Friday, November 13, 2015

The Orthodox Church (Penguin Books)

If someone asked me, "What is the one book you would recommend to someone wanting to understand Eastern Orthodoxy?" I would answer without thinking The Orthodox Church by Kalistos (Timothy)Ware. I remember reading this book nearly a decade ago, shortly after my conversion to Catholicism. I often wonder if I had read this book before my conversion, if I would have went down a different path and ended up Eastern Orthodox. That's a story for a different day, This book was originally published in the 1960s, and it is still the best introduction to the Orthodox Church. When I saw that it was being re-published by Penguin Books, I knew I wanted to re-read it to see what changed and how I felt reading it ten years later.

The book is divided into two parts. The first part deals with the history of the Orthodox Church and addresses topics like the Ecumenical Councils, the Great Schism, dealing with Islam, and the Twentieth Century. The second part touches on Tradition, God and Humankind, Sacraments, and the Church Calendar. I especially enjoyed reading about the Schism, because if we are going to heal this Schism we need to understand it from both sides. Kalistos Ware presents, in my opinion, the most unbiased view of the Great Schism. Bear with me for a long quote:

"Rome and Orthodoxy since the schism have each claimed to be the true Church. Yet each, while believing in the rightness of its own cause, must look back at the past with sorrow and repentance. [ . . .] And each side, while claiming to be the one true Church, must admit that on the human level it has been grievously  impoverished by the separation. The Greek east and the Latin west needed and still need one another. For both parties the great schism has proved a great tragedy."

In Chapter 16: The Orthodox Church and the Reunion of Christians is a chapter that I felt was sorely lacking in updated material. The part which touched on Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism failed to address the great strides in communication and dialogue, which the past three popes (John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis) have made with the Orthodox Patriarchs. The lack of updates in this chapter are a small reflection of the book as a whole. I feel like there should have been a chapter on the 21st Century as well. The lack of updates aside, this book is still edifying even 50 years after its original publication. The book somehow manages to be broad and deep at the same time, and I was pleased to have found the "Further Reading" section more familiar this time through. There are still many books in it that I want to read, but I am making progress! In conclusion, this is an excellent introduction to Orthodoxy and one you should have in your library. However, if you own the edition from the 1990s, you don't really need this version, unless yours has been read and re-read so many times, it's in tatters.

This book was provided to me for free by Penguin Books in exchange for an honest review. If you found this review helpful, please click here and hit Yes!