I attend a non-denominational church that considers itself “Bible believing.” Recently, I was told that Orthodox Christianity places little emphasis on the Bible and, as such, is not “Bible believing.” Could you please clarify this for me?
The central issue here is not whether one “believes in the Bible,” but whether one “believes in Jesus Christ.” In short, we as Orthodox Christians firmly believe in the One Whom the Bible reveals as Lord and Savior—Jesus Christ. While we indeed firmly acknowledge that the Bible is the revealed, written word of God, our belief is centered not on the Bible as such, but on the One Whom it reveals as the only-begotten Son of God, the living Word of God [see John 1:1 ff.], Who took on our human nature [without relinquishing His divine nature or “blending” it with the human nature as a kind of “third” nature unique to Himself] in order to bring about the salvation of all. As such, our faith and belief is in the person of Jesus Christ, the Living Word of God, Who is revealed in the written word of God—Holy Scripture.
It is often curious for Orthodox Christians to hear that they place “little emphasis” on Scripture, especially when one considers the worship of the Church. For example, our primary worship service—the Divine Liturgy, which reaches its climax in the reception of the Eucharist, as mandated by Our Lord Himself in Scripture [see John 6:25ff.]—is filled with hymns and passages directly taken from Scripture. Thus, at the outset of the Divine Liturgy, the first and second antiphons consist of the singing of Psalms. The Hymn of the Incarnation—an ancient hymn glorifying Christ as the only-begotten Son and immortal Word of God—contains several direct passages from Scripture. In the third antiphon we again sing Psalms or, in some traditions, the entire text of Matthew 5:3-12—the very words of Jesus Christ Himself—widely referred to as the “Beatitudes.”
The Divine Liturgy continues with the responsorial singing of passages from yet another Psalm—known as the “Prokeimenon”—as a prelude to the reading of a selection from the New Testament Epistles or the Acts of the Apostles, which change daily. Following this, “Alleluia” is sung in response to additional Psalm verses in preparation for the proclamation of the Gospel reading for the day. The homily or sermon (comes next)—in which a commentary on the Scripture readings is offered, together with the challenge for the faithful to “incarnate” these words from Scripture in their daily lives.
During the remainder of the Divine Liturgy, we find countless Scripture passages, including the recounting of the Last Supper [more commonly known in Orthodox Christian circles as the “Mystical Supper”], the text of which is taken directly from Scripture, during which we again hear Our Lord inviting us to eat of His Body and drink of His Blood. It is said that there are hundreds of direct quotes from Scripture in the Divine Liturgy—far more, in a single service, than one would find in other Christian traditions.
There are countless other examples of the use of the Bible in Orthodox Christian worship, not the least of which is the use of the Book of Psalms which in monastic practice is sung in its entirety at least once during the course of a week. During certain services and times of the year, such as the season known as “Great Lent” that precedes the celebration of Our Lord’s Resurrection on Easter [known as “Pascha” in the Orthodox Christian tradition], numerous readings from the Old Testament also are read, in addition to the New Testament Gospels and Epistles. The Liturgy on Great and Holy Saturday—the day before Holy Pascha—features 15 readings from the Old Testament—in addition to the appointed Epistle and Gospel readings—that span God’s plan of salvation for His People from the moment of creation. These readings have been a part of our liturgical worship since ancient times, in fact. And the entire text of Luke 1:46-55—widely known as the “Magnificat”—is sung at every celebration of Matins, the Church’s morning worship.
So, the Bible indeed is central to Orthodox Christians, and widely used in public worship, or “Liturgy,” far more than in any other tradition. Yet it is in the One Whom the Bible reveals—Jesus Christ—that our belief is centered, for it is He Who is the All-Merciful Savior, and it is He in Whom our faith is placed. As the Bible directs us, “He that believeth in the Son hath everlasting life” [John 3:36], and “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” [3:16].
(The preceding response was written by Archpriest John Matusiak and posted in the Q & A, oca.org.