he subtitle of this useful book by Father William Mills isReflections on the Scripture Readings for the Christmas-Epiphany Season. That well explains its purpose and tells us how it is to be used: to help readers gain a deeper understanding of the hymns and liturgical verses, as well as the Bible readings, for the season of these two great feasts.
In fifteen chapters, Fr. Mills provides thought-provoking commentary on key New Testament passages—Matthew 1 and 2, and Luke 1,2, and 3. He includes the texts of hymns that are based on these passages, and reflects on those as well.
In his chapter entitled “Magi from the East,” for example, Fr. Mills shows how stikhera verses from the Great Compline for the Feast of Christmas “echo” a passage from Isaiah, and goes on to explain how the Church has interpreted the passage as a prophecy of Christ’s birth. This kind of explication is a welcome contribution to one of the most important goals of Orthodox Christian education: to help people see that the Church is truly Bible-based, with hymns and prayers directly related to and based on the Old and New Testaments.
The book also offers two helpful appendices. One lists Scripture readings for the Christmas and Epiphany season. The other contains patristic texts for the two feasts. There is also a good bibliography that will be useful to anyone who wishes to “dig deeper” into the wealth of material related to this holy season.
More thorough editing and proofreading would have added to the book’s appeal. When the word “otherworldly” appears on the page as “other wordly,” or when “censer” is rendered as “censor,” it means that proofreading was done too hastily. There are many such mistakes, misspellings, and grammatical gaffes scattered through the text. And it is surprising, in an Orthodox text, to see St. Gregory the Theologian consistently referred to as “St. Gregory Nazianzus” rather than “St. Gregory Nazianzen” or “St. Gregory of Nazianzus.”
But the book has many merits, including the author’s description of lectio divina. In his introduction, Fr. Mills encourages readers to use this age-old practice of taking time to savor the Church’s texts by reading them slowly and with great concentration and care. The chapters he has written can certainly help anyone to do so, and to enjoy a richer experience of the Christmas and Epiphany season.
Prepare O Bethlehem is published by the Orthodox Research Institute, Rollinsford, New Hampshire.
Reviewed By: Valerie G Zahirsky