The Last Prayer Book You'll Ever Need?

An honest review of The Anthologion by St. Ignatius Orthodox Press

I have been waiting to write this review for some time.

A number of months ago, a friend of mine (Thanks, Thaddeus!) shared a fundraiser for the Anthologion over discord. It took me about 5 seconds to realize I needed to support this project. At the time, a good portion of the Orthodox faithful in the US was still either stuck at home in lockdown or facing limitations on the number of parishioners allowed at liturgy. The idea of having a complete prayer book in a single volume at a reasonable price that was small enough to travel with seemed almost too good to be true.

I was wrong. They made it happen.

What Is It?

There’s a lot to say about the Anthologion, but in order to give an honest review, it needs to be said what exactly the book is. From the Indiegogo page:

The Anthology of Prayer is an Eastern Orthodox prayer book which for the first time in English incorporates the Book of Hours with a significant selection of fundamental hymns and prayers from the Church's liturgical cycles. This provides the ordinary Christian at home with a form of the rich prayers of the Church in a single, affordable, pocket-sized book, much as the Breviary does for Western Christians.

Given the contents of the Anthologion, I was expecting it to be fairly truncated, fairly large, or fairly expensive. For a book to contain what is promised here, certainly one would have to cut corners. An entire horologion (book of the hours) octoechos (weekly hymns of the 8 tones), menaion (hymns and prayers for feast days), Tridion (lenten service book), and Pentecostarion (services for the season of Pascha) all in one volume… There’s got to be some compromise, right?

Having used the Anthologion almost daily since I received my copy over a month ago, I do feel I’m in a position to offer some thoughts on it. So here is my honest assessment of what St. Ignatius Orthodox Press has produced.

The Good

The Anthologion delivers on being an all-in-one package. The table of contents shows as much. The idea behind this work isn’t a full service book that would be used in a parish setting. Rather, it contains something like a Reader’s Service version of each of the offices. Meaning, it is intended to be said without a priest present. Each office contains areas where a priest would normally perform something - like a litany - and what to do in place of that - like saying “Lord, have mercy” twelve times.

For any given day, one can easily determine what liturgical feast day is celebrated, the rank of the service, the tone of the week (for the octoechos), and how to assemble each service. The front matter is loaded with tables and rubrics to aid in this.

The book works fairly logically. It can seem somewhat overwhelming at first, given the amount of content, but following with a little work before each office, one can fairly easily have a grasp on what to do.

I’ll admit I felt like it was too much until I watched the YouTube playlist that demonstrated how to set up each kind of service. Though this may have been due to the fact that I did not have much prior knowledge as to how the liturgical cycle works. Until now, I’ve had a Jordanville Prayer Book, and I’ve chanted a few All-Night Vigils at my parish that I had no part in assembling. For anyone with a cursory understanding of how the different cycles of the Church calendar work together, and the different liturgical books used throughout the year, a quick glance at the rubrics in the front matter should be enough to know what to do for the office.

The above photos are taken to show the various rubrics used for a service with commemorations. For instance, last night (at the time of this writing), I chanted Vespers for the Consecration of the Holy Sepulcher (September 13 on the Old Calendar). According to the rubrics, it is a Class IV feast day, and the service can be drawn from the ‘Master’ service from the general menaion. Since today is the start of a new week, we are now in Tone 5. As such, I know to place a ribbon on these pages to turn back to as the service calls for it. This brings me to one of my favorite elements of the Athologion: readability.

Each office is presented well. In particular, Vespers and Matins with their many moveable parts, are laid out in such a way where the red text will tell you what to do next and where to turn in the book without getting bogged down spending more time calculating if…then… language found in many different horologia.

For instance, at Vespers last night, I knew from the rubrics that at “Lord, I have Cried” I needed to insert 10 stichera, 6 for the resurrection (octoechos), and 4 for the commemoration (menaion). Where to insert these is clear:

Looking at the images above, there are 6 stichera in the octoechos (with an additional 4 should there be no commemoration in the menaion), along with the 4 from the menaion (that may be repeated for higher-ranked services).

The difficulty here is flipping between sections of the book to read the stichera, then back to the Vespers reading, then back again. Over time, I’ve developed a rhythm that makes this easier, but for some, this will likely be off-putting. That being said, this is exactly what to expect with a single-volume work of reasonable size. So during “Lord, I Have Cried”, I flipped between the service and the two sections I had bookmarked, then moved on, doing the same when I arrived at the aposticha later on. As someone who has chanted these services a few times, but never constructed them, I do find this experience very rewarding. There’s a certain level of satisfaction knowing that I’m able to handle the liturgical cycle on my own should I not be able to make it to church and even say the daily office in its entirety should I ever find time throughout my day.

The greatest benefit to all of this is the variety and depth of prayer that is experienced moving through the liturgical cycle. I primarily say Vespers at home, and over the past few weeks, I have seen the different prayers for each tone of the week. Knowing that Thursday this week will have a different emphasis than Thursday last week, and knowing that once the 8-week cycle repeats, I’ll either experience these prayers again or likely weave them in with prayers from the menaion is actually quite exciting. Far from the frequent criticism of liturgical prayer as being dry, boring, and repetitive, using the Anthologion to follow the Church’s liturgical cycle creates a lively and enriching order of services throughout the year.

I have yet to use the Lenten Tridion or the Pentecostarion, but they are laid out in a similar way to the octoechos and General Menaion. They contain the moveable parts of the service. Additionally, there’s an entirely different section for the weekday hours during lent to avoid the aforementioned “If…Then…” fatigue, for which I am grateful, even if it means adding to the overall size of the book. I’d much rather have an extra centimeter and a few extra grams on the book than have to pass over massive portions of the prayer each day for the majority of the year.

Additional features of the book include prayer at waking, before sleep, and a section that serves as a book of needs with prayer for various occasions.

Given the amount of content available in just over 1000 pages, I have to say that my expectation of the Anthologion being truncated turned out to be misguided. Even with 10-point font, this single volume contains almost everything one would need to follow the entire Church calendar, and pray a reader’s service version of very similar, if not identical, prayers that they would while attending the service at their parish.

There's only a few major liturgical works not included in the Anthologion, the first being a Priest’s service book, though instead there is a section of Priest’s prayers if a priest happens to be present. Another missing element is a full menaion, though to fit that into a single volume would be entirely impossible. As the introduction of the book explains, the General Menaion is sufficient for home use as it was for centuries before the printing press made a full 12-volume monthly menaion regularly available. Anecdotally, I’ve also heard of some smaller parishes and missions that use the General Menaion for their church use. I can say that personally, I don’t feel like I’m missing out or that I’m slighted in any way using the General Menaion as provided in the Anthologion. Also, there is no section for the Divine Liturgy or the moveable elements therein (such as the Beatitudes). Instead, there is both a regular and Lenten version of the Typica included.

As a side note, for those who would want to include the use of their monthly menaion, it would be possible with the Anthologion as the moveable sections of each office are described and one could easily replace what is added from the general menaion with an external source like those available online.

So while the content of the Anthologion isn’t truncated, it would be fair for one to expect the book to be fairly large, or expensive, right?

Well, size-wise, the book trim is 4.5” x 7”, and even with 1,000 pages, it measures less than 1.5” on the spine. The binding is Smyth-sewn with four ribbons (the exact amount needed to mark each piece of even the most complex of services). The paper is quite thin, but given that this shouldn’t need to be highlighted or marked up with ink, the thinness shouldn’t be a concern for most people using it. As such, St. Ignatius Orthodox Press delivered on what they promised: an all-in-one “pocket-sized” prayer book. Personally, I have some large pockets, so I’ll consider that an accurate description. In all reality, though, this book is about the profile of a regular prayer book or even some smaller-print bibles. I have a number of bibles that are about the same size.

That brings us to cost. To purchase all this material as separate volumes (horologion, octoechos, general menaion, Triodion, and Pentecostarion) could easily cost $500. Also, with quality construction - binding, Smyth-sewn spine, gilded pages, and genuine leather cover - it would be reasonable to spend about $100 on this.

But that’s not the cost. That’s actually what the original backers paid on Indiegogo, and at the time the genuine leather cover wasn’t even expected - they added that after the overwhelming support for the project came through. The actual price is half of that: $49.95.

The Bad

Having said all that, there are a few drawbacks to the Anthologion, most of which are personal preferences for me, and may be irrelevant to many others.

For me, the biggest negative takeaway from the Anthologion is the translation. It is written in Modern English, and for a single-volume work that is intended to replace liturgical prayers of the parish, it would make sense to write it in the language the vast majority of parishes in the English-speaking world use. While I have used a number of modern English prayer books, and I can say that the translation of the Anthologion is better - and in my opinion more reverent - than most others.

That being said, having the octoechos and general menaion in a single volume could still be beneficial for someone who, for instance, uses the Holy Transfiguration prayer book. The moveable elements, while written in modern English, are not so jarringly different that they could not be used in combination with a more traditional English prayer book. As I stated, I feel the language of the Anthologion, while modern, is quite reverent. For me personally, when I’m reading through the portions of the prayers I have memorized (the Trisagion, The Lord’s Prayer, ‘it is truly meet…’, Gladsome Light, etc.) I often stumble as my brain is already reciting the version I know while my eyes are reading a version with very different wording.

One other minor point is that the moveable portion of the Beatitudes is not included. While the divine liturgy is not in the Anthologion, the Typica service is. The portion of the Beatitudes in the Typica is simply read with no stichera inserted. While a fairly minor critique, it should be noted.

Also, for Matins of all sorts, the Canons are not included. Like other elements, this is probably due to the sheer volume it would require. In place, the Anthologion has the appropriate seasonal kativasia chanted in place of the Canon - following the Greek practice. As someone who attends a Russian parish, this was foreign to me, but I'm comforted in knowing that they didn't just eliminate a portion of the office without following standard practice in replacing it. From what I've read, even in many Greek parishes on Sunday morning, the seasonal kativasia is chanted instead of the Canon.

Personally, I intend to keep the Anthologion in regular use, but will most likely do exactly as I’ve described above: use the moveable portions and the rubrics from the Anthologion to fill in the sections of the HTM prayer book & Psalter. I find that the prayers from the menaion and octoechos are very readable and flow nicely, and for those who may come to the same conclusion as me, using the Anthologion as a collection of supplemental material to a more traditionally-written prayer book can both serve to eliminate the “flip fatigue” from using a single volume, as well as removing the need for $400 of liturgical books not frequently used. For those times when I’m traveling, I intend to use the Anthologion alone and work through the mental “roadblock” of language that isn’t as familiar to me. The convenience of having one lightweight book for an entire daily office is too good to opt for the alternative of lugging around 3-5 books to avoid a few language pitfalls.

This does bring me to another “bad” element of the Anthologion, but it comes more from the same spirit of it not having a full monthly menaion. There is no psalter in the Anthologion. Similarly to not having a full menaion, it would be impractical to include a psalter in a single volume, but it is worth mentioning. While the Anthologion has a general menaion to serve in place of the monthly version, there is no small psalter, no select kathismas, etc. When the psalms aren’t part of the office itself, there is simply red text stating a kathisma is to be read. The rubrics, however, do include a portion to determine which kathisma is read at which service. As with everything in the Anthologion, check the rubrics - there’s almost certainly something there.

I don’t see the lack of psalter as a deal-breaker for the Anthologion, though. As mentioned above, for traveling, or even general use, this lone wolf can replace a number of books. In general, I - and I suspect most others - wouldn’t travel with a prayer book and without a bible. While the ordering of kathismas may be a bit clunky without a designated psalter, a Bible and the Anthologion together will be all you need for a full liturgical prayer rule even on the go.

Final Thoughts

There’s not much more to say here. If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading. For a video review of the Anthologion, look no further than this video from Raphael of Orthodox Review fame:

At the time of this writing, the Anthologion is also on sale for $5 (10%) off. You can pre-order it HERE.

I do not say this about many books, but for the value, quality, longevity, and utility you will get from the Anthologion, it deserves a place on any Orthodox bookshelf.

If you have any questions, feel free to let me know!