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Wednesday, May 18, 2005

A Monk and a Pope or What I'm Reading Right Now

I am usually reading at least two or three books at the same time. I'm not boasting. In fact, I consider this one of my flaws (though not one of the greater ones). I typically have one religious book at hand as well as one work of fiction. Occasionally, I may also be into something political or a biography. I wish I could focus my attention on one thing at a time, but alas, I cannot.

The two book occupying my mind at the moment are:

Journey Back to Eden: My Life and Times Among the Desert Fathers by Mark Gruber

The author is an American Benedictine monk who teaches anthropology at St. Vincent College in Latrobe, PA. For his doctoral research, he spent a year or so visiting and living in Coptic monasteries in the Sahara desert. This wonderful book was the result. It is his log of his time in Egypt.

Personally, one of my great desires is to visit Egypt and at least see the types of ancient desert monasteries he writes about. He focuses on the liturgical life of the Coptic monks, their forms of piety, and some of their theological reflections on sin, temptation, and grace. He gives insights into their cycles of fasting and feasting, their austerity, and their tremendous joy under hardship. He noted that Coptic monks are quite a bit more rigorous than Western monks. For instance, they go to pray for up to six hours at a time, standing, singing the entire psalter every day. He tells of attending a Christmas Eve service that lasted from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m.

I have often been intrigued by the life of the Christian churches in Muslim countries. Christians in Egypt are a despised minority, though they probably fare somewhat better than in many other countries in the region.

Windswept House: A Vatican Novel
by Malachi Martin

This is the second time I've read this fascinating and exciting book. Malachi Martin, now deceased, once worked closely with Pope John XXIII at the Vatican, so he is well acquainted with life in that most rarified of settings.

I was previously blown away by his documentary dramatization of several true modern case studies of demonic possession and their exorcisms in his work: Hostage to the Devil. That's well worth reading too, as long as you don't mind being completely freaked out.

Windswept House is what I would call a Vatican thriller. The halls of Vatican City become the battleground between good and evil, boiling over and scalding characters and settings around the world. It could have been re-titled Satan at St. Peter's. In a near apocalyptic drama, Martin uses the occasion to comment sagely on real spiritual issues undermining the Roman Catholic Church (and the rest of us too). It's fiction. . . I think. A real page-turner.

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Anonymous said...

Fr. Gruber is excellent. He spoke several times at the Newman Center serving Pitt, CMU, and Chatham. I've read most of his book on the Copts, and hope that he'll do a similar things for the Egyptian Church.


PS How about Episode III? See it yet?

Pastor Scott Stiegemeyer said...

Actually, I'm going to wait a few minutes before going to see Episode III, once the crowds die down. I've read so doggone much about that it seems like I've already seen it. You??

Anonymous said...

Yep, I've seen it, and it was great. Quite grim--the PG-13 was well-warranted. When I heard that Lucas was saying that younger children should not see it (but why did he still MARKET it to kiddies?!), I first thought that is was perhaps exagerrated concern, but at the end, I was quite surprised myself. But it is an awesome movie, and I was happy to see ol' George pull it together at the end.--Jerry

Athanasios said...

Hi Scott. The Gruber book sounds interesting. I've been reading "The sayings of the desert fathers" as a devotional for a year or so, really good stuff.

While I'm not Coptic, I am Orthodox. There is a great Orthodox Monastery in Pennsylvania, just north of Scranton. One of the larger ones here in the US. The services are in English, you might find it interesting if you're ever over that way.

Great blog, I'm blogmarking it now.

Pastor Scott Stiegemeyer said...

I'm glad to hear that Episode III is good finale. I recently re-watched Phantom Menace and was amazed at how cornball it is.

Pastor Scott Stiegemeyer said...

Thanks for the recommendation of the monastery. I'll look into paying a visit. Do you know if they'd allow an unrepentant Western Christian go on a personal retreat among them?

Athanasios said...

I'm' not sure, I sent them an email, we'll see. Or you could call them.

St.Tikons is pretty heavy duty. There is another one I visited in upstate New York that I know would accept anyone. It is New Skete. They have a mens monastery, womens, and a group called Companions of New Skete, married folk who live there and have housing for visitors. They are about the friendliest monastics I've ever met. I know that's a long way but if you ever needed time away to refresh, New Skete is awesome and they are accomadating to anyone.

Good luck.

Athanasios said...

Whoops, here's an address for new skete They raise German Shepherds also, they are famous for that.

And if I knew you better I'd give you a hard time about the "unrepentant Westerner". Tsk tsk tsk...I guess there are worse things, especially since I were one for 35 years! :)

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