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

Martyr Diomedes the Physician of Tarsus, in Cilicia

Martyr Diomedes the Physician of Tarsus, in Cilicia

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 V)

HOW TO READ THE HOLY BIBLE
By His Eminence Metropolitan KALLISTOS (Ware) of Diokleia

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

"...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 sense of 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 that is set before us--the ever-present miracle of God's Divine word of salvation expressed in human language. As Plato 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" in both Greek and Latin--to hear (Eepakoe). 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 to start listening. When we enter an Orthodox Church, there in the apse is the figure of the 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 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 one 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.

Understanding the Holy Bible Through the Church

As the Moscow Conference affirms, "We know, receive, and interpret Scripture through the Church and in the Church." Our approach to the Holy Bible is not only obedient but ecclesial. The Words of Scripture, while addressed to us personally, are at the same time addressed to us as members of a community. Book and Church are not to be separated.

The interdependence of Church and 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 three 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 of 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's 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 he 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 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 biblical 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 Bible personally, but not as isolated individuals. We say not "I" but "We". We read as the members of a family, the family of the Orthodox Catholic Church. We read in communion with all the others 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 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 be continued)

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THE NEW TESTAMENT

The Epistle of Saint Paul the Apostle to the Colossians

Against False Spirituality (2:16-19)

"So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ. Let no one cheat you of your reward, taking delight in false humility and worship of angels, intruding into those things which he has not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom all the body, nourished and knit together by joints and ligaments, grows with the increase that is from God."

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Spirituality in the Church (3:1-14)

"If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not in things on the earth. For you died, and your life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory. Therefore put to death our members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Because of these things the sons of disobedience, in which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them. But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him, where there is neither Greeks nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all. Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering, bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the body of perfection..."

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1 Thessalonians (5:1-18)

"But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you. For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. For when they say, 'Peace and safety!' then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape. But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief. You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk are drunk at night. But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as the helmet of hope of salvation. For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, Who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him. Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing...Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you…"

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MY BLESSING TO ALL OF YOU

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

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

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

+Father George