More from Fr Alexis Trader

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!

9 Replies to “More from Fr Alexis Trader”

  1. Dear Mr Edgecomb,

    Truly He is risen.

    I am writing to ask you, respectfully, to be more cautious and circumspect in addressing the memory of one of the Church’s beloved sons, the Blessed Augustine. In spite of the value of many of Fr John Romanides’s insights, do not neglect the witness of St. Photios, St. Mark of Ephesus, St. Justin (Popovic), and Fr George Florovsky, all of whom give us a more reverential, ecclesiastical understanding of how to approach the errors of our Fathers.

    Please forgive me; I hope I have not caused you any offence.

    Yours in Christ,
    Tikhon

    1. Christ is risen!

      No offense taken by me, Tikhon! It is axiomatic (to say the least) that the opinion on Augustine of Hippo is controverted in Orthodox circles. Fr John was always vivid in his writings. But his points of contention regarding Augustine must be taken to heart. While it is certainly true that Augustine was invited to the Third Ecumenical Synod based upon his outstanding reputation, it is surely a measure of the East’s actual knowledge of him that the invitation arrived well after his falling asleep. But we will also need to contend with the fact that the first comprehensive translations of Augustine’s writings into Greek occurred only in, if memory serves, the eleventh century. It must be determined on a case-by-case basis precisely how much any Orthodox writer before (and during) the modern period actually knows of Augustine’s work.

      In any case, while there are many beautiful and orthodox things that Augustine wrote, there are likewise many things that are simply not orthodox. The same is true in the case of Origen!

      The titling of Augustine as “Blessed” has never sat well with me. Orthodoxy does not have a category of semi-saints addressed as “Blessed”. One is either a Saint or one is not. When there is a determinative ruling on the matter to call Augustine “Saint Augustine”, I will happily comply. As it is, we must pray that, in that place of light and peace in which they await their eternal reward, the servants of God Augustine and John have worked out their differences.

      1. Kevin

        Father Alexis Trader said this:

        “Cognitions and their relationship to emotional reactions have [been] mapped out in verifiable detail by Cognitive Science”.

        The type of “mapped out in verifiable detail” Cognitive Science that interests me, can be summed up in the following ways:

        Job 32:8 But it is the spirit in a person, the breath of the Almighty, that gives them understanding.

        Romans 12:2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will

        The following commentary is taken from ‘Prayer and Monasticism in the Orthodx Tradition by Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev -from ‘http://en.hilarion.orthodoxia.org/6_21

        ‘A conversation with a hermit on the Jesus prayer

        We turned our attention downwards and were surprised to see in the distance a man walking with a large knapsack on his shoulders: with slow and laborious strides and his head cast down he descended along the slope of the mountain into a deep scorched hollow… It was astounding and at the same time very moving to see a man in the expanses of this uninhabited country… When we looked closer we could see that it was a man belonging to our monastic rank and we were very overjoyed at the hope of being able to learn from him many useful things concerning his life in the wilderness. When he was not far from us we greeted him in the usual monastic fashion: ‘Give us your blessing, Father’. ‘May God bless you!’… He was an elder of advanced years… a tall man with a dry body… His beard reached his waist, the hair on his head was completely white like the snow in the mountains and fell over his shoulders… He bore the visible imprint of spiritual sanctification: the eyes of the elder radiated an inexplicable benevolence and sparkled with goodness, sincerity and a kind disposition of the heart… We began to drink tea and dry bread. A remarkable conversation was then struck up between us… ‘For the sake of the Lord, please tell us what you have acquired best of all in the wilderness?’ The elder’s face lit up and a spiritual light shone in his eyes… He answered: ‘I have acquired in my heart the Lord Jesus Christ and in Him, beyond any doubt, eternal life, resounding tangibly and with urgency in my heart’… In hearing these unexpected and astounding words, we were greatly amazed, for we had found what we were seeking… ‘In what way?’ I hurriedly asked. The elder answered: ‘Through unceasing prayer to the Lord Jesus Christ… For almost fifteen years I had been saying a verbal prayer only… Then, as a number of years flowed by, this prayer entered my intellect by itself, that is, when my mind became captive of the words of the prayer… And then by the grace of God, prayer of the heart was opened up, the essence of which is the closest union of our heart with the Lord Jesus Christ, felt tangibly in His Name. This exalted and supernatural state is the ultimate stage and limit of the aspirations of every reasonable being made in the image of God and which naturally strives for the highest Prototype. Here a union of the heart with God takes place whereby the Lord penetrates our spirit with His presence as a ray of the sun’s light penetrates the glass and through this we are given to taste of the inexpressible bliss of sacred communion with God… One enters the realm of infinite light and in acquiring freedom we abide in God and God in us’.

        From ‘On the Mountains of the Caucasus’.

        For me, ‘inward meditation’ (krypte melete), is progressively growing in Discernment and this is the type of ‘Cognitive Science’ I pursue -to the point where our thoughts become like Glass penetrated by the Substance in Sunlight….and someone can lay their hand on your chest, over your Heart, and discern righteousness by a simple act of the communion of human touch encountering the indwelling presence of the HOLY Spirit.

        You may like this book as complementary reading material to ‘Ancient Christian Wisdom and Aaron Beck’s Cognitive Therapy: A Meeting of Minds’ by Father Alexis Trader:

        ‘Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer: Experiencing the Presence of God and a Pilgrimage to the Heart of an Ancient Spirituality’ by Norris J. Chumley, HarperOne, 2011, 224 PP, $26.99

  2. Beware of all novelty in theological matters, and take Fr Romanides’ novel criticisms of Augustine with a grain of salt. You’ll be better off for it.

    1. Robert, Fr John’s critiques of Augustine are hardly innovations. They are substantive. You’ll have to read the books to see that it is more than an issue of personality or theological chauvinism. Those aspects of Augustine’s thought which Fr John critiques are absolutely in opposition to the body of Patristic tradition and orthodoxy as expressed through the Ecumenical Synods. That so many of these erroneous opinions were taken as foundational for Western Christianity is not the direct fault of Augustine, any more than Origenists are the fault of Origen. Even so, Augustine should have learned Greek and learned it well. It was in the absence of the tradition of Christian theology in his thinking, at that point overwhelmingly Greek, that Augustine needed to struggle in order to make sense of things over his head and he fell back on his own reason — a thoroughly dangerous practice and one that those better trained in Christian theology would certainly know to avoid. That Augustine didn’t speaks volumes. That his followers don’t speaks libraries.

  3. Fr. John Romanides is indeed a true Orthodox theologian, for his sole reliance on Holy Fathers and on the traditional sources of our faith are hardly disputable. His lack of that false Western sensibility and his direct and harsh language must be a warning to those who read him for the first time. This is the case with Saint Augustine. For a better understanding of this great saint, I recommend The Place of Blessed Augustine in the Orthodox Church, by Fr. Seraphim Rose.

  4. First: I have also become a fan of Father Alexis — in the second chapter of Ancient Christian Wisdom and Aaron Beck’s Cognitive Therapy: A Meeting of Minds is easily the finest exposition in a relatively few number of words of Orthodox Christian anthropology, theology, and worldview I have ever read. It alone is worth the price of the book (which I’m still trying to work through). I definitely would like to read more from Father Alexis, so I appreciate the additional information provided here.

    Second: I admire ‘Blessed’ Augustine for his willingness to submit to and be corrected by the Church; it is something all Christians should emulate. That virtue may be sufficient to include him among the saints. But I am very bothered by his (thus far) inexplicable appearance on the Church calendar in very recent times, his philosophical speculations (even traditionalists within Papal Christianity have labelled him a Neo-Platonist philosopher, which I think is spot on), as well as how Augustinianism has produced virtually all the errors within Western Christianity. In my not-so-humble and worthless opinion, even if he is to be accepted as a saint within the Church, he definitely does not qualify as a Church Father, a label which should be reserved for those whose teachings can be generally read without needing to exercise caution. (Other than his spiritual autobiography, I think Augustine’s writings should be generally avoided by Orthodox Christians. On the other hand, I think the writings of Father John Romanides are quite safe to read as he re-presented the Church Fathers, not introducing any novelties.)

    (Kevin, if possible, could you please e-mail me privately with contact information for Father Alexis? There is one small piece — probably a quibble — in his wonderful exposition of Orthodox Christian thought which I would like to discuss with him.)

    1. You are lucky to have found a copy, Thomas! The book appears to have completely sold out. This would be, I think, good news for the possibility of a paperback to come, though that might not be out for a while, unfortunately.

      (I’ll forward your request to Fr Alexis. I can’t give out email addresses.)

  5. Hello.
    I’m trying to contact Fr Alexis. I’m a new convert and just read one of his books. I have questions for him. If you are still in contact with him would you have him email me please. Thank you.

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