Tuesday, June 09, 2015
Welcome To The Orthodox Church
Welcome To The Orthodox Church:
An Introduction to Eastern Christianity
By Frederica Mathewes-Green
Published in the US by Paraclete Press, May 13th 2015
Publication date for the UK: Jan 1st, 2016
I really liked this book very much indeed. Instead of starting off with basic theological concepts which can still be really overwhelming to the average reader as well as pretty hard-going, the book starts with describing a fictitious but very typical Orthodox church which is dedicated to St Felicity.
From the first moment of entering the lobby- or Narthex - of an Orthodox church, it will be very unlike most other churches. Icons, sandboxes, beeswax taper candles, books in English and often Church Slavonic or Greek too! make a confusing visual introduction, which is carefully explained, introducing the Sign of the Cross, veneration of icons and prayer before entering the main part of the Church, in a quiet moment when it is empty, to explore further.
We find out how and why Orthodox churches are built the way they are, look at the visually striking iconostasis, examine the lovely icons and learn about the life of St Felicity the Martyr amongst many other things. Everything is explained in a lively, conversational and reassuring manner, gently and gradually leading deeper and deeper into the mystery that is Eastern Orthodoxy.
Eventually we get to visit the Church when there are services in full swing and meet Orthodox liturgy in action, which requires even more detailed explanation of concepts mentioned earlier, especially through the Hymnody of the Vigils and Liturgy where incredibly complex and profound theology can be packed into a a hymn only a few lines long - but the study of which could occupy a lifetime of prayer and meditation.
Finally, in the last section of the book, we learn about living the Orthodox life through events such as house blessings, the Sacraments, life events including death and and burial, fasting customs and prayer.
What had seemed impossibly complicated at the beginning of the book seems logical and workable by the end, and has been an enjoyable and informative read throughout. Deceptively simple but remarkably thorough, this is an excellent introductory book about Orthodoxy.