Simple Suggestions for Orthodox Study of Scripture


Saint Isaac the Syrian writes, “Very often many things are said by the Holy Scriptures and in it many names are used not in a literal sense… those who have a mind understand this” (Homily 83, p. 317).


The Holy Scriptures are indeed edifying for the Christian life – particularly as they are read and memorized. There they become a treasure in our heart that can be drawn upon at need. I find that even in simple tasks, such as trimming the wicks in the Church, that reciting psalms and other Scriptures helps center the heart and fittingly gives praise to God.

It was once an enforced part of Tradition that anyone chosen for the office of Bishop had to also know the Psalter by heart. Much of this had to do with the fact that such memorization was standard for monks at the time. Today it is not strictly enforced – though I am constantly amazed at the amount of Scripture, particularly Psalms, that my brother priests in the Church do know. Psalm 50 (LXX) “Have mercy on me, O God, according to Thy loving-kindness” is required memorization by priests and deacons. It is to be said quietly while they cense the Church.

St. Seraphim of Sarov read all four gospels in the course of a week, every week. My own taste of this comes every year during Holy Week when all four gospels are read aloud in the Church during the services of the hours. It is hard to describe the effect of any single gospel as it is read in its entirety.

Another great source for study is can be found in the Festal Menaion (translated by Met. Kallistos Ware and Mother Mary) and the Lenten Triodion. Both books contain reich material that is itself a commentary on Scripture that is also part of the devotional life. It is not just an education in Scripture but an education in how to read the Scripture.

Mentioned already in our comments is the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete. It is a meditation on Scripture with a particularly theme – but provides a “mystical” or “moral” approach to the reading of the Holy Scriptures.

Needless to say, the writings of the Fathers – the sermons of St. John Chrysostom and the like, are also invaluable.

In all of these things we are moving away from the individualism that has marked so much treatment of the Bible in modern times. It is a return to the life of humility and a searching for the mind of the Church. It is a submitting of ourselves for the “renewing of our mind” (Romans 12:1) and a discipline that frees us from the tyranny of the individualized constructs of a consumer conscience.

Other thoughts, proven in the fire of life, are welcome.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a retired Archpriest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, and Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame, as well as the Glory to God podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio.






21 responses to “Simple Suggestions for Orthodox Study of Scripture”

  1. Dean Arnold Avatar
    Dean Arnold

    Approaching scripture corporately. Makes sense as an Orthodox.

    I was chatting last night with the editor of “Walk to Emmaus” and noting how, as a Protestant, I used to long to have been in earshot when Christ talked with the two disciples on that trip and how, “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.”

    A couple years into Orthodoxy it occurred to me that I do get to listen to that sermon. It is preached through the verses and stychera of the daily services: how Christ is weaved throughout the Old Testament. Kind of obvious after the fact: Jesus shared these secrets with his disciples and they passed it along to us.

    This is one of the many benefits of approaching the scripture “corporately” rather than individually. Whily personally I might find a few nuggets myself trying to identify Christ in the Old Testament, the Church has a riverfull gushing our way if we’ll only submit to it.

  2. zoe Avatar

    Lord have mercy on us. May we study the Holy Scriptures in the spirit of humility so that we may understand with our hearts as well as our minds; so that seeing, we may see; hearing we may hear; seeking we may find the Truth that is Jesus Christ. May the Holy Spirit of God fill “that which is lacking”. I thank the Lord for “renewing my mind” through the teachings of the Orthodox Church; for to continue with my old mind-set was pure misery.

    Thank you Fr. Stephen for all your posts.

  3. David Di Giacomo Avatar
    David Di Giacomo

    Father Stephen, what are your thoughts on the Orthodox Study Bible? I am not yet Orthodox, but my wife and I have set ourselves on the path from Pentecostalism to Orthodoxy, and I want to begin to learn to read the Scriptures in an Orthodox manner. I ask because I remember reading a less-than-favourable Orthodox review of the study material presented in it; the gist of the criticism was that it was too protestant by far. However, this article was on, and I know you have mentioned before in previous posts (and I have had occasion to see for myself) that that website is rather more conservative (and perhaps less gracious) in its interpretations than the mainstream of Orthodoxy. As such, I would like to know your own thoughts concerning the Orthodox Study Bible (which I do not own, by the way… another reason for my question).

  4. fatherstephen Avatar

    The study Bible is good. Not perfect (when would study notes every reach such a place). But I own one and use it all the time. My parishioners have found it very helpful. You will not have wasted your money.

  5. Andrea Elizabeth Avatar

    “It is not just an education in Scripture but an education in how to read the Scripture.”

    This is my first year to read the Lenten Triodion at home and I see what you mean about “how to read the Scripture”. For example, the prayers confess that I am worse than the Pharisee in not obeying, and worse than the Publican for not being sorry. That unlike the Prodigal, I have stayed in the mire. That I have no compunction when contemplating the Final Judgment. Confession is good for the soul.

  6. MichaelPatrick Avatar

    David, reviews I’ve seen on of the Orthodox Study Bible refer to the 1993 edition. Some of the resistance to it, I believe, was because notes were written by relatively recent converts who lacked the depth necessary to mine centuries of wisdom in such a weighty task. I personally don’t think there are any serious errors, if anything there’s just less in there than would be under more ideal circumstances.

    Today’s Orthodox Study Bible is a different publication almost entirely. The OT has been added and it is significant that it gives us a good translation of the Greek Septuagint OT that the Church in Christ’s time read.

    I think the notes are wonderful and especially helpful for ex Protestants, like me. I think it’s worthwhile if only for the introduction and notes on the Psalms. You can’t find that precious book translated so well, nor such valuable commentary anywhere else.

  7. Mrs. Mutton Avatar
    Mrs. Mutton

    My only problem with the recent edition of the Orthodox Study Bible is that the older version (New Testament and Psalms) had a better concordance. Otherwise, it’s a great Bible.

    Fr. Stephen, about Psalm 50 — I have to tell you that my priest holds a Service of Holy Unction once a month. Every time he reads the prayer about, “Even me, a miserable sinner, Thou hast deemed worthy of the priesthood,” all I can think is, “Father — you don’t BEGIN to know what sin is!” It’s so unnerving to hear such a gentle and nice person call himself a “miserable sinner”!

  8. coffeezombie Avatar

    Coming from a year-old Orthodox, my main issue with the OSB is that they used the NKJV rather than the KJV for the NT (and the OT is in modern English, too). Not that that’s going to bother most people; it’s just an aesthetic issue for me. 😉

  9. Karen C Avatar
    Karen C

    Dear Father, bless!

    This is such a little thing (but not to me), but since the OSB was mentioned it sparked my memory: As a Protestant I loved the 1970s Scripture song from Psalm 95 (94 LXX) “Come let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord our God our Maker . . .” “Kneel” conjures up an image of noble fealty. I was suddenly struck when I was praying this Psalm recently by this verse from the LXX translation. “Come let us worship and bow down before Him, and let us weep before the Lord our Maker! . . . ” Usually the Lord’s Presence in the Liturgy is very calm and gentle, and so I don’t generally “lose it” in the services, but there have been times thoughout my Christian journey, and many times since becoming Orthodox, that the Lord has made His Presence known to me in a much more intense way and the natural and spontaneous response is, of course, always copious tears and prostration! This is one more of those little confirmations for me of the fullness that is in Orthodoxy.

  10. fatherstephen Avatar

    As a priest I can assure you that our sins are very great. We cannot survive except by the prayers of the faithful. We would die in the presence of the fire of God.

  11. Steve Avatar

    All this is true Father.

  12. Theodora Elizabeth Avatar
    Theodora Elizabeth

    Other resources for studying/understanding Scripture I use:

    The Commentaries on the Gospels (4 volumes) by Blessed Theophylact. Written in the 11th Century or so, translated into English. John came out last year.

    The Kingdom of God: The Sermon on the Mount, The Parables, The Miracles of Christ, and the Commentaries on Romans and Hebrews by Archbishop Dmitri.

    The Year of Grace of the Lord by “A Monk of the Eastern Church.” It’s a Scriptural and Liturgical commentary, week by week. More devotional than studious, but I still find it very helpful.

    This, in addition to the complete OSB.

    I don’t have a TV (by choice), so I read – a LOT! 😉

  13. fatherstephen Avatar

    Not to have a television is a blessed choice in these days – it probably wastes far more of our time than we’d care to admit.

  14. Fr. Raphael Johnston Avatar

    Thanks so much for this series on Holy Scripture.

    My first year in the Orthodox Faith is had two books with me almost continually as I tried to lead my tiny flock into the safe harbour of the Church:

    “The Bible and the Holy Fathers for Orthodox” compiled by Joanna Manley (which helped me gain the habit of reading Scripture with the Church) and

    “Divine Prayers and Services” (The 5-pounder!) compiled by Fr. Nassar (which provided me with my first exposure to the richness of the Church’s hymnody which so wonderfully elucidates the Scriptures).

  15. Karen Avatar

    Our sins are very great indeed and it is only by the prayers of the faithful we can come to Him at all. I have felt the Presence of the Lord as conviction, but in His grace the Lord shields me from seeing my sin in its fullness and so I burn many times with shame, but am not consumed because He then comforts with love and forgiveness. The weeping and prostration of which I spoke, however, is the profound and joyful mourning that occurs when the Lord allows us a greater glimpse from time to time of His most tender kindness, kind of like the tears that happen at the happy ending of a movie or story that has contained profound tragedy–like a premonition of the Resurrection.

  16. Bill M Avatar
    Bill M

    At the risk of speaking without knowledge or authority on the matter, I’ll mention to David that some of the reviews I’ve seen of the OSB seem a little more rooted in concerns about the influence of Protestant (and Evangelical) assumptions on the work. That it bases its text on a version of the premier “Western” translation (KJV/NKJV) into English seems, to some, an unfortunate choice for an “Eastern” Bible. There is concern, I think, among some traditional Orthodox, that the current influx of North American converts, and the ministries created by them, still reflect too much the mindset and worldview of Evangelicalism. (Similar criticisms of Ancient Faith Radio come to mind here.) There’s probably some validity to this concern, though perhaps more is fueled by uncertainty and fear than by reality.

    I have read several other reviews of the OSB that take issue with technical and scholarly problems with it. One recently discussed a passage in Genesis that follows the Masoretic Text rather than the Septuagint. The reviewer discussed this one passage as an example of several others where the OSB follows the original NKJV text uncritically, and does not truly reflect the original Greek. These problems with the OSB appear to be significant, and should not be dismissed lightly.

    But as Father Stephen indicates, this does not mean the OSB is without value. Only, read it with the awareness of its limitations. It is a welcome and long-awaited resource for English language readers.

    I’ve been following with interest the development of the English Orthodox Bible (EOB). The NT and some supplemental articles are complete, and the OT is targeted for release at the end of this year (though that date has shifted a couple times now.) I spotted some grammatical errors, though, in the article about the Virgin Mary that may indicate other corrective work still needs to be done on the final release.

    Forgive me, Father, if I have spoken out of turn, or out of ignorance, here.

  17. fatherstephen Avatar

    Not out of turn. Orthodoxy in the U.S. and English speaking world is still quite young. The resources simply to produce the OSB represented an investment of millions on the part of Thomas Nelson publishers, who have been extremely cooperative with American Orthodox. People have no idea what is involved. The one Septuagint translation out there was an abysmal read.

    The OSB is a giant leap forward. Many, many things in Orthodox in America and Britain would never have taken place without the influx of converts.

    Over half our seminary population…

    The seminal translations of Met. Kallistos Ware

    The translations and indefatigable vision of Arbp Dmitri of the South

    This is missionary territory for the Orthodox – and yet among our American members can be found some of the most important voices in Orthodox theology, missiology, liturgics, etc. For the tiny minority which we represent, we have been a great blessing to the Orthodox world.

    By the same token, as the East awakens from its long nightmare yoke, new scholars – amazing men such as Bp. Hilarion Alfeyev (truly a renaissance man) – and others are coming to the fore. Greece is producing some very top drawer theologians – and in many ways – the health of Orthodox monasticism has not been so clear for perhaps centuries.

    The OSB is a tiny part of all that, but important, nonetheless. We Orthodox often expect perfection – but forget that we are saved by economia and not akrivia. Glory to Thy Economia, O Christ!

  18. Zoe Avatar

    Theodora Elizabeth, we don’t have TV too by choice and I know at least 2 more families who don’t have TV’s. I wonder if this is a trend.

  19. Karen Avatar

    Dear Father, bless!

    As a recovering perfectionist, I can understand the fears of some more traditional Orthodox about the influx of converts, especially Evangelicals and their influence. But speaking as an American convert encountering the living Tradition that is Orthodoxy, I would like to say that a realistic concern on the part of traditional Orthodox leading them to pray and if led, and in season out of real concrete knowledge of a specific convert, to say a prudent word out of love is totally appropriate and appreciated. If, on the other hand, there is excessively intense fearfulness leading to strident and overly critical judgmental tones, blanket statements on the Internet, standoffishness in parishes and clergy circles (either on the part of traditional Orthodox towards converts or vice versa), etc., it seems to me this reflects a lack of faith in the power of the Tradition to correct and bring to completion over time those who truly belong to Christ and His Church (as both converts and their more traditional brethren do!). Such a mindset necessarily will result in our stepping out of place and trying in our own strength to do the Lord’s work for Him. I have seen plenty of this in my former Evangelical setting as well, and the result is not pretty! My Christian experience has taught me (both before and since I have formally entered the Church) that the Holy Spirit knows how to do His work, and we will all do well just to love and pray for each other, to be as faithful as we can in working out our own salvation leaving others to the care of God and their own Confessors, in full and joyful confidence that the Lord will make all things beautiful in His time.

  20. Collator Avatar

    The older version of the OSB had a very thorough lectionary in the back. The new version is, unfortunately, much abbreviated. Of course I can always check online, but I like being able to refer to my photocopy of the OSB version, complete with burn marks and drops of wax from my candle!

  21. St. Susanna the Martyr Avatar
    St. Susanna the Martyr

    So many things about Orthodoxy never cease to amaze me. One of them is how much of our services, prayers, chanting, and hymns are directly out of Scripture. Inevitably when I wonder where a beautiful prayer or hymn is from, I realize it is directly out of Scripture. I used to think evangelicals had the corner on the market of knowing and respecting Scripture. Now how blessed I feel to be a part of the Faith that reads, prays, chants, sings, kisses, raises, and studies the Scriptures.

    Another amazing thing for me is how chanting the Psalter in prayer can speak directly to me and for me. So often the Psalms capture perfectly the depths of what is in my heart, whether it be despair or joy or fear or thanksgiving or whatever, and then they always firmly but gently point me toward proper understanding and expression and relationship to the Lord. A chanted Psalm can rescue and restore me in a matter of moments.

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  1. Greetings, Father Stephen, Thank you so much for this reflection and all of the tremendous amount of work you have…

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