By Blessed Theophylact of Ochrid
Written 900 years ago by Blessed Theophylact of Ochrid, these commentaries distill the essence of St. John Chrysostom’s preaching—and that of other great fathers of the patristic era—many centuries before his own time. Blessed Theophylact has given us a “ Bible study” of ancient and divine origin, untouched by contemporary opinions and discussions. It is in fact, timeless and has proven its value to every generation of Orthodox Christians during the past nine centuries. In language that is profound, powerful and direct, Theophylact distills the teachings of the earlier Church Fathers, and especially of St. John Chrysostom, into a verse-by-verse commentary of the entire Gospel text.
Translated from the original Greek by Fr. Christopher Stade. Softbound. 328 pages.
For nine hundred years one of the most beloved and widely read Scriptural commentaries among the Orthodox people of Byzantium, Serbia, Bulgaria, Russia, and Greece has been Blessed Theophylact’s Explanation of the New Testament (Blagovestnik). The comprehensiveness, the patristic authority, and, at the same time, the simplicity of this great work makes it of value to every Christian seeking to understand the meaning of the Gospel preaching.
Here is what Bishop Ignatius (Ignaty) Brianchaninov, a renowned spiritual writer and monastic guide of nineteenth century Russia, has to say about this work:
“While reading the evangelists, the novice [or beginner] should also read The Explanation of the Gospels by Blessed Theophylact, Archbishop of Bulgaria. The reading of The Explanation is indispensable. It is an aid to the right understanding of the Gospel and consequently to the most exact practice of it. Moreover, the rules of the Church require that Scripture should be understood as the holy Fathers explain it, and not at all arbitrarily. By being guided in our understanding of the Gospel by the explanation of the holy Fathers, we keep the tradition of the holy Church.” (From The Arena)
Blessed Theophylact’s Explanation has not been previously translated into any western European language, but his work was known in the west early on. Thomas Aquinas approved of it 150 years after Bl. Theophylact's repose and it was known to western scholars of Byzantium since the time of Erasmus. In the 20th century more attention has been given by historians to Bl. Theophylact's Letters, which provide an insight to life in the Byzantine empire at the time of the First Crusade (1096-1099).
The Explanation is based entirely on the works of the great Fathers of the early Church, and above all, St. John Chrysostom. Blessed Theophylact employs to perfection the commentary form introduced by St. Photius the Great and known as “links” or “series” (in Latin, catenae). The inspiration behind this form of commentary is the Orthodox desire, and indeed, commandment, to guard and transmit to future generations the living apostolic tradition of the early Church. Therefore, later commentators and Fathers, such as St. Photius and Blessed Theophylact, for each passage of Scripture under consideration would gather together the explanations and interpretations of the early Fathers. The result is not simply the interpretation of one person, but an expression of the consensus of the mind of the church—in short, what the Church has believed and taught “at all times and in all places.” What is truly remarkable is that, although the work is wholly derived from the tradition of the Fathers, in it the reader hears but a single voice speaking clearly as a teacher to a disciple.
Mindful of the need for the wealth of Orthodox Scriptural commentary to be accessible in English, we offer this translation of Blessed Theophylact’s Explanation of the Gospels. The work of translating the Explanation of the Epistles is now underway.