Introduction to Eastern Christian Liturgies
By Stefanos Alexopoulos and Maxwell Johnson
Who’s it for? The book is intended for a general educated readership but especially for students of the liturgy.
Why is this book significant? This book fills a large gap in the liturgical literature and brings the study of Eastern Liturgies up to date.
Why should you read this? Most of us Western Christians are woefully ignorant of the Christian East in general and the Eastern liturgies in particular.
Why is this book useful? This book not only gives a helpful narrative of the Eastern liturgies and their components but also contains a treasure-trove of texts and comparative charts.
Kudos. The late Pope John Paul II has often been quoted as saying that the Church has two lungs: East and West. This truth is often ignored by Western Christians, whom I assume make up the majority of the readership of this journal. Therefore, to say that this book is much needed and long overdue would be a gross understatement. The authors, Stefanos Alexopoulos of Catholic University of America and Maxwell Johnson of Notre Dame, are both masters of liturgical history and thus very well suited to the enterprise. In addition, each is heavily invested in the rites of the Eastern Christian Churches. This comes out clearly in their obvious affection for the rites and frequent references to Armenians, Copts, et al. with whom they are in personal contact.
Implications. The book concludes with a chapter on the ethos and spirituality of Eastern Christian liturgy. There, with remarkable economy, the authors synthesize the primary elements that characterize Eastern Christian liturgy as a whole: doctrine, hymnology, a biblical basis, centrality of the Cross, a monastic perspective and inspiration, sacramentality, space, posture and iconography. My only surprise is that there was no particular section on the Theotokos, Mary, who features so prominently in Eastern liturgies, much more so than in the West.
The concluding section of the book is a frank and sober assessment of the challenges that face the Eastern Churches today. Many of these challenges are political and cultural because some of these churches have often survived under persecution (and some still do) and some are living in a diaspora, somewhat like islands in alien cultures. Here one can appreciate in high relief the challenge that faces all religious traditions today – how to maintain the identity of a tradition and at the same time genuinely encounter contemporary culture.
Alexopoulos, Stefanos and Maxwell Johnson. Introduction to Eastern Christian Liturgies. Alcuin Club Collections 96. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2021. xli+419 pages. $59.95. ISBN: 9780814663554.