I was contacted a few weeks back on the Orthodox Canon Law Reference Book by a former parishioner of Fr. Vasile's who asked if I would review it. As I am already behind on a few book reviews I took this as an opportunity to rebound from my procrastination and, instead of putting this at the end of the queue, am reviewing it first.
If the Rudder (Πηδάλιον) is a tool, it is often wielded as a blunt weapon. That's not the intended use and, as often as not when not properly utilized, bludgeons unintended victims. Much like the Philokalia, the Ladder of Divine Ascent, or even the Book of Revelation, the Rudder is not something you dive into without supervision and a flotation device. So it is a joy to read the rather lengthy introduction in Fr. Vasile Mihai's book as it provides some very common canonical questions as a first foray into the topic. He brings in the pertinent canons themselves, the historical developments involved, the Biblical and semantic arguments, and then delivers conclusions that take all of that into account for appropriate application. While this method found in the introduction isn't carried throughout the book (it would be a multi-volume series), it is a very good setting of the stage for the text itself. The appendix is a collection of excursuses on contemporary use of the canons. Things like the priest-penitent protections and secular law and laws related to homosexuality. They are short, but well thought out.
Now we move to the meat and potatoes of this reference. If anyone has ever picked up any of the canons (Basilian, conciliar, regional, etc.) they know that they are a jumble of declarations that often do not have a clear thread linking them together. This is because the canons are written in response to problems as they arise and not a codification of every possible human activity. As Fr. Vasile put it "Orthodox Canon Law is corrective and not prescriptive in nature." So a rule on not putting horses in the narthex might be right next to a rule about deposing a priest for loaning money to a parishioner at interest. The regulations have been seemingly thrown up into a tree and it is your job to go out on a limb to find the appropriate one.
The value of this book is in its organization. The "canonical index," as he calls it, is an alphabetical approach to the canons. Information on the Married will be followed by Martyries followed by Martyrs and Masons and so on. The author will give a short introduction to the topic and then lay out the canons related to the topic. If you have a Rudder or commentaries on canons, this book will be a helpful first step in knowing where to look. It's a time saver and a handy confirmation that you've looked at all the pertinent treatments of a topic. For example, while it might say that a man who is missing an eye or has a bad leg can be a priest in one place, it might say in another canonical source that a deaf man can never be a priest. Also, a single topic might receive multiple answers over the years; something answered once is often answered again as the circumstances changed. This book is helpful in tracking those changes down.
To conclude, this book does not stand alone. You cannot buy this and answer all your canonical questions. It is an invaluable aid for the clergyman who wants a convenient reference for topics that come up now and again. It was also, looking at the size of the material sorted - a herculean effort that we should all applaud.
(HCHC) - “Compiled from a significant number of canons and the commentaries of Byzantine canonists, this volume is an invaluable practical reference guide for those interested in Orthodox Canon Law. It is more user-friendly than The Rudder (Pedalion) by being organized alphabetically, according to the authority of the issuing body, and chronologically. This volume is also original in its exceptionally helpful introduction and appendices, which present the author’s contribution to the discipline of Canon Law and relevant contemporary issues. While waiting for the codification of Orthodox Canon Law, readers will be deeply grateful to Fr. Vasile Mihai for his tireless work to make the canons more accessible and to present the proper, holistic method of canonical interpretation according to the mind of the Church.”
Fr. Radu Bordeianu, Ph.D. Associate Professor, Duquesne University
“Father Vasile Mihai’s reference book is an important contribution to the knowledge of and pastoral approach to the Canon Law of the Eastern Orthodox Church in the English-speaking world. It stands in a long tradition of Eastern Orthodox canon law encyclopedias that dates back to the famous fourteenth century canon law encyclopedia of Matthew Blastares.”
David Heith-Stade Vice Secretary of the Society for the Law of the Eastern Churches, Lund University
V. Rev. Fr. Dr. Vasile Mihai was born in Romania in 1952. After completing studies in Computer Science (1976) and Law (1984), he attended and graduated from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in 1999. He was ordained to the priesthood that summer and served at the Dormition of the Theotokos Greek Orthodox Church in Greensboro, NC until 2005. In 2006 he finished his D.Min at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. With his wife Danielle, Father Mihai presently serves St. Paul’s Greek Orthodox Church in Savannah, GA.
Available for purchase here.