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The Holy Fire, by Robert Payne (1957)

Choice quote: Gregory Nazianzen “feared no one. He had an unruly humor. He is the only man who is known to have dared to laugh at Basil. He was quick-tempered, sullen, unhappy in the company of most people, strangely remote from the world.”

A book this good, yet few have heard of it. It’s no doubt a testament to the West’s neglect of the Christian East . . . of Christ’s East. Which is, of course, now Muhammad’s East, which, of course, adds to the geographical separation that has always afflicted Rome: both the Church and the Empire. Even the Great JPII, whose people owe their faith to the Eastern missionaries Cyril and Methodius, couldn’t bridge the divide, and he tried mightily. The fault rests largely with the recalcitrance of the East and its unfortunate shoulder chip built up after generations of degradation at the hands of the Muslims and then the Communists. The East needs the West, but it won’t acknowledge it. Maybe the East needs a book about saints like Payne’s, but written about the West’s early lights. The East has Basil, the West Benedict. The East has John Chrysostom, the West Ambrose. If such a book were written with one-tenth of Payne’s verve, it’d do much to collapse those two great lungs into one heart. Unlikely? Sure. But not one-tenth as unlikely as the victories of the ten saints whose stories are told in this book.