Orthodox America

 From The Book Shelf The Year of Grace of the Lord 

A Scriptural and Liturgical Commentary on the Calendar of the Orthodox Church; by a Monk of the Eastern Church; St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1980; 245 pp.


            When the Apostle Philip asked the Ethiopian Eunuch who was reading Isaiah, “Do you understand what you are reading?”  The Eunuch answered, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” (Acts 8:30-31).  Alas, many of us find ourselves in the position of the Eunuch.  We must be not only hearers of the word, but also doers (James 1:33) - yet how can we, “unless someone guides us?”

            The Holy Fathers prophesied that Christians of the last times, sincerely searching for understanding, wisdom, and salvation, would find guidance in inspired reading material, especially at a time when there are few or even no accessible spiritual guides.  Fortunately, we have available to us today commentaries on the Gospels and various texts on the spiritual life:  the grace-filled writings of St. John Climacus, St. Macarius the Great, Abba Dorotheus, St. Paisius Velichkovsky and others.  One area which has been rather neglected, however, is the Church Year itself, with its rich cycle of seasons, fasts, and feasts.  Here is a treasure so vast, and so dazzling, that lay people sometimes feel overwhelmed and inadequate to even begin to try to understand it.  Thus, the average layman is very much in the position of one who cannot understand the liturgical year “unless someone guides me.”

            There are far too few such guides available in the English language.  One would wish that The Year of Grace of the Lord, by a Monk of the Eastern Church, could be such a “guide”.  The book contains a commentary on and outline of the Church’s yearly calendar of Sundays, feastdays, and fasts.  It contains much information that is both useful and interesting about customs and traditions, the historical background of certain feasts, etc.  Beginning with the Church New Year (September 1/14), the author takes the reader through the Gospel and epistle readings of the year, emphasizing that followers of Christ must lift themselves from the earthly - secular calendar to the eternal Divine Calendar, where “time” has a different meaning, and where events past and future are already contained within the church herself.  From this standpoint, the book is useful.

            There are, however, some troubling aspects.  First, the book was written and produced by the Fellowship of St. Alban and St. Sergius, an ecumenical organization founded within the bosom of the Anglican Church, which believes in the condemned “branch theory” of Christ’s Church.*  According to the Preface, “the aim of this work is to help the faithful - be they Orthodox or Roman Catholic of the Byzantine Rite - to know the calendar…”  This means that the author sees no essential difference in spirit between Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism - a very serious error which taints the whole “tone” of the book.

            Thus we find that some historical events in the development of the liturgical year are treated as legend, or are said to be of “secondary importance” - a very scholastic and anti-Orthodox approach to Tradition - and outright errors are to be found (particularly in some of the footnotes).  For example, the author says that the Roman Catholic Church has the best-developed theology of the mystical Body of Christ, with Anglicans and Protestants becoming interested in this a bit later, while, because of the ecumenical movement only now are the Orthodox Churches deepening their understanding of this subject!  This betrays a shocking lack of knowledge about the teaching of the Holy Fathers of the Orthodox Church.  Similarly, many events in the life of St. Nicholas are called “legends”, certain miracles are “attributed” to him, and devotion to his memory is called a “cult.”  These are examples of the way the author uses a false, unOrthodox approach to his subject.

            As a reference book for a clergyman or writer, the book has some uses, as mentioned above.  But the average layman could be easily mis-guided by the book, and could even unwittingly absorb serious errors.  Therefore, from our viewpoint, it is a book best left alone.

                                                                                                            Fr. Alexey Young


*According to the “branch-theory” Christ’s Church is divided into three major branches, or “Churches”:  the Roman Catholic, the Orthodox, and the Anglican.  Put them altogether by abolishing what are called “man-made” differences and “historical accidents,” and you come up the True Church.  Such a theory, however, contradicts the clear teaching of Scripture about the absolute oneness of Christ’s Church, and also flies in the face of the universal testimony of the Fathers of the Church.