Revealing the Divine Wisdom of God Through Holy Scripture (Part VI)

Venerable Alypius the Iconographer of the Kiev Near Caves

Venerable Alypius the Iconographer of the Kiev Near Caves

My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ!  ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.

REVEALING THE DIVINE WISDOM OF GOD THROUGH THE HOLY SCRIPTURE (Part VI)

HOW TO READ THE HOLY BIBLE
By Metropolitan KALLISTOS (WARE) of Diokleia

To discover this "mind of the Church," where do we begin? A first step is to see how 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 holy 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 this way both liturgical and patristic.

To illustrate what it means to interpret Scripture in a liturgical way, consider the Old Testament lessons at Vespers for the Feast of the Annunciation (March 25th) and at Vespers on Holy Saturday, the first part of the ancient Paschal Vigil. At the Annunciation (Evaggelismos) there are five readings:

  1. Genesis 28:10-17: Jacob's dream of a ladder set up from earth to heaven.
  2. Ezekiel 43:27-44: the prophet's vision of the Jerusalem temple, with the closed gate through which none but the Prince may pass.
  3. Proverbs 9:1-11: one of the great Sophianic passages in the Old Testament, beginning "Wisdom has built her house."
  4. Exodus 3:1-8: Moses at the Burning Bush.
  5. Proverbs 8:22-30: another Sophianic text, describing Wisdom's place in God's eternal providence: "I have been established from everlasting, from the beginning, before there was ever an earth."

In these passages from the Old Testament, we have a series of powerful images to indicate the role of the Theotokos in God's unfolding plan of salvation. She is Jacob's ladder, for by means of her, God comes down and enters our world, assuming the flesh that she supplies. She is both Mother and Ever-Virgin; Christ is born from her, yet she remains still inviolate, the gate of her virginity sealed. She provides the humanity or house which Christ the Wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:24) takes as His dwelling; alternatively, she is herself to be regarded as God's Wisdom. She is the Burning Bush, who contains within her womb the uncreated fire of the Godhead and yet is not consumed. From all eternity, "before there was ever an earth," she was forechosen by God to be His Mother.

Reading these passages in their original context within the Old Testament, we might not at once appreciate that they foreshadow the Savior's Incarnation from the Virgin. But, by exploring the use made of the Old Testament in the Church lectionary, we can discover layer upon layer of meanings that are far from obvious at first sight.

The same thing happens when we consider how Scripture is used on Holy Saturday. Here there are no less than fifteen Old Testament lessons. This long sequence of readings sets before us the deeper significance of Christ's "passing over" through death to resurrection...

Christ, the Heart of the Bible

The third requirement in our reading of Scripture is that it should be Christ-centered. If we agree with the 1976 Moscow Conference that the "Scripture constitute a coherent whole," where are we to locate their wholeness and coherence? In the person of Christ. He is the unifying thread that runs through the entirety of the Bible from the first sentence to the last. Jesus meets us on every page. It all ties up because of him. "In Him all things hold together" (Col. 1:17 NRSV).

"...Such as we have seen, is precisely the effect of reading Scripture within the context of the Church's worship. As the lessons for the Annunciation and Holy Saturday make clear, everywhere in the Old Testament we find signposts and waymarks pointing to the mystery of Christ and His Mother Mary. Interpreting the Old Testament in the light of the New, and the New in the light of the Old--as the Church lectionary encourages us to do--we discover how the whole of Scripture finds its point of convergence in the Savior.

Orthodoxy makes extensive use of this "typological" method of interpretation, whereby "types" of Christ, signs and symbols of His work, are to be detected throughout the Old Testament. Melchizedek, for example the priest-king of Salem who offered bread and wine to Abraham (Genesis 14:18) is regarded as a "type" of Christ not only by the holy Fathers but equally in the New Testament itself (Hebrews 5:6; Num. 30:7-11) is likewise a symbol of Christ (1 Cor. 10:4). Typology explains the choice of lessons, not only on Holy Saturday, but throughout the second half of Lent. Why are the Genesis readings in the sixth week dominated by the figure of Joseph? Why read from the Book of Job in Holy Week? Because Joseph and Job, who both suffered innocently, foreshadow the redemptive suffering of Christ on the Cross.

The Bible as Personal

According to Saint Mark the Monk ("Mark the Ascetic," fifth/sixth century): "He who is humble in his thoughts and engaged in spiritual work, when he reads the Holy Scripture, will apply everything to himself and not to his neighbor." We are to look throughout Scripture for a personal application. Our question is not simply "What does it mean?" but "What does it mean for me?" As Saint Tikhon insists, "Christ Himself is speaking to you." Scripture is a direct, intimate dialogue between the Savior and myself--Christ addressing me and my heart responding. That is the fourth criterion in our Bible reading.

I am to see all the narratives in Scripture as part of my own personal story. The description of Adam's fall is equally an account of something in my own experience. Who is Adam? His name means simply "man," "human": it is I who am Adam. It is to me that God says, "Where are you?" (Genesis 3:9). We often ask, "Where is God?" But the real question is the one that God puts to the Adam in each one of us: "Where are you?"

"...There are three steps to be taken when reading Scripture: first, we reflect that what we have in Scripture is sacred history: the history of the world from the Creation, the history of God's chosen people, the history of God Himself incarnate in Palestine, the history of the "wonderful works" (Acts 2:11) after Pentecost. We are never to forget that what we find in the Holy Bible is not an ideology, not a philosophical theory, but a historical faith.

"...a personal approach of this kind means that in reading the Bible we are not simply detached and objective observers, absorbing information, taking note of facts. The Bible is not merely a work of literature or a collection of historical documents, although certainly it can be approached on that level. It is, much more fundamentally, a sacred book, addressed to believers, to be read with faith and love. We shall not profit fully from reading the Gospels unless we are in love with Christ. "Heart speaks to heart." I enter into the living Truth of Scripture only when my heart responds with love to the heart of God.

Reading Scripture in this way--in obedience, as a member of the Church, finding Christ everywhere, and seeing everything as part of my own personal story --we shall sense something of the power and healing to be found in the Bible. Yet always in our biblical voyage of exploration we are only at the very beginning. We are like someone launching out in a tiny boat across a limitless ocean. But, however great the journey, we can embark on it today, at this very hour, in this very moment.

At the high point of his spiritual crisis, wrestling with himself alone in the garden, Saint Augustine heard a child's voice crying out, "Take up and read, take up and read." He took up his Bible and read, and what he read altered his entire life. Let us do the same: take up and read.

"Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path" (Psalm 118 [119]:105). (Source: The Orthodox Study Bible)

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THE NEW TESTAMENT

The Epistle of Saint Paul the Apostle to the Thessalonians (2:13-17): Stand Fast in the Faith

"But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because

God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth, to which He called you by our gospel, for the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle. Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and our God and Father, Who has loved us and given us everlasting consolation and good hope of grace, comfort our hearts and establish you in every good word and work."

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The First Epistle of Saint Paul the Apostle to Timothy (2:1-7): Faithfulness in Prayer

"Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time, for which I was appointed a preacher and an apostle--I am speaking the Truth in Christ and not lying--a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth."

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Warning to Wealthy Christians (1 Timothy 6:17-19)

"Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, Who gives us richly all things to enjoy. Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life."

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The Second Epistle of Saint Paul the Apostle to Timothy (3:1-7): Moral Decline in the Last Days

"But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away! For of this sort are those who creep into households and make captives of gullible women loaded down with sins, led away by various lusts, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth."

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The Epistle of Saint Paul the Apostle to Titus (2:1-8): Sound Doctrine Produces Proper Behavior

"But as for you, speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine: that the older men be sober, reverent, temperate, sound in faith, in love, in patience; the older women likewise, that they be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things--that they admonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed. Likewise, exhort the young men to be sober-minded, in all things showing yourself to be a pattern of good works; in doctrine showing integrity, reverence, incorruptibility, sound speech that cannot be condemned, that one who is an opponent may be ashamed, having nothing evil to say of you."

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The Epistle to the Hebrews (3:12-14): Beware of Faithlessness

"Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called "Today," lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end."

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Faith's Hope (11:1-3)

"Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders obtained a good testimony. By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible."

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The Purity of Christian Community (12:28-29)

"Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire."

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The Holy Life Summarized (13:17-18)

"Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you. Pray for us; for we are confident that we have a good conscience, in all things desiring to live honorably."

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MY BLESSING TO ALL OF YOU

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.

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"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!"-Saint John Chrysostom

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

Father George