This is the 6th Blog in this series which began with Reading Scripture: the Old Testament, the Torah and Prophecy. The immediate preceding blog is How to Read the Old Testament and How Not to Read It.
In the previous blog, we noted that the correct means of reading Scriptures is not to treat it as a book of magic incantations as if we were living in a Harry Potter world: memorize the appropriate talisman, and then bring it out in the appropriate occasion and voila you get your way magically. If you think about the Harry Potter stories, you come to realize it is not magic that wins the day for Harry and his friends. All the wizards and witches have the same magic at their disposal. There is no magic however that can make you courageous, virtuous, willing to suffer for the good, or willing to sacrifice yourself for others. The courageous and good were willing to sacrifice themselves for others. Those following evil were afraid and trying to spare their own lives. Moral fortitude is stronger than magic even in Harry Potter.
With Harry Potter in mind, one can note that in the Orthodox tradition of reading Scripture, an essential factor for reading with understanding, is to be living a life of Christian virtue. It is not magic, but courageous fortitude which enables us to follow the way of love and the way of the Cross. It is keeping our eyes on the Kingdom of Heaven, and actively choosing to move toward that goal which opens the treasury of the Scriptures to us.
“Consonance with the ecclesial tradition, as the primary requirement for the Orthodox Christian biblical interpreter, is exactly what Athanasius meant when he wrote this axiomatic passage about biblical interpretation in the DE INCARNATIONE…: ‘What are the requirements for the searching of the Scriptures, and for true knowledge of them? An honorable life is needed, and a pure soul, and that virtue which is of Christ. For the intellect must apply this to guide its path and then it shall be able to attain to what it desires, and to comprehend it, insofar as it is possible for a human nature to learn of things concerning the Word of God. But without a pure mind and the modeling of one’s life after the saints, a person could not possibly comprehend the words of the saints. … Or take the case of a person who wanted to see a certain city or country. Such a person would surely journey to the place in order to be able to see it. It is exactly the same for someone who desires to comprehend the mind of those who speak of God. Such a person must begin washing and cleansing their own soul, and by addressing their manner of living. They should approach the saints by imitating their own works. By such consonance with the saints in the conduct of a shared life, a person may understand also what has been revealed to them by God.” (John McGuckin in SACRED TEXT AND INTERPRETATION: PERSPECTIVES IN ORTHODOX BIBLICAL STUDIES edited by Theodore Stylianapoulis, pp 309-310)
Consonance with the saints: that great cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1 ) comes alive to us and inspires us in correct thinking and behavior. The icons which are present in our homes, and which surround us in the church, are transformed from boards on the wall into windows into heaven. We come to realize how we must live in order to be true disciples of Christ as we understand the lives of those saints who followed the Crucified Lord.
Thus reading the Scriptures is not an act separate from our daily lives. For the reading of Scriptures should form our lives and shape our hearts and minds. Conversely, as our lives conform to the Gospel commands, our hearts are opened to the Word of God (Luke 24:32), and we come to see and understand “greater things” (John 1:50).
The disciples said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the scriptures?” (Luke 24:32)
It is living in consonance with those who hearts were illumined and set on fire by Christ that we most and best understand the Bible.