Book launch: Die Onsienlike Son
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Today we went to the launch of a new book, a book of Afrikaans poems on the lives of the saints.
That in itself is a fairly unusual thing.
There was a time, not all that long ago, within living memory of some of us, when those in power defined an Afrikaner as someone who was white, spoke Afrikaans, was a member of one of the three Dutch Reformed Churches and supported the National Party.
Back in those days, none of the Dutch Reformed Churches did saints, though things may be changing now. Some of them do candles nowadays, which they didn’t do back then, so can saints be far behind?
But these poems are by Fr Kobus van der Riet, an Orthodox priest. Or, to give him his full title, Archimandriet Jacobus van der Riet. At the back of the book are brief hagiographies of the saints who are the subjects of the poems, and who go back as far as Abraham, but also include 20th century saints like St Nektarius of Pentapolis and St John of San Francisco.
The book is also illustrated with ikons painted by our daughter, Julia Bridget Hayes.
Fr Kobus was originally from Harrismith in the Free State, and was educated at Stellenbosch. He was receiuved into the Orthodox Church in 1994, and was ordained as a priest in 2002. He has visited Greece, Russia and Romania, and spent about a year at a monastery in the Peleponese, and about 3 months at monasteries on the Holy Mountain. He studied theology at St Tikhon’s Seminary in Pennsylvania in the USA.
In introducing his book of poems he said that he had written mainly about saints in countries he had visited, so that he could get a feel for their lives and circumstances.
People asked questions about the role of saints in the life of the Orthodox Church, and the place of ikons. Fr Kobus explained that people were recognised as saintsa in the Orthodox Church because people could see the glory of God in them, either in their life and ministry, or sometimes even after their death. For example, there is St Phanourios, who was a lost saint, and was rediscovered when people found an ikon of him. People ask for his prayers when they have lost something, and sometimes make cakes, which he asked people to make for his mother, and pray for her, since she lived an immoral life. He is commemorated on 27 August.
The saints are thus like friends, whom we can ask to pray for us, and, as in the case of St Phanourios, we can sometimes honour their prayer requests too.
These kinds of themes and subjects are unusual for Afrikaans poetry, so it will be interesting to see how the book is received, and whether it makes a lasting contribution to Afrikaans literature. There is some very good poetry written in Afrikaans, which is in some ways much more expressive and poetic than English, which seems more suited to prose than poetry.
There were about 40 people there for the occasion, at the premises of the Protea Boekhuis in Clydesdale, Pretoria. Some came from St Nicholas Parish in Brixton, Johannesburg, where Fr Kobus was received into the Orthodox Church in 1994.
I’ve written about this in English, though really someone should write about it in Afrikaans, and I hope one or more of my Afrikaans blogging friends will do so — there is one blog mention here. You can find more about the book here: Jacobus van der Riet bespreek sy gedigte oor heiliges in Die onsienlike son. And you can buy a copy in various bookshops, or here: loot.co.za or in other online book shops.