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The Orthodox Church: An Introduction to its History, Doctrine, and Spiritual Culture 1st Edition

4.4 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1444337310
ISBN-10: 1444337319
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Editorial Reviews


"As a handbook for what would be considered the traditional Orthodox position on matters of Christian belief, thought, and praxis, it is reliable, with relatively few omissions, and well written." (CHURCH HISTORY, June 2009)

“The volume's detailed, comprehensive treatment will require and repay a careful reading. Summing Up: Essential.” (Choice, April 2009)

Throughout he writes with passion, deep sensitivity, and a wonderful evocative clarity.” (Logos, May 2009)

"[The book] will help the Orthodox to a deeper understanding of the riches of their faith and will introduce the non-Orthodox to fresh ways of thinking about their faith, and both to a renewed engagement with the life of the church." (Ecclesiastical History, April 2009)

"McGuckin's hope that his book may contribute to the dialogue between East and West deserves to be realised." (Church Times, October 2008)



“This is an unparalleled introduction to the Orthodox Church. Comprehensive in its scope, surveying the history and present state of the Church, it is also bold and fresh in its presentation of Orthodox theology and yet, or rather thus, truly traditional. Fr. John McGuckin’s inspired and challenging vision of Orthodoxy reveals a Church entering upon a ‘new spring,’ ready to address the concerns of the modern world, intellectually, politically, and socially, grounded in God’s philanthropy for all his creation.”
John Behr, St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary

“Fr. John McGuckin has succeeded here in an almost impossible task: to offer us a concise, evocative, sympathetic, yet historically sophisticated portrait of the history, faith, and practice of the Orthodox Churches in one highly readable, constantly informative volume. Poet and scholar as he is, McGuckin writes gracefully and engagingly, yet with a theological and spiritual depth that invites all of us to reflect more deeply on what is most fundamental to the Christian faith. The book seems bound to become a classic.” 
Brian E. Daley, SJ, University of Notre Dame

“This volume will be the classical introduction to Orthodoxy at least for most of this century. McGuckin is, in an ascending and unifying order, scholar and poet, convert and Romanian Orthodox priest. The book’s content is clearly set in a twenty-first century context, while being deeply scriptural, patristic and byzantine. The aroma of Orthodoxy wafts through its pages. It serves as the gateway to this Christian community for outsiders and insiders alike, because it is faithful and insight-filled while also ancient and up to date.” 
Frederick W. Norris, Emmanuel School of Religion

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell; 1 edition (December 13, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1444337319
  • ISBN-13: 978-1444337310
  • Product Dimensions: 6.8 x 0.9 x 9.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #420,239 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: www.sophiainstitutenyc.org

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 www.blurb.com). 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 www.sgtt.org)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
THE ORTHODOX CHURCH is an introduction to the history, doctrine, and culture of this ancient Christian tradition by Father John Anthony McGuckin, a priest and professor, and a convert to Orthodoxy himself. There is what you would expect in such a book, such as a presentation of the Orthodox bodies worldwide, the use of icons, and the notion of Holy Tradition against the papal rule known in Roman Catholicism or the Sola Scriptura tendencies of Protestants.

But Father McGuckin goes beyond these most basic topics to give a rigorous presentation of Orthodox theology, including the difficult Christological controversies of the early Church, the relationship between Emperor and Patriarch in Byzantium (still informative for us today), and some of the underappreciated masterpieces of liturgical writing. Father McGuckin's sermons must be really something to listen to, for his prose here is rich and passionate, deftly wielding classical rhetorical skills.

My only major complaint about the book is that it is written wholly from the perspective of a Western writer who has obviously spent a long time in the rounds of liberal academic discourse, and this is often incongruent with the general spirit of Orthodoxy worldwide. In speaking of the need to give women a more prominent role in the modern church, McGuckin calls for the restoration of the order of diaconess. However, he doesn't mention the very understandable fear among a number of churches that this may only be the camel's nose on the way to feminists calling for female priestly ordination.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I originally thought of this as a introductory textbook level book for the Orthodox Church. However, the dry, academic material is really only confined to the historical chapters at the beginning. And honestly, that's where I learned the most.

This book is written in a very British style of English. Thus, it relies on a lot of rhetoric and imagery to enhance his points, and thus states in three pages what an American text might say in a paragraph or two. The points and facts are there, and you can learn a lot from the Orthodox church, but if you were looking to a solid, direct, and concise introduction to Orthodoxy, this might not be for you.

On the positive, it does cover a wide range of topics, and he approaches Orthodoxy from a modern perspective. This is probably due to his own conversion from Anglicanism to Orthodoxy.

As an endnote, don't take this review to be a complete criticism. I like the book and it's quite quotable. It's definitely something I'd recommend for someone interested in Orthodoxy. My personal preference is simply for something more direct and less "flowery."
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Format: Paperback
This book is like most McGuckin books: mature, balanced scholarship, the occasional quip, and a fine survey of the most relevant literature. The best way to describe this book is to call it "Timothy Ware's Book on Steroids." He does not tell you anything--history-wise--about Orthodoxy that you would not find in Ware. In fact, most of the theology that you find here you would also find in Ware, with a few sections more cogently argued, I suppose.

Rather than review each section, which would read like a summary of Orthodox theology, I will highlight several sections that show his uniquness/insight. The section on the Church and the Orthodox view of non-Orthodox was a sane and welcome balance to much current thinking. Ware bases his discussion primarily around--not Cyprian--but St Basil's Letter to Amphiliocus. Basil notes (repeatedly, I might add, in his letters, though McGuckin only highlights one of them) that the dividing line is not between "Orthodox vs. non-Orthodox," but "Orthodox compared with multiple Christian communities who are not equal in terms of division."

McGuckin has a nice section defending the concept of our Holy Beloved Emperor. Given that modernity has been one violent negation of monarchy, this is a bold move on McGuckin's part(literally). McGuckin does not naively wish for the return of a Russian Tsar, but he does not that almost all modern options in politics have failed miserably; thus so, positing monarchism as an epistemological critique and pointer towards renewal has many promising dividends for Christians.

Other chapters end on these similar notes: McGuckin presents the Orthodox position firmly and without compromise, but he isn't a jerk about it and leaves room for the reader to calmly disagree (as I do on a few topics).
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Format: Paperback
Fr McGuckin's book is both brilliant and beautiful. It is articulate, profound, balanced, insightful, compassionate, and frequently inspiring--a tall order. It must be said up front that this is not an easy book to read. Fr McGuckin's writing style is elegant but very dense; the reader must be prepared to work. But the rewards are worth it.

This book is not a basic introduction--it presupposes a certain familiarity either with Orthodoxy, or at least with theological concepts and terminology. For those who want a basic introduction to Orthodoxy, I would still recommend Timothy Ware's The Orthodox Church: New Edition, Hilarion Alfeyev's The Mystery of Faith: An Introduction to the Teaching and Spirituality of the Orthodox Church, or Gillian Crow's accessible and brief Orthodoxy for Today. As other reviewers have commented, you aren't necessarily going to learn anything new in the historical section, but that's only the first chapter; the book really begins to shine from Chapter 2 onward. I would recommend Fr. McGuckin's book for every Orthodox Christian, and consider it essential reading for anyone active in the church. It should be required reading for every potential seminarian. One could only wish that every future bishop of the Church were formed by McGuckin's vision of what bishops in the Orthodox Church are supposed to be.
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