Monday, May 5, 2014

The Ascetic Lives of Mothers and One Flesh (Ancient Faith Publishing)

Mother's Day is next week. Every year, it gets harder to figure out what to get your mother or wife. Flowers are overpriced and candy only lasts so long. How about getting them a book or two this year? Today, I'll be reviewing two books from Ancient Faith Publishing. One is dedicated strictly to mothers, and the other is dedicated to marriage. Consider picking up one or both for the woman in your life, and some flowers or candy, because women still like those things too. Onto the reviews!

The Ascetic Lives of Mothers is an intimidating title. My wife took one look at the book didn't like the word ascetic in it. Thankfully, the author, Annalissa Boyd, explains how motherhood is like asceticism on the first page. "Like the ascetics, mothers find themselves in a situation that requires their utter devotion, self-denial, daily emotional exercises, facing extreme challenges and much prayer." She follows this up with the two "rules" of motherhood. 1. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. 2. Love your neighbor as yourself. We then are presented with the virtues needed for motherhood (and life in general) - Humility, Liberality, Chastity, Mildness, Temperance, Happiness, and Diligence.

We then get to the meat of this book - PRAYER! Chapters Two through Nine provide mothers with prayers for every occasion. There are daily prayers; prayers in times of trouble; prayers for the sick, dying, and dead; confession and the Beatitudes; prayers of blessing and thanksgiving; prayers through the stages of motherhood; prayers for godchildren and "bonus" children; and prayers for the future. You might recognize or know a lot of these prayers, but Mrs. Boyd did a nice job of compiling them and organizing them in one place for easy reference when words escape you. She also includes ample Scripture passages and quotes from the great saints before us with many of our prayers, which I greatly appreciated. I also loved that scattered throughout the book are brief biographies on saints who were mothers, like St. Anna, St. Elizabeth. and St. Sophia to name a few.

This is a solid book on prayer and full of prayers. In fact, one could argue that this book is unoriginal. However, I would say that is not a bad thing, as originality can lead to heresy. And sure, you could find a lot of these prayers in other prayer books or online, but they aren't specifically geared for mothers, nor are they thematically arranged.  So while I might not be the target audience for this book, I can see the value in it. This would make a great birthday, Mother's Day, or just because gift for your mother and/or wife.

One Flesh is an examination of marriage and sexuality in the Orthodox Church. It is written by Fr. Lawrence Farley, who is also the author of the Orthodox Bible Study Companion series. He begins the book by questioning and examining why popular culture believes the Church has such a negative view of sex. He also points out the popular argument of almost all our Saints being celibate, and wonders why so few married people are venerated and honored as Saints. Yes, there are notable examples like Sts. Mary and Joseph, Anna and Joachim, Elizabeth and Zechariah, to name a few, but a large group of "married" saints chose to live instead as brother and sister than as husband and wife.

Fr. Farley then turns to the Old Testament, the New Testament, the Church Fathers, and some Church Councils for a look at how each treats and views sexuality. For example, in the Old Testament he investigates the two Creation stories and the story of the Fall in Genesis. Looking over the text and examining it both in English and the original Hebrew, Fr. Farley concludes that the Old Testament has a positive view of sexuality. In his chapter on the Old Testament, he also cites Jacob's love for Rachel as an example of romantic love. In his two chapters on the New Testament, he examines repeat themes that occurred in the Old Testament and original themes to the New Testament. Some new themes include the equality of spouses, mutual authority of spouses, and consecrated virginity.

I really enjoyed and appreciated the chapter on the Church Fathers, as I have a deep love for Patristics. Fr. Farley does an excellent job presenting both the views of Eastern and Western. To sum up his findings, the Eastern Fathers valued celibacy over marriage. Marriage was considered acceptable, but it had to be a lawful marriage; the partners had to practice periods of abstinence; and sexual activity was reserved for procreation, not pleasure and fun. Western Fathers had a pretty low view of marriage and sexuality. Some even referred to sex between a husband and wife as "voluptuous disgrace, frivolity, impurity." And while Augustine did write a piece in defense of marriage, he still believed original sin was passed on to children through sexual activity of the parents, because all sexual activity originates from lust. Reading through some Patristics, it's no wonder people think the Church has such a low view of sexuality.

Fr. Farley closes with practical conclusions we can draw from marriage and sexuality, which you'll have to buy the book to read as they go a bit in depth. He also briefly explains why "marriage" between two men or two women is not a real marriage at all. This was a very enlightening and fascinating read. I wasn't entirely sure it was going to be my cup of tea, but the honest treatment of the subject matter and the views from both the Christian West and Christian East made it very fair and unbiased. If you are looking for a book to read on marriage and sexuality from an Orthodox perspective, this book is for you.

These books were provided to me for free by Ancient Faith Publishing. If you found the reviews helpful, please click here and/or here and hit Yes!