Posted 09 June 2009 - 09:48 AM
This is a very intriguing book, as is borne witness to by the variety of reviews / responses already posted.
I received and read this book several months ago, and had a very mixed reaction. Overall, it was ‘not my kind of volume’ and I had a somewhat negative reaction to it; but, on the other hand, it contained some elements I found helpful. A book such as this is a very specific ‘type’, and as such is going to be of use to some, and not to others.
Here are a few thoughts on the strengths and weaknesses of the book, from my own personal point of view:
On the positive side, it presented a view of the religions of the east (particularly various forms of guru-led Hinduism and off-shoot sects of the same) that is rarely seen, and which I found refreshing. Others may object (as some have already done, above) at the emphasis upon the demonic in these groups, as the book portrays them; but this is precisely what I found of value. Orthodoxy does in fact speak rather strongly – in her liturgical and patristic texts – about the demonic nature of false religions and false worship, and in our contemporary society the tendency is far too often to distance oneself from these views, preferring to psychologies reality rather than admit of demonic activity in any practical and real way. So while there may come a general admissions that ‘demons exist’ and ‘there is something demonic about false worship’, there is a strong reticence amongst people today to admit of any actual demonic reality to such groups, in practical, ‘hands-on’ terms. This is compounded by a false and misguided tendency in modern society to view as ‘unkind’, ‘uncharitable’, or ‘unfair’ claims that a group, a sect, a religion, or a person may be under the influence of demons and demonic activity. I’ve written elsewhere in this Community of my interpretation of this as a false-compassion: assessing a person or group as being under the influence of the demons is perceived as ‘saying something bad about the person’, when in fact it is the precise opposite: it is saying something bad about the demons, and addressing the person or group not as principal wrong-doer. In this sense, I was very happy to see the book address the various sects addressed in what I consider more helpful spiritual terms. There is no attempt here to by syncretistic or accommodating: demonic activity is called as such, and the way out of such possession clearly seen.
To my mind, that is the book’s chief strength. Beyond that, I found most of its contents rather more problematic. The willingness of its author to speak in such detailed, extensive terms about spiritual experiences that were given by God to him, for his needs and concerns, seemed to me to edge far too close to ‘casting pearls before the swine’. Despite the fact that I do not doubt for even a moment the fact that God worked miracles in this man’s life, that these were miracles worked at the prayers of a great and sanctified elder, etc., I found myself—whenever coming upon a portion of the text that would deal with these things—skimming quickly and eager to turn the page without reading too much. It felt fairly sacrilegious, to me, to be thrust into the midst of God’s intimate mercy with this person; and there is an ancient tradition in Orthodoxy of keeping such things to oneself, of ‘treasuring them in one’s heart’. There will be occasions, perhaps, when God will call the experiences of our lives into the context of a pastoral need: moments when I will be charged to share certain of my experiences with another person, so as to speak ‘heart-to-heart’ to that person. But this is quite different than broadcasting all one’s experiences—however holy—to all and sundry.
In this sense, I felt the book mixed genuine Orthodox tradition with something fairly different. It clearly exposes the living tradition of true repentance and holiness, bound up in sanctified elders who, in deep love, become intercessors for those of us who are weak in this life; and it shows that this continues in our modern day, and has the power to overcome great delusions of our age. Yet the unabashed openness in exposing spiritual secrets I found rather unusual, in terms of Orthodox tradition—and I do not here use ‘secrets’ to mean some hidden or esoteric Orthodox knowledge that ought not be shared with others; rather, the fact that God works in the secret, hidden places of the heart, and the miracles God works through His saints are not general miracles, but miracles of those deep interior wounds that require healing. It is one thing to share the miracles of God’s healing (to declare that one has been healed, to bear witness to a miraculous healing); but it is quite another to catalogue each and every spiritual experience that one undergoes, and to ‘share these abroad’. This aspect of the book jarred me as rather dissonant with centuries of Orthodox practice.
Overall, then, my views on the book were mixed; but I think the negative aspects (for me) rather outweighed the positive in the end. That said, I have since given a copy to a young man deeply embedded in some of the eastern religious groups mentioned in the book, who is also drawn to Orthodoxy – though, and perhaps this rather sums up my view, I encouraged him to skip over the majority of the author’s words about his miraculous moments and experiences, and just to read the materials on his wanderings in the east.
God will work his own miracles for this young man.
INXC, Dcn Matthew