I am planning once again to offer a short course during USC’s upcoming “Maymester” (9-27 May 2011) on the contemplative spirituality of Eastern Orthodox Christianity. As was the case last year “Mysteries of the Christian East” will focus on the mystical theory and practices of the Hesychast tradition, but the class will also include an overview of Eastern Christian theology, iconography, music, and liturgy.

The course features an off-campus trip during the second week (16-21 May) to St Anthony’s Monastery in the Sonora desert of southern Arizona, one of several monastic communities established by the Athonite elder Ephraim, a former abbot of Philotheou Monastery on the Holy Mountain. My own pilgrimage to Athos in 2007 continues to serve as the inspiration for this academic offering.

Readings include The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church by Vladimir Lossky, long regarded as the classic work on the subject, and The Mountain of Silence by Kyriacos Markides, an engaging meditation on the contemporary importance of this ancient tradition. Last year’s student comments included:

“Learning about the Eastern Christian tradition and then experiencing it firsthand in the desert gave me a perspective I would never have had and will never forget”; “the trip was incredibly beautiful and beneficial”; “before this class I had only abstract ideas about spiritual practice, but I left with a sense of peace testifying to the power of contemplative prayer”.

Further information concerning the course, including a tentative syllabus, can be found here. Space is limited, so if you’re interested and would like to join us, please get in touch with me soon (cutsinger@sc.edu).

Here are a few photographs of St Anthony’s, taken by some of my students last year.