Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Book Review: Spiritual Dimensions of the Holy Canons By Dr Lewis Patsavos

Spiritual Dimensions of the Holy Canons
By Dr Lewis Patsavos
ISBN: 1885652682
$12.00 (SVS Press)

This book was the second of the ‘Birthday Surprise’ texts I received this year from my dear wife and it was a great thing to receive considering that it is a book I have been seeking to read for quite a while now. Following my dissertation, I have felt that I have missed out on Canonology reading and am struggling with the lack of academically respectable texts on the subject available so when I saw Dr. Patsavos’ book mentioned on a few sites I tried to pick up a copy and yet this always evaded me.

The book itself is a short introduction to the role of the canons in the life of the Church. Unlike many other respected Canonology texts it does not seek to do this through giving specific examples of situations but through a detailed study of ecclesiology and mission linking the topics to the Canons and demonstrating the vital role of these Canons in these important aspects in the life of the Orthodox Church.

The book starts as expected with an explanation of the role of the Canons in the Church today and the history of the canonical tradition in the Orthodox church. It does this through looking at the different stages of the development of this tradition and at times making comparison to other concepts of legal tradition such as secular law and Roman Catholic Canon Law. Follow this, it addresses the role of the canons in the life of the Church, especially looking into the role of the canons in the order of the church and the question of their flexibility (A topic I have covered before in articles.) Following this, it addresses a number of issues with regards to the canons such as how the canons can be used to address pastoral issues in the Church and their correct application. The text finishes with a directory of canons and the topics under which they fall.

As a book I will state that this is the best short introduction to Orthodox canonology that I have read. Rodopoulos’ vital text book on the matter is practical and respected as an academic text though as a guide to the canons from a pastoral perspective this text is more beneficial. The text using ecclesiology and the spiritual life of the Church as the basis for its discussion on the canons gives it a vitality and relevance to the reader that the more traditional academic canonology texts lack. As well as this, Patsavos’ discussion of issues in canonology is reminiscent of Fr John Erikson’s writing on the topic, again giving it a relevance beyond a simple explanatory text.

With regards to the weakness, I feel that the text’s length is problematic. In the book Patsavos states how in the next edition he will go into some topics in more detail, such as the pastoral issues. The fact that this second edition has not emerged makes the reader feel that he is only being given half the story. In matters of canonology a certainty in application is needed so to be told when studying the matter that it will ‘be continued’ takes away from the benefits of the text. Regardless, the areas explained are done so in such a manner that this is not damning.

Overall, Patsavos’ book is a great edition to a growing canon (no pun intended) of texts for anyone interested in the study of Orthodox canonology and its application in the Church. It provides a well explained overview of the subject with some clearly employed example and avoids over-legalism or preference towards a single school of canonology in his analysis.  I would certainly recommend it to anyone with a love of the topic or seeking a nice and unintimidating way to enter into its study.


  1. I just finished this book about two weeks ago and have been trying to quickly give myself an introduction to the historical and pastoral aspect of the holy canons. What other texts in particular would you suggest? Along with this book, I have read through Ramsey's "The Minor Clergy of the Orthodox Church", "A Noble Task" by Patsavos, Mihai's "Orthodox Canon Law Reference Book", Metropolitan Panteleimon's "An Overview of Orthodox Canon Law", and I plan to use the casebook by Viscuso next. I am open to any suggestions you may have.

    1. The Challenge of our Past by John Erikson is a good one.