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A strong contender for the title of best introduction to the fullness of the Orthodox faith
on March 30, 2009
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. Father McGuckin also praises with no questions asked the current Ecumenical Patriarch's interest in green causes, but this is controversial and there have been complaints that the Ecumenical Patriarch is neglecting actual Christian missionary work as his flock dwindles.
Though it will appeal mostly to intellectuals and people already involved to some extent in Orthodoxy because of its tone and level of detail, this is a fine introduction and provides good competition for the old standard, Kallistos Ware's The Orthodox Church. Unfortunately, Blackwell has priced this out of reach of all except university libraries (and from this publisher even a paperback will not be affordable) and it doesn't seem like it will get the attention it deserves.