A scholar’s personal exploration of the mystical side of Eastern Orthodoxy.
Exploring mysticism first as an academic but then also as a believer, Markides (Sociology/Univ. of Maine; Gifts of the Desert: The Forgotten Path of Christian Spirituality, 2005, etc.) shares a variety of experiences that have most recently shaped his understanding of the subject. Much of the book revolves around Father Maximos, a respected monk at Mount Athos, a leading center of Greek Orthodox monasticism. Through multiple conversations with Father Maximos, the author shares monastic wisdom on a wide array of topics, including the seven fruits of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. On one visit to Cyprus, Markides and his wife visited an aging novelist and engaged him in a lengthy discussion about the existence or nonexistence of an afterlife. In another chapter, the author chronicles his visit to St. Catherine Monastery at Mt. Sinai, where he viewed its ancient artistic and historical treasures and climbed the holy mountain where Moses received the Ten Commandments. As a student of world religions and a sociologist, Markides sees Orthodoxy from a larger perspective: “I realized that what many Western intellectuals searched for in the ashrams of India and the lamaseries of Tibet—that is, an experiential pathway to the Divine—has been all along within the very heart of Christianity.” The author succeeds in providing a meaningful look at Orthodoxy and mysticism, but his use of extended dialogue is often forced. Nonetheless, Markides creates a useful collage of contemporary Eastern Orthodoxy, “an integrated system of spiritual practices within Christianity that can lead to a direct experience of God.”
A flawed but worthwhile glimpse at a rich tradition.