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  • The Spirituality of the Christian East, Volume 2: Prayer
  • John Behr
The Spirituality of the Christian East, Volume 2: Prayer. By Thomaš Špidlík. Translated by Anthony P. Gythiel. [Cistercian Studies Series, Number 206.] (Kalamazoo, Michigan: Cistercian Publications. 2005. Pp. xviii, 540. $39.95 paperback.)

This volume is a development of the last two chapters of Tomas Spidlík's earlier book, The Spirituality of the Christian East (1978; English translation 1986), and so presents itself as being the second volume of a series with the same title, or volume two of what the author describes as a Systematic Handbook (p. xv). While the two concluding chapters of the first volume covered "Prayer" and "Contemplation,"Prayer now itself covers a significantly broader range of material:The Divine-Human Dialogue (Chapter Two), Prayer as Supplication (Three), Bodily Prayer (Four), Liturgical Prayer (Five), Meditative Reading (Six), Contemplation (Seven), Mysticism (Eight), Dispositions for Prayer (Nine), and Hesychasm (Ten), followed by a summarizing conclusion. The bulk of the work is preceded by an Overview of the Sources (One), providing a brief description of the Fathers and spiritual writers, the liturgical documents, and the liturgical poetry, from which the material presented here is drawn. The range is characteristically broad, encompassing [End Page 282] the material from throughout the Christian East (Coptic, Syrian, Armenian, Georgian, Ethiopian, Russian, as well as Greek), early as well as late (including material from the twentieth century). These chapters are each divided into sections and subsections (usually a page or two), the headings for which are all listed in the table of contents. The bibliographic references to the material cited and further secondary work are provided in notes at the end of each chapter, and the work concludes with a selected bibliography, in which primary and secondary material are listed under the subsection headings and page numbers. The result is a veritable compendium of information, clearly arranged and readily accessed.

The sheer breadth covered by this volume in turn, however, accounts for its major weakness, that the information that it provides about or from any one figure, or concerning any one topic, is so brief that it does no more than provide a mention, before moving on to the next topic. In doing so, while attempting to be respectful of different traditions within the spirituality of the East, the work ultimately subsumes all the particular voices into one grand stream analyzed in terms of distinct categories, the legitimacy of which is simply presumed:the "cloud of witnesses"is reduced to an undifferentiated grey sky. Nevertheless, the work will be of use to both general and scholarly audiences; it will whet the appetite of the former, leading them on to further study, and for the latter, those who know how to contextualize its gems, it will provide a handy treasure trove.

John Behr
St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary Crestwood, New York


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