SOME PRACTICAL TIPS
The following tips assume that you have a limited budget, and so cannot afford to buy everything at once. If this is not true in your case, there are some books you could skip, but they are good to have on hand in any case.
The most basic liturgical text every Orthodox Christian should have is a good prayer book. You can read about several suggested texts in the following article:
- The Jordanville Prayer book
- A Prayer Book for Orthodox Christians
- The Old Orthodox Prayer Book
- The St. Tikhon’s Prayer book
- The Service of Preparation for Holy Communion, with Akathists to Our Saviour and Theotokos
- The Book of Akathists
These prayer books can be ordered from, most Orthodox bookstores. Of the prayer books in that article, the one I would recommend the most is the Jordanville Prayer book. Another very useful text mentioned in that article that I would especially recommend is the Book of Akathists, Volume 1 and Volume 2, published by Jordanville. You can also find a number of Akathists and canons online.
[Note, all of the hyperlinks that follow, will take you to the web page of an Orthodox Bookstore that sells the text, or to a free online version when indicated]
After a prayer book the most basic liturgical texts are the Horologion and the Psalter.
For a Horologion
- The Unabbreviated Horologion published by Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, New York. In my opinion this is the best one available, and certainly those following Russian practice would be advised to use this one.
- The Great Horologion published by Holy Transfiguration Monastery. For those following Byzantine practice, this is an option. Also, even those following Russian practice will find it a useful reference, since it contains Synaxarion readings for each day of the year, and also the troparia and kontakia appointed for each day.
- The Liturgikon, by Bishop Basil of the Antiochian Archdiocese is also often used as an Horologion, and also follows Byzantine practice. The text is primarily designed for use by clergy.
There is also the Old Rite Horologion, which for those on the Old Rite would obviously be the way to go, but it is also useful for reference, and has the Troparia and Kontakia for every day of the year.
Another thing to consider here is the price. You will find that the Jordanville Horologion is quite a bit less expensive, but it also contains much less material. It has all of the Horologion texts, and some extra material – but the Great Horologion has quite a bit more.
Two other texts which contain Horologion material, but which are presented in a easier to use format (structured for use for normal Sunday services are The All-Night Vigil for Choir and Laity, and The Divine Liturgy for Choir and Laity, both published by Jordanville.
For a Liturgical Psalter
there are three options that I would recommend for consideration:
1) “The Psalter According to the Seventy,” published by Holy Transfiguration Monastery (also known as “The Boston Psalter”). This is far from a perfect translation, but I have found it to be a generally accurate translation, and it has the advantage of matching many of the most commonly used liturgical texts available in English (it is used in all of the publications of St. John of Kronstadt Press, Holy Transfiguration Monastery, and most of those published by Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville New York. The disadvantage of this text is that the word choice can at times be awkward.
2). “A Psalter for Prayer,” which is published by Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordanville, New York. The translation is based on the Coverdale Psalter, which is what you would find in an older (traditional) edition of the Book of Common Prayer, but is corrected with the Septuagint. It also contains a great deal of instructional material and additional prayers found in Slavonic editions of the Psalter, but not in the Boston Psalter or most other editions published in English to date. For example, it has prayers at the end of each kathisma, and it has instructions on how to read the Psalter over the dead, with the prayers that are said according to Slavic practice in conjunction with that. The quality of the printing is very high… the paper and binding are of similar quality to the Boston Psalter, but the cover looks better, the size is a bit larger, and it has two marker ribbons sewn into the binding. The biggest disadvantage is that it presently is not used in very many liturgical texts, but that may change. I have found it to be sometimes less precise than the Boston Psalter, when comparing the text to the Greek Septuagint, but I can’t say that this is based on a thorough and detailed review of the entire text.
3). “The Psalter of the Prophet and King David with the Nine Biblical Odes,” which is published by the Center for Traditionalists Orthodox Studies. This translation is based on the King James Version, but corrected by the Septuagint which is arguably better stylistically than the HTM Psalter, and for many, it will be more familiar to the text that they are familiar with, but like the Jordanville Psalter, it is not used in many liturgical texts… though it is used in texts published by the Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies..
Liturgical Gospel Book
At present, there is on option that uses the King James Version, and are arranged according to Slavic usage:
The option is published by Reader Peter Gardner. This edition is available in two sizes: a smaller edition for $40.00 (6″x 9″, with 12-point font); and a larger edition for $45.00 (8.25″x 10.75″, with 14-point font), and it actually has several elements that are not in the older Holoviak edition. Based on the contents of the standard Slavonic Gospel, it contains a brief life of the four Evangelists, an extensive appendix of the Gospel readings (more extensive than is found in the Holoviak version), and the rubrics for how the Gospel readings are done throughout the year, including the “Lukan Jump.” The cover is as seen in the photo above (this is the actual hardcover, not a dust jacket). For a small mission or home, it is usable as it is. The text is in standard sizes, and so could also be put into a nicer Gospel cover. For more, read this review.
Another option for those seeking a traditional English translation of the Gospels, is the Gospel Lectionary published by the Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies. This edition has the same advantages and disadvantages as their Epistle Lectionary, which I comment on below. For laity, trying to follow the daily lectionary it is laid out in the sequence in the order in which the readings are read, and so normally, you would only need to turn the page to go from one day to the next. Unfortunately, this edition is now only available in paperback.
Epistle Book (Apostol or Apostolos):
The best option available at present for those following Slavic practice is the Apostol, published by St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press. The translation used is neither King James, Douay-Rheims,nor New King James, but a synthesis of the three. It retains the traditional pronouns (for the most part) and verb endings, but eliminates archaic words. At times one might have wished that they had kept more of the King James text than they did, but the text is more easily understandable than the unrevised King James text would have otherwise been.
The best option available for those following Byzantine practice is the Epistle Lectionary, published by the Center for Traditionalists Orthodox Studies. It is based on the King James text, and is arranged according the Byzantine Lectionary… which differs slightly from time to time from the Slavic lectionary. It’s biggest draw back is that it is published only in paper back at present. This has the advantage, however, of making it inexpensive enough for individuals to purchase a copy for home use (it is only $25.00). Also, some of the “corrections” of the King James text in this edition are debatable. For example, in the KJV, 1st Corinthians 11:14 reads “Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him?” The CTOS edition emends this to read “Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have flowing hair, it is a shame unto him?” I understand the point that they are trying to make, and the translations is not completely indefensible; but no other translation translates it this way, if one wanted to bring out the nuance that they are trying to highlight it would probably have been better to have translated it as “wear long hair” rather than “have long hair” or “have flowing hear”, and also this really gets us beyond translation into the realm of commentary… and that is what commentaries and footnotes are for. And although emendations are made to make theological points, many instances in which the text of the King James is no longer easily understood, and could be easily corrected by updating a word or two… those opportunities were passed by. Nevertheless, on the balance, this edition is a good option.
There is now a very well done Prophetolgion by Reader Peter Gardner, which uses the Boston Psalter for prokimena, and traditional English for the readings.
Divine Prayers and Services of the Catholic Orthodox Church of Christ
The one liturgical text that still gives you the most material in one volume remains: Divine Prayers and Services of the Catholic Orthodox Church of Christ, by Fr. Seraphim Nassar. This is one of the oldest English service books around, and the translation is at times awkward, however, with this text, one has enough material to serve Vespers and Liturgy (or Typika) for Sundays and important feast days (though on most Sundays there would be lacking the material from the Menaion, but at least one would have the material from the Octoechos, Triodion, and Pentecostarion for Sundays. Even though, at this point, I have a relatively complete liturgical library, I still find myself referring to this text to help fill in those gaps that remain, or simply to compare its texts and rubrics with other texts. One advantage to this text, for those who do not have a liturgical Gospel or Epistle book is that it has the readings for Sundays and Feasts throughout the year (albeit in a sometimes less than ideal translation).
The Octoechos forms the core of most Sunday services, and so this is certainly a text one would want to get early on. There is only one choice in print at present: The Complete Octoechos published by St. John of Kronstadt Press. This contains both the Sunday Octoechos and the Weekday Octoechos in 4 volumes. The Sunday Octoechos, translated by the Monastery of the Veil, has been around longer, but is currently out of print.
The General Menaion, is the next text that one should acquire, however, at present there is no edition currently in print. One might be able to get their hands on a copy of one published some years back from a monastery in England, which to date is the best edition in English that has been printed. There is an on-line version of the General Menaion, and at present it seems to be the only available option: The General Menaion.
The General Menaion contains sort of a fill in the blank service for different types of saints and feasts. If you don’t have the appointed Menaion service… or if you are doing a service for a saint that has not had a service written for them, then the General Menaion is what is used.
The Festal Menaion by Bishop Kallistos (Ware), gives you the complete texts for the Great Feasts of the Church (outside of the Triodion/Pentecostarion cycles). If you can’t afford the entire Menaion at once, this is a must have… and in any case it is a good text to have around both for the texts of the services themselves and also for the introduction which discusses in detail the structure of the services.
The Lenten Triodion published by Bishop Kallistos is currently the best options available in English that is in print. For the Triodion, you will eventually also want to get the Lenten Triodion Supplementary Texts, which contains much of the weekday material from the Triodion that is not found in the first volume.
The Pentecostarion published by Holy Transfiguration Monastery is a complete translation of the Greek version of the Pentecostarion. St. John of Kronstadt Press has published a translation of the complete Slavonic Version of the Pentecostarion, which is very well done.
The biggest ticket item on this list is The Menaion. To purchase the Menaion from St. John of Kronstadt Press (which I recommend), you have some options. You can buy it all at once, in either loose-leaf versions, or in hardback. You can also buy loose-leaf versions as you need them (for example, you could make an annual order of all the texts you would need that year… or you could do this quarterly) this is the most painless way, in terms of coming up with the money all at once. You can also buy the hardback version, one or two volumes at a time, as you have the money – if you do that, keep in mind that unless you do a lot of weekday services, February, March, April, and May will probably not be the ones you will want to get first, since on most Sundays during these months, the texts of the services will be taken from the Octoechos and from the Pentecostarion or the Triodion.
Holy Transfiguration Monastery has now published a new translation of the Menaion. It follows Greek practice, and is slashed according to Byzantine Meter. For those using Byzantine Chant, this is a good thing. For those using any other style of chant, these slashes become a headache that is avoided by the St. John of Kronstadt Menaion. The text is nicely printed, and a good font size.
Another text that is still very useful, is The Service Book of the Orthodox Church, translated by Isabel Hapgood. Aside from the Scriptures themselves, this is the oldest Orthodox text published in English, and even today it remains a popular text, and is used especially when it comes to services from the Trebnik (or Euchologion), such as baptisms, weddings, etc.
You can find translations of a small portion of the services of the Trebnik online.
There is now a complete translation of the Trebnik available in 4 volumes. However, these texts are more than most laymen or choir directors would probably ever want or need. For them, the Hapgood Service book is still the best way to go.
Along with these texts, a good Liturgical Calendar, is also a must have. There are two options in English, for those on the Old Calendar: The St. Innocent Calendar, which is based on the Russian Jordanville Liturgical Calendar, and has complete rubrics for every Sunday, Feast day, and most of the services a typical parish would do during the week. The other option is the St. John of Kronstadt Press Liturgical Calendar, provides less detail typically for Sundays, but which makes reference to the the Order of Divine Services, for each day of the year when fuller rubrics are not provided. The St. Innocent Calendar also makes reference to the Order of Divine Services, and so regardless of your choice, the Order of Divine Services is an essential reference text..
About the author
Father John Whiteford is Archpriest and pastor at St. Jonah Orthodox Church, in Spring, Texas. He was born in Riverside, California in 1966, and lived in Grand Terrace, California. Father John and his family moved to Murray, Kentucky in 1976, and then to Houston, Texas in 1978. He was raised in the Church of the Nazarene, but began studying Orthodoxy while working on his B.A. in Theology at Southern Nazarene University in Bethany, Oklahoma. Fr. John decided to convert not long after graduating from there in 1990. He was baptized at St. Benedict Orthodox Church in Oklahoma City on November 10th, 1990.
Fr. John wrote an article entitled Sola Scriptura: In the Vanity of Their Minds, which laid out many of the theological reasons for his conversion. This article was published in the Christian Activist in 1995, and then was published in a revised and somewhat expanded form by Conciliar Press in 1996, under the title Sola Scriptura: An Orthodox Analysis of the Cornerstone of Reformation Theology.
Fr. John was a representative of the ROCOR Diocese of Chicago and Mid-America at the signing of the Act of Canonical Communion between the Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, in Moscow, on May 17, 2007. He is currently the general editor of the St. Innocent Liturgical Calendar. He is also the dean of the southern deanery (Texas and Louisiana) of the Diocese of Chicago and Mid-America ROCOR.