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The second council of Nicaea in 787 decreed the following in its second Canon: 'Every one who is raised to the rank of the episcopate shall know the Psalter by heart, so that from it he may admonish and instruct all the clergy who are subject to him.' The majority of those who composed the Church's services were monastics whose daily reading was the Bible, much of which they would have known by heart, and this formed the raw material from which they worked. This makes Orthodox liturgy profoundly scriptural. As a Methodist minister remarked after attending the Vesperal Liturgy at Christmas, 'I have never attended such a scriptural service in my life.'

The hymn-writers did not have to search for types and images, 'wood,' or 'tree', immediately suggested the Cross, vessels or buildings containing something precious, the womb of the Mother of God. For the Fathers and hymn-writers, all the words of scripture spoke of Christ, the Word incarnate, and they have bequeathed to the Church an extraordinary wealth of theology and spirituality, which is a constant reminder that Christianity is not a religion of a book, but of a living Word.

Further reading

Barrois, G., Scripture Readings in Orthodox Worship, Crestwood, NY: SVS Press, i977-

Cunningham, M., 'The meeting of the old and the new: the typology of Mary the Theotokos in Byzantine homilies and hymns', in R. N. Swanson (ed.), The Church and Mary, Studies in Church History 39, Woodbridge and Rochester: Boydell Press, 2004, pp. 52-62. Hopko, T., 'The Transfiguration Liturgy in the Orthodox Church' in S. T. Kimbrough Jr (ed.), Orthodox and Wesleyan Scriptural Understanding and Practice, Crestwood, NY: SVS Press, 2005, pp. 305-20. Lash, Archimandrite E., 'Mary in Eastern Church literature' in A. Stacpoole, OSB (ed.), Mary in Doctrine and Devotion, Dublin: Columba Press, i990, pp. 58-80.

'Search the scriptures: a sermon preached before the University of Cambridge', Sourozh 64 (May i996), i-ii. (contains English translations of many Orthodox liturgical texts, including some quoted in this chapter; some are copiously annotated).

Theokritoff, E., 'The poet as expositor in the golden age of Byzantine hymnography and in the experience of the Church' in S. T. Kimbrough Jr (ed.), Orthodox and Wesleyan Scriptural Understanding and Practice, Crestwood, NY: SVS Press, 2005, pp. 259-75.


2. A fully annotated translation may be found on the internet at: www. Full translations of the hymns cited below may also be found at this web-site.

3. See E. Lash, 'The canon of scripture in the Orthodox Church' in P. S. Alexander and J.-D. Kaestli (eds.), The Canon of Scripture in Jewish and Christian Tradition (Lausanne: Editions du Z├Ębre, 2007), pp. 217-32.

4. St Romanos the Melode, Kontakia on the Life of Christ, p. 221.

5. Before the Reformation the English forms of names of Old Testament persons were the Greek, which had passed, via Latin, into English. The present forms, such as 'Elijah' and 'Jeremiah', are not Hebrew, but pseudo-Hebrew, and seem to have been coined in the sixteenth century. The older forms were used by Roman Catholics until the middle of the twentieth century. The same is true of the names of the biblical books.

6. Modern Greek use has, most unfortunately, reduced the readings for Pascha to three, removing both the readings from Exodus on the original Pascha and those on the crossing of the Red Sea, retaining only those from Genesis 1, the book of Jonas and the Song of the Three Youths.

7. Baruch was considered to be part of Jeremiah (Jeremias) and therefore part of canonical scripture.

8. Modern versions of Baruch, therefore, have a feminine pronoun. The Greek is in fact ambiguous, since the subject of 'appeared' could grammatically be 'God', which is how the Fathers, including St Jerome, understood it. The traditional reading therefore passed into the Vulgate and the Latin tradition.

9. The liturgical text, which follows the Lucianic revision, differs from the standard Septuagint, which has 'he remembered everlasting days, the one who brought up from the earth the shepherd of the sheep'.

10. In both Greek and Slavonic the name of the feast is 'Assumption'. All the biblical texts refer to the Lord's being 'taken up', not to his 'ascending'. Cf. Mk 16:19; Lk 24:50-1; Acts 1:9, 11, 22; i Tim 3:16.

11. The Greek Septuagint states that God was 'leaning on the ladder', whereas the Hebrew is usually understood to mean that God 'stood by' Jacob.

12. Cf. Ex 16:32-4; 25; 30:1-10; 31:18; Lev 16:12-13; Num 17:16-26. A very traditional list of types of the Mother of God, all of which are christologically orientated.

13. For the details of the Nazirite vow, see Numbers 6:1-22. It included abstention from alcohol and from cutting the hair.

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