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.
HOW TO READ THE HOLY BIBLE (Part V)
By Metropolitan KALLISTOS (Ware) of Diokleia
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 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 Tlikhon 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 the narratives in Holy Scripture as part of my own personal story. The description of Adam's fall is equally an account of something to 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, "Adam, Where are You?" (Genesis 3:9). We often ask, "Where is God?" But the real question is the one that God puts to Adam in each of us: "Where are you?"
Who is Cain, the murderer of his brother? It is myself. God's challenge, "Where is Abel your brother? (Genesis 4:9), is addressed to the Cain in each of us. The way to God lies through love for other people, and there is no other way. Disowning my sister or brother, I replace the image of God with the mark of Cain, and deny my essential humanity.
There are three steps to be taken when reading the Holy Scripture: (1) First, we reflect that wheat we have in Holy 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 "mighty 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.
(2) Next, we observe the particularity, the specificity, of this Sacred History. In the Holy Bible we find God intervening at specific times and in particular places, entering into dialogue with individual humans. We see before us the distinctive calls issued by God to each different person, to Abraham, Moses and David, to Rebekah and Ruth, to Isaiah and the Prophets. We see God becoming Incarnate once only, in a particular corner of the earth, at a particular moment and from a particular Mother. This particularity we are to regard not as a scandal but as a blessing. Divine Love is universal in its scope, but always personal in it expression.
This sense of the specificity of the Holy Bible is a vital element in the Orthodox Christian "Scriptural mind." If you really love the Bible, you will love genealogies and details of dating and geography. One of the best ways is to walk where Christ walked. Go down near the Dead Sea, climb the mountain of the Temptation, scan the desolation, feel how Christ must have felt during His forty days alone in the wilderness. Drink from the well where Jesus spoke with the Samaritan woman. Take a boat out on the Sea of Galilee, have the sailors stop the engine, gaze in silence across the water. Go at night to the Garden of Gethsemane, sit in the dark under the ancient olives, and look across the valley to the historical setting, and take that experience back with you to your daily Scripture reading.
(3) Then we are to take a third step. After reliving Bible History in all its particularity, we are to apply it directly to ourselves. We are to say to ourselves, "These are not just distant places, events in the remote past. They belong to my own encounter with the Lord. The stories include me."
A personal approach of this kind means that in reading the Holy Bible we are not simply detached and objective observers, absorbing information, taking note of facts. The Holy 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 (agape). 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 Holy Scripture only when my heart responds with love to the heart of God.
Reading Holy Scripture in this way--in obedience, as a member of the Church, finding Christ everywhere, seeing everything as part of my own personal story--we shall sense something of the power and healing to be found in the Holy 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 paths" (Psalm 118:105). (Source: Orthodox Bible Study)
Please note: There may be some of you that have never read the Holy Bible, however, there is no time to lose. Begin today! Open your own personal dialogue with our Heavenly Father and invite Him into your life. Open your heart "that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height--to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God" (Ephesians 3:17-19).
If you do not have the Orthodox Study Bible you may purchase it through our Saint Andrew Bookstore. Our bookstore has holy icons, Orthodox prayer books, incense, candles, Divine Liturgy books, etc.
"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!" -- Saint John Chrysostomos
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God