“In order to unite, we must first love one another. In order to love one another, we must first get to know one another." So says Cardinal Leo Jozef S...more“In order to unite, we must first love one another. In order to love one another, we must first get to know one another." So says Cardinal Leo Jozef Suenens, and so go my reasons for reading this book (besides the usual obsessive religious fanaticism). As a Christian I have always had a very ecumenical mindset, and my assent to the Catholic Church has only intensified this.
So my first step must logically be to find out as much as I can about what the catechism calls my "separated brothers and sisters," and why, when I am able to partake of the Eucharist, I cannot yet partake with them. As such, I have the responsibility to learn the vantage points of all my brethren so as to better understand and relate to them, and work toward that unity which Christ prayed for before His crucifixion. All Christians have this vocation. In fact, this is one of His Holiness Bartholomew's major points.
The book begins with a very good foreword from the Most Reverend Dr. Kallistos Ware, with whom I am familiar and of whom I am an immense fan. The foreword goes a long way toward preparing the reader for the material covered by the Ecumenical Patriarch, and the details added by Bishop Ware go a great length in highlighting and explaining key points in Bartholomew I's understanding of the Orthodox Catholic Church. Dr. John Chryssavigis's biographical note does much to elucidate His Holiness's background and some of the events in his life which shaped his theology. The material is long, but it is thorough. It may be skipped without any harm to Bartholomew's text, but the information contained in the first two sections does enhance it.
Bartholomew begins by giving a historical perspective of the Orthodox faith, where it has been and where it is today. He gives important parts of its history and its self-perception. He outlines the basic Church hierarchy (with a few subtle, almost playful swipes at the papacy) and how this hierarchy has developed before and after the Great Schism of 1054, viewed by many as the definitive moment when East and West were separated (though there were many intersections and agreements, especially up until the fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans). His Holiness explains that Orthodox theology is not based in theory or philosophy but in experience, the experience of the Church in the lives of the saints through history.
In his next chapter, Patriarch Bartholomew gives reasoning for iconography (among the most beautiful aspects of Orthodox tradition), historical Orthodox architecture and above all, the Liturgy. He explains that all three tie together to bring Heaven to Earth in the celebration of the Eucharist, and that none is effective without the other two.
The good Patriarch goes on to discuss theology, especially apophatic theology (that is, describing God by talking about what He is not as opposed to what He is, which is something no one can truly grasp). He explains Eastern theology as something developed in the experience of the Church as a whole. He details monasticism and its purpose, as well as its benefits for the whole family of God. But Bartholomew's work begins to really shine in his explanation of the sacraments, prayer and spirituality. He explains that fasting is not only a form of self-control but an embrace of freedom, and he tells how the Jesus Prayer is at the heart and soul of Orthodoxy. Finally, he makes clear that the entire world is in itself sacramental.
His Holiness gives his view of human rights and the environmental crisis. This is possibly his weakest and the more problematic section. Bartholomew discusses human rights problems from "birth to death," but this oddly leaves out the unborn and the issue of abortion (I hope, unintentionally). He does not address the issues of homosexuality or marriage, both of which are incredibly pertinent in a Western context. Moreover, his solutions for the environmental crisis are of a more speculative or propositional nature than they are specified individual solutions. This last point is forgivable, as it can hardly be expected that the Patriarch would be able to detail solutions to problems outside his area of expertise (though he may have cited relevant experts as he did in other areas). But the former two are certainly troubling and troublesome. It is difficult to see how these can be left out of a book meant not only to explain Orthodoxy to the world but also explain Orthodox solutions to modern problems.
Bartholomew does rightly address one of the biggest issues of our time, poverty, and he justly condemns the excesses of Western civilization. He does well in making clear that these practices cannot continue. Amen, I say! We have the ability to stop such widespread hunger and need. Though the poor we always have with us, poverty need not be so widespread! His Holiness goes on to address fundamentalism's flaws and failures, and gives his vision for how to relate to other world religions (especially Islam). He declares that peace is a goal of the three major religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and he states clearly that "violence in the name of religion is violence against religion." Here I can, as a hopeful man and a Catholic, heartily agree. My views on social justice largely line up with those of the Patriarch, and there is much common ground between Christians (and other religious folk) on these issues.
His All Holiness concludes by saying that the hope we have lies within us, in what Christ is doing and accomplishing in us. All Christians can agree. Our vision for the world must be wide in scope and deep in God. We must not abandon ourselves to despair. Perhaps we will do much more good than we had thought possible, by the grace and power of God, to the glory and honor of God.(less)
Alister McGrath makes many good points, mostly in his last two chapters. His explanation in chapter seven (the final chapter) of why theology is brill...moreAlister McGrath makes many good points, mostly in his last two chapters. His explanation in chapter seven (the final chapter) of why theology is brilliant and beautiful and exciting (because it is real, and a living connection to the living God) is worth reading the entire book for. The rest of the book is mostly an account of how Anglicanism crashed into its numerous problems.
I wish McGrath had been more specific. He does not directly address the problems (the gospel, homosexuality, women in the priesthood, etc.), which is not only odd but outright annoying. He does decently well in dealing with overarching themes or schemes of thought, but without addressing how to specifically deal with some of Anglicanism's major problems we won't be able to deal with them! Saying that we must get back to roots, redefine theology, reform ourselves, etc. is all well and good but only if it gets down to the nitty-gritty. That tends to be the book's largest flaw. Other than that, the only negatives are the numerous spelling and grammatical errors (which should have been spotted by the editor).(less)
This is my first Bonhoeffer title and I could not have picked a better way to kick off getting t...more**spoiler alert** Absolutely life-changing. Brilliant.
This is my first Bonhoeffer title and I could not have picked a better way to kick off getting to know this man (if it is really him I am getting to know at all). I knew within three pages that I would love this book. But it surprised me when soon after Bonhoeffer was expounding on common mistakes in Christian community, and I realized that I was guilty of all of them-- regularly at that.
Bonhoeffer makes the point that we have no right to make any claim on the Christian fellowship, only God does. By attempting to envision the way we would like or think it should be we are really trying to control our brothers and sisters in a deadly vice-grip. Christian community must start at home in the Christian family, and must reach out into the public church.
Moreover, confession is far-too-often overlooked as archaic or too demanding, or perhaps as socially awkward. But Bonhoeffer proves from the scriptures, not only that Jesus called us to confess our sins to one another daily, but that this is really one of God's greatest tools for uniting the Church body. Christian brothers have the awesome privilege of standing before each other as fellow sinners, fully aware of the mutual darkness and evil in their hearts, and forgiving each other of it in the Name of Jesus. The brothers are united; the sin that held the fellowship hostage has been slaughtered in the open air.
Finally, when Christian community functions as God intends it to, it meets its perfect summary in the sacraments. When the Body of Christ partakes of His body and blood in the act of communion they have reached their 'peak,' their ultimate goal. The brotherhood is full to the brim and shines with the glory of Christ, not because it is perfect, but because He is, and He is in and among them.(less)
Watchman Nee had a profound understanding of the normal Christian life, which is wholly different from the 'average' Christian life. The normal Christ...moreWatchman Nee had a profound understanding of the normal Christian life, which is wholly different from the 'average' Christian life. The normal Christian life consists of realizing and acknowledging the divine fact that Christians were (not will be) crucified with Christ in the first century A.D. In a way that we do not yet understand, God has included us in the death (and resurrection) of His only Son, and by doing has made many sons. The Christian life goes off-track when it forgets these facts or, more often, when the Christian attempts to live by his own will-power. Nee gives the example of the great saint Paul (surely none but the haughty would claim superiority to that titan of the faith) who said, "That which I do not want to do, I do." Paul found that on his own strength he could not properly control himself.
But Paul saw that "we have been crucified with Christ" and if so we shall also rise (or as Nee would put it, are risen) with Him. The Christian life must be a continual outworking of the Spirit of Christ in us, living out the life of Christ in our lives. We must not try to die to our sin but realize that we are in fact already dead to it. We must not try to obey God on our own power (for we will always fail) but to let Him work out our salvation and redemption in us. There is no other way. "For it is no longer I who live, but Christ liveth in me."(less)