I write a weekly book review for the Daily News of Galveston County. (It is not the biggest daily newspaper in Texas, but it is the oldest.) After my review appears on Sunday, I post the previous week’s review here on Sunday.
Eastern Orthodox Christianity Explained
By MARK LARDAS
Mar 23, 2020
“The Eastern Orthodox Church: A New History,” by John Anthony McGuckin, Yale University Press, 2020, 360 pages, $32.50
The Eastern Orthodox Church is misunderstood in the West. Many think it just a variant on Roman Catholicism.
“The Eastern Orthodox Church: A New History,” by John Anthony McGuckin, explains Eastern Orthodoxy, using a succinct history of the church to illustrate his points.
He opens with an introduction to Orthodoxy. He explains the Church’s foundational assumptions, and how and why it differs from Western Christianity, Catholic and Protestant. It includes a section on the specific philosophy of the Orthodox Church and its history.
Subsequent chapters follow the history of the Church, starting with its founding days. This includes discussion of the approaches taken by the four Evangelists and the Apostles’ reception of the teachings of Jesus. McGuckin shows mercy and forgiveness play major roles in Orthodoxy. A history of the development of the Church follows, covering the period from post-Apostolic times to the fourth century (the Patristic era) when the church liturgy and practices developed.
McGurkin then shows the growth of the Orthodox Church under Byzantine rule and its expansion into Europe and Russia. He explains the Church split into Eastern and Western factions, and examines the tribulations the Orthodox Church suffered under both Islam and Communism. He also presents the twentieth-century Orthodox Dispora into Western Europe, the Americas and Australia.
The book closes with a discussion of modern Orthodoxy. McGuckin shows what day-to-day life is like in an Orthodox Church, taking readers into a visit in a church. He explains what goes on during a service, showing the laity as active participants, not passive vessels. His final chapter discusses the relevancy of the Orthodox faith in a post-modern world, and the positive role it can play.
The author is both an Orthodox priest (an archpriest in the Romanian Orthodox Church) and an academic (a professor of early Christianity at the University of Oxford). “The Eastern Orthodox Church” is written neither for the clergy or the academic. It is a work intended for the lay reader with limited knowledge of Orthodox Christianity who wishes to learn more about. McGuckin succeeds in this admirably. It is an approachable and interesting book.
Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, amateur historian, and model-maker, and an Eastern Orthodox Christian, lives in League City. His website is marklardas.com.