Reviews of Orthodox books: Symeon the New Theologian

As promised, here are 2 more Orthodox books I recently read, and I will soon present another one.

When I read Larchet’s book, I ran of course into my most favorite Orthodox Father, Gregory Palamas, but I was truck also by the references to Saint Symeon the New Theologian (949–1022). Here again, I had read his Hymns in French decades ago, so after having miraculously found a copy of its out-of-print English version in the bookstore of a monastery, I decided it was time to re-read it in English:

Hymns of Divine Love The Mystic of Fire and Light

Hymns of Divine Love, by St Symeon the New Theologian (translated by George Maloney)

Symeon has always attracted me because of his experiences with the Divine Light. What’s most remarkable about his writings is the personal aspect of it: exceptionally modern for his time (did you see his dates??), he shared really what happened to him, in a very deep, intimate, and sensual (I mean related to the senses) way, totally unusual for his time –no wonder so many, especially among the hierarchs, did not understand him and gave him all gives of troubles, including exiling him.

Here is an excerpt of Hymn 40:

hymn 40 by symeon

And then I read another by Maloney on Symeon I had not heard about before:

The Mystic of Fire and Light: St Symeon the New Theologian, by George Maloney

Maloney presents here the life and main ideas of the saint. He illustrates his points thanks to may quotations. It is an excellent short book, a great introduction if you don’t know Symeon and are curious to discover him.

Here are some passages I really enjoy, and they will give you an idea of the man:

symeon p5

symeon p11

symeon p12

symeon p14

symeon p53

symeon p54

symeon p174

symeon p183


Reviews of Orthodox books: Larchet and Tikhon

Seeing the number of novels and mysteries I read and review every week, some of you may have forgotten that I’m also an Eastern Orthodox Christian, and as such I try to nourish my faith daily by reading, slowly, and meditating with some Orthodox books.

So here are some Orthodox books I recently read, and 3 more will be presented before the end of the year:

 Therapy of Spiritual Illnesses Everyday Saints

Therapy of Spiritual Illnesses, by Jean-Claude Larchet

I have already mentioned this book some time ago, when I finished reading volume 2.
I encourage you to go back to that post to see the table of contents of the 3 volumes, to see what the author is doing, which is, as the subtitle says: An Introduction to the Ascetic Tradition of the Eastern Church.
I read this book in French a while ago (in the French edition, it is all in one volume), but it being probably the best book/fresco presenting the whole of Orthodox spirituality/theology (we don’t make that separation in Orthodoxy), I thought it would be good to re-read it in English as it was finally recently published.

The book is deeply rooted in Patristics and is very accessible. Only a couple of times I thought the translation was a bit weird in the choice of the construction of the English sentence.
I would like to give you here 2 excerpts to give you a better idea of the richness of the book. It may offer to some of you not familiar with Orthodoxy a refreshing view of Christian ideas. Remember that the Orthodox faith is actually the faith of the very first Christians, so nothing esoteric here, just the opposite, alas lost for many after a few centuries in the Western world.

First from the introduction, pp.10-11:



And from the conclusion:


Everyday Saints and Other Stories, by Archimandrite Tikhon Shevkunov

Another big fat book, with 490 pages, but very easy to read, presenting mostly the life of  group of young modern Russian men who decided to become monks. There are some beautiful characters, and they illustrate the beauty of Orthodox qualities in daily life. Some stories are actually quite funny.
I didn’t find the book as deep as I expected, but I think this is not the point. Rather, the goal seems to show that it is possible to be an Orthodox Christian today and be happy, even when one chooses to embrace monastic life, and I’m not going to contradict that!



Reviews of French novels – I love France #126

And maybe you do too!
If you have recently read a good book in connection with France,
please mention it in the comment section
and add a link to your review if you have one.
I will regularly post a recap of all the books mentioned.



These books count for the following Reading Challenges:



I read a few new to me French authors this year. They are very popular in France, but I had never had the chance to discover them before.

Here are 2 books by the so famous Amélie Nothomb:

Hygiène de l'assassin Amélie Nothomb is one of Europe’s most successful and controversial authors. She wrote Hygiene and the Assassin, her first published novel, when she was only twenty-five, and it became an instant bestseller across Europe. Winner of the Fournier and René-Fallet prizes.

Prétextat Tach, Nobel Prize winner and prolific author is dying. A few journalists go to interview him, and they are rudely and meanly rebuked.
Then comes  a female journalist, 
Nina, possibly the only person who read and knows really well his twenty-some books.
She does not let him break her and actually is just as good as he is with her own tough remarks, as she has dug into his unknown and mysterious life. She eventually manages to have him confess something she suspected about his younger days, a truth that will affect her and change her forever.

There are interesting passages on secrecy in the life of authors, but Tach is an ugly character. I enjoyed the construction of the book, but the ambiance is really ugly and gross, just as gross as the dying Tach. Yuck!




Tokyo Fiancée


Tokyo Fiancée

“Amélie is a young language teacher living in Tokyo.
When she succumbs to the attentions of a student
–the shy, wealthy, and oh-so-Japanese Rinri–
the lovers find themselves swept along by an affair that is as unusual as it is tender.”

This was a lovely short book,
maybe like a love letter to Japan,
the country where the author actually grew up.




Monsieur Ibrahim

You may be familiar with Monsieur Ibrahim and the Flowers of the Qur’an, the award-winning film starring Omar Sharif. It is based on this short book. This is actually part of a trilogy focused on religion. Obviously this one is about Islam.

I really enjoy very much this author’s style: it is extremely simple but manages to go deep in evoking relationships, with lots of lively and genuine sounding dialogs. By the way, if you want to read something easy in French, go for it!

It’s a very moving coming of age short novel/play.
Momo, 11, lives in a Jewish neighborhood of Paris. His family situation is tough with his mother gone and his dad not assuming his role. After a special event, Momo becomes friend with Ibrahim, and old Sufi grocer.
Ibrahim introduces Momo to the richness of life.
It’s about connection and friendship, about beauty, humor, simple wisdom in life, and how to be happy really.
The passage on the whirling dervishes is brilliant.
I liked this passage, that all French tourists should read:

Ah non, pas l’autoroute, Momo, pas l’autoroute. Les autoroutes, ça dit: passez, y a rien à voir. C’est pour les imbéciles qui veulent aller le plus vite d’un point à un autre. Nous, on fait pas de la géométrie, on voyage. Trouve-moi de jolis petits chemins qui montrent bien tout ce qu’il y a à voir.


Then I read another book of the trilogy, the one about Christianity:

 Oscar et la dame rose

Oscar and the Lady in Pink is also extremely moving, dealing with the topic of sick children.
Oscar, about 10, is dying of cancer.
Mami-Rose, One of the ‘ladies in pink’ who come to visit the patients, makes friends with him.
She suggests that he should write to God and pretend that each of the following 12 days is a decade of his imaginary life.
Oscar writes ten letters to God that are sensitive, funny, heartbreaking and, ultimately, life-affirming.

There’s also the theme of how parents deal with the sickness of their children.
This is so well done.
I enjoyed chapter 11 when Oscar experiences a kind of epiphany
and prays for others he knows to make the same experience.

So this is also a coming of age novella, as a very young boy becomes so wise in the context of his sickness.





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