November 29, 2021


Rev. Dr. Eugen J. Pentiuc, Archbishop Demetrios Professor of Biblical Studies and Christian Origins at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, has published a new book, Hearing the Scriptures: Liturgical Exegesis of the Old Testament in Byzantine Orthodox Hymnography (Oxford University Press, 2021). This work is the first comprehensive lexical-biblical-theological analysis of selected Byzantine Orthodox hymns for Holy Week. The author, an internationally recognized biblical scholar and theologian, examines various ways in which Scriptures, primarily Old Testament texts, have been read and interpreted by Byzantine hymnographers. Holy Week hymnography serves as a case study. 

According to Fr. Pentiuc, “liturgical exegesis,” namely, biblical interpretations offered by liturgists (i.e., hymnographers and iconographers), is to be distinguished from “discursive exegesis” undertaken by Church Fathers in their commentaries on Scripture. If the latter tends to be linear, sequential and discursive in its exposition, the former is more holistic, mosaic-like, and quite imagistic. To underline this distinction, Fr. Pentiuc uses the analogy of visual arts, more specifically, the comparison between Renaissance and Cubist art. The latter, through its multi-angularity and simultaneity, is similar to liturgical exegesis. Interestingly, both Cubism and liturgical exegesis emphasize the creative role of the viewer or hearer in the interpretive process. Michael D. Coogan, a noted biblical scholar and editor of The New Oxford Annotated Bible remarks: “In this learned and innovative study, Pentiuc brilliantly analogizes hymnic use of the Bible to Cubism, in contrast to more representational patristic exegesis. A very important contribution to the Bible’s reception history.”

Although a scholarly work, Hearing the Scriptures was written with a wider audience in mind: the Orthodox faithful. It is intended as a guide to help the worshiping community gain a better understanding of the interplay of Scripture and hymnography so characteristic of Holy Week liturgical services in the Byzantine Orthodox tradition.  

Gary A. Anderson of Notre Dame University, eminent biblical scholar and theologian, notes: “This learned work is a much-needed examination of the scriptural sources that inform the content of the liturgical poetry of the Orthodox Church. Such a task requires a good knowledge of the Greek Church and the biblical text. Few scholars can handle both sides of this equation, but in Eugen Pentiuc the reader will find a superb guide.”

In the author’s own words, the six-year period marked by intense research and writing needed to bring the book to fruition would not have been possible without God’s grace, a sabbatical provided by Holy Cross, and the financial support of the Jaharis Family Foundation, the generous donor of the chair held by Fr. Pentiuc.