Autumn Leaves


Maybe it is the season. Changing colors, reflect fading beauty.


A touch of melancholy.  The color change, so welcomed by my eyes, also tells me of what will follow – the cold of winter winds, and dormant plants awaiting spring’s resurrection.


Health issues continue for me in the autumn of my life.  I cannot get out to enjoy the spreading color change of fall.


So I look out my window at home and see in my backyard the glory of autumn and also recognize what it signals about the year.


Sadly, my ash tree, the last still standing on my property is succumbing to the ash borer.


 It shaded my house so faithfully for so many summers.    Now it falls to sleep, perhaps for the last time.


The leaves I photo may be the last this tree will produce.  And it is possible the ash tree  with its distinctive leaf colors will disappear from North America as even the spring won’t bring them back from their final dormition.


We Are Christian. So, Who Are We?


“I begin with praxis. Where did resurrection show up in what the early Christians habitually did? Briefly and broadly, they behaved as if there were in some important senses already living in God’s new creation. They lived as if the covenant had been renewed, as if the kingdom were in a sense already present, though, to be sure, future as well; often their present-kingdom behavior (for instance, readiness to forgive persecutors rather than call down curses on them) comes to the fore precisely in contexts where it is all too obvious that the kingdom has not yet been fully realized. The other elements of early Christian praxis, not least baptism, eucharist and martyrdom, point in the same direction. If challenged about their lifestyle, or their existence as a community, the early Christian responded by telling stories of Jesus, particularly of his triumph over death.  […]


The worldview questions, when posed to the early Christians, elicit a set of resurrection-shaped answers. Who are we? Resurrection people: a people, that is, formed within the new world which began at Easter and which has embraced us, in the power of the Spirit, in baptism and faith. Where are we? In God’s good creation, which is to be restored; in bodies that will be redeemed, though at present they are prone to suffering and decay and will one day die. What’s wrong? The work is incomplete: the project which began at Easter (the defeat of sin and death) has not yet been finished. What’s the solution? The full and final redemption of the creation, and ourselves with it; this will be accomplished through a fresh act of creative grace when Jesus reappears, and this in turn is anticipated in the present by the work of the Spirit. What time is it? In the overlap of the ages: the ‘age to come’, longed for by Israel, has already begun, but the ‘present age’ still continues.” (N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, pp 578-579 & 581)


Hidden Meanings

In the previous blog, Textual Variations, we saw that there is a parallel between the incarnation of God the Word in Jesus Christ and the idea that the Scriptures are also considered the Word of God.  Just at Jesus’ human body hides His divinity and yet reveals the self-emptying nature of God, so in the written words of the Scriptures is hidden the revelation of God in the letters and words on the pages and yet in them we can encounter God.  For example, Origen in the 3rd Century says of the Scriptures:

“The treasure of divine wisdom is hidden in the baser and rude vessel of words. “  (A Patristic Treasury: Early Church Wisdom for Today, Kindle Loc. 1892-93)

The letters and words written on a page of Scripture use the same alphabet and grammar as any other written document.  The same words that are found in secular or profane writings are also used in the Bible.  It is not the written letters or words themselves which are holy, but rather the written word is made holy by the message conveyed through “the baser and rude vessel of words.”  The holiness is hidden in the text, and revealed to the one who reads the text or hears it proclaimed.  This is the synergy between God and us humans.  It is in our reading of the Scriptures that the meaning becomes manifest.


Thus we see that the incarnation of God’s Word is experienced in many ways in our lives – not only in the holy Scriptures but also including through the sacraments as well as all the life in the Church.  We physically experience divinity in and through the material world of the written text, in the material elements of the sacraments, and in the life of the Church which is the Body of Christ.

The texts of Scriptures are full of hidden meanings – if one delves into the Scripture getting beyond their literal reading, one encounters layers of meaning which speak to us about God’s revealing Himself to us.  We see this thinking already in the New Testament’s reading of the Old Testament in which the obvious literal meaning of a text is superseded by a spiritual reading of the text.

But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign; but no sign shall be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so will the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will arise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.  (Matthew 12:39-41)

The Evangelist Matthew understands Jesus to teach that the very point of the story of Jonah is not so much a history lesson as is it is a prophecy of the death and resurrection of the Messiah. [Which is also why Jonah’s prophecy is read on Holy Saturday in the Orthodox Church.]  Thus we see in prophecy the incarnation of the Word of God is hidden yet also revealed in Christ.  St. Cyril of Alexandria (d. 444AD) writes:

“The word of the holy prophets is always obscure. It is filled with hidden meanings and is in travail with the predictions of divine mysteries. ”  (A Patristic Treasury: Early Church Wisdom for Today, Kindle Loc. Loc. 4960-61)

The early Christians took their cue from the New Testament’s interpretation of the Old Testament to see there are hidden meanings in the most obvious of texts. St Paul proclaims to the Christians at Corinth:

For it is written in the law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it is treading out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned? Does he not speak entirely for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of a share in the crop. If we have sown spiritual good among you, is it too much if we reap your material benefits?   (1 Corinthians 9:9-11)

Such a Scriptural interpretation of older scriptures led the Patristic authors to conclude that the reading of the Old Testament needs to be done in Christ or the meaning hidden in the text will never be revealed.

“For there are many mysteries hidden in the divine Scriptures, and we do not know God’s meaning in what is said there. ‘Do not be contemptuous of our frankness’, says St Gregory the Theologian, ‘and find fault with our words, when we adroit our ignorance.’ It is stupid and uncouth, declares St Dionysios the Areopagite, to give attention not to the meaning intended but only to the words.’ But he who seeks with holy grief will find. This is a task to be undertaken in fear, for through fear things hidden are revealed to us.”  (St Peter of Damaskos, THE PHILOKALIA, Kindle Loc. 29489-502)

The Patristic writers realized one could easily misread the Old Testament text if one only literally read the words and didn’t seek the Christological meaning of the text.  Even St. Paul reads the Scripture seeking its hidden meaning:

Tell me, you who desire to be under law, do you not hear the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave and one by a free woman. But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, the son of the free woman through promise. Now this is an allegory: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children.     (Galatians 4:21-25)

So St Peter of Damaskos says:

“Let him who understands take note. For the Logos wishes to transmit things to us in a way that is neither too clear nor too obscure, but is in our best interests. St John Chrysostom says that it is a great blessing from God that some parts of the Scriptures are clear while others are not. By means of the first we acquire faith and ardor and do not fall into disbelief and laziness because of our utter inability to grasp what is said. By means of the second we are roused to enquiry and effort, thus both strengthening our understanding and learning humility from the fact that everything is not intelligible to us. Hence, if we take stock of the gifts conferred on us, we will reap humility and longing for God from both what we understand and what we do not.”  (THE PHILOKALIA,  Kindle Loc. 31210-16)

Some of the texts in Scripture are easy to understand – they are written to help bring us to faith in God and love for the Creator.  Other texts are hard to understand, and intentionally so to make us stop and read and reread a text in order to reflect on it to see its real meaning.

But there are some things about God which remain a mystery for us – things which are too great and too marvelous for us.

If, therefore, even with respect to creation, there are some things [the knowledge of] Which belongs only to God, and others which come within the range of our own knowledge, what ground is there for complaint, if, in regard to those things which we investigate in the Scriptures (which are throughout spiritual), we are able by the grace of God to explain some of them, while we must leave others in the hands of God, and that not only in the present world, but also in that which is to come, so that God should forever teach, and man should for ever learn the things taught him by God?  . . .  If, for instance, any one asks, “What was God doing before He made the world?” we reply that the answer to such a question lies with God Himself. For that this world was formed perfect by God, receiving a beginning in time, the Scriptures teach us; but no Scripture reveals to us what God was employed about before this event. The answer therefore to that question remains with God, and it is not proper for us to aim at bringing forward foolish, rash, and blasphemous suppositions [in reply to it]; so, as by one’s imagining that he has discovered the origin of matter, he should in reality set aside God Himself who made all things.    (St. Irenaeus of LyonsAgainst Heresies and Fragments, Kindle Loc. 3153-57, 3164-69)

Additionally, while the Scriptural texts themselves can be clear in their meaning, or might contain a hidden meaning, the spiritual life of the reader of the text also affects what the person will be able to understand from the text.  The 11th Century monk Nikitas Stithatos points out:

The reading of the Scriptures means one thing for those who have but recently embraced the life of holiness, another for those who have attained the middle state, and another for those who are moving rapidly towards perfection. For the first, the Scriptures are bread from God’s table, strengthening their hearts (cf. Ps. 104:15) in the holy struggle for virtue and filling them with forcefulness, power and courage in their battle against the spirits that activate the passions, so that they can say, ‘For me Thou hast prepared a table with food against my enemies’ (Ps. 23:5). For the second, the Scriptures are wine from God’s chalice, gladdening their hearts (cf. Ps. 104:15) and transforming them through the power of the inner meaning, so that their intellect is raised above the letter that kills and led searchingly into the depths of the Spirit (cf. 2 Cor. 3:6; 1 Cor. 2:10), In this way they are enabled to discover and give birth to the inner meaning, so that fittingly they can exclaim, ‘Thy chalice makes me drunk as the strongest wine’ (Ps. 23:5. LXX). Finally, for those approaching perfection the Scriptures are the oil of the Holy Spirit (cf. Ps. 104:15), anointing the soul, making it gentle and humble through the excess of the divine illumination they bestow, and raising it wholly above the lowliness of the body, so that in its glory it may cry, ‘Thou hast anointed my head with oil’ (Ps. 23:5) and ‘Thy mercy shall follow me all the days of my life‘ (Ps. 23:6).    (THE PHILOKALIA, Kindle 38302-38331)

Thus it is not only the text which has meaning – the reader interacts with the text and then based upon the reader’s own spiritual maturity is able to draw meaning from the text.  People who have progressed further in the faith might also receive greater enlightenment from any one text.  So St Peter of Damaskos notes:

This is especially true of the person who has made some progress in the practice of the moral virtues, for this teaches the intellect many things related to its association with the passions. Nevertheless, he does not know all the mysteries hidden by God in each verse of Scripture, but only as much as the purity of his intellect is able to comprehend through God’s grace. This is clear from the fact that we often understand a certain passage in the course of our contemplation, grasping one or two of the senses in which it was written; then after a while our intellect may increase in purity and be allowed to perceive other meanings, superior to the first. As a result, in bewilderment and wonder at God’s grace and His ineffable wisdom, we are overcome with awe before ‘the God of knowledge’, as the prophetess Hannah calls Him (cf. 1 Sam. 2:3).”   (THE PHILOKALIA, Kindle Loc. 31791-801)

Any text of Scripture has meaning, but not all meanings are accessible by any one reader.  God gives to each reader as they are capable of understanding.  Thus our spiritual growth and progress shapes what we are capable of learning from the scriptural text.  Scriptures are the living Word of God and do interact with the reader.  The synergy between the reader and the text opens meanings to the reader, each given the meaning according to their ability just as each person in the parable received the talent from the Master  (Matthew 25:15).

Next:   Interpreting the Scripture

Textual Variations

Previous Blog in the series:  Scriptures: The Written Word of God

As we consider the relationship between Jesus, the Word of God, and the Holy Scriptures, we recognize that Jesus is said to be both perfect God and perfect human.  The written Scriptures are also said to be inerrant, and yet it is well known that in the long history of the transmission of the Scriptures scribal errors and variations did enter into the text.  Modern scholars often point out these variations, but they were also well known in the ancient Patristic world.

Modern scholars sometimes try to recreate what they think might be the best or oldest version of the manuscripts making up the books of the Bible.  However, to be real, we can never recreate some perfect biblical manuscript, because no such one manuscript containing all the biblical texts ever existed.  There were always a number of manuscripts and variations in the texts existed from the earliest days of the transmission of texts.   Some non-believers use these variations to show that a literal reading of the Bible can’t be done.  This especially worries those who hold to a completely literalist reading of the text.  Atheists often take advantage of this to try to lead people to lose faith since the texts aren’t perfect.   But in Christian traditions which are not slaves to a literal reading of the text, the variations in the texts can create new insights into the reading of Scripture as well as help us appreciate the depths of God’s written revelation.  Since it is God’s revelation which is true and inerrant, errors in the written text used to communicate the revelation are not seen as invalidating the unchanging truth of God.  Even though the ancients valued and interpreted every tiny dot and letter in the manuscripts, they were amazingly calm about variations they knew existed.  They had a greater faith in God than in the inerrancy of the manuscripts.

We can look at 3 instances of early church Fathers considering variations in the Scriptural texts which were well known in their day.  First, St. Irenaeus of Lyons (d. 202AD),  writing in the 2nd Century notes that there is a known variation in text of Revelation 13:18 in which some report the number 666 but other texts say the number is 616.  St Irenaeus says:

Such, then, being the state of the case, and this number being found in all the most approved and ancient copies [of the Apocalypse], and those men who saw John face to face bearing their testimony [to it]; while reason also leads us to conclude that the number of the name of the beast, [if reckoned] according to the Greek mode of calculation by the [value of] the letters contained in it, will amount to six hundred and sixty and six; that is, the number of tens shall be equal to that of the hundreds, and the number of hundreds equal to that of the units (for that number which [expresses] the digit six being adhered to throughout, indicates the recapitulations of that apostasy, taken in its full extent, which occurred at the beginning, during the intermediate periods, and which shall take place at the end),–I do not know how it is that some have erred following the ordinary mode of speech, and have vitiated the middle number in the name, deducting the amount of fifty from it, so that instead of six decads they will have it that there is but one. [I am inclined to think that this occurred through the fault of the copyists, as is wont to happen, since numbers also are expressed by letters; so that the Greek letter which expresses the number sixty was easily expanded into the letter Iota of the Greeks.] Others then received this reading without examination; some in their simplicity, and upon their own responsibility, making use of this number expressing one decad; while some, in their inexperience, have ventured to seek out a name which should contain the erroneous and spurious number. Now, as regards those who have done this in simplicity, and without evil intent, we are at liberty to assume that pardon will be granted them by God.     (Against Heresies and Fragments, Kindle Loc. 8557-69)

Irenaeus believes the number 666 is the correct reading and he assumes the number 616 occurs in some manuscripts due to a scribal error which he notes frequently happens.  Amazingly he doesn’t panic over the variation and even thinks God will pardon those who did this accidentally.  For Irenaeus the text does not become meaningless by this error, nor does it mean the text is no longer Scripture.  He understands the letters, numbers, words and sentences of the Scriptures are the human element through which God’s truth and revelation are preserved and brought through the generations (Tradition!).  The letters are subject to human error, but the meaning and purpose of God’s revelation is not altered by these human mistakes.

The second instance is found in the writings of St. John Cassian (d. 435AD) who is commenting on Matthew 5:22.   Cassian shows an awareness that there are variations in manuscripts, and like any modern biblical scholar he also thinks some manuscripts are “better”, more reliable in preserving the original message,  than others.  Cassian believes that the less reliable manuscripts have added “without cause” to the original text, so the changed manuscript reads “who is angry without cause.”  Cassian thinks this addition was made to soften Christ’s teachings.  Cassian believes we are not to be angry with our Christian brothers and sisters.   He thinks some found this so difficult to live by, that they changed the manuscripts to say only if the anger is without cause is it wrong, but if we are provoked by the other than the anger is justified.  Cassian thinks Christ taught the much harder truth that anger is sin no matter what the cause of the anger.  Anger against a fellow Christian can’t be justified in this thinking.  So Cassian writes:

The Lord Himself teaches us to put aside all anger when He says: ‘Whoever is angry with his brother shall be in danger of judgment’ (Matt. 5:22). This is the text of the best manuscripts; for it is clear from the purpose of Scripture in this context that the words ‘without a cause’ were added later. The Lord’s intention is that we should remove the root of anger, its spark, so to speak, in whatever way we can, and not keep even a single pretext for anger in our hearts. Otherwise we will be stirred to anger initially for what appears to be a good reason and then find that our incensive power is totally out of control. The final cure for this sickness is to realize that we must not become angry for any reason whatsoever, whether just or unjust. When the demon of anger has darkened our mind, we are left with neither the light of discrimination, nor the assurance of true judgment, nor the guidance of righteousness, and our soul cannot become the temple of the Holy Spirit.”   (THE PHILOKALIA, Kindle  Loc. 2171-86)

Cassian thinks the original teaching of Christ is really shocking and intentionally so.  Can humans living in community really exist without getting angry with one another?  Can we really learn to live so at peace with other Christians, that we ignore their faults, foibles and sins?  Cassian thinks some tried to make the teaching of Christ more manageable and doable by softening it and making it less demanding.  He thinks we need to stick with Christ’s words and intentions rather than with our ideas about what is possible.

The 3rd instance of textual variation comes up on the writings of St. Augustine of Hippo (d. 430AD) who was a contemporary of St. John Cassian.  Augustine is well aware that the Greek Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Scriptures sometimes differed significantly from the known Hebrew and Aramaic texts.  Yet both were considered inspired, sacred Scriptures.   He considers what sense we are to make of these variations and how we might know which is the correct reading of the Scriptures.  Augustine offers this explanation:

“The Septuagint translators, being themselves under the guidance of the Holy Spirit in their translation, seem to have altered some passages [in the Hebrew text] with the view of directing the reader’s attention more particularly to the investigation of the spiritual sense. ”  (A Patristic Treasury: Early Church Wisdom for Today, Kindle Loc. 55780-82)

Augustine believes the Jewish Septuagint translators in rendering the Hebrew texts into Greek were in fact as inspired as the original authors of the texts.  He believes the same Holy Spirit was at work in the authors as in the translators.  This same inspiration led the translators to try to draw out of the texts the more spiritual rather than literal meaning of the words.  So they were not merely translating, they were interpreting/clarifying the texts under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  God was continuing to act in and through the Scriptures which are His living Word, not dead letters carved in stone (2 Corinthians 3:6-7).  Augustine continues:

“Since we find nothing else in the Scriptures than what the Spirit of God has spoken through men, if anything is in the Hebrew copies [of the Old Testament] and is not in the version of the Seventy [the Septuagint], the Spirit of God did not choose to say it through them [the seventy translators], but only through the prophets. But whatever is in the Septuagint and not in the Hebrew copies, the same Spirit chose rather to say through the latter, thus showing that both were prophets. . . . As the one Spirit of peace was in the former when they spoke true and concordant words, so the selfsame one Spirit has appeared in the latter, when, without mutual conference, they still interpreted everything as if they had only one mouth.”  (St. Augustine,  A Patristic Treasury: Early Church Wisdom for Today, Kindle Loc. 5886-91)

Augustine argues that the Jewish translators were in fact inspired prophets of God.   God chose to render some things only in and through the Hebrew texts and this is what the original prophets proclaimed.  But God who continues to act through history also inspired those charged with preserving and translating the texts.  So God added or changed the message when the Septuagint translators were at work because both the times had changed and so had the people who needed to hear the message anew.  Thus even though God’s eternal Word is rendered in print, the written word does not limit or fix the possible meanings of the text nor its power in new generations of believers.


This idea will be the same truth that is understood in the incarnation of Word of God in Christ.  Though Jesus is fully human, this does not in any way limit or contradict that He is fully God as well.  The incarnate Jesus does not change or limit the eternal Word of God.  God Himself chooses to place the limits of space and time on His divine powers in the incarnation.  But this does not shackle divinity.  It is a great mystery which is made obvious when the inspired and sacred Scriptures are translated into a new language.  God continues to direct His revelation to the world in the living and active Word, which is not limited by the physical means used to convey the spiritual message.   The power of God’s living Word was never limited to or by the stones on which it was carved.

“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”   (Hebrews 4:12)

“You have been born anew, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord abides for ever.” That word is the good news which was preached to you.”    (1 Peter 1:23-25)

Next:  Hidden Meanings in the Text

Icons and the Seeds Between Them

In any Orthodox Church, we are surrounded by icons of the saints.  These saints are described in Christ’s parable of the sower as the “good soil” on which when the seed, the Word of God, “grew, it produced a hundredfold.”    As Jesus teaches, the saints “are the ones who, when they hear the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patient endurance.”


Here is the full Gospel parable as Jesus taught it in Luke 8:5-15:

 “A sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell on the path and was trampled on, and the birds of the air ate it up. Some fell on the rock; and as it grew up, it withered for lack of moisture. Some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew with it and choked it. Some fell into good soil, and when it grew, it produced a hundredfold.” A s he said this, he called out, “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!” Then his disciples asked him what this parable meant.  He said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God; but to others I speak in parables, so that ‘looking they may not perceive, and listening they may not understand.’ 


“Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. The ones on the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. The ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe only for a while and in a time of testing fall away. As for what fell among the thorns, these are the ones who hear; but as they go on their way, they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. But as for that in the good soil, these are the ones who, when they hear the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patient endurance.


So, if the saints are the ones upon whom the Word of God comes and they bear fruit from that Word, where does that leave us who are in the church between the icons?  Are we simply the paths in this garden which are trampled upon and because of our hardness, the seed can’t take root but is taken from us?  Or are we the rocky soil or the weed infested ground?


We are what St. Paul says in today’s Epistle:  We are “the temple of the living God.”  God lives in us and walks with us, not upon us.  We are made of the same soil as the saints and are to produce the same good fruits.  The saints are not made up of some substance different from us – they are taken from the same earth out of which we all are taken.  We all are to be saints, we all are icons of God.

In Genesis 1:26-27, God says,  “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. . . So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” 


The word “image” is the word “icon” in Greek.  We each and all are made as icons of God.  God is the first iconographer.  God made us each to be a living icon of Him!

Our task is to live so that we are icons of God, visible to any who want to see.  We are to be living icons of God.  The icons on our church walls are not meant to be lifeless caricatures of legendary heroes.  They are real people, like you and I who lived the Gospel life and who continue to remain alive in Christ.

We are not meant to be the fruitless soil between the icons on the wall but we are to be the Church, the Body of Christ.  We are each to become icons showing the light of Christ in our lives.  We are to live so that God’s Word can interact with us and bear fruit for God.  We are to live so that we understand icons of saints are real people,  they are us and we are to be them.


“What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” Therefore “Come out from among them and be separate,” says the Lord. “Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you. I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the LORD Almighty.” Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.”  (2 Cor. 6:16-7:1)

God’s Word is a Seed

5096763138_3435941b81_n“A sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell along the path, and was trodden under foot, and the birds of the air devoured it. And some fell on the rock; and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. And some fell among thorns; and the thorns grew with it and choked it. And some fell into good soil and grew, and yielded a hundredfold.”

As he said this, he called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

And when his disciples asked him what this parable meant, he said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God; but for others they are in parables, so that seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.

Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, that they may not believe and be saved. And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy; but these have no root, they believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away. And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. And as for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bring forth fruit with patience.”  (Luke 8:5-15)

Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich finds deep meaning in the parable:

“The field signifies the human soul; the various parts of the field signify different human souls. Some are like the ground alongside the path, others like stony ground, yet others like patches of thorns.

Others, though, are like good ground, well away from the path, clear of stones and thorns. Why does the sower not cast his seed only on the good ground, rather than along the path or among the stones and thorns? Because the Good News of the Gospel is common to all, not secret and not confined to just one group of people, as had been the case in much dark and ‘magical’ teaching among the Greeks and the Egyptians, that had as their goal more the acquisition of power over a man, or by one group of people over another, than the salvation of the soul. ‘What I tell you in darkness, that speak you in light; and what you hear in the ear, that preach you upon the housetops’ (Matt. 10:27).

Thus the Lord commands His disciples; the Great Sower commands the sowers. God desires the salvation of all human souls, for ‘He will have all men to be saved’ (1 Tim. 2:4), ‘not willing that any should perish’ (2 Pet. 3:9). Were the Lord to have sown His divine teaching only among good people, the wicked would have had the excuse that they had never heard the Gospel, and would have ascribed their perdition to God, not to their own sinfulness. No-one will ever come to perdition through God’s fault, for God is righteous and no sort of fault can approach the light of His righteousness.” (Homilies, p 214)

Syrian internally displaced people walk in the Atme camp, along the Turkish border in the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib, on March 19, 2013. The conflict in Syria between rebel forces and pro-government troops has killed at least 70,000 people, and forced more than one million Syrians to seek refuge abroad. AFP PHOTO/BULENT KILIC        (Photo credit should read BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images)
 ( BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images)

Even if we think that some people have hardened hearts, hearts of stone or heads full of rocks, we are to share the Good News with them.  Even if we think they will never produce anything but thorns and weeds because we can see that in their lives, we are to live in such a way as to be light to them and to provide them with the seed of the Gospel.  It doesn’t matter what they are like, the Sower of Good Seed sends us into the world to continue His ministry.

Icon Exhibit Opens

Icon Exhibit

“Mary and the Saints”


St. Paul Church, 4451 Wagner Rd, Dayton, OH 45440
Friday, October 14th : 5-8 PM
Saturday, October 15th: 10 – 5 PM
Sunday, October 16th : Noon – 5 PM

Church Phone: 937-320-9977


This exhibition features more than 75 rare icons of the Virgin Mary and various other saints commemorated by Eastern Orthodox Christianity. Taken from private collections across the United States, the exhibition will include unique examples from 15th century Medieval Russia, 16th and 17th century Greece, through 19th century Imperial Russia as well as contemporary Icons painted in America. This is a singular opportunity to view prime examples of the spiritual art of the Eastern Orthodox Church as they were originally intended in their appropriate setting. Admission is free. Both self-guided and docent tours will be available.


Zernov explains that icons (obraza in Russian) were, for the Russians, not merely paintings. They were dynamic manifestations of man’s spiritual power to redeem creation through beauty and art. The colors and lines of the obraza were not meant to imitate nature; the artists aimed at demonstrating that men, animals and plants, and the whole cosmos could be rescued from their present state of degradation and restored to their proper ‘Image.’ The obraza were pledges of the coming victory of a redeemed creation over the fallen one.… concrete example[s] of matter restored to its original harmony and beauty, and serving as a vehicle of the Spirit.”    (in Toward an Ecology of Transfiguration: Orthodox Christian Perspectives on Environment, Nature, and Creation,  Kindle Loc. 3120-26)

The exhibit is free and open to the public.


The Greek Street Food Truck will be present, selling their fare on Friday evening, October 14, from 5-9pm.

Scriptures: The Written Word of God

Previous Blog: Jesus Christ, The Word of God and Scriptures

The first Christians did not need to write any Scriptures, they accepted as inspired and as their own, the Tanak, the Jewish Scriptures.  Those are the texts that the Lord Jesus and His apostles read, memorized discussed and prayed.  These Scriptures as we saw in the previous blog bore witness to Jesus as Messiah and Lord (John 5:39-46; Luke 24:10-49).  And from the beginning, the Christians believed Christ fulfilled all of the prophecies and promises of the Jewish Scriptures.  The New Testament is filled with quotes from the Old Testament as well as countless echoes of the ideas and themes presented in them.

The Christians, however, besides reading the Jewish Scriptures, were writing materials, and by the early 2nd Century, Christians are already also referring to these early writings as Scripture.  As far as we know, in the Christian epistle known as 2 Clement we encounter

“… the first Christian writer to apply the term ‘Scripture’ to a quotation from the Gospel: ‘And also another Scripture (graphê) says, “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners” ’ (2 Clem. 2.4 citing Mt. 9:13; Mk 2:17), thereby assigning biblical status to the words of Jesus and granting them the same dignity and authority as the Old Testament. The same idea is implicit in the phrase: ‘The Bible and the Apostles indicate …’ (2 Clem. 14.2), where ‘Bible’ refers to the Septuagint and ‘the Apostles’ to the New Testament.”   (Geza Vermes,  Christian Beginnings, Kindle Loc. 2974-80)

Not only were the Christians beginning to recognize as authoritative Scripture the apostolic writings, they also were interpreting the existing Jewish Scriptures increasingly from a Christian point of view.  The Christians began to claim to have the correct understanding of the Jewish Scriptures – the Scriptures were written about the Christ, and properly interpreted in Christ.  For the followers of Jesus the curse of Amos 8:11-12 was finally lifted, for once again the People of God were able to hear the Word of God in Christ Jesus.

“‘Behold, the days are coming,’ says the Lord GOD, ‘when I will send a famine on the land; not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD. They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, to seek the word of the LORD, but they shall not find it.”  

The Jewish Scriptures were seen as having Christ hidden in them, but now Christ Himself fully revealed the meaning of the Scriptures.  Everyone was able to hear God’s Word again.  Even texts which were totally understandable from a Jewish “literal” reading, were seen to really have Christ hidden in them and now revealed by Jesus as to their true content.  Origen, writing at the beginning of the 3rd Century, commenting on the words of St. Paul says:

“For whatever was written was written for our instruction. This is like what he said elsewhere: they were written down to instruct us, on whom the ends of the ages have come (1 Cor 10:11). If you inquire in what sense these Scriptures were written, consider that they were written this way for us:

You shall not muzzle an ox when it is treading out the grain. Is it for oxen that God is concerned? Or does God not speak entirely for our sake?  (1 Cor 9:9-10; Deut 25:4).

This was also written for our sake:

Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and the other by a free woman (Gal 4:22);

thus we would know that these statements are allegorical and that they represent the two covenants. For our sake, it was written that the people ate manna in the wilderness and drank water from the rock; thus we would understand that they ate spiritual food and drank spiritual drink from the rock following them, which rock was Christ. Both these and other such spiritual mysteries had been hidden from eternal times but are now manifest through the prophetic writings and the coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”   (Romans: Interpreted by Early Christian Commentators, Kindle Location 7145-52)


Sacred writings are given to us by God as a gift and means for us to discover Him and to know Him.  In them spiritual mysteries are hidden, simultaneously, God is revealing Himself through the events written about and in the words of the Bible. St. Augustine writes:

And so, since we are too weak to discover the truth by reason alone and for this reason need the authority of sacred books, I began to believe that you would never have invested the Bible with such conspicuous authority in every land unless you had intended it to be the means by which we should look for You and believe in You. ”  (A Patristic Treasury: Early Church Wisdom for Today, Kindle Loc. 5753-55)

Thus the Scriptures are a help to us, given by God to direct our search and to help us recognize truth.  We don’t have to guess where to find truth, God tells us where and how to find it.  St Peter Damaskos says:

“Similarly he sees how by means of words and letters-through fragments of inanimate ink-God has revealed such great mysteries to us in the Holy Scriptures; and how, even more wonderfully, the holy prophets and apostles gained such blessings through their great labor and love of God, while we can learn about these matters simply by reading. For, inspired by the Logos, the Scriptures speak to us of the most astonishing things.”  (THE PHILOKALIA, Kindle Loc. 27638-42)

God cares about us, and God understands that we humans cannot always understand divine revelation or even the spiritual life.  So God finds ways to communicate to us using such things as metaphors, images, poetry and even fictional stories like parables.  This is done to help us deal with things that might otherwise be too great and marvelous for us.  St. Maximus the Confessor puts it like this:

“The Logos of God is called flesh not only inasmuch as He became incarnate, but in another sense as well.… When he draws near to men who cannot with the naked intellect come into contact with intelligible realities in the naked state, He selects things which are familiar to them, combining together various stories, symbols, parables and dark sayings; and in this way he becomes flesh. Thus at our first encounter our intellect comes into contact not with the naked Logos but with the incarnate Logos, that is, with various sayings and stories.… For the Logos becomes flesh in each of the recorded sayings.”   (Toward an Ecology of Transfiguration: Orthodox Christian Perspectives on Environment, Nature, and Creation, Kindle  1524-29)

The Scriptures in this way help introduce Christ to us.  They are in some way a pre-incarnation of the Word of God.  They are written in familiar terms, stories, and using symbols which gently introduce us to the Divine Word of God.  God of course remains beyond our comprehension and yet reveals Himself to us in historical events as well as in the sentences and letters of the Holy Scriptures.

St. Maximos presents it this way:

“Just as God in His essence cannot be the object of man’s spiritual knowledge, so not even His teaching can be fully embraced by our understanding. For though Holy Scripture, being restricted chronologically to the times of the events which it records, is limited where the letter is concerned, yet in spirit it always remains unlimited as regards the contemplation of intelligible realities.”   (THE PHILOKALIA, Kindle Loc. 17499-504)

The Scriptures, a written word, are understandable to us.  The Scriptures are miraculous in that in these words and sentences are hidden the deepest mysteries of God.  Yet these same letters and paragraphs reveal God to us.  The Scriptures thus contain writings that are restricted in time, reflecting the human thought of particular periods in history, yet always also containing the timeless revelation of the eternal God.  So we are encouraged to read the Bible for in and through the literal expressions and stories, the heavens are opened to us.  We are transfigured and transformed by the Scriptures as we move from their earthly and literal nature to their divine meaning.  Thus the Scriptures are essential to our life as Christians.

So among the revered desert fathers, we find these teachings:

“God demands nothing from Christians except that they shall hearken unto the Divine Scriptures, and shall carry into effect the things which are said in them, and shall be obedient unto their governors and the orthodox fathers.”  (The Paradise or Garden of the Holy Fathers (Volume 2), Kindle Loc. 3884-86)

Abba Arsenius used to say, “thou shalt do nothing without the testimony of the Scriptures.”   (The Paradise or Garden of the Holy Fathers (Volume 2), Kindle Loc. 3523-24)

St Symeon the New Theologian says that we need to compare what we learn today in the church and what we see in the lives of our teachers with the Scriptures.

“But you yourself should also study the divine writings – especially the works of the fathers that deal with the practice of the virtues – so that you can compare the teachings of your master with them; for thus you will see and observe them as in a mirror. Take to heart and keep in mind those of his teachings that agree with the divine writings, but separate out and reject those that are false and incongruent. Otherwise you will be led astray. For in these days there are all too many deceivers and false prophets.”   (THE PHILOKALIA, Kindle Loc. 35213-22)

Finally we read an admonition to live the Scriptures and not just stand in awe of them, or else they will be forgotten.

One of the old men used to say, “The Prophets compiled the Scriptures, and the Fathers have copied them, and the men who came after them learned to repeat them by heart; then hath come this generation and [its children] have placed them in cupboards as useless things.”   (The Paradise or Garden of the Holy Fathers (Volume 2), Kindle Loc. 972-74)

Next:  Textual Variations

Jesus Christ, The Word of God, and Scriptures

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. . . . And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.  (John 1:1-4, 14)


The Evangelist John, known in the Orthodox Church as John the Theologian, proclaimed Jesus to be the incarnate Word of God.  John is very clear WHO the Word of God is: Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God to whom the Scriptures bore witness.

You search the scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness to me…”  (John 5:39)

Thus the written revelation of God, the Scriptures bear witness to the Word of God.  As Jesus teaches, Moses inspired by God to write the Torah, was actually writing about the Word of God who was to become incarnate.

“If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote of me.” (John 5:46)

 “And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.“  (Luke 24:27)

Not only Moses but all the prophets and all the authors of Scripture were inspired to write about the coming Messiah, the Word of God.

“Then he said to them, ‘These are my words which I spoke to you, while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures…” (Luke 24:44-45)


In this blog series I intend to explore the relationship between our Lord Jesus Christ, the Word of God, and the Scriptures, the written record of God’s revelation.  As in all my blog series, this is not a scholarly researched paper.  I am simply drawing upon quotes that I tagged from books I read over the past 30 years and am now assembling together into this blog series.  The quotes are  ideas I came across  in my reading over several decades which stood out in my mind when I read the books.  I am now bringing the quotes together to explore the relationship between the Word of God and the Scriptures.  Obviously if Jesus is literally the Word of God, then the Scriptures are the Word of God in some other way.  They are the written record of God’s revelation, but Jesus is the full revelation of God.  The Scriptures bear witness to Him.  It is of Jesus that all the Scriptures speak.   In this blog series we will look at various aspects of how the Scriptures are related to the Word of God.

Even when we think about the Word of God as being a written text, which we call the Bible, we have to realize the Bible is a collection of books written over hundreds of years by different authors.  Some of the books show signs that there were several different authors/editors involved in bringing together the texts of a book.  The Church still considers the texts inspired – whether one author or several had a hand in writing the book, or whether a book was edited by several different people, or even if we don’t know who the author(s) of a book are, we still consider the Scriptures to be inspired by God.  Absolute certainty about the authorship of a text, or total knowledge of the history of a book of the Bible, does not determine its inspiration.   Even when the books of the bible show several different versions of the same story, sometimes placed side by side within one book of the Bible, the Church accepts the received texts and all its variations as being inspired.  The Church in history accepted as inspired the Septuagint translation into Greek of the ancient Hebrew and Aramaic texts, as well as the original texts from which they were translated.


The first thing I will mention about our Bible, and the books accepted by the Church as being part of our Scriptures, is that not only was the Bible written over many centuries, but the bringing together of all the texts and deciding which texts exactly belong to the canonical Scriptures also took centuries.  We see in the historical documents clear evidence that inspired saints, the Fathers of the Church did have at times slightly different ideas about which books constituted the official scriptures of the Church.  Additionally, there is a great deal of literature which compares and contrasts even the differences in the official texts of the Bible in the various Christian traditions (Latin, Greek, Syriac, Ethiopian, Coptic, etc) .  Here I will only mention a few quotes that gives us a sense some of the differences in the Church Fathers through the centuries about what is officially in the bible.  In the 2nd Century we find one attempt at establishing what books belong in the Bible (the fact that this has to be established shows us that there was not exact agreement on what books officially belong in the canonical Bible).

Melito  (d. ca 180ad) visited the Holy Land with a view to establishing the list of the canonical books of the Old Testament. According to Eusebius (EH 4.26) (d. 339AD), his list does not contain the book of Esther, which incidentally is also missing from the biblical remains of the Dead Sea Scrolls found at Qumran.”   (Geza Vermes,  Christian Beginnings, Kindle Loc. 3424-26)

Melitio’s Bible agrees with the Qumran community’s “canon”.  That community was a dissident group of Jews outside of mainstream Judaism in Jerusalem.

A 4th Century Document, The Apostolic Constitutions (written ca 375AD), says this about the Canon:   “Let the following books be esteemed venerable and holy by you, both of the clergy and laity. Of the Old Covenant: the five books of Moses— Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy; one of Joshua the son of Nun, one of the Judges, one of Ruth, four of the Kings, two of the Chronicles, two of Ezra, one of Esther, one of Judith, three of the Maccabees, one of Job, one hundred and fifty psalms; three books of Solomon— Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs; sixteen prophets. And besides these, take care that your young persons learn the Wisdom of the very learned Sirach. But our sacred books, that is, those of the New Covenant, are these: the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; the fourteen Epistles of Paul; two Epistles of Peter, three of John, one of James, one of Jude; two Epistles of Clement; and the Constitutions dedicated to you the bishops by me Clement, in eight books; which it is not fit to publish before all, because of the mysteries contained in them; and the Acts of us the Apostles.”  (The Apostolic Constitutions, Kindle Loc. 4894-4900)


That 4th century canon of Scripture has many more books than officially ended up in the Bible of today.  It gives us a sense that there was not one canon accepted by all Christians in the 4th Century.  In the 8th Century, St. John of Damascus (d. 749) wrote a book that many consider authoritative in the Orthodox world for delineating doctrine.   Note in his comments especially what he considers to be the canonical books of the New Testament.  He is writing 400 years after many think the Christian canon had been closed.  St. John says:

 …  The New Testament contains four gospels, that according to Matthew, that according to Mark, that according to Luke, that according to John: the Acts of the Holy Apostles by Luke the Evangelist: seven catholic epistles, viz. one of James, two of Peter, three of John, one of Jude: fourteen letters of the Apostle Paul: the Revelation of John the Evangelist: the Canons of the holy apostles, by Clement.”  ( Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, Kindle Loc.3180-3221)

St. John includes in the Bible as he knows it the letters of Clement but also those canons of the Holy Apostles mentioned from the 4th Century.  He includes as Scripture even more than the 4th Century Apostolic Constitution did.

Finally, in the 12th Century St Peter of Damaskos says this of the Canon of Scripture which he accepted:

 “These books include first of all the Old and the New Testaments, that is, the Pentateuch, the Psalter, the Four Books of Kings, the Six Books of Wisdom, the Prophets, the Chronicles, the Acts of the Apostles, the Holy Gospels and the commentaries on all these…”  (St. Peter of Damaskos – 12th Century, THE PHILOKALIA, Kindle Loc. 25654-56)


St. Peter seems almost to have an open canon of Scripture for he includes all of the commentaries (supposedly the Patristic ones) on the Scriptures.  The issue of Canon had to do with what writings people believe bore witness to Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word of God.  The Scriptures are those writing which bear witness to Christ, and so in different centuries they had differing ideas about what bore authentic witness to the Word of God.  All of these lists would have the common theme that the Scriptures – whatever books are included in the Bible – bear witness to the truth and help us recognize Jesus Christ as Lord.

Next:  Scriptures: The Written Word of God

The Church and The Will of God


Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.   Working together with him, then, we entreat you not to accept the grace of God in vain.  (2 Corinthians 5:17-6:1)

We are to work together with God for our salvation.  In the days of Noah, God told Noah to build an ark for the salvation of the world.  God didn’t build it for Noah.   Noah had to co-operate with God and do his own share of the work.  This  is an image of life in the Church.  God commands us to go into all the world, but God doesn’t do that work for us.  We have to do what God commanded us to do.  But we also must always realize our place in the plan of salvation – we are essential to the plan and the plan is for us, yet we have to discern the plan and carry it out.  We are not God.  We are to work with God – synergy.  Our plans as church are not merely human, for God shows us the way and then lets us choose to follow Him. Salvation is not merely humans making the best human choices possible, for it always involves the full being of God.

“The Church is and must remain ‘of God’ and not ‘of man.’ That is, humans were not placed in stewardship of the Church in order to invoke their will for where they see the Church going but rather to guide the Church into the will of God.[…] The conception of the Church as an institution represents the hijacking of the Church by humans for their own end. Bishop Meletios notes, ‘The beginning and end of every act of God is the salvation of the world. We must place the weight of our attention on this, not in the work of institutions.’ The hope of humanity cannot be placed in the Church but only in God. If the Church is only an institution that acts like any other institution and can be evaluated like any other institutions, then it will fail.” (Stephen R. Lloyd-Moffett, Beauty for Ashes, pp 147, 149)