Friday, September 30, 2011

Guest post: Greece's Dostoevsky

The following is the first in a series of four guest posts from Herman A. Middleton, author of Precious Vessels of the Holy Spirit: The Lives and Counsels of Contemporary Elders of Greece (featuring eight Greek Orthodox monastic elders), and translator of the recently released Greece's Dostoevsky: The Theological Vision of Alexandros Papadiamandis (a study of one of modern Greek literature's finest writers). It is about his new book that he now writes. (The second, third, and fourth posts will be posted elsewhere, for which see below.)

I have been working on a translation of Dr. Anestis Keselopoulos's book, Greece's Dostoevsky: The Theological Vision of Alexandros Papadiamandis for quite some time now. The book is a study of the living (lived/experiential) theology found in the short stories and novels of one of Greece's greatest fiction writers of the past 2+ hundred years.

I was first introduced to Papadiamandis through Dr. Keselopoulos's pastoral theology class while a student at Aristotle University in Thessalonica, Greece. It is often the case at Greek universities that the professor uses one of his own books for the course, and in this case we read Greece's Dostoevsky. I was attracted to the book initially because, unlike many theological books, it both provides profound insights while being an engaging and enjoyable read.

Too often, theological books discuss theology in the abstract. Church doctrines, which were developed through the vibrant spiritual and liturgical life of the Church and Her faithful, are often presented as abstract teachings based on Biblical passages. Greece's Dostoevsky is unusual in this regard. Dr. Keselopoulos discusses doctrines and theological concepts within the framework of lived theology, connecting often seemingly abstract concepts to everyday life.

Keselopoulos addresses issues that are at the heart of Church life, issues that are of particular concern to the Church in America and in the West, more generally (I will discuss the contents of the book in a later post). Rather than addressing these issues detached from actual life, Keselopoulos bases his ideas on examples taken from Papadiamandis's stories. This is the ideal book for a class in pastoral theology, as it provides concrete and living examples of spiritual and theological truths. PapadiamandisÕs characters, the clergy and faithful in his stories, were based on the many priests and parishioners he knew from his childhood on the island of Skiathos and from his time in Athens.

What this means is that, while providing significant theological insight, Keselopoulos's book is a lot of fun to read. The text is punctuated with excerpts and examples from Papadiamandis's stories, and one gets the sense that Papadiamandis's characters are very much based on real people. One of the things Papadiamandis shares with Dostoevsky is that he is a Realist. Papadiamandis does not romanticize the Church, the clergy, or the monastics. While he personally knew many shining examples of clerical and monastic virtue (St. Nectarios and St. Nicholas Planas, in particular), he was also aware that there are unscrupulous clerics and monastics as well. He presents the good and the bad, but he is always optimistic and slow to judge. He was a churchman in the truest sense of the term, a real lover of the Church.

What this also means is that the reader gets introduced, in a very intimate way, to a world, a culture, a society that is profoundly Orthodox. One of the difficulties with being an Orthodox Christian in the West is that our society forces us into a situation where our faith is simply one aspect of who we are. The culture in which we live does not understand our faith, so it prefers that we keep it private. Even though we struggle to live lives worthy of Christ, lives of Orthodox witness, it is easy to feel very much alone in this struggle. Orthodox countries do not always live up to the high calling of Christ either, but there is no doubt that the life of faith in these countries is more organic, more rooted, more connected with the other aspects of one's life. Greece's Dostoevsky invites us into that world and shows us what we might otherwise not see, and that is one of its best qualities.

In my next post, I'll go into more depth regarding who Alexandros Papadiamandis was, and why it matters.

Learn more about Greece's Dostoevsky: The Theological Vision of Alexandros Papadiamandis.

Posting Schedule:


  1. Herman,
    Thanks very much for undertaking this translation. We who enjoy modern Greek literature, αλλά καταλαβαίνουμε λίγο ελληνικά, are indebted.


  2. Hello Lucas,

    Thank you for your message. Writing (and especially translation!) is an often lonely and seemingly thankless task, so it's a blessing to receive feedback back from readers. I pray you'll find the book a blessing!