One of the most common questions from those looking into the Orthodox Church is, “what do I read?” While English-language resources for understanding Orthodox Christianity have thankfully increased greatly over the past forty years, they are not all of even quality. Most have a slant of one type or another, and oftentimes there are errors of fact or interpretation in the presentation.
It should also be recognized that people come to Orthodoxy for a variety of reasons. For some, the most pressing reason is that the beauty of the worship calls them in; for others the rich spiritual heritage of the Church beckons. For still others, a deep desire to find the historic and doctrinally correct Church is provoked inside them. Of course, these areas are not mutually exclusive, and true worship, true doctrine, and true spirituality are all key reasons why the Orthodox Church is the true Church. But it seems to be the case that one of these pillars usually features more prominently in one’s search than others, and for this reason, the following informal annotated bibliography has been created.
Before directly accessing Orthodoxy via Orthodox sources, it may be helpful for the inquirer to set the foundation using materials that employ a common language to most Westerner Christians. The following are a few standard works:
Henry Chadwick, The Early Church.
This is a succinct treatment of the history of the Church with copious suggestions for further reading. It will take the reader through the basic stages of the historical development of the Church. Chadwick was a famous Anglican clergyman and scholar who held appointments at both Oxford and Cambridge.
Jaroslav Pelikan, A History of the Development of Doctrine, Vol. 1: The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600) and Vol. 2: The Spirit of Eastern Christendom (600-1700).
Pelikan’s history of the development of doctrine is another standard work. Whereas Chadwick’s book focuses more on the historical events, Pelikan addresses the development of ideas. The work is academic and thorough. Pelikan was at the time a Lutheran but ended his days a member of the New Calendar Orthodox Church of America.
Now that the inquirer has a basic understanding of the history of the Church, a historical work dealing with the Orthodox Church specifically by an Orthodox author:
Timothy Ware (now Metropolitan Kallistos), The Orthodox Church.
This is the most commonly-recommended treatment of the Orthodox Church available in English. It has been through several editions. It is mostly accurate, although it would be wise to note a few deficiencies in it which can be noted in the following review.
A new crop of apologetics works have arisen as well. Converts to Orthodoxy Clark Carlton and Michael Whelton provide decent arguments for why Orthodoxy is the true Christian Church, although the reader might note certain comments and styles of writing that may seem overly polemical or off-putting. These books, while engaging and thought-provoking, are of course not written as contributions to peer-reviewed, academic scholarship, but are rather popular literature.
Clark Carlton, The Way and The Truth.
The Way is geared towards explaining Orthodoxy to Protestants while The Truth is geared towards Roman Catholics, but it may be helpful to read both in order to compare and contrast.
Two Paths is a general account of the trends in Roman Catholicism that led to the First Vatican Council and its declaration of papal infallibility, while Popes and Patriarchs is a modest contribution to understanding the way that some Roman Catholic apologists misrepresent Eastern Church Fathers in order to imagine that they were somehow supporters of Roman Catholic claims of papal supremacy.
Now that the inquirer has understood the major themes of Church history and has a feel for the arguments as to why Orthodoxy is the true Church of Christ from those who have embraced Orthodoxy, it will be beneficial to read two paradigm-changing books by Orthodox authors.
Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos, The Mind of the Orthodox Church.
This book will readjust one’s whole way of thinking about Orthodoxy. It is often hard to find, but is available via interlibrary loan. Excerpts.
Vladimir Lossky, Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church.
This is a classic work that shows the interlinking between doctrine and spirituality.