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The Book of Mystical Chapters: Meditations on the Soul's Ascent, from the Desert Fathers and Other Early Christian Contemplatives Paperback – July 8, 2003

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Editorial Reviews Review

The Book of Mystical Chapters wants to slow you down. Its 300 brief meditations, drawn from the writings of the earliest Christian contemplatives, are meant to be read over the course of 300 days. The book's translator and editor, John Anthony McGuckin, explains that this is how early Christian pilgrims learned the wisdom of the Desert Fathers, ascending through three stages of spiritual understanding, from the practical to the transcendent. Pilgrims repeated these meditations until each one broke "like a fruit on the tongue of the monk and revealed its inner flavor to the searching mind." The Book of Mystical Chapters suggests that readers ask of each aphorism, "How have we already experienced it; how could it illuminate a truth about our own heart or the troubles of our friends' hearts or the secret ways that God wishes to develop our seeking soul?" If you're sick of wasting time waiting at the bus stop, waiting between appointments, or waiting to go deeper in faith, maybe this is just the thing for you. --Michael Joseph Gross --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Esoteric ReligionAlthough Shambhala usually publishes books on Eastern religions, particularly Buddhism, The Book of Mystical Chapters: Meditations on the Soul's Ascent from the Desert Fathers and Other Early Christian Contemplatives is a rare and well-conceived foray into Christian mysticism. Drawing from 300 short meditations by Christian mystics and contemplatives from the fourth to 11th centuries, John Anthony McGuckin's collection is arranged around themes of practice, theory and gnosis. He cautions that the book is not meant for a rapid half-hour read-through from cover to cover in one sitting, but is instead designed to be digested slowly and thoughtfully.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Shambhala (July 8, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590300076
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590300077
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.5 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #861,416 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

V. Revd. Professor John Anthony McGuckin, of Irish extraction, is a priest of the Orthodox Church in the Patriarchate of Romania's Archdiocese in America. He came to the United States from England in 1997 (where he was a Reader in Patristic and Byzantine Theology at the University of Leeds), assuming the Chair in Early Church History at the renowned Union Theological Seminary in New York. He is currently the Nielsen Professor of Late Antique and Byzantine Christian History at Union Theological Seminary; and also the Professor of Byzantine Christianity at Columbia University, New York City. His academic career in theology began when he studied Philosophy at Heythrop College, London from 1970-72, and from there went on to read for a Divinity degree at the University of London, graduating with First Class Honours in 1975. For his doctoral researches at Durham University (1980), he studied the politics and theology of the early Constantinian era, with a thesis on the thought of Lucius Caecilius Lactantius, the Emperor Constantine's pacifist Christian tutor and political advisor. While he was a student at Durham he composed his first book, an English edition of the Theological Chapters of St. Symeon the New Theologian, the medieval Byzantine poet and mystic. Since then he has published more than twenty books on religious and historical themes, becoming internationally recognized as a leading interpreter of the Early Christian and Eastern Orthodox traditions. He has taught in many Universities both in America and in Europe, as Visiting Distinguished Professor or as Visiting Scholar; including Kiev, Sibiu, Bucharest, Oslo, Iasi, Cambridge, Belfast, Oxford, Yale, Sydney and Moscow. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts in 1986, and a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society in 1996. He was selected as the prestigious Luce Fellow in Early Christianity in 2006. He was awarded the Order of St. Stephen the Great, the Cross of Moldavia and Bukovina, by the Romanian Orthodox Church in 2008; and was awarded the jewelled cross by Metropolitan Tikhon of the Orthodox Church in America in 2012, on the occasion of his receipt of the Doctorate in Divinity Honoris Causa at St. Vladimir's Theological Seminary. He received the DLitt Honoris Causa from Lucian Blagea University, Sibiu in 2014.

Among his publications are: The Transfiguration of Christ in Scripture and Tradition (1986); St. Cyril of Alexandria: The Christological Controversy (1994); At the Lighting of the Lamps: Hymns from the Ancient Church (1995, and repr. 1997); St. Gregory of Nazianzus: An Intellectual Biography (2000) (Nominated for the 2002 Pollock Biography Prize); Standing in God's Holy Fire: The Spiritual Tradition of Byzantium (Orbis, 2001); The Book of Mystical Chapters (Shambhala, 2002), The Westminster Handbook to Origen of Alexandria (WJK, 2004) and The Westminster Handbook To Patristic Theology ( 2004). His large-scale study of Eastern Christianity, The Orthodox Church: An Introduction to its History, Theology, and Spiritual Culture appeared from Blackwell-Wiley in the summer of 2007. At recent work is the largest-ever English Language Encyclopedia of the Orthodox Church which he edited, appeared from Blackwell-Wiley in Winter 2010. Hs latest project is a large scale study of the manner in which Christian Byzantium adopted and significantly adapted the sources of Roman Civil Law, appearing from SVS Press, New York in 2011. In addition to his books he has published over 100 research articles, in scholarly journals, ranging in subject matter from New Testament Exegesis to Byzantine Iconography; mainly centred on the thought of Origen of Alexandria, and the later Greek Christian theologians. He is the Director of the Sophis Institute, based in New York, an international research center dedicated to Eastern Christian thought and culture. Under his direction it has issued 8 volumes of studies, as listed on its website:

Professor McGuckin has appeared many times on American, British, and Italian Television programmes, as well as on Radio in Europe, America, and Canada; commenting on religious issues. In 2011 his film, co-authored with producer Norris Chumley was released on cable TV and DVD entitled: "Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer." In 1994, his first collection of poetry, Byzantium and Other Poems, was published; and a second retrospective collection has recently appeared entitled: Selected Poems. Black Gate Press. (available As well as teaching graduate level courses in New York, Fr. John is also the Rector of the Eastern Orthodox chaplaincy of St. Gregory the Theologian, serving the liturgical needs of English-speaking Orthodox Christian students in Manhattan. (see

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48 of 48 people found the following review helpful By X. Libris on December 17, 2003
Format: Hardcover
These "chapters" range in length from one sentence to a page and a half, with most about the length of a short paragraph. They are arranged into three sections ("the threefold ascent") of 100 chapters each.
Don't be tempted, as I was, to read several each day. These chapters were designed to be memorized and then meditated upon, no more than one a day. This is what the translator, John Anthony McGuckin, suggests in his introduction, and his advice is sound.
While many of these spiritual statements are deceptively simple, each one is worthy of serious ruminating.
I recommend this volume highly, but please take your time.
Related titles worthy of consideration are: "The Illumined Heart," by Frederica Mathewes-Green; "The Mountain of Silence," by Kyriacos C. Markides; and "The Art of Prayer," compiled by Igumen Chariton of Valamo.
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27 of 27 people found the following review helpful By matt on September 17, 2003
Format: Paperback
This is a nice collection of short adages that are directed to the seeker of Christ. Assuming that we are created for union with God in Christ and the Spirit, the authors of this collection, all experts from experience, give practical wisdom and advice.
"If you are serious about the life of prayer, take care to be very merciful, for in this way you shall receive a hundredfold reward and even greater things in the future age," writes St. John Climacus.
I never allowed myself to go to bed while I still felt resentment against a person. And as far as I was able, I never allowed anyone else to go to bed either, as long as they still felt resentment against me," said Abba Agathon.
This is the sort of tenor of the book. Other really useful books in this regard would include bishop Kallistos Ware's classic "The Orthodox Way", along with Markides' "The Silent Mountain" and Robin Amis' "A Different Christinaity". If you like anthologies, a good one with useful notes is Olivier Clement's "The Roots of Christian Mysticism". Enjoy!
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25 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Midwest Book Review on December 4, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Ably translated and with an informative introduction by Orthodox Christian Priest John Anthony McGuckin (Professor of Early Church History, Union Theological Seminary, New York City), The Book Of Mystical Chapters: Meditations On The Soul's Ascent From The Desert Fathers And Other Early Christian Contemplatives is a hallowed collection of more than three hundred short meditations written by Christians from the second through the fourteenth centuries. Many of these meditations were written by the Desert Fathers, monks who deliberately left behind the corruption of city life for the isolated deserts of Egypt and Palestine. These brief yet moving and heartfelt meditations focus upon practice, theory, gnosis, embracing spiritual enlightenment, and the expansion of one's mind and soul. The Book Of Mystical Chapters is very highly recommended reading for all serious students of Christian Theology, History, and Spirituality, regardless of denominational background or affiliation.
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28 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Xenya on May 22, 2006
Format: Paperback
In the bookstore my heart was really cold and depressed, and oppressed. I was saying the prayer, but not getting anywhere. I mean the prayer is always good, but I couldn't find any peace. This book helped to break through this malaise, and I was grateful. It helped me see my situation of truly needing help, and it was an avenue of receiving help.

Orthodox Christians believe that the saints write out of the direct experience of the Light of God, and they literally write words of light and love, the Love that the Lord Jesus has shared with them, which is Himself. It is the glory He shares with the Father, that comes from the Holy Spirit. This is given in a measure and type perfectly suited to each person. Father John, in the introduction, explains that the Holy Spirit usually reveals Himself to people just starting to seriously seek Him in a way that is different from people who have learned to humbly live for Him, who suffer in their life with Him. In trying to follow His commandments, they suffer at their inability to follow them, and at the obstacles they encounter, inside and outside, when they try to live out a command such as Love Thy Neighbor as Thyself. It is a kind of quiet war, sometimes. So the first stage, I think, is learning to live in this way, that makes you humble, because you see, with the help of grace, how you are not Holy like God, and you don't fit in with Him, and this makes you realize that you deeply need help, so you call out from your heart, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God have mercy on me a sinner." In the second stage He consoles and teaches by sometimes appearing, and sometimes withdrawing.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By S. Pompa on August 30, 2006
Format: Paperback
Christianity has long since forgotten the old saying, "God became what man is so that man can become what God is." Christianity is not merely about "getting saved" and essentially ending your walk with Christ right then and there. Christianity has always been about theosis, becoming holy as God is holy. "Salvation" cannot be reduced to a mere "get out of hell free card"; it is also healing. It is also transformation. Follow this book, and you are well on your way to becoming a Christian mystic; one who experiences God continually.
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