How to Read the Holy Bibile

St. Tikhon, the Apostle to America

St. Tikhon, the Apostle to America

My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,

Metropolitan KALLISTOS (Ware) of Diokleia

"All Scripture is given by inspiration of God (2 Timothy 3:16)

[Please note: Every Orthodox Christian should say this prayer to himself, because the word of God only by His help can bear fruit in our hearts.]

+In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Shine in our hearts, O Merciful Master, the pure Light of Thy Divine Knowledge, and open the eyes of our mind that we may understand the teachings of Thy Gospel; implant in us also the fear of Thy Blessed Commandments, that we, trampling down all carnal desires, may enter upon a spiritual manner of living both thinking and doing all those things that please Thee. For Thou art the Source of Light for our souls and bodies, O Christ Our God, and unto Thee we ascribe glory, together with Thy Eternal Father, and Thine All-Holy, Good, and Life-Giving Spirit, now and forever, and from all ages to all ages. Amen.


"If an earthly king, our emperor," wrote Saint Tikhon of Zadonsk (1724-83), "wrote you a letter, would you not read it with joy? Certainly, with great rejoicing and careful attention." But what, he asks, is our attitude toward the letter that has been addressed to us by no one else than God Himself? "You have been sent a letter, not by any earthly emperor, but by the King of Heaven. And yet you almost despise such a gift, so priceless a treasure." To open and read this letter, Saint Tikhon adds, is to enter into a personal conversation face-to-face with the Living God. "Whenever you read the Gospel, Christ Himself is speaking to you. And while you read, you are praying and talking to Him."

Such exactly is our Orthodox Christian attitude to the reading of Holy Scripture. I am to see the Holy Bible as God's personal letter sent specifically to myself. The words are not intended merely for others, far away and long ago, but they are written particularly and directly to me, here and now. Whenever we open our Holy Bible, we are engaging in a creative dialogue with the Savior. In listening, we also respond. "Speak, for your servant hears," we reply to God as we read (1 Sam. 3:10); "Here am I" (Isaiah 6:8).

Reading the Holy Bible with Obedience

First of all, we see Holy Scripture as inspired by God, and we approach it in a spirit of obedience. The Divine inspiration of the Holy Bible is emphasized alike by Saint Tikhon and by the 1976 Moscow Conference: Scripture is "a letter" from "the King of Heaven," writes Saint Tikhon; "Christ Himself is speaking to you." The Holy Bible, states the Conference, is God's "authoritative witness" of Himself expressing "the word of God in human language." Our response to this Divine word is rightly one of obedient receptivity. As we read, we wait on the Spirit.

Since it is divinely inspired, the Holy Bible possesses a fundamental unity, a total coherence, because the same Spirit speaks on every page. We do not refer to it as "the books" in the plural, ta vivlia. We call it "the Bible", "the Book," in the singular. It is one book, one Holy Scripture, with the same message throughout--one composite and yet a single story from Genesis to Revelation.

At the same time, however, the Holy Bible is also humanly expressed. It is an entire library of distinct writings, composed at varying times, by different persons in widely diverse situations. We find God speaking here "at various times and in various ways" (Hebrews 1:1). Each work in the Holy Bible reflects the outlook of the age in which it was written and the particular viewpoint of the author. For God does not abolish our created personhood but enhances it. Divine grace cooperates with human freedom: we are "fellow workers," cooperators with God (1 Corinthians 3:9). In the words of the second-century letter to Diognitus, "God persuades, He does not compel, for violence is foreign to the Divine Nature." So it is precisely in the writing of inspired Scripture. The author of each book was not just a passive instrument, a flute played by the spirit, a dictation machine recording the message. Every writer of Holy Scripture contributes his or her particular human gifts. Alongside the Divine aspect, there is also a human element in Scripture, and we are to value both...

Because Holy Scripture is in this way the word of God expressed in human language, there is a place for honest and exacting critical inquiry when studying the Holy Bible. Our reasoning brain is a gift from God, and we need not be afraid to use it to the utmost when reading Holy Scripture...Alongside this human element, however, we are always to see the Divine aspect. These texts are not simply the work of the individual authors. What we hear in Holy Scripture is not just human words, marked by a greater or lesser skill and perceptiveness, but the uncreated word of God Himself--the Father's Word of salvation. Approaching the Holy Bible, then, we come not merely out of curiosity or to gain historical information. We come with a specific question: "How can I be saved?"

Obedient receptivity to God's word means above all two things: a sense of wonder and an attitude of listening.

1)     Wonder is easily quenched. Do we not feel all too often, as we read the Holy Bible, that it has become overly familiar, even boring? Have we not lost our alertness, our expectation? How far are we changed by what we read? Continually, we need to cleanse the doors of our perception and to look with new eyes, in awe and amazement, at the miracle set before us--the ever-present miracle of God's divine word of salvation expressed in human language. As Plator remarked, "The beginning of Truth is to wonder at things."

2)     If obedience means wonder, it also means listening. Such indeed is the literal meaning of the word for "obey" (Gk. Ypakoe)--to hear. The trouble is that most of us are better at talking than at listening.

One of the primary requirements, if we are to acquire a "scriptural mind," is to stop talking and start listening. When we enter an Orthodox Church decorated in the traditional way, and look up towards the sanctuary, we see there in the apse the figure of the Theotokos (Mother of God) with her hands raised to heaven--the ancient scriptural manner of praying that many still use today. Such is also to be our attitude to Holy Scripture--an attitude of openness and attentive receptivity, our hands invisibly outstretched to heaven.

As we read our Holy Bible, then, we are to model ourselves in this way on the Blessed Virgin Mary, for she is supremely the one who listens. At the Annunciation, listening to the Angel, she responds obediently, "Let it be to me according to your word" (St. Luke 1:38). Had she not first listened to God's word and received it spiritually in her heart, she would never have borne the Logos (Word) of God bodily in her womb. Receptive listening continues to be her attitude throughout the Gospel story. At Christ's nativity, after the adoration of the shepherds, "Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart" (St. Luke 2:19). After the visit to Jerusalem when Jesus was twelve years old, "His Mother kept all these things in her heart" (St. Luke 2:51). The vital importance of listening is also indicated in the last words attributed to the Theotokos in Holy Scripture, at the wedding feast in Cana of Galilee. "Whatever He says to you, do it" (St. John 2:5), she says to the servants--and to each of us.

In all this the Virgin serves as a mirror and living icon of the biblical Christian. Hearing God's word, we are to be like her: pondering, keeping all these things in our hearts, doing whatever He tells us. We are to listen in obedience while God speaks…

The interdependence of Church and Holy Bible is evident in at least two ways. First, we receive Scripture through and in the church. The Church tells us what is Scripture. In the first centuries of Christian history, a lengthy process of sifting and testing was needed in order to distinguish between that which is authentically "canonical" Scripture, bearing authoritative witness to Christ's person and message, and that which is "apocryphal," useful perhaps for teaching, but not a normative source of doctrine. Thus, the Church has decided which books form the canon of the New Testament. A book is not part Holy Scripture because of any particular theory about its date and authorship, but because the Church treats it as canonical. Suppose, for example, that it could be proved that the Fourth Gospel was not actually written by Saint John the beloved disciple of Christ--in my view, there are in fact strong reasons for continuing to accept St. John authorship--yet, even so, this would not alter the fact that we regard the Fourth Gospel as Scripture. Why? Because the Fourth Gospel, whoever the author may be, is accepted by the Church and in the Church.

Secondly, we interpret Scripture through and in the Church. If it is the Church that tells us what is Scripture, equally it is the Church that tells us how Scripture is to be understood. Coming upon the Ethiopian as we read the Old Testament in his chariot, Philip the Deacon asked him, "Do you understand what you are reading?"

"How can I," answered the Ethiopian, "unless someone guides me?" (Acts 8:30, 31).

His difficulty is also ours. The words of Scripture are not always self-explanatory. The Holy Bible has a marvelous underlying simplicity, but when studied in detail it can prove a difficult book. God does indeed speak directly to the heart of each one of us during our Scripture reading--as Saint Tikhon says, our reading is a personal dialogue between each one and Christ Himself--but we also need guidance. And our guide is the Church. We make full use of our private understanding, illuminated by the Holy Spirit. We make full use of biblical commentaries and of the findings of modern research. But we submit individual opinions, whether our own or those of the scholars, to the judgment of the Church.

We read the Holy Bible personally, but not as isolated individuals. We read as the members of a family, the family of the Orthodox Catholic Church. We read in communion with all the other members of the Body of Christ in all parts of the world and in all generations of time. This communal or catholic approach to the Holy Bible is underlined in one of the questions asked of a convert at the reception service used in the Russian Orthodox Church. "Do you acknowledge that the Holy Scripture must be accepted and interpreted in accordance with the belief which has been handed down by the Holy Fathers, and which the Holy Orthodox Church, our Mother, has always held and still does hold?" The decisive criterion of our understanding of what Scripture means is the mind of the Church.

To discover this "mind of the church", where do we begin? A first step is to see how Holy Scripture is used in worship. How in particular are biblical lessons chosen for reading at the different feasts? A second step is to consult the writings of the Church Fathers, especially Saint John Chrysostom. How do they analyze and apply the text of Scripture? An ecclesial manner of reading the Holy Bible is in this way both liturgical and patristic.

Please note: I have encouraged and attempted to offer Adult Catechism which includes everything within our Holy Orthodox Tradition i.e., Holy Scripture over the years but the response from the parish has been poor. For the few that wanted it, each one has had his/her own idea how it should be conducted and which day and time. I cannot agree with this attitude. If there is truly a hunger for learning you must cooperate with me and leave everything to me.

Our approach to the Holy Scripture is Orthodox and not Protestant


1 JOHN 2:1-6

"My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world. Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His Commandments. He who says, "I know Him," and does not keep His Commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked."



The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.


Glory Be To GOD For All Things!


With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George