Eastern Orthodox Christianity

The Essential Texts

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Bryn Geffert, Theofanis G. Stavrou
  • New Haven, CT: 
    Yale University Press
    , May
     2016.
     480 pages.
     $29.95.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9780300196788.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

Bryn Geffert and Theofanis G. Stavrou’s Eastern Orthodox Christianity: The Essential Texts is a most welcome resource for individuals seeking access to standard texts of the Orthodox tradition, as well as scholars privileged to teach Orthodox Christian history and theology. As the appraisal of an anthology presents a reviewer with a different task than identifying an author’s claims or contributions, below I outline what this particular anthology provides for distinct categories of readers.

For the individual seeking an entry into Orthodox Christianity, The Essential Texts provides more texts in translation than most often appear on internet “Top Ten” lists, providing the interested reader with the broad spectrum of Orthodox Christian influence beyond the customary monastic texts. Here, the extensive and vast religious landscape of Eastern Orthodox Christianity is revealed in its apostolic origins and traced through the standard, easily accessible Orthodox texts (such as John of Damascus’ On the Divine Images, 194-203), and the standard, less-easily accessible—and sometimes lesser known—Orthodox texts that address relationships between Orthodoxy and political bodies, including the Ottoman and Turkish governments. Each source is preceded by an historical introduction, which provides the reader with important context and perspective as to why the text they are reading matters for religious/Christian history in general, and for Orthodoxy in particular.

It is in these later sections—Part 3, Modernity and Upheaval, and Part 4, Revolutions and Reevaluations—that the professor of Orthodoxy Christianity will find the anthology useful in the classroom setting, and the editors are to be commended for bringing The Essential Texts as close to the contemporary setting as might be historically possible. As it is temptingly easy for professors of Orthodox Christianity to find themselves delightfully distracted and happily entrenched in Climacus’s Ladder of Divine Ascent, the important balance offered by the full, second half of The Essential Texts will offer caution to those who seek to romanticize Orthodox Christianity as a colorful relic of an imaginary Christian past. A particularly valuable feature of this project is access to supplementary online materials that provide multisensory engagement with the theology of Orthodox Christianity in its global context. For those excited to learn or teach Orthodox history and theology, this expansive supplementary “Sources in Eastern Orthodox Christianity: Supplemental Texts” (xiii) provides vibrant offerings of Orthodox Christianity to world culture: art, poetry, hagiography, and music, to note a few. If the online resources are used by the editors to continuously engage with modern Orthodox voices, this is a particularly wise decision and one that reflects confidence in the importance of continuously engaging patristic theology with contemporary issues (such as immigration, ecology, and economics), respect for readers comfortable in the digital world, and acknowledgement of the extensive reach of technology.

Finally, in addition to the seeker or the scholar, for those wanting to appreciate how the Orthodox understanding of history is distinct from “Christian” history as a whole, this anthology provides an opportunity to approach and view the history of the Christian religion from that particular vantage point. In this way, The Essential Texts offers not only a chronological collection of Christian texts, but also a chronological collection of Christian texts from an Orthodox perspective. Considering how many general histories and anthologies of Christianity have been written from a particularly Catholic or Protestant vantage, I would argue that this one is long overdue.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Brenda Llewellyn Ihssen is Assistant Professor of Early and Medieval Christian History at Pacific Lutheran University.

Date of Review: 
September 17, 2016
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Bryn Geffert is librarian of the college and lecturer in the department of history at Amherst College and formerly associate professor of Russian area studies at St. Olaf College. 

Theofanis Stavrou is professor of history and director of Modern Greek Studies at the University of Minnesota.

Keywords: 

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