Saturday, July 19, 2008

Father Stephen's Recommended Books

Recently on Fr. Stephen Freeman's soul-profiting blog Glory to God For All Things (which I cannot get enough of), someone posted a comment asking him to list the 10 Orthodox books that had best helped him to grow closer to Christ and to develop an Orthodox mindset. I then posted another comment eagerly seconding that motion. Fr. Stephen obliged. I will quote his response in full, because I think it deserves your consideration (and this saves you the trouble of moving over to his site, although this is always a good thing to do anyway!). Here it is (in italics), after which I will add a few comments:

It is always difficult to say what has most influenced you when it comes to books. My Orthodox reading began when I was in college and has thus spanned some 35 years or more. I’ve read much outside of Orthodoxy, very little of which I would recommend. But in response to several requests, I’ll give this short annotated list:

The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, Vladimir Lossky. This was the first Orthodox writing I ever read, and not one I would recommend for light or easy reading. I was fascinated to learn that it was also the first Orthodox read for Igumen Jonah Paffhausen. But it opened my eyes to the Orthodox understanding of the reality of God and the necessity of our unmediated union with Him.

On the Incarnation of the Word, St. Athanasius. This is simply a must read for those who want to look at Eastern Orthodox thought of the 4th century versus the developments that would later take place in the West. My auto mechanic father picked it up and read it once when he was vacationing with us and pronounced, “That’s the best book I ever read!” High praise.

St. Silouan of Mt. Athos, Archimandrite Sophrony. A modern saint and Orthodox writer whom all would do well to know.

Christ in Eastern Christian Thought, Fr. John Meyendorff. If you want to know your way through the Councils, this is your guide.

Being as Communion, Met. John Zizioulas. I found this book to be life-changing. It’s hard reading, but it turns many things on their head, and makes sense of the Orthodox understanding of the Trinity. [Fr. James' note: Clark Carlton (PhD in philosophy), in his excellent book The Way, famously wrote that he had to read the first chapter of this book three times before he understood it. And Dr. Carlton is no slouch!]

For the Life of the World, Alexander Schmemann. This little book is one of the great treasures of our time.

Resident Aliens, Hauerwas and Willimon. Not an Orthodox book for very typical Hauerwas who was certainly influential in my life.

The Theology of the Icon, Ouspensky. Still one of the best introductions to icons. To understand the icon is to understand Orthodox Theology.

Orthodox Spirituality, Dumitru Staniloae, balanced and thorough approach to Orthodox ascetical understanding.

The Enlargement of the Heart, Archimandrite Zacchaeus. Disciple of the Elder Sophrony, I can’t seem to stop reading this book.

I realize that ten is not enough. I did not include any lives of the saints (the list would have been twice as long). And I did not include Scripture.

Interestingly enough, I had only read two of these books, both during my St. Stephen's studies. Unfortunately, I read them a little too quickly, and I remember nothing from either one. I am definitely going to reread them. Then I'll tackle the other eight one at a time.

One other note: These books range from pretty deep to extremely deep. If you are a beginner to Orthodoxy (inquirer, catechumen, or in your first year or two after becoming Orthodox), you might not find these to be the best things to read right now. If you would like, let me know, and I will give you my own recommended list of books for beginners.

Finally, note that while reading is certainly helpful and can be soul-profiting, it is not everything. I strongly suggest that you click here to read Fr. Stephen's thoughts on this issue.


charlene said...

Fr. James,
Yes, please,please list your recommended books for us newly-Orthodox catapillars,seeking to become God's butterflies. That said, I was deeply moved by Fr. Stephen's discussion of thinking with the heart. Dn. Mel told me of the beautiful Wednesday night services during Lent,"all in a minor keyand acapella". This was in responce to my sharing that I yearned to worship God and have always been brought closer to God through music. I was intrigued by his description of the music, and got online to learn a bit about Orthodoxy. I then proceeded to ask our patient deacon a million questions about Orthodoxybefore actually visiting. When I experienced that first service I attended (and every one since then as well), it was my HEART that told me this was home and where God wanted me to be and that these were the people that loved God the way I wanted to love God. Thank you for sending us to Fr. Stephen.

Clint said...

I still hope that some day I begin to start to think about understanding a very little bit about "Being as Communion."

Fr. James Early said...

Yeah, me too! I am going to read through the list, but I think that Being As Communion will probably be #10!