A Life Together

A Life Together

Wisdom of Community from the Christian East

Bishop Seraphim Sigrist, Paraclete Press

A little book that can be read in a couple of hours, A Life Together is also the kind of book that will repay repeated reading.

The author grew up as a Presbyterian in the USA, before converting to the Orthodox Church in America. He subsequently spent almost 20 years serving in Japan.

He returned to the USA in 1987 but has also spent considerable time in Russia, during and since the break-up of the Soviet Union. His life experience, then, is notably wide-ranging.

Broad, too, is the reach of his learning, as he cites Eastern and Western, Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant writers and artists, not to mention wisdom from folk traditions and other great religious traditions of the world.

A Life Together draws from a deep well!

Bishop Seraphim’s theological method is meditative more than argumentative, as he elaborates on the theme of Christian community from a variety of perspectives.

The central symbol on which he meditates is sobornost, a Russian word coined in the 19th century. It is one of those words that defies easy translation into English, not because we have no corresponding concepts, but because we have too many — each capturing some part of it, without being as embracing.

Subtitles of the book’s four main sections suggest dimensions of sobornost: “A life of all joined in all”, “Seeing”, “Each complete in the other” and “Prayer and mission”.

Accordingly, among other things Bishop Seraphim ponders sobornost’s etymology, its sociopolitical origins in Slavic nationalism, the psychological ground of our capacities for this deep community, biblical and theological roots, and — perhaps above all — stories of its realisation in the pastorate of Father Alexander Men, priest and “last martyr” of the Soviet era.

An Appendix offers suggestions for further reading. Bishop Seraphim’s meditations make me want to follow his suggestions.

Andrew Irvine

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