Friday, December 21, 2012
Thanks to the latest publication from Liturgical Press we have a very good resource for those of us in pastoral ministry.
Strengthen Your Brothers: Letters of Encouragement from an Archbishop to His Priests is by J. Peter Sartain, the current Archbishop of Seattle.
Several years ago he began writing regular letters to his priests as a away not just to keep them informed of events and projects in his diocese but as a way to keep in touch with them. After all a bishop is supposed to be a "pastor of pastors" which unfortunately isn't always the case. Too often bishops are far removed from their clergy.
This book is divided into three sections:
Priestly Identity in Christ
Of all the sections I found the second one to be the most inspirational since it is here in the day to day ins and outs of ministry which I find the most challenging. In this section he covers topics such as gossip, loving difficult people, maintaing faith in dark times, and overcoming isolation and lonliness. The short chapters can be read in a few minutes but really they could take hours or days to reflect on each one.
I liked the fact that Archbishop Sartain spoke from his heart and included not just personal stories but also stories from the desert fathers, modern writers such as the famous Jesuit Walter Ciszek and Church Doctors like Saint Augustine and Thomas Aquinas.
The hardcover edition makes this a special volume as well.
For more information about Strengthen Your Brothers click here
Wednesday, December 19, 2012
Their most recent offering is a little book called Journey to the Kingdom: An Insiders Look at the Liturgy and Beliefs of the Eastern Orthodox Church. The author is Father Vassilios Papavassiliou, a priest in the Greek Orthodox Church in England.
The book is really what the title says, a guide or tour through the Divine Liturgy by someone who knows the Liturgy well. The twenty chapters are short and can be read in a few minutes. The publisher also included some very nice black and white pictures as a visual aide for the reader: the priest holding a censer, the altar table, and interior pictures of Churches. For someone who knows very little about the Orthodox Church worship this guide is a good resource, especially for the neophyte. It will also be a good resource for Adult Education programs for people who want to get a refresher on the Divine Liturgy.
Every so often there are "break out texts" which describe some things in greater detail. Like on page 5 where he talks about the two different liturgies, the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom and the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great and then on page 89 when he talks about fasting and so forth. These little break out texts are also useful.
This book is a welcome introduction to the Divine Liturgy and a good resource for beginners. After reading Journey to the Kingdom readers may want to dig into something deeper such as Alexander Schmemann's The Eucharist as a way to learn more about the theology and context of Eastern worship.
To learn more about Journey to the Kingdom click here
Thursday, December 13, 2012
Also, if you are so inclined my recent book Church, World, and Kingdom provides a greater context into his life and legacy especially regarding his theological formation in France.
May Father Alexander's memory be eternal!
Wednesday, December 12, 2012
Nassif is a graduate of Fordham University and is currently a professor of biblical and theological studies at North Park University in Chicago, IL. Nassif is also a practicing Orthodox Christian as well which also enlightens and enlivens the current volume.
This book is rich with colorful photographs of monasteries, churches, monks, priests, ancient manuscripts, as well as a photo or two of his family. The saying goes that a picture tells 1,000 words and that is true. Nassif weaves his own family narrative into the larger story of the spread of Eastern Christianity. His family has roots in the Middle East so he has the wealth of knowledge when it comes to the culture, religion, and society of the time. There are pictures of his beloved Sitti, or grandmother as well as of his uncle and other family members. It reminds me of Paul's emphasis on the Church as the body of Christ. We tend to think of that metaphor in terms of its larger context but in Nassif's case it is real, each member of his or her family influenced him in big and small ways, especially regarding his faith formation and upbringing.
Bringing Jesus to the Desert includes six chapters:
Holy Land, Holy People
Anthony of Egypt
Makarios of Egypt
Colorful Characters: John the Little, Moses the Ethiopian, and Simeon the Stylite
While reading this book I was grateful for Nassif's work. There are many scholarly texts on each of the people mentioned above as well as thick tomes about desert spirituality as it is commonly called but very few basic, easy to read, entry level books for the average person. Who would read this book? Probably a non-Orthodox Christian who wants to learn more about the first few centuries of Christianity after Jesus or even an Orthodox Christian who might want to learn more about his or her faith.
To learn more about Bringing Jesus to the Desert click here
Monday, December 3, 2012
If you want a very low key spiritual retreat during the crazy month of December than this book is for you.
To order a Kindle version of A 30 Day Retreat click here
Friday, November 30, 2012
Saturday, November 24, 2012
For more information about Bringing Jesus to the Desert click here
Sunday, November 18, 2012
Friday, November 16, 2012
He asked me a lot of questions and I told him that I felt that I was beginning volume 2 of my Schmemann series! Adam is a top notch professor and writer as well. His new book on sexuality and theology in the Eastern Church will be available sometime in 2013.
I am very grateful for the kind comments that I am receiving for the book. Father Alexander had many students and friends across the Christian Churches. I am grateful for their support too.
Click here for the interview with Adam
Thursday, November 8, 2012
I look forward to reviewing this new book by my friend and colleague Tom Dykstra. Recently published by OCABS, the Orthodox Center for the Advancement of Biblical Studies, Dykstra questions Mark's place in the Canon and the issue of what Mark says about "the gospel."
Look for this review in the weeks to come.
For more information about the book click here
Monday, November 5, 2012
This book looks like a great resource and reference for liturgical theologians, clergy, and anyone interested in the intersection between liturgy and pastoral ministry.
For more information about the book click here
Thursday, November 1, 2012
Please fee free to pass on the information to your pastor, to friends or whomever you think would enjoy reading a book on Father Alexander's theology of ministry.
Click here to order your copy of Church, World, and Kingdom
Click here to read more about the book from the publisher website
Saturday, October 27, 2012
I'll never forget those Epiphany blessings, not so much because of the food that mom served but that Fr. Paul took time out of his schedule to come visit and bless our house with holy water that he blessed in Church. The sacramental act of blessing homes is highly symbolic, reminding us that our home, the place where we eat, sleep, and live is a little Church.
Those of us in the Eastern Church should be particularly thankful to Dr. Nicholas Denysenko, assistant professor of theology at Loyola Marymount University in LA and an ordained deacon in the OCA for sharing his well documented and researched book with us. The book, The Blessing of Waters and Epiphany: The Eastern Liturgical Tradition (UK: Ashgate, 2012) is a thorough analysis of the various rites, rituals, and development of the water blessing at Epiphany. This short review cannot do this book service since Denysenko dives deep into the historical manuscripts comparing the various liturgical rites from around the Eastern Christian world. Suffice it to say his last chapter titled, "Pastoral Considerations" was for me, worth reading this book.
Denysenko is both a deacon as well as a liturgical scholar and in the end of this study he provides pastors and lay leaders with some well thought out considerations for Epiphany, drawing on the Catholic, Orthodox, and some Anglican traditions. I found this chapter to be insightful as we consider the numerous scriptural passages, rich hymnography, and other traditional customs associated with this feast.
The only drawback of this book is that most clergy and lay leaders may get bogged down with all the historical details and charts as Denysenko compares the various rites and rituals for Epiphany. It is not a drawback for the scholar but most readers I assume might not be interested in this material. The other drawback is the high price of the book which at last check was around $100.00. Of course one cannot blame the author for these issues, I just mention them as a warning.
However, for those of us who are regularly involved in preaching, teaching, and catechetical ministry this book is well worth reading, or at least a quick read, taking special note of the last chapter.
For more information about The Blessing of Waters and Epiphany click here
For a recent interview with Dr. Denysenko click here
Friday, October 26, 2012
There is nothing better than to mix up a batch of whole wheat flour that was harvested about an hour from your house from a local farmer who really cares about the land. Or picking strawberries in May, almost 4 gallons of them, from a local farm and making strawberry jelly that will last us until Easter time. Or making homemade vegetable soup made from fresh vegetables harvested from your backyard.
When I saw Fred Bahnson and Norman Wirzba's book Making Peace with the Land: God's Call to Reconcile with Creation (IVP Press, 2012) I just knew I had to read it. Bashnson and Wirzba are professors of theology, Bahnson at Wake Forest and Wirzba at Duke but they are both tied to the land. They have a fine writing style and this book read more like a series of interlinked personal stories/memoir mixed with theology and ecology with a bit of social justice issues mixed in.
There are so many themes and variations on themes that I cannot touch upon all of them in this short review. Needless to say, one main theme that is woven from chapter to chapter is that as Christians we have focused so much on spiritually, so much on Scripture, so much on our Tradition we have forgotten that we are living on this planet, created by God and sustained by him. In many ways Christianity is still infected with a gnostic spirituality, one that separates the material and the spiritual, the hear from the head, or in this case the human from the land. We have polluted our rivers, clear cut our woods, wrecked our ecosystems, and even more destructive behaviors. But what do we read in the first book of the Old Testament, that God created the world and the mantra that is repeated again and again is "and he saw that it was good." Well, if you ask me we have forgotten that basic teaching.
Bahnson and Wirzba weave their story by drawing from personal anecdotes from their own lives, about reconciling the human with the ground. They talk about common community gardens where everyone comes and helps out to grow and harvest the vegetables or communities coming together for the common good. This book of course also includes plenty of Scriptural examples of reconciliation as well.
If you like gardening, theology, and ecology, then go out and read Making Peace with the Land!
For more information about the book click here
Thursday, October 11, 2012
Shapiro was born and raised in an Orthodox Jewish family with all the rites, rituals, feasts and fasts of Judaism. However, along the way, like many people, she wandered away from that faith. Much of Devotion spoke to me as I grew up with Jewish friends and neighbors. We ate at Jewish delis and I attended several Jewish Passover dinners.
Devotion is a riveting story about one woman coming to terms with her mother who, according to Shapiro was very cold, narcissistic, and mean even to the end of her life. A low point in the book was when Shapiro's psychoanalyst said to her that in twenty years of seeing patients that, "there is no hope for you and your mother." Talking about a punch in the stomach!
We hear about Bar Mitzvah's and Bat Mitzvah's about being Jewish in a mostly Gentile waspish Connecticut, about being raised on hearing and saying prayers in Hebrew only to have found a Reform Jewish synagogue with prayers in English. On and on, story after story, of how one deals with a childhood faith which seems to have been left aside.
Reading this book through the eyes of a pastor I stopped along the way and kept thinking of all the people, in my parish, and in my life who have similar stories to Shapiro. Whether they were raised as Roman Catholics, Methodists, Lutheran, or any other faith system people have hard times dealing with that. Some folks are wounded in very deep ways. Others rebel from their faith of origin.
I recommend Shapiro's book to clergy. Her story is one that is so common today yet which is not often discussed. How we come to grips with our faith as we grow and mature as adults.
For more information about Devotion: A Memoir click here
For more information about Dani Shapiro click here
Thursday, October 4, 2012
Just look around and you will quickly notice how we have treated our earthly home: clear cutting trees for new subdivisions, polluted our streams and rivers, and poisoned the earth with chemicals. I am more aware of this now as I live in a mostly rural area with a small farm behind our house.
Making Peace With the Land is a conversation between ecology, creation, and theology and I look forward to what Bahnson and Wirzba have to say.
For more information about the book click here
Thursday, September 27, 2012
However, we cannot talk about Vatican II without talking about the inspiring work of Pope John XXIII also known as "Good Pope John" or as the Italians called him, "Ill Buono Papa." It was his initial thought about calling another council which literally brought in fresh air to a stagnant Church.
Greg Tobin's new book, The Good Pope (NY: Harper One, 2012) gives readers a very good overview of the work and ministry of Pope John XXIII as a way to reflect upon the ongoing dissemination and reforms of Vatican II.
The book is divided into three sections: Priest and Protector, The Soul of a Pope, and Father of the Council. Tobin traces Pope John's lively personality to his family whom he loved very much but also to his own pastoral career. Rather than remain in Italy, Pope John spent much time in Bulgaria, Northern Greece, and in Turkey. While traveling and ministering in these countries he encountered the Eastern Catholics as well as the Orthodox. It was this that would foster and encourage his thinking about reform and renewal.
One of the major obstacles that Pope John had to fight against was the Roman Curia and its administration. Pope John was a prophetic figure, seeking change and renewal, things that the Curia did not want to deal with. Tobin tells us that they were shocked when Pope John even considered calling a world-wide council! Yet he bucked the system and went full steam ahead, not only calling the council but encouraging the bishops and theologians to actively participate in it's workings.
While reading Good Pope John one thing kept coming back to me again and again and that was how each of us can be the agent of change in this world. Very often I get discouraged as I see the potential for change and renewal in my parish for example or in the larger Church. It is easy to say, "Oh well, there's nothing that I can do" or "Who cares if I get involved or not." These negative feelings and thoughts usually guide us in our daily life. However, reading this book showed me how one person can make a difference in the world and in the Church. If Pope John XXIII had negative thoughts he would have never called the Second Vatican Council in the first place. Yet he had deep hope. Hope that bishops, priests, and theologians could discuss, debate, and reflect upon the true calling of the Church to be the light, peace, salt, and leaven in the world, and that if we all work together great things would happen.
I am grateful for Greg Tobin and his book. I hope other readers will take time to learn more about the life and ministry of John XXIII in this special anniversary year.
For more information about the book click here
Tuesday, September 25, 2012
Many of you may not have heard of Christian de Cherge, the Abbot of the Trappist Monastery in Algeria. But you may have heard of the famous French language movie several years ago called Of God's and Men. The movie was based on the work and ministry of the monks at the Tibhirine monastery in Algeria. In 1996 six monks were kidnapped and eventually murdered by their Muslim captors. They were caught in much political and religious turmoil in the region. I saw the movie which was very powerful but had no idea that there was a book about this monastery. Thankfully, due to the work of Christian Salenson, a priest of the diocese of Nimes France we have an excellent volume about Abbot de Cherge and his views of Christian-Muslim relations.
The entire book rests on a highly ironic encounter between a young Christian and a Muslim layman named Mohammed, a village policeman. In 1961 Christian was in the French Army in Algeria working for the SAS a special section of the army that deal with administrative matters. During his time there he met a man named Mohammed who was married and had ten children. Christian tells us a little about their relationship:
"In the blood of this friend, I came to know that my call to follow Christ would have to be lived out, sooner or later, in the very country in which I received the token of the greatest gift of all."
Through the course of tense events Mohammed was found dead, shot by insurgents at his family well. Mohammed had protected Christian and his fellow monastic brothers from and uprising, and for that he lost his life. Christian called Mohammed his "eucharistic brother" because it was Mohammed's devotion to his own Islamic faith, to his wife, and to his ten children, that showed Christian what it meant to be a true monk and follow God. In other words it was Mohammed's faith that lead Christian to deepen his own faith.
In a very tense time as today, with Christian-Muslim relations at a seemingly low tide I highly recommend anyone interested in ecumenism or Christian and Islamic studies to read this book. Salenson weaves together not only a very good biographical story about Christian and his fellow monks but at the same time discusses how the Christian practices of prayer, lectio divina, eucharistic, sacraments, fasting, feasting, and almsgiving can be deepened by an openess to what Abbot de Cherge called "radical hospitality" or "friendship." It is in deep friendships, in de Cherge's case it was Muslims, that helped foster dialogue, understanding, sharing, openess, appreciation, and love for the neighbor. The monks at Tibhirine did not live in some outpost away from their Islamic neighbors, but right in the center of the village. They worked, ate, and sometimes even prayed with one another, showing the world that true friendship and co-existence is truly possible.
There is so much more that can be said about Christian de Cherge: A Theology of Hope. When I came to the end I was a little sad because I wanted to read more. I wanted to read more of Abbot de Cherge's sermons and chapter talks that were quoted in the book. I wanted to read more about the other monks who lived at Tibhirine as well. I hope that Cisterican Publications, an imprint of Liturgical Press, will publish Abbot de Cherge's writings and sermons in the future.
Today, as parts of the Church become more closed minded, more sectarian, more inward looking, we need more words of wisdom from people such as Abbot de Cherge who provide us with hope in this world which seems to lack hope.
To read more about A Theology of Hope click here
To read more about the movie Of God's and Men click here
Friday, September 21, 2012
We Sinners by Hanna Pylvainen (NY: Henry Holt Publishing, 2012) tells the tale of the Rovaniemis family and their nine children: Brita, Tiina, Nels, Paula, Simon, Julia, Leena, Anni, Uppu. As you can see these aren't your average American names. The Rovaniemis family are Finnish and members of the Laestadian branch of the Lutheran Church. I have a very solid background in theology and in Church History and have been a pastor for thirteen years but this was the first time that I heard about this particular group of Christians. Started in the 19th century by the Lutheran pastor Lars Levi Laestadius, the Laestadians are a very conservative community focusing almost exclusively on a personal confession of faith and belief and many live in Minnesota and Michigan.
This book is told from the vantage point of the children. The writing is crisp, flowing, and very sparse. Plyvainen weaves her tales of sin and temptation using minimal language, subconsciously perhaps, mirroring the minimalism in the Rovaniemis family? After all they have very little as far as material possessions and what little they do have they have to share with eleven people. At one point, Pirjo, the mother takes her teenage son out to purchase their first TV and VHS. All of their friends already had a TV.
We Sinners is very startling. The book is about the family and normal family struggles especially since their are nine children. But it's also a story about identity, about balancing faith and life which it seems is not easy according to Laestadian teachings!
I read this book with a bit of horror. As a pastor I can see how people can take faith in Jesus to an extreme. I knew a family once who were adamant about getting cable television for their house but not just cable but a new "Christian cable" company that only showed G rated shows and only Christian oriented programs. How boring I thought. Or the family who fasts very so strictly that the mother gets herself sick. Or the father who will not let their children play sports because "Church comes first." And on and on it goes.
So many Christians have become so sectarian they have forgotten that Jesus himself didn't come just for the Jews, but also for the Gentiles, the non-Jews. He spoke and ate with outsiders like the Samaritans, he ate with prostitutes, he spent time with tax collectors and lepers. In other words Jesus came for the "life of the world and its salvation" not just a small group of people. We Sinners shows us how constricting life can become in a sectarian type of Christian community and how difficult it is to live up to standards that Jesus himself probably didn't and couldn't keep. The gospels themselves show us how he broke many of the Jewish rules and rituals to teach the point that love is the ultimate goal, not the rule, ritual, or regulation.
There are so many other wonderful themes in this book I could go on and on but I won't. I'll leave it up to you, the reader, to purchase a copy of We Sinners and start reading. You'll enjoy it!
For more information about We Sinners click here
For Hanna Pylvainen's website click here
Wednesday, September 19, 2012
Clericalism is the false separation between clergy and laity, where the clergy assume too much power and control over the laity. Clericalism envisions the Church as a top--down power structure where the clergy have the final say on things and the people just "pray, pay, and obey" as they say.
Schmemann saw this as a problem because this is not the way the Church is presented in the Scriptures, in our theology, and in our liturgical practice.
Tuesday, September 18, 2012
I am looking forward to reviewing a new book that just arrived in the mail the other day called Tasting Heaven on Earth: Worship in Sixth-Century Constantinople (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 2012). It has a lovely cover of the dome of Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom) which was the main cathedral in the Byzantine Empire. Unfortunately Hagia Sophia is now a mosque and a museum and no longer functions as a center for Christian worship.
Primary materials collected in this book
- Photos of mosaics, liturgical vessels, icons, and manuscripts
- Drawings, diagrams, descriptions, and photographs of Hagia Sophia
- Firsthand accounts of worship by Maximus the Confessor, Eutychius, and Procopius
- Liturgical prayers and a reconstruction of the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil
- Sung and spoken sermons attributed to Romanus and Leontius
- Imperial decrees on worship practices
Sunday, September 16, 2012
Wishing all of our Jewish friends a happy new year. Tomorrow is Rosh Hashanah the beginning of the Fall Jewish festivals. Rosh Hashanah marks the beginning of the new year for Jews and ends on Yom Kippur ten days later which is the day of judgment (September 25 this year). Jews believe that on Rosh Hashanah the names of the righteous Jews are inscribed in the Book of Life and those who are not have ten days to repent. Yom Kippur is also known as the Day of Atonement. Both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are sometimes referred to as the Days of Awe.
Thursday, September 13, 2012
This book follows Vladimir Lossky's attempt to enlist in the French army after the Nazi invasion of France in 1940. It records his reflections on suffering; the true nature of Christian or Western civilization; the rightness or otherwise of war; the problematic relationship between Church and State; what we mean by a "nation"; and secularization. Such issues are mulled over, not as arid abstractions, by someone who, as he walks across an increasingly war-torn landscape, quite literally has his feet on the ground.
A revelation to those who know only Lossky's more scholarly works - here one discovers his rounded personality, his warm humanity, and his love not only of Christian France but of the West in general.
Vladimir Lossky was one of the most influential Orthodox thinkers and writers of the twentieth century. Michael Donley is a writer and translator, and an expert in French literature.
Wednesday, September 12, 2012
Sunday, September 9, 2012
This stunning debut novel—drawn from the author's own life experience—tells the moving story of a family of eleven in the American Midwest, bound together and torn apart by their faith
The Rovaniemis and their nine children belong to a deeply traditional church (no drinking, no dancing, no TV) in modern-day Michigan. A normal family in many ways, the Rovaniemis struggle with sibling rivalry, parental expectations, and forming their own unique identities in such a large family. But when two of the children venture from the faith, the family fragments and a haunting question emerges: Do we believe for ourselves, or for each other? Each chapter is told from the distinctive point of view of a different Rovaniemi, drawing a nuanced, kaleidoscopic portrait of this unconventional family. The children who reject the church learn that freedom comes at the almost unbearable price of their close family ties, and those who stay struggle daily with the challenges of resisting the temptations of modern culture. With precision and potent detail, We Sinnersfollows each character on their journey of doubt, self-knowledge, acceptance, and, ultimately, survival.
Wednesday, September 5, 2012
Christian de Chergé, prior of the Cistercian community at Tibhirine, Algeria, was assassinated with six of his fellow monks in 1996. De Chergé saw his monastic vocation as a call to be a person of prayer among persons who pray, that is, among the Muslim friends and neighbors with whom he and his brothers shared daily life. De Chergé’s writings bear witness to an original thinker who insists on the value of interreligious dialogue for a more intelligent grasp of one’s own faith.
Christian Salenson shows us the personal, ecclesial, and theological foundations of de Chergé’s vocation and the originality of his life and thought. He shows how the experience of a small monastery lost in the Atlas Mountains of Algeria contributes importantly to today’s theological debates.
Thursday, August 30, 2012
My colleague Adam Deville posted a very inspirational interview with my longtime friend and mentor Father Michael Plekon the author of a new book called Hidden Holiness. A link to the interview if below as well as a link to his book.
Friday, July 27, 2012
Wanted to share some good news from my friend and colleague Nicholas Denysenko an Assistant Professor in the Department of Theology at Loyola Marymount in LA whose new book about the Blessing of Waters is coming out this month by Ashgate. The cover is gorgeous and the content is even better!
Wednesday, July 11, 2012
My book on Schmemann is now updated on amazon.com but it's too early to pre-order. Will notify everyone when orders can be taken. I'm thrilled about the book coming out. Seven long years of writing, rewriting, editing, and finally it will be available for readers.
Tuesday, June 26, 2012
"Fr Alexander Schmemann was a man of tremendous theological and pastoral gifts, with uncanny insight into the world and church. In his writing, preaching and teaching he brought theology and life together in a Eucharistic approach that continues to question, critique, inspire and renew. Fr Mills shows convincingly that Schmemann’s work can be seen as pastoral theology. But in doing so, Mills has also beautifully introduced Schmemann to a new generation of Christian readers."
V. Rev. John A. Jillions
Chancellor of the Orthodox Church in America
Associate Professor of Theology, Andrei Sheptytsky Institute
“Alexander Schmemann continues to be a major voice in liturgical theology. He guided us back to liturgy as the "first" or "primary" source of theology and his work on Baptism and the Eucharist are required reading in liturgy courses. William Mills has another "first" in this discerning study--of Schmemann as an important voice in pastoral theology... Mills systematically yet very beautifully reveals another side of this great theologian of our time-- that of a wise and caring pastor.”
Rev. Michael Plekon
Professor, Sociology/Anthropology, Program in Religion & Culture
Baruch College, City University of New York
Associate, St Gregory the Theologian Orthodox Church, Wappingers Falls NY
Saturday, June 23, 2012
Tuesday, June 5, 2012
This is the Pentecost season for the Church. Those of us in the East celebrated it this past Sunday and those in the Western Church celebrated it a few Sunday's ago.
Monday, June 4, 2012
Monday, May 28, 2012
I just found out that my publisher is now taking pre-orders for my new book Church, World, and Kingdom. It will be available on amazon.com later in the Summer. If you know of anyone who is interested in the life and writings of Father Alexander Schmemann share the good news!