Many potential converts looking into the Orthodox Church are interested in scriptural commentaries: how do I understand an Orthodox approach to the Bible? Many Orthodox, too, are also interested in deepening their faith. A friend of mine asked for some resources, so I completed this list. It is not all-encompassing but it should provide a good first step or two for resources available in English.
The Orthodox Study Bible – The OSB is probably the most basic, go-to commentary for laymen. I recommend it if you don’t already have it. It’s not particularly deep, but it is wide. It covers a great deal of information and the translation is, in my opinion, a good one since the New Testament uses the NKJV and the Old Testament is a revision of the NKJV to match the Septuagint, which is the Old Testament of choice for the Orthodox. If you’re looking for a good starting place, this is it.
The CSB Ancient Faith Study Bible – Released in late 2019, this study Bible contains a wealth of patristic commentary, far more in-depth than the OSB above. For the more educated layman or clergy, I highly recommend this Bible.
Pros: The patristic commentary is well-researched and well-notated. It’ll tell you not only who wrote the commentary, but where to find it (e.g. St. Athanasius, On the Incarnation, 12). There are articles on the heretics and where they went wrong in biblical interpretation. The numerous articles on Orthodox saints and excerpts from their works are quite enjoyable. It is beautifully laid out and well-formatted. It uses the Christian Standard Bible translation (CSB), which I’ve enjoyed reading thus far.
Cons: It was edited and released by Protestants with a clearly Protestant bias. The theological articles and selection of commentary have definite Protestant leanings. I would imagine that those who don’t understand Orthodox soteriology would be confused by why heretics were wrong since the heretical positions (usually based on reason) are juxtaposed to substitutionary atonement, which often appears quite weak when matched against the logic of the heretics. Lastly, the CSB Old Testament is based on the Masoretic text, while most early commentators being used in this Bible commented on the LXX. So, sometimes the commentators’ text doesn’t match up with the CSB.
Blessed Theophylact – these commentaries are my favorite ones in English on the New Testament. One does not need to be a scholar to understand them, and they go quite deep. Unfortunately, their publishing house – Chrysostom Press – is defunct.
*UPDATE: Great news! St. Herman’s Monastery has taken over Chrysostom Press and is working on getting these titles back into print. It may take several months but we should see the old titles coming back and new ones eventually being released.
The Golden Chain (Catena Aurea) – Thomas Aquinas compiled a wonderful commentary on the Four Gospels that surpasses Bl. Theophylact’s in its depth and scope. It follows the verse-by-verse commentary style that writers like St. Photius and Theophylact used. With each passage of scripture, Aquinas quotes a large number of Fathers, providing a “golden chain” of enlightened commentary. It’s not something most people would read from cover to cover, but it’s an excellent resource. It contains quotes mostly from saints that both the East and West share. You can purchase an edition that I have started revising here (more info below) or read it freely online here.
The four volumes of this series were translated in the 1800s by John Henry Newman, and quite frankly, the English is sometimes clumsy, hard to follow, and archaic. By contrast, the commentaries from Bl. Theophylact are succinct and clear. The Catena is deep but the translation sometimes makes it obtuse. I’ve made several hundred updates to Matthew and Luke but there’s still years of work to do. If you already have Theophylact, and you want something more, then I would recommend at least reading these online.
Fr. Lawrence Farley – I have not actually read these New Testament commentaries myself but I have heard from others here at seminary that these are good, intro-level commentaries. The whole set is sold here. Many online Christian bookstores including ChristianBook carry the individual volumes.
Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon – Again, I’ve not actually read these commentaries either. He’s a good author from what I have read though. He focuses on the Old Testament, which is much needed. I’ve linked to the whole set, but they’re available individually from online Christian bookstores including ChristianBook.
Daily Readings – There are a couple of resources that follow the assigned daily readings throughout the Church year. One is a compilation of patristic sources called The Bible and the Holy Fathers. Grace for Grace offers commentary on the Psalms from numerous Church Fathers. The other, which contains a profitable reflection by St. Theophan the Recluse is called Thoughts for Each Day of the Year. The Daily Readings themselves can be found here: https://oca.org/readings.
Archbishop Dimitri – the former bishop of the Diocese of the South (OCA) – whose local veneration as a saint has begun in some places – wrote several biblical commentaries that I would place at a moderate difficulty. They include the Epistles of Paul to the Romans and Hebrews, the Epistle of James, and the Gospel of John.
Archbishop Averky – his commentaries are good and approachable for most laity while not boring those who are more educated. His commentary on the Four Gospels is unique. Rather than going verse-by-verse, which would result in a great deal of overlap, he merges all four Gospels into one chronological account. He also has commentaries on the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles and Revelation. The convenience of having a commentary on the entire New Testament in three volumes is an advantage to this series.
Other miscellaneous commentaries:
- St. Justin Popovich has a brief, beautiful verse-by-verse Commentary on the Epistles of John. (out of print)
- Archbishop Dimitri of blessed memory wrote commentaries on John, James, Hebrews, and Romans.
- St. Gregory Palamas looks deeply into several of the parables that our Lord taught in The Parables of Jesus. His entire collection of homilies is a favorite of mine.
- St. John Chrysostom‘s homilies don’t necessarily go verse-by-verse, but they provide great commentary on Scripture. The Psalms Vol. 1 & Vol. 2; Genesis; and Job are some of the ones translated into English.
There are other various Old Testament commentaries that don’t follow the verse-by-verse model that became popular in the last several hundred years. Examples include St. Gregory of Nyssa’s The Life of Moses, St. Ephrem the Syrian’s Hymns on Paradise, and St. Gregory the Great’s writings on Job.
There are some other series that are great resources but much more expensive – these would probably have to be sought in an academic library. They include the Fathers of the Church, the Ancient Christian Writers Series, and the Ancient Christian Commentary. Some of them contain writings by ancient Christians who were not thoroughly Orthodox (such as Origen and his teacher Clement of Alexandria).
I have left out wonderful commentaries by St. John Chrysostom, St. Augustine, and others because the Ante-Nicene, Nicene, and Post-Nicene Fathers Series (NPNF) is currently out of print. Amateur self-published editions are available on Amazon, and some of these are well done, but many others are pretty rough. They can all be freely read online at CCEL.