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How much do you have to know?

IsmiLiora

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This is something I've been musing on for several weeks. I've been a bad catechumen, and aside from going to DL every Sunday, I haven't read very much, aside from reading and posting on this board constantly, during my work breaks (trying to change that also...). I am planning to explore prayer, but I also want to read some more. I have the four volumes of the Philokalia, which I will sit down and read through when I have a few free minutes.

One thing I've been struggling with is that I read the threads where people are debating the finer points of certain heresies, councils, etc. Aside from knowing the basics, at this point, I don't feel like I even want to study more than the basics. I feel like studying the history of Orthodoxy is so intimidating because I wouldn't know where to start. I'm also not necessarily keen on jumping in on the back-and-forth polemical debates.

So while I am severely tempted to read the Desert Fathers and similar texts about the spirituality forever, I want to be able to explain Orthodoxy adequately, since a lot of my friends have been asking questions about the faith. And of course, I want to know enough about my future church. I went to Catholic school and learned nearly nothing. I feel uncomfortable about being so ignorant about my faith.

Here's just a list of questions. If you can take the time to answer any of them, I would be most grateful. I also love a good discussion, so de-rail away if you feel so inclined.

1) Let's say you're past the very basics. What would you recommend studying next? Texts on the spirituality or history texts? Which specific subjects?
2) How did your own study journey go? I'm really impressed by inquirers who seem to have been studying for a year or so before beginning their catechumenate.
3) Book recs? If I can put it on my Kindle, I'll give you a +100, but hard copies are good too. Let's move on a little bit from basic -- as I've read some of the most recommended texts already.

Discussion points:
4) How important do you think it is to know about Orthodoxy's history? Would you draw a line? Do you keep reading more and more or have you hit a point where you just no longer felt the desire to keep studying certain specifics? Do you think that you must know a certain amount about Orthodoxy? Do you feel like someone who doesn't know as much about the church is not a "good Orthodox Christian?"

Muchas gracias a ustedes :)
(Thank you, guys!)
Liora
 

ialmisry

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IsmiLiora said:
This is something I've been musing on for several weeks. I've been a bad catechumen, and aside from going to DL every Sunday, I haven't read very much, aside from reading and posting on this board constantly, during my work breaks (trying to change that also...). I am planning to explore prayer, but I also want to read some more. I have the four volumes of the Philokalia, which I will sit down and read through when I have a few free minutes.

One thing I've been struggling with is that I read the threads where people are debating the finer points of certain heresies, councils, etc. Aside from knowing the basics, at this point, I don't feel like I even want to study more than the basics. I feel like studying the history of Orthodoxy is so intimidating because I wouldn't know where to start. I'm also not necessarily keen on jumping in on the back-and-forth polemical debates.

So while I am severely tempted to read the Desert Fathers and similar texts about the spirituality forever, I want to be able to explain Orthodoxy adequately, since a lot of my friends have been asking questions about the faith. And of course, I want to know enough about my future church. I went to Catholic school and learned nearly nothing. I feel uncomfortable about being so ignorant about my faith.

Here's just a list of questions. If you can take the time to answer any of them, I would be most grateful. I also love a good discussion, so de-rail away if you feel so inclined.

1) Let's say you're past the very basics. What would you recommend studying next? Texts on the spirituality or history texts? Which specific subjects?
2) How did your own study journey go? I'm really impressed by inquirers who seem to have been studying for a year or so before beginning their catechumenate.
3) Book recs? If I can put it on my Kindle, I'll give you a +100, but hard copies are good too. Let's move on a little bit from basic -- as I've read some of the most recommended texts already.

Discussion points:
4) How important do you think it is to know about Orthodoxy's history? Would you draw a line? Do you keep reading more and more or have you hit a point where you just no longer felt the desire to keep studying certain specifics? Do you think that you must know a certain amount about Orthodoxy? Do you feel like someone who doesn't know as much about the church is not a "good Orthodox Christian?"

Muchas gracias a ustedes :)
(Thank you, guys!)
Liora
I Timothy 1:3...that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, 4 nor to occupy themselves with myths and endless genealogies which promote speculations rather than the divine training that is in faith; 5 whereas the aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and sincere faith. 6 Certain persons by swerving from these have wandered away into vain discussion, 7 desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make assertions.
1. Spirituality. Prayer.
2. Reading the bibliography on Orthodoxy in the Encyclopedia Britannica.
3. Nicholas Cabasilas "the Life in Christ."
4. Depends on what you plan on doing.  If you are interested in history, or hang around those who talk about it a lot, then it is important.  For most some knowledge is necessary, but expertise not necessary.
 

gzt

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I would just say that a catechumen who goes to church every Sunday and doesn't read much extra is a very good catechumen and probably better than the "good" catechumen who reads all sorts of esoteric nonsense. Though, of course, hanging out on a message board indicates you're probably right about not being a good catechumen.

I would also say that, if you want to be able to explain the faith to people, I would read books that explain the faith. Say, Hopko's catechism (available on oca.org, but I don't think it's available in a kindle-friendly format) or whatever catechism you've been told to read (if any). Another very good way is actually being Orthodox - the hard bits about loving your enemies and all that - and attending as many services as you can. Studying is all well and good, but some of the greatest saints were illiterate. Beyond that, have you considered re-examining why you want to explain Orthodoxy qua Orthodoxy to people?

You should know enough history that you don't have a romanticized view of any period in it. Otherwise, you will be scandalized at some point in the future.
 

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History played a big part in my journey to Orthodoxy and recognizing the Church for what she is.

As far as instruction, go to Church every sunday and feast day from the pre-lent triodian through Ss Peter and Paul the following year. Read the daily readings. Pay attention to the sunday and feast day commemorations. Keep the fasts. Keep the feasts. Pay attention to the homily (if one is given, I've heard that not all churches do this). Listen to Fr Hopko's podcasts on AFR on the major commmemorations and feast days. Pay attention and do what everyone else is doing throughout the liturgy.

That would at the very least be a very good starting point for any inquirer/catechumen. I apologize if this doesn't properly address your questions.
 

AWR

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I’m don’t know if this was just for folks that converted to the Orthodox faith or for folks that have been brought up in the faith.

Here's just a list of questions. If you can take the time to answer any of them, I would be most grateful. I also love a good discussion, so de-rail away if you feel so inclined. 1) Let's say you're past the very basics. What would you recommend studying next? Texts on the spirituality or history texts? Which specific subjects?
Spirituality for yourself and history for those who ask you questions.
2) How did your own study journey go? I'm really impressed by inquirers who seem to have been studying for a year or so before beginning their catechumenate.
Since I never was a catechumen, I don’t see the value in learning more than the basics to convert,  the important thing is not to stop the journey.  I believe that convert or not, it is a lifelong journey of learning to live the faith. 

3) Book recs? If I can put it on my Kindle, I'll give you a +100, but hard copies are good too. Let's move on a little bit from basic -- as I've read some of the most recommended texts already.
Kindle:
The Orthodox Church By Timothy Ware
http://astore.amazon.com/orchofthmoofg-20/detail/B002XHNNHA
I read this I High school and wondered why I did not learn any of this in Sunday school.

The Way of a Pilgrim
http://astore.amazon.com/orchofthmoofg-20/detail/B0030CMK94
I just thought it was a nice little story in its own right.

Great Lent: A School of Repentance Its Meaning for Orthodox Christians
By Alexander Schmemann
http://astore.amazon.com/orchofthmoofg-20/detail/B0058KR86Q
Old fashion printed books:

Ascending the Heights By Father John Mack
http://astore.amazon.com/orchofthmoofg-20/detail/1888212179
This is the closest I’ve gotten to reading “The Ladder of Divine Ascent”


The Orthodox Way  By Kallistos Ware
http://astore.amazon.com/orchofthmoofg-20/detail/0913836583

The Historical Road of Eastern Orthodoxy
By Alexander Schmemann
http://astore.amazon.com/orchofthmoofg-20/detail/0913836478


Discussion points:
4) How important do you think it is to know about Orthodoxy's history?
Very important to know a little. Enough to see what was known by everyone, everewhere.   
Would you draw a line?
I think everyone must draw their own line. Because I learned much spirituality from watching my grandmother when visiting and the priest when an alter boy, it was the history that I really wanted to know. But after reading to much about heresies and schemes I went back to a more formal looking into spirituality.
Do you keep reading more and more or have you hit a point where you just no longer felt the desire to keep studying certain specifics?
For me, there are so many different areas that if reading about spirituality needs a rest to apply or just think about it, there are liturgics, lives of saints, or even the text of feast day hymns.  I get used books and donate them to my parish library when done.  Right now I’m reading books on the theology of iconography.
Do you think that you must know a certain amount about Orthodoxy?
No, it is not what you know about Orthodoxy, it is how you apply the teachings to daily life.

Do you feel like someone who doesn't know as much about the church is not a "good Orthodox Christian?"
No, I feel like someone who does not care to learn more than they already know must be missing something, or they are already a saint.
 

Punch

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You don't know Orthodoxy, you live it.  Knowing all about Orthodoxy is meaningless unless you can convert that knowledge to practice.  We see many examples in the Lives of the Saints where pagans who knew nothing of the details of the Faith were moved by the actions of the Martyrs and confessed that they, too, were Christians.  They were baptized in their own blood, but their memory is eternal.

My suggestion for a rounded reading would be to get a copy of the Prologue by St. Nicholi Verlimerovic.  You will find that every day has short lives of the Saints, some points to ponder, and a nice short homily explaining the Faith.  If I could take only one Orthodox text with me, this would be it.  Also, get the Festal Menaion and the Lenten Triodion.  Find a Pentecostarion if you can.  Prepare yourself for worship by reading the texts that are so often omitted in the abbreviated services performed in many Churches today.  The hymns of the Church guided many Saints long before the advent of the Kindle or printing press.  Unfortunately, reading of the Service Books is the only way these hymns are heard today, as many Churches find it easier to delete them than to feed their flock with a fullness the of the services.

Also, pray.  At a minimum pray your morning and evening prayers.  They do not have to be all long and drawn out.  Start each prayer thanking God for what He has done for you.  Then pray of others, and lastly humbly ask for any of your needs.  There have been many discussions about prayer books on this forum, so you can read these discussions and select one for yourself.

Read the Scriptures.  They are the Word of God.  And the Lives of the Saints are the continuation of the Acts of the Apostles.  The Scriptures are the Word of God, the Fathers interpret that Word for us, and the Lives of the Saints are the Scriptures in action.

If you want a catechism, the best one out there is the “Law of God” put out by Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordanville.  This book explains pretty much everything that you need to “know” about the Faith and the Orthodox Church.  I used to try to get a copy into the hands of any potential converts into the Church.

I hope this helps.
 
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Frankly, at this stage I think the Philokalia is a bit much. Start with Way of the Ascetics by Tito Colliander. Only about 100 pages. Not on Kindle last time I checked (a few months ago).

The Philokalia is not something you speed through, so save it for later, both when you have more free time and time being Orthodox under your belt.
 

IsmiLiora

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Thank you for your suggestions!

I really am interested in the spiritual aspect of Orthodoxy, so while I will try to read a few historical books here and there, I will just try to keep those to the more mainstream writers and delve a little deeper, if I feel like doing so, later on.

I know that a large part of Orthodoxy is really living it, and I'm trying to increase my prayer life (Jesus prayer and morning/evening prayers) and trying to do more at my church. I just guess I want to FEEL more Orthodox, and I feel like learning more and more about the faith will help bring me closer. From my years as a Catholic/Protestant, I know we can't hold on to that "spiritual high" and treasure it.

TheodoraElizabeth, just curious, can you expand a little more on why the Way of the Ascetics would be preferable to read at the moment?

I've read some of the books listed (Ware, Hopko), but I see enough material to go do some more research. 

Punch, the Lenten Triodion (Father lent me his Greek-English copy right before Pascha) helped SO much...as soon as I have some extra money, I am definitely going to purchase a copy. It is definitely a must-have with all of the services during the season.

I know this sounds silly, but I have a little bit of Bible burnout from when I was a Protestant. In my last two years at the church, I became disillusioned with a lot of evangelical authors and I just stopped reading anything EXCEPT for the Bible. Not that I've memorized it, but I'm looking to read more interpretations of the verses to get a fresh perspective.

I have read some of Saint John Chrysostom's commentaries on the New Testament, but I'm kind of taking a little Bible break because I've sort of hit a wall with it. I read select chapters once in a while, and I hope to read it more in the future. Praying that I'll get over that stumbling block. Of course I do the daily readings provided by the GOA, but hopefully I can dive back in soon enough.

Thank you for the food for thought! Any other recs, I'll take them.
 

katherine2001

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Do not read the Philokalia without a blessing from your priest to do so.  It is certainly not a book for people who are not very spiritually advanced.  This comes from a Fr. Averky (of blessed memory) who used to post on Monachos.net.  He was an older priest/monk at Jordanville, who served there for more than 25 years.  He was adamant that nobody should read the Philokalia without a blessing from their spiritual father to read it.  He pointed out that many monks are never given a blessing to read it, even though it is written for monks.  I have the Philokalia, but have not read it, and honest wish I'd spoken to my priest before I purchased it.  When I told him that I had it but hadn't read it, his repsonse was, "Good!  Don't!" and I know that he was right.  When someone donated the Philokalia for his parish library, Fr. removed it from the shelves.  If someone wants to borrow it, they have to talk to him first.  

I can still hear Fr. Averky scolding people who would recommend the very spiritual books for people just starting in the faith.  He would point out that we start at the bottom and work our way up.  You start with the basics of the faith, not the really spiritual writings.  You work your way up to those.  I wish I'd known about Monachos earlier and read Fr. Averky, because it would have maybe saved me from getting into trouble.

I know that during the time that I was studying to come into Orthodoxy, I read everything I could get my hands on, as well as what my priest had me reading.  I wish that I hadn't done that.  I ended up feeling like my head was so stuffed with knowledge that I was going to explode.  My advice would be to just read what your priest is advising you to read and absorb as much of that as you can.  Also, if you want advice on other books to read, ask your priest for recommendations.  He has a much better idea of where you are and advise you much better than we can.   I have a sneaking suspicion that most priests would much rather have us come ask them for recommendations. 
 
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IsmiLiora said:
TheodoraElizabeth, just curious, can you expand a little more on why the Way of the Ascetics would be preferable to read at the moment?
You're just a catechumen. While I'm not going to say you need to have a "startez/geronda" before you read The Philokalia, I think it would be too out of your depth. It's not easy going. You don't just sit and read it, you work through it. I'm a student in my deanery's diaconal vocations program - for catechist training - and we had to read big chunks in our Orthodox spirituality class. It's not for beginners.

Way of the Ascetics is a "modern day" Orthodox classic (originally written in 1960). It takes the Orthodox spiritual tradition and makes it more understandable for the average layman. It's liberally sprinkled with quotes from the Philokalia and other Fathers.

Penguin Classics has a great edition of the Desert Fathers, called Sayings of the Desert Fathers. Kindle edition, too.

Another book I love is The Year of Grace of the Lord by "A Monk of the Eastern Church." It goes through the entire Church Year. Meditations on the Scripture readings and liturgical texts for feasts and Sundays. I always go back to it before/around each major feast and many Sundays, as well. Particularly good if you're from a church that didn't follow the Church Year.

The first Orthodox book I read (sent to me by the penpal who introduced me to Orthodoxy) was The Mountain of Silence by Kyriakos Markides. It's available on Kindle. Some have issue with his own interjections in the book, but he presents the teachings of monk (now a bishop in Cyrpus) who was a spiritual son of a well-known elder from Athos (dead since 1993) wonderfully. Easy read on the Orthodox spiritual tradition, but it's not really "a how to" book. That's Way of the Ascetics.

And for heaven's sake, do not pick up either volume of Orthodox Dogmatic Spirituality by Fr. Dumitru Staniloae. I had to read him in my Dogmatic Theology class. Those books are now up for sale on Amazon as they were horridly dense.

As I said, I'm in training to be a catechist. I will be working with adults. My parish already has a catechist who has been doing it for some years. I've already kind of helped people informally (I'm known as "The Book Lady" and people hit me up at coffee hour for recs). We both have seen inquirers, let alone catechumens, bite off way more than they can chew in some of the stuff they read. They get way in over their heads. Reading stuff you're not ready for can be spiritually harmful, especially if you try ascetic disciplines beyond you and fail.

For example, a person who has not even read the Hopko or Ware basic books on Orthodoxy really has no business reading Lossky's Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church.

Read the lives of the saints. The Prologue from Ochrid is available online (aka free). Bookmark this link on your computer/phone and it should come up on the correct date each day.

http://www.westsrbdio.org/prolog/my.html

There's also the saints of the day from the GOA and OCA websites.

Here's our standard advice to catechumens: read Ware's The Orthodox Church and The Orthodox Way - and whatever other books your priest/catechism teacher advises. Go to church regularly - Divine Liturgy AND Vespers each weekend, as well as feast day services you can make. Saturday evening Vespers is preparation for receiving Communion - so that's especially important after you've been received into the Church. Do regular morning, evening, and mealtime prayers. Do the fasts (to the extent your parish priest advises). Read the daily readings, including some part of the Psalter. Say the Jesus Prayer some during the day.

Just like you wouldn't run a marathon after just beginning to jog, just so you won't read Orthodox spiritual literature that is not for beginners.

You can find the liturgical texts online (at least for the Antiochians and OCA) that include all the Vespers, etc., texts. Ask your priest where you would find those for GOA (although the Antiochian texts might work in a pinch for you since they follow Greek liturgical practice, but they are in more archaic language than the English GOA uses).
 

maryofegypt

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I concur with the previous posters who recommended avoiding Orthodox spiritual reading that is not for beginners.  I tried Unseen Warfare and some of the Philokalia not far into our catechumen stage and well, that was a mistake.  Utterly bewildered is not too strong a phrase.

My number one book recommendation is Orthodox Dogmatic Theology by Fr. Michael Pomazansky.  It was the book we used as catechumens and at the recommendation of a priest at the time, I re-read it every year during Lent.   

Also, "How to Live a Holy Life" by Metropolitan Gregory Postnikov of St. Petersburg is an absolute jewel of a little book.  I keep it in my purse at all times, read it constantly and *always* glean something from it.
 

augustin717

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You can use the philokalia volumes as coasters, as they are quite thick and would do the job. That's what some neighbours of ours did with a volume of it , the one of Diadochos of Photiki.
 

pasadi97

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First pray to God to let you know about what you should know for your salvation:

Dear God please save me and as much from humanity as possible. Please let me know the truth about all religions and please let all people know this truth. Please help me learn what I need about Eastern orthodox Faith. Amen.

Craddle orthodox normal people read: Bible, the life of the Saints like : http://engforum.pravda.ru/index.php?/topic/169572-crazy-john-an-athenian-fool-for-christ/ , practical things like what a Christian can do: house blessings , practical day to day things like what to do at baptism and such, Confession helper books listing sins. There are also Elder Cleopa's stories with different life situations. These books are nice: http://www.amazon.com/Gurus-Young-Man-Elder-Paisios/dp/1887904166 , http://www.amazon.com/Way-Pilgrim-Continues-His/dp/0385468148/ref=pd_sim_b_4, http://www.amazon.com/Mountain-Silence-Search-Orthodox-Spirituality/dp/0385500920/ref=pd_bxgy_b_img_c , http://www.amazon.com/Gifts-Desert-Kyriacos-C-Markides/dp/0307885380/ref=pd_sim_b_6 Saint Parascheva said you need for salvation: prayer, fasting, good deeds probably like in Matthew 25. Baptism and Confession and Holy Communion and Church sacraments are assumed.

Believe it or not, in Romania the books of US converts have a real catch: Fr seraphim Rose http://www.amazon.com/Nihilism-Root-Revolution-Modern-Age/dp/1887904069/ref=pd_sim_b_7 and Peter Gilquist

Other books : prophecies

I saw this book recommended but I have not read it: http://www.amazon.com/Our-Thoughts-Determine-Lives/dp/1887904190/ref=pd_sim_b_8
http://www.amazon.com/Path-Salvation-Manual-Spiritual-Transformation/dp/1887904506/ref=pd_sim_b_27

Elder Cleopa's books:
http://www.amazon.com/Shepherd-Souls-Archimandrite-Ioanichie-Balan/dp/1887904042/ref=sr_1_6?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1313515333&sr=1-6
http://www.amazon.com/Truth-Faith-Elder-Cleopa-Romania/dp/9608677807/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1313515108&sr=1-1
http://www.amazon.com/Truth-Our-Faith-Christian-Foundations/dp/9608677823/ref=pd_sim_b_1

So I recommend this order:
http://engforum.pravda.ru/index.php?/topic/169572-crazy-john-an-athenian-fool-for-christ/
http://www.amazon.com/Gurus-Young-Man-Elder-Paisios/dp/1887904166
http://www.amazon.com/Way-Pilgrim-Continues-His/dp/0385468148/ref=pd_sim_b_4
http://www.amazon.com/Mountain-Silence-Search-Orthodox-Spirituality/dp/0385500920/ref=pd_bxgy_b_img_c
http://www.amazon.com/Gifts-Desert-Kyriacos-C-Markides/dp/0307885380/ref=pd_sim_b_6
 

Achronos

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Quick someone post that Seinfeld clip when George is at a "Latvian" orthodox church and has to read a stack of books ;D
 
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Personally I do not think there is much we have to know except what we need to know. We need to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Our faith as expressed in the Creed, the 2 great commands and the golden rule, the 10 commandments, the Beatitudes, the need to confess to a priest, to partake of the Eucharist, to pray, fast, give alms,  the need to worship in spirit and in truth in the divine liturgy, and the eight feasts of the Lord. Surely I like to know more but these seem to me the basics and the ultimates and can be put to memory so one can tell another one's faith if desireable or necessary.
 

Knee V

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I came to Orthodoxy because I needed to be in the "correct institution"; I needed to know that I was believing the right things for the sake of believing the right things. I believed (and still believe) that Orthodoxy was the "correct place". In other words, even though it was motivated by a desire to be obedient whether I understood the theology or not (since, as a former Calvinist, Orthodox theology made absolutely no sense to me), there was still an underlying intellectual itch that I felt the need to scratch.

That satisfaction lasted a while. But there came a point where I said to myself, "now what?" I'm now "in the right place", but what's the difference? I'm in a place where questions can be answered correctly, but what difference does that make? How is my life any different now that I know that I can find correct answers? After that, over time I began to realize that polemics only gets you so far.

Books are nice and all, and they certainly have their place. But if I were in your shoes, and could go back to being a catechumen all over again, I would focus my "study" on the lives of the saints. Reading books "about prayer" is still not the same thing as prayer. Engage God in prayer, even if it's just a little, and read about how the Saints overcame the world. That is my advice.
 

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I highly recommend the Orthodox Study Bible. It opened my eyes to reading the Bible again.
 

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Just two recommendations:

Wounded by Love, by Elder Porphyrios
http://www.amazon.com/Wounded-Love-Elder-Porphyrios/dp/9607201191/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1313919395&sr=1-1 (sorry, not yet on Kindle)
Don't be put off by the title. He is full of the most unexpected yet wise advice.

And for prayer:
A Manual of the Hours of the Orthodox Church
From the Holy Myrrhbearers Monastery. Pocket-sized (5 1/2" X 4 1/4") with laminated covers and wire spiral, lay-flat binding.  83 pages; contains the essentials of the Orthodox Hours of prayer in modern English. http://www.holymyrrhbearers.com/catalog/product_info.php?cPath=22&products_id=43

Slip this in your handbag and use it to pray wherever and whenever you find yourself having just a few minutes to spare. You'll then be praying with the Church somewhere in the world. (Just be aware that the psalm numbers are not the Orthodox Septuagint ones, but the Masoretic/Protestant ones; the Monastery thinks they are more familiar to converts!)
 
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