Avgustin (Nikitin), Archimandrit. Metodizm i Pravoslavie [Methodism and Orthodoxy]. St. Petersburg: Svetoch, 2001. 223 pp. Reviewed by Sergei V. Nikolaev.
Methodism and Orthodoxy by Archimandrite Avgustin (Nikitin) is a unique and important book for anyone interested in a serious history of the Orthodox-Methodist relationship in the context of the Russian-American church connection. This is the first book of such detail and scope by a Russian Orthodox scholar since the late nineteenth century. Archimandrite Avgustin's volume deserves to be considered on the same level as the works on Methodism by Bishop Ioann (Mitropolski) and Professor A.I. Bulgakov (Ocherki istorii metodizma [Topics in the History of Methodism], Kyiv: 1887).
In his study, Fr. Avgustin chooses to focus on the Russian Orthodox Church as the most prominent component of Russia's church life, and on the Methodist Church because it is seen by Russians as the church that "counts among its members those who direct the fate of the United States." The author sees the goal of his book to trace the history of Orthodox-Methodist relations in order to promote a further Russian-American church relationship and deeper mutual understanding between Russians and Americans. The work is aimed at promoting an appreciation among Russians of the relationship between the Russian Orthodox Church and non-Orthodox churches.
In this work, Fr. Avgustin extensively quotes and summarizes the writings of other, mainly Russian, scholars, and publicists who have dealt with the topic. Consequently, the footnotes in the book provide perhaps one of the best bibliographies on the almost two hundred years of history of Orthodox-Methodist relations available in Russian. Fr. Avgustin not only quotes other authors extensively, but also builds the structure of his book around the studies of various authors. This results in a certain structural unsoundness: the topics tend to repeat themselves when the author moves from one source to another. Although he keeps to the historical progression of events, it is not easy to follow the flow of Fr. Avgustin's narrative.
The author's reliance on secondary sources sometimes leads to his endorsing views that are not accurate in light of current Wesleyan studies. For instance, Fr. Avgustin, following a discussion in Bishop Ioann's work, interprets the episode of the ordination of John Jones and a few others in 1763 by the Greek Orthodox Bishop Erasmus as "the presence in the Methodist ministers' hierarchical succession not only of the Anglican line but of the Orthodox line as well." It seems as if Fr. Avgustin has not read the primary documents concerning this episode. From John Wesley's Letters and Journal we know that these ordinations caused troubles in the Methodist movement. To resolve these difficulties, Wesley later had to have John Jones ordained by an Anglican bishop and had to remove others from ministry who had been ordained by Bishop Erasmus.
On the other hand, Fr. Avgustin offers quite insightful analyses when he works with the primary sources. Evaluating the demise of the Methodist Church in Russia shortly after the October Revolution in 1917, he points to two key reasons. First, with the beginning of World War I the majority of local Methodist churches were cut off from the central Methodist Church in St. Petersburg because they were located in territory that was occupied by the German Army. Second, many key positions in the early Methodist Church in Russia were held by non-Russian citizens. When foreigners had to leave Russia under Bolshevik pressure, the Methodist Church in Russia lost its primary leaders and could not recover from this loss.
Fr. Avgustin clearly sees the nadir of the Orthodox-Methodist relationship in their conflicts in Alaska in the nineteenth century, a subject that is still awaiting thorough study. On the other hand, YMCA secretary John Mott's life and his involvement with Russian Orthodoxy are seen as the zenith of the relationship. Often the Methodist Mott is called "the great friend of Russian Orthodoxy."
Fr. Avgustin's book begins to fill the void that exists in the Russian-speaking world of material related to Methodism. It is barely a year since the first publication of his book and the publishers are discussing a new edition. This survey of the Orthodox-Methodist relationship is arguably the best available introduction to the topic in Russian.
Sergei V. Nikolaev is a doctoral candidate at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, TX.
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