On this page I’ll provide book listings and other resources concerning Orthodox worship and music that I’ve found interesting and helpful. I’ll provide a variety of levels of items here, but basically have in mind the “occasionally interested layman,” in other words, that person who pokes his head up every so often and wants to understand things a bit more deeply. I’m not a scholar, I don’t pretend to be a scholar, this isn’t for scholars…duh! But I have an interest and maybe even an understanding slightly beyond the average Orthodox church-goer because I’m a church groupie geek, and because it’s What I Do. If it’s helpful, great. If not, fine.
FIRST STOP for anyone interested in understanding the “eastern church” ethos of spirituality and worship is this wonderful little book, “Bread & Water, Wine & Oil: An Orthodox Christian Experience of God” by Archimandrite Melitios Webber (Conciliar Press: Chesterton, IN, 2007). I’m late getting to this book, but highly recommend it as readable and grounded.
SECOND STOP for an Orthodox Christian trying to experience worship more attentively are the two now classic books of Fr. Thomas Hopko published by St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press: “The Winter Pascha” (which unfolds the drama of Advent-Nativity-Theophany-Meeting) and “The Lenten Spring” (which deals with the period of Great Lent in 40 short chapters, one for each day, if one chooses).
NOT THIRD but maybe not exactly first, depending on “where you are” in your experience and understanding, is the Holy Scriptures. The reason I didn’t put it FIRST isn’t because they aren’t as important, but because they are already included in the life of the church-going person. Also, it can be helpful to attend to the Scriptures after having mindfully attended the church services for a time. For those wishing to read Scripture especially to assist I their liturgical experience, I recommend three New Testament books as liturgical par excellence:
- the Gospel of John (which unfolds our sacramental experience of Christ, especially in Baptism & the Eucharist, and is meant to understand Jesus in light of this sacramental experience, which is why the Church reads this Gospel aloud in the days starting with Holy Pascha);
- the Epistle to the Hebrews (which unfolds the nature of Christian Eucharistic worship in light of its Jewish patrimony);
- and the Revelation of St. John (which unfolds the vision of heavenly worship in light of the victory of Jesus).
It might be good to read these carefully first but not stopping to interpret each word, then read the next book: “Orthodox Worship: A Living Continuity With the synagogue, the Temple and the Early Church” (Light & Life Publishing: Minneapolis, MN, 1990) by Bejamin D. Williams & Harold B. Anstall.
FOURTH is the incomparable book by Fr. Alexander Schmemann, “For the Life of the World” (which I have under its original title of “Sacraments and Orthodoxy,” Herder & Herder: NY, 1965 – but it’s St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press: Crestwood, NY, 1973 now). It’s not about the specifics of liturgy. It’s about the larger view of life seeking its center in God. It’s written for the world at large, really, though it’s a literary piece – dense, rich & inspiring.
I’ll add others as I go.