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The Orthodox Church: An Introduction to its History, Doctrine, and Spiritual Culture

ISBN: 978-1-4443-9383-5
480 pages
December 2010, Wiley-Blackwell
The Orthodox Church: An Introduction to its History, Doctrine, and Spiritual Culture (1444393839) cover image


  • This important work offers the most comprehensive and up-to-date account of the Orthodox Church available, providing a detailed account of its historical development, as well as exploring Orthodox theology and culture
  • Written by one of the leading Orthodox historians and theologians in the English-speaking world
  • Offers an in-depth engagement with the issues surrounding Orthodoxy's relationship to the modern world, including political, cultural and ethical debates
  • Considers the belief tradition, spirituality, liturgical diversity, and Biblical heritage of the Eastern Churches; their endurance of oppressions and totalitarianisms; and their contemporary need to rediscover their voice and confidence in a new world-order
  • Recipient of a CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title for 2009 award
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Table of Contents

Preface xi

List of Illustrations xiii

List of Abbreviations xiv

Note on Sources xv

Introduction: Strange Encounters 1

1 The Pilgrimage of the Orthodox through History 5

A Brief History of the Orthodox from the Apostolic Era to the Middle Ages 5

Perspectives of history 5

Earliest Christian foundations 7

The development of ecclesiastical centres 12

The age of the Fathers 14

Creeds and councils 17

East and West: the parting of ways 20

The Slavic mission 23

The Organization of the Orthodox Churches from Medieval to Modern Times 24

The extension of the Orthodox Church 24

Synopsis of the organization of the Orthodox churches 30

The ancient patriarchates 31

The Orthodox Church of Cyprus 44

The Church of Sinai 46

The Russian Orthodox Church (patriarchate of Moscow) 47

The wider Russian heritage 55

The Orthodox Church of Greece 61

The patriarchal Church of Bulgaria 62

The patriarchal Church of Serbia 65

The patriarchal Church of Romania 66

The Church of Georgia 70

The Church of Poland 71

The Church of Albania 72

The Church of the Czech lands and Slovakia 73

The three autonomous Orthodox churches 73

The various Orthodox diaspora communities 76

The Orthodox Church in America 80

2 The Orthodox Sense of Tradition 90

The Holy Tradition 90

Sources of Authority in Orthodoxy 100

Orthodoxy's Reading of the Scriptures 102

An ecclesial reading 103

The principle of consonance 106

The principle of authority 108

The principle of utility 109

Patristic and Conciliar Authorities 110

The Symbolical Books 111

The Pedalion (Holy Canons) 115

Tradition and Revelation 116

3 The Doctrine of the Orthodox Church I: The Glory of the Lord 120

The Christian God 120

The Holy Spirit 126

The Lord Jesus 141

The Immortal Father 158

The Holy Trinity 166

4 The Doctrine of the Orthodox Church II: The Economy of Salvation 182

Humanity and its Sufferings 182

Salvation and the Call to Ascent 198

The Song of Creation 204

The Blessed Theotokos: Joy of All Creation 210

The Dance of the Blessed: The Angels and the Saints 222

Outside the Gates: Demonology and the Enigma of Evil 234

The Church: Bride of the Lamb 238

5 The Holy Mysteries and Liturgies 277

Greater and Lesser Mysteries 277

The mystery of baptism 282

The mystery of chrismation 285

The mystical supper: communion in the Holy Eucharist 288

The eucharistic liturgy 296

The mystery of metanoia 300

The mystery of the great anointing 306

The mystery of marriage 309

The mysteries of ordination 323

The lesser blessings of the church 335

The services of prayer 336

The Trisagion prayers 338

The daily offices 339

Personal prayers 346

Traditions of Orthodox Prayer and Spirituality 346

Methods of prayer 347

Prayer of the heart 349

The Jesus Prayer 351

Hesychasm 352

Fasting and feasting 353

The Holy Icons: Doors to the Kingdom 354

Sacred art 354

The Orthodox vocabulary of worship 356

Icons and iconoclasm 357

Icons of the Lord 361

Icons of the Virgin 362

Icons of the saints 363

6 'The God-Beloved Emperor': Orthodoxy's Political Imagination 380

Caesaro-Papist Caricatures 380

Byzantine Models of Godly Rule 381

The Ambiguity of Scriptural Paradigms of Power 384

The Concept of the Priestly King 388

Dominion as Apostolic Charism 390

Patristic Ideas on Symphonia 391

New Polities in the Aftermath of Byzantium 395

7 Orthodoxy and the Contemporary World 399

The Poor at the Rich Man's Gate 399

The Grace of Peace and the Curse of War 402

Freedom in an Unfree World 408

A New Status for Women 411

Biological and Other New Ethical Environments 415

Sexual Ethics and Pastoral Care 420

Ecumenism and the Reunion of the Churches 424

Religious Pluralism in the Global Village 426

Evangelism in a New Millennium 430

Glossary of Orthodox Terminology 436

Select Bibliography 443

Index 453

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Author Information

Father John Anthony McGuckin is a Stavrofor Priest of the Romanian Orthodox Church. He is the Nielsen Professor of Early Christian and Byzantine Church History at Union Theological Seminary, and Professor of Byzantine Christianity at New York’s Columbia University. Professor McGuckin has published more than twenty books on religious and historical themes and is considered one of the most articulate spokespersons of the early Christian and Eastern Orthodox tradition writing in English today.
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"As a handbook for what would be considered the traditional Orthodox position on matters of Christian belief, thought, and praxis, it is reliable, with relatively few omissions, and well written." (CHURCH HISTORY, June 2009)

“The volume's detailed, comprehensive treatment will require and repay a careful reading. Summing Up: Essential.” (Choice, April 2009)

Throughout he writes with passion, deep sensitivity, and a wonderful evocative clarity.” (Logos, May 2009)

"[The book] will help the Orthodox to a deeper understanding of the riches of their faith and will introduce the non-Orthodox to fresh ways of thinking about their faith, and both to a renewed engagement with the life of the church." (Ecclesiastical History, April 2009)

"McGuckin's hope that his book may contribute to the dialogue between East and West deserves to be realised." (Church Times, October 2008)


“This is an unparalleled introduction to the Orthodox Church. Comprehensive in its scope, surveying the history and present state of the Church, it is also bold and fresh in its presentation of Orthodox theology and yet, or rather thus, truly traditional. Fr. John McGuckin’s inspired and challenging vision of Orthodoxy reveals a Church entering upon a ‘new spring,’ ready to address the concerns of the modern world, intellectually, politically, and socially, grounded in God’s philanthropy for all his creation.”
John Behr, St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary

“Fr. John McGuckin has succeeded here in an almost impossible task: to offer us a concise, evocative, sympathetic, yet historically sophisticated portrait of the history, faith, and practice of the Orthodox Churches in one highly readable, constantly informative volume. Poet and scholar as he is, McGuckin writes gracefully and engagingly, yet with a theological and spiritual depth that invites all of us to reflect more deeply on what is most fundamental to the Christian faith. The book seems bound to become a classic.” 
Brian E. Daley, SJ, University of Notre Dame

“This volume will be the classical introduction to Orthodoxy at least for most of this century. McGuckin is, in an ascending and unifying order, scholar and poet, convert and Romanian Orthodox priest. The book’s content is clearly set in a twenty-first century context, while being deeply scriptural, patristic and byzantine. The aroma of Orthodoxy wafts through its pages. It serves as the gateway to this Christian community for outsiders and insiders alike, because it is faithful and insight-filled while also ancient and up to date.” 
Frederick W. Norris, Emmanuel School of Religion

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