Living an African-American Orthodox Christian Life: Essential Reading

I have to thank the Black Empowerment Group of Chesapeake Virginia for allowing me to speak via Zoom today.  January 1st is the final day of Kwanzaa, which focuses on Faith.  It is also the feast day of St. Basil the Great, the patron of my parish.   One of the three major Cappadocian fathers, Basil spent years in Egypt as a monk and is recognized in the Sayings of the Desert Fathers.  It was fitting that I had a chance to share with these young men in their pursuit of Black History and community service. 

Book nerd that I am, it is no surprise that reading was one of the vehicles that led me to the Orthodox faith.  I did name drop a few titles while giving my talk.  Unfortunately, I was at work and didn’t have my library arsenal on hand.  It would be my friend Anna, the mother of a founder of the group, would ask for a couple of recommendations.  I quickly gave two recommendations.  But, more books are necessary for an honest study of the faith.

This list is for those who are interested in early Christianity.  Some may decide to convert to Orthodoxy after reading just one or two books.  Others will not, which is still fine with me.  It is crucial for all American Christians not to take the faith at face value with a shallow “All I need is the Bible” mentality.  The era of unchallenged Christianity is dead and gone.  We have to understand what and why we believe.  These ten books will give anyone a firm foundation to stand on. 

  1.  The Orthodox Study Bible – Our Old Testament is translated from the Greek Septuagint which was canonized about 200 years before Christ.  This is the OT that the Apostles and other early Christians would have used.  The footnotes are from the writings of the early church fathers, not modern “flavor of the month” ministers.
  2. Wade in the River:  The Story of the African Christian Faith – Probably the most complete history of Orthodox Christianity of ancient Africans and the Diaspora.  Chapters include stories of Athanasius the Great, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, and Orthodoxy in Kenya as it sought independence. 
  3. The Unbroken Circle:  Linking Ancient African Christianity to the African American Experience – These are collections of lectures given at the Ancient Faith & Afro-American Conferences in Kansas City, MO.  The speakers include the founders of the Fellowship of St. Moses the Black.
  4. On the Incarnation – Written by Athanasius the Great, this book gives a great explanation of why Jesus came to the world.  A short, but important, read.
  5. On Social Justice – Basil addressed problems in ancient Asia Minor that we still struggle with today in America.  John Chrysostom’s On Wealth and Poverty is often read with it. 
  6. The Life of Saint Anthony the Great – This little book about a native Egyptian influenced the spiritual life of generations of monks from Ireland to Russia to Ethiopia. 
  7. The Philokalia Vol. I – This volume contains writings attributed to Anthony the Great and a conversation John Cassian had with Moses the Black.  The Philokalia is a treasure trove of Eastern Orthodox spirituality very well worth reading.
  8. Sayings of the Desert Fathers – This is an ancient collection of wisdom from some of the most influential men (and some women) who left everything to find God.  There are great words to live by in this book.
  9. Nubian Christianity: Triumph of the Last Pharaoh – Not only was ancient Nubia Christian, it resisted Islamic invasion for centuries.  This is a lost history of how Nubia was evangelized by peaceful monks. 
  10. The Histories of the Monks of Upper Egypt and the Life of Onnophirus – Upper Egypt and Lower Nubia was a home of early Christian wisdom.  Read with Nubian Christianity.

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