This month my new book Hallowed Be Thy Name: The Name-Glorifying Dispute in the Russian Orthodox Church and on Mt. Athos, 1912-1914 was published. The book tells the story of a theological controversy in the Russian Orthodox church that was resolved by means of fist fights, bayonets, fire hoses, and the exile and imprisonment of those who defied church authority.
Bruce Clark, writer on religion and public policy for the Economist magazine, has this to say about it:
For anyone wanting to understand an extraordinary and important episode in the modern history of Christianity, Tom Dykstra’s excellent account, which is both meticulous and highly readable, should be an indispensable starting-point. It brings alive a passionate argument over the holiness of the Name of God which shook the Tsarist and Balkan world on the eve of the first world war. Better than any other chronicler of the tragedy that came to a head in the main monastic stronghold of the Christian East, he combines a clear view of the theological stakes with a keen sense of the politics, both secular and ecclesiastical, which determined the outcome. Dykstra also manages to situate the Imperial Russian quarrel over sacred names in the broader sweep of the history of monotheism.
The book begins by describing one of the episodes in the history of the name-glorifying controversy:
On July 3, 1913 some four hundred monks of the Athonite monastery of St. Panteleimon fled to one of their dormitory buildings and set to work barricading the entrances with bed boards. Bayoneted rifles in hand, sailors of the Russian Imperial Navy surrounded the building while their officers exhorted the unarmed monks to give up peacefully. To no avail. Prepared for martyrdom but hoping in God’s help, the monks sang, prayed, did prostrations, and took up icons and crosses to defend themselves. Finally the trumpet rang out with the command to “shoot,” and the calm of the Holy Mountain was rent by the roar … not of firearms, but of fire hoses. After an hour-long “cold shower” dampened the monks’ spirits, the sailors rushed the building and began to drag recalcitrant devotees of the contemplative life out of the corridors. (p.13)
Another episode is described colorfully by an eyewitness:
They began to drag out of this heap [of fighting monks] one person at a time into the corridor, where the brotherhood stood in two lines, receiving the booty and passing it (Jeromeites) on: one by the hair another by the side and with a command, another they would beat for something to teach him a lesson. In this way they brought them to the stairs and then they let them down the stairs variously as each pleased: some went head first and some went feet first, counting the steps with the back of their head. They led them to the church square, then ceremoniously took them by the hand and led them out the gate. (p.91)
As I explain in the preface, the controversy described here persists to the present day:
This year is the 100th anniversary of the most sensational events in this story, the expulsion of the Russian monks from Mount Athos. But the publication of this account is timely for other reasons as well. After lying dormant for decades, the theological controversy behind the tragic events that happened in the early twentieth century has re-ignited within the Eastern Orthodox Church. Church hierarchs can no longer command military forces to rout their theological opponents by means of fire hoses and bayonets, but the hostility expressed today over the Internet matches what was expressed earlier in ecclesiastical journals. One need only do an internet search for the keyword “name-worshiping” to find several web sites and web pages that decry in no uncertain terms the 100-year old “heresy.” For that reason, the publication now of this account is especially appropriate because it puts a human face on the “heretics” and offers a sympathetic interpretation of the “heresy.” (p.xi)
The book is an adaptation of a Master’s thesis written at St. Vladimir’s Seminary in 1988. It remains the most comprehensive account on the subject written in English.