Tag Archives: Thomas Hopko

Fifty issues of In Communion

By Jim Forest

“Your father Abraham rejoiced that he was to see my day; he saw it and was glad.” The Jews then said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”

– John 5:56-58

In Communion isn’t fifty years old, only an adolescent thirteen, but we are, as of this issue, fifty issues old.

Fifty is a number that provides a moment to express surprise – those of us who launched the journal were far from confident it would last this long – and also gratitude.

In Holland, where the journal has been edited since its founding, fifty is a number that has a special resonance due to a local custom rooted in a Gospel verse. Jesus was challenged by his critics for speaking of Abraham as someone he knew personally: “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” The Dutch have taken this to imply that once a person is fifty, perhaps he or she is old enough to have seen Abraham.

Dutch fiftieth birthday parties are celebrated in ways that underscore the possibility. In anticipation of the upcoming event, a special Abraham or Sarah cookie is ordered from a local bakery. Using hand-carved wooden molds that in some bakeries are many generations old, spiced dough is pressed into the shape either of Abraham or Sarah. Almonds are used for decoration. Once baked, the cookie is put in a special box, wrapped and ribboned, to be solemnly presented to the one who has become old enough to see the biblical couple who hosted the three divinely-sent angels under the oak of Mamre.

It’s a large cookie – big enough to be broken into enough pieces so that everyone at the party has at least a taste. (Perhaps we need to order an Abraham cookie and have a little In Communion party sometime in the coming weeks?)

Why did we start In Communion?

From the beginning, it was obvious that the Orthodox Peace Fellowship needed an accessible way of sharing some aspects of the Orthodox tradition that have long been neglected. In the early years this was done on a smaller scale, a publication of much fewer pages, modestly dubbed The Occasional Paper. Indeed it was very occasional, perhaps two thin issues a year. Only in 1993 did we have enough economic support to move to a quarterly schedule and make the journal more substantial and give it its present name.

From the start, we had a fairly clear idea of what we wanted to do.

We Orthodox have remembered how to celebrate the Liturgy in a way that astonishes Christians of other churches; we refuse to make time-saving economies in the way we worship God. We don’t welcome clocks in our churches.

But not everything the apostolic Church meant to pass on to us has been given similar care and attention.

Over the centuries, many Orthodox Christians have made their peace with war in a way our early Christian forebears could not have imagined and would find scandalous. We are also much less noted than they were for paying attention to the needs of poor, neglected and abused members of the society we live in. Too often we are turned in on ourselves, not infrequently along ethnic lines. There are Orthodox parishes in which it must be embarrassing to hear Paul’s words read aloud about the followers of Christ being “neither Jew nor Greek.”

Our mission was not to invent anything, not to propose any innovations, but to jog our own memories, and the memories of our fellow Orthodox Christians, about what had been forgotten. It is mainly a job of dusting off what is already there. So many of the writings of the Church Fathers about our social obligations had been placed in boxes and stored in the Church’s attic, available to scholars but seldom heard of by the ordinary Orthodox believer. So many of the stories of those we see on icons in any parish church are hardly known to those who kiss those icons.

How surprised we are to discover our own past. There were saints who gave up their lives rather than kill in war? St. Basil the Great founded a “city of mercy” to care for the homeless, the abused and the sick that was regarded as one of the wonders of the world? St. John Chrysostom said we would not find Christ in the chalice unless we first found him in the beggar we encountered on the way to church?

If much has been forgotten, then In Communion should be a way of helping resurrect buried memories of forms of sanctity and patristic teaching that are desperately needed in our own day.

And why was the journal named In Communion? It was a suggestion of one of the first members of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship’s advisory board, Fr. Thomas Hopko, now retired but in those days dean of St. Vladimir’s Seminary.

“My task,” he wrote in the first issue of In Communion, “is not to decide whether or not I will be in relationship with you but to realize that I am in communion with you: my life is yours, and your life is mine. Without this, there is no way that we are going to be able to carry on.”

A revised, expanded, all-color edition of Jim Forest’s book, Praying With Icons, has just been published by Orbis Books.

Summer 2008 issue of In Communion / IC 50

Recommended Reading – Fall 2005

Orthodoxy for the Non-Orthodox

by John Garvey

Templegate, 136 pp, $12

Death and the Rest of Our Life

by John Garvey

Wm. B. Eerdmans, 96 pp, $10

The person who wants a concise yet lively introduction to Orthodox Christianity would be hard-pressed to find a better starting point than Orthodoxy for the Non-Orthodox. Fr. John Garvey explains the differences between the Eastern and Western churches (as well as their shared teachings), a summary of Orthodox belief, a description of the Orthodox liturgy and the feasts of the church, an introduction to Orthodox spirituality, and a survey of some questions facing Orthodoxy in the contemporary world.

Convinced that our beliefs about death should inform every aspect of our lives until death, Fr. Garvey reflects on the meaning of death and its aftermath in Death And The Rest Of Our Life.

He argues that the common view of the soul being released from its “imprisonment” in the body is not Orthodox Christian teaching. The Christian affirmation of the resurrected and transformed body, he reminds us, is an essential part of the truth about death’s real depths and about what life is finally meant to be.

Incorporating stories from the author’s own family life and experience as a parish priest, this book will be of particular help to people recently bereaved and those who work with the bereaved.

Our Church and Our Children

by Sophie Koulomzin

St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press

169 pp, $16

Sophie Koulomzin was an Orthodox Christian laywoman, teacher, mother and grandmother and also taught Religious Education at St. Vladimir’s Seminary. She was also among the founders of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship. Our Church And Our Children, first published in 1975, is a classic work of foundational wisdom for Christian parents and educators, now updated with a new foreword and study guide by Ann Mitsakos Bezzerides.

The book is peppered with engaging anecdotes from her half-century of experience working with children in the Church. For Koulomzin, recognizing that children are full members of the Church was of upmost importance, and her life’s vocation was encouraging others to see this.

Topics addressed include: the task of Christian education, developmental stages of children, Christian education in the family, the challenges and opportunities of the church school, and a vision and goals for the Christian teacher. Included in the re-release are a foreword, which gives a glimpse into her incredible personal life, a bibliography, and a chapter-by-chapter study guide.

St. Macarius The Spirit Bearer

translated by Tim Vivian

St. Vladimir’s Press, 216 pp, $16

Four Desert Fathers

translated by Tim Vivian

St. Vladimir’s Press, 202 pp, $15

Macarius the Great (also referred to as Macarius of Egypt) presided over a loosely knit scattering of ascetic monastic communities in the fourth century Egyptian desert. He enjoyed great respect during his lifetime and his fame was further spread after appearing in Palladius’s Lausiac History. This volume presents three ancient texts (The Sayings of Saint Macarius, The Virtues of Saint Macarius and The Life of Saint Macarius of Scetis) and provides valuable insight into the world of Coptic spirituality and early Egyptian asceticism.

Pambo, Evagrius, Macarius of Egypt and Macarius of Alexandria, the four fathers presented in the companion volume, were well-known in Alexandria and Lower Egypt some 1600 years ago. Their lives provide valuable insight into the Egyptian monastic communities of the fourth century and into the saintly tradition of the Coptic Church.

When You Fast:

Recipes for Lenten Seasons

by Catherine Mandell

St. Vladimir’s Press, 264 pp, $20

This attractive and helpful book was born out of the author’s nearly decade-long quest to attain a rule of fasting for her family in accordance with the traditional Orthodox Christian discipline. Her goal was not only abstention from meat during lenten seasons, but also abstention from dairy products, and from oils on the strictest of fast days. The resultant 200 recipes provide a variety of easy, nourishing, and appealing meals. Sprinkled among the delicious recipes are sayings from the Mothers and Fathers of the early Church regarding how the body and soul are affected by eating habits – pithy illuminations to accompany the appetizing recipes.

The Passion of Christ

by Vaselin Kesich

St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 92 pp, $11

The passion narrative is at the heart of Christianity and the suffering and death of Christ on the cross takes a central role in any discussions between Christians and non-Christians. The 2004 film Passion of the Christ provoked strong reactions from Christians and non-Christians alike, running the gamut from alarm and repulsion at the violence to genuine religious experience. The film also brought to the fore discussions of the importance of the Cross to Christianity and the perceived anti-Semitism of the Gospels. Professor Kesich addresses both of these issues in this re-release of his 1965 edition. He expertly addresses questions of anti-Semitism and the family quarrels between Jews and Christians in the historical context as well as explaining the trial of Jesus and the purpose his suffering.

Speaking the Truth in Love

by Thomas Hopko

St. Vladimir’s Press, 176 pp, $16

These collected lectures on education, mission, and witness, all written during the author’s decade as dean of St. Vladimir’s Seminary, deal with what it means for Orthodox Christians to speak and to act in a loving manner in societal and ecclesiastical settings. Especially relevant are his remarks regarding education and spiritual formation in Orthodox theological schools; his historical background regarding the formation of Orthodox seminaries in the United States is enlightening.

In an effort to dispel misconceptions, he also presents readers with an insightful view of Orthodox participation in ecumenical activities. Additionally, he comments on the relationship between clergy and laity and makes some pertinent observations about the challenges to the Church in post-modern and post-communist societies.

The thread holding these essays together is St. Paul’s admonition to “speak the truth in love” and to “grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ.”

The Nicene Faith

by John Behr

St. Vladimir’s Press

502 pp, $30

In this two-volume sequel to The Way to Nicaea, Fr. John Behr turns his attention to the fourth century, the era in which Christian theology was formulated as the Nicene faith, the common heritage of most Christians to this day. Engaging the best of modern scholarship, Behr provides a series of original, comprehensive, and insightful sketches of the theology of the key protagonists of the Nicene faith, presenting a powerful vision of Christian theology, centered upon Christ and his Passion.

Part One, “True God of True God,” opens with a reflection on the nature of Christian theology, challenging common presuppositions, and an analysis and survey of the fourth- century controversies, followed by studies of Alexander, Arius, the Council of Nicaea, and, Athanasius.

Part Two, “One of the Holy Trinity,” provides analyses of the work of Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Gregory of Nyssa, together with their opponents, in particular Eunomius and Apollinarius.

Saint Cyril of Alexandria and the Christological Controversy

by John McGuckin

St. Vladimir’s Press

430 pp, $23

The Christological Controversy describes the turmoil of fifth-century Christianity seeking to articulate its beliefs on the person of Christ. The policies of the Theodosian dynasty and the conflicting interests of the patriarchal sees are the context of the controversy between Nestorius of Constantinople and Cyril of Alexandria, a bitter dispute that racked the entire oecumene.

The historical analysis expounds on the arguments of both sides, particularly the Christology of Cyril, which was adopted as a standard.