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A Suggested Reading List for Inquirers

Compiled by Patrick Barnes

This list is geared towards doctrine and church history. I want it known up front that, as Bishop Kallistos has often stated, "Orthodoxy is not a system of ideas, but a way of life." When asked about recommended reading on the Orthodox Faith, Bishop Kallistos says that people should focus on the lives of the saints. The saints exemplify the fullness of Orthodoxy, which is not a "religion," but a therapeutic method—a way of cure—undertaken within the Church and involving purification, illumination, and glorification (theosis). Orthodoxy cannot be understood simply by reading articles and books, and thus I do not want to give that impression.

However, as is often the case, inquirers into the Orthodox Faith often have some doctrinal and historical issues to work through. This was certainly the case in my own journey towards Orthodoxy. That is why I have included this Suggested Reading List on my site. It is not comprehensive, but only suggests certain key books to help one work through issues that Western Christian inquirers often face. Also, I was an Anglican for some time and have another Addendum to address issues from that tradition. I have not listed lives of Orthodox Saints here because they are too numerous. I recommend picking up any of the lives of Orthodox Saints, which can be found in Orthodox bookstores.

Furthermore, as I said on this site's Statement of Purpose page (which I truly hope you will read), one cannot comprehend Orthodox Christianity without experiencing it, especially the richness of the Church's liturgical life. Though this reading list may help you become intellectually convinced of the Truth preserved in the Orthodox Church, a transformation will ultimately have to occur in your heart as well. This comes through worship, prayer, and ascetic struggle—i.e., an active participation in the Church's mysteriological life. It is the saints' lives that best exemplify the depths, riches, and transforming power of Orthodoxy. To get a better understanding of what I am getting at, read What is Orthodoxy?, by Archbishop Averky.

Finally, probably the best overall introduction to Orthodoxy is The Orthodox Church by Bishop Kallistos Ware. However, one should be well aware of the numerous problems with this book (see the superb lengthy review by Hieromonk Patapios). The earlier editions of this book are best. Try to find a used copy of the 1963 or 64 editions. For those interested in a more comprehensive and general understanding of Orthodox Theology I highly recommend the following two works:

  • Orthodox Dogmatic Theology by Fr. Michael Pomazansky. It is indispensable. For a highly favourable and scholarly review of this exceptional work see The Greek Orthodox Theological Review, 32, 1-2, 1986.

  • Eastern Patristic Thought and Orthodox Theology. By Constantine Tsirpanlis. Collegeville MN: The Liturgical Press, 1991. Pp. 214 + Appendices, Notes, and Indices. $16.95, paper. Read an excellent book review.

Finally, if you have not already visited the "Articles for Inquirers" page you will want to do so. There are many articles there which complement the books listed below.

I. Initial Exposure to "Catholic Thinking" for Evangelical Protestants

By "Catholic" I do not mean Roman Catholic, but rather "according to the whole [the fullness of Christianity]." These books are easy to read and all less than 150 pages. They provide a good basic introduction to "things ancient and catholic," and were helpful to me in getting started down the path which eventually led to the Orthodox Church.

Bercot, David, Will the Real Heretics Please Stand Up?, Tyler, TX: Scroll Publishing Company, 1989. Available directly from them at P.O. Box 6175, Tyler, TX, 75711. This is a short, popularly written look at the views of the early Church. I am reluctant to recommend it because it has many flaws from the Orthodox perspective. However, because it has been helpful to many Evangelicals awakening to an understanding of Christianity beyond the modern American and Protestant expression of it, I include it here. I wrote the author a letter and critiqued the book from an Orthodox perspective.

Gillquist, Peter, Becoming Orthodox. Ben Lomond: Conciliar Press.  Though there are a number of things the author says in this book which are either inaccurate or stated in a decidedly un-Orthodox tone, this popular account of the conversion of approximately two thousand evangelical Protestants to the Orthodox Church has helped many embrace the True Faith. I recommend it cautiously, though without in any way wishing to impugn the author's zeal or sincere intentions to lead others to the Church.

Howard, Thomas, Evangelical is Not Enough: Worship of God in Liturgy and Sacrament. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1984. Brother of Elizabeth Elliot. Evangelical- fundamentalist background, Anglican for 25 years, then converted to Rome. Written in evangelical "testimony language" similar to C. S. Lewis' style. A delight to read. Destined to become a classic for people "on the trail."

Schmemann, Alexander, For the Life of the World: Sacraments and Orthodoxy. Crestwood, N.Y.: St. Vladimir's Press, 1988. A good short introduction to the Orthodox mysteriological (sacramental) worldview. This book has been a real "paradigm-shifter" for many Western Christians. 

II. Introductions to Orthodoxy

Bajis, Jordan, Common Ground: An Introduction to Eastern Christianity for the American Christian. Minneapolis, MN: Light and Life, 1991. Geared specifically for the typical modern American evangelical Christian. It is divided into four sections: 1. Western and Eastern Outlooks Compared (Ch.1-3); 2. Tradition, Bible, and Authority (Ch. 4-8); 3. The Church (Ch. 9-11); 4. Sacraments and Salvation (Ch. 12-17). Fantastic footnotes and bibliography for further reading.

The Roman West and the Byzantine East, by Archbishop Chrysostomos and Bishop Auxentios. Available from The Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies. This is a superb, short treatment of general differences between East and West. "This little book takes us back to the quest for truth and tells us why we Orthodox believe that our Church is true to the Church established by the Apostles, why she has historical and spiritual primacy. It does so by pointing out differences and by the bold proclamation of Orthodoxy's uniqueness." [from the back cover]. Also, I cannot resist including this excerpt from p. 10: "All history, one might say, is artificial... The Western view of the Christian past, however, is particularly artificial—it is a rather a "whopping lie," as the modern idiom would have it, if only because it ignores the historical experience of more than half of the Christian world, the Christian East, from which Western Christianity itself derives! Yet, it has gained such ascendancy that one is hesitant to challenge it. It is so ubiquitous that even Eastern Christians, especially those living in the West, often embrace it themselves. And if they do not, in fact, embrace it as their personal view, they often feel compelled to speak within its framework in trying to present their own perspectives on the Christian past. The Western view has, indeed, become triumphant, despite its inadequacies in accounting, as we shall see, for a vast part of Christian history."

Clendenin, Daniel B., Eastern Orthodox Christianity: A Western Perspective. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1994. A very lucid and helpful introduction to the Orthodox Church for a Westerner. Written by a fairly well-informed evangelical protestant. It contains very good footnotes and an extensive bibliography. The only drawback is that he does not deal with the two major areas of ecclesiology and sacraments. Read an excerpt from the book. See also his Eastern Orthodox Theology: A Contemporary Reader. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1995, which is a good supplement to his first book. It contains a collection of hard to find classic articles and chapters from books by Orthodox theologians.

Ware, Timothy, The Orthodox Church. Baltimore: Penguin, 1996 (1963). A very popular standard introduction to the Orthodox Church written by a former Anglican (now Orthodox Bishop). This book provides a helpful overview of the history and dogma of the Orthodox Church. Unfortunately, later additions of this book have been marred by some increasingly un-Orthodox ideas (most likely flowing from ecumenism). It has come under a fair amount of criticism in circles holding faithfully to Holy Tradition. (See the excellent review of this book by Hieromonk Patapios.)

Schaeffer, Frank, Dancing Alone: The Quest for Orthodox Faith in the Age of False Religions. Brookline, MA: Holy Cross Press, 1994. Frank Schaeffer is the son of the late Dr. Francis Schaeffer. The first half is a jolting polemic concerning the problems in Western Christianity, followed by a thorough treatise of the author's solution: Eastern Orthodoxy. Though often unfair and sweeping in some of his criticisms of the West, Frank has done an excellent job of stirring people up to consider the "western dilemma" and to seriously consider a discovery of the riches of the east. Worthwhile reading, but beware of polemic overgeneralizations and attitudes that are often not accepted by many seasoned Orthodox Christians. Read an excerpt from the book.

III. Bible, Church (Ecclesiology), and Tradition

If you haven't already, you will soon discover when reading the works listed below that it is impossible to separate the Bible, Tradition, and the Church from one another. They comprise one Sacred Tapestry woven by the Holy Spirit. This important concept—encapsulated in St. Paul's statement that "the Church is the pillar and ground of the Truth" (1 Timothy 3:15), not the Bible—was truly the pivotal discovery in my own journey to the Orthodox Church. Thus, the question "What is the Church?" is—to my mind—the most important question a Christian can ask. All other issues are "downstream" of this one; for the Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, inerrantly preserves the Truth for all ages. Find the Church and you find the Truth. Orthodoxy is the authentic criterion of Christianity.

Archimandrite [now Archbishop] Chrysostomos and Archimandrite [now Bishop] Auxentios, Scripture and Tradition. Etna, CA: The Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies, 1994. This is arguably the best book on this subject available in the English language (perhaps in any language). Read the comments on the back cover by Fr. George florovsky: "The thoughts presented...[in several essays appearing in the present book]...are clear expositions of classical Patristic reasoning. They should certainly appear in print, and without a doubt they will be received as important contributions to the body of Orthodox literature."

Congar, Yves M.-J., Tradition and Traditions: An Historical Essay and a Theological Essay. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1967. [out-of-print]. I recommend this book with caution as it is by a Roman Catholic author, though one who was thoroughly versed in the Holy Fathers. It is very scholarly, and, if one can plow through it (it is over 500 pages, loaded with footnotes) the book is invaluable. Until I discovered the works by the Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies I would have said that this was the most important book I had read besides the Bible. The reason is because through Congar's masterful presentation I was able to see the inescapable relationship between the Bible, Tradition, and the Church. I intellectually ceased being a Protestant after reading this. However, having said all that, I would not recommend this to someone who was not thoroughly familiar with the Orthodox understanding of Holy Tradition, specifically as laid out by Fr. George Florovsky and the writers at the Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies.

Hierodeacon Gregory, The Church, Tradition, Scripture, Truth, and Christian Life: Some Heresies of Evangelicalism and an Orthodox Response. Etna, CA: Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies, 1995. This is a must read for all Evangelical Protestants. Read the book review.

Florovsky, Georges, Collected Works. vol. 1, Bible, Church, Tradition. Belmont, MA: Nordland, 1972-79. [out-of-print, but still available]. This little gem is under 100 pages and a superb treatment of the Eastern Orthodox perspective on Tradition.

Khomiakov, Alexey, The Church is One. Seattle, WA: St. Nectarios Press, 1979. This is another very important treatise on the Church, from the preeminent 19th century Russian lay-theologian. For interaction with his essay consult Vladimir Lossky's Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church. This is also now available on line: click here.

Meyendorff, John, ed., The Primacy of Peter: Essays in Ecclesiology and the Early Church. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1992. Outstanding articles by a number of scholars. A very important book.

Rogers, Gregory, Apostolic Succession. Ben Lomond, CA: Conciliar Press, 1989. 40 pages. Clearly lays out the Biblical and patristic evidence for apostolic succession. Excellent bibliography.

Troitsky, Archbishop Ilarion, Christianity or the Church?. Jordanville, NY: Holy Trinity Monastery, 1985. A classic that should be read by all. This Holy Martyr under the Communist Yoke clearly shows from innumerable Scriptural and Patristic sources that one cannot have Christianity without the Church. They are inseparable.

________________, The Unity of the Church and the World Conference of Christian Communities. Montreal: Monastery Press, 1975. 72pp. The best overview on the issue of canonical economy, boundaries of the Church, etc. Archbishop Ilarion is incredibly lucid and patristic. Available from same sources as above.

IV. General Critiques of Western Christianity

[Arch]bishop Chrysostomos of Etna, Humility, Vol I in the Themes in Orthodox Patristic Psychology series. Etna, CA: The Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies, 1986. This is an important short book on the theme of humility according to the consensus of the Holy Fathers. Although the entire four volume series is outstanding, of special interest to Protestants will be Repentance, Vol. III. Throughout these books the author interacts with and critiques the Western understanding of each virtue.

Bishop [now Archbishop] Chrysostomos of Oreoi [now of Etna] and Hieromonk[now Bishop] Auxentios, The Roman West and the Byzantine East. Etna, CA: The Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies, 1988. See comments above in the "Introductions to Orthodoxy" section.

Bajis, Jordan, Common Ground: An Introduction to Eastern Christianity for the American Christian. Minneapolis, MN: Light and Life, 1991. Geared specifically for the typical modern American evangelical Christian. It is divided into four sections: 1. Western and Eastern Outlooks Compared (Ch. 1-3); 2. Tradition, Bible, and Authority (Ch4-8); 3. The Church (Ch. 9-11); 4. Sacraments and Salvation (Ch. 12-17). Fantastic footnotes and bibliography for further reading.

Bercot, David, Will the Real Heretics Please Stand Up?, Tyler, TX: Scroll Publishing Company, 1989. Available directly from them at P.O. Box 6175, Tyler, TX, 75711. See previous comments on this book, above. I wish to highlight here the chapter on Predestination and the early church.

Bouyer, Louis, The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism. Westminster, MD: The Newman Press, 1961. [out-of-print]. A sympathetic yet critical analysis of the Protestant Reformation by a former Lutheran who converted to Roman Catholicism. In the first half he praises the first principles of the Reformation, ironically identifying them with true Catholicism. In Part II he shows how those same first principles decayed and protestantism fell apart due to its failure to properly critique and throw off the nominalistic framework of the late medieval period. The "good" of protestantism can only be sustained and flourish within catholicism (of course, he argues for the Roman Church).

Bruce, Steve, A House Divided: Protestantism, Schism, and Secularization. London and New York: Rutledge, 1990. [very expensive—better go to a library for this one!] A broad historical and sociological exploration of the key elements of Protestantism in the modern world. He argues that division, schism, and fragmentation are inherent in the nature of Protestantism.

Florovsky, Georges, Collected Works. vol. XIII, Ecumenism I: A Doctrinal Approach. Vaduz, Europa: Bchervertriebsanstalt, 1989. [out-of-print] I cannot too highly recommend this book or it's companion, vol. XIV, Ecumenism II: A Historical Approach. Practically every chapter is loaded with insights that are applicable to the Reformation, Church, and the East. Volume XIII has a lengthy critique of Reformed theology in the context of a survey of the New Testament (pp. 102-133). This section in particular is one of the most important things I have ever read. It is also duplicated in Volume X (pp. 17-59).

Hierodeacon Gregory, The Church, Tradition, Scripture, Truth, and Christian Life: Some Heresies of Evangelicalism and an Orthodox Response. Etna, CA: Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies, 1995. This is a masterful and succinct treatment of Protestant errors. A must read. Read the book review.

Lee, Philip J, Against the Protestant Gnostics. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987. This incredibly important work by a Protestant pastor "traces gnostic motifs to the very roots of American Protestantism." It is profoundly insightful. I count it as one of the more important books in my intellectual pilgrimage.

Mascall, E. L., The Recovery of Unity: A Theological Approach. London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1958. This is another one of the most important books I've ever read. The entire work is fabulous. His main thesis is similar, yet broader, than Bouyer's (below)— that the divisions in the West are due to "our common inheritance of uncriticised assumptions," mainly centered around the medieval bequest of nominalism. In Ch. 4, "Protestantism: A Critical Analysis", Mascall reviews Bouyer's Spirit and Forms of Protestantism. A must read!!

Mastrantonis, George, Augsburg and Constantinople. Brookline, MA: Holy Cross Press, 1982. This is a fabulous book documenting the dialogue between Patriarch Jeremiah II and the Lutheran scholars at Tubingen in the 16th century. Many points of doctrine are discussed. One comes away with a clear understanding of both the Lutheran and Orthodox position, and how they both approach their differences. Indispensable reading about Orthodoxy and Protestantism. Read some excerpts . . .

Meyendorff, John, Catholicity and the Church. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1983. The entire book is well worth reading but see esp. his chapter entitled "The Significance of the Reformation in the History of Christendom," pp. 65-82 (Orthodox perspective).

_______________, Byzantine Theology: Historical Trends and Doctrinal Themes. New York: Fordham Univ. Press, 1979. Detailed and scholarly. Not an easy read but for many Western Christians it has been on of the key theological books in their journey. Father John interacts with Western views throughout this work.

_______________, and Robert Tobias, Salvation in Christ: A Lutheran-Orthodox Dialogue. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Press, 1992. Many topics under the umbrella of "salvation" are treated in this compilation of ecumenical studies. A most useful comparison of the differences between Orthodox dogma and those that emerged from the Reformation. If unavailable through sources listed below order directly from the publisher: (800) 531-5461.

Pelikan, Jaroslav, "Orthodox Theology in the West: The Reformation," in The Legacy of St. Vladimir. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1990. See also my paper entitled "The Church is Visible and One", in which I quote heavily from volume 5 of Pelikan's masterful Christian Tradition series. This would be a must read for those interested in a critique of the Reformation.

Rose, Seraphim, The Place of Blessed Augustine in the Orthodox Church. Platina, CA: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1983. A short, balanced treatment of this Saint whose theology is at the core of Western Christianity.

Schmemann, Alexander, ed., Ultimate Questions: An Anthology of Modern Russian Religious Thought. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Press, 1977. See Khomyakov's important, albeit triumphalistic essay entitled "On the Western Confessions of Faith."

Ware, Bishop KALLISTOS, How Are We Saved?: The Understanding of Salvation in the Orthodox Tradition. Minneapolis, MN: Light and Life, 1996. This little book (80+ pages) covers seemingly every aspect of salvation, with great lucidity and economy. He offers continual comparisons with the Western views on this, both Roman Catholic and Protestant. It is the best short treatment of the subject I've read. Every sentence seems carefully chosen and loaded with meaning.

Finally, an excellent companion for one's library while searching these things out is William Jurgens' The Faith of the Early Fathers (three volumes; Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1979). It is an extremely helpful compilation of all the patristic writings arranged topically for quick and easy reference.