The Status of Anaginoskomena in Eastern Orthodoxy and Some Criteria of Biblical Canonicity

Augustine’s criterion of canonicity (i.e., the use of a book by many significant Churches) was the moving force that led to the official decision at Council of Trent in 1546: a wider Old Testament canon consisting of 46 books (39 protocanonical and 7 deuterocanonical, the latter term being coined by Sixtus of Sienna in 1566). This is the current Roman Catholic view on biblical canon. The Reformers resorted to a narrower Old Testament canon (39 books) identical with the one found in rabbinic Judaism. The Eastern Orthodox view on Old Testament canon is quite unique going back to Athanasius of Alexandria’s Festal Epistle 39 (367) in which the books of the first covenant are divided into kanonizomena “canonized” and ou kanonizomena “not canonized” or anaginōskomena “to be read (aloud),” especially in a liturgical congregation. Apparently, the Eastern Orthodox Churches exhibit an “open canon” or, more precisely, to use Ulrich’s technical term, a “growing sacred Scripture” that consists of 39 canonical books of the Jewish Bible and a number of 10 additions to the Septuagint called anaginoskomena, which are not canonical, yet part of the Orthodox bibles and some of them copiously used in liturgical services. The proposed paper aims to briefly survey the history of the anaginoskomena and their place within the Eastern Orthodox biblical canon, beginning with 4th century debates (Athanasius, Cyril of Jerusalem, Epiphanius of Salamis, Coucil of Laodicea, Amphilochius of Iconium), with special emphasis on 17th century confessions (Loukaris, Dositheos) and councils (Jerusalem, 1672), then moving to the second half of the 20th century preparatory conferences (e.g., Chambesy, 1968, 1976) whose goal was to set the agenda for a Pan-Orthodox Council, eventually held in 2016 in Crete. While reviewing this peculiar group of books, the paper seeks to identify some of the criteria for biblical canonization used in Eastern Orthodoxy by examining various formulae crafted to describe the anaginoskomena vis-à-vis the Old Testament canonical books (e.g., Epiphanius of Salamis: chrēsimoi kai ōphelimoi “useful and helpful”; Amphilochius of Iconium: ouk asphalēs “not infallible”; John of Damascus enaretoi men kai kalai “virtuous and noble,” etc.). Looking backwards (i.e., 17th century oscillations [Loukaris, Dositheos] between narrower and wider canons), one may detect a certain tendency in some Orthodox circles to consider the liturgical use as a criterion of canonicity and by consequence canonize altogether the anaginoskomena. This would move the Eastern Orthodox view close to the Roman Catholic stance, while overlooking the subtle distinction between “formative” and “informative” with respect to the biblical canon, so well articulated by Athanasius when he differentiates between the “canonical” leading to “the doctrine of godliness” (eusebeias didaskaleion) and the “noncanonical” facilitating “the instruction of godliness” (katēcheisthai tōn tēs eusebeias logon). The paper does not promise solutions. It raises a twofold question: What are some of the criteria of biblical canonicity in Eastern Orthodoxy and what is / will be the status of anaginoskomena? The paper wants to be simply a catalyst for further investigation and conversation around the Eastern Orthodox intricate view on canon.