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Beginnings: Ancient Christian Readings of the Biblical Creation Narratives
Beginnings: Ancient Christian Readings of the Biblical Creation Narratives
by Peter C. Bouteneff
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.99

5.0 out of 5 stars The structure of the book makes it easily readable, and the depth in which Bouteneff goes ..., 28 April 2015
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In Beginnings, Dr Peter Bouteneff takes on the unenvied task of putting together an analysis of the various patristic understandings of the Biblical creation narrative, or Hexameron for short. The subject was briefly raised by Dr Bouteneff in his book ‘sweeter than honey’ where he explains a quite spirited discussion he had with a monastic friend on this matter, leading him to produce this book on various takes on the narratives. The text produces gives a well guided analysis of the allusions made the text by various writers from the 1st to 4th Centuries, ending with the Cappadocian Fathers.

The structure of the book makes it easily readable, and the depth in which Bouteneff goes is a clear display of his dedication to solving this highly polemical issue of “which is the Orthodox view of creation” often relating to the various creationism/evolution debates in the wider Christian community. Bouteneff does this this in a scholarly and simple manner, beginning with the earliest Christian sources, namely St Paul, the Apostolic Fathers and continuing on with the fathers and writers that followed. Bouteneff also takes the opportunity to explore the anthropological impact of the text on the writings of these fathers, allowing for the reader to see how the Patristic approach to Genesis 1-3 influenced the Patristic understanding of man’s place in creation.

As a reference text for exegetical study, the book does well to explore how the fathers approached the Hexameron, referencing their works in the context in which they were written and not passing any judgement or working with an agenda. This provides the reader with a well surveyed analysis of the writers of these Early Christian thinkers on a topic which can be complicated at the least. The text is also full of key references and cross references to other thinkers whose work influenced these points, allowing for a growth in understand of any consensus points.

The key strength of this work is that it does not presume that the reader has a knowledge of the fathers, allowing anyone to pick up and read up on these points without having to be an authority on the subject. It also does what many more expensive academic texts do, and for a fraction of the price, giving the reader an overview and well written analysis of a complex subject with clear reference to the text and without the risk of agenda or bias.
A weakness of the text comes from the very topic, in that there is little to no real conclusion to be had. Bouteneff admits this from the start and does not try to delude the reader into expecting to find out the ‘consensus of the fathers’ on the issue of the Evolution/Creationism debate or solving the matter of the ‘6 day creation,’ simply pointing out that there is an acceptance of allegory on the condition that it does not take away from the historicity of God as creator. This means that many of the old debates are still left open, though the more moderate of readers would appreciate the clarity given by Bouteneff in this synopsis.

Overall, Beginnings is a good outline text for someone who wishes to understand the approach of Patristic writers on the creation narrative, and a well written text which allows for any level of reader to approach the subject. The book does not offer anything more to the ongoing debate on the ‘Orthodox approach’ to the Hexameron, but aims to give a synopsis of how the fathers read Genesis 1-3 and its impact on their Theology. It does this in a way that makes the book both a fulfilling and worthwhile read, and is certainly (in my view) a must read text on the matter.


Remember the Days of Old: Orthodox Thinking on the Patristic Heritage (Foundations)
Remember the Days of Old: Orthodox Thinking on the Patristic Heritage (Foundations)
by Casiday Augustine
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.99

5.0 out of 5 stars A good example of this is the various approaches of fathers ..., 28 April 2015
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In the latest addition to SVS Press’ Foundation Series, Dr Augustine Casiday covered the multifaceted and sometimes controversial issue of the Orthodox approach to the Patristic Heritage. The book ‘Remembering the Days of Old’ covers this issue in a well meaning and scholarly fashion, looking into the various approaches to Patristics and the transmission of this heritage into the Church today.

The texts starts by outlining what we mean by a Patristic Heritage and questioning what it is and what it is not. A key part of this opening section also looks at modern approaches to Patristics, including that of the influential Russian thinker Fr. Georges Florovsky in his Neo-Patristic Synthesis and its profound impact on the study of the fathers. From here, Casiday uses examples from the fathers to look at how we should approach the reading of the fathers to help us understand how this heritage of transmission occurs. This later moves on to other ways of transmitting the Patristic heritage, such as through the Creed and Symbols, finishing off with an analysis of how we move forward from this.

The overall feel that this provides allows for the reader to become aquainted with the overall picture of the Orthodox approach to patristics before being submerged into these specific points. This helps with the flow of the texts and makes readable do a degree, regardless of it being a primarily academic piece of writing. As well as this flow, the book uses case studies to prove points. This helps to put the raised ideas in context. A good example of this is the various approaches of fathers of Origen, where Casiday intrododuces the reader to the issue of 'the consensus of the fathers' by displaying various views of Origen, doing the same later for Photius' treatment of the Filioque.

A weakness which i find in Casiday’s approach comes from the books primarily academic nature. The reason why this can be seen as a weakness is that it may throw some less academic readers off, especially when comparing this text to other parts of the foundation series. This means that some readers may struggle in the later sections of the book, especially those who are reading the book to understand the 'foundations' of the Orthodox understanding of the Patristic heritage. Though the book is not designed to be read as an introductory text, this is always an issue and does need to be mentioned.

Regardless of this challenge, Remember the Days of Old is a good and firm text on the Orthodox approach to patristics, and dispels some common misconceptions which tend to emerge regarding the place of the fathers in the Church. Because of Casidays willingness to approach and discuss these common issues, the book is a worthwhile read for those who enjoy patristics and wish to understand how and why we read the fathers and I would certainly recommend it to those with an academic approach to their faith who have struggled to express this to others.


Irenaeus of Lyons: Identifying Christianity (Christian Theology in Context)
Irenaeus of Lyons: Identifying Christianity (Christian Theology in Context)
by John Behr
Edition: Paperback
Price: £16.66

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dr John Behr’s work on St Irenaeus came highly recommended as an introduction to the life and work of ..., 28 April 2015
Being a Philosophy teacher, I run discussions and evaluations into ‘The Theodicy of Irenaeus’ on a regular basis and when I do so, it is always interesting to discover that those who write of this Theodicy know little to nothing of the Saint himself and tend to echo more the works of John Hick and other modern thinkers who appropriated what they saw as the works and ideas of Irenaeus.

Dr John Behr’s work on St Irenaeus came highly recommended as an introduction to the life and work of this saint, who has suffered a great deal of neglect through the years due to being deemed as irrelevant to the later theological debates by early modern writers and as a mere polemicist by the more liberal voices in modern Theology. It is for this reason that such research as that of Fr John Behr opens his life and work up to further research in a fair manner, without simply using this Saint as a sidenote in a larger discussion.

The book begins with an overview of the life of St Irenaeus and the place of his work within the wider context of the Roman Christian community at the time. This section is extremely detailed and beneficial to understanding the life of Irenaeus and his relationships with other Christian groups and writers of the time The structure of this section allows for readability, splitting into sections to describe the various players in the roman stage as well as Irenaeus’ interactions with them. This allows the reader to come to grips with what was a highly complex and fragmented community at the time.

Following this detailed overview, we are treated to an in depth analysis of the first 2 books of Irenaeus’ most known text, Against Heresies. In this section, Fr John Behr opens this famed work and breaks down its structure in a way that allows the reader to understand its natural flow. This is supported with excerpts from the text itself and an explanation of any irregularities or ambiguities therein. After this section the same is done with the last 3 books, demonstrating the natural split within the text. Both of these sections contain detailed Theological analysis of the text and its context, as well as a fair review of the work as a piece of personal writing which allows us a greater understanding of Irenaeus himself as a Christian writer of his period.

The book ends with a conclusion in which Fr John Behr demonstrates his passion for Saint Irenaeus and emphasises his importance in our understanding of the development of Orthodox Christianity and the Roman Christian community of its time. It is at this point that you really come to grips with the text and just how underplayed the Saint has been with regards to his role in identifying Christianity and its progression.

A key strength of the book lies in the depth of Fr John Behr’s analysis into the life and work of St Irenaeus. One only needs to look at the author’s previous writing to see that this is Fr John’s labour of love. The text itself contains a myriad of key historical and theological points which are brought to light in the way that only someone who knows and appreciates his topic can do. This made the book thoroughly readable on a personal level, as it brought the Roman Christian life and the works of Irenaeus to life and caused me to forget at times that I was reading a contextual study of a 2nd century Christian writer.

A down side that I would put on this text is that it is not a light read. Though extremely readable to someone who understands the historical context of the work, it could not be recommended to someone who simply wishes to know about St Irenaeus. This point is a fairly obvious one due to the text being labelled ‘A contextual study’ though it needs to be said that the text looks at this context at such a depth that someone simply looking to find facts about Irenaeus may well miss them.

Overall, I would recommend this text to anyone with an interest in the period or who wishes to take on the works of Irenaeus with a suitable guide to assist them on every step of the way.


The Orthodox Church in the Arab World (700-1700): An Anthology of Sources (Orthodox Christian)
The Orthodox Church in the Arab World (700-1700): An Anthology of Sources (Orthodox Christian)
by Samuel Noble
Edition: Paperback
Price: £24.50

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good to see an author who remembers the existence of Christians in the Arab world., 14 Sept. 2014
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There are many introductions to Orthodox Christianity available in the English language today, covering the vast history of the Church and quoting various saints and sources to support their position. The most famous of these is Metropolitan Kallistos’ The Orthodox Church, which covers both the history of beliefs of the Church in a way which covers all key elements. Though even his books has a flaw, which Samuel Nobel addresses in the Introduction to The Orthodox Church in the Arab World. As Noble states, “The Chapter Entitled ‘The Church under Islam’ begins with the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453, with not the slightest hint that three Patriarchates had been under Islamic domination for more than eight centuries prior to that date.” And Noble highlights the same issue with various other texts.

It is in this respect that Noble and Trieger’s text comes as a breath of fresh air to any reader with an interest in reading about the experience of Christians in the Arab world before the 16th century. Noble has been able to collect and translate a collection of texts spanning the 1000 years between 700 and 1700, giving a sense of a diverse experience and collection of genres of writing produced by Christians in the Arab world during this time.

In my view the book is a great stride in out understanding of the experience of Arab Christians in the Middle Ages, with such texts as The Disputation of the Monk Abraham of Tiberius and Paul of Antioch’s Letter to a Muslim Friend demonstrating the interaction between the Christians and Muslims of the time, as well as other texts showing the forms of Apologetic technique being used, including the use of the Qur’an by Christian clergy to debate Muslims and explain the Orthodox faith in terms which they could understand. Noble’s translation of these texts allows for this experience to come to light for the first time and, in doing this, opens up a field of analysis of this intercultural dialogue at a time when Christian-Muslim relations are a heated topic in the context of the MENA region.

A weaker point of the book is the lack of analysis of relations in areas such as Egypt and the non-Chalcedonian Orthodox tradition, largely due to the author’s area of study being based around the Chalcedonian Orthodox community. This means that the book does not allow for a study of relationships between the two Orthodox communities in the Middle East at the time, though the stud of the Coptic Community in the context of the various caliphates has been an object of study by Medievalists and Egyptologists over the years already.

In conclusion, Noble’s text provides a rare and wonderful glance into the Orthodox Church in the Arab World and fills a long neglected void in Scholarship regarding the Christians of the Middle East and the Arabic Christian community. The translation of these texts also allows for a peek into the various interactions between Christian and Muslim in these areas and the fascinating apologetic tradition which emerged from this. Noble has done a great service to Christian Scholarship in producing this text, which will hopefully open the eyes of others to this untapped area of study.


Orthodox Constructions of the West (Orthodox Christianity and Contemporary Thought) (Orthodox Christianity and Contemporary Thought (FUP))
Orthodox Constructions of the West (Orthodox Christianity and Contemporary Thought) (Orthodox Christianity and Contemporary Thought (FUP))
by George E. Demacopoulos
Edition: Paperback
Price: £26.09

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good examinaton of an important issue., 14 Sept. 2014
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Amongst Orthodox Christians today, one of the most common terms used when discussing comparative Theology is “The West.” This will be used as all-encompassing term to refer to various Theological and political positions taken by Catholic and Protestant thinkers, especially targeting the Roman Catholic Church. Amongst the Byzantine community, the term is especially common when discussing anything which is not Orthodox or something which is the opposite in value to Orthodoxy. This term often used but never analysed to determine its accuracy.

The book Orthodox Constructions of the West is a collection of essays from contemporary Historians and Theologians which seeks to analyse and deconstruct the mythologies created by Orthodox polemicists regarding the ‘folk devil’ concept of the West. This is achieved through a deep analysis of the historical conflicts between Christian communities in the past and the ways in which this contributed to this cultural split and the way in which it has been expanded through the ages by writers. Some of the articles which were extremely interesting were The Orthodox naming of the Other and The image of the West in Contemporary Greek Theology as well as various writings on the subject of ‘The West’ from the perspective of political science.

A key strength of this book is that it is a positive step in opening reflecting on the use of folk devils in the Orthodox community and shows the academic challenge to the growing market for polemic writings. As Dr Peter Bouteneff explains, it “represents a significant step in the direction of self-reflection and self-criticism” which Orthodox writers have lacked over time. This strength of the book as a scholarly analysis of this issue of east/west relations makes it an interesting read for the academically minded who feel frustrated by ongoing polemics under the guise of Theological correctness.

On the other hand, the understanding tone of the text is sometimes too generous to the point of severely understating issues. An example of this is the discussion of the reading of St Thomas Aquinas amongst early modern Russians, seeing the positive way in which they read him as a demonstration of Theological acceptance. This approach ignores the theological issues wmerging from the reading for the sake of amicability. This may put many off reading this, seeing the text as simple ecumenist writing, leaving the book’s credibility damaged regardless of the clear scholarly benefits it provides as a whole.

Overall, Orthodox Constructions of the West is a well compiled collection of texts which allow for an open and scholarly dialogue to develop between Orthodox Christians and Catholics on the so called ‘East-West divide.’ It provides a useful resource when looking at the complicated history of the use of ‘The West’ to mean the essence of ‘the other’ and a fascinating multi-faceted analysis of this, from the political to the Theological. Though I would not recommend the book to the average reader, it is an interesting source for Orthodox academics who wish to verse themselves in the complexities of this issue.


The Ascent of Christian Law: Patristic and Byzantine Formulations of a New Civilization
The Ascent of Christian Law: Patristic and Byzantine Formulations of a New Civilization
by John Anthony McGuckin
Edition: Paperback
Price: £17.50

5.0 out of 5 stars Finally, a detailed study of the development of the Canons., 10 Dec. 2013
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Regardless of the recent influx of books on the development of Orthodox Tradition becoming available in English, the topic of the Canon Tradition remains an area which is sparcely covered in great detail. Most introductions to Orthodox Christianity will cover the Oecumenical Councils and definition of Canon but will not go much further in covering the vast history of the topic.

McGuckin has stepped in to fill this void and has done so in a manner suiting the complexity of the subject matter. The Ascent of Christian Law is a must for any student of Canonology or reader of the subject. The book is very readable, regardless of the depth of your understanding, and covers both East and West in great detail, starting with the scriptural foundations of the Canons. It then proceeds to pass through various phases in the development of the Canons before reaching its conclusion at the later Byzantine Canonists and their input to the Canon Tradition of the later Byzantine Empire.

The level of historical research put into the text also makes this book worth reading, as it puts the councils and Synods of the first millenium into the context of the tradition as a whole. This allows the reader to see why the council was needed and how it impacted the development of the Orthodox Tradition, rather than simply giving us details on the event itself.

One flaw I can see with this book is McGuckin's need to state his opinion in his footnotes, which can take away from the academic nature of the text itself. Some readers may be able to understand the innocent manner in which this is played out, but for others it can be offputting to see a footnote in academic text referring to those who hold a certain viewpoint as 'dummies.' Regardless of this slight hitch, the contents of the book in itself are beautifully covered in a way rarely seen in a book on this subject.

Overall, McGuckin has filled in a black hole which has plagued the world of Modern Orthodox Academics for decades. He has covered the vast and complex topic of the Canons in a way which makes it easy to understand and relevant to the reader. This in itself is an accomplishment which few have achieved and makes the book a highly recommended piece of reading for anybody interested in the topic.


Sweeter Than Honey: Orthodox Thinking on Dogma and Truth (Foundation Series)
Sweeter Than Honey: Orthodox Thinking on Dogma and Truth (Foundation Series)
by Peter Bouteneff
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Accessable, Educational and Academic, 5 Sept. 2013
Sweeter than Honey: Orthodox Thinking on Dogma and Truth

By Dr. Peter Bouteneff

ISBN: 978-0881413076

Price £6.58 (Amazon Kindle Store)

As a book which I picked up purely as a timepass during a recent trip to Trivandrum, Bouteneff's most commonly known work turned out to be a worthwhile investment and one which I finished before the plane even took off. I am a fan of Bouteneff's academically honest writings and accessable writing style, but this book can easily be read and respected by Theology readers across the spectrum.

The book comprises of two sections, one which deals with the Philosophical complexities of defining truth, the other with how the Church forms Tradition around this truth. Both sections are close to 100 pages long and comprise of readable bitesize sections amid longer chapters. This allows the book to be read at a steady pace and entire sections easily found for rereading and academic quoting without sifting through paragraph after paragraph.

The content of the first section, as previously mentioned, is centered around the question "what is truth" and tackles this from a Theological viewpoint, questioning the role of Revelation and scripture in the process of defining truth. This is a good place to start, since it adds to the experience by giving the reader the benefit of understanding what Bouteneff means by truth before entering into the discussion of the Dogmatic side of the book.

The second section is where Bouteneff gets into the real study of Orthodox Dogmatics, looking at the importance of Dogma and the study of theology. This section studies the reason for studying theology, and Church's motives in the development of the Canons and Doctrine. This is further split up into sections explaining why and how certain factors and contributors to the development of Orthodox Dogmatics emerged, making compelling arguments for everything from the Orthodox Exegetical approach to the veneration of the fathers and their works. He also make a compelling case for the polemical language used by the fathers, which demonstrates a fair and academic approach which allows the reader to understand the complexities of reading the fathers.

As key factors in the understanding of the vitality of Tradition and Dogma to the Orthodox faith, the reasons for their development of the various areas of Orthodox Doctrine and key questions surrounding the, are covered well by Bouteneff and in a way which is extremely inviting and readable. Altogether, I could not recommend this book enough. Not only is Bouteneff's writing style one which invites the reader to continue and learn, but the way in which he tackles a topic which can be immensely dry with a vitality which can only be found in a writer who triely values the Traditions of the Orthodox Faith.


Coptic Identity and Ayyubid Politics in Egypt 1218-1250
Coptic Identity and Ayyubid Politics in Egypt 1218-1250
by Kurt Werthmuller
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £34.50

4.0 out of 5 stars Good resource, 6 Aug. 2013
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Considering the very small amount of academic material available in english, we are lucky to have writers like Kurt Werthmuller.

Werthmuller's book given a concisely detailed analysis of the situation of the Coptic Church during the Papacy of Cyril Ibn laklak. It uses sources from the era and looks at the situation in the context of the wider Islamic rule of Egypt.

I would give the book 5* though find Werthmuller's coverage of some aspects of Cyril's Papacy to be lacking in academic support, though the sources he uses support his conclusion well.


An Interpretive Account of Belief and Practice: in the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church
An Interpretive Account of Belief and Practice: in the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church
by Abba Hailegebriel Girma PhD
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.45

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A great overview, 17 July 2013
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It is rare to find a good, solid and patristically supported overview of the faith of the Tewahedo Orthodox tradition but this book does this very well.

It is spit into four sections looking at Church Structure, Beliefs and Practice, Sacraments and the Church in the Diaspora. This allows the short book to cover much ad give a nice level of detail for an overview. Each of the sections is well supported by quotes from both Scripture and the Church Fathers. This allows for smoother Orthodox reading with the broad range of support from Tradition.

I would recommend the book to anyone who wants a Theological and Ecclesiological overview of the Church, as it is written for people with a reasonable level of Theological Literacy. The book is not written as a 'get up and go' guide to the Tewahedo Orthodox tradition but to cover basic ideas and show their links to Patristic and Scriptural evidence.

The reason I have only given 4 stars as I feel that it could have been easily expanded to include the History of the Tewahedo Tradition and the Church Abroad section could have been a bit deeper, dealing with Canonical issues.

Either way, it is possibly the best guide to Tewahedo Orthodox teaching apart from primary sources, so certainly recommended to anyone who wishes to study this.


From Glory to Glory; Texts from Gregory of Nyssa's Mystical Writings
From Glory to Glory; Texts from Gregory of Nyssa's Mystical Writings
by Jean & Musurillo, Herbert eds) Gregory of Nyssa (Danielou
Edition: Hardcover

2.0 out of 5 stars Catalogue, not complete text., 21 April 2013
Though this is a valuable resource, it is important to point out that rather than being a complete text this is a blend of seperate quotes organised by topic.

Overall it is an OK selection but would be better with a more suitable form of organisation and more in the way of commentary to explain the significance of the texts chosen.


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