Ten Books of Influence

It is always difficult to say what has most influenced you when it comes to books. My Orthodox reading began when I was in college and has thus spanned some 35 years or more. I’ve read much outside of Orthodoxy, very little of which I would recommend. But in response to several requests, I’ll give this short annotated list:

The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, Vladimir Lossky. This was the first Orthodox writing I ever read, and not one I would recommend for light or easy reading. I was fascinated to learn that it was also the first Orthodox read for Igumen Jonah Paffhausen. But it opened my eyes to the Orthodox understanding of the reality of God and the necessity of our unmediated union with Him.

On the Incarnation of the Word, St. Athanasius. This is simply a must read for those who want to look at Eastern Orthodox thought of the 4th century versus the developments that would later take place in the West. My auto mechanic father picked it up and read it once when he was vacationing with us and pronounced, “That’s the best book I ever read!” High praise.

St. Silouan of Mt. Athos, Archimandrite Sophrony. A modern saint and Orthodox writer whom all would do well to know.

Christ in Eastern Christian Thought, Fr. John Meyendorff. If you want to know your way through the Councils, this is your guide.

Being as Communion, Met. John Zizioulas. I found this book to be life-changing. It’s hard reading, but it turns many things on their head, and makes sense of the Orthodox understanding of the Trinity.

For the Life of the World, Alexander Schmemann. This little book is one of the great treasures of our time.

Resident Aliens, Hauerwas and Willimon. Not an Orthodox book for very typical Hauerwas who was certainly influential in my life.

The Theology of the Icon, Ouspensky. Still one of the best introductions to icons. To understand the icon is to understand Orthodox Theology.

Orthodox Spirituality, Dumitru Staniloae, balanced and thorough approach to Orthodox ascetical understanding.

The Enlargement of the Heart, Archimandrite Zacchaeus. Disciple of the Elder Sophrony, I can’t seem to stop reading this book.

I realize that ten is not enough. I did not included any lives of the saints (the list would have been twice as long. And I did not include Scripture.

Comments

  1. says

    Thanks, Father! I’ve been looking for recent reading material, and during my recent visit to the Monastery of the Most Glorious Ascension in Georgia I bought “A Night in the Desert of the Holy Mountain.” After I finish it, I’ll have to pick something up from this (very helpful!) list! :)

  2. says

    I no sooner finished the list when I thought of so many other helpful works. “Top ten” is too arbitrary. I remember reading pretty much everything St. Vladimir’s Press published back in the 70’s. It was all good, and all helpful.

    If I were stuck on an island and had only one, I’d probably take Fr. Sophrony’s St. Silouan of Mt. Athos. However, as much help as books are, I would trade them all for the services of the Church. The liturgy and Matins and Vespers, with their hymnography, are by far the richest theological treasury in Orthodoxy. And that they are “read” as worship is even better.

  3. says

    I highly regard the Philokalia, but readily admit it’s too rich for my blood. I could read a page, or half-page a day, then maybe take a week to digest that much.

    My preference is for writings such as the Elder Sophrony and Archimandrite Zacharias, or even Met. Hierotheos Vlachos, where things are distilled a bit, simplified a bit, and exhibited in a particular life. It’s easier to digest. I sometimes think very few people would read the Philokalia were it not mentioned so frequently in The Way of a Pilgrim. And even the Pilgrim could not have read the book without his elder’s instructions.

  4. Isaac the Syrian says

    Thanks for this list Father. Even though I have a couple of these on standby in my library I actually haven’t read a single one so I am going to put all of these at the top of my list and make my way through them.

  5. Lucy says

    This is very helpful for me. There are just so many books out there that it’s a bit overwhelming. I never know what to read! Thank you for this list.

  6. says

    I recently bought 2 of the 4 volumes of the Philokalia. Since then, I wish I could get the money back! I quickly learned that merely a few words from such a work are way too deep.

  7. says

    Justin,

    I understand your eagerness, I’ve owned the philokalia since I was in college, but found it as deep as you have. I learned something from that. Orthodoxy is the real thing, and because it’s real, I have to be honest with myself and start slow (I’m still starting). It’s why I write only about what I know to some degree, and also what I’m interested in (or else the writing becomes rigid and boring). I’ve discovered in the process of producing the blog, that it has made me far more focused in my reading, in my thinking, in my prayer, in my preaching, etc. And, I think, simpler as well. It’s far better to actually know a very few things (in the context of the fullness) than it is to overreach and read things that have nothing to do with where you are. Thus I admit as I write that I am an ignorant man. I have met very few people who do not belong to that category. I have a deep reverence for them.

  8. stephen says

    Great start. My favorites (so far) : The Truth of our Faith, Unseen Warfare, The Arena, Eastern Orthodoxy and the Religion of the Future, and Christology of the Later Fathers

  9. says

    While on the subject, and at Stephen’s mention of “Orthodox and the Religion of the Future” and due to my great love for him, how many, if any, of Bl. Fr. Seraphim’s books would you recommend to a beginner? I know some of his works can confuse (toll houses and all), but are any suitable for someone new to the Faith?

  10. says

    What a joy to see Resident Aliens on the list!

    Strangely, or perhaps not-so-strangely, it was a kind of “prelude” to Orthodoxy for me. I’m not sure that’s what the authors intended…

    Or then again, maybe it was!

  11. says

    Father,
    A wonderful list I would say. Fr. Alexanders works have been indispensable to me in my formation and growth as an Orthodox Christian (though my “growth” often seems suspect!)
    Ten is indeed quite a limited and arbitrary number. I can say from experience that influential reading is often “contextual” in that it depends a great deal on the current context of our life’s journey. At time some books might be just what the Dr. ordered, if you will, while at a different stage that prescription may be all wrong.
    I would mention here that Metropolitan KALLISTOS’ works ‘The Orthodox Church” and “The Orthodox Way” were both quite helpful to meas I began my inquiry some decade ago.

  12. says

    I am cautious in recommending books by Seraphim Rose for those who are new to the faith. He sometimes becomes entangled in controversies that those who have insufficient background in the history of 20th century Orthodoxy will only find confusing. I know a number of people who knew him in his life and know that he is held great regard and do not mean any criticism of him in my thoughts on his works.

    His translation work is excellent and perhaps the greatest contribution he made to the Church. But I think there is much more solid information on asceticism, etc. in other modern Orthodox writers (Sophrony, etc.).

    Perhaps the fact that I did not come across his work until very late in my reading life has something to do with it.

  13. Michael Bauman says

    I came across Fr. Seraphim at the beginning of my journey and there is a sense in which he led me to the Church although I never knew him. There seems to be a whole generation of coverts that have a similar experience.

    I think that the most valuable thing his work does is to reveal the struggle we Americans have with the Church. I have two of his works in my library that I value: “Nihilism” and “Genesis, Creation and Early Man”. His first and last work. The writngs in between I don’t find as important or as instructive.

    When I read him, I am driven to prayer. He states the problem of modern man, his hunger for God is palpable, he even points the way to the solution, but he does not have the solution quite. Or so it seems to me. (As opposed, say to St. Silhouan, Elder Sophony, or Archmandrite Zacharias). He had no one, really, to form him in the faith. He had to dig out much of the essence of the faith on his own (in human terms). That again is represetative of the American experience.

    I’ve had to re-examine some of the particulars I took in when I read him. My experience with him is a mixed bag. His writings tend to be a bit rigid, IMO, and his desire for a monarchical Church clearly a problem. However, his continual admonition to not just read the Fathers, but take on their spirit and live it is something we always need to hear.

    I would not recommend him in general to folks new to the Church. He is too much of a ‘personality’ He remains an influential voice in the American Church but, I suspect, as we grow in the Church in this land, he will fade away.

  14. Catechumen says

    Father,

    Thanks for your list. It’s amazing how many Orthodox books are out there. I’m a relative newcomer on the journey. On my blog, I posted a reading list of various books I’ve found helpful.

  15. says

    Father Stephen,

    Thanks for the list. I had not found it and was interested to know more of the authors you cited in your posts. So I purchased and am reading On Prayer by Archimandrite Sophrony. I will look into some of your recommendations when I complete that one.

    Hope you are enjoying the Holy Lands.

    Regards

    Lucias