Delving into Europe's Orthodox East, this engaging and accessible narrative history is essential for an understanding of Eastern Europe.
Her keenness to explain Orthodoxy to westerners stems from a fear that the continent is in the process of fracturing along a thousand-year-old fault line, between the Catholic and Protestant west and the Orthodox east. The book combines high quality, highly readable travel writing with a powerful mix of politics and religion. Perhaps, most of all, it demonstrates the power of history, and of different peoples' conflicting versions of history. Again and again Clark finds the present in the grip of the past. In Serbia, for example, she cannot escape the legends surrounding the destruction of the Serbs' medieval empire in 1389, and the death of the venerated Prince Lazar: "the battle of Kosovo's interruption of Serbia's golden greatness has become a cataclysm to rival man's expulsion from the Garden of Eden in the minds of Serbs ... Prince Lazar is the key to understanding the Serbs' deep conviction that, however many wars they initiate, they remain a nation of victims and martyrs." --David Pickering --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
These journies were motivated by her desire to understand and make known the costs and ongoing liabilities in present-day Europe to both the Christian east and west of the Catholic-Orthodox schism of 1054 and its corresponding mutual mistrust. Her primary thesis is that this schism cost the west its heart and the Orthodox east its mind and that the two are dangerously unbalanced without one another.
Clark makes these journies under the influence of her years as a journalist in the Balkans and Samuel Huntington's provocative thesis that present day history is a function of the clash of distinct civilizations including, western europe and Orthodoxy. Clark is not a Christian, but claims to be a theist. Most evident though, is her secular humanism.
Clark frames these journies in terms of two forces in Orthodoxy, phyletism, a heresy which identifies Christian faith with nationalism, and hesychasm, a primarily monastic prayer practice which aids the integration of the human person by conforming one's whole person to the life of the Trinity, and through which one may become divinized. Clark posits these as the basest and highest expressions of Orthodoxy and she journies about in order to see how these interact in contemporary Orthodox Europe.
The great strength of this book is Clark's writing of her encounters with Orthodox who are expressive of either or sometimes both of these traits. She brilliantly evokes some of these personalities and makes their presence palpable to the reader.Read more ›
I reccomend it as a good step into the murky world of the orthodox church and the balkans and it's associated politics.
If this were a "Holidays in Hell" type of travelogue it would be acceptable, but it hopes to be much more. A few nuggets of history interspersed between the vignettes about hateful people pass for scholarly research and allow the book to hide behind a patina of learning.
That said, the book's main merit is that there is not much more out there that gives an informal, human outsider's encounter with a phenomena that is as much a culture as a religion. It is worth reading, but not worth forming an opinion from.