Book on Eastern Orthodox theology

After having discussions on this forum with Eastern Orthodox Christians, I thought it would be worth while to read a book on Eastern Orthodox theology from (obviously) an Eastern Orthodox perspective. I have chosen “Eastern Orthodox Theology: A Contemporary Reader” by Daniel B. Clendenin. Is this a good book to learn about Eastern Orthodox theology?

I can’t comment on the quality, but I think Clendenin is a Protestant. The texts might be a very accurate summary though for all I know. I am sure some of the Orthodox have read it though.

It’s hard to get everything in one book.

The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church by Vladimir Lossky

  1. For the Life of the World: Sacraments and Orthodoxy and 2) The Historical Road of Eastern Orthodoxy by Alexander Schmemann

The Orthodox Church: New Edition by Timothy Ware

The Orthodox Church by Peter Gillquist was an interesting read as well.

How experienced are you with theology? (I ask because the recommendations here are all over the board in terms of difficulty)

I am not sure how to answer your question but I will do my best… I grew up calvinist Protestant and learned about the sola’s, TULIP and the like, as well as many apologetics, theology regarding salvation, etc. I converted to Catholicism while in college and I learned about the sacraments, theology of the body, apostolic succession, mariology, more apologetics, more soteriology, etc. My understanding of Orthodox theology is apparently very limited. I have thought that the differences are not that great but the Orthodox I have met have insisted the opposite. Discussing it with them has proven to be fruitless, that is why I thought a book would provide a more comprehensive approach to understanding it so that I can then understand why and how they see things differently.

Let me be more specific. How familiar are you with terminology like essence, energy, nature, hypostasis, will, species, genus, property, accident, enhypostaton, etc.? In other words, how fluent are you in the terminology used by the Greek fathers?

If these terms make your head spin, I would definitely recommend that you pick up St. John of Damascus’ The Fount of Knowledge (You can get it on Amazon for about $15 plus shipping and unfortunately tax if you also live in Texas, though I’m sure other places might also carry the book, but really $15 for a translation of a patristic work is dirt cheap). The translation itself does quite a good job in preserving most of the Greek terms, however, I dislike how it translates the term energy sometimes as operation, other times as actuality, and other times still as act. It obscures the relationship between these concepts in Greek, but overall, I think that is a rather minor flaw. The actual work itself is nice because it is patristic, it is basically a summary of all Eastern thought up to that point in time, and if I recall, it was written as a sort of crash course in theology.

The first book, The Philosophical Chapters, is basically a crash course on the terminology used in Greek philosophy and also by the Greek fathers. It is somewhat dense, but incredibly helpful. The second book details all of the Heresies which the Church had known at that time. The third book (itself split into four books) is an Exposition on the Orthodox Faith which explains a whole range of things, on the Trinity, man, Christology, and even a short segment on why the veneration of icons and relics is permissible.

If you are somewhat familiar with Patristic Greek terminology, then I might recommend John Meyendorff’s Byzantine Theology (also on Amazon for around $20-30).

If you are rather advanced in theology and philosophy, I would still recommend the Meyendorff as an overview, but if you have other interests that are more specific, let me know and I could probably think of some other books that are a bit more specific in their scope.

If you are up to the Meyendorff book above, I would recommend Christ in Eastern Christian Thought, also by John Meyendorff. It a history of Christology from Chalcedon up through the seventh council.

I noticed that I put in a broken link for the Meyendorff. This is the book.

Thanks Cavaradossi! I appreciate the time (and patience) you have for us Western christians here on CAF!

Hey, I left Seraphim Rose out :smiley:

All kidding aside, thank you.

An informative post… Based on what you have described, I think I had better go with “The Fount of Knowledge.”

I wish I would have know this :o. Will follow along after the fact, lol.

Hello Cavaradossi.

How does “The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church” (by Lossky)
compare with “The Fount of Knowledge” (by St. John of Damascus) ?

I wish to understand more deeply… just before I buy the right book ? :slight_smile:

I assigned it the last time I taught a course on Orthodoxy, although I was teaching evangelicals. It’s an anthology of some of the most significant theological essays by modern Orthodox theologians, and I think it’s a good place to start for Catholics as well as Protestants. Perhaps the essays are slanted toward issues of interest to Protestants, but I don’t really think so. I suppose a case could be made that the book emphasizes the Russian theologians whose position has a certain affinity with Protestantism in some ways, and relatively de-emphasizes the more scholastic (mostly Greek) theologians (there’s at least one essay, maybe two, by Greeks). But the truth is that the Russians are more exciting!

The best book to start with for Orthodoxy, if you don’t know anything, is Ware’s The Orthodox Church. The second half is an overview of Orthodox theology. Ware’s The Orthodox Way is devotional and a good complement to the first book. Meyendorff’s Byzantine Theology is an excellent book once you have the basics down. I read it as part of my preparation for teaching the class I alluded to above, but I agree with Cavaradossi that it requires a certain amount of background.

A very accessible primary source is The Way of A Pilgrim by an anonymous 19th-century Russian layman. In a sense it’s the counterpart to the work of St. Therese of Lisieux at roughly the same time in the Western Church–a simple yet profound piety that touches the heart. The multivolume Philokalia is excellent but vast and a bit daunting. Still, you can pick up any of the volumes and dip into them and learn something.

Schmemann’s For the Life of the World is an excellent book, and very readable. All Schmemann’s work I’ve seen is very good.


Lossky’s Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church and The Fount of Knowledge are really not comparable, because the two are different kinds of work. The Fount of Knowledge is a classic work written by a great and venerable eight century saint, which was intended to present a thorough summary of the theology of the Church to beginners who are not very experienced with the terminology used by the Church Fathers (his philosophical chapters define all of the common philosophical terms, like ousia, hypostasis, enhypostaton, etc. which were used by the Greek-speaking Church Fathers).

Lossky’s Mystical Theology on the other hand is a modern theological work, which is maybe not the best starting point for somebody wishing to learn about Eastern theology. It would be a bit like recommending Karl Rahner or Hans Urs von Balthasar to somebody interested in learning about Roman Catholicism. It treats a lot of subjects with the assumption that the reader has a rather advanced understanding of theology and philosophy. It is also worth pointing out that Lossky had his own theological and philosophical outlook which colored his works (he had somewhat of a rivalry with Etienne Gilson, which heavily influenced his outlook on Thomism), whereas The Fount of Knowledge is a patristic work which has been accepted for over a millennium by the Church. It’s not that I wouldn’t recommend Mystical Theology, but I would only recommend it to those who have a good working knowledge of 20th century theology.

Also, I think I might add another book as a recommendation for any who might be reading this thread. Michael Pomazansky’s book Orthodox Dogmatic Theology also presents a rather clear picture of Orthodox theology. It assumes though that one is already familiar with patristic terminology (ousia, hypostatis, etc.), but it presents Orthodox doctrine in a very clear dogmatic fashion without going into length about the history of Orthodox theology.

To sum it up I would recommend each of these books depending on what you are interested in, and your experience with theology.

[list]*]I would recommend Metropolitan Kalistos (Timothy) Ware’s The Orthodox Church if you are looking for a general introduction to Orthodox theology and history.

*]I would recommend St. John’s The Fount of Knowledge if you have almost no theological experience, or if you are not familiar with the terminology used by the Eastern Fathers, and are interested in reading an introductory work which will give you a good grasp on Eastern Theology by the time you have finished reading it (on the other hand, if you just want a less in depth introduction to Eastern theology, then The Orthodox Church is probably better for this purpose).

*]I would recommend John Meyendorff’s Byzantine Theology if you are familiar with the terminology used by the Eastern Fathers, and if you are interested interested in learning about historical trends and themes which ran through Eastern theology.

*]I would recommend Michael Pomazansky’s Orthodox Dogmatic Theology if you are familiar with the terminology used by the Eastern Fathers, and if you are interested in learning about Orthodox doctrine in a textbook-like layout, which presents Orthodox theology in a very matter-of-fact style.

*]I would recommend Lossky’s Mystical Theology if you are familiar with 20th century theology (I’m talking here about figures like Rahner, von Balthasar, Gilson, Barth, etc.), and you are interested in seeing how the Orthodox participated in the theological movements and trends of the last century. Otherwise, this book would probably not be a good first introduction to Orthodox Theology.[/list]

Hello Cavaradossi.

Many thanks :slight_smile:

By any chance, have you read “The Faith Explained” (By Leo Trese) ?

As I am very familiar with this book… Would “The Fount of Knowledge” be it’s perfect Eastern equivalent ?

Actually… I am asking you because, I wish to be really FULLY knowledgable in the faith (theology+etc+) and practice (rite+etc+) of my Eastern brethren… I really want to study just like going to school with Western Catechism subjects… BUT is there such an Eastern Church book that can school me all by myself to reach that level of knowledge that I have in the Western Church ? :frowning: Any nice teach yourself book ? :slight_smile:

Actually, I fear that “The Fount of Knowledge” might become difficult to grasp as it uses deep Eastern Traditional concepts… Can it possibly school me all by myself ( to the point that when I try to attend one of the Eastern Rite worships… Will I be able to catch up in understanding everything ) ?

Can you possibly propose a method of study that would lead to that level of expertise in Eastern Traditional worship ?

Hello Cavaradossi…

Can you tell me something about … "LIght for Life ( 3 books ) " ?
What’s it all about ? Will it be of any use for my purpose ?

You might check out the Orthodox Faith series, written by Fr. Thomas Hopko (also sometimes called the “rainbow series” because each book in the series has a cover with a different solid color). I think it may be more what you’re looking for, because most introductory books on Orthodoxy do not treat the subject of the liturgy and the liturgical cycle with as much detail as Fr. Hopko does. As an added benefit you can find the series online for free here:

John A. McGuckin’s, The Orthodox Church.
Andrew Louth, Intoduction to Eastern Orthodox Theology.

Both are academic Patristics scholars and Orthodox priests. Great books.

WOW! Thanks… This looks perfect :slight_smile:

In using the Rainbow Series… Do I still need to study “The Fount of Knowledge” ?

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