Resources for learning about Orthodoxy

Timo PaxTimo Pax Shipmate
edited October 3 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.

Comments

  • BroJamesBroJames Purgatory 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 3
    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.
  • cgichardcgichard Shipmate
    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
    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
    edited October 4
    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
    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?
  • ECraigRECraigR Shipmate
    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.
  • MargaretMargaret Shipmate
    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 4
    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.
  • CyprianCyprian Shipmate
    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).
  • Timo PaxTimo Pax Shipmate
    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.
  • FredegundFredegund Shipmate
    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 8
    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?

  • CyprianCyprian Shipmate
    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?
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