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5.0 out of 5 stars A book for lovers, 24 May 2013
By 
Dan E. Nicholas "gotta have a book" (Scotts Valley, California, USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Variations on the Song of Songs (Paperback)
Book Review by Dan Nicholas, Christos Yannaras, Variations on the Song of Songs
2005, Holy Cross Press, original title in Greek: Scholio sto Asma Asmaton, published in Athens in 1990. Translated by Norman Russell. Feb. 2010

Variations is most definitely a thinking, poet loving man or woman's Valentine's Day book. Eastern Christian philosopher and theologian Christos Yannaras and his translator Norman Russell have a great little poetic riff here on the ancient Song of Songs for your loved one on Valentine's Day. Well, maybe it is mostly for you, the lover, than your beloved. Sort a philosophical poetical check up before you show up with red roses and chocolate on the doorstep hoping for a great evening.

You'll not be sure at times if this is a commentary, a theological treatise addressing all things ontological, a poem on a poem, or simply a word painting on a little book in the Bible. Solomon's Song of Songs has inspired so many commentaries in history, from Jerome to St. John Chrysostom, St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross. Every lover has an opinion on this book. The Yannaras meditation on this poem looks at God/man relating as an erotic love story.

The work is as deep as it is wide on the matter of intentional shared experience of body, mind, soul and spirit. It's a read that leads you first to believe that this man has made love to a woman or two in his Christian lifetime. Been madly in love a time or two in fact. Nice. The eros maniakos of the seventh century Maximos the Confessor is alive here.

This Yannaras is more a poet than a commentator in this work I think. Actually, more a meditation guy than comment guy. Yannaras makes clear that erotic, romantic and sexual love finds all its grass roots in our relationship with ourselves and the Lover of mankind, a phrase mentioned several times in the Eastern Orthodox Church Liturgy every Sunday. If ever you wondered why a Vanentine's Day type Eros is so often dumbed down for the nicey nice K-6 classroom or for the Hallmark Card folk, Yannaras will point you in a different and eastern theological direction here with hints of Philip Sherrard's work, Christianity and Eros. Or St. John Chrysostom's words: "you think my words immodest". Or Paul Evdokimov's wonderful book The Sacrament of Love. All these works are about getting it on and going deep with the heart when close to your beloved on Valentine's Day or any day.

With awareness tweaks like "the reciprocity of relation", "the breathtaking loveliness of wholeness", "every love leads to deep psychological pain", "self offering", "virginal readiness at the next attempt at relationship", "erotic surprise" the 46 million adult and mid-life online daters in the good ol' USofA might just have a friend here in Yannaras across the pond.

His book was for me in the US nothing short of a lusty meal for the mind; a truffle of erotic ramblings on available bliss for the puckering lips of anyone who has ever hoped to get lucky on occasion and not have to leave your mind and heart and soul behind in the doing. Indeed, the joy of making love at Sunday sunrise, breaking the church pre Eucharist intercourse fast rule and then to run off to church to smile about it. Nice. Indeed, how refreshing to read a deep, Eastern Christian theological work on erotic connecting written by other than a celibate monastic.

I have to say I'm tempted to buy up a small shelf full of these poetical improvisations here and send copies of Yannaras to my thinking once all the rage porn film star turned sex ed web expert, author hero in the city. And a copy to my Sex Ed Bible writer friend, the research psychoanalyst and Hippy guy, Paul Joannides from the Oregon coast and his The Guide To Getting It On. He's up there in Oregon, living with his wife and daughter, enjoying Greek roots, Eastern Orthodox Church roots. Oh, and I'd send a copy to my Tantra teacher mentor friend and master, Margot Anand, who is currently on work study sabbatical in Bali; and my priest, of course; and let's not forget that sex maven friend of many across the bay who started Good Vibrations, Joani Blank; or her near neighbor, my science writer/sex educator humorist friend, Mary Roach, of Bonk fame. Church folk or not, we could all use some deeper poetic understanding on the meaning of deep heart connecting, the coming together of body, mind, soul and spirit with someone you care about.

This is a book for poets, pastors, science writers, theologians, counselors, therapists, philosophers, and, of course, any man who hopes to get a warm send up from his lover on the high holy day of red lip lock Valentine's Day love, February 14th. The day of the red heart.

Once again, big for me was that Yannaras was not one more ascetic monk or celibate priest putting himself out there as an expert on love and God and all things religious surrounding the union of soul and body. And then leaving out the naughty bits part. Oh, and that minor detail of never actually having been in love (except with God) much less ever having made hands on love to a flesh and blood beloved. Yannaras wants us to know that Eros somehow is tied always to all things humanly ontological, what it means at the very root to simply be.

I think I'm ready now to tackle his 1970 Person and Eros next, just translated by the same fellow here. What a tome.

The Archbishop of Canterbury calls Yannaras "perhaps one of the most significant Christian philosophers in Europe". The academic Olivier Clement from the St. Sergius Orthodox Institute of Paris calls Yannaras "contemporary Greece's greatest thinker." Yannaras has a winner for the ages here for lovers in this little book I think. Any man or woman who wants to work to make love last through the first bottle of wine to the last orgasmic celebration on the last geriatric evening after decades of nuptial relating should read and reread this book; the week before V day especially.

Anyway, enough. Finally a pro sex, pro body, pro love, pro God traditional church layman speaks with a philosophical and theological "yes" for lovers who want harmony between body and soul, flesh and spirit. God and eroticism in the Christian world have an advocate in Yannaras. Indeed, here's a writer and thinker in his 70s now who has courted a woman or two along the way. His work here is now in English thankfully, and among his 50 books he has written, here's one on the sacramentality of sexual love and that little naughty book of the Bible that is unapologetically very much pro sexual and heart connecting love. Nice.

Happy Valentine's Day to all. Especially to church folk. We could use some coaching from the poets. Well done Yannaras.
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