Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy, an abbreviated review

Many moons ago I did an interview with Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick about his soon to be published book Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy (the interview can be found here). At the time I had been listening to his wildly popular Ancient Faith Radio podcast of the same name and was intrigued to hear that the content of the podcast was going to be used as fodder for a book. Others have reviewed this book since its publishing, but please indulge me as I add my opinion to the discussion.

The book looks at the faiths outside of Orthodoxy (first Christian and then non-Christian) and provides short adumbrations of the history and beliefs of these non-Orthodox groups. In a world where Wikipedia is a smartphone or laptop's keyboard away, one might ask why such a book is necessary. To that premise I answer that it is impossible to describe the beliefs of a religious group without some form of bias. Actually, one can certainly list facts, figures, and other such humdrum data, but what people are often looking for is not to be found there. The inquirer wants to know what this all means through the prism of their beliefs and experiences. Does an Armenian look for the same things a strict Calvinist would? I hardly think so. So, to my thinking, this book is suited to two audiences. 1. Orthodox who are curious about other faiths. 2. People who aren't Orthodox, but want to know what the Orthodox view is on the beliefs of others. Both groups are served well.

This book is not, however, an exhaustive treatment on the heretical, confused, or sometimes silly beliefs of some groups. There are weighty tomes already in circulation on every conceivable group by every conceivable group. On Roman Catholicism alone I can list without the aid of an Internet search 10-20 books ranging from enthusiastically irenic to barely contained loathing. One can even delve into single ideas within Catholicism and read on them for years. If you dare, Romanides' Ancestral Sin comes to mind.

This book is instead an Orthodox eyepiece that can be used to examine Calvinists, the New Age movement, Mormons, etc. at a glance. What is more, this book does not stand alone. If you find yourself desirous of more information on a certain group, in most cases one can simply head over to Ancient Faith Radio and listen to the episode of the podcast that deals with them.

Beyond the uses already described, I also advise making this an addition to parish libraries or as a book priests can lend to inquirers. People visiting an Orthodox church are filled with curiosity and that curiosity leads to many, many questions where statements like "My mother is Jehovah's Witness, she says...," "I was raised Pentecostal and my preacher told me...," etc. abound. This book is a wonderful aid in getting through this initial stage in the "What is Orthodoxy all about?" dialogue along with texts like the popular "12 Things I Wish I'd Known by Kh. Frederica Mathewes-Green, the invaluable "Introducing the Orthodox Church" by Fr. Anthony Coniaris, and the Met. Kallisos (Ware) collection.

So get this book for your friend with all those questions. Get this book for your priest so he can have something to hand inquirers. Get this book for your parish library for the benefit of the whole congregation. Get this book to carry around with you for those moments at Starbucks where you wish you had just the right book to answer a question. Get the book for yourself and you'll be glad you did.

Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy is available in all the usual places both in paperback and ebook (Kindle and Nook) formats.

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