Inner River: A Pilgrimage to the Heart of Christian Spirituality Paperback – Mar 6 2012
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“With his engaging blend of travelogue, conversations with a wise and charismatic spiritual father and musing on the big questions of life and death, Professor Markides takes us as companions on his journey of discovery. The insights that he communicates with such enthusiasm are timely ones: here at least is a writer who challenges the seeker after mystical understanding and Eastern spirituality to discover Christianity.”
-Elizabeth Theokritoff, independent scholar & co-editor of The Cambridge Companion to Orthodox Theology
“Dr. Markides welcomes readers into a reliving of another of personal pilgrimages. His vulnerable exchanges with insightful elders prompt meaningful reflection; and these joyous experiences lead each reader to renewal and resolve of their own journey in spiritual development. The entire text is replete with enlightenment of the treasures found in catharsis, fotisis, and theosis.”
-Father Nicholas C. Triantafilou, President, Hellenic College Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology
“In Inner River, we journey with Dr. Kyriacos Markides in his quest for a deeper understanding of the mystical path as informed by Eastern Orthodox spirituality. Dr. Markides is a consummate scholar whose writing are so very accessible that his readers are ushered into a world of inquiry that might otherwise remain impenetrable. Like a trusted friend, [he] invites us to his private thoughts as he makes meaning and ponders additional questions that arise. Accordingly, [Inner River] holds the potential to transform one’s very way of navigating life.”
-Marcie Boucouvalas, Ph.D., Professor of Human Development, Virginia Tech/National Capital Region; editor, Journal of Transpersonal Psychology
“Professor Markides is a true philosopher and an inspired writer. Inner River is to date his most important work. Written in simple, clear, and practical words, it takes us to the core of our spiritual tradition, providing what is truly essential but most lacking in our contemporary education system and secular society: meaning for the mind, motivation for the heart, and purpose for the will. If you want to know yourself and live to the fullest, this book is truly a must, a priceless jewel.”
-Peter Roche de Coppens, Ph.D, author and professor of Sociology, Anthropology, and Psychotherapy at East Stroudsberg of Pennsylvannia
About the Author
KYRIACOS C. MARKIDES is an internationally respected authority on mystic Christianity. He has written several books on Christian spirituality, including The Mountain of Silence, Riding with the Lion, and Gifts of the Desert. Dr. Markides is a professor of sociology at the University of Maine, where he lives with his wife, Emily.See all Product Description
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"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...
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.
The tough question for me now is: do I give away as gifts his Mountain of Silence or this latest work? Having found the faith in Evangelical Protestantism back in the 60s, what a delight to hear of a deeper river, a faith that goes beyond the football field rah, rah Jesus rally's and the parking lot sized churches to the dark walls of smoke stained prayer rooms with mumbling old guys huddled at the klaros, the chanter stand, lost there in the business of being found with God.
Having visited St. Catherine's in Egypt just two years after Markides, his tales of his journey there were dear to me. But mostly, it's the interviews here in Inner River with Fr. Maximus that are key. I guess I should use a better title for him as he is now the top Orthodox Church hierarch there in Cyprus; but he always comes across as a monk not a prelate.
Some of my Orthodox friends are annoyed when Markides slips in his New Age approach to the Big Questions but I like it. He pushes the monks he interviews to address concerns that touch us where we live. The author's affection for his wife, his connections with workaday friends just trying to be better people, better Christians--that's what makes his book the kind you want to box up and send to your kids, friends in prison, hand out as Bible tracts.
The Eastern Christian way is always a beginning, always one more step up the ladder. My heart takes off when I hear answers like the one Fr. Maximus, a rebellious rock-throwing youth not long ago, gives a woman who asks him what he makes of Christ's assertion in the gospel that as the son of man he came into the world to spread fire.
"What else could it [the fire] be? It is the fire of god's love for humanity. Where else could that fire be ignited but within people's hearts? When that happens, everything in us that is useless and harmful is burnt out. We become purified, distilled. That's when we discover who we truly are, while becoming aware of the beauty of our souls and existence. We come to know how God made us so that we may become harmonious, balanced, and beautiful. It is that stage in our spiritual development when we become truly friends with ourselves, with our brothers and sisters, with our environment, and with God."
Markides relates so many great tales. Like the correspondence with the Jew wanting the fruits of practicing the Jesus Prayer but who is uncomfortable using the name "Jesus". The professor takes him to the prayer of St. Gregory of Palamas: "Lord, enlighten my darkness, Lord, enlighten my darkness."
Yes, give me that kind of ol' time religion. That's what I want. Buy this book.