Monday, March 31, 2008

BOOK REVIEW: Mysteries of Silence

By Christopher Lewis
Anaphora Press, 2007

Reviewed by Stephen Ullstrom

In his first collection of poetry, it is soon obvious that Christopher Lewis knows his garden. And that he intimately knows such things as the birds that fly into his garden, and the growing of good, thriving, crops. He knows the names of flowers that I have never heard of, and he understands something of the mysteries of pruning and of seeds growing. We even learn that Lewis writes in a shed that is in the midst of his garden, and that at times he struggles between desiring to write and desiring to nurture his plants. This is the joyous Lewis that we see as he lovingly describes nature and finds within it a touch of paradise. But he is never sentimental, and the serious side of Lewis emerges when he writes about scorching deserts and the wearying heat of summer. This is the side that is concerned with prayer, and with attaining silence before God. And Lewis does not shy away from this either, as seen when he tells himself, and us, to “not delude yourself that you’ve met the silence. / You have not touched even the hem of it’s garment.” In addition to Lewis’s emphasis on nature, and as someone who feasts on biographies, I also thoroughly enjoyed Lewis’ exploration of the lives of various saints. He used these lives to illustrate prayer in diverse circumstances, and to encourage us in our struggles while also pointing out that we have so far to go before reaching those heights.

In addition to the poems, Lewis also provides some notes explaining the reasons for writing a few of his poems, and explaining some of the allusions he makes to various saints and books. These were very helpful in understanding some of the more obscure allusions he made, and they offered interesting insight into how Lewis works as a poet. My only disappointment was that he didn’t tell us more.

Mysteries of Silence provides keen and honest insights about nature, beauty, and our struggles with the Orthodox spiritual life. As the first publication of Anaphora Press, which has dedicated itself to publishing excellence in literature, Mysteries of Silence has set the bar very high indeed. And as the first book published by Christopher Lewis, I look forward to savoring whatever else he chooses to share with us.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

BOOK REVIEW -- Mystic Street: Meditations on a Spiritual Path

By S.T. Georgiou
319 pages. Novalis. $24.95

Reviewed by Matt Karnes

A book critic faces a problem every time he begins to read a book for review; the problem of evaluating the book that is in his hands instead of the book he wishes had been written. An Orthodox Christian book critic has the added burden of 2,000 years of spiritual master pieces on the shelves above his writing desk; those books sitting in judgment of all new Christian writing. It is difficult to lay all of that aside when looking at this spiritual travel book which tells part of the story of a young Orthodox scholar living in San Francisco and attending the very ecumenical Graduate Theological Union, in Berkeley.

Like all good travel books, Mystic Street is filled with quirky characters and events. And place is vitally important to the happenings recorded in the stories, as is the sense that the author is experiencing something new. But that is not the only way this is a travel book.

The author’s constant movement, almost vibration, is what makes spiritual travel book the best descriptor for this collection of living snapshots, for it seems that Georgiou receives his most interesting insights when he is walking through doorways, or riding on trains, or going up or down stairways. An angel talks to him in a hallway, he gains an understanding of the Light of God in a subway station, he wrestles with his vocation while walking on the beach. He can’t even sit still in a Buddhist retreat center, but busts up laughing at an apple and has to walk out to a hall way where he is told he is very Zen.

And, of course, we might wonder why an Orthodox Christian is in a Buddhist retreat center, attending Roman Catholic Masses, and divining the future with I Ching, why he seems averse to normative ways of Orthodox spiritual practice, and why he refers more to the writings of modern Roman Catholics than to the teachings of Orthodox Christians of any age. Several times I was tempted to put the book down and say “This isn’t Orthodox. It’s a load of Unitarian garbage.” But then the author tells us about visiting the island of Patmos, and experiencing there what might have been the Holy Spirit praying through him, or, perhaps, it was the hesycast’s much sought after prayer of the heart; prayer Ven. Alexander Schmemman would have recognized as the offering that fulfills the vocation given to Adam and to us.

This mixture of spiritual confusion and spiritual clarity is a constant in the book. One vignette (the book is a series of them) will make the author seem like a Protestant, or a Pagan, or a Roman Catholic, while another will make him seem very Orthodox. Only after rereading sections of it did I come to understand that the back and forth movement is the key to the book, to the story it tells. It moves in and out of Orthodoxy because it tells part of the story of a real human being. But not only his life is shown to us. Our lives, too, are reflected back to us from the pages of this book.

The stories Georgiou tells are all of our stories. We are all screwed up. We are all inconsistent. Even the best of us, the Saints, sometimes get it wrong. But God keeps revealing Himself to us, as much as we can tolerate, hoping that the love and beauty we receive from Him will draw us to Him. That is the most important message Georgiou put in this book. It is worth reading the way he has written it.

Stars : 3 of 5

Monday, March 10, 2008

BOOK REVIEW: Cyprus: Byzantine Churches and Monasteries Mosaics and Frescoes

By Ewald Hein, Andrija Jakovljevic and Brigitte Kleidt
Melina-Verlag, Ratingen, 1998

Reviewed by Dr. Chrissi Hart

This beautiful textbook is the result of a collaboration between the three authors about the rich cultural and spiritual heritage of Cyprus. It begins with historical accounts of the turbulent history of Cyprus, the Byzantine Empire and history of the Orthodox church. Dr. Jakovljevic’s scholarly description of monasteries, churches, icons, mosaics and frescoes is supplemented with beautiful color photographs. The appendix includes references to Cyprus in the Bible; a list of Archbishops of Cyprus; Byzantine, Lusignan and Ottoman rulers; a chronological table or timeline of Cyprus, a summary of saints; and a glossary.

The book is rich with information into the Byzantine Empire that lasted over one thousand years. Of particular interest is Stavrovouni Monastery, the oldest monastery on the island, founded by St. Helen when she brought the holy cross to Cyprus. Kykkos Monastery houses one of three original icons written by St Luke dedicated to the Holy Virgin Mary. The oldest church in Cyprus is that of St Lazarus of Bethany, in Larnaca, which contains his precious relics. A number of Byzantine churches on the UNESCO World Heritage List are also included. These are located throughout the Troodos mountain areas of Marathasa, Solea and Pitsilia, set in enchanting scenery of cedar valleys or pine forests. One such example is the painted church of the Mother of God at Asinou. There are also descriptions of neglected churches in the Turkish occupied north of the island which have been inaccessible since 1974.

Scholars and students of Byzantine history and art will find this book an invaluable resource into the rich cultural and spiritual heritage of Cyprus and thus should be in every University Library.

Dr. Andreas Jakovljevic is a Byzantine scholar and Director at the Research Centre of Kykkos Monastery based at Archangelos Monastery, Nicosia, Cyprus. Cyprus: Byzantine Churches and Monasteries Mosaics and Frescoes is available from Moufflon Bookshop in Nicosia, Cyprus. Tel: (357) 22 665 155; Fax: (357) 22 668 703.

Chrissi Hart is the author of Under the Grapevine: A Miracle by Saint Kendeas of Cyprus (Conciliar Press, 2006) and The Hermit, The Icon, and The Emperor: The Holy Virgin Comes to Cyprus (Conciliar Press, October 2008).

Thursday, March 6, 2008


Ben Lomond, CA – Conciliar Press Ministries is pleased to announce the release of five new books, just in time for Great Lent 2008. The five titles -- three picture books for children and two adult titles -- include:

Drita: An Albanian Girl Discovers Her Ancestors' Faith
Written by Renee Ritsi
Illustrated by Cameron Thorpe

After suffering for decades under religious persecution, Albanians and other Eastern European Christians were allowed to worship more openly following the fall of communism in the 1990's. In the new picture book, Drita: An Albanian Girl Discovers Her Ancestors' Faith, author Renee Ritsi offers readers a vivid picture of the world of an Albanian girl who finds the Orthodox Christian faith of her ancestors. As this beautifully illustrated story opens, we meet Drita, a young Albanian girl whose family has lived for years under repressive communist rule. After decades of religious oppression, Drita is finally able to discover the faith of her ancestors. As she experiences God’s love for her through the example of her grandparents and the teachings of missionaries, she turns her heart toward Christ. At the story’s joyful conclusion, Drita is surrounded by her grandparents and friends as she is baptized.

Baby Moses and Moses' Flight from Egypt
Two books in the new Old Testament Stories for Children series
Written by Mother Melania
Illustrated by Bonnie Gillis

While adult readers enjoy the new Complete Orthodox Study Bible, children can enjoy the Orthodox perspective on classic Bible stories with the new Old Testament Stories for Children series. Launched with the release of the picture books Baby Moses and Moses’ Flight from Egypt, the series uses simple verse and colorful, semi-iconographic illustrations that are both sweet and reverent to introduce children and their parents to the profound truths revealed in the pages of the Old Testament. Everywhere in the Old Testament, the Fathers of the Church see Christ, the Theotokos, and the Church revealed. The Fathers always understood the Old Testament in light of the New. Moses in the basket is a “type” of baptism. Jacob crossed his hands to bless Joseph’s younger son (Ephraim) over his older son (Manasseh)—a prefiguring both of the Cross and of the surpassing of the Old Covenant by the New. The series will continue with several Moses stories and include others that are also associated with Christ’s Pascha: Jonah and the fish, the Three Youths in the furnace, and Elijah raising the widow’s son.

Lynette's Hope: The Witness of Lynette Katherine Hoppe's Life and Death
Edited by Fr. Luke A. Veronis

Lynette Katherine Hoppe's life and death touched hundreds, if not thousands of lives as she served as a missionary in Albania, tragically succumbing to cancer in 2006. In Lynette's Hope: The Witness of Lynette Katherine Hoppe's Life and Death, close family friend and fellow OCMC missionary Fr. Luke Veronis retells the story of her life, and then lets her writing speak for itself. In poignant, honest prose, Lynette's diaries, newsletters and website chronicled her struggles in the "valley of the shadow" as she faced impending death. In the midst of such heartache -- a young missionary wife and mother ill and dying -- how did she live? How did she die? The answers to those questions will move readers to agree with those who witnessed her passing, that truly hers was a "beautiful death." No one who reads Lynette's Hope will come away untouched; all will be stirred to a new resolve to live life as she did, in the presence of God, with joy and faith.

Shepherding the Flock: The Pastoral Epistles of St. Paul the Apostle to Timothy and to Titus
Part of the Orthodox Bible Study Companion Series
By Fr. Lawrence Farley

The latest volume in Fr. Lawrence Farley’s Orthodox Bible Study Companion Series, Shepherding the Flock: The Pastoral Epistles of St. Paul the Apostle to Timothy and to Titus, combines a fresh, literal translation of the pastoral epistles with verse-by-verse commentary written “for the average layman, for the non-professional who feels a bit intimidated by the presence of copious footnotes, long bibliographies, and all those other things which so enrich the lives of academics” (from the series introduction). Arranged in brief pericopes of text with commentary following, Shepherding the Flock presents a traditional Orthodox interpretation of the scriptures along with historical, linguistic, and contextual details that bring Paul’s epistles to life for the contemporary reader. St. Paul’s epistles to Timothy and Titus contain the apostle’s instructions to the pastors under his care about how they, in turn, should care for their flocks in wisdom and love. As the last epistles St. Paul wrote in anticipation of his martyrdom, they “remain as a testimony to his pastoral love and as an inspiration for those in the Church, both the shepherds and the flock, to walk in holiness and love themselves.”

Now available at, and at bookstores everywhere.