Book Review: “The Orthodox Dilemma,” by George Alexander

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The Orthodox Dilemma, by George Alexander
The Orthodox Dilemma
By George Alexander
Reviewed by Karl Wolff
The Orthodox Church is part of the three large branches of mainline Christianity, the other two being The Catholic Church and Protestantism (Protestantism being, at best, a vast umbrella term). In terms of the US population, believers self-identify under the term “Protestant” while Catholics remain the largest minority (usually somewhere in the 40% range). Although population groups should never be thought of as static entities, statistics provide a rough snapshot of a given population.
Of these three mainline Christian groups, the Orthodox Church can be obscure and mysterious to an outside observer. When George Alexander approached me about reading his new book, The Orthodox Dilemma: Personal Reflections On Global Pan-Orthodox Christian Conciliar Unity, I was curious and excited. The title is a mouthful and jargon-intensive. To put it succinctly, The Orthodox Dilemma focuses on the administrative, political, and cultural challenges facing The Orthodox Church. These rather esoteric issues are interspersed with George’s personal experiences among the various Orthodox communities. Like the Catholic Church, each Orthodox community has a clerical hierarchy. In some cases, priests can marry. Unlike the Catholic Church, Orthodox communities have been having services in the native language for hundreds of years. If you want to know more about the history and practices of The Orthodox Church, I urge you to check out The Orthodox Church by Kallistos Ware.
George Alexander recounts his personal experiences, both positive and negative, with Orthodox communities. He also examines the differences between Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox. There are also Old Believers and other fringe groups within the Orthodox Christian category. His aim is global pan-Orthodox Christian conciliar unity. Since breaking off from the Catholic Church in the 11th century (or vice versa, depending who you ask), the Orthodox Church has endured fragmentation and persecution. Orthodox communities exist ignorant of each other. Some Orthodox communities don’t think other Orthodox are “real Orthodox.” The Orthodox Church is anything but a unified monolithic organization.
To take up this challenge of unifying on a global scale, Alexander participates in the Orthodoxy Cognate PAGE Society. Beyond the administrative hurdles involved, the PAGE Society has done work bringing awareness to the persecution of Orthodox Christians in the Middle East. The Patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church remains in house arrest. Despite the oppression, misunderstanding, and political in-fighting, Alexander asserts that the Orthodox Church should be considered a single, unified religious body.
This book will appeal to those interested in the history of religion and specifically the Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Dilemma was a well made self-published book. The topic might be niche, but that doesn’t devalue its message. The writing itself could have used one more editorial pass, but otherwise it is an informative and personal account of a fascinating topic.
Out of 10/8.0
Read even more about The Orthodox Dilemma: Official site | Amazon | GoodReads | LibraryThing

Karl Wolff has been a local TV production assistant, museum curator, and undergraduate teaching assistant. He currently reviews books for CCLaP, the New York Journal of Books, runs his own blog (The Driftless Area Review), and has written features for Milwaukee's own Alcoholmanac Magazine and INFO* Magazine.