Further Reflections on the Orthodox Study Bible

Earlier, I gave some very superficial initial impressions of the Orthodox Study Bible. (This webpage gives a list of translators and commentators, but it is manifestly an old document, dated 19 September 2002, and may not be entirely accurrate/updated.) I’ve spent a week now with the OSB, and have some further thoughts.

First, a bit of my reading pattern. I have been reading a couple of pages from the Old Testament (starting in Genesis), a couple of pages from the New Testament (starting in Matthew), the Psalms on a 30-day cycle, and a chapter from Proverbs per the calendar date. obviously, a great deal of my reading is from the Old Testament.

Secondly, the Old Testament translation is not only new as in never-been-published, but it is new as in the first English translation of the Septuagint I’ve read. This newness is very welcome, as one of the challenges of regular Bible reading is coming to the text with attention and reflection. I also pretty much am unfamiliar with the NKJV text of the New Testament. For about twenty years, the only translation I used was the New International Version. And in Bible college, I’d had pounded into my head the utterly inferior nature of the Greek text underlying the NKJV, so I pretty much avoided it. In the mid- to late nineties, I finally put the NIV away and went on to other translations, settling, for a time, on the New Revised Standard Version. In the past several years, I’ve worked mainly with the Greek texts, but nothing on the order of daily devotional/contemplative reading.

With all that as background, this week of daily Scripture reading and reflection has been amazingly refreshing. While I still want to develop my facility with Greek (and still have my Rahlfs and Robinson-Pierpont 2005 on my icon corner bookshelf), I am coming again to recognize the importance of vernacular Bible reading for spiritual nourishment and development.

Let me also say one more thing: my thoughts here are not technical/grammatical (or at least are barely so). I’m not all that interested, for my own purposes, on whether or not Psalm 22 (Hebrew 23) should read more like the Masoretic text (because it’s what English-speaking Christians are more familiar with) or more like the Septuagint text (there are a couple of fairly meaty differences). I’m not all that interested as to whether the verse numbering of certain texts (or the go-ahead to keep the messy LXX variations of Jeremiah, Isaiah etc) is a wise or foolish thing. Further editions of the OSB can work these things out. And in any case, the OSB is now set to become the standard Orthodox English translation. In which case, other versions can compare to it, rather than it conforming to other versions.

Now, to more direct comments on the OSB. While I’ve not checked the Old Testament translation against Rahlfs, and while I’ve not read much of the Old Testament translation as a whole, I’ve found the first dozen and a half chapters of Genesis to read well. Similarly, the Psalms and Proverbs are also nicely done. I do find lamentable that the Psalms are not translated in “old liturgical” English with the Thees, Thous and doeths. The Antiochian archdiocese retains this language in their liturgies, and it is quite jarring to the aesthetic sensibilities to smack hard in to the Yous when you expect the Thous. But, that said, the Psalms are well done and praying them/reading them contemplatively is readily facilitated by the translation. Similarly, Proverbs reads well. I don’t have anything really to say about the New Testament translation, since the NKJV has been out for more than a couple of decades.

Now to the notes. I understand there were some pretty strong criticisms of the notes of the Orthodox Study Bible-New Testament, and the OSB website indicates that the NT notes were “slightly revised.” I don’t have the means (or the inclination) to make a careful comparison between the OSB-NT and the New Testament notes of the full OSB. But from what I’ve read of the notes for the OT books I’m reading and of Matthew, I have found them to be quite helpful in fostering my reflection and contemplation on these Scriptures. I am extremely pleased with how the notes of the Psalms (written by our own Father Patrick) very clearly bring out Christ as the key to their interpretation. This is also well done in Genesis and Proverbs.

I have read some criticisms that the whole orientation toward a “study Bible” approach to the Scriptures (and that version marketing itself as the Orthodox Bible) is existentially contrary to the Orthodox approach–that is to say, it allows for the individual Bible reader to distance himself from the Church into individual and private interpretation. But I personally find this criticism to ring hollow. Certainly one must read the notes within a mental framework that submits them to the mind of the Church. But one must do this for the Fathers, the liturgical texts, and so on. This is nothing new. Indeed, to me, the benefit of the Orthodox Study Bible is not the explicit content of the notes themselves, though, as I say, I am finding them helpful and good. But rather, the benefit is that the notes themselves inculcate the careful reader in the process of submitting the interpretation of the Scriptural texts to the mind of the Church–for the notes themselves explicitly verbalize this orientation.

As I get further into my reading in the coming months, and have more about which I may want to comment, I’ll try to post my thoughts.

The Faith of Abraham

Genesis 12.4 notes that Abraham was seventy-five years old when he left Haran out of obedience to God to go to the land that God would show him. In 12.7, God promised Abraham that he would give this land to Abraham’s seed. Abraham had no heir; Sarah was barren. In 13.14-17, when Abraham’s and Lot’s camps quarrel over the land, God again promises to give the land to Abraham and his seed, and further promises that his seed would be innumerable. In chapter 15, Abraham is having doubts about having an heir. God reiterates: Abraham will have an heir and the land will belong to his descendents. About ten years after Abraham leaves Haran, when he is eighty-five (16.3), he acquiesces to his wife’s exhortation to make God’s promise happen by their own efforts, and he goes in to Hagar, Sarah’s slavegirl, to sire a son by her. That, of course, goes badly. Twelve years after Ishmael’s birth–Abraham is now ninety-nine (17.1)–God again promises Abraham an heir, and within the year, when Abraham is one hundred years old (21.5), Isaac is born.

Twenty-five years is a long time for a person to wait for a promise from God. And Abraham clearly struggles with doubt. When he gives in to his doubt, it has problematic consequences. Yet, he continues to struggle to maintain faith, and ultimately, he enjoys the gracious promises of God. And because of his faith, we enjoy those same promises as well. (Cf. Hebrews 11:8-19)

Prayer Efficacy

But if he still does not reform or perhaps (which God forbid) even rises up in pride and wants to defend his conduct, then let the abbot do what a wise physician would do. Having used applications, the ointments of exhortation, the medicines of the Holy Scriptures, finally the cautery of excommunication and of the strokes of the rod, if he sees that his efforts are of no avail, let him apply a still greater remedy, his own prayers and those of all the brethren, that the Lord, who can do all things, may restore health to the sick brother. (Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 28)

This passage from the Rule is part of the disciplinary section of the Saint’s Rule, which describes various procedures for faults, and how brothers who have sinned can be healed (note the medical imagery in the text), forgiven and restored to the community. But I don’t want to reflect on the aspect of discipline so much as I do on the aspect of the remedy of prayer.

Let us first, despite our own reactions to these procedures (excommunication, corporeal punishment, prostrations, and so forth), acknowledge that these were deemed, in the Saint’s context, the wisest and most effective methods by which to accomplish the intended end: the healing of a soul. But, staying within the medical imagery, when dealing with (spiritual) illness, there is no guarantee that a particular method or regimen of methods will accomplish the healing desired. And even having exhausted all efforts, it still may be that the patient will not be healed and may even die.

But note here the move: having tried all the best of human wisdom and effort, there is a yet greater remedy to which we may turn. Of course, we should not suppose that prayer is a last resort, for clearly, one cannot read the Rule and suppose that prayer is only taken up once all human efforts have failed. No, prayer suffuses every aspect of the life of the community the Rule is meant to instantiate and govern. And so it isn’t as though all these human efforts were done apart from prayer.

Rather, it seems to me, that the saint is saying there comes a point at which human effort must, after a manner, cease, and at which all human effort must be gathered into the energies of prayer. Of course, one still remains loving and hospitable, charitable and kind, and so forth. It is not as though we become quietistic. But we turn our attention from seeking the accomplishments associated with our actions, to simple and single trust in God to whom we pray.

In a word, we step aside into the background and invoke God completely into our midst, attentive to his work and the realization of his love. We call on the saints for their prayers. And we wait in silent patience for God’s will to be done “on earth as it is in heaven,” with the Kyrie and the Ave Maria on our lips and in our hearts, bounded by the mystery of freedom and grace which he has ordained.

In this silent center where God the Holy Trinity┬áis present and at work, one may, if one is attentive, find great joy and peace. There, where one stands on the outer periphery of this particular grace, one may, if one is willing, find one’s own healing and salvation. All of this is mercy. All of this is love. All of this is the grace which is “everywhere present and fillest all things.” All of this is the Holy Trinity, who “ever workest great and mysterious deeds for us, glorious, numberless and wonderful.”


Fasting and Great Lent: Pastoral Instructions from the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese

From our archdiocese comes the pastoral instructions for Fasting and Great Lent (props to Huw for the link).


Great Lent is the 40-day season of spiritual preparation that comes before the most important Feast of the Christian year, Holy Pascha (which means ‘Passover’ and is commonly called ‘Easter’). It is the central part of a larger time of preparation called the Triodion season.

The Triodion begins ten weeks before Easter and is divided into three main parts: three Pre-Lenten weeks of preparing our hearts, the six weeks of Lent, and Holy Week. The main theme of the Triodion is repentance?mankind’s return to God, our loving Father.

This annual season of repentance is a spiritual journey with our Savior. Our goal is to meet the risen Lord Jesus, Who reunites us with God the Father. The Father is always waiting to greet us with outstretched hands. We must ask ourselves the question, ‘Are we willing to turn to Him?’

During Great Lent, the Church teaches us how to receive Him by using the two great means of repentance– prayer and fasting.

Continue reading “Fasting and Great Lent: Pastoral Instructions from the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese”