BOOK REVIEWS: Why Angels Fall: A Journey through Orthodox Europe from Byzantium to Kosovo
by Victoria Clark
published by Macmillan, hardback £18.99
Victoria Clark is not my ideal companion for a tour of the Orthodox world.
She is nothing if not a hard working journalist, ceaselessly interviewing,
telephoning and networking her way through her targeted list of clerical
celebrities. She seldom remembers to bring either a skirt or headscarf to
church, drinks anything offered her and stealthily exposes nationalism,
corruption and racial-prejudice wherever she finds it. Her mission is to
prove that the Western Christianity lost its heart and the Eastern
Christianity lost its mind from the schism of 1054.
Despite some nice observations on clerical vestments and an eye for colour
(Mehmet II conquers Constantinople in sky leather boots) hers is
emphatically not an aesthetic pilgrimmage. You are more likely to be
informed of the colour of an office wall, mobile telephone or the image on a
computer screen than by an ancient mosaic, venerable icon or uplifting dome.
I winced as I came across her passionless description of Ayia Sophia, her
ferry trip around Mount Athos and her visit to the treasures of Mount Athos
exhibition at Thessaloniki, which have all in their turn made my heart sing.
Elsewhere, especially in the Romanian and Russian chapters, one is delighted
by the book. I treasure her description of the audience with the saintly
Archmandrite Cleopa and her careful examination of the Rasputin legend.
Though I was as suprised as Abbot Kiprian by her ignorance of St Ann. Her
three hour conversation with Father Vasily who, " took my quest...more
seriously than any other monk, nun, priest or bishop I had talked to during
my long travels" left her with sketchy notes and no memory. When he asks
the author "why I was writing a book about a religion I did not believe in"
I could not but agree with him. In the process I also came much closer to
appreciating the honesty and integrity of Victoria Clark's quest.
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by Barnaby Rogerson