Resources for learning about Orthodoxy

Timo PaxTimo Pax Shipmate
edited October 2019 in Ecclesiantics
It was recently suggested in another thread that my interest in uniting contemplative/meditative prayer with outward action was reminiscent of Orthodoxy - and that, as a relatively new Christian, this was an area I might want to explore more.

My question now is ... how? I know next to nothing about the tradition, beyond the beautiful/scary icons. How does one proceed? Any book/website/church recommendations? Or ... what?

Also, any dangers? I have a feeling Russian Orthodoxy must in political terms be a hot mess right now.
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Comments

  • BroJamesBroJames Purgatory Host, 8th Day Host
    I think this by Timothy Ware (aka His Excellency the Most Reverend Metropolitan Kallistos of Diokleia) would be the go to English language text.
  • mousethiefmousethief Shipmate
    edited October 2019
    You can get a reasonably good introduction to the history through Kallistos Ware's History of the Orthodox Church, but the only way to really get to know Orthodoxy is to (a) go to the services and (b) talk with the people. It's as much a way of life as a way of thinking.
  • @SirPalomides may have other thoughts.
  • Timo Pax, I've held off from responding to you in the other thread, because it seemed best to leave it to those in the UK, whereas I'm in the Antipodes. But I second what mousethief has said above.

    In another thread in another category I read this quote from Rohr: "You do not think yourself into a new way of living, you live yourself into a new way of thinking." In another words, Orthodoxy is a way of life more than it is a set of belief. I don't think that comes over clearly in Kallistos Ware's book, written when he was relatively newly Orthodox.

    Certainly don't judge Orthodoxy from what you experienced in Estonia or at a Russian wedding. You need to find an Orthodox church where the services are entirely in English - not easy except in North America. I might be able to make suggestions by PM if I knew where you live.

    Migration into the UK from Orthodox countries has led to a situation where phyletism is all too common. You don't want to find yourself in a situation where you are expected to become quasi-Greek, or Russian or whatever, in order to count as Orthodox.

    You may find that the smaller the congregation the better: you need to find a "church family" where you can grow into Orthodoxy. And ideally it needs to be close enough for you to attend every Sunday. Or perhaps initially Saturday evening, if they serve Vespers then, when the priest may be more available to a newcomer than on a Sunday. Don't be put off if the church doesn't have a priest for services every Sunday. See if they have "Reader's Services" when he is absent. It may even be easier to ask questions afterwards then.

  • BroJames wrote: »
    I think this by Timothy Ware (aka His Excellency the Most Reverend Metropolitan Kallistos of Diokleia) would be the go to English language text.

    There is an online version of an earlier edition of this here: http://www.intratext.com/x/eng0804.htm

    An alternative might be The Orthodox Faith by Thomas Hopko. Four smallish volumes in print, or online here: https://www.oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith

    The most extensive would be the five hefty volumes of Orthodox Christianity by Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev
  • cgichard wrote: »
    You need to find an Orthodox church where the services are entirely in English - not easy except in North America. I might be able to make suggestions by PM if I knew where you live.

    In UK it is much easier outside London. In London currently 2 (out of around 40) churches have their Sunday service in English. In Bristol (where I live), 1 out of 4 uses English as the main language. Over the whole UK it is around 40 out of 200 or so.
  • A simple way of exploring one aspect of Orthodoxy is "Catherine's Pascha". It's a children's book, describing one girl's experience of an Orthodox Easter celebration. To my mind it captures the atmosphere of the event, and is a much easier read than anything else mentioned so far.
  • Alan29Alan29 Shipmate
    Please excuse my ignorance .... but aren't Orthodox congregations in the diaspora based on ethnicity/nationality of origin?
    If that isn't the case, why are there not just Orthodox congregations, rather than Russian/Greek etc Orthodox congregations.
    Wondering how easy it would be for an outsider to integrate (?)
  • ComplineCompline Shipmate Posts: 19
    Alan29 wrote: »
    Please excuse my ignorance .... but aren't Orthodox congregations in the diaspora based on ethnicity/nationality of origin?
    If that isn't the case, why are there not just Orthodox congregations, rather than Russian/Greek etc Orthodox congregations.
    Wondering how easy it would be for an outsider to integrate (?)

    In the U.S. the Orthodox Church in America is pretty much this, although its origins are with the Russian church. I've visited my local parish a handful times, and it seemed to be very friendly and about half converts.
  • Alan29 wrote: »
    Please excuse my ignorance .... but aren't Orthodox congregations in the diaspora based on ethnicity/nationality of origin?
    If that isn't the case, why are there not just Orthodox congregations, rather than Russian/Greek etc Orthodox congregations.
    Wondering how easy it would be for an outsider to integrate (?)

    In UK some communities were founded by British converts. Others, such as the church which I attend, have become very multi-ethnic and have dropped the ethnic label. Our church has Georgians, Russians, Ukrainians, Moldovans, Romanians, Bulgarians, Serbs, Greeks, Jordanians, and Latvians, and others, as well as British. We lost our "ethnic" label ("Polish Orthodox" - which described where our founders came from) many years ago. Our growth rate indicates that people can integrate.
  • Alan29Alan29 Shipmate
    Alan29 wrote: »
    Please excuse my ignorance .... but aren't Orthodox congregations in the diaspora based on ethnicity/nationality of origin?
    If that isn't the case, why are there not just Orthodox congregations, rather than Russian/Greek etc Orthodox congregations.
    Wondering how easy it would be for an outsider to integrate (?)

    In UK some communities were founded by British converts. Others, such as the church which I attend, have become very multi-ethnic and have dropped the ethnic label. Our church has Georgians, Russians, Ukrainians, Moldovans, Romanians, Bulgarians, Serbs, Greeks, Jordanians, and Latvians, and others, as well as British. We lost our "ethnic" label ("Polish Orthodox" - which described where our founders came from) many years ago. Our growth rate indicates that people can integrate.

    Excellent!
  • MaryLouiseMaryLouise Purgatory Host, 8th Day Host
    edited October 2019
    My list is quite personal and eclectic -- when I was reading up on development of doctrine and the Early Church, I came across the work on church history by Orthodox scholar Jaroslav Pelikan.

    While preparing for retreats, I would read devotional books and prayer guides by Anthony Bloom (Metropolitan Anthony). I spent time with Kyriacos C. Markides' The Mountain of Silence: a Search for Orthodox Spirituality and began reading up on hesychiastic mystical prayer and theology with Vladimir Lossky's The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church. At about the same time, I was drawn to study icons and read Paul Evdokimov's The Art of the Icon.

    Inspired by all this, I plunged into the early mystics themselves: St Gregory of Nyssa
    Evagrios Pontikos, Dionysios the Areopagite, St Symen the New Theologian. I have become more and more attracted to the 'bright darkness' and paradoxes of Orthodox traditions of wordless contemplation. But this is just a toe dipped in the ocean...
  • MaryLouiseMaryLouise Purgatory Host, 8th Day Host
    BroJames wrote: »
    I think this by Timothy Ware (aka His Excellency the Most Reverend Metropolitan Kallistos of Diokleia) would be the go to English language text.

    There is an online version of an earlier edition of this here: http://www.intratext.com/x/eng0804.htm

    An alternative might be The Orthodox Faith by Thomas Hopko. Four smallish volumes in print, or online here: https://www.oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith

    The most extensive would be the five hefty volumes of Orthodox Christianity by Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev

    Many thanks for these recommendations.
  • Timo Pax wrote: »
    It was recently suggested in another thread that my interest in uniting contemplative/meditative prayer with outward action was reminiscent of Orthodoxy - and that, as a relatively new Christian, this was an area I might want to explore more.

    My question now is ... how? I know next to nothing about the tradition, beyond the beautiful/scary icons. How does one proceed? Any book/website/church recommendations? Or ... what?

    The Ware and Hopko recommendations are good starts for general overviews. For a focus on spirituality I highly recommend the book Wounded by Love (St Porphyrios of Kavsokalyvia) and The Life in Christ by St Nicholas Cabasilas. Sts Athanasius and Gregory of Nyssa are great too (and surprisingly easy to read), though more for general theology/ Christology. If you want to melt your brain pick up a copy of St Maximus the Confessor's Ambigua.
    Also, any dangers? I have a feeling Russian Orthodoxy must in political terms be a hot mess right now.

    Eh, hot messes can be found in any jurisdiction but I wouldn't say Russian churches are particularly prone to it. If you can find a Russian parish under the AROCWE (based in Paris, but with parishes in Britain) you are likely to find parishioners well-acclimated to Western Europe, with a respectable and open-minded intellectual tradition. They were until recently under the Ecumenical Patriarchate, until the EP tried to dissolve them into its Greek dioceses, which forced them to switch to the Moscow Patriarchate. But again one shouldn't generalize too much. I would guess though that the average parish- in any jurisdiction- is just focused on doing its thing and not on politics.
  • But to reiterate -- you can't find out what the Orthodox Church is from books. It's a lifestyle as much (maybe more) than a set of doctrines.
  • Sure, but that's true of any religion. And exactly what the "lifestyle" is varies widely.
  • @SirPalomides then you haven't belong to many of the churches I've belonged to.
  • And seen what, exactly?
  • I mean the same can easily be said about being an Anglo-Catholic. Read all of the books you want, you won’t really get it until you belong to a properly AC church. I certainly didn’t. But I think this is true of all heavily liturgical churches and religions. Liturgy matters deeply, and the gathering of the people of God is a key component of that. Living that life is how you begin to transform your thinking.
  • I agree with mousethief - you really need to go the services and talk to people. I was lucky to get to experience a little of Orthodoxy when I was a student, when the young priest at the local Russian Orthodox church decided to start having Saturday Vespers in English, and got together a choir of students, mostly Anglican and Catholic, to sing at it. I got a feel for the music and the worship and the very different (but not alien) ground rules that underpin Orthodoxy.

    Although Orthodox churches in the UK were usually founded by people from different ethnic groups, Orthodoxy has put down roots here; in a lot of Orthodox churches you'll find icons of saints of the British Isles, Celts and Anglo-Saxons, from the time before the schism between East and West in 1054. And in most cases there will be at least some English in the service; at Vespers in our local Greek church I think there's more English than. Greek, as the first language of most of the members, either people of Greek/Greek Cypriot heritage or British converts, is English.

    I have to admit there are a few scary Orthodox out there; my husband has never been very enthusiastic about Orthodoxy after being shouted at by a Greek priest for having his hands behind his back during a service, which apparently is Not Done - but by and large I've always found people friendly and welcoming.
  • And seen what, exactly?

    That it's largely cerebral.
  • SirPalomidesSirPalomides Shipmate
    edited October 2019
    Plenty of cerebral Orthodox out there who live in their heads and their fantasies. When some monk rants about Freemasons or Jews on YouTube, or Russian chauvinists talk about Third Rome, or some titular bishop in Istanbul raves about how the Ecumenical Patriarchate is the "mother of churches" on the basis of some long-dead imperial arrangement, we're dealing with ideology, not spiritual experience. The only other religion I'm aware of whose adherents rationalize so much about how not rationalist they are is Zen Buddhism.

  • You're not listening. Fine. I'll stop talking.
  • Silence is the language of the age to come.
  • I found this very helpful in my early days.

    Also, I think that this book is ideal for people who are the beginning of exploring who God is, what faith in God means, and why any of it matters. There is a very generous preview here.

    There are also some resources here, (perhaps in need of something of an update, to be fair).
  • Thanks very much, all, for the links and resources. When I first posted, I was thinking mostly of theological concerns, but the various points about liturgy are intriguing: having ranted a bit in Purgatory about my lack of understanding/interest in/engagement with CofE forms, perhaps seeing other ways to approach this might be a good idea.
  • I've just finished reading Alexander Schmemann's 'For The Life of the World' which is very impressive indeed.

    Read in conjunction with visits to Orthodox services in English it could help place the Liturgy in perspective.

    As for jurisdictional chaos - yes, in spades.

    I attended the Orthodox pilgrimage to Holywell on Saturday and was informed that numbers were down as none of the Russian clergy were there as their current spat with Constantinople means that they can't concelebrate.

    They insist that it's not a schism as such as it's an issue of faith buy of politicking.

    It's a shame. A crying shame. But as has been said, most parishes get on with doing their thing. I do wonder how sustainable some of them are as they don't quite fit the zeitgeist, but then I admire them for not dumbing things down and going all happy-clappy ...

    You've got to have stamina to be Orthodox. 'Let us complete our prayers to the Lord ...' means that there's at least 20 minutes more to go ...
  • Gee DGee D Shipmate
    You've got to have stamina to be Orthodox. 'Let us complete our prayers to the Lord ...' means that there's at least 20 minutes more to go ...

    Yes - but is there not the eternal to have in the front of your mind?
  • There are reverberations within Orthodoxy at present and at least one grouping is reorganizing itself. I do not know more.
  • I note that there are 2 Orthodox Churches where you are @Timo Pax - I of each. Worth a visit? I was amazed to realise that the Greek Orthodox Church was formerly the Congregational Chapel my mother attended.
  • Jengie Jon wrote: »
    There are reverberations within Orthodoxy at present and at least one grouping is reorganizing itself. I do not know more.

    It's a crisis and I think there is a new level of craziness emanating from the Phanar, but again, it's probably not going to affect parish life that much in most places.

  • EnochEnoch Shipmate
    Am I right in thinking that in the UK those who come under the Patriarch of Antioch are more likely to be English speaking and not as closely linked to ancestral Greek, Romanian, Russian etc ethnic identities?
  • From what I gather a lot of the Paris Russian Exarchate parishes in England are likely to be English-speaking as well.
  • Yes, both the Antiochians and the Paris Exarch parishes tend to be English speaking, although the Antiochian cathedral in London tends to use Arabic.

    Outside London the Greek parishes tend to use English from what I can gather but the situation is mixed.

    It's interesting that the Exarchate folk are going with Moscow. That won't go down well with many of them, but sadly it would seem that Patriarch Bartholomew suddenly decided to cut them loose. Up until very recently I tended to think he was cool and some of the others were the nutty ones but now I'm even more confused.
  • I'd echo Sir Palomides's impression that the former Exarchate parishes tend to be pretty smart.
  • Yeah, I think Moscow was really not where a lot of the Exarchate wanted to go. The Exarchate is one place that really took seriously the ideas about conciliarity and renewal that characterized the 1917-1918 Moscow Council; the Moscow Patriarchate seems really stuck in a top-down mentality, mixing the worst of the Tsarist and Soviet days. If there were any other feasible choice I'm sure the Exarchate would have taken it. There was some talk about possibly going under Romania but that didn't go anywhere.

    The Ecumenical Patriarchate has been making a lot of unhinged statements- for instance, Patriarch Bartholomew's comparison of the EP with the Logos, saying it is "the beginning of the Orthodox Church." They seem to have a self-understanding that is not really too far from Papal supremacy. Of course there are some admirable currents in the EP- its openness to theological exploration and ecumenical exchange- but it is unfortunately mixed up with a lot of Greek/ Byzantine/ Phanariot chauvinism.
  • CyprianCyprian Shipmate
    edited October 2019
    I attended the Orthodox pilgrimage to Holywell on Saturday...

    I remember this pilgrimage fondly as I used to go every year when times were different.

    I shall try to be better next year about organising time off work to get there and to Ilam.
  • EnochEnoch Shipmate
    What happens at Ilam? Is that the one near Ashbourne or somewhere else altogether?
  • The Orthodox from the Midlands area visit the shrine and holy well of St Bertram, otherwise known as St Bertoline. Yes, Ilam is near Ashbourne. There are lots of jokes about people thinking the pilgrimage starts at 11am.

    Meanwhile, yes Sir Palomides. Many of the Exarchate people were badly bruised by Moscow after Metropolitan Anthony reposed (see, I'm using Orthodox jargon) and it's the last place they wanted to end up.

    The obvious solution - which may happen in 1500 years time (so soon?) would be for the Orthodox to establish a single jurisdiction in the British Isles (not to mention the US, Australia and anywhere and everywhere else with an Orthodox diaspora).

    Meanwhile, I s'pose the Exarchate people are going to have to take their chances with Moscow and hope for the best.

    I hadn't heard that the Romanians were an option. I wonder why that didn't work out? They're busily establishing parishes across the country and I've met a number who are establishing missions and church planting here and there wherever there are clusters of Romanian migrants.

    I hope things work out for them but I can imagine a few will jump ship rather than submit to Moscow. I don't think I've heard any good reports about Moscow, although I'm sure John Betts would disagree. Is he still around?

  • The Orthodox from the Midlands area visit the shrine and holy well of St Bertram, otherwise known as St Bertoline. Yes, Ilam is near Ashbourne. There are lots of jokes about people thinking the pilgrimage starts at 11am.

    I think it does now, (or at least it did in my latter years of attending).

    It used at start at 10 but Fr Samuel changed it precisely for this reason. :smile:
    I hadn't heard that the Romanians were an option. I wonder why that didn't work out? They're busily establishing parishes across the country and I've met a number who are establishing missions and church planting here and there wherever there are clusters of Romanian migrants.

    There was an edict a few years ago that the Romanian church would be catering primarily to the Romanian diaspora and that resources ought to be diverted to this end. It caused something of a stir, especially as good inter-jurisdictional relationships and practical arrangements had been established. Whether this is still enforced and might have been a factor I do not know.
    ...John Betts... Is he still around?

    Mark, no?
  • Just popping my head up to say ‘hi” and another ‘thank you’ to everyone who made recommendations here. I haven’t been able to follow many of them up. But I’ve finally finished Lossky, and while he does indeed expend a lot of words arguing for the primacy of the wordless, the experience has been illuminating. A toe dipped in very deep waters indeed ...
  • edited December 2019
    Timo Pax wrote: »
    Just popping my head up to say ‘hi” and another ‘thank you’ to everyone who made recommendations here. I haven’t been able to follow many of them up. But I’ve finally finished Lossky, and while he does indeed expend a lot of words arguing for the primacy of the wordless, the experience has been illuminating. A toe dipped in very deep waters indeed ...

    You might find interesting Rowan William's DPhil thesis on Lossky, which was not as hard reading as I feared (I have had to read doctoral & masters' theses over the years and it is a disturbing path of life) and can be found on the web-- while (obviously) not Orthodox, Lord Williams is a very sympathetic student (you might enjoy https://www.churchtimes.co.uk/articles/2008/14-november/features/a-student-s-brush-with-orthodoxy"--- forgive me, but repeated attempts at trying to use code correctly have put me on the edge of dementia). A friend of mine recommends his Dostoevsky book, but I've not read it yet.

    Many shipmates have been recommending attendance, and nothing beats learning about Orthodoxy than liturgical participation. While I was more on the fringes of Moscow and the OCA many years ago (Patriarch Kirill and I shot a few hoops together, he said namedroppingly), in recent years I've been hanging around the Copts, which is not the same gang, but shares many of their characteristics.
  • MaryLouiseMaryLouise Purgatory Host, 8th Day Host
    Good to see you again, Timo Pax -- I'm hoping to get into Andrew Damick's book on Orthodoxy (recommended above by Cyprian) in January.
  • ZappaZappa Ecclesiantics Host
    A friend of mine recommends his Dostoevsky book, but I've not read it yet.

    I was told it was an accessible read, so I read it a few years back. "Read." I'm not sure I understood a single sentence. But my eyes passed over therm.

    Nevertheless Dostoevsky and Williams remain two of my favourite human beings.


  • The Orthodox from the Midlands area visit the shrine and holy well of St Bertram, otherwise known as St Bertoline.

    There's a joke about the spirit in there somewhere that I can't quite put my finger on... :smile:
  • Not Ortho, but I've found these books very helpful at various times:

    --The Way Of A Pilgrim & The Pilgrim Continues His Way, by an anonymous Russian pilgrim. Basically, he learns the Jesus Prayer; implements it in his life; travels all over by foot; and has interesting encounters and adventures. I like the translation by Helen Bacovcin.

    I was led to that by JD Salinger's novel, "Franny & Zooey", where someone uses the Jesus Prayer a lot, and IIRC the Pilgrim book is mentioned.

    --Poustinia, by Catherine de Hueck Doherty. Non-fiction. Long time since I read it; but I just now did a search, and reacquainted myself a bit. It's basically about developing a personal spiritual life, sitting with God, but also being involved in the world. IIRC, there's a good deal of mysticism. And I remember she mentioned the difference between hermits and poustiniks: hermits stay in their hermitage; but poustiniks will help out in the village and fields, as needed.

    She was from an Ortho background, IIRC, and originally from Russia. She converted to Catholicism. I notice that she's credited with introducing the concept of poustinia to the RC church.

    --The Kitchen Madonna, by Rumer Godden. This is ostensibly a children's novel; but adults can enjoy it, too. tl;dr: A Ukrainian woman comes to work in an English (?) household. But she feels lost without any Orthodox icons in the house.

    All I can think of, right now.


  • josephinejosephine Shipmate
    edited December 2019
    The fact that there are ethnic jurisdictions is an unfortunate consequence of the Russian Revolution. The situation in the so-called Diaspora makes a mess of our ecclesiology and makes a mess of our canons. In fact, ethnophyletism -- organizing our churches by ethnicity or race -- is not just a sin, but a heresy. And yet it's the situation we're in.

    If that doesn't put you off, and you really, really want to understand Orthodoxy, find a church that has services mostly in English, and go to all the Holy Week and Pascha services. Pascha is what Orthdoxy is all about.

    In fact, if you are still looking to read about Orthodoxy, you might start with the Creed and the Paschal Homily of St. John Chrysostom. Between the two of them, they really summarize what we believe.

    For books, my top five for inquirers would be:

    For the Life of the World by Alexander Schmemann. A brief and readable introduction to sacramental theology. Everyone keeps saying "you have to go to an Orthodox church to really understand Orthodoxy" is sacramental -- to understand what we believe, you have to immerse yourself in our worship, because that's where you find what we believe.

    The Year of Grace of the Lord by a Monk of the Eastern Church. An introduction to the church year. Lots and lots of footnotes. Because you find our beliefs in our worship, and because our worship varies through the liturgical year and covers a lot of territory, this book functions as a lovely roadmap.

    On the Divine Images by St. John of Damascus. These three treatises can help you understand why the beautiful and scary icons (and the saints depicted in them) are so central to our faith.

    Marriage as a Path of Holiness: The Lives of Married Saints by David and Mary Ford. Our liturgies, our liturgical year, and the walls of our churches are filled with saints. This book introduces you to a bunch of them. As you get to know the saints, you'll learn a great deal about Orthodoxy.

    Dorotheos of Gaza: Discourses and Sayings translated by Eric P. Wheeler. St. Dorotheos provides a lot of practical insight into what it means to live as a Christian, from an Orthodox point of view.

    If you've read all of these, I'd suggest adding Mother Maria Skobtsova: Essential Writings, On the Incarnation by St. Athanasius, and On Wealth and Poverty by St. John Chrysostom.

    And, approaching Orthodoxy from another direction entirely, you might want to read the picture books Catherine's Pascha and The Saint Nicholas Day Snow by Charlotte Riggle, and The Man and the Vine and The Woman and the Wheat by Jane G. Meyer.
  • Let's say I find an Orthodox parish that conducts the Divine Liturgy (of St. John Chrysotom) in English to visit. Is there an easy-to-use booklet that I can buy or print out that has all of the responses I as a layperson in the congregation would say and other things that as a layperson I would be expected to do? I know that this varies greatly across jurisdictions and even within them, but something that applies to as much of the diaspora of Orthodoxy in the US as possible would help. I'm most likely to attend a Russian, Ukrainian, or Greek service, given what is around me, and if it's Russian, it would probably OCA, if that helps.

    Whenever I have tried to follow a service along with my phone using some pdf of the Divine Liturgy I find online or, where there has been a book of the liturgy provided in the pews, I have found that a lot of what is written is either skipped over or, when it is prayed by the priest, is not prayed out loud so that I easily lose my place in the service.
  • Whenever I go to a Divine Liturgy celebration in an Orthodox church I just listen to what is being said or sung. Anyone who knows the format of a Catholic Mass or an Anglican eucharist is well placed to understand all that one needs to understand. It is better simply to take in the liturgy as a whole rather than bother about each individual word.
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