Good Reading

War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning

by Chris Hedges

Public Affairs Press, $23

As a correspondent for The New York Times, Chris Hodges has reported many of the wars of the past 15 years --- in the Balkans, the Middle East and Central America. He is perhaps the only recent journalist of war who has a degree in theology and thus brings to the subject questions often ignored by his colleagues.

He sees war as an addictive drug, addictive not only to those who take part in actual combat but and also to those, like himself, drawn to war as professional witnesses.

He writes: "Patriotism, often a thinly veiled form of collective self-worship, celebrates our goodness, our ideals, our mercy, and bemoans the perfidiousness of those who hate us. Never mind the murder and repression done in our name... We define ourselves. All other definitions do not count."

War, he argues, provides us with "a black and white tableau of them and us. It suspends thought, especially critical thought... War is a god, as the ancient Greeks and Romans knew, and its worship demands human sacrifice."

One uses the term "a must read book" sparingly, but in the current climate it is hard to think of a more timely book.

Growing in Christ

by Mother Raphaela

St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, $9.95

If you have read Mother Raphaela's essay on monasticism and the way of radical peace in the last In Communion, you will know what a refreshing way she has of tackling basic questions without pretension or sugar coating --- and with occasional dashes of humor. Here are fifteen reflections on such topics as love in community, philanthropy, enslaved thought, spiritual maturity, and Christian obedience. One brief extract:

"At the Divine Liturgy, we are not just spectators or pew potatoes, but members of the royal priesthood of Christ, all of us concelebrating with the priest. We have no more right to sit through parts of the Liturgy than he does. We are there to work along with him at this great service of worship and praise that is due to our God. This is why Orthodox never had pews until they came to America and saw what all the Protestants were doing."

The Compassion of the Father

by Fr. Boris Bobrinskoy

St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, $13.95

The author is the respected dean of St. Sergius Orthodox Institute where he teaches dogmatic theology; he is also rector of Holy Trinity parish in Paris. While the title may suggest a focus on the Father to the exclusion of the Trinity, this is in fact an introduction to Trinitarian spiritual life and what it means to follow Christ. Major themes include suffering, forgiveness, prayer of the heart, the inner Eucharist, sacred tradition and human tradition. Fr. Boris stresses that we are first Christians, then Orthodox, "because Orthodoxy is a concept that has developed in history, while being a Christian is the first name which implies our dependence our submission, our belonging to Christ, to his mystery and to his Church."

You Are Peter

by Olivier Clement

New City Press, £7.95

The author, the well-known professor at St. Sergius Institute in Paris, found his way to Orthodoxy from the Catholic Church and has played an active role in Orthodox-Catholic dialogue ever since. In this small book, a response to Pope John Paul II's encyclical Ut unum sint, Clement reflects on the issue of the papacy, the issues and events that produced the Great Schism, the evolution of the office of the papacy in the past millennium, Christ's command to his followers to seek unity and the obstacles which need to be overcome for unity to be regained.

In the final chapter, Clement points out how strange are the times we live in --- the planet unifying in many ways yet each ethnic group becoming more careful to preserved its unique identity even at the expense of others.

Facing the World: Orthodox Essays on Global Concerns

by Archbishop Anastasios Yannoulatos

St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, $15.95

Readers of In Communion need no introduction to Archbishop Anastasios, the leader of the Orthodox Church in Albania. Though best known to us as a missionary pastor, he is also Emeritus Professor of the History of Religions at the National University of Athens where he taught for 20 years. Here the reader has the opportunity to meet his more scholarly side.

His topics include globalization, human rights, culture and the Gospel, dialogue with Islam, and an Orthodox approach to understanding other religions. He is not simply a scholar with untested theories but has himself been deeply engaged in each area he writes about.

No one has done more to renew the missionary tradition in the Orthodox Church, yet Archbishop Anastasios does so as a man of exceptional hospitality to those of other faiths. "Christians of the East," he writes, "have often lived in societies characterized by cultural, linguistic and religious diversity. They have consequently developed an attitude of respect, tolerance and understanding toward other religious experiences."

Letters from the Desert: Barsanuphius & John

translated by John Chryssavgis

St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, $14.95

The letters of Barsanuphius and John are older than Justinian's Church of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, yet these two desert monks living in Gaza often seem as fresh as today's mail. No doubt this is partly thanks to the skill of the translator, who also provides a solid introduction to the letter writers and their world. One might at times think of these as the original "Dear Abby" letters --- all sorts of questions are put to the two old men of the desert. Here are their responses, full of common sense and love.

The Open Door: Entering the Sanctuary of Icons and Prayers

by Frederica Mathewes-Green

Paraclete Press, $14.95

In this introduction to icons and their purpose, Frederica Mathews-Green locates icons in the context of the church, its calendar of feasts and services. She begins by taking the reader to see the ancient Pantocrator icon at St. Catherine's monastery on the Sinai, goes on the Vladimir Mother of God icon in Russia, next to a Resurrection icon. Writing in an anecdotal style, Frederica gives the reader an introduction to the principal festal icons, in each case placing the icon in its liturgical context. Illustrations are provided.

The Epistle to the Hebrews: A Commentary

by Archbishop Dimitri Royster

St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, $14.95

The author, Archbishop of Dallas and the South of the Orthodox Church in America, is already known for several earlier New Testament commentaries on the Kingdom of God and the miracles and parables of Jesus.

In this new addition to the series he provides a verse-by-verse exegesis of Paul's letter to the Hebrews, not only drawing on his own insights but from many Church Fathers as well.

Archbishop Dimitri also relates texts to their placement in the calendar of readings --- most notably in the fast periods that proceed Christmas and Pascha.