Read Good Books, a little at a time
Christ is risen! And greetings from Arizona! I just took this picture of the book “Wounded by Love” which I brought with me on the trip. I’ve been reading it for, oh, just a few years now. It exemplifies this week’s reflection in our ongoing series focusing on Fr. Thomas Hopko’s 55 Maxims for Christian Living: Read Good Books, a Little at a Time.
When we read books just because we enjoy them we can just breeze through. But when we’re reading spiritual writings, it really can be best to read them in small quantities–sometimes a chapter at a time but more often a page or even a paragraph at a time. We are feasting on rich, dense teaching, and need time to digest such goodness.
As far as what we should read, our parish bookstore stocks a full selection of great reading, but I will also share below one version (among many) of a recommended reading list. Enjoy!
ORTHODOX CHRISTIANITY: THE ESSENTIAL READING LIST
Eastern Orthodox Christianity is one of the largest Christian fellowships in the world, second only to the Roman Catholic Church. Yet inside the United States it is almost unknown. As a former evangelical Christian, I understand the strange and mysterious aura that colors the perception of most American Christians have about Orthodoxy.
When I began to inquire about Orthodoxy, I found there was so much I had not learned about the early Church. It was as if a whole new wing of a library had been made available to me.
There are endless resources on Orthodox Christianity online, and numerous books available. The quality varies from excellent to worthless to downright harmful. So how do you begin learning?
This is a compilation of many of the most popular and well-regarded books on Orthodox Christianity, arranged into Introductory, Intermediate and Advanced sections. This list is by no means comprehensive; there are many more works that would be equally recommended. Opinions will likewise vary on the categorization, but after consultation and research, I’ve tried to put them in the order I myself would find useful.
THE ORTHODOX CHURCH
Kallistos Ware BUY IT HERE
Generally regarded as one the best introductions to Orthodox Christianity, this book explains the Orthodox views on a variety of topics, such as ecumenical councils, sacraments, free will, purgatory, the papacy and the relation between the different Orthodox churches. The author is Timothy Ware, His Excellency the Most Reverend Metropolitan Kallistos of Diokleia, was Spalding Lecturer of Eastern Orthodox Studies at Oxford University until his retirement in 2001.
THE ORTHODOX FAITH
Fr. Thomas Hopko BUY IT HERE or READ ONLINE
A four-volume series intended to provide basic, comprehensive information on the faith and life of the Orthodox Church. The entire series is available for free online, and is also available for purchase. Protopresbyter Thomas Hopko (1939–2015) was professor of dogmatic theology and served as dean of Saint Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary. Alongside his numerous books and articles, Father Thomas was also renowned as a gifted speaker and homilist.
WELCOME TO THE ORTHODOX CHURCH
Frederica Matthews-Green BUY IT HERE
This book provides an introduction to Orthodoxy through a series of visits to a fictitious Orthodox church. The author provides commentary on everything from venerating an icon to the Orthodox understanding of the atonement. Fredrica Mathewes-Green is the author of eight books and is the Khouria (spiritual mother) of Holy Cross Orthodox Church near Baltimore.
BECOMING ORTHODOX: A JOURNEY TO THE ANCIENT CHRISTIAN FAITH
Peter Gillquist BUY IT HERE
The engaging story of one of the leaders of Campus Crusade for Christ who, along with over 2,000 other Evangelical Christians, came to the conclusion that the Orthodox Church was the only unchanged church in history. Gillquist (1938–2012) was archpriest and chairman of the Department of Missions and Evangelism for the Antiochian Orthodox Church of North America.
FOR THE LIFE OF THE WORLD
Alexander Schmemann BUY IT HERE
Often the first book read by those seeking to understand Orthodox Christianity, this book provides both believer and non-believer an examination of the ancient understanding of sacraments and sacramental living. Schmemann was dean and professor of liturgical theology at St Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary.
THE ORTHODOX WAY
Kallistos Ware BUY IT HERE
Whereas the companion work The Orthodox Church gives an account of the history of the Church, this book presents a comprehensive look at Orthodox spirituality. Despite the depth of the material, the work is still accessible and worth returning to again and again in one’s journey to Orthodoxy.
ACQUIRING THE MIND OF CHRIST
This small book hopes to begin to answer how acquiring the Mind of Christ is possible and why it is necessary in our lives today. Fr. Archimandrite Sergius serves as the 16th Abbot of St. Tikhon’s Monastery. He teaches at St. Tikhon’s Seminary and has traveled extensively for the Monastery and Seminary giving talks and retreats.
THIRTY STEPS TO HEAVEN
Vassilios Papavassiliou BUY IT HERE
Many laypeople have attempted to read the great spiritual classic, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, but have been frustrated in attempting to apply the lessons of this monastic text to their everyday lives in the world. Archimandrite Vassilios interprets the Ladder for the ordinary Christian without sacrificing any of its beauty and power. Now you too can accept the challenge offered by St. John Climacus to ascend closer to God with each passing day.
ORTHODOX SPIRITUALITY: A PRACTICAL GUIDE FOR THE FAITHFUL AND A DEFINITIVE MANUAL FOR THE SCHOLAR
Dumitru Staniloae BUY IT HERE
The goal of this book is to lay out a comprehensive exposition of the Orthodox spiritual path from beginning to end, describing in extensive detail each step along the way. Staniloae (1903–1993) was a priest, theologian and professor.
THE EXPLANATION OF THE NEW TESTAMENT
Blessed Theophylact, Archbishop of Ochrid and Bulgaria BUY IT HERE
This classic Orthodox commentary of the New Testament was written in about the year 1100 A.D. The commentary has remained a primary text of New Testament interpretation throughout the Orthodox world. Blessed Theophylact distills the teaching of the earlier Church Fathers, especially St. John Chrysostom, in language that is profound, powerful, and direct. Translated from the original Greek text.
Protopresbyter John S. Romanides BUY IT HERE