“What We’re Reading”

I’m categorizing my reading list in accordance with current research projects and interests, beginning with liturgical reform.

Liturgical Reform

My reading list has been driven by my research agenda, so some of the titles might seem esoteric. Let’s start with the reading I’m doing for my current research project on contemporary Orthodox liturgical reform. I’ll begin with a fun book titled Russian Liturgical Music Revival in the Diaspora: A Collection of Essays, ed. Marina Ledkovsky and Vladimir von Tsurikov. This book contains several essays treating various dimensions of the study of liturgical music in Russian emigre communities. I read several essays in an attempt to understand the role of liturgical music in shaping the liturgical life of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR). These essays have been abundantly informative. I especially appreciated Johann von Gardner’s two essays on congregational singing, in which he recalls the field research he conducted on the practice of chanters using basic tones to sing all of the propers of the liturgy in Greek Catholic and Orthodox parishes of Carpathian Rus’. Gardner viewed chant as a central liturgical element in encouraging the people to actively participate in the liturgy. In the models he presents, which included a Russian Orthodox parish in Belgrade, the assembly was the choir, and the people appeared to interiorize what they were singing. Marina Ledkovsky also offered several essays where she discusses the continuation of the scholarly work conducted on chant traditions and their applications to contemporary Church singing in the Moscow Synodal School of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. After the Bolshevik Revolution, ROCOR was the inheritor of this musical tradition which privileged the restoration of chant traditions and their integration into new compositions that were more suitable to the theological requirements of Byzantine liturgy. The essays also illuminate the existence of competing musical traditions within ROCOR, as the musical tradition of St. Petersburg which was influenced by Italian and German styles was also maintained by Russian immigrants. One of the key questions I am attempting to address is the distinction between entertainment and engagement, and music’s role in inaugurating the people into a deeper engagement of the liturgy.

I’m also reading the important study of liturgical reform in the Byzantine tradition by the Benedictine monk Thomas Pott. Pott’s study is an expansion of his doctoral dissertation and Paul Meyendorff of St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press translated the French into English. Pott’s study offers a taxonomy of liturgical reform and presents several examples from Byzantine liturgical history to support the multifaceted development of reform. What I find most interesting in his study is the tension between reforming the liturgy to make it more suitable for the people and converting the people to the liturgy. I have discovered numerous instances of these two alternative approaches to liturgical renewal in my own exploration of liturgical reform in contemporary Orthodoxy. These approaches, of course, disclose divergent interpretations of the liturgy: some view the received Byzantine liturgical tradition as ossified and ignored by liturgy’s caretakers on account of historical circumstances, thus desperately requiring reform. thers view the liturgy as akin to a plant which matures over time, a gift given by God to the Church; proponents of this view believe that reformers suffer from delusion, and initiatives for restoration depend largely on the clergy, whose love for the liturgy should be modular for the faithful.

Becoming

I categorize the next two books under the subheading “becoming” as much of my research explores the meaning of becoming. What is a Christian? How does one grow in Christ and make one’s abode in the Triune God? How does one experience theosis in the sacraments? How might one distinguish personal and professional growth from spiritual development? For an unrelated research project, I’m reading a handbook on Byzantine hagiography edited by Stefanos Efthymiades, The Ashgate Research Companion to Byzantine Hagiography, vol. 1. A collection of essays from experts in the field, this book provides an informative overview of scholarship on Byzantine hagiography in particular regions and periods. For example, Efthymiades presents a good essay surveying hagiography from the eighth to tenth centuries, and the volume boasts an international collection of scholars who specialize in Slavic, Georgian, Arabic, and Coptic hagiography. The volume is indeed a “research companion” as many of the authors recommend research tools with accompanying bibliographies of scholarship for the researcher (note: I look forward to exploring vol. 2 of this series as it discusses literary genres in hagiography). My objective is to deepen my own understanding of the intersections between hagiography and liturgy, especially the meaning of commemorating saints in the liturgical year. I picked up this book to search for scholarly sources for a chapter I am developing on the liturgical commemoration of St. John (Maximovich) of Shanghai and San Francisco. My own sense is that liturgy has become the primary means of communicating hagiographical narratives, which shape and form participants, who then contribute to the ongoing hagiographical narrative, which continues to grow as a result of new wonders attributed to God through the mediation of the saint.

On a non-theological note, I’m also interested in the psychological process of self-improvement. How does one improve one’s skills? How does one grow professionally? How can I improve in the classroom, how can I lecture better at conferences, how can I develop scholarship that is not only publishable, but also impactful? How can I coach students who struggle with verbal and written communication to improve? I love sports and enjoy reading Sports Illustrated while riding the exercise bike. Some athletes are controversial, but many inspire me with their dedication to training for growth. Erik Spoelstra, the coach of the Miami Heat, allegedly enjoyed Carol Dweck’s Mindset:  The New Psychology of Success. Dweck essentially argues that many people stifle their own development by adopting a “fixed mindset,” which views all talent as natural and reserved for the elite. She suggests that people attempt to adopt a “growth mindset,” which entails rehearsal, practice, and viewing growth over the long run. Her argument is more sophisticated than I have indicated here, but I think there are some similarities and differences between the Christian notion of becoming and the “growth mindset” worthy of exploration. At the very least, it’s a useful read for teachers working with students.

Belonging

Many readers have probably followed the ongoing crisis in Ukraine and the conflict with Russia. As a first-generation American and grandson of Ukrainian immigrants, the issue is very personal for me. There are also deep theological issues at stake. My grandfather was a priest who belonged to a church that was considered by many to be uncanonical (this situation was resolved when the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA was received into the Ecumenical Patriarchate in 1995). He told me a story of receiving an invitation to serve at Vespers (with other local clergy) at a Greek parish during Lent, only to be uninvited because a priest from another jurisdiction said that the Ukrainians were uncanonical, self-consecrated, and without grace. In my youth, a young man said these things about me to my face. Besides anger, I felt humiliated and could never reconcile the theological vision of a God who folds the thief on the cross into his divine communion with churches that privilege exclusion on account of ideological narratives. I had conflicting feelings of belonging: I belonged to God; but did I? What does it mean to be without grace, or schismatic? The way we employ our sacramental vocabulary inherited from late antiquity matters today, because ultimately, Christianity is about belonging to the communion of the Holy Spirit.

This short story explains, in part, why I am developing a lecture on the conflicting religious narratives recently communicated by representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyivan Patriarchate, and the Ukrainian Greco-Catholic Church. God-willing, I will deliver the lecture at the annual Bociurkiw Lecture at the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies of the University of Alberta in February 2015. This means that I am reading speeches, homilies, appeals, and addresses by leaders of these churches that denote the expectations for belonging to their respective churches. The nature of this project requires devoted reading online, an acknowledgement of the reality of contemporary technology: churches can publish and disseminate their appeals instantly and broadly. My objective in examining these documents is to explore the capacity of contemporary polemical religious narratives to define the ideal Christian citizen and to establish parameters for dialogue with other Christian groups. For the Orthodox Church, much is at stake: what legacy will these leaders leave with the current generation of faithful? How do religious narratives and the employment of antiquated vocabulary depicting outsiders as schismatics and heretics cohere with Orthodox ecclesiology? And finally, what terms of belonging do such religious narratives outline? I expect that my reading will guide me to begin formulating responses to these questions.

Fun

Yes, I read for fun, too. Sportswriters and columnists give us insights into the lives of real people (athletes) who work hard in small groups during a limited window of time. I follow John Sandford’s work, not only because he writes about Minnesota, but because he knows how to tell a good story.

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