This Week’s Book Review – The Eastern Orthodox Church: A New History

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.

Book Review

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.

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17 thoughts on “This Week’s Book Review – The Eastern Orthodox Church: A New History”

  1. A note up front. This review did not appear in the Galveston County Daily News. They held my column last week. So I wrote this review of a book I had received to have something for this week at Ricochet.com and Ratburger.org. Next week’s review will be a reprint of the review in today’s Galveston County Daily News.

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  2. Seawriter:
    A note up front. This review did not appear in the Galveston County Daily News. They held my column last week. So I wrote this review of a book I had received to have something for this week at Ricochet.com and Ratburger.org. Next week’s review will be a reprint of the review in today’s Galveston County Daily News.

    How are things in Houston, Sea?

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  3. Seawriter:
    A note up front. This review did not appear in the Galveston County Daily News. They held my column last week. So I wrote this review of a book I had received to have something for this week at Ricochet.com and Ratburger.org. Next week’s review will be a reprint of the review in today’s Galveston County Daily News.

    Was there some nefarious reason that they did not want to run this particular review ?

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  4. 10 Cents:
    How are things in Houston, Sea?

    Normal, if you ignore the fact that restaurants and bars are limited to take-out, the grocery stores are still out of paper towel and toilet paper, and all the “non-essential” (bookstores, boutiques, theaters, gift shops, libraries, museums) businesses are closed. There has been no flood of Chinese coronavirus victims in local hospitals, and half the people I know are wondering whether that bad cold they had a month back with the dry hacking cough was a mind case of Chinese coronavirus.

    And I have become a full-time writer with no day job, because the day job was working as a contract technical writer at a major airline documenting their reservation software.  I don’t even plan to look for work until mid-April at the earliest. I turned in two book proposals last week and look to finish up my current book two months early.

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  5. MJBubba:

    Seawriter:
    A note up front. This review did not appear in the Galveston County Daily News. They held my column last week. So I wrote this review of a book I had received to have something for this week at Ricochet.com and Ratburger.org. Next week’s review will be a reprint of the review in today’s Galveston County Daily News.

    Was there some nefarious reason that they did not want to run this particular review ?

    No nefarious reason. Might have been the drop in advertising or just someone dropping the ball. Last week’s ran this week.

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  6. I think among those who are not briefed in on such matters, there is substantial confusion between the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Eastern Catholic Churches, (sometimes called Eastern-rite Catholic Churches) which retain their allegiance to Rome but have their own liturgy and traditions, including in many, a married priesthood (but not bishops and above).  There are 18 million members of Eastern Catholic Churches, which include the Coptic church of Egypt, the Maronite church of Lebanon, and the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.  Many of the persecuted Christians in the Near East are members of these churches.

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  7. John Walker:
    I think among those who are not briefed in on such matters, there is substantial confusion between the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Eastern Catholic Churches, (sometimes called Eastern-rite Catholic Churches) which retain their allegiance to Rome but have their own liturgy and traditions, including in many, a married priesthood (but not bishops and above).  There are 18 million members of Eastern Catholic Churches, which include the Coptic church of Egypt, the Maronite church of Lebanon, and the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.  Many of the persecuted Christians in the Near East are members of these churches.

    How do the Russian Orthodox fit in?

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  8. John Walker:
    I think among those who are not briefed in on such matters, there is substantial confusion between the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Eastern Catholic Churches, (sometimes called Eastern-rite Catholic Churches) which retain their allegiance to Rome but have their own liturgy and traditions, including in many, a married priesthood (but not bishops and above).  There are 18 million members of Eastern Catholic Churches, which include the Coptic church of Egypt, the Maronite church of Lebanon, and the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.  Many of the persecuted Christians in the Near East are members of these churches.

    Well, there are Copts and then there are Copts.  The larger Coptic church is not an Eastern Rite church.   The confusion comes from the fact that there is an Egyptian Eastern Rite Catholic church, but there is also the Coptic Orthodox Church, which is, as their name implies, more cozy with the Orthodox churches than with Rome (though those relationships have shifted from time to time).

    The Coptic Orthodox Church was kicked out at the Council of Chalcedon, so 1500 years ago, half a millennium before the east-west split was formalized.   Modern Copts insist that the Chalcedon dispute was a misunderstanding, and, in reading their stuff, it may well have been a misunderstanding, or perhaps their teachings evolved since those days.   Some misunderstandings have farther-reaching consequences than others.

    Facts on the ground in Egypt force a whole lot of ecumenism that keeps the Eastern Rite Copts and the Orthodox Copts really tight with each other, as they are both under constant harassment and assault from their Muslim surrounds.

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  9. 10 Cents:

    John Walker:
    I think among those who are not briefed in on such matters, there is substantial confusion between the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Eastern Catholic Churches, (sometimes called Eastern-rite Catholic Churches) which retain their allegiance to Rome but have their own liturgy and traditions, including in many, a married priesthood (but not bishops and above).  There are 18 million members of Eastern Catholic Churches, which include the Coptic church of Egypt, the Maronite church of Lebanon, and the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.  Many of the persecuted Christians in the Near East are members of these churches.

    How do the Russian Orthodox fit in?

    The Russians are Russians.   The Czar did not want his Metropolitans taking instructions from those Byzantine Metropolitans.   Theologically, Russian Orthodox is very close to Greek Orthodox, only with the added burden of being Russian.

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  10. John Walker:
    I think among those who are not briefed in on such matters, there is substantial confusion between the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Eastern Catholic Churches, (sometimes called Eastern-rite Catholic Churches) which retain their allegiance to Rome but have their own liturgy and traditions, including in many, a married priesthood (but not bishops and above).  There are 18 million members of Eastern Catholic Churches, which include the Coptic church of Egypt, the Maronite church of Lebanon, and the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.  Many of the persecuted Christians in the Near East are members of these churches.

    The Ukrainian Orthodox is in communion with Rome. We have a Ukrainian seminary here in Stamford (which St John Paul II attended) that is in communion with our diocese. Obviously, I am just confirming your point not adding to it. The Orthodox are an obscure bunch in the west, but many are defined by their language. Such as there are Bulgarian Orthodox in the US in which half the congregants speak Bulgarian and half don’t. All of the liturgy is in Bulgarian so it creates a bit of an issue with converts.

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  11. Mate De:

    John Walker:
    I think among those who are not briefed in on such matters, there is substantial confusion between the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Eastern Catholic Churches, (sometimes called Eastern-rite Catholic Churches) which retain their allegiance to Rome but have their own liturgy and traditions, including in many, a married priesthood (but not bishops and above).  There are 18 million members of Eastern Catholic Churches, which include the Coptic church of Egypt, the Maronite church of Lebanon, and the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.  Many of the persecuted Christians in the Near East are members of these churches.

    The Ukrainian Orthodox is in communion with Rome. We have a Ukrainian seminary here in Stamford (which St John Paul II attended) that is in communion with our diocese. Obviously, I am just confirming your point not adding to it. The Orthodox are an obscure bunch in the west, but many are defined by their language. Such as there are Bulgarian Orthodox in the US in which half the congregants speak Bulgarian and half don’t. All of the liturgy is in Bulgarian so it creates a bit of an issue with converts.

    The thing is, every one of those Eastern Rite churches and Orthodox churches has their own issues and internal politics.  It’s complicated.

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  12. MJBubba:

    Mate De:

    John Walker:
    I think among those who are not briefed in on such matters, there is substantial confusion between the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Eastern Catholic Churches, (sometimes called Eastern-rite Catholic Churches) which retain their allegiance to Rome but have their own liturgy and traditions, including in many, a married priesthood (but not bishops and above).  There are 18 million members of Eastern Catholic Churches, which include the Coptic church of Egypt, the Maronite church of Lebanon, and the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.  Many of the persecuted Christians in the Near East are members of these churches.

    The Ukrainian Orthodox is in communion with Rome. We have a Ukrainian seminary here in Stamford (which St John Paul II attended) that is in communion with our diocese. Obviously, I am just confirming your point not adding to it. The Orthodox are an obscure bunch in the west, but many are defined by their language. Such as there are Bulgarian Orthodox in the US in which half the congregants speak Bulgarian and half don’t. All of the liturgy is in Bulgarian so it creates a bit of an issue with converts.

    The thing is, every one of those Eastern Rite churches and Orthodox churches has their own issues and internal politics.  It’s complicated.

    That is putting it mildly.

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