True criticism

In the end, it’s misleading, and perhaps false, to speak of reviews as ‘negative’ or ‘positive’. A good review should contain both elements, judiciously balanced. We live in an age of shameless puffery. A good critic, a just judge, will resist this. But let’s face it: in the case of poetry (and of the novel, too, I suspect, though I’ve never written one), a wayward element can intervene, in the form of a sudden caprice, an unexpected impulse—perhaps even what Edgar Allen Poe named ‘the imp of the perverse’—and this gratuitous and quite unbidden whim can take a poem in startling directions. It can make a dull poem shine but it can also make a good poem falter. What at first appears queer or off-kilter or even downright loopy may be transformed over time into something unsuspected, unrecognized, before. The critic has to be alert to this possibility, rare as it is; has to allow, that is, that all his fine judgment, his confident logic, his unerring taste, may prove pointless. Our judgments may—and probably will—prove as perishable as the books they judge. This requires a special kind of humility: despite our best efforts, if the work is truly good, something will always elude our analysis. There’s a mystery here I don’t pretend to understand. Perhaps Emily Dickinson expressed it best:

Surgeons must be very careful
When they take the knife!
Underneath their fine incisions
Stirs the Culprit—
Life!

Eric Ormsby, from “Fine Incisions: Reflections on Reviewing”, p. 120 in Fine Incisions: Essays on Poetry and Place (The Porcupine’s Quill, 2011)

Posted in Poetry | 1 Comment

Capella Romana: Ancient Light

Some of you will be familiar with Capella Romana, an astonishingly good vocal chamber ensemble, about which you may read more here. One of my fellow seminarians here at school, John Boyer, who is a fine friend and chanter, is a member of Capella Romana, which was a pleasant surprise when I first learned it. I’d enjoyed and admired their recordings for some time. In terms of quality of performance and production, I rate them highest, in a league with Chanticleer.

So it is a pleasure to share the news that Capella Romana has a new offering available: Angelic Light: Music from Eastern Cathedrals, a mix of ancient and modern settings of liturgical and paraliturgical chant. Samples of each of the tracks are available there, and one may order the digital edition for immediate download, or the CD, or both, I suppose!

There is even a video available for one of the tracks from the Ancient Light recording.

If you enjoy Byzantine Chant, you’ll enjoy Capella Romana. If you’re new to Byzantine Chant and would like to familiarize yourself with the sound of it, this is also a good reason to listen to Capella Romana. Their performances are accessible in a way that old recordings of classic masters of chant are not, as well as being readily available, which the latter are not.

Enjoy!

Posted in Culture & Arts | 3 Comments

Saint Isaac the Syrian Resources

It was mentioned by Kristian Heal on the Hugoye Syriac Studies list today that the fathers at Holy Transfiguration Monastery, just a hop, skip, and a jump from where I am writing this, have put together a website with a number of resources related to their two editions of the Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian.

Especially useful for those who have bought the new edition, or the HTM-sold photocopy of the homilies from the first edition, is that they have posted online the various appendices in the first edition that are not included in either of those. I mentioned the contents of the new edition in a fairly post below, which includes links to other posts on the writings of Saint Isaac.

And later on the Hugoye list was the extraordinary news shared by Marcel Pirard that he has published the first critical edition of the Greek text of the Ascetical Homilies of St Isaac. Here is the information:

Title: Abba Isaac the Syrian, Ascetic Homilies. Critical Edition of the Greek Version by Marcel Pirard.
ISBN: 978-960-87537-9-2
Editor: Monastery of Iviron, Mount-Athos
Distribution: Domos Books
E-mail: domosbooks@ath.forthnet.gr
Date of publication: 29 February 2012
Language: Greek + Syro-Hellenic footnotes
Pages : 888

Our Father among the Saints Isaac, pray for us!

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He’s on a mission for God!

A friend of mine here at the seminary, Jordan Zanetis, is preparing to return to Tanzania on a mission trip, teaching in Orthodox schools in the country. He spent two weeks there last year, and had an amazing experience, sharing pictures and stories with me when I first got here last summer.

He’s set up a blog with various interesting items he’s been posting before going:

Mission to Tanzania

Check out the recipe for pan-fried Tilapia!

Please take a look and help Jordan on his trip if you’re at all able.

Posted in Eastern Orthodoxy | 1 Comment

Music to Study New Testament Greek By

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So, I’m doing a bit of studying for a New Testament Greek test while listening to the classic Stan Getz album, The Girl From Ipanema. Thanks to iTunes Match on my iPad! Very nice!

Also on tonight have been Depeche Mode, Violator; Hamza el Din, Eclipse; Djivan Gasparyan, Moon Shines at Night, and some other goodies.

Posted in Eastern Orthodoxy | 1 Comment

More Popular Patristics Series titles

In some earlier posts (part one, part two, part three) I provided a list of the volumes of the Popular Patristics Series published by Saint Vladimir’s Seminary Press, indicating the contents and the source of the texts translated for each volume. Several more volumes have since appeared, and are described here.

43. Works On the Spirit: Athanasius the Great and Didymus the Blind. Translated, with an Introduction and Annotations, by Mark DelCogliano, Andrew Radd-Gallwitz, and Lewis Ayres.
Texts: 1.) Athanasius’ Letters to Serapion: PG 26.529-638, with reference to: Dietmar Wyrwa and Kyriakos Savvidis, eds. Athanasius Werke / 1. Die dogmatischen Schriften. 4. Lieferung. Epistulae I-IV ad Serapionem. Walter de Gruyter, 2010. 2.) Louis Doutreleau, ed. and trans. Didyme L’Aveugle: Traité du Saint-Esprit. Sources Chrétiennes 386. Éditions du Cerf, 1992.

44A. Saint Athanasius the Great of Alexandria: On the Incarnation. Greek Original and English Translation. Introduction by C. S. Lewis. Translation and Introduction by John Behr.
Text: A working text based on: Charles Kannengiesser. Athanase d’Alexandrie: Sur l’Incarnation du Verbe. Sources Chrétiennes 199, rev. ed. Éditions du Cerf, 2000.
[44B is an edition that includes only the introductory material and the English translation, omitting the Greek text.]

Posted in Patristics | 6 Comments

The Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian, Revised Second Edition

I have mentioned before the works of Saint Isaac the Syrian, with a special focus on those appearing in English, and in particular the first edition of the Holy Transfiguration Monastery publication of Dana Miller’s translation, The Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian. The first edition was long out of print, with copies going for sometimes over a thousand US dollars on the used book circuit. Good news! Holy Transfiguraton Monastery has published a new edition of The Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian, available from the monastery’s online store or a visit in person to the monastery bookstore. I’d like to describe here the differences between the two editions.

First is the matter of size! The first edition was 10.5 inches high, 8.25 inches wide, and 2.5 inches thick. The cover was a beautfiful burgundy, gold-embossed leather over boards. The paper is Warren Old Style seventy pound paper, quite thick. The font is eleven point Century. My copy, which I obtained used, was, one might say, “well-loved.” Had the pages been of thinner stock, I expect many of them would have been torn or worn through. It was obviously much used, occasionally over breakfast, it would seem…. This first edition has the overall impression of something like a lectern Bible, a big, solid, large dictionary-sized tome, rather uncomfortably sized for easy personal reading.

The new edition is quite a bit smaller: 9.75 inches high, 6 1/8 inches wide, and only 1.75 inches thick. The cover is a green cloth, again gold-embossed. The paper is Mohawk Via Laid, a sixty pound paper. The font is Monotype Fournier, with the size unspecified, but slightly smaller than the eleven point Century of the first edition. The readability is not affected however. The paper is lighter than the first edition, and readability is actually thus slightly improved, despite the slightly smaller font. Importantly, the smaller font, thinner paper and the less generous margins make for a more manageable volume, more the size of a standard trade hardcover than an unwieldy dictionary.

Both editions, in their different ways, are exemplars of the consistently high quality of HTM publications, with fine paper, excellent binding, and two-color printing: rubrics throughout both volumes are actually in red.

Aside from the striking difference in size, more striking is the difference content. Here is an explanation of the contents of the present edition from the Translator’s Introduction (pages 104-105):

In the Introduction to the first edition, we wrote on page cii, ‘For many years we have desired to see and English translation of Saint Isaac’s Ascetical Homilies that might be employed by Orthodox monastics and laymenn.’ With this second edition we attempt to fulfill that desire.

In preparing the first edition we confronted a multitude of points — textual, historical, and theological — on which it was necessary to be satisfied, and we felt it to the reader’s benefit to document many of the answers that we found, either in footnotes, or in the Introduction, Appendices, or Epilogue. The result was a hefty tome well received in academic circles, to whom in format and approach it was geared more than to the monastic or layman seeking guidance in repentance, prayer, and the love of God. One pious friend told us that he trusts the monastery’s translations and felt no need for the constant distraction of footnotes discussing differences in the text; that they would be appropriate for someone studying Greek or Syriac, but not for a devotional book. And a devotional book is what we aim at now.

Thus, we have reduced the amount of footnotes by almost two-thirds. We tallied 1,231 footnotes to the homilies of the first edition. [note 121: Including the Introduction, Appendices, and Epilogue yields 1,628. Chialà's 406-page work on St. Isaac, which is a straightforward scholarly study, has 1,598 footnotes. Compare with the 1,231 footnotes in our first edition, the three footnotes to the 97 pages of St. Isaac's writings translated by Kadloubovsky and Palmer in Early Fathers from the Philokalia; for a book of 415 pages, they used 45 footnotes.] Of these, some 350 were simple scriptural references, leaving almost 900 footnotes of explanation. We have reduced the explanatory footnotes to under 300, and have placed the scriptural references in the margin. The great majority of footnotes eliminated were those that gave variant readings; footnotes that helped comprehension of the text were not only retained, but added to.

We have also elminated Appendices B and D [note 122: Appendix B contained A Selection from the Book of Grace by Symeon d-Taibutha and An Epistle to Abba Symeon of Caesarea; Appendix D, two homilies by Mar John the Solitary.] which contained texts not by Saint Isaac, and the Epilogue on the History of the Church of Persia; and we have added a Glossary, in Appendix C, of various terms used by Saint Isaac, in a special sense and requiring some explanation.

This edition differs from the first in two other points. First, we have translated from Bedjan’s Syriac printed text two short homilies not included in the first edition, which can be found in Appendix A as Homilies I and III. We have also added some passages that following the Greek were omitted, and expanded various passages that following the Greek were abbreviated, so that we are aware of no significant passage in the Syriac not represented here. Though this edition is shorter than the first overall, it contains more Abba Isaac.

Second, besides correcting a handful of outright mistranslations, we have revised the text here and there. Saint Isaac requires enough effort on the reader’s part as it is, and in places the translation itself made the going rougher than necessary. Wherever we found we could make the meaning easier to grasp without misrepresenting or simplifying the original, we did so. In some homilies onl a clause or two was changed; in others, stretches of text were reworked. In all cases we strove for greater clarity and stricter fidelity to the original. Usually the two went hand in hand, when bringing our translation closer to the original also made it easier to understand; in fact it was not infrequent that the Greek and Syriac agreed even in the details of syntax, and simply by following both more faithfully, the English became clearer. All the same, the hardy of heart who like a challenge will still find it here. Except in the case of obvious typographical errors, no revision or correction was made without consulting the originals.

From the above account, it will be seen that this is truly a new edition, one that is better tailored to the needs of devotional readers, while still maintaining an accuracy exemplary of scholarly integrity. A reader would benefit from both editions, of course, if such scholarly details as variant readings are needed. In such a case, however, I would myself expect a reader concerned with such detail to be working from the originals instead, rather than via translation.

This is a very welcome edition, well worth the wait. I know that it’s popular here amongst the students of Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology. Several of us have walked over to the monastery to pick up copies from the bookstore. We’re all thankful for their continued work at publishing such consistently excellent publications of such superior material quality. I hope other readers will obtain copies and come to appreciate and benefit from the writings of Saint Isaac as well!

Posted in Patristics | 9 Comments