Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Book review: Bread and Water, Wine and Oil by Fr. Meletios Webber

Review by Jim Forest

A key passage at the beginning of Bread and Water, Wine and Oil focuses on the on the Orthodox use of the word "mystery":

"One of the most noticeable features of Eastern Christianity is that it is this word, 'mystery,' rather than the word 'sacrament,' which describes those actions of God which have a specific, decisive and eternal significance in the lives of those who take part in them. Everyday substances -- oil, water, bread, wine -- together with simple actions -- offering, blessing, washing, anointing -- become the means by which God intervenes in our lives. These interventions -- in which God does all the work, and our only contribution is to be prepared and present -- color and shape our lives beyond the extent that would be possible through any human encounter. However, unlike most human interactions, they do not take us from a place of ignorance to a place of knowledge. Rather, the Mysteries lead us deeper and deeper into the Mystery -- the Mystery which is the presence of God Himself."

Mystery, in the Orthodox sense, has nothing to do with mystery novels and films. The divine mystery has no solution. As the author writes:

"In the East, on the other hand, a mystery is an area where the human mind cannot go, and where the heart alone makes sense, not by 'knowing,' but by ;being.' The Greek word mysterion leads you into a sense of 'not-knowing' or 'not-understanding' and leaves you there. All a person can do is gaze and wonder; there is nothing to solve."

Father Meletios's book is a profoundly challenging book about the journey from the mind (always struggling to explain, solve and de-mystify, yet always seething with emotions and passions) to the depths of the heart, the center of being rather than of knowing.

"Bread and Water, Wine and Oil" seems likely to become a Christian classic, the sort of book the reader returns to again and again and keeps recommending to friends.

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