Herman, A Wilderness Saint: From Sarov, Russia to Kodiak, Alaska is a new book that I think will be of interest to many readers of this web site. It has been translated from Russian and contains material not previously available in English, which only became accessible in Russia after the fall of communism. Through its use of primary sources such as letters and reports, St. Herman’s life and character is revealed with startling clarity, together with many aspects of the wider Russian ecclesiastic mission to America of which he was an integral part. The three appendices bring the story of New Valaam up to our own time, offer details of the saint’s canonization by both the OCA and ROCOR in 1970 and provide more biographical background to some of the eyewitnesses to the saint’s life. The primary text is supported by easily referenced endnotes and rounded off by an index.
Of particular note for readers of this web site following previous articles published here will be the account of the martyrdom of St Peter the Aleut with a brief discussion of its historicity.
Further information about the book and how to order it in either print or digital formats can be found here. The monastery also published an earlier edition of this book in Russian, details of which may be found here. A look inside preview is available courtesy of Amazon here.
After having spent the last several months concentrating on some of my own historical theology work, I thought I would take the time to update SOCHA readers not only on that, but on some other publications that might be of interest. Fr. Andrew, Matthew, and Aram continue their good endeavors here, of course, but I hope the reader will pardon my little interruption. What I especially wish to call readers to note is the recent issue of the St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Quarterly (56:3, 2012). This issue contains four articles addressing various aspects of Orthodox Christian history in America as well as a review of Amy Slagle’s book The Eastern Church in the Spiritual Marketplace: American Conversions to Orthodox Christianity (based on ethnographic work at three Orthodox parishes). I highly recommend her book, by the way.
The first article in this issue I would highlight is that by Fr. John Erickson, in which he examines the role of Slavophile thought in the Russian Mission. This is a fascinating article that will hopefully begin some considerations on this topic. Highlighting St. Tikhon and Metropolitan Platon is useful. There are a few footnotes that seemed incomplete, and I think citing Jennifer Hedda’s His Kingdom Come could have augmented the discussion of the liberal wing of Orthodoxy. I found his speculation concerning Bjerring’s apostasy (possibly upset at the change in Russian theological emphases away from liberalism) interesting, but Bjerring himself had little to say on this issue, interestingly, merely noting that he preferred to remain an American citizen. Also, as Erickson noted, the Russian government had pulled funding of Bjerring’s chapel. I think Erickson’s discussion concerning converts such as Irvine is interesting and overall, this is a good article that I would recommend to anyone grappling with the history of the Russian Mission in America. Erickson’s central thesis, that Slavophile conceptions affected the Russian Mission and later died away is spot-on and a reminder of just how transnational of a phenomenon American Orthodoxy has always been.
The second article, by Ivana Noble, concerns Fr. Georges Florovsky and especially the issue of Florovsky’s “Hellenism.” One of the more helpful points I found at the outset, was the balance struck when discussing the relationship between Florovsky and Bulgakov. I think this is sometimes missing at the popular level, so the reader is well served to encounter this. Her main offering to the reader, though, I think, is to note that Florovsky was just as willing to see Latin patristics as fully Patristic, and was even willing, at least at one point, to state as much in a margin note.
That said, I was struck by how far Noble took this. In footnote twenty-two, she sided with Matthew Baker versus Brandon Gallaher regarding the extent to which Florovsky sought to “proselytize” the non-Orthodox rather than see both Latin and Hellenic Christianity as Patristic. Personally, I think Florovsky is clear that a “pseudomorphosis” occurred in Orthodox theology (at least in his read of its history) and in that sense, I wonder if Noble (with Matthew Baker’s article in hand) isn’t “talking past” the likes of Brandon Gallaher and Dn. Paul Gavrilyuk on this one. That is to say, Noble could well be right (in fact, I think she is) that Florovsky was willing to see a return to the Fathers as something allowable to Latin Christianity and yet Gallaher and Gavrilyuk could well be right (and I think they are) in noting that Florovsky was quite critical at times of Western theological developments and their impacts upon Orthodox Christianity (whether real or perceived). Anyhow, I fully expect Florovsky to remain a debated figure amongst contemporary theologians and historians, probably increasingly so.
A third article worth noting is Paul Meyendorff’s article on Fr. John Meyendorff’s historical role in the creation of the OCA’s autocephaly and how Fr. John Meyendorff understood that autocephaly’s importance. This article made good use of the OCA archives and is a useful and important read for anyone interested in the relationship between Moscow and the OCA and/or American Orthodox jurisdictional unity.
Finally, this issue included an article I wrote on Fr. Boris Burden’s role in two failed attempts at Orthodox jurisdictional unity. Both attempts (the first begun with Bishop Aftimios as the Holy Eastern Orthodox Catholic and Apostolic Church of North America in the late 1920s and the second as the Federated Orthodox Greek Catholic Primary Jurisdictions in the first half of the 1940s) failed. One reason they failed (and not the only, but one reason that is common to both failures) was that Orthodox disagreed over how to respond to non-Orthodox. SOCHA has discussed both movements and figures in both, so readers can quickly update their knowledge of all of this.
So, all in all, I’d recommend the recent SVTQ issue. I would also like to mention the new issue of LOGOS: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies (53:3-4, 2012). I wrote an article entitled, “An Old World Response to a New World Situation: Greek Clergy in the Service of the Russian Mission to America,” which is based on the paper I gave at the Princeton Symposium in October, 2011. The priests mentioned in the article have been covered here on the SOCHA site and I suspect they will receive further treatment in the future, especially as 2016 nears, as that would be the 100th anniversary of the death of one of these Greek priests, Archimandrite Theoklitos Triantafilides.
This is not the only piece I have written in the last few months. I have written a couple of book chapters (though book publishing moves slowly, so it’ll be some time before they’re available). One is a short piece on Meyendorff and Schmemann and the other a survey of Russian Orthodoxy in the Academic disciplines directly related to theology. Shortly before Christmas (on the Revised Julian Calendar) I signed a book contract with Oxford University Press. I hope to offer more on that someday in the future. Perhaps I’ll have more to say to that in the summer or fall this year. In the meantime, may we all keep one another in each other’s prayers and may we all continue to support one another in our work and interest in the ongoing history of American Orthodoxy.
[Addendum: It has come to my attention through private emails that some readers might mistakenly think I intended to conflate Matthew Baker's positions on Florovsky with that of Ivana Noble's. I wish to clarify that such was never the case. I meant only to show the debate into which Noble entered and upon whom she relied when making her point. It should be pointed out that Matthew Baker does not deny Florovsky's claim regarding the Orthodox Church as the "una sancta," nor Florovsky's critique that Eastern Christianity often engaged in a "servile imitation" of Western sources, which Florovsky considered a "pseudomorphosis." Baker's main point would be that Florovsky's critique of pseudomorphosis is part of a larger ecumenical vision expressed by Florovsky, according to which the return of both Orthodox and Western Christians to the sources of patristic tradition, which Orthodoxy especially claims as her own, would enable a free and constructive ecumenical encounter. It is on the basis of this larger point that Noble made use of his work, pressing it (in my read) a bit farther than Baker himself. As I mentioned above, I expect that the discussions surrounding Florovsky have only but begun and if that is the case, then Baker's work (as is also the case with Gallaher's, Gavrilyuk's, and Noble's, among others) will be important as this discussion rolls along.]
I do not intend to provide full book reviews here at this time, but I do think it is nonetheless appropriate to inform our readers about two new books that discuss American Orthodox converts. Studying converts was the area of my own dissertation research (may I get that published some day!) and I hope it will be an area of interest to our readers as well. First, what spurred this posting was receiving the following announcement:
Dn. Gregory Roeber has co-authored a book with Mickey L. Mattox. Mattox presents why he converted to Roman Catholicism and Roeber why he converted to Orthodoxy. Both discuss it within the context of what Lutherans see in those churches (as both are former Lutherans) and what the larger theological issues are. This event will happen tomorrow (March 8th) at Marquette University.
Likewise, last fall Amy Slagle published The Eastern Church in the Spiritual Marketplace: American Conversions to Orthodox Christianity which is an ethnographic study of converts from parishes in the Pittsburgh area and Mississippi. I have read this and would highly recommend it.
I realize neither are strictly historical studies but I do believe they have relevance (directly so) for those of us looking at this question historically and hopefully these books will be of interest to many of our readers.
Editor’s note: Today we present a book review by Richard Barrett, a parish cantor and Ph.D. student in History at Indiana University in the Ancient Studies field. This review is regarding a particularly interesting book on parish congregationalism in American Orthodox history. It appeared in an earlier form as a post on Mr. Barrett’s own weblog. His post on historiographical methodology in American Orthodoxy also makes for interesting reading.
We intend to run more book reviews on this site in the future.
In my research for the article on historiography of Orthodox Christianity in America, I encountered the book Orthodoxy and Parish Congregationalism by a Carpatho-Russian priest named Fr. Nicholas Ferencz. It was evidently his doctoral dissertation at Duquesne University, and it was published in 2006 by Gorgias Press under their “Gorgias Dissertations” imprint. It is, I think, a book that should be carefully read and considered by Orthodox Christians in America; it is able to be descriptive of what Fr. Nicholas sees as the problem without resorting to finger-pointing, and it is far more of an intellectually honest look at particular hotly-debated issues than some other books out there. Unfortunately, those other books are $15 a pop and Fr. Nicholas’ is $99 (the perils of a small boutique academic press, alas), so that’s unlikely to happen, but I’d like to make what case for the book I can.
Fr. Nicholas’ thesis is that congregationalism, or “trusteeism,” is unambiguously outside of Orthodox Christian tradition, but that it is nonetheless the de facto arrangement, at least in a modified form, for American parishes, and that this state of things represents a troubling gap between belief and practice in Orthodox Christianity as it is practiced in this country. “American Orthodoxy,” he contends, “lives out an experience of church which is at odds with its professed understanding of church,” a problem which most church leaders either cannot or will not acknowledge publicly, and of which most laity are unaware (p. 2).
The model of “modified congregationalism” within which most parishes function, he argues, boils down to the laity controlling the material assets of the community. At the same time, the laity “allows” the clergy (including the episcopate) more or less limited authority in the spiritual realm, but with the right implicitly reserved to either revoke that allowance, or to use material authority in a way that trumps the spiritual authority — that is, “the earthly coercive power of control” (p. 204). This is a problem, and a big one:
[C]ongregationalism does not work in practice within the Orthodox Church. Parish life does not divide into such neatly fragmented categories as spiritual/cleric on one side and material/laic on the other. A congregationalist structure merely serves to maintain a fiction which undermines the authority and responsibility of both the clergy and the laity, to the detriment of the parish and, therefore, of the church. (p. 7)
This state of affairs exists for a number of reasons, and there are three in particular on which Fr. Nicholas concentrates. The first is what he terms “the moral absence of the hierarchy,” both in the formative years and up to the present, the second is the long-term impact of the circumstances surrounding St. Alexis Toth’s bringing many of the Uniate parishes into the Orthodox Church, and the third is the result of lay societies being the engine which drove the formation of many early Orthodox parishes. Without going into the minutiae of his argument, the way that Fr. Nicholas lays out the historical circumstances in which the theoretical/practical gap developed in Orthodox Christianity as practiced in the United States is fascinating reading, and excellent food for thought.
So, what’s the way forward? There are several generations in this country, from cradle and convert stock alike, who are very used to things being the way they are, they don’t want to hear that what they’re doing is at variance with traditional Orthodox practice, and in fact they might even argue that we haven’t gone far enough towards congregationalism. So what do we do? Is it possible that there’s just no other way for Orthodox Christianity to function in this country? Is there just too much of a cultural disconnect for it to be otherwise?
At the macro level, the book gives the impression that the idea of more bishops covering smaller territories would be a practical way of dealing with the problem, since the impossibly wide geographic areas that bishops have had to cover in the Americas help create the problem of “moral absence” in the first place. More locally, Fr. Nicholas suggests that “[r]eal conciliarity on a parish level could be the beginning of the healing of the divisiveness of congregationalism,” (p. 210) with conciliarity being defined as “an authority structure which requires that all the People of God, ordained and unordained, participate in the authority of the church and the exercise of that authority as one, whole Body” (p. 209). At the same time, however, conciliarity is emphatically not “the gathering of an… ‘amorphous mass’ for the purpose of casting votes… [that is,] a democracy. It is the gathering, the coming together, of the Body of Christ in unity and in wholeness” (ibid.). This being the case, it is vital that we realize “[t]he participation of each member of the church is not exactly the same, uniform, and undifferentiated. Each person is called to share in Christ’s authority to the degree and in the manner in which they have received God’s grace to do so” (ibid.). It’s not an easy way forward in a culture where we don’t readily make a distinction between difference in function and difference in quality, so I don’t know how we get around that, but I suspect Fr. Nicholas is right regardless.
There’s much more to the book than this necessarily brief review will allow me to explore, but I recommend seeking it out. If you don’t want to fork out the $99 to buy it, interlibrary loan should be able to produce a copy. It’s very much worth reading and discussing further.
[This article was written by Richard Barrett and was originally published at his weblog on October 10, 2009.]