The Books of Sacred Scripture

Sacred Scripture is "the Word of God in human words." The prayers and hymns of the Byzantine Rite frequently quote from the Sacred Scriptures of the Old and New Testament; for example, the Anaphora of Saint Basil contains more than seventy biblical quotations and references. But entire sections of the Bible are also read in the course of the liturgical services.

This article describes the Scriptural books used in the Byzantine Rite, and how they are used in the liturgy. For information about church reading in general, and the office of the reader, see Reading in Church.

The books of the Bible

In many languages, the word for Bible is actually plural; like the term Scriptures ("writings"), it indicates that the Bible as we know it is actually a small library of historical accounts, poetry, genealogies, moral instruction, and prophetic visions.

The Old Testament

These are the books of the Hebrew Bible, known to Christ and the apostles (as well as the early Church) through the Greek translation called the Septuagint, or LXX (because it was said to have been translated from the Hebrew by seventy scholars).

"Wisdom" books: moral and didactic (teaching) literature, and poetry

The "greater prophets" and related writings:

The twelve "minor prophets" (sometimes counted as a single book):

The New Testament

These books were compiled by the Church, and approved by tradition and Church councils.

The Gospel ("good news") of Jesus Christ, in four books, as recorded by the four evangelists (bringers of good news):

A volume of history of the early church:

Letters attributed to Saint Paul:

Other apostolic letters:

An apocalyptic vision:

Of these books, only Revelation is not read at some point in the liturgical services of the Byzantine Rite.

Readings at the Divine Liturgy

The Gospel is read at every Divine Liturgy:

with exceptions for some particular Sundays whose theme was most clearly found in another Gospel. The most important Gospel passages were assigned first to Sundays, Saturdays, and major feasts; the remaining passages were assigned in order to the remaining weekdays. The Gospel book contains a complete set of readings for the Church year.

A similar process assigned an apostolic writing (from Acts or the epistles) to each Divine Liturgy, with the Acts of the Apostles read during the Paschal season, and the epistles read (basically in order) from Pentecost through Great Lent, with the most important sections assigned to Sundays, Saturdays, and feast days. The Apostol ("epistle book") contains a complete set of these readings.

Readings at Vespers and Matins

Individual parts of the Old Testament and the apostolic writings from the New Testament are read at Vespers on the eves of major feasts. There is no attempt to read the entire Old Testament; instead, readings are chosen for their historical or symbolic relevance to a particular feast. A notable feature of Vespers is the use of "composite readings": Old Testament readings composed from many disparate parts of a single book. The Old Testament readings are sometimes gathered into a single book (called a Prophetologion), or added to other books.

At Matins on Sundays, there is an 11-week cycle of Resurrection accounts from the Gospel, and special Gospel readings appointed for major feasts.

Readings during the Great Fast and Holy Week

During the Great Fast, the Divine Liturgy is not celebrated on weekdays, but there are extensive readings from the Old Testament instead. At the Sixth Hour (midday), there are readings from Isaiah, and Genesis and Proverbs are read in their entirety at Vespers.

During Holy Week, there are Gospel readings at Matins, the Hours, and Vespers, and additional readings from the Old Testament.

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