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Author Topic: What Modern Orthodox Writer...  (Read 1111 times) Average Rating: 0
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Justin Kissel
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« on: November 15, 2009, 09:25:02 AM »

What modern (20th/21st centuries) Orthodox writer has been best able to defend and explain Orthodox Christianity to a popular audience, but without dumbing their material down? When I think of such a combination, I am thinking of non-Orthodox writers such as C.S. Lewis or G.K. Chesterton. But I'm curious who people think the best Orthodox writer of that type is? I few names that come to mind are Met. Kallistos, Fr. Alexander Schmemann, and more recently Fr. John McGuckin. Any thoughts?

I guess this isn't a "Who is your favorite writer?" so much as "Who would you recommend to a non-Orthodox person curious about Orthodoxy?" Now, I know that the two most often suggested books to such people are The Orthodox Church and The Orthodox Way by Met. Kallistos. However, I wonder if there isn't missing something of the defending Christianity aspect of what I'm asking about in those two books. Met. Kallistos seems to mostly give a straight forward exposition of Orthodox thought in those two books, and not so much a defense of Orthodox thought. Nonetheless, people might still choose Met. Kallistos, and that's fine. I'm just curious what people think.
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Justin Kissel
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« Reply #1 on: November 15, 2009, 05:15:00 PM »

*scratches head* Maybe I would have gotten more of a response if I would have made a poll...   Cool
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« Reply #2 on: November 15, 2009, 09:24:22 PM »

What modern (20th/21st centuries) Orthodox writer has been best able to defend and explain Orthodox Christianity to a popular audience, but without dumbing their material down? When I think of such a combination, I am thinking of non-Orthodox writers such as C.S. Lewis or G.K. Chesterton. But I'm curious who people think the best Orthodox writer of that type is? I few names that come to mind are Met. Kallistos, Fr. Alexander Schmemann, and more recently Fr. John McGuckin. Any thoughts?

I guess this isn't a "Who is your favorite writer?" so much as "Who would you recommend to a non-Orthodox person curious about Orthodoxy?" Now, I know that the two most often suggested books to such people are The Orthodox Church and The Orthodox Way by Met. Kallistos. However, I wonder if there isn't missing something of the defending Christianity aspect of what I'm asking about in those two books. Met. Kallistos seems to mostly give a straight forward exposition of Orthodox thought in those two books, and not so much a defense of Orthodox thought. Nonetheless, people might still choose Met. Kallistos, and that's fine. I'm just curious what people think.

Personally, because Met. Kallistos does simply give a straight forward exposition of Orthodox thought, rather than any polemics, is the reason I always suggest reading his books to those who are interested in knowing more about Orthodoxy.
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« Reply #3 on: November 16, 2009, 12:32:31 AM »

Unfortunately, we do not have the Lewises, NT Wrights, Chestertons, Dorothy Sayers or even Scott Hahns who can address the culture in general in upholding the claims of Christian dogma.

The Orthoedox writers you mention seem to, as you say, give more of a straight forward account of Orthodoxy, more valuable to other Christians who are either curious, sympathetic or wish to convert.

Of course Orthodoxy has been in survival mode for many centuries, which would have a dampening effect on producing that sort of writer. My prayer is for a robust Orthodoxy that can address the culture at large. At one time most of the heavy hitters among the thelogians of the Church were Eastern Fathers.

I think you have to be evangelistic at heart to create that genre of Christian writing. And as much as I love Orthodoxy and am thankful that I found it and converted, I do not see us being very concerned with evangelism. Our converts are mostly from other Christian communions. I still think "come and see" evangelism is something we hide behind to WAIT and see if anyone comes to check us out.

Although, I am not sure Catholics and mainline Protestants are much better at evangelism than we are. I guess the reason Evangelicals are called such is that historically, since the decline and disappearance of the great Christian cultures of Byzantium, Christian Europe and holy Russia, Evangelicals have been most willing and eager to engage pluralistic society and to win converts from among the unchurched in the general culture through campus ministries, apologetic literature, soup kitchens, drug and alcohol ministries, prison outreach, youth ministry, door-to-door "witnessing" and traditional (for them) evangelistic rallies (ala Billy Graham). That is not to say they too do not get a lot of converts from other communions, but by and large, there is a greater heart for reaching out to the general culture with the gospel among the much-maligned Evangelicals. And this is a common "genetic" trait in all "species" of Evangelicals: Willow Creek association congregations, pentecostals, mainstream evangelicals in mainline denomiations (who often have the only parishes that are actually growing in numbers, rather than declining), Emergent, Reformed, holiness/Wesleyan and even some fundamentalists.

It is ironic for us because our monasticism is extremely counter-cultural and would appeal to goths. Our worship is symbolic and therefore intuitive, with so many physical actions, sights and smells and images and would appeal to post-moderns. Our worship and dogma are ancient (also appealing to some post-moderns) and would appeal to people troubled by the shifting winds of trendiness and looking for stability. We are very sure of what we believe (hence right belief) but are very non-judgemental, preferring to see our own sinfulness and pray for others, which would provide a comfort level to seekers from among the un-churched coming out of a pluralistic culture. We are very sure of our worship (hence right worship) and therefore enjoy a liturgical experience that embodies beauty which would appeal to artists and creative types. Our rigorous asceticsim, even for non-monastics, would be appealing to athletes and "man's man" type of males. It would also appeal to those experiencing fatigue with the diminishing returns of an aquisitive materialism that fails to deliver meaning to one's striving. Our comfort level with mystery would be attractive to intellectuals turned off by easy, pat answers. Our history of cultural sensitivity in missionary work (for example in Alaska) would appeal to those critical of Christian missionary work in traditional cultures. Our tradition of prayerfulness would appeal to contemplatives. Our history of great steadfastness amidst great suffering and persecution would appeal to people seeing the American dream of opportunity and a better life for ones children slipping away as the working middle class disappears with the industrial and service jobs increasingly being exported overseas.

In short, we have a faith, practice and message that would appeal to almost everyone in our culture except to those where we live, move, work and have our being. The prosperous, upwardly-mobile middle class. Not that other Christians are not mired right within this same demographic, but maybe a "tradition" of evangelism makes some of them more willing to break out of this cocoon from time to time with a message that can communicate with other demographics in our culture. Evangelicals, because they were honest, dependable, frugal and hard-working often found themselves unintentionally within this demographic, but historically were ambivalent about it and didn't have a comfort level with "fitting in" this much. The tragedy for them is that the past two generations of Evangelicals have found a much greater comfort level and less ambivalence about fitting in.

Sadly, I think all Christians in North America could use a dose of radical and counter-cultural, including we Orthodox. Myself included.


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« Reply #4 on: November 16, 2009, 12:56:09 AM »

I'm a convert to Orthodox Christianity and a long-time admirer of C.S. Lewis, Asterikos, and I've always compared Met. Kallistos' "The Orthodox Church" with Lewis's "Mere Christianity".  As an introduction to Orthodox Christianity in English by a modern writer and written for a non-Orthodox and/or non-Christian audience, it's IMHO the best thing out there.  There may be some better books for this audience in other languages, but if there are, I haven't encountered them.

That doesn't mean that Ware and Lewis are that much alike overall, though.  Lewis was a far more prolific writer of popular books (fiction and non-fiction) than Ware has been.  Even for those of us who are Orthodox Christians, I daresay he's probably had an impact on our beliefs and lives at least equal to that of Ware.  In my case, his impact exceeds that of Ware considerably.  Lewis that introduced me to the Church Fathers years before I'd even heard of Met. Ware.  I also spent time in the former Soviet block and met Orthodox Christians there under communism, and I read Russian and was familiar with the works of Doestoyevsky and Solzhenitsyn. 

But for a single introduction to Orthodox Christianity in English for the average/lay reader, you really can't beat "The Orthodox Church".
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« Reply #5 on: November 16, 2009, 02:18:27 AM »

The book "God, History, & Dialectic" by Dr. Joseph P. Farrell seems to be a favorite among some circles.


And I'm just finding out about the book "Christ the Eternal Tao" by Hieromonk Damascene. I read some of the reviews on Amazon, and alot of non Orthodox seem to like it.












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« Reply #6 on: November 16, 2009, 02:22:37 AM »

I would say Damian Stanoiu.
Too bad he's not available in English.
"Abbess Election"
"The Nuns' Confessor"
"Mother Natalia had an argument with Mother Vitalia"
"Father Patrichie"
"Anichit, the Sinner"
"Love and Humility" (it's about emptying a barrel of wine by a few monks, hilarious)
"Monks and Temptations"
"Father Ghedeon's troubles"
"In Search of a Parish" etc.


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« Reply #7 on: November 16, 2009, 02:57:48 AM »

I would recommend Orthodox theologian's David Bentley Hart's The Beauty of the Infinite: The Aesthetics of Christian Truth. Considered to be his magnus opus, this book takes on not the modern secular philosophy of the contemporary age, but rather the intellectual giants whose thought created and fueled this curent era of disabelief. He compares what he calls the Christian "rhetoric of love"  with this new post-modern "ontology of violence". He debates the works of Neitzche, Heidegger, Foucault, Derrida, Delueze, Hegel, and Kant and contrasts them with the theology of the Orthodox Church, relying heavily on St. Gregory of Nyssa and St. Maximus the Confessor. He also traces the evolution of modernist thought to what he believes to be its scholastic movement beginnings.

A warning I would give about this book is that its prose is identical to the pompous, verbose, and sharp rhetorical and logical twists and turns that is common in the academic work that makes up Modern Critical Theory. Basically, this book is not armchair evening reading, but requires intense study with notes, and also a good week of free time.
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« Reply #8 on: November 16, 2009, 10:15:29 AM »

Father Anthony Coniaris.
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« Reply #9 on: November 16, 2009, 10:27:20 AM »

However, I wonder if there isn't missing something of the defending Christianity aspect of what I'm asking about in those two books. Met. Kallistos seems to mostly give a straight forward exposition of Orthodox thought in those two books, and not so much a defense of Orthodox thought.

Explaining and defending Christian faith to unchurched -- even atheistic -- people is exactly what Fr. Schmemann did in his series of sermons that were broadcast by the US into the Soviet Union. Of course, he did so in a particularly Russian intellectual kind of way, so they may not have the same resonance with modern Anglophones. Nonetheless, they were quite effective in their time and place.

They are published in English translation in a three-part series called "Celebration of Faith".
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« Reply #10 on: November 16, 2009, 01:29:04 PM »

Father Anthony Coniaris.

I agree







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"loving one's enemies does not mean loving wickedness, ungodliness, adultery, or theft. Rather, it means loving the theif, the ungodly, and the adulterer." Clement of Alexandria 195 A.D.

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