Outstanding new books focus on Blessing of Water, Philokalia

Two recently published books, exploring the Blessing of Waters, Epiphany, and the Philokalia, are a “must” for those seeking to deepen their understanding of these subjects.

The Blessing of Waters and Epiphany: The Eastern Liturgical Tradition
  • The Blessing of Waters and Epiphany: The Eastern Liturgical Tradition, Nicholas E. Denysenko (Ashgate Publishing, 2012); www.ashgate.com.

This book examines the historical development of the blessing of waters and its theology in the East, with an emphasis on the Byzantine tradition.  Exploring how Eastern Christians have sought these waters as a source of healing, purification and communion with God, Deacon Nicholas unpacks their euchology and ritual context. He presents an alternative framework for understanding the activity of the Trinity, enabling readers to encounter a vision of how participants encounter God in and after ritual. This is informative for contemporary theologians, historians, pastors and students.

Contents include the early history of the blessing of waters in the 8th–10th centuries, the 11th–13th centuries, and the 14th–16th centuries; the origins of the ‘Great are You’ prayer; memory and praise of the Lord’s theophany; Epiclesis and the gift of the Holy Spirit; Pastoral considerations; and detailed appendices and bibliography.

Deacon Nicholas is Assistant Professor of Theological Studies at Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, and an ordained deacon of the Orthodox Church in America. He earned his B.S. in Business from the University of Minnesota (1994), his M.Div. from St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary (2000), and a Ph.D. in liturgical studies from The Catholic University of America in 2008.  He has published several articles in Studia Liturgica, Worship, St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly, and Theological Studies.  His current research projects include an analysis of Orthodox architecture in America and the theology of Chrismation in the Byzantine rite.

The Philokalia: A Classic Text of Orthodox Spirituality
  • The Philokalia: A Classic Text of Orthodox Spirituality, foreword by Kallistos Ware, eds. Brock Bingaman and Bradley Nassif (Oxford University Press, 2012); www.amazon.com.

This is a collection of scholarly essays on the foremost spiritual classic of the Eastern Orthodox Church.  Bishop Kallistos Ware from Oxford University wrote the foreword, and was the featured speaker for the department of Biblical and Theological Studies at North Park University, Chicago, in 2011.  A ecumenical team of scholars from the Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant traditions wrote essays.  These include Rowan Williams (Archbishop of Canterbury), Andrew Louth (Durham University), John McGuckin (Columbia University, NY), Douglas Burton-Christie (Loyola Marymount, L.A.), Verna Harrison (Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Seminary, MA), Mary Cunningham (Nottingham University, U.K.), John Chryssavgis (advisor to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew), Bradley Nassif (North Park University) and others.

The word Philokalia literally means “love of that which is altogether good and beautiful.”  After the Bible, it is the most influential collection of spiritual writings in the Eastern Orthodox Church.  It contains key monastic texts from the 4th to 15th centuries in the Byzantine Empire.  First published in Greek in 1782 by two monks from Mt. Athos, the Philokalia includes works by authors such as Mark the Ascetic, Maximus the Confessor, Peter of Damascus, Simeon the New Theologian, and Gregory Palamas.  Surprisingly, this important collection of spiritual writings has received little scholarly attention until now.  With the growing interest in Orthodox theology at the dawn of the 21st century, the need for a substantive resource for Philokalic studies has become increasingly evident. The purpose of the present volume is to remedy that lack by providing a collection of scholarly essays of the highest caliber that will introduce readers to its background, motifs, authors, and relevance for contemporary life and thought.

Together, Nassif and Bingaman produced the first major study of the Philokalia that has ever been written.  Dr. Vigen Guroian, Professor Eastern Christianity at the University of Virginia, describes the accomplishment:  “It is not just that this volume…is much needed and long overdue, but that the range, breadth, and erudition of the contributions in it are breathtaking.  At a time in which the term ‘spirituality’ has become a dodge from substantial religious conviction and serious religious practice, the Philokalia instructs in a way of prayer and spiritual discipline that has muscle and commands attention.  This volume will stand for some time as the definitive introduction to the Philokalia and by way of this, also, to the Orthodox theological tradition.”