5 books on Orthodox Christianity to read during Orthodoxy Awareness Month
(REVIEW) October is Orthodoxy Awareness Month. Orthodox Christian Fellowship (OCF), a leading Eastern Orthodox student organization, dedicated the month of October to raising awareness about the OCF in the Orthodox community and introducing the Orthodox faith to non-Orthodox students on college campuses across the country.
The Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States dedicated on the first Sunday of October to the recognition of Orthodox students in their local parishes and to the financial support of the OCF.
This month, the OCF is hosting virtual events, social media contests and prayer services on college campuses across the country. The OCF encourages Orthodox people to invite their friends to local Orthodox churches or to write a letter to someone in prison, a initiative organized by Orthodox Christian Prison Ministry.
While less than 1% of Americans identify as Orthodox Christians, the history of the Orthodox Church in North America dates back to the second half of the 18th century. The first Orthodox parish was founded in 1768 in St. Augustine, Florida by the first colony of Greek immigrants. Almost three decades later, the arrival of St. Herman and a group of eight monks on Kodiak Island in 1794 planted a seed for the Orthodox Church in North America. Since then, Alaska has been a spiritual cradle of Orthodox Christianity on the mainland. North America has given the Orthodox world more than 15 saints, five of whom were from Alaska.
Orthodoxy Awareness Month aims to remember the long and storied history of Orthodoxy in America and the contributions that Orthodox Christians have made to American culture, history and public life. Although often overlooked by scholars and underestimated by the media, Orthodox Christianity and its teachings have much to offer Western culture.
Here are five books to read to better understand the history and theology of the Orthodox Church, the lives of the saints, and the evolution of the Orthodox faith in the northernmost state of the United States.
“The Orthodox Church – An Introduction to Eastern Christianity” is an Orthodox classic.
The book was written nearly 60 years ago by Timothy Ware (Metropolitan Kallistos). Over the past six decades, the book has become very popular and is used as a textbook in universities and seminaries around the world.
The book is divided into three parts. The first part follows the historical development of the Orthodox Church. Part II provides a general introduction to Orthodox doctrine, teachings and worship. The last part talks about bridging the gap between the Catholic West and the Orthodox East.
This book is suitable for Orthodox and non-Orthodox readers and can serve as a practical guide to Orthodoxy.
On August 24, 2022, Metropolitan Kallistos died (or, as the Orthodox say, fell asleep in the Lord) at the age of 87. He is remembered as a world-renowned scholar and beloved teacher.
Kyriacos Markides, a sociologist of religions at the University of Maine, wrote “The Mountain of Silence: A Search for Orthodox Spirituality”. Markides grew up Orthodox in Cyprus, his home country. He gave up the faith and later in life returned to the Orthodox Church.
The book follows Father Maximos (Bishop Athanasios of Limassol in Cyprus) on his journey to establish monasteries and churches on the divided island of Cyprus, where communities are divided between Greek and Turkish influence. This moving story is enriched with details of the tragic history of the island and the Turkish invasion in July 1974.
Until the arrival of Father Maximos in Cyprus, monasticism disappeared and was considered irrelevant. However, Father Maximos’ mission breathed new life into the island’s Orthodox Church. Many Cypriots have found comfort and relief from their personal problems in the spirituality and faith of Father Maximos.
In a unplugged religion interview, Rod Dreher praised the book saying it left a lasting impression on him.
“This is the book that I have recommended more than any other to Orthodox investigators. It is set at a very basic level but it gives you a real idea of how Orthodox people think about prayer and spirituality” Dreher also thanked Father Maximos for bringing him to Orthodoxy through his testimony in Markides’ book.
Father Spyridon Bailey is a convert to Orthodox Christianity. He is a priest of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR), serving in England and Ireland. The book follows his life-changing journey the heart of Orthodox spirituality and monasticism on Mount Athos.
During his stay on Mount Athos, Father Spyridon met monks and hermits who live their Orthodox faith and share the wisdom of their life. Her book provides insight into this sacred, all-male community.
Mount Athos, called the Sacred Mountain, is an isolated peninsula 30 miles long by 10 miles wide in northern Greece. The peninsula is home to 20 Orthodox monasteries and around 2,000 Greek, Serbian, Bulgarian, Russian and other monks. These monks live in constant prayer and asceticism to achieve unity with God. For non-Orthodox people, the best way to describe Mount Athos would be a Christian Tibet.
Saint Nikolai Velimirovich of Zhicha wrote in Serbian that Mount Athos is: “An empire without a crown, a nation without an army, a country without women, wealth without money, wisdom without education…”
The arrival of Saint Herman and a group of eight monks on this island on September 24, 1794 planted a seed for the Orthodox Church in the region. “Orthodox Alaska: A Theology of Mission” by Archpriest Michael Oleska explains how Alaska became the spiritual cradle of Orthodox Christianity in North America.
The book is divided into three parts. The first part covers the historical background of Alaskan Orthodoxy. The second part talks about the Orthodox mission of Alaska. Part Three addresses the difficult times of the federal government’s suppression of Orthodoxy in Alaska and Alaska’s enduring Orthodox legacy.
“Orthodox Alaska: A Theology of Mission” gives well-deserved credit to Alaska Natives for their role in the process of creating native Orthodox culture.
Oleksa was an Orthodox missionary from Alaska for nearly half a century. He completed his doctoral work in Church History and Patristics at the Orthodox Theological Faculty in Presov, Slovakia in 1988. He then spent a year of research and teaching at the Holy Patriarch Theological Institute Tikhon of Moscow. In 1996 he was elected Dean of St. Herman Seminary in Kodiak, Alaska.
Known for his missionary work and the history of the Orthodox Church in the northernmost state in the United States, Father Oleska is a leading expert on Orthodoxy in Alaska. His expertise makes him a go-to person for talking about the Orthodox Church in Alaska, and his “Orthodox Alaska: A Theology of Mission” is the most comprehensive book, if not the only one of its kind.
Long before popular podcasts”The Bible in a Year with Fr. Mike Schmitz” and “Bible 365 with Rabbi Dr. Meir Soloveichikthere was “The Prologue of Ohrid”, written by Saint Nikolai of Zhicha. Although not about the Bible, this seminal work covers the lives of saints, hymns, reflections and homilies for each day of the year.
Saint Nikolai Velimirovich of Zhicha is one of the most influential Orthodox theologians of the 20th century. His hard work, theological depth and oratorical skills earned him the nickname “Serbian Chrysostom”, after Saint John Chrysostom, an early church father known for his preaching and public speaking and for composing the most commonly used Sunday liturgy in Orthodox churches today.
“The Ohrid Prologue” was originally published in 1926. In 2017, the text was translated from Serbian, edited by Bishop Maxim of the Serbian Orthodox Diocese of Western America and published by San Sebastian Orthodox Press. In addition to the new translation, this edition includes many new saints from the Orthodox world that are not found in the original version.
Saint Nicholas’ prologue is well known and widely read among Orthodox Christians around the world. Many Orthodox Christians find this book an inspiring guide to the lives of the saints and the wisdom of the Church. In addition to the various editions that can be found on the Internet, the Australian and New Zealand Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, has posted the full version of the prologue on its website.
Jovan Tripkovic is a graduate student and teaching assistant at the University of Wyoming and a contributor to ReligionUnplugged.com and other publications.