Eastern Christianity – A Reading List

An acquaintance recently asked me for a list of five or six books that could serve as solid introductions to Eastern Christianity. Naturally, I sent him 25. In so doing, I told him that I had intentionally avoided suggesting any work that was needlessly polemical, theologically heavy, or spiritually dense. Because he is a Roman Catholic, I noted that some of the works listed might rub him the wrong way while also mentioning that it’s important to keep in mind that not every Eastern criticism of what we broadly call “Latin theology” and “Roman ecclesiology” is entirely off base or fueled by a lack of charity. Moreover, given that there are few “perfect books” written about much of anything, I stressed that I did not agree with every point in the books suggested, but felt it best for him to separate the wheat from the chaff himself.

The following list is ordered roughly in the manner I personally would proceed if I were to “start over” on my Eastern Christian reading. There is a heavy emphasis on history here which is entirely on purpose.

  1. Fr. Aidan Nichols, Rome and the Eastern Churches (2nd ed. Ignatius 2010)
  2. Fr. Alexander Schmemann, Historical Road of Eastern Orthodoxy (St. Vladimir’s Press 1997)
  3. Fr. Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World (2nd ed. St. Vladimir’s Press 1973)
  4. Fr. John Behr, The Mystery of Christ: Life in Death (St. Vladimir’s Press 2006)
  5. Henry Chadwick, East and West: The Making of a Rift in the Church (Oxford University Press 2005)
  6. Fr. Andrew Louth, Greek East and Latin West: The Church AD 681-1071 (St. Vladimir’s Press 2007)
  7. Fr. Georges Florovsky, The Ways of Russian Theology Parts I & II (Nordland Publishers International 1979) (out of print)
  8. Jaroslav Pelikan, The Christian Tradition 2: The Spirit of Eastern Christendom (600-1700) (University of Chicago Press 1977)
  9. Betty Jane Bailey & J. Martin Bailey, Who Are the Christians of the Middle East? (2nd ed. Eerdmans 2010)
  10. Fr. John Meyendorff, St. Gregory Palamas and Orthodox Spirituality (St. Vladimir’s Press 1974)
  11. Hugh Wybrew, The Orthodox Liturgy: The Development of the Eucharistic Liturgy in the Byzantine Rite (St. Vladimir’s Press 1989)
  12. Fr. Robert Taft, The Byzantine Rite: A Short History (Liturgical Press 1992)
  13. Fr. Thomas Pott, Byzantine Liturgical Reform (St. Vladimir’s Press 2010)
  14. Fr. John Meyendorff (editor), The Primacy of Peter: Essays in Ecclesiology in the Early Church (St. Vladimir’s Press 1982)
  15. George Demacopoulos & Aristotle Papanikolaou (editors), Orthodox Readings of Augustine (St. Vladimir’s Press 2008)
  16. Marcus Plested, Orthodox Readings of Aquinas (Oxford University Press 2013)
  17. Adam DeVille, Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy (University of Notre Dame Press 2011)
  18. Jaroslav Pelikan, Confessor Between East and West: A Portrait of Ukrainian Cardinal Josyf Slipyj (Eerdmans 1990) (out of print)
  19. Paul R. Magocsi (editor), Morality and Reality: The Life and Times of Andrei Sheptytsky (Canadian Inst. Ukrainian Studies 1989)
  20. Avril Pyman, Pavel Florensky: A Quiet Genius (Bloomsbury Academic 2010)
  21. Nadieszda Kizenko, A Prodigal Saint: Father John of Kronstadt and the Russian People (Penn State Univ. Press 2000)
  22. Gillian Crow, This Holy Man: Impressions of Metropolitan Anthony [Bloom] (St. Vladimir’s Press 2006)
  23. Fr. Gabriel Bunge, Despondency: The Spiritual Teaching of Evagrius of Pontus (St. Vladimir’s Press 2012)
  24. Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyev, Christ the Conqueror of Hell: The Descent into Hades from an Orthodox Perspective (St. Vladimir’s Press 2009)
  25. Fr. Alexander Schmemann, The Journals of Father Alexander Schmemann: 1973-1983 (St. Vladimir’s Press 2000)

12 comments

  1. I would concur with your choices.

    I would only suggest that two books be added: “The Orthodox Church” and “The Orthodox Way”, by Bishop Kallistos Ware (or his earlier incarnation as Timothy Ware).

    1. I thought about Ware, but my difficulty with recommending him is that he’s almost single handedly responsible for giving the cloak of legitimacy to the Orthodox shift on contraception — one which may not have taken deep hold in the West but for his revisionist approach to the topic over the course of three editions. There’s an anniversary edition coming out. I am curious what he will say on the matter this time.

      1. Gabriel, I do agree with you here. I will admit my dislike of Ware, his “Orthodox Church” tends to be not too much more than a narrative and his growing modernism is rather dis-likable.

        1. Oh, on a more personal note, I knew an elderly, since passed, old fashioned Anglo-Catholic priest who referred to Ware as “a high church Anglican with a beard.”

  2. Excellent list. The ones that I have read (about half) are excellent; if the rest of them are half so good, I look forward to reading them.

    I am a little bit surprised to see nothing from Vladimir Lossky. He is, of course, more theological than historical; but the essays in his In the Image and Likeness of God are an excellent presentation of many aspects of Eastern Christian theology.

    1. I find Lossky problematic, which is why I usually avoid recommending him. However, I suppose there is a case to be made that his influence over the direction of Eastern theology during the last century probably places him on a “Must Read” list. At the same time, though, I think it’s more important for someone to get a “feel” for the whole terrain while being introduced into some of the personalities that have shaped Eastern Christianity in recent times.

  3. I tend to like diving straight into the old stuff. The volume ‘Christology of the Later Fathers’ IMO is a great place to start reading the Eastern fathers. It contains St. Athanasius’ ‘On the Incarnation’, several of St. Gregory Nazianzen’s theological orations, and dogmatic works by St. Gregory of Nyssa, including his wonderful great catechism. It also has key historical documents from the council of Nicaea to the second council of Constantinople.

    1. I thought about that, but I was intentionally trying to devise a list that would let someone get a bird’s eye view of things with a few incursions into some of the bigger questions and problems surrounding the Christian East (particularly as it relates to the West). Reading the Church Fathers is always profitable, of course.

  4. Perhaps Lossky’s “Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church” should have been included. As well as St Peter Mohila’s catechism and Cabasilas’s “Commentary on the Divine Liturgy” and “Life in Christ.”

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