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Welcome to the Orthodox Church: An Introduction to Eastern Christianity Paperback – April 1, 2015
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Welcome to the Orthodox Church--its history, theology, worship, spirituality, and daily life. This friendly guide provides a comprehensive introduction to Orthodoxy, but with a twist: readers learn by making a series of visits to a fictitious church, and get to know the faith as new Christians did for most of history, by immersion. Mathewes-Green provides commentary and explanations on everything from how to “venerate” an icon, to the Orthodox understanding of the atonement, to the Lenten significance of tofu. It’s the perfect book for inquirers and newcomers, but even readers who have been Orthodox all their lives say they learned things they never knew before. Enjoyable, easy-to-read, and leavened with humor, Welcome to the Orthodox Church is a gracious guide to the ancient faith of the Christian East.
Frederica Mathewes-Green, author of Facing East: A Pilgrim’s Journey into the Mysteries of Orthodoxy, a past vice president of Feminists for Life of America, the best of National Public Radio’s commentators, and Khouria (priest’s wife, “mother”) of Holy Cross Orthodox Church in Baltimore, has written a new book about getting to know the Orthodox Church. In it she walks the reader through a semi-fictional, representative American parish of the Orthodox Church, stopping to chat along the way...
Mathewes-Green is a good companion, colloquial and easy, clear even when she dives into knotty theological controversies. What other book will you read this year that gives a quick summary of the controversy over the double procession of the Holy Spirit? But one of the great things about Mathewes-Green’s writing is that, unlike so much from the C.S. Lewis school of Christianity, she does not live entirely in the world of arguments. She writes with “the mind in the heart,” as the Orthodox say. Christianity is not primarily a philosophy or assent to a set of propositions; it’s a way of life. Mathewes-Green never loses sight of that. Liturgy, the life of prayer, reflection, confession of sins, frank acknowledgement of the need for mercy, sacraments, hymns, Scripture, the 80-year-old woman who no longer stands during vespers, the tiny Ethiopian who removes his shoes to pray, the smell of incense, the burning of candles, vigilance against the Devil — these all come into play. Progress in religion is about the turning of the total self toward God, not another analogy proving that what Christians believe is reasonable.
Herein lies the real pleasure of reading Mathewes-Green. This is religion for the whole person, mind in heart, heart in body, body and soul. There are deep veins of wisdom shot throughout:
- “A sin we especially long to cast off might be held in place by a different sin, one that has to be removed first, even if we don’t grasp the connection and consider it less important.”
- “I shouldn’t have to say this, but the evil one is really evil. Don’t picture him trying to tempt a fat lady into eating more chocolate.”
- “Thinking and talking about God is not communion with God. Only prayer is prayer.”
She quotes liberally from the dynamic liturgies that, with the icons, are the chief cultural glory of Orthodoxy: “Why, Judas, did you betray the Savior? Did he shut you out from the company of the disciples? Did he sit at table with the rest, but send you away? Did he wash the feet of others, but pass you by? How much kindness you have forgotten.”
...The reader gets what the book’s title promises. But the best reason to read this book is that the author is wise. Wisdom springs from deep roots within a well-ordered soul, and is quite different from the things we mistake it for: intelligence, charm, wit, sympathy, openness, or empathy. Wisdom is rare in public discourse; when you see it, you recognize it. —J. Mulrooney, New Oxford Review
Every single Orthodox person knows that in order to become Orthodox, you don’t read about it. You live it. You attend the services, do the fasting, say the prayers and read the Bible. You accept the sacraments, venerate the icons, kneel in the prostrations and inhale the incense.
Books and courses, as Frederica Mathewes-Green points out in her introduction to Welcome to the Orthodox Church teach you ABOUT the faith, but they can’t teach the faith itself, because it’s not “primarily a religious institution, but a spiritual path.” So if that’s the case, and she knows it, why would she write a book about it?
It’s a very simple answer: this book is about as close as you can get to learning to be Orthodox while still being a book about the Orthodox Church. It’s meant for inquirers and those who aren’t Orthodox but are curious about those weird folk who process around their church in the middle of the night. Except that it’s a pretty good book for Orthodox people as well.
...Frederica writes in a conversational style that is relaxing, engaging and humorous, a style that teaches without lecturing. It really does feel like a prolonged, relaxed visit with a friend. I hadn’t realized just how engaging the book was until I was most of the way through it. I had set myself a limit of four chapters per day, so I could get the book read in a reasonable amount of time and still have time for other work. As it happened, I started Chapter 12 one morning, and after a while, wondered just how long it was going to be before I finished the day’s chapters – this was feeling awfully long and, honestly, a bit tedious. I turned the page, and realized that I had just finished Chapter 19. The book wasn’t tedious at all, not if I could become so engaged that I simply forgot about my four chapter limit, and did two days reading in one! The problem was that I’d had overdosed on information and needed to let it settle down in my head. I would recommend the same to other readers – don’t try to read too much at once, because you do need time to let the information you’ve read be absorbed and integrated in your mind, but do read the book.
For long time Orthodox, much of the book won’t be news – it’s basic theology, history and information that we learn in the first few years, both by learning about the church and by living the faith. Yet Frederica has a way of explaining and describing that can shine a light on these well-known truths. She uses metaphors and comparisons that show us things from a new angle, that can help deepen our understanding of the services, the faith and our theology without ever lecturing, talking down to us or sounding as though she’s in a classroom lecturing us. She provides quotes from the services and hymns that allow us to reflect on them in new ways, since they are outside their usual setting and in slightly different translations than we’re probably used to.
Even though the book is intended for interested non-Orthodox, I don’t hesitate in recommending it for those in the faith as well. It fits my criteria for a good book about my faith: it makes me want to go (as CS Lewis put it in The Last Battle) “further up and further in.” It makes me want to draw closer to God. —Bev Cooke, Orthodox Christian Network
Beautifully written and carefully explained with a heart for the non- Orthodox. As an evangelical, who grew up in the Greek Orthodox Church, until being shipped off to boarding school in England, I found myself longing to revisit the liturgy and traditions of my youth! —Emmanuel Kampouris, Former Chairman & CEO of American Standard Companies, Founder of www.biblemesh.com
Get this book.
If you are interested in learning about the Orthodox Church…
If you are an inquirer or catechumen in the Orthodox Church…
If you are a convert to the Orthodox Church…
If you have grown up in the Orthodox Church…
Get this book.
Frederica Mathewes-Green has done it again. She has taken a broad and complex topic and made it interesting, accessible and enjoyable. She has a light touch, but never crosses into flippancy. In describing the basics of the Faith, she reveals the richness. And in taking on the complex, she brings clarity. Using concrete examples, she gives substance to abstractions.
This book works for all kinds of audiences for several reasons. Frederica treats her readers like sensible and intelligent people. When she describes the worship services or the objects in the temple, her description is clear…but she doesn’t shy away from giving us the technical terminology. She tells us about the basics – here is how you cross yourself – but she also takes on some of the deeper theological discussions – essence and energies, anyone? Even in these deeper discussions, her prose is engaging and illuminating.
One of the more difficult problems to overcome in talking about Orthodoxy is dealing with the variety within Orthodoxy. Some jurisdictions have chanters, others do not. Some have candles in the narthex, others, in front of the iconostasis only. Some choirs stand in the front, others on the side and still other in the back or in a loft. And there are a lot of other differences like this. Frederica uses an imaginary parish to describe the Orthodox worship and practice, and rather than getting tangled up in all the potential differences one might find, she just sticks with this one parish. So it is possible that the parish you attend will differ in some ways from what Frederica describes, but her decision to stay focused on one particular practice keeps the book focused, rather than following a hundred rabbit trails.
Those who are well taught in the faith can gain from this book. Frederica’s prose is clear, vivid, illuminating. Even when we are willing to share our faith, sometimes we can’t find the words. Frederica has found them and given them to us in this book. Already I have been able to answer some questions from inquirers that I could not answer before. It wasn’t that I didn’t know the teaching; it was impossible for me to find the right words to make the teaching clear. I have borrowed Frederica’s words.
In the beginning of the book, Frederica tells us what her husband, an Orthodox priest, writes on the whiteboard when he starts a catechism class:
“What you will not learn in this class: Orthodoxy.
What you will learn in this class: About Orthodoxy.”
Frederica holds to this truth in her book. You will learn a lot about Orthodoxy in this book. But becoming Orthodox is experiential. Knowing Christ is experiential, relational. It’s not a head-game; it’s not about what you know. Without denigrating dogma, Frederica does the most important thing: she uses the words of Christ to call us to Christ – “Come and See.”
Come and read…you will be glad you did. But don’t stop there. Come and see. —Patty Joanna Rebne
Frederica Mathewes-Green is one of the most engaging interpreters of the Eastern Christian way in our time. In this book she takes us by the hand as it were and introduces us to something of the mystery, wisdom, worship, and beauty—in short, the life—of Eastern Christianity. A rich, illuminating introduction. —Timothy George is the founding dean of Beeson Divinity School of Samford University and chair of the Doctrine and Christian Unity Commission of the Baptist World Alliance.
Though I have always been interested in the Orthodox Church, I stayed away because I didn't know anyone that practiced. That has changed.
This book is an amazing introduction to the world of Orthodoxy, The author does a masterful job of making you feel as if you are a visitor to the Church and are being walked through its many moving parts. You come to know the members of St. Felicity and feel like a part of its community.
In the process of reading the book, you are introduced to the "parts" of the church, the use of Icons, traditional services, a Paschal service, and even marriage, the blessing of a home, and a funeral. It was a heartfelt and very personal journey. —Jonathan Premo
I really liked this book very much indeed. Instead of starting off with basic theological concepts which can still be really overwhelming to the average reader as well as pretty hard-going, the book starts with describing a fictitious but very typical Orthodox church which is dedicated to St Felicity.
From the first moment of entering the lobby- or Narthex - of an Orthodox church, it will be very unlike most other churches. Icons, sandboxes, beeswax taper candles, books in English and often Church Slavonic or Greek too! make a confusing visual introduction, which is carefully explained, introducing the Sign of the Cross, veneration of icons and prayer before entering the main part of the Church, in a quiet moment when it is empty, to explore further.
We find out how and why Orthodox churches are built the way they are, look at the visually striking iconostasis, examine the lovely icons and learn about the life of St Felicity the Martyr amongst many other things. Everything is explained in a lively, conversational and reassuring manner, gently and gradually leading deeper and deeper into the mystery that is Eastern Orthodoxy.
Eventually we get to visit the Church when there are services in full swing and meet Orthodox liturgy in action, which requires even more detailed explanation of concepts mentioned earlier, especially through the Hymnody of the Vigils and Liturgy where incredibly complex and profound theology can be packed into a hymn only a few lines long - but the study of which could occupy a lifetime of prayer and meditation.
Finally, in the last section of the book, we learn about living the Orthodox life through events such as house blessings, the Sacraments, life events including death and burial, traditional fasting customs and prayer.
What had seemed impossibly complicated at the beginning of the book seems logical and workable by the end, and it has been an enjoyable and informative read throughout. Deceptively simple but remarkably thorough, this is an excellent introductory book about Orthodoxy. —Sian Williams, The Garden Window blog
Frederica Mathewes-Green, through her writing, has become the “Greeter” for every person who begins to seek out and explore the “other Christianity” which is the Eastern Orthodox Church. Few authors can take the mystery, beauty and often daunting complexities of Orthodoxy and transform them in such an inviting path of spiritual journey as this author has done with this book. —The Very Rev Dr Chad Hatfield, Chancellor, St. Vladimir’s Orthodoxy Seminary, New York
—Andrew Natsios, Professor, George H.W. Bush School of Government and Public Service, Texas A&M University
I am simply thrilled that my dear friend Frederica Mathews-Green has written this primer on the Orthodox faith. First of all, she is one of the finest writers living -- as I hope you will see shortly -- and her ability to explain the ancient Christian faith to a generation hungry for more than flimsy rock-and-roll choruses and "relevant" sermons is without parallel. Let me say it here: this book will change lives.
—Eric Metaxas, New York Times Bestselling author of Miracles and Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy.
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Top customer reviews
As an Anglican who has attended the Divine Liturgy a few times in Russian, once in Finnish but with a Bulgarian choir, but only once in English, I found Mathewes-Greens' format to be helpful and accessible.
The divergence in theological understanding between East and West (Roman, Anglican and Protestant) was presented in a very chatty way that didn't put up "straw men" to knock down or try to win points. Mother Frederica's aim to see the reader helped in their personal transformation in Christ was evident and permeated the whole book without clichés or being preachy.
Caveat Emptor: As might be expected from the author (though surely written in all sincerity), she does introduce the topic of women's ordination and propose a discussion about it for 3/4 of a page. This would be confusing to a new person coming into Orthodoxy who perhaps may not be expecting such a deviation in doctrinal position from an Orthodox author.