Monday, August 7, 2017

The Human Icon - Hinduism and Orthodoxy

Despite the history that divides them, Hinduism and Orthodox Christianity have much in common. In The Human Icon, Christine Mangala Frost explores how both religions seek to realise the divine potential of every human being, and the differences in their approach. Frost, who has experienced both the extraordinary riches and the all-too-human failings of Hinduism and Orthodox Christianity from the inside, is perfectly placed to examine the convergences and divergences between the two faiths. Inspired by a desire to clear up the misunderstandings that exist between the two, The Human Icon is a study in how two faiths, superficially dissimilar, can nevertheless find meeting points everywhere.

The powerful intellectual and spiritual patristic traditions of Orthodox Christianity offer a rare tool for revitalising too-often stalled dialogue with Hinduism and present the chance for a broader and more diverse understanding of the oldest religion in the world. Tracing the long history of Orthodox Christianity in India, from the Thomas Christians of ancient times to the distinctive theology of Paulos Mar Gregorios and the Kottayam School, Frost explores the impact of Hindu thought on Indian Christianity and considers the potential for confluence. With a breadth of interest that spans Hindu bhakti, Orthodox devotional theology, Vedānta and theosis, as well as meditational Yoga and hesychastic prayer, Frost offers a fresh perspective on how the devotees of both faiths approach the ideal of divinisation, and presents a thoughtful, modern methodology for a dialogue of life.

Review by Antioch Abouna: My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Dr Frost has capably achieved a gargantuan task in shining a light on the spirituality of Orthodox Christianity for a Hindu audience and likewise illuminating the richness and depth of Hinduism for her own Orthodox Christian community. This has been achieved precisely because she has a foot in both worlds with insights that transcend the possible disjunctions of language, concepts and practice that exist on the surface between the two faiths. Raised as a Hindu but becoming an Orthodox Christian in later life, she speaks from within both religious traditions with an authenticity that is personally tested and encyclopaedic in scope.

In this book, Dr Frost has not simply described the major themes of each religion, comparatively and in parallel. That would have presented a relatively straight forward task. She has gone further and much deeper by identifying possible points of contact, even overlap and congruence, between corresponding themes and insights from both faiths. This has been achieved while at the same time identifying with clear sightedness possible irreducible differences that need to be acknowledged in inter-faith dialogue.

Her realism in addressing these elements of both convergence and divergence is never compromised by any personal intrusive commitments, yet her own blessings in both faiths clearly shine through. She is a critical observer who strives to be fair to both religions both on their own grounds and in dialogue. A reader of this book will be enlightened and encouraged by the possibilities that lie ahead for mutual enhancement and understanding between Orthodox Christians and Hindus alike.

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