Book Review: A Life Together
Author: Bishop Seraphim Sigrist
Publisher: Paraclete Press ISBN: 9781557258007
“To discover the church is to discover community.”
Community is a word that seems abuzz in our contemporary church circles, oft used and even more often misunderstood. What does it mean? Where does it get its meaning? How is it most accurately defined, and more importantly, how is it realized and experienced?
I don’t know if the answers to these questions can be obtained from a single book or much less from a book review, but these are some thoughts I had when I started reading A Life Together. The Eastern Church is the oldest of the Christian traditions and there is much wisdom to be gleaned from these ancient fathers of the faith.
The first half of the book seeks to define community with a Russian word, sobornost, which is interesting and brilliant in my opinion. I say it is interesting because Bishop Sigrist says on several occasions throughout the first half of the book that sobornost is a word that is hardly translatable, he calls it “a riddle, a word hardly translatable from its original Russian and yet not fully mined or understood in Russian either. Herein lays its brilliance. True, Biblical, holy, community is a mystery of the divine, a mystery that I think defies concrete definitions such that it must be lived and experienced in order to be realized. I think this is the reason for Bishop Sigrist’s choice to talk about community in the terms of sobornost.
Sobornost: spiritual community of many jointly living people; spiritual harmony based on freedom and unity in love. The hierarchy and structure of the church is secondary to a life that is absolutely organic, a life of all joined in all—“the spiritual communion of all with the plenitude of the whole church.”
“Sobornost is the ‘I’ grounded in ‘we,'” wrote the philosopher and priest Fr. Sergius Bulgakov. “In this plural unity of the Church—the Body of Christ—lives the Spirit of God.” (p.39)
Bishop Sigrist employs a unique writing style particular to the Eastern Church (brief sections, loosely linked, that provide differing angles of approach). If a person is unfamiliar with this writing style, it can be a bit disconcerting. I felt like I was following a bouncing ball at times, but once I got into the rhythm of the style, the ideas and the connections began to flow much more freely.
If we go back to the root of the idea of sobornost in the Gospels and then ask ourselves how sobornost would most basically express itself in the coming together of Christian churches in ecumenism, the answer is clear. It would be in love. In an ecumenism of love and friendship. (p.69)
The second half of the book consists of three parts: Part Two—Seeing, Part Three—Each Complete in the Other, and Part Four—Prayer and Mission. I don’t know if I understand these parts in their proper context or not, but I received them as complimentary extensions and supporting pillars of the concept of community found in sobornost. I don’t think sobornost can be found and realized without the I/we of “seeing” one another and watching for the Divine in all that we are and all that we do. Likewise, I think that “seeing” is contingent upon our living in a mode of complementarity (completion of opposites in each other—p.99). Finally, it is prayer and mission (Part Four) that is one of the primary the binding agents for community-sobornost.
This book has provided me much to consider and meditate upon. I’m sure I’ll be reading it again…and again.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Paraclete Press to read and post a review on my site. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements