August 9th is the feast day of an overlooked Saint Matthias. In the Book of Acts (1:12 to 26) he was chosen to replace Judas Iscariot to join the Twelve Apostles. Peter takes the lead in the beginning of the book with Paul’s mission to the Gentiles occupying much of this scripture. Deacon Philip’s evangelizing an Ethiopian official is a very familiar story to most of us who have read the Bible. Matthias’s work has been lost to most of us. However, his role in spreading the Gospel is worth honoring. He was the only member of the Twelve Apostles who preached in Africa (as far south as Ethiopia) Asia (his native Judea, where he was finally martyred) and Europe (Macedonia). If any man ever sought to fulfill the Lord’s command to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18 to 20), St. Matthias did.
No book is more highly regarded in Orthodox Christianity than the Bible. We chant from the Psalms as prayers. The weekly epistle and Gospel is read to the congregation in the same way as was done in the early Church. Our Old Testament is based on the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures that the Apostles used. From 33 to 398 AD, the Bible was not in one convenient book as it is now. Early Christians relied on a Tradition of life and thought handed down from the time of the Apostles to today. The Bible is the principle book that any Orthodox Christian should read as often as possible on the path of salvation.
Many other books that we refer to inform us on the Christian life based on that same tradition. They are not replacements for any part of the Bible. However, they teach about early believers and their stories of keeping the faith in the face of great persecution (Lives of the Saints, Prologue of Ohrid). Other works expound on prayer and spiritual living (Philokalia, Sayings of the Desert Fathers). Notable clergymen wrote major essays detailing topics of Christian doctrine (St. Basil the Great On the Holy Spirit). Orthodox Christianity offers a vast treasure trove of useful writings to help us grow closer to God.
It is neither necessary nor possible for a Christian to read everything that is in Orthodox Tradition? Of course not. However, if the mind frame of early Christians was wise enough to give us the Bible, it is worth investigating what other wisdom the ancient ones can teach us and apply to our modern lives. Talk to some Orthodox believers and see what we are reading. Pray about it and ask a priest, or other member of the clergy.