62 of 67 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
I have read (and re-read much of) "The Mountain of Silence," though I confess that I have yet to resume "Gifts of the Desert" after reading 60 pages and losing interest. For this reason, it would be unfair to officially call this my third book by Kyriacos Markides, but I have read enough of him to know what to expect... for the most part.
"The Mountain of Silence" is one of those books about Orthodoxy that "broke through" the Orthodox world and has become better known. It is one I have recommended to many people. In recommending that book, though, I also provide with the recommendation a piece of advice: Listen to everything Fr. Maximos says, but be very careful of the author's interpretation of his words. He's often off just by a bit, but that's enough to cause big issues. For me, "The Mountain of Silence" is 85% really good stuff, and that good stuff is incredibly engaging and powerful. This book was a bit different...
The sociological and... shall we say, syncretistic... worldview from which the author approaches topics of Orthodox spirituality (or "mysticism," as it is often referred to, though I have hesitations about using this word) are often what made me pause when reading "The Mountain of Silence." As I said, he is sometimes just a little bit off in his understanding, but he's off enough to give me pause in recommending the book. At other times - and far more rarely - he is far more than being just a little off; he outright wrong in his understanding of certain theological truths. In this book, I would say that about 40% of it is really good stuff; 35% is basically travelogue with the author's own insights and observations (this will be interesting to some, less so to others); the remaining 25%, however, focusses on the author's view of various theological topics, and this part is, again, sometimes just a little off; at other times (and more often than in "Mountain...") it is just plain wrong. This makes me nervous in recommending this book.
The book recounts more of the authors conversations with "Fr. Maximos," both in Boston and in Cyprus. It also recounts some of his experiences on Mount Sinai (at St. Catherine's monastery) and on Mount Athos. The biggest problem with the book is that the sense of discovery and the drive to enter deeper into the mysteries of Orthodoxy seems much less "urgent," in a way. There is less excitement an discovery and awe before the beauty, wisdom, and peace of Orthodoxy. I think the reason for this is fairly simple:
In "The Mountain of Silence," Fr. Maximos was our guide. We had someone intimately connected with the Living Tradition of Orthodoxy through experience, and he took us by the hand and guided us into that Mystery, little by little. In this book, it felt much more like the author was trying to do the same thing, saying excitedly all along, "Look at it from MY perspective!" The problem is that, with Fr. Maximos, we had someone who had humbled himself before the Church and had developed the mind of the Church and the mind of the Fathers. He was passing along what the Holy Spirit had taught him. With Markides, we are getting someone with (forgive me for this!) much less humility, as he is not sharing a mindset provided by the Holy Spirit and experience within the ascetic Life of the Church in Christ but of a mixture of what he has been taught by figures such as Fr. Maximus mixed in with his sociological and ecumenical perspective. His worldview causes him to misunderstand the relation of the Orthodox Church and Christ, Who is Truth. This worldview, while not explicitly stated, can be read between the lines of his words.
Even without much theological knowledge, I suspect that many simply Orthodox faithful could detect this issue in reading this book. If their experience is like mine, they'll read Fr. Maximos' words with great anticipation, taking notes and losing a sense of time in his words; they'll read through Markides' comments, however, fully aware of time and without the sense of joy and peace that accompany Fr. Maximos' teachings. The problem is simple: I want to read a voice from the Life of the Church placed in an engaging and thought-provoking structure (i.e. Fr. Maximos with the skill of Markides' writing). Instead, I get far more of Markides' thoughts about the Orthodoxy I want to learn about, and I find his view slightly skewed in some placed and way off in others.
Near the end of the book, Fr. Maximos' discusses the great importance of the virtue of discernment, especially in relation to the virtue of love. This was a fascinating discussion. (In fact, this discussion with some other sections made me happy, in the end, that I read the book). This discernment is what is greatly needed when reading this book. Unfortunately, it is needed far too much for me to recommend this book in the way I recommended "The Mountain of Silence." I suppose I'll have to give "Gifts of the Desert" another try...
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
Markides' *Inner River* is a helpful introduction into Eastern Orthodox Christian spirituality, and most especially a glimpse into the wisdom of hermetic and monastic traditions. Readers--whether familiar or unfamiliar with Eastern Orthodoxy--will hopefully come away with some of the gems of its mystical tradition and an appreciation for the wisdom contained within, most especially a more integrated understanding of the natural and spiritual aspects of the world.
Markides begins his book by focusing on a discussion with Fr. Maximos, a former Athonite monk who is now a bishop in Cyprus. Fr. Maximos discusses the "fruit of the spirit" in the most helpful way I've ever heard, indicating the importance of each one, and how they are a progression from the least/easiest (self-control) to the greatest (love). He ties this in with the Orthodox understanding of the progression from *Catharsis* (purging/purification) to *Photisis* (enlightening) to *Theosis* (union with God). While there is a description of each of this stages in the Orthodox understanding of salvation, for those unfamiliar with Orthodoxy it might be a little confusing simply because of the vast differences between Eastern and Western theology. This book attempts to be accessible to any Christian and/or religious scholar, and I think the wisdom in it is vastly applicable, but this is not a full and complete treatment of Eastern Orthodox theology and should not be treated as such.
After Markides' discussion with Fr. Maximos, we see some of his journeying to different Orthodox monasteries such as Mt. Athos and St. Catherine's monastery in Sinai, before journeying back to Cyprus and having other conversations with Fr. Maximos. The insights gathered from these places are well worth reading, but this is not a book to be digested too quickly. These insights are true spiritual gems and should be treated with care and contemplation and put into action, not simply read about and neglected. To do this, it would seem wise to read this book slowly and chew carefully over its insights, something that is more necessary for this book than many others that I have read/reviewed.
The one frustration for me with this book was its organizational structure and style. The content by itself would get 5 stars, but the book felt a little disorganized, jumpy, and disconnected (I would have given the review a 3.5 star rating if I could have). There was a clear section with Fr. Maximos in the beginning, then lots of journeying and traveling, interspersed with the author's thoughts on salvation and the wisdom and mysticism of other religions, then more thoughts from Fr. Maximos. It wasn't clear to me why these things were all in the same book, though they certainly were mostly about "Orthodox spirituality" they were only very loosely related, which made the narrative choppy. I also struggled a bit with the format, because there is a large portion of dialogue, which is really primarily monologue with a few interspersed leading questions, which felt artificial. Again, this is not so bad as to obscure the content, but I would have preferred something more smoothly connected. I came away with the book wondering a bit why it was titled "Inner River"...if he mentions a specific metaphor or analogy between a river and spirituality, I missed it and it wasn't prominent in the book. With such a wonderful title, I would have liked to have had a clearer understanding of how it was connected to the material and have that image woven throughout the text (though the subtitle "A Pilgrimage to the Heart of Christian Spirituality" is apt, though I would amend it specifically to Orthodox Christian spirituality, since it is fairly unique to that tradition.)
As a final note, Markides spends a portion of the book discussing his own thoughts about salvation, hell, and the research of near death experiences. I resonated with these sections, but they would probably discourage more conservative readers. This is another place where Western readers unfamiliar with Orthodoxy might struggle with his interpretations of hell, because they follow the pattern of something like Kalomiros' "The River of Fire", and don't fit as neatly into the general categories of exclusivist, inclusivist, universalist understandings of salvation since the Orthodox conception of hell differs from the traditional Protestant/Catholic conceptions. But, regardless what one things about these sections, it shouldn't take away from the vast majority of the book and the wisdom to be gained from an understanding of the Christian mystical and monastic traditions.
Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this book for free from Multnomah Publishing's "Blogging for Books" program in exchange for this review.