Customer Reviews: The Orthodox Church: An Introduction to its History, Doctrine, and Spiritual Culture
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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.
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on July 22, 2011
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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on May 9, 2012
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). Is it worth getting? Not really. The price, like all academic literature, is prohibitive to the common mortal and truth be told, you really aren't getting any new information, only the same information better-presented.
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on November 14, 2012
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.

Perhaps what is most remarkable is that McGuckin's treatment of theological topics is never purely abstract, but always has an eye to contemporary debates and issues, as well as to their implications for the real life of the Orthodox believer. The other thing at which McGuckin excels is combining an approach that is profoundly rooted in the Church Fathers with a very balanced way of understanding how that finds application in the contemporary world. He is deeply rooted in Tradition without being "traditionalist." There is nothing fundamentalistic about his approach, and indeed it presents a serious challenge to anyone who would attempt to apply Orthodox Tradition (especially the Fathers and the canons) in a wooden and fundamentalistic way in our contemporary world (a great temptation of contemporary Orthodoxy, at least in the US).

Most of all, the love of Christ and compassion for fellow human beings shines through this book. This is Orthodoxy at its best.

Others have complained about the price, but the paperback price on Amazon is not excessive for a large and lengthy (450 p) book. You will easily get more out of this than two typical $20 books.
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on January 22, 2015
John A McGuckin has written a thorough and inspiring introduction to the Divine gift of the Orthodox Church. His effort should be welcomed and supported at a time when so many westerners are looking for a true path to a God-centered life. Christian Orthodoxy is the first and native tongue of Christianity, which now is within the reach of the motivated seeker. I highly recommended to those looking for the right Christian gate, as well as for those that having felt the call of the Church now wish to understand it with their minds as well as their hearts. P.A.Alvarez, Ed.D. Lic. Psy. CThS.
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on January 19, 2016
An excellent book but difficult to read if you are not familiar with Greek, Latin and religious terms. I had to skim certain sections to get to the end of the book without giving up. A careful read of certain sections will give you give you a sense of Orthodox and how it is different from Western Christianity. The Orthodox view of church/state relations provides an insight into its resurgence in Eastern Europe and Russia.
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on January 22, 2013
I read this book as part of an independent study I took at seminary. The book helpfully recounts the history and traditions of EO, which gives a good background for what is to follow. The important doctrines and mysteries are explained well and the importance of tradition and icons in the EO traditon is clarified. The book concludes with the challengegs the church faces and how it has tried to respond appropriately to the modern world; it has succeeded at times and failed at others. At over 400 pages it takes a concentrated effort to finish the book, but if one has no prior experience with the church, it is best to read it all. I noticed an underlying "tone" of the book that was not complimentary toward the rest of Christianity (Catholics and Protestants). I thought that was unfortunate, considering the inter-Christian cooperation that is now possible since some of the restrictions of the former USSR and other eastern Euroopean countries have recently lessened.
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on July 31, 2014
This is an excellent book, but it is probably too sophisticated for most people unfamiliar with the material it covers,. The theological sections are the most engaging.
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