Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Great Lenten Reading

Ever since my almost 16-year-old daughter Audrey was a very small child, my wife Jennifer and I have tried to have a family devotional time with her. We started with very simple Bible picture story books, then moved up to Bible story books designed for older kids. Finally, we graduated to reading the Bible itself, along with other devotional books. For the last couple of years, with Jennifer in graduate school, Audrey very involved in extracurricular activities, and with my own busy schedule, we have struggled to maintain this important time of studying the Scriptures as a family, often failing to keep it going on a regular basis.

In spite of our busy schedules, we have redoubled our efforts each Lent and have regularly maintained our family devotionals during this important time of fasting, prayer and repentance. Over the years, I have discovered several excellent Lenten devotional books, each of which is divided into short daily readings and is excellent for use as a devotional guide, whether for families, couples, or individuals. Even though Lent is drawing to a close, I thought I would mention them to you, perhaps to quickly read this year and/or to use next year. Here they are, in no particular order:

1. Daily Lenten Meditations for Orthodox Christians by Presbytera Emily Harakas, published by Light and Life. Each day's reading includes a quote from one of the Church's Lenten hymns, a quote from the Fathers, a quote from Proverbs, and the lectionary readings for that day.

2. A Journey Through Great Lent by Fr. Stephen Belonick, also published by Light and Life. Each selection includes a reading from Scripture, a meditation by the author, a quote from the Fathers and from a Lenten hymn, and a brief biography of a saint.

3. First Fruits of Prayer, by Frederica Mathewes-Green, published by Paraclete Press. Green, one of my favorite authors, has divided the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete into forty brief readings, each with commentary and reflection. Even though this book is based on a great hymn and not on the Scripture itself, the reader will feel like he has been reading Scripture, since the Canon is strongly grounded in Scripture. We are going through this recently-published devotional guide this year and are greatly enjoying it.

4. The Lenten Spring, by Fr. Thomas Hopko, published by SVS Press. This work first appeared in 1998 but has already become a classic. Each day's reading includes quotes from Scripture, hymns, the Fathers, and the author's own reflections. Of all of the works I have cited, this one is the most suitable to be read in one or two sittings. So, if you would like to work through one of my recommended books this year, this would be the one.

Finally, I thought I would recommend the classic study Great Lent by the late Fr. Alexander Schmemann. I have to admit that I have not yet read this book, although I have read most of Schmemann's other books. All are excellent, so I am assuming that Great Lent is also.

All of these books can be obtained from Light and Life Publishing, Conciliar Press, or Eighth Day Books. Or, if you want to save a couple of bucks, the Hopko, Schmemann and Green books are probably available from, although I encourage you to support an Orthodox bookseller rather than the big corporate monster if you can.

Also worth reading are my friend and brother priest Fr. Joseph Huneycutt's reflections on progressing through Lent. See especially his posts on March 12, 18, and 19.

May the Lord bless each of you and grant you a blessed last part of the Fast!


J. Kotinek said...

Fr. Schmemmann's Great Lent is a wonderful read and a great help during Lent. I try to read it each year at Lent, though this year I've not made as much progress as I'd like to have.

Thanks for your posts Fr. James!

DebD said...


I recently found your blog and have enjoyed reading through old posts. It is so nice to see more priests joining the blogosphere.

I read through Pres. Harakas' book last Lent with my younger children and we greatly enjoyed it. I had not heard of the book by Fr. Stephen Belonick. I will have to check it out for next year.

Great Lent is a great read... I've been using it as a resource this year.