Thursday, February 14, 2013

Orthodox Thursday: The Scent of Holiness

Today at Stuart's Study, I'm reviewing the book The Scent of Holiness by Constantina R. Palmer. This book was provided to me by Conciliar Press in exchange for an honest review. In addition to writing this work, Mrs. Palmer is a also a blogger at Lessons From a Monastery, a deacon's wife, an icon writer, and possessor of a Master's in Theology.

When I first received this work I wondered to myself, "Why does God keep getting me to review books geared toward women?" Like the other books, I tried read this with an open mind. The introduction bothered me a little bit. Mrs. Palmer discusses how she went from Catholicism to Anglicanism to Orthodoxy, because the Orthodox Church had something the Catholic Church was missing. This upset me a little bit, because I love my Catholic faith, but also have a great love for the Orthodox faith as well. Needless to say, I was even more leery reading this work, as I felt it already had two strikes against it for me. 1. It was geared toward women. 2. It felt like an attack on my Catholic faith. I pressed on though, and I am glad that I did!

The book is divided into 33 chapters. This is done intentionally as the Orthodox prayer rope or chotki has 33 knots in it, so Mrs. Palmer demonstrates that this book is a prayer for her and the reader. Each chapter or knot provides valuable insight on what goes on in a women's monastery as well as the lessons Mrs. Palmer learned from the day-to-day happenings. Her insight and attention to detail provided me a mental picture of a place I will never be able to see with the clarity she did. Sure, I could visit a women's monastery, but I would never be able to access it as freely as she had since I am a man, so this was eye-opening.

The best part of the book for me was seeing the personality of all the sisters. I don't know about the rest of you, but when I see someone in the garb of their religious order, I tend to forget that they are human at all. Mrs. Palmer did a nice job of showing these sisters' human sides in their ability to laugh and find joy in silly things as well as their saintly sides in living out their vocation. Each sister had her own gifts and path to holiness, and that too reminded me that even though we are all different, we're all pursuing the same goal, Heaven and union with God.

If I had one gripe to make, it would be that Mrs. Palmer used a glossary as opposed to footnotes. There are a ton of Greek terms in this book, and I was only familiar with a handful of them. Someone in the Orthodox Church might not have trouble with these terms, but I had to take time to flip to the back of the book and look up most of them. It would have been easier if the term was defined in a footnote at the bottom of the page it was on. For this reason, I am deducting a 1/2 star from my rating and giving this work 4.5 out of 5 stars. The glossary inconvenience aside, this is still a great book and worth reading. We have many works of what goes on in men's monasteries, so this was definitely a welcome glimpse into what goes on in women's monasteries.