Recommended Reading: Pascha / Spring 2008

The Orthodox Study Bible

Thomas Nelson, 1824 pp, $50

I've been looking at the new Orthodox Study Bible, which now includes the Old and New Testaments. Here are my first impressions.

New Testament: I was a bit apprehensive about this project, since I had found the earlier edition (which only included the New Testament and Psalms) disappointing. Comments were often inane, and made little use of the Fathers' commentaries on the New Testament passages. That edition made no effort to correct the Psalms to the (sometimes substantially different) Orthodox text.

I'm happy to say that the New Testament commentary has been substantially re-worked and seems to me much improved. More patristic material is included, and notes are provided on how various passages are used in the Church's services.

Unfortunately, the editors did not correct the Textus Receptus version (the basis of the New King James Version used here) to match Church usage. Why not? Fortunately differences in the New Testament are rarely significant. If you want to come very close to reconstructing the Church's text, keep your eye out for notes (provided by the NKJV editors) saying "M-Text reads." This will give the "Majority Text" reading when it differs from the one in the body of the text.

The Psalter has been moved to its proper place in the Old Testament and corrected to Orthodox usage. See below.

Old Testament: Here is where we find the big contribution. The full text of the Orthodox Old Testament, including all of the so-called Apocrypha in their proper places, is included. Wonderful! This will be a big help to parishes, since many of the Old Testament readings for various feast days (for example the Song of the Three Youths in the Furnace) aren't found in Protestant Bibles.

The translators used the New King James Version as their starting point, correcting or adding to it where it did not match the Septuagint text used by the Church. If you're familiar with the NKJV, you'll have a good idea of how the text reads: quite literal, a little stiff in places, but generally a dignified, easily-readable modern English. As with the New Testament, the notes make use of the Fathers' commentaries and describe where various passages are used liturgically. Much more helpful.

To get a feel for how the text reads for liturgical use and for prayer, I looked over the Psalms and was generally pleased. The editors have carefully revised the text according to the Septuagint; almost as important for church use, the Psalter "sings" fairly well when read aloud.

Other Material: The earlier New Testament OSB included a number of supplementary articles. Some of these were strongly criticized for having a Protestant feel (produced as they were by evangelical converts). My impression is that the best of the original articles have been kept (there's an excellent one by Bishop Kallistos, "How to Read the Bible"), and that the articles that were most strongly criticized have been removed or rewritten.

Short, helpful study articles (Deification, Transfiguration, The Church) interspersed throughout the text have been more carefully supervised and edited than in the earlier edition.

As in the earlier edition, many reproductions of icons are included. These draw from a wider range of sources than in the earlier version. Some are exquisite, though the quality of some reproductions seems not as good as in the earlier edition.

Finally, a short set of morning and evening prayers is included. These generally follow longer versions found in prayer books and will be helpful to many users. (The earlier edition included no prayers to the Mother of God, one source of charges that it was a crypto-Protestant work. That egregious omission has been corrected.)

Sometimes I felt as if the earlier, New Testament edition of the Orthodox Study Bible was aimed more at converting Protestants than at being helpful to Orthodox believers. I don't get that impression about this edition, and I'm grateful.

My opinion may change as I read it more carefully, but for now I'm very pleased with the job the editors have done. For Orthodox Christians wanting a proper Old Testament in English, this is really the only choice, so it's fortunate that the editors undertook their work with care and prayer. Many thanks to them. - John Brady

Bread and Water, Wine and Oil

by Archimandrite Meletios Webber

Conciliar Press, pp 200, $16

A key passage at the beginning of Bread and Water, Wine and Oil focuses on the Orthodox use of the word "mystery":

"One of the most noticeable features of Eastern Christianity is that it is this word, 'mystery,' rather than the word 'sacrament,' which describes those actions of God which have a specific, decisive and eternal significance in the lives of those who take part in them. Everyday substances - oil, water, bread, wine - together with simple actions - offering, blessing, washing, anointing - become the means by which God intervenes in our lives. These interventions - in which God does all the work, and our only contribution is to be prepared and present - color and shape our lives beyond the extent that would be possible through any human encounter. However, unlike most human interactions, they do not take us from a place of ignorance to a place of knowledge. Rather, the Mysteries lead us deeper and deeper into the Mystery - the Mystery which is the presence of God Himself."

Mystery, in the Orthodox sense, has nothing to do with mystery novels and films. The divine mystery has no solution. As the author writes:

"In the East, on the other hand, a mystery is an area where the human mind cannot go, and where the heart alone makes sense, not by 'knowing,' but by 'being.' The Greek word mysterion leads you into a sense of 'not-knowing' or 'not-understanding' and leaves you there. All a person can do is gaze and wonder; there is nothing to solve."

Fr. Meletios's book is a profoundly challenging book concerning the journey from the mind (always struggling to explain, solve and de-mystify, yet always seething with emotions and passions) to the depths of the heart, the center of being rather than of knowing.

Bread and Water, Wine and Oil seems likely to become a Christian classic, the sort of book the reader returns to again and again and keeps recommending to friends.

- Jim Forest

Churchly Joy

by Sergius Bulgakov

translated by Boris Jakim

Eerdmans, pp 149, $16

Little by little, more of the writings of Fr. Sergius Bulgakov are becoming available in English, in this case a collection of sermons delivered in Paris between 1924-1935 when the author was dean of St. Sergius Theological Institute as well as professor of theology. The original Russian text appeared in 1936 with a dedication to the Association of Orthodox Action, in which one of the most notable figures was a spiritual child of Fr. Sergius, Mother Maria Skobtsova, now better known as St. Maria of Paris.

The 28 sermons (also described as orations and discourses) offer the reader a journey through the Church calendar and, while the chapters might first be read in one go, might afterward be returned to one by one in connection with particular days and seasons of the ecclesiastical year: Annunciation, Nativity, Epiphany, Presentation of the Virgin, Presentation of Christ, Entry into Jerusalem, Pascha, Exaltation of the Cross, Protection of the Mother of God, etc.

Bulgakov writes in the preface: "There are two worlds for the Christian and two lives in them: one of these lives belongs to this world of sorrow and suffering, while the other is lived in a hidden manner in the Kingdom of God, in the joyful city of heaven. All of the events, both of the Gospel and of the Church, which are celebrated at different times of the Church Year are not only remembered but are also accomplished in us, insofar as our souls touch this heavenly world. These events become for us a higher reality, a source of unceasing celebration, of perfect joy."

A reviewer could quote from any sermon to give a prospective reader some idea of the spirit of the book. Here is an extract from what Fr. Sergius had to say about the Sunday of the Last Judgment:

"The Lord reveals ... that upon which salvation or perdition depends, and this is for all men or all nations, not only for those illumined by faith in Christ. The principle, his power of life, is love, the works of love and the way of love: feeding those who hunger, giving drink to those who thirst, giving refuge to the wanderer, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned - not only in a bodily but in a spiritual sense. These questions of the Lord encompass the entire domain of relations between human beings, all the possibilities of love. However, the question involuntarily arises: Is Christian life reducible to charity alone?

Does this mean that right faith, Christian hope, the fulfillment of Church decrees, adherence to doctrine, and prayer have no significance for salvation? Does this mean that heresies, schisms, and absence of faith do not matter if one's works are good? No, all these things are required of the Christian and will be taken into account by the Just Judge; but separated from love, these things are the empty virtue of the arrogant Pharisee or the older son in the parable of the Prodigal Son."

There is clarity, depth, joy and energy in each sermon, making the book a great aid in entering more deeply in the Pascha-centered calendar we travel through time and again, but - one hopes! - each year reaching a deeper level.

It is also encouraging to see such books being published by Eerdmans, a company with deep Protestant roots that not long ago would never have considered publishing work by an Orthodox theologian. - JF

The Living Body of Christ

by Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh

Darton Longman & Todd, 264 pp, €11

It is five years since Metropolitan Anthony's death but, thanks to his writings and transcriptions others made of talks (many of which were given without notes), his voice is still very much with us. It is often a challenging voice, as he doesn't hesitate to speak out quite plainly about what he regards as shortcomings in the Church as an institution. He is often surprising, never glib. He was also one of the great storytellers of his generation.

In this collection of talks and interviews, none previously published in book form, the late Metropolitan Anthony, for many years leader of the Russian Orthodox Church in Great Britain, discusses the nature of the Church and what is meant - or ought to be meant - by the phrase "the Church is the body of Christ."

Metropolitan Anthony discusses the development of the early Church, its mission and legacy, offering insights into where the Church today finds itself. He explores what the vocation of the Church should be and our role within that, with his customary vigor, accessibility and directness.

"Our vocation," he writes, "is to be an icon of the Holy Trinity. The only real structure, the only real way in which the Church can be formed so as to fulfil its vocation, is by expressing in all its being these relationships within the Holy Trinity: relationships of love, relationships of freedom, relationships of holiness." - JF

Lynette's Hope

compiled and edited by Fr. Luke Veronis

Conciliar Press, 268 pp, $18

For centuries, in some traditionally Orthodox countries, for decades in others, the oppression suffered by believers was such that mission work in any usual sense of the term was simply impossible. In no country was this more true than Albania, the only Communist regime that closed every place of worship, whether Christian, Moslem or Jewish, and forbid any form of religious life, even in one's home.

When at last it became possible for the Orthodox Church to return to visible life in Albania, among those who volunteered to help were two Americans, Nathan and Lynette Hoppe. Albania became their life's work.

Lynette quite literally gave her life to serving the Church in Albania, where she died of cancer in August 2006.

Even though her life was cut short, Lynette will be remembered as a saint by all who knew her.

This collection of her writings, along with vivid memories from others, is not only a record of an astonishing, Christ-revealing life, but an invitation to each of us to find ways to share our faith with others. - JF

From the Pascha / Spring 2008 issue of In Communion / IC 49