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No Bible in the Orthodox Church

November 10th, 2008 by Fr. Vasile

“Strictly speaking there never was a Bible in the Orthodox Church at least not as we commonly think of the Bible as a single volume book we can hold in our hand. Since the beginning of the Church from the start of our liturgical tradition there has never been a single book in an Orthodox church we could point to as the Bible. Instead the various Books of the Bible are found scattered throughout several service books located either on the Holy Altar itself or at the chanter’s stand. The Gospels (or their pericopes) are complied into a single volume — usually bound in precious metal and richly decorated — placed on the Holy Altar.

The Epistles (or again their pericopes) are bound together in another book called the Apostolos which is normally found at the chanter’s stand. Usually located next to the Apostolos on the chanter’s shelf are the twelve volumes of the Menaion as well as the books called the Triodion and Pentekostarion containing various segments of the Old and the New Testaments.

The fact that there is no Bible in the church should not surprise us since our liturgical tradition is a continuation of the practices of the early Church when the Gospels and the letters from the Apostles (the Epistles) had been freshly written and copied for distribution to the Christian communities. The Hebrew Scriptures (what we now call the Old Testament comprising the Law (the first five books) and the Prophets were likewise written on various scrolls just as they were found in the Jewish synagogues.

The Church is not based on the Bible. Rather the Bible is a product of the Church. For the first few centuries of the Christian era no one could have put his hands on a single volume called The Bible. In fact there was no one put his hands on a single volume called The Bible. In fact there was no agreement regarding which books of Scripture were to be considered accurate and correct or canonical. Looking back over history there were various lists of the canonical books comprising the Bible:

The Muratorian Canon (130 AD) cities all the books we considered as parts of the Bible today except for Hebrews Jude 2 Peter 2 John 3 John and Revelation/ApocalypseCanon 60 of the local Council of Laodicea (364 AD) cited Revelation/ApocalypseA festal Epistle by Saint Athanasius (369 AD) lists all of them.Even so there was no official authoritative canon listing all the books until the Sixth Ecumenical Council at Constantinople in AD 680. Canon II of that Council ratifies the First through the Fifth Ecumenical Councils as well as the local councils at Carthage (AD 255) Ancyra (AD 315) Neocaesaria (AD 315) Gangra (AD 340) Antioch (AD 341) Laodicea (AD 364) Sardica (AD 347) Constantinople (AD 394) and Carthage (AD 419). When the Council at Laodicea specified the content of the bible as we know it — 39 years after the First Ecumenical Council (AD 325) and 17 years before the second Ecumenical Council (AD 381) — the Liturgy was pretty much well-defined and established and had been canonized by common usage — the reading from these books. It was not until the invention of the printing press in Western Europe coinciding with the period of the Protestant Reformation of Western Christianity that The Bible was widely disseminated as a single volume.”

Source: Greek Orthodox Diocese of Denver Bulletin: March 1995 Volume 3 Number 3. pp. 14-17.


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