An Introduction to the Christian Orthodox Churches, by John Binns

Only a few decades ago there were relatively few good sources of information about the Eastern Orthodox Church, but a remarkable publishing surge has now made many fine books available. Though the best single introduction remains The Orthodox Church, by Timothy Ware (now Bishop Kallistos), John Binns's solid work is among the good ones. Binns is vicar at Great St. Mary's Church in Cambridge, and vice-chairman of the Fellowship of St. Alban and St. Sergius, a group dedicated to dialogue between those engaged in Orthodox Christian studies at Cambridge. Binns's familiarity with Orthodoxy's strengths, weaknesses and contemporary challenges is thorough.

There are a few small problems and some missed opportunities here. The Orthodox Church in America, a jurisdiction granted autocephaly (self-governing status) by the Russian Orthodox Church in 1970, is referred to in a couple of places as the Orthodox Church of America. Many scholars, both inside and outside of Orthodoxy, would argue that Peter was not only not the first bishop of Rome, but never exercised anything like episcopal office. The chapter on missions might have mentioned the remarkable work now being done in Asia and Africa. The concentration here is on the past, and then on contemporary Europe and America.

In the chapter on church and state, Binns writes of the thrones that exist in some churches, one for the bishop and one for the king. The throne "is still in place awaiting the Christian ruler who will be a new Constantine and order the affairs of the state in cooperation with the Church to uphold a godly and Christian society." Though some Orthodox think this way, the powerful countertrends should be mentioned. Metropolitan Anthony Bloom--much admired by Binns, and rightly so--thinks that the end of this relationship between church and state was providential.