This blog continues the series dealing with the Bible and scriptural issues. It began with the 1st blog: Reading the Bible Means Opening a Treasury. The immediately preceding blog is The Desert Fathers: Why read the Bible?
“Meditations on the scriptures teaches the soul the discourse with God.”
(St. Isaac the Syrian, in ORTHODOX PRAYER LIFE by Matthew the Poor, p 52)
The witness of many Orthodox saints is that the Christian should lead a life, not without purpose, but always directed to God. The goal of the Christian life is union with God, what the Orthodox saints term theosis or deification. Part of the means given to humanity to attain this goal is the listening to the Word of God. Through hearing God’s Word, the prophets told what God is doing in the world, and the Virgin Mary conceived the Son of God and Messiah in her womb. She attained a union with God becoming truly Theotokos by hearing God’s Word and freely agreeing to obey it.
For the saints, the Scriptures contain the revelation which God Himself wanted His creatures to know about theology: that divine life which has become hidden from our eyes due to sinfulness. The Scriptures for the saints are rich and varied, a treasury and a deep well from which a wealth of wisdom and the quenching of the thirst for knowledge come. St. John Chrysostom offers a rich description of what the believer will find in the Bible:
“Let us…put our soul in at the reading of the Scriptures as though into some peaceful harbor. It is, after all, a harbor without billows, an impregnable wall, an unshakeable tower, imperishable glory, invulnerable armor, imperturbable satisfaction, undying enjoyment and whatever else you class a good—such is the communion with the divine Scriptures. It repels discouragement, preserves good spirits, makes the poor person richer than the affluent, bestows security on the rich, makes the sinner righteous, sets a secure guard on the righteous, snatches away ill-gotten gains, makes goods that are missing spring up, drives out wickedness, leads on to virtue—or does not so much lead on as even roots deeply and makes it last without end, being a spiritual remedy, a kind of divine and ineffable incantation which eliminates ailments, rooting up the thorns of sin, making the furrow clean, casting the seeds of piety and bringing the crop to fruition.” (OLD TESTAMENT HOMILIES Vol 3, pp 105-106)
We can read in his comments the fulfilling of what St. Paul told Timothy about the Word of God: “All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). The reading of scriptures is not meant just to benefit “me” personally, it also prepares me for Christian service, witness, mission and ministry.
“This, after all, is the object of our earnest effort, that you would know precisely the power of the Scriptures so as not merely to understand them yourselves but also to become teachers of them to others, and so be in a position, according to blessed Paul, to edify one another.” (St. John Chrysostom, HOMILIES ON GENESIS 1-17, p 105)
We are after all to become doers of the Word, not just hearers of the Word. We are to lead by example.
As we move out of the Patristic Age and more into the modern world, Post-Guttenberg, in which the availability of God’ Word for personal reading or hearing is made possible through books and MP3s, we encounter even more incentive to read the Scriptures. If we are literate, we should read the Bible which is so easily available to us.
“If you read worldly magazines and newspapers, and derive some profit from them, as a citizen, a Christian, and a member of a family, then you ought still more and still oftener to read the Gospel and the writings of the Holy Fathers; for it would be sinful for a Christian, who reads worldly things, not to read divinely-inspired ones.” (St. John of Kronstadt, MY LIFE IN CHRIST Part 2, p 137)
“O brethren, read more of the Gospels, the Epistles of the Apostles and the works of the holy Fathers! Through such reading does the soul come to know God, and the mind becomes so occupied with the Lord that the world is quite forgot, as if you had never been born.” (ST. SILOUAN THE ATHONITE, p 416)
An encounter with God is made possible through the Scriptures.
“…the Fathers of the Church declared that the ultimate purpose of reading Scripture is to acquire theoria, an inspired ‘vision’ of God and His truth. … Yet we never really grasp it, understand it and take it into ourselves until we can ‘see’ it—that is, until the words become in some sense icons, sacred images that enable written words to become a living Word.” (John Breck, LONGING FOR GOD, p 221)
We come to see the Scriptures in the lives of the saints: those men and women who endeavored to live by the Word of God and who incarnated them in their own lives. They became living icons of God’s Word. Thus meditating on icons and reading the lives of the saints should lead us to seeing the scriptures embodied in the lives of Christian men and women made holy by their relationship with God through their living the evangelical life.