26 March 2009

Books from the Monastery!

I realised well after the fact that in my earlier post I missed one of the more Logismoi-relevant aspects of my trip to Holy Archangels last weekend: the three books I acquired! First among these were two of Constantine Cavarnos’s ‘Modern Orthodox Saints’ series, both of which I had previously read but did not yet own. The first was Volume 2, on the famous Kollyvades Father, St Macarius of Corinth, containing inter alia Cavarnos’s translation of selected passages from the introduction to the Greek Philokalia (unwisely omitted by the editors of the English edition). The second was Volume 10, on Saints Raphael, Nicholas, and Irene of Lesvos, which tells the truly incredible story of the supernatural events by which these Saints manifested themselves some sixty years ago. I have long thought that this story more than competes in excitement with any of the hundreds of lame books about ‘ghosts’ that are out there in the ‘paranormal’ and ‘occult’ sections of chain bookstores.

Finally, there was a large red book that I noticed was being given away like hotcakes from the first night we arrived at the monastery. It turns out it is by a Protopresbyter Stephanos K. Anagnostopoulos and is called Experiences During the Divine Liturgy, although on the title page, the title is given as An Interpretation of the Divine Liturgy Based on Actual Events and Experiences of Holy Priests, Monks and Lay People (Piraeus, Greece: G. Gelbesis, 2008). This latter title is actually more suggestive of the organisation of the material inside, as I see from the Table of Contents (unfortunately placed, Greek style, in the back) that the book is quite carefully organised on the basis of the various parts of the Divine Liturgy, with Part I being ‘The Liturgy of the Catechumens’ and Part II being ‘The Liturgy of the Faithful’, and various chapters in each bearing the title of some hymn or litany or portion of the Liturgy. Within this structure, the primary element is the experiences, that is, anecdotal stories that relate to the theme in question and printed in bold type. These are followed by the comments of Fr Anagnostopoulos, explaining the significance of the story for understanding the Liturgy and printed in standard type. Here is an extremely brief example (most are much longer), found in Pt. I, Chapter 4, ‘The Small Entrance’, on p. 129:

57. Once, says St Chrysostom, he met a priest who was deemed worthy to witness a large number of Angels, clothed in bright, robes luminous like the sun. They had gathered around him escorting him to the Small Entrance. And something more awesome: he was deemed worthy to be carried up and to be offered their help to perform the Entrance! Next, he says, he saw them surrounding the Holy Table, bowing their heads with great respect. Then again standing in silence and at times chanting liturgical hymns together with the chanters, escorting them in such melody, to the extent that the priest would literally melt. (Gregory Hieromonk, ‘The Divine Liturgy, commentary’, Domus publications, p. 178)

The Small Entrance accompanied by the Gospel book symbolizes the coming and presence of the Lord to the world. It is a silent revelation; this is why the Holy Gospel book is presented closed.

The gifts of Christ during the Divine Worship are great and inconceivable with the so-called Small Entrance through the Holy Gospel.

Fr Anagnostopoulos is clearly not ignorant of the historical study of the Liturgy, noting in the chapter I have already mentioned, for instance, that until the 7th century the Small Entrance was the beginning of the Liturgy itself (p. 147). But such things are far from his primary concern, which is really the spiritual and mystical significance of what is taking place, and the author clearly draws a great deal upon the various Patristic commentaries in elucidating this significance.

Unfortunately, the book is not without the typographical errors and over-literalisms (bad translations from the Greek) that are all too typical of Greek publications in English. I found, for instance, this sentence: ‘Only in certain verses [of the Old Testament] the Holy Trinity was projecting some of its rays from its three-glow Divinity and thus peoples’ hearts were somewhat enlightened’ (p. 120). But based on a brief glance these do not seem to be overwhelming here. Another complaint is the citations from the Fathers—they are nearly always from Migne and make no reference to common English editions of these works. Finally, there are the size and price of the book: an enormous, forty-dollar paperback. Coupled with the look of the pages, the fonts and layouts and such, it calls to mind nothing so much as a textbook published for a small fundamentalist Bible college. I might never have purchased it myself, but count myself fortunate, along with numerous other pilgrims, to have been given a copy as an evlogia by the abbot.

The connection of the book with Holy Archangels, one of Elder Ephraim’s foundations, is not fortuitous, it turns out. The author is one of the latter’s spiritual children, and the book contains a Preface by the Elder. I conclude with his words:

It is a fact that numerous interpretations of the Divine Liturgy which were mainly based on the enlightenment and Grace of the Holy Spirit, were handed on to us by the Church Fathers. What makes this current analysis of my spiritual child Fr Stephanos Anagnostopoulos, of the Divine Liturgy noteworthy as well as beneficial, is the fact that it is offered through the experiences and revelations of worthy Liturgists of the Most High, older and more recent ones.

I, as well as its author, wish that this book will lead us all to the genuine liturgical conscience and life in order to urge us in a spirited way, as grateful servants to try to rest the heart of His feelings so that He will be comforted, according to the Psalter: ‘. . . and because of His servants shall He be comforted’ (Ps. 134:14). May we sense that which God offered us and thus rejoice in the beauty of His eros. Amen. (p. 11)


Kevin P. Edgecomb said...

"...great and inconceivable with..."

Should that be "without"? Or is this a case of Greeklish?

aaronandbrighid said...

Perhaps it should be 'without', but it actually does say 'with'. I've reproduced this excerpt exactly as it is in the book! I'm afraid we are indeed dealing with 'Greeklish'.

George said...

I picked up a copy as well while I was there, as I was told they couldn't keep these in stock (now I know why!). Actually, some were apparently buying them in large quantities to take to their home parish bookstores. I've only had time so far to read the Elder's preface and browse a bit inside.

Anonymous said...

Opps I posted this is on the wrong post. Blame my ignorance of Blogspot.

Thanks for the brief overview of the Fr. Stephanos Anagnostopoulos book. Our priest just brought that into our church bookstore this week.

You are right on the mark when you mention the errors you tend to find in Greek to English books. Sometimes they begin to give me a headache.