ORTHODOX / CATHOLIC BOOK CLUB
Behold, how good and pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity – Psalm 133:1
Join Us for the
2022/2023 season of the Orthodox / Catholic Book Club
Our next meeting is on Thursday, June 22, 2023 at 7 pm
in-person ONLY at St. Paul’s American Coptic Orthodox Church
If you wish to join us in person, you can find directions to St. Paul’s Coptic Orthodox Church HERE.
May / June 2023 Reading Selection
Orthodox Prayer Life: The Interior Way
by Matthew the Poor
“Saints who experience the power of prayer say it gives them wings to fly: wings of elation from being in proximity with Jesus Christ and relief from the burden of a sinful conscience. Once engulfed in the grace of the Holy Spirit, the person in prayer experiences death to sin, resurrection in the Spirit, and mystical ascension to the Father. The visible touches the Invisible, and joy wells up in the heart.”
“This volume evolved experientially: the fruit of fifty-five years of solitude by a contemporary desert monk devoted to prayer. Father Matta’s prayer life initially was formed under the direction of the sayings of the Russian Fathers, and later expanded under other Fathers, both Eastern and Western. He spent whole nights in prayer, reciting one or two passages from these luminaries and begging these saints to enlighten his understanding.”
About the Author: Fr Matta El-Maskeen (Matthew the Poor) was a monk in the Monastery of St Macarius the Great, Wadi El-Natroun, Egypt. He is also the author of Communion of Love, published by St Vladimir’s Seminary Press. He died in 2006.
Available for purchase online at SVS Press HERE.
DIALOGUE AMONG CHRISTIANS:
The Orthodox / Catholic Book Club
St. Paul’s Greek Orthodox Church + St. John Neumann Roman Catholic Church
+ St. Paul’s Coptic Orthodox Church
Beginning at the turn of the third Christian millennium in September, 2000, twenty-five parishioners from St. Paul’s Greek Orthodox Church and St. John Neumann Roman Catholic Church in Irvine, CA have gathered together once each month for a Christian book club that provides an opportunity to pray and study together, to explore our common roots in the first thousand years of Christian history, and engage in ecumenical dialogue at a grassroots level.
Originally led by Mr. Eugene O’ Toole (1928-2021), who at the time was the director of adult educational ministries from St. John Neumann’s, and Father Steven Tsichlis, the pastor of St. Paul’s, these meetings have been a structured attempt to explore a common path for Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christians in living more prayerful, Christ-centered and Spirit-filled lives. Each meeting begins with a half hour of prayer, as Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christians pray the Psalms and read the Scriptures together while remembering the saints of the first millennium that are shared by both communities. Over the years, the group has included people from many different backgrounds: lay leaders from both traditions; former Roman Catholic religious; converts to Orthodoxy from evangelicalism and Pentecostalism; Catholic parochial school teachers; college professors; both Latin and Eastern Rite Catholics; and seekers exploring the wisdom of the ancient Christian faith.
“Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christians have spoken to each other more in the past 50 years, since Vatican II, than in the previous 500,” Mr. O’ Toole commented. “With the symbolic gesture of lifting the mutual excommunications of 1054 by Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras on December 7, 1965, a new era of dialogue began that has been carried forward by Pope John Paul II and Patriarch Demetrios, as well as by Patriarch Bartholomew and Pope Benedict XVI.”
Over the past two decades more than 120 books have been read by participants in this ecumenical fellowship. Among them have been modern Roman Catholic writers on the spiritual life like Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen, Thomas Keating, Basil Pennington, Paula Huston, Ruth Burrows and James Martin, SJ; and contemporary Orthodox writers like Metropolitan Anthony Bloom, Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, Thomas Hopko, Olivier Clement, Jim Forest and Kyriakos Markides and more recently, Matthew the Poor.
“We have read books by Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI as well as by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. We have read about St. Maria Skobtsova of Paris and St. Silouan of Mount Athos; St. Edith Stein and Mother Teresa of Calcutta. We have read The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a’ Kempis and The Life of St. Francis by St. Bonaventure; the anonymously written Way of a Pilgrim and The Life of St. Anthony the Great by St. Athanasios of Alexandria. We’ve read St. Augustine of Hippo and St. John Chrysostom,” said Father Tsichlis.
In 2012 the fellowship expanded to include the local Coptic Orthodox community. Through Father Tsichlis’ contact and growing friendship with Father Kyrillos Ibrahim, members of St. Paul’s American Coptic Orthodox Church in nearby Tustin joined the book club, bringing the riches of the ancient Coptic monastic tradition of the Desert Fathers and Mothers to our discussions of the Christian spiritual life. Reading books such as The Communion of Love and Orthodox Prayer Life by Matthew the Poor, a contemporary Coptic monk and spiritual father, have had a profound impact on everyone participating in the book club.
Duncan Simcoe, a member of St. Paul’s and a professor at California Baptist University in Riverside, CA, added: “It’s very humbling to be able to able to benefit from such a strong and vibrant river of collective wisdom and insight. Having read these books I now feel that I have so many friends who have reached across history and eternity to offer me the most profound kinds of aid in my journey as an Orthodox Christian. This kind of dialogue with our Catholic and Coptic brothers and sisters is very important for moving beyond an ‘us vs. them’ way of thinking.”
This has borne fruit in a number of ways: first, the parishes began doing ministry and outreach together. The people of St. Paul’s Greek Orthodox Church have gotten involved in the work of Isaiah House, a Catholic Worker house providing shelter for the homeless in Santa Ana; hosted a luncheon to provide scholarships to Catholic elementary schools for impoverished children; and raised funds for the work of Father Greg Boyle and Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles. The people of St. John Neumann have helped raise funds for the building of an Orthodox Church in the Tanzanian village of Kobunshwi and hostecd a luncheon for St. Innocent’s Orphanage, an Orthodox ministry for homeless boys outside Tijuana, Mexico.
Second, participants have come to recognize the common roots that both traditions have in the first millennium. Jim Cordes, who is a longtime participant in the program and a member of St. John Neumann, said, “I didn’t realize how similar we are in our practice of Christianity. I’ve come to realize that in so many ways we are more similar to one another than we are different.” And Dorothea Love, a member of St. Paul’s Greek Orthodox Church, added “I’ve had a deep respect for the Roman Catholic faith all my life and as a result of this class my respect and love have only increased. Many of us have been together now for ten years, since the beginning of our study, and we share the love of Christ as brothers and sisters, truly respecting and caring for one another. “
“A quote from one of our recent books comes to mind,” Mr. Simcoe recalled: “An elder said: I have fought for twenty years to see all human beings as only one.”
Third, in looking more deeply at one another’s histories, Roman Catholics have learned of the many challenges that Orthodox Christians have faced — and still face — practicing their faith in Muslim countries, particularly in Egypt, Turkey and other Middle Eastern Countires; and the terrible persecution of the Church during most of the 20th century under Communism in countries like Russia and Romania. Orthodox Christians have learned more about the history of Roman Catholicism and the effects of the 16th century Protestant Reformation on Roman Catholic life, history and thought, as well as the history of western Europe and America.
“We’ve all been enriched by our time together,” Doris Wintrode, a member of St. John Neumann and a retired Catholic high school teacher, remarked, “These years of dialogue have been a true gift.”
In addition, the books that have been read have “given me a heightened awareness of how shallow my prayer life was and that I needed to make my relationship with Christ a deeper one,” said Ms. Love. “It’s changed the way I pray, and I now spend greater time in study and reading of the Scriptures.”
Father Ibrahim summed it up this way: “We give thanks and glory to our Lord Jesus Christ, who gathers His children from the East to the West and from the North to the South to sit and feast on the words of eternal Life, and we ask and entreat Him for the day when we will gather together around one Eucharistic Table, as one Body, to partake together of His holy Body and precious Blood.”
Fr. Thomas Merton
If I can unite in myself, in my own spiritual life, the thought of the East and the West, of the Greek and Latin Fathers, I will create in myself a reunion of the divided Church and from that unity in myself can come the exterior and visible unity of the Church. For if we want to bring about the unity of East and West, we cannot do it by imposing one upon the other. We must contain both in ourselves and transcend them both in Christ.
– Father Thomas Merton (1915-1968)
Fr. Lev Gillet
The whole teaching of the Latin Fathers may be found in the East, just as the whole teaching of the Greek Fathers may be found in the West. Rome has given St. Jerome to Palestine. The East has given St. John Cassian to the West and holds in special veneration that most Roman of the Romans, Pope St. Gregory the Great. St. Basil the Great would have acknowledged St. Benedict of Nursia as his brother and heir. St. Macrina would have found her sister in St. Scholastica. St. Alexis, the “Man of God,” the “poor man under the stairs,” has been succeeded by the wandering beggar St. Benedict Labre. St. Nicholas would have felt as very near to him the burning charity of St. Francis of Assisi and St. Vincent de Paul. St. Seraphim of Sarov would have seen the desert blossoming under Father Charles de Foucald’s feet and would have called St. Therese of Lisieux “my joy.”
– Father Lev Gillet (1893-1980) who wrote under the pseudonym “A Monk of the Eastern Church”
St. Pope John Paul II
It is legitimate to affirm that the gap between the Catholic and Orthodox Church is not very wide. We have almost everything in common. It seems to me, in fact, that the question we must ask ourselves is not so much whether we can re-establish full communion, but rather whether we still have the right to remain separated. The sin of our separation is very serious. May the Lord open our hearts, convert our minds and inspire in us concrete, courageous steps, capable if necessary of breaking through clichés, easy resignation or stalemate. The deepest nature of the Church demands it.
– St. Pope John Paul II (1920-2005)
Book Club Reading Lists
Book Club Reading ListsView / download list of books read 2000 – 2020
Thomas Merton and Henri Nouwen: Western Explorers of the Christian East by Jim Forest
Thomas Merton: Peacemaker in a Divided Christendom by Jim Forest
A study for Behold the Beauty of the Lord: Praying with the Icons by Henri Nouwen
A study for Compassion: Reflections on the Christian Life by Henri Nouwen