Every so often a book comes along that manages to rotate and shake up your paradigm in such a way that, after the shift is over, you suddenly see things not only in a new way, but in a new way that makes far greater sense. _Being as Communion_ by Metropolitan John Zizioulas is one such book for me.
It works on several levels, bringing together what are oftentimes considered disparate strands of thought - philosophical, theological and pastoral - into a thickly weaved narrative that shows why an Orthodox understanding of the Trinity as the communion of the three persons of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is...necessary. For Zizioulas, this communion of the Trinity is the model to be embodied not only by the Church as the communion of all churches, but by the very person as well: we only are who we are when we are in communion with God and one another.
The title of the book is no mistake; Zizioulas puts himself in dialogue with some of the great philosophers of the 20th century (such as Heidegger and Levinas, the latter of whom he praises, particularly his work Totality and Inifinity). The fundamental point that Zizioulas raises about Being is that in the eucharist - in the act of communion itself! - the essential and the temporal become fused into a living harmony. Such was - and is - Christ, and such also is to be the Church and the Christian, participating in the eternal life of God while in the here and now. Being is not static, but in time and in relation.
For those that have found themselves turned off to Orthodox theology in the past due its oftentimes proclaimed self-sufficiency, Zizioulas may very well seem like a theologian that comes out of left field: his *criticisms* of Orthodox theology (and I have never read an Orthodox theologian that was critical of Orthodox theology before) are what many Western inquirers have long wanted to know: can Orthodoxy be constructively self-critical? Can Orthodoxy be open to the recognition of Western churches as viable, even if critiquing them at the same time? Zizioulas presents an unapologetic "yes" to both of these questions.
The most heartening thing about this book, however, is the fundamentally pastoral angle the Zizioulas takes. While he can discuss the Cappadocians, for example, at great length, he also sees the essentially pastoral implications of the relational, Trinitarian God: the imitation of this *as* the relational pastor. He is especially concerned with the rise of anti-clericalism in both Greece and abroad; he sees this anti-clericalism as committing the same fallacy that it seeks to fight against: the reduction of the Church to being first and foremost an institution. Yet, he also sees how the pastoral failures of the past have contributed to this by not seeking to incarnate the fundamentally relational nature of God.
The book ends with a substantive - and crucial - question. If the Church is fundamentally the communion of churches, what do we make of churches that are in ecclesiastical and/or confessional division? It is with this question that Zizioulas quite literally ends; it is an abrupt ending, too, that leaves reader in a state of suspension. Yet, I can't think of a better way to end it. From theology as the contemplation of God to the reality of a fragmented Church (especially with regard to Protestantism/s/s/s/s/s...), there is quite a tragic distance. It is in the recognition of this distance, though, that the real conversation and communication - the very word "communication" being etymologically related to both "community" and "communion" - begins.
This is a book that cuts through dogmatic and ecclesiastical divisions and asks substantive questions that are birthed from the very life of the God who is in communion with himself and, in being so, opens himself to communing with all others. At this time, I know of no other book that more urgently needs to be read; and, I know of no other book that I would more highly recommend.