Translated by Jerry Ryan
Edited by Michael Plekon
Foreword by Olivier Clément
Elizabeth Behr-Sigel (1907–2005) was one of the most important Orthodox theologians of the twentieth century. For seventy years she helped her church, dispersed and uprooted from its cultural heritage, adapt to a new world. Born in Alsace, France, to a Protestant father and a Jewish mother, Behr-Sigel received a master’s degree in theology from the Protestant Faculty of Theology at Strasbourg and began a pastoral ministry. It lasted only a year. Already attracted by the beauty of its liturgy and by its characteristic spirituality, Behr-Sigel officially embraced the Orthodox faith at age twenty-four.
During World War II her family (husband André Behr and their three children) lived in Nancy, France, where Behr-Sigel taught in the public school system. She later referred to this time as her real apprenticeship in ecumenism, when people of different traditions came together in opposition to Nazism, hiding Jews, and providing escape routes.
After the war she took advantage of courses at St. Sergius Theological Institute in Paris, where she later joined the faculty. Behr-Sigel also taught at the Catholic Institute of Paris, the Dominican College of Ottowa, and the Ecumenical Institute of Tantur near Jerusalem. She wrote and published books in Orthodox theology, spirituality, and the role of women in the Orthodox Church. In her retirement she continued to work on behalf of women and of the ecumenical movement. Her ninety-fifth birthday was celebrated in a Carmelite convent in the presence of two Orthodox bishops, a Greek Catholic Bishop, the vicar generals of three Catholic dioceses, and several eminent Protestant pastors.
“This beautifully written and translated book provides intimate biographical details of a theologian best known in the U.S. for her persistent and gracious insistence that Orthodoxy seriously contemplate ordaining women to the priesthood. Mining voluminous papers, correspondence, and weekly conversations with Behr-Sigel in the year before her death, Lossky brings to light a life which spanned the tumultuous twentieth century. Lossky vividly depicts the relationships and situations which forged this audacious, reckless, optimistic, and joy-filled woman of God.” — Anglican Theological Review
“This biography of Elisabeth Behr-Sigel (1907–2005), who was sometimes called ‘the grande dame of western Orthodoxy,’ is a significant contribution to the history of the Orthodox Church in the west and of the ecumenical movement. . . . Particularly important was her study of the role of women in the Orthodox Church and her exploration of that taboo subject in Orthodox circles—the ordination of women.” — The Journal of Ecclesiastical History
“This remarkable woman, Elisabeth Behr-Sigel, is still barely known in the United States, but in Europe it’s another story. Everybody knows of her; and it seems she knew everybody who was anybody. Draw up a list of the great Orthodox theologians of the 20th century; she knew them all—Sergius Bulgakov, Vladimir Lossky, Georges Florovsky, John Meyendorff, Olivier Clément, Kallistos Ware (to name just a few!). . . . Olga Lossky . . . gives us a compelling portrait of this surprising theologian. Simply as a story of a Christian living through the tumultuous 20th century, it is fascinating reading, for Westerners as much as those in the Christian East.” — Books and Culture
“Elisabeth Behr-Sigel was one of the most challenging—often controversial—Orthodox theologians of the last century. For decades, until her death in 2005, she was a key participant in building up an Orthodox presence in France in a process that integrated both refugees from Eastern Europe and converts from the West. . . . During the last year of her life, she met weekly with Olga Lossky, discussing her life and providing access to her journals and letters, thus giving this biography a climate of intimacy.” — In Communion
“Elisabeth Behr-Sigel was an important Orthodox theologian with a particular interest in the place of women in the Orthodox Church. She also showed what it means to live in a truly ecumenical way. . . . Toward the Endless Day offers a thorough account of Behr-Sigel’s writing, retreats, friendships, and steady, patient, and consistent defense of the place of women in the church. . .”. — Commonweal
“Two themes in the book reflect Behr-Sigel’s fundamental concerns: Orthodoxy in Western life and the need to be open to dialogue. . . . Toward the Endless Day is also a privileged encounter with the deepening spiritual life of Elisabeth Behr-Sigel over her 98 years.” — Communities of New Skete Newsletter
“This well-written and inspiring book narrates Elisabeth’s personal and religious biography, and serves as an accessible introduction to the personalities, ecclesial history, and spirituality of Western Orthodoxy. . . . Toward the Endless Day is an intelligent and skillfully executed biography of both a woman and the complex religious community she lived in and served. . . . This impressive work of scholarship, suffused by affection and tenderness, is a worthy and compelling narrative of this remarkable woman.” — The Catholic Worker
“Toward the Endless Day is the biography of one of the world’s leading female Orthodox thinkers of the twentieth century. . . . Behr-Sigel was born to a Protestant father and a Jewish mother, but embraced the Orthodox faith as a young woman of twenty-four. It is this Orthodox faith that defines her, and to which she made her greatest contributions as a theologian and a scholar.” — Catholic Library World
“The greatest strength of the book is allowing the reader to get to know Behr-Sigel personally: in the midst of raising her family during the ravages of war time France, facing economic and emotional difficulties, in seeking an authentic relationship with God in and through her church’s liturgy and piety. Lossky relies heavily on Behr-Sigel’s journals which give candid glimpses into her interior state of mind. It’s passages such as these that animate the book. Behr-Sigel was an academic but one that recorded an authentic and often passionate interior life. In integrating these two separate spheres on her life, Lossky has drawn a full picture of a very significant female Christian theologian.” — Popmatters.com
Critical praise for the French edition:
“. . . [A] thorough, readable, and deeply sympathetic study of one of the most outstanding modern Western interpreters of orthodoxy. For anyone who imagines that this tradition is marginal to the cultural history of twentieth-century Europe, this biography of a Protestant woman of Jewish family, balancing work, parenthood (single parenthood for a lot of the time), and scholarly and creative writing ought to produce some second thoughts.” — Rowan Williams, Times Literary Supplement