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.
WHERE DID THE HOLY BIBLE COME FROM? (Part III)
The Holy Bible and the Church
To what kind of conclusion does this drive us? Obviously, the Holy Bible came to be what it is, came into existence, only in the context of the living, dynamic Church of Christ, which had its origin at Pentecost (although its antitype, of course, was to be found in the Chosen People whose history led to the Incarnation of the Son of God). It was the life of the Church throughout the first 70 or so years of her existence which, guided by the Holy Spirit, gave rise to the written texts which in due course were to complete the New Testament. And it was the continuing life of the Church for more than another 300 years which was required to refine and define the exact contents of the Holy Scripture.
Thus, it is pointless and misleading and even dangerous to discuss the Holy Scripture apart from the life of the Church. If the Holy Scripture as we know them could only come into existence through the action of the Holy Scripture upon and in the Church over a period hundreds of years, then obviously the rest of the experience of the Church during those same centuries (and subsequent ones as well) is of vital importance to their understanding.
And what is this "Church"? It is the same Church which was founded by our Lord Jesus Christ, governed by the Apostles in the earliest decades, later guided and shepherded by their successors, the bishops. It is the same Church which suffered intermittent persecution for 300 years, which finally attained freedom under the reign of Saint Constantine the Great, which by the guidance of the Holy Spirit defined the meaning of the Holy Scripture as it confronted the perpetrators of the various heresies. It is the same Church which in the Holy Councils (Synods) wrote the Nicene Creed (Confession of Faith) summarizing the very essence of the Faith and the Holy Scripture, which in these same Councils wrote the Holy Canons which are the guidelines even to this day for its life.
This is the same Church which teaches us to venerate the Saints and their holy relics. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, the Church learned how to celebrate the Divine Liturgy, the Lord's Supper, with dignity and splendor long before the time at which we can identify a final agreement concerning the contents of the Holy Bible.
And so...we are forced, if we confront the facts with honesty and integrity, to one inescapable conclusion: it is only through the Church that we have access to the Holy Bible at all. And it is likewise to the Church that we must turn for its understanding.
WHICH CAME FIRST...THE CHICKEN OR THE EGG?
This classic riddle is very much to the point here. In point of time, it should be apparent that the Church long precedes the Holy Bible as an integral collection of books, and considerably precedes even the individual books of the New Testament. Thus, it is quite, certain that the Church founded by our Lord Jesus Christ was not "based on the Holy Bible". The Church created by the Holy Spirit on Pentecost had no Bible as we know it...and did not have to have it to be truly the Church. It can be said with some justification that if every single copy of the Holy Bible in existence were destroyed, the effect upon the Church would be minimal (although the context in which such an event could occur might not be!).
But the converse is not true. If there were no Church (but we are assured this will never come to pass..."the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (Saint Matthew 16:18), the Holy Bible would not be sufficient to provide what is needed for our salvation. If we doubt the Truth of this, we need only cast our glance over the spectacle of what happens when people attempt to create their own "churches" based upon their own, private interpretations of the Holy Scripture.
HOW CAN WE UNDERSTAND THE HOLY BIBLE
We must, then, look to the Church if we are to have any correct understanding of Holy Scripture. Saint Peter insists: "no prophesy of the Scripture is of private interpretation" (2 Peter 1:29). But we must not expect to find this understanding by acquiring some compendium of the "true meaning" of the Holy Bible. It is of wisdom, Divine wisdom, that we speak...and this is not to be reduced to a series of sentences and paragraphs and books of merely human writing, inspired or otherwise. No...it is to the life of the church that we must turn if we are to understand the Holy Bible.
This life cannot be ours except by participation. We must be saturated in it through the prayers of the Church, through reading in the wisdom of the nearly two years' writings of the Holy Fathers of the Church, through the daily life of the Christian community. Apart from this life, there can be no real understanding, but only misunderstanding and perversion. The annals of the Church's history are filled with such...as are the shelves of any large library. Wherever man tries to rely upon his own "reason", rather than upon God's Wisdom as imparted in the Holy Church, heresy is the certain outcome...separation from the Truth.
There is only one Church. That Church has always been at one with the teachings of the Holy Apostles, and always in genuine historical and spiritual continuity with them. That Church first had to define itself as "catholic" ...as universal, in distinction from the "particular" or partial understandings of some of the early heretics. Later, it had to define itself as "orthodox", as of the same Faith as the Holy Apostles and the Church throughout the ages...in distinction from those who were "heterodox", accepting "another faith". From the very beginning, there has been much tolerance for sinners (even though not for their sins), but none for false teachings, for heresy. "If a man preach any other Gospel unto you than that you have received, let him be accursed" (Galatians 1:8).
Throughout, it is one and the same Church. Today, the True Church, the Orthodox Church, is once again present in the West. But it is our responsibility as Orthodox Christians to see to it that the Truth is not only present but available to those who thirst for it. If we are to attain the end which God intends for us, we must submit ourselves and our lives and our minds to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, of the Church. Only in the life of the Church is it possible for the Holy Bible to be for us the living, life-giving Logos/Word of God. Torn away from the Church, as a child ripped untimely from his mother's womb, the Holy Scripture brings not life, but death--whether the death of rationalism or that of private "inspiration". Only in the Church can we become one with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ...He in us, and we in Him, that we all may be One in Him (cf. St. John 17:22-23). (Source: The Saint John of Kronstadt Press)
"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!"-Saint John Chrysostomos
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia (Ministry),
The sinner and unworthy servant of God