Some elders once visited Abba Anthony, and Abba Joseph was with them. The elder mentioned a verse from Scripture, wishing to put them to the test. He began to ask, starting with the least of them, what this verse was about and each one began to speak according to his own ability. But the elder said to each one: “You have not discovered it yet.” Last of all he said to Abba Joseph: “You then, what do you say this phrase is about?” “I do not know,” he replied—so Abba Anthony said: ”Because he said, ‘I do not know,’ Abba Joseph has indeed discovered the way.”
During the last years of his life, the late Protopresbyter Thomas Hopko was fond of carrying with him a copy of The Arena, by Saint Ignatius Brianchaninov, and a print-out of the thirty-eight sayings of Saint Anthony the Great from the Alphabetical Sayings of the Desert Fathers, from which the above quotation is taken. Being himself deeply rooted in the rich scriptural, patristic, and historical soil of the Orthodox faith, Father Tom saw both texts as fundamental to the Christian life. He knew through his own experience what Saint Anthony was trying to convey to the elders that came to see him: that knowledge of God is best attained, not through study and discourse—though these have their place—but through the experience of living in Christ, which requires great humility and great love.
It is difficult to overestimate the importance of the series The Orthodox Faith, one of the earliest publications written by Father Tom, the first volume of which came out in 1971. This deceptively labeled “elementary handbook” on the Orthodox Church has been used by thousands, from casual enquirers to catechumens to lifelong Church members, as both a catechesis and basic reference tool on Orthodox Christianity.
Yet the series has always been more than a simple set of reference manuals, precisely because it is the fruit of the living faith and understanding of tradition of its author, which give the work its sense of immediacy and zeal. Over forty-five years after their first appearance, these volumes continue to fulfill a dual purpose. First, they provide a rich base of introductory information on many aspects of Orthodoxy: Church doctrine and its development, Holy Scripture, liturgical practices, the spiritual life, etc. But, beyond this, through the rousing voice of Father Tom, they remind us that our life in the Church—in Christ—means more than a vain repetition of ritual by a group of individuals.
Writing about the Liturgy, Father Tom writes:
The Divine Liturgy is not an act of personal piety. It is not a prayer service. It is not merely one of the sacraments. The Divine Liturgy is the one common sacrament of the very being of the Church itself. It is the one sacramental manifestation of the essence of the Church as the Community of God in heaven and on earth. It is the one unique sacramental revelation of the Church as the mystical Body and Bride of Christ.
And so, it is more than fitting that these books be given an update in design and content after so many years of faithful service. Father Tom had plans to revise and update all four volumes of this series. But alas, with his final illness and death in March, 2015, this was not to be.
Significantly, however, Father Tom, working together with Dr. David Ford of Saint Tikhon’s Seminary, was able to complete one important piece of that plan, namely, a fully re-worked Church history volume. The revised and expanded Volume 3: Church History of this series contains the fruit of that labor, containing greatly enhanced coverage of major events in the history of the Church, from the Church’s birth at Pentecost through the arrival of Orthodoxy to the Americas in the eighteenth century and into the early twenty-first. This new edition of Church History also includes theological and historical developments occurring in the West during the same periods.
Of course, in today’s digital era, there are more considerations to take account of when updating content. These volumes will also be available for download in digital formats. Additionally, in an effort to provide more interactivity and the possibility for continual updates, the Department of Christian Education of the Orthodox Church in America has created a section on the OCA’s website offering discussion questions and points for reflection. To view and download these resources as they become available, please visit: oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith.
My hope is that these volumes will continue to inspire those who have made use of them over the years and will serve as an introduction to the Orthodox Faith for a new generation of seekers and learners who are willing to enter into the experience of God by following the example provided by Protopresbyter Thomas Hopko and his words.
Archbishop of Washington
Metropolitan of All America and Canada