Orthodox / Catholic Book Club

Behold, how good and pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity – Psalm 133:1

October 2023 Reading Selection

Spiritual Diary

By Sergius Bulgakov

Who was Fr. Sergius Bulgakov, the pastor who stands behind the epochal theology of Eastern Orthodox sophiology? What better place to look than his own Spiritual Diary, which opens to us the mind and heart of this prolific and original theologian of the twentieth century? This volume, the first of his diaries to be published in English, depicts in illuminating detail Bulgakov’s daily life as a priest ministering in exile, the exultations and desolations of his personal prayer life, and his confoundment and pain towards the fate of his homeland ruled by the aggressively atheist Soviet state. In these personal reflections we discover the pastoral matrix from which arose such distinctive features of Bulgakov’s mature theology as his theology of Sophia, the Divine Wisdom, as God’s mystical presence in creation.

“Bulgakov’s Spiritual Diary is a uniquely precious document. Here we glimpse, not events, but, traced on his soul in prayer, his inner life of exile, unworthiness, overarching providence, and constant recourse to the Mother of God—all disclosing the ‘sophianic’ as inner truth. A superb translation, greatly enhanced by the translators’ introductions and notes.”—ARCHPRIEST ANDREW LOUTH, author of Introducing Eastern Orthodox Theology


Available for purchase online from Amazon HERE.


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 Kyrillos Ibrahim talking with book club participants

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

Merton285If 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

Lev-GillettThe 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)