I think everyone who is interested in the subject matter of my previous post, particularly those with any kind of responsibility for the salvation of souls other than their own, will find the very interesting conversation between Fr Alexis and Mark Downham to be enlightening, at just the right time of year.
Relatedly, it seems that Fr Alexis’s guest posts on various blogs have resulted in what was hoped for. New copies of Ancient Christian Wisdom and Aaron Beck’s Cognitive Therapy: A Meeting of Minds have been exhausted at most online retailers (and perhaps are available only directly from Peter Lang Publishing Group at this point), with the price of used copies rising. So, it seems realistic to hope for a paperback edition, and hopefully in the very near future. It was the dialogue between Fr Alexis and Mark Downham that decided me: I want to read the whole book.
But this post is really about some other work of Fr Alexis, two books in particular, one with which I knew he was the author, and the other of which I did not know he was the translator. Despite slackness in posting (and in updating my “Now Reading” link!), yet have I been prolifically and pleasantly plowing through publications, pre- and post-Pascha.
The first of these books by Fr Alexis is one that I mentioned in my last post: In Peace Let Us Pray to the Lord: An Orthodox Interpretation of the Gifts of the Spirit, published by Frank Schaeffer’s Regina Orthodox Press, but seemingly out of print. This is unfortunate, because the book is a stunner. Prior to reading this volume, I didn’t know much about Pentecostalism and its various expressions, aside from some widely shared misconceptions and even stereotypes. Fr Alexis places the development of Pentecostalism within the history of the development of Western Christianity. But let us be clear. Pentecostalism is a thoroughly modern phenomenon. It is entirely alien to the Orthodox Christianity, which is also to say that it is alien to the early Church and the Patristic Church. Support for its peculiar doctrines arises from mistranslations and misreadings of those mistranslations. The Patristic understanding of “tongues” is that this gift is that of hesychastic, noetic prayer, of prayer of the heart, and not of vocal babbling or extemporaneous prayer or preaching. I have with my own eyes read some ridiculous Pentecostal interpretations of the phrase στεναγμοῖς ἀλαλήτοις (Rom 8.26), “with unspoken groans,” as referring not to wordless prayer of the heart, but to statements in incomprehensible languages, along with the additional claim (and this from someone well-respected as a scholar!) that there is no other interpretation of this phrase but his own in the history of Christianity. Such a person only shows himself completely divorced from and ignorant of the ascetic and hesychastic traditions exemplified in such writings as the Apophthegmata Patērōn, among others. Fr Alexis’s explication is, however, entirely in keeping with Orthodox Christian theology, drawing on numerous Fathers from early to later dates, and showing a consistency of interpretation and approach to such matters throughout the ages. Enthusiasm, ecstasy, and emotionalism are alien to Christianity properly lived, period. However, such are an almost guaranteed result of participation (philosophically and theologically) in any of the various groups with Western Christian roots. Hopefully the book will return to print sometime soon. I was lucky to have a copy.
The second book, of which Fr Alexis is the translator and annotator of the English edition (and which fact I only noticed once I was quite some way into the book!) is Fr John Romanides’s Patristic Theology: The University Lectures of Fr. John Romanides (Uncut Mountain Press, 2008). This book and Fr Romanides’s The Ancestral Sin are the best books I’ve read in years. Reading them back-to-back left my head whirling a bit, in all honesty, and I am about to read both again. Both are so full of information, that while clearly and accurately presented, the reader must be attentive and savour the book rather than simply read it. There is a very nearly overwhelming abundance in the case of Patristic Theology, presented in rather obscure organization as the selections are excerpts from lectures. But throughout, Fr Alexis has provided clarifying and informative footnotes which extend the value of Fr John’s own writings. I cannot recommend it highly enough, and insist upon its being accompanied by The Ancestral Sin. At the core of both lies a similar proposition, one which is shared by Fr Alexis’s In Peace Let Us Pray to the Lord: the West has a knockoff brand (a streetware counterfeit of sorts!) of Christianity that is based at root in the work of Augustine, who apparently never gained any understanding of purification, illumination, and glorification as understood by the Church Fathers, Greek and Latin, who went before him. I’ll say it again: Augustine should’ve learned Greek, and should’ve had better schooling; one of the sharper knives in the drawer would then have been truly keen. With his almost complete ignorance of Patristic Tradition, however (there was so very little available natively in Latin), Augustine had to rely upon his own rationalizations—a risky endeavour at the best of time. The result is that his errors were bad enough, but having his work taken up as the basis for all of subsequent Western Christianity is an unmitigated disaster. The evaluation of Augustine by various Western Christians as some kind of Patristic Pinnacle reveals nothing about Augustine, but rather the complete lack of proper understanding of Patristic (that is, Christian) theology in the West, shocking as that may seem. This is made clear throughout the two works of Fr John, though in a more organized presentation in The Ancestral Sin. Beginning with the title of that book, we already see the vast difference between East and West, between Patristic Christianity and something else: “the ancestral sin” was the very sin of Adam, one single sin, not “original sin” as some kind of nebulous miasma of guilt, of uncertain definition and even more uncertain nature in both existence and transmission, as introduced by Augustine. Fr John during his life and even now that he has fallen asleep in the Lord, has always taken flack for these positions, most especially from supporters of Augustine and his errors. But Fr John pulled no punches, and has done a service to those who are interested in the Truth, wherever it may lead them. Can you tell I’m a fan?
I can tell you I am also a new fan of Fr Alexis. I’ll be tracking down more of his writings. Thank you for your service, public and private, to the Church, Fr Alexis. Χριστός ἀνέστη!