The Blackwell Companion to Eastern Christianity provides readers with an opportunity to gain an overview of the different traditions that make up the vast but somewhat neglected field of Eastern Christian Studies. The chapters in this volume offer a wide range of material relating to the histories, theologies, and cultural expressions of Christian communities still largely unknown to those outside them. It offers a chance to compare and contrast the variety of traditions that constitute what are commonly known as the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Churches. Perhaps for the first time it is possible to trace within the covers of a single book the various strands that make up the rich tapestry of Eastern Christianity. For it is only by seeing these strands in their historical context that we can begin to comprehend and appreciate what unites the eastern churches as well as what divides them. It is my hope that this Companion will contribute to a new and fuller understanding of the Christian East.
The physical wall between East and West may have been demolished, but the psychological wall between them is still firmly in place, and some on both sides of it are more than keen to see that it remains that way. The old views of a despotic and corrupt East versus a pragmatic and progressive West die hard. The ghost of the eighteenth-century historian Edward Gibbon, who characterized Byzantium as a debased form of classical culture and who saw only decline where once there had been glory, still haunts the western mind. Unfortunately ignorance of the religious history of Eastern Europe and the Middle East has been only too apparent in western reactions to recent events. Samuel Huntington's 'Clash of Civilizations' perpetuates an outmoded and inaccurate perception of European history that values divisiveness and difference above compatibility and interdependence, and sees only black and white where grey predominates. There is an alternative model that needs to be pressed into service and it is one in which eastern Christians play a prominent role.
The West has only just begun to appreciate the spiritual and cultural treasures of the Christian East, and the initiatives that I have been involved with, such as The Blackwell Dictionary of Eastern Christianity (1999) and this Companion, are intended to promote informed discussion and better understanding. There is much we can learn from the East which is applicable to our own situation, but which requires openness and careful consideration. The advancement of inter-communal dialogue and cooperation has never been more urgent than in today's climate of ethnic and religious strife. It is no longer tenable, intentionally or otherwise, for western Christians to remain ignorant of their coreligionists in the East, any more than it is tenable for eastern Christians to ignore the contribution of the Christian West. Eastern Christianity at its worst can exhibit nationalism, tribalism, defensiveness, and misogyny, but at its best it can be liturgically uplifting, theologically creative, artistically beautiful, and spiritually inspiring.
Many Eastern Orthodox Christians are still emerging from under the shadow of Communism, a shadow which eclipsed them shortly after the end of the Ottoman period. At the same time many Oriental Orthodox Christians are leaving their traditional homelands in the Middle East to join diaspora communities in the West, because of the deteriorating situation for non-Muslim minorities. For followers of both traditions the twenty-first century is offering new opportunities while at the same time posing new dilemmas. Both under Communism and under Islam eastern Christians have lived constrained lives, and the roles they will play in already existing and evolving democracies have yet to be determined. They have experienced different histories and faced different problems from the majority of their western counterparts, and this needs to be taken into account when assessing their contribution and current situation. On the other hand, many eastern Christians have yet to face issues that Christians in the West have had to face, such as religious pluralism and greater lay participation, but these will undoubtedly impact upon them sooner or later.
This Companion not only offers chapters covering the history, theology and politics of the Christian East, but also has chapters devoted to liturgy, hagiography, iconography and architecture. These topics reinforce the proposition that Eastern Christianity deserves to be treated as a phenomenon its own right, and that its contribution needs to be seen in the wider context of world Christian culture and civilization. Liturgical experience has always been at the heart of eastern Christian life and this area is well represented here. Equally, eastern Christians have expressed their faith through distinctive iconographic and architectural forms and these are also illustrated and discussed. The chapters on hagiography demonstrate the love and affection felt by eastern Christians for their saints and heroes. Hagiography offers a fascinating insight into the eastern Christian mind where familiarity with the saints of the Church, through liturgy and iconography, instils a feeling of devotion and respect for the wider community.
The contents of each chapter in this Companion are the responsibility of their authors, and although I may not agree with everything they write, as the editor I respect their right to say it. Sadly two contributors died before they could finish their contributions: Father Michael Prokurat and David Melling. Father Michael was well known in North America for his scholarly achievements and for his contribution to Orthodox understanding, and David Melling was equally renowned for his work in promoting Eastern Christian Studies and inter-religious dialogue in the UK. David Melling was an editor and contributor to The Blackwell Dictionary of Eastern Christianity, and was instrumental along with myself in conceiving the idea of this Companion. I hope one day that it will be possible for me to realize the third part of the trilogy we planned, a Reader in Eastern Christianity.
It remains for me to express my thanks to the editorial staff at Blackwell Publishing for their patience and professionalism in producing this volume, especially Rebecca Harkin, publisher, Karen Wilson, editorial controller, and Mary Dortch, project manager and copy editor.
Last but not least I should like to acknowledge the rights of the Ngunnawal people on whose land our house in Canberra stands. As an Australian citizen I believe that Australia will never find its true identity in the modern world until reconciliation with the Aboriginal inhabitants of this continent has been achieved.
Ken Parry Feast of St John of Damascus Canberra, December 2006
Plate 18.1 Church of St Symeon the Stylite, Oal'at Sim'an, Syria, c.476-90. Exterior view from the north-east (Photo: Sasha Grishin)
Plate 18.8 Theotokos and Child, apsidal mosaic, 967. Hagia Sophia, Constantinople (Photo: Sasha Grishin)
Plate 18.9 Monastery of Daphni, katholikon, near Athens, Greece, c.1100. Exterior view from north-east (Photo: Sasha Grishin)
Plate 18.10 Pantocrator, dome mosaic. Daphni katholikon, c.1100 (Photo: Sasha Grishin)
Plate 18.11 Monastery of Hosios Loukas, Greece, late tenth and early eleventh centuries. Exterior view from the east (Photo: Sasha Grishin)
Plate 18.12 Nativity of Christ, fresco. Karanlik Kilise, Goreme Valley, Cappadocia, c.1060s (Photo: Sasha Grishin)
Plate 18.13 Threnos (Lamentation), fresco. Nerezi, Macedonia, 1164 (Photo: Sasha Grishin)
Plate 18.14 Crucifixion, fresco. Katholikon of the Monastery of the Virgin, Studenica, Serbia, 1209 (Photo: Sasha Grishin)
Plate 19.1 Oalb Lozeh Church. View from the south-east (Photo: Conway Library, Courtauld Institute of Art)
Plate 19.2 Oal'at Sim'an. Reconstruction of the pilgrimage shrine of St Symeon the Stylite (after G. Tchalenko, Villages antiques de la Syrie du Nord, Paris, 1953, vol. II, pl. LXXVIIl)
Plate 19.4 Aght'amar. Church of the Holy Cross, west façade (Photo: A. F. Kersting)
Plate 19.5 Khatchk'ar of Aputayli. Stone cross, 1225. London, British Museum M&LA 19 77, 5-5, 1 (Photo: © The Trustees of The British Museum)
Plate 19.6 Last Judgement. From a Gospel book illustrated by T'oros Roslin, 1262. The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, MS no. W 539 fol. 109v (Photo: The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore)
Plate 19.7 Nativity. Wall-painting, sanctuary, southern semi-dome, Church of the Virgin, Dayr al-Suryan, Wadi Natrun, Egypt (Photo: L.-A. Hunt)
Plate 19.8 Panel of choir doors. Church of the Virgin, Dayr al-Suryan, Wadi Natrun, Egypt (Photo: L.-A. Hunt)
Plate 19.9 Entry into Jerusalem. Carved wooden panel from the Church of al-Mu'allaqa, Old Cairo (Photo: © The Trustees of The British Museum)
Plate 19.10 Cathedral, Oasr Ibrim. Plan (after P. M. Gartkiewicz, 'Remarks on the Cathedral at Oasr Ibrim', in J. M. Plumley (ed.), Nubian Studies, Warminster, Aris and Phillips, 1982, pp. 87-94, figure 4)
Plate 19.11 Bishop Marianos protected by the Virgin and Child. Wall-painting from Faras Cathedral. Warsaw, National Museum (Photo: L.-A. Hunt, by permission of the National Museum in Warsaw)
Plate 19.12 Section of stone frieze from the first Cathedral at Faras (Photo: © The Trustees of The British Museum)
Plate 19.13 Christ healing the blind. From a seventeenth-century Gospel book. London, British Library, MS Or. 510 fol. 51r (Photo: © British Library Board; all rights reserved)
Plate 19.14 St Antony and the Virgin and Child. Life of St '3 stifanos and Life of St Abakerazun, manuscript dated to after 1480 (Photo: Spencer Collection, New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations)
Plate 19.15 Processional Cross. Ethiopian, fifteenth century. The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, no. 54.2894 (Photo: The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore)
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