The Evangelical Character of the Church (Part III)

Icon of the Mother of God "the God Loving"

Icon of the Mother of God "the God Loving"

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.

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THE EVANGELICAL CHARACTER OF THE ORTHODOX CHURCH (Part III)
By Father Demetrios Constantelos

Among the Mysteries (Sacraments), Baptism's Scriptural nature reveals how the early Church understood the Soteriological (salvific) problem, the nature of man, and the meaning of his redemption. The divine service includes 186 biblical verses. The Old Testament is represented by 94 verses, the New Testament by 92.

Despite the brevity of the Mystery (Sacrament) of Chrism, it too is saturated with biblical material. It includes 30 verses, 17 of which are from the New Testament and the other 13 from the Old Testament.

An examination of the Holy Scriptural structure of Holy Unction (Holy Oil), apart from its seven Gospel and Epistle readings, reveals the healing attributes bestowed upon the Church and the therapeutic mission that is expected of her. In the Mystery (Sacrament) of Holy Unction Christ works as physician to the human soul and body. The texts of the Mystery (Sacrament) deal primarily with human suffering or spiritual affliction and reveal God's mercy, love, and intervention on mankind behalf. Like Christ, the Church must be concerned with human suffering. There are 196 Scriptural verses from both Testaments in this rite. The Old Testament leads with 109, against 87 from the New Testament.

The biblical material in the Mystery (Sacrament) of Matrimony, apart from the two standard pericopes, consists of 130 verses. The use of the Old Testament prevails, with 90 verses against 40 for the New Testament. In addition there are numerous allusions and references to biblical personalities such as Isaac, Sarah, and Joseph. In the biblical material of this Mystery (Sacrament) the emphasis of the Church is on the conjugal relationship, with special reference to the couple's procreative task and the call to spiritual perfection. It also manifests the Church's strong opposition to separation and divorce. The unity of husband and wife is like the union between Christ and His Church.

The hymns of the Church are full of direct or indirect Scriptural references, synonyms, and concepts, to a greater degree than are the Church services and prose prayers...

"...In addition to the liturgical use of the Holy Bible in Church liturgy and hymnology, the study of the Holy Scripture has always been encouraged in the Orthodox Church. In countries where Orthodox Christianity predominates, even the illiterate have learned by heart whole psalms and other portions of the Holy Scripture. In the early and medieval Church there were persons who knew many parts of the Holy Bible by heart, and candidates for the Priesthood were required before ordination to learn a certain number of psalms, plus a Gospel and several Epistles. Given the wide availability of Scriptural text, today this is not a practical requirement for service in the Church, though Scriptural sayings and phrases, like, proverbs and mottos, come readily in the speech of both clergymen and laity.

The Holy Scripture were diligently studied by Monastic communities, whether they were composed of intellectuals of simple monks.  In practically every Monastic ordinance, or typikon, there are strong recommendations for the study of the Holy Bible, not as a literary document but as a guide for everyday living. "Study of Holy Scripture, spiritual exercise (ascesis), prudence, and obedience" were virtues to be pursued by all monks, as Monastic Rules and the Biographies of Great Saints proclaim. Such canons are even inscribed on the holy icons of various Saints, such as Efthymios and Symeon.

The Church Holy Fathers and Theologians have always encouraged Bible study. It has been estimated that if all the Scriptural quotations in Saint John Chrysostom's works were put together, the whole Bible could be constructed. Saint John Chrysostom advocated the study of the Holy Scripture by Clergymen and all the believers alike. He advised: "Let us give diligent heed to the study of the Scripture; the study of the Bible expels despondence, engenders pleasure, extirpates vice, makes virtue take root. In the tumult of life Bible study will save you from suffering like those who are tossed by troubled waves. While the sea of life rages, you sail with calm weather because the study of the Scripture serves you as a pilot."

Many Church Fathers accorded absolute authority to the Scripture. For them the revelation of God in its dual form, oral and written, was deposited in the Church. On the one hand was the continuous Tradition of the Church and on the other the Holy Scriptures and Holy Tradition were viewed as two sides of the same coin. The Holy Apostolic Tradition stood at the root of both.

From as early as the 2nd century, ecclesiastical writers viewed the Holy Bible as the source of Christian doctrine. Origen was a pronounced Biblicist. His writings abound in Scriptural elements and appeal over and over again to Holy Scripture as the ultimate criterion of faith. Saint Athanasios proclaimed, "The Holy and inspired Scriptures are fully sufficient for proclamation of the truth." Saint John Chrysostom and many other Holy Fathers dwell at length on the absolute authority of the bible regarding doctrinal norms. For them, of course, the Bible was simply written tradition. In the Christological controversies, the ultimate appeal of Theodoretos of Kyros was to the teaching of the Holy Fathers, who derive their wisdom and inspiration from the "Divine Fountain," from the Divinely inspired scripture as a whole.

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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 (Ministry),
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George