Title: Miracle on the Monastery Mountain
Author: Douglas Demetrios Lyttle
Publisher: Greenleaf Book Group (April 1, 2004)
Reviewer: Dian Moore
If you have a father who loves photography and is interested in the history of Christianity, Miracle on the Monastery Mountain, is the perfect gift, holding 405 pages and 655 photographs on heavyweight paper.
It’s not often that I feel honored to be able to review a book. In fact, I have to say this review experience was one that moved me spiritually, delighted my eyes and left its words and pictures forever engraved upon my mind. I have cherished this book, which is a work of art lovingly compiled by a gentleman photographer on his personal journey.
Miracle on the Monastery Mountain is to be absorbed, studied and reflected upon, for within its pages lie enlightenment, truly beautiful images and a glimpse into an oft-misunderstood community of Christian believers, the Eastern Orthodox Christian monks.
Lyttle, who in 1972, and in his fifth decade of life, set out armed with a master photographer skills, an inquisitive mind, and ultimately, over a more than 20 year period, a soulful need to understand where he stood in God’s kingdom.
The self-publishing world must often accept the stigma of poorly designed, unedited, vanity work. But not this time.
Lyttle has created a work of art and history that is of a quality not found from even the most elite publishing houses. Eight years of writing and editing and selecting a mere 655 images from out of the 50,000 he made of his journeys to the mountain seem like an inordinate amount of time to produce a book. However, once the first page falls open, Lyttle captures the heart of the person holding Miracle in his or her hands.
The photographer/author may well be the Rembrandt of the photographic community, but he is also a natural storyteller.
Miracle chronicles the history of the Mount Athos monks with pictures and prose.
As Lyttle steps off the bus the first time in 1972, so does the reader, and the reader becomes immersed in his pilgrimage as if it were their own.
Rich with vignettes into the personal and spiritual lives of the monastic population, Miracle allows a glimpse into a carefully preserved order of holiness; and a misunderstood religious sect.
Nowhere else can one find a volume of work that is testament to the rich history of a society whose origins can, in some cases, be traced back to the Apostles of Christ. Lyttle has designed the photos, which resemble a master’s gallery, to compliment the text. Or perhaps he assembled the text to compliment the illustrations. Whatever his intent, the book is seamlessly put together as a treat for the eyes in both words and pictures.
After being recognized as an earnest seeker of the truths of the Orthodox Christian beliefs, Lyttle was welcomed back to the mountain and became a privileged visitor, allowed to document the customs, routines, spirit-filled ceremonies, joy, hard work humility, humor and brotherhood born from lives lived in dedication to service for the Lord.
Miracle is organized in nine, well-thought-out sections, beginning with the crumbling and dying monasteries on Mount Athos in the 1970’s era and continuing through its rebirth.
Lyttle not only introduces readers to life in a monastery, he also honors the individual men he encountered. Through his experience, I found myself fascinated, swept up, humbled and saddened, breathless and nourished – all through a careful compilation of words and pictures.
Perhaps because the monasteries are only open to men, being able to immerse myself into the Eastern Orthodox Christian culture became an encounter for me to treasure.
Miracle has a place of honor in my home library and has become the most beneficial and beautiful work of art I have in my possession.
Every public library, as well as private libraries, should have this book; and to give one as a gift is guaranteed to bring enthusiastic gratitude from the receiver.
Lyttle is a master photographer and Professor Emeritus of the Rochester Institute of Technology’s School of Photographic Arts and Sciences in New York. He celebrated his 86th birthday in March of 2005 and continues to be both a student and teacher of life, photography and Eastern Orthodoxy.
He began a career as a pharmaceutical research chemist after graduating cum laude in 1941 from the University of Michigan. After 19 years, Lyttle turned to his love of photography and opened a successful studio for custom photographs in Kalamazoo, Michigan. His accumulated experiences in portraiture, architectural photography and advertising illustrations later combined to enhance another career as a teacher of the art. This led to yet another career for 25 years as a documentary travel photographer that set him on the path up the mountain.
Persistent professionalism, fascination with the individuals of society and an adventurous spirit garnered him a personal entry into the remote and inaccessible places, all the while discovering his own spiritual heritage.
For those who wish to learn the history of Christianity, Miracle on the Monastery Mountain is an in-depth study useful as a textbook while providing pleasure to the viewer.
Please learn more at Lyttle’s website, and get a sneak preview of the gorgeous photography in the book: http://www.athosmonasteries.com/
Dian Moore is a freelance writer, editor and reviewer and the hands behind Hands for Hope, www.handsforhope.com. If you would like to write to Dian, you can do so via the Letters page of this magazine.
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