia, is a good example of an Orthodox (Armenian) theologian working in the US. Unlike many theologians, his work is accessible to the lay reader. His latest book, on Orthodoxy, culture, and modernity, should appeal to followers of our Center’s Tradition Project. The book is The Orthodox Reality: Culture, Theology and Ethics in the Modern World, from Baker Academic. Here’s the description from the publisher’s website:
This is a book about the struggle of Orthodox Christianity to establish a clear identity and mission within modernity–Western modernity in particular. As such, it offers penetrating insight into the heart and soul of Orthodoxy. Yet it also lends unusual, unexpected insight into the struggle of all the churches to engage modernity with conviction and integrity. Written by one of the leading voices of contemporary Orthodox theology, The Orthodox Reality is a treasury of the Orthodox response to the challenges of Western culture in order to answer secularism, act ecumenically, and articulate an ethics of the family that is both faithful to tradition and relevant to our day. The author honestly addresses Orthodoxy’s strengths and shortcomings as he introduces readers to Orthodoxy as a living presence in the modern world.
From Routledge, here is a collection of essays on the work of Christos Yannaras, one of the most important Orthodox Christian theologians working today: Christos Yannaras: Philosophy, Theology, Culture. In the Orthodox world, Yannaras is known for his skepticism about much contemporary human-rights discourse, which, he believes, is too heavily influenced by Western individualism. His work is therefore a challenge to easy assumptions about the universality of international human rights–a topic we will address at our Tradition Project meeting later this year in Rome.
The Routledge collection is edited by Andreas Andreopoulous (University of Winchester, UK) and Demetrios Harper (Aristotle University of Thessaloniki). The publisher’s description follows:
Christos Yannaras is one of the most significant Orthodox theologians of recent times. The work of Yannaras is virtually synonymous with a turn or renaissance of Orthodox philosophy and theology, initially within Greece, but as the present volume confirms, well beyond it. His work engages not only with issues of philosophy and theology, but also takes in wider questions of culture and politics.
With contributions from established and new scholars, the book is divided into three sections, which correspond to the main directions that Christos Yannaras has followed – philosophy, theology, and culture – and reflects on the ways in which Yannaras has engaged and influenced thought across these fields, in addition to themes including ecclesiology, tradition, identity, and ethics.
This volume facilitates the dialogue between the thought of Yannaras, which is expressed locally yet is relevant globally, and Western Christian thinkers. It will be of great interest to scholars of Orthodox and Eastern Christian theology and philosophy, as well as theology more widely.