Knowing God

As we honor the Holy Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council, we have to consider how they struggled so much with finding a vocabulary to express the revelation of God.  They were trying to put into human words the divine: God’s self-revelation.  This issue of finding a vocabulary to adequately express what God reveals exists in the Scriptures as well.  Scholar Terence E. Fetheim notes:

Thus, for example, one needs to ask what speaking of God’s eyes and ears (2 Kings 19:16) adds to the understanding of the relationship of God to the world that living, seeing, and hearing do not. Such language makes the idea that God receives the world into himself vivid and concrete. God’s experience of the world is not superficial; God takes it in, in as real a way as people do who use their eyes and ears. At the same time, in ways that people do not, God takes it all in (Jer. 32:19), and not with fleshly eyes (Job 10:4).

Nevertheless, while examining each metaphor in its specificity is important, the general conclusions drawn continue to be significant. In addition to revealing God as living and personal, they testify to the intimate relationship between God and the world. ( The Suffering of God, p. 9)

The vocabulary we use in speaking about God is born from our experience of of God.  God’s revelation is received by us, we encounter this revelation who is Christ and we are changed by it.  The revelation is not ideas about God nor words about God, but rather the experience of God the Word.

The Christian doctrine of Trinity, in Gregory’s estimate, is therefore not an exercise in speculative metaphysical language, but an exposition of how the Church has experienced God within salvation history and, as such, how it prays. (John A. McGuckin, Seeing the Glory, p. 188)



Jesus, the Wisdom of God

Icon of Christ the Wisdom of God

“If we proceed further into the Sacred Scriptures – not in the historical order that the books have been arranged, but in a more spiritual manner – we shall discover the name of Wisdom, which is mystically ascribed to Christ. And thus Solomon cries to the Father: Give me the Wisdom that sits by Your throne (Wis 9.4). And who sits next to God, at the right hand of the Father (cf. Heb 1.3; 10.12; 12.2), exalted above all created things, if not the Lord Jesus Christ? For He is indeed the Power and the Wisdom of God (1 Cor 1.24). Elsewhere Solomon says: I determined to take Wisdom to live with me, knowing that She would be a counselor for me (Wis 8.9).

Wisdom, then, is clearly a Person, and not simply an attribute. It is the Son of God, who is also God’s Word; His Wise Word, as the Fathers say. From ancient times, Solomon points beyond time, and reveals the Person of the Son, Who sits by the throne of the Father, a situation which expresses their inseparable relationship, since there can be no Father without a Son, and no Son without a Father. Each one, at all times, points to the other. In this way we have a common, mutual revelation, which is, in essence, a self-revelation.”  (Archimandrite Aimillianos, The Way of the Spirit, pp. 271-272).

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 (I)

How God Speaks to Us in Scripture

EphremSt. Ephrem of Syria offers us some insight regarding how Scriptures might be the Word of God.  The question is how can God who is invisible, incomprehensible, inconceivable and ineffable still be able to communicate with us creatures? Isn’t God so transcendent as to be beyond our capabilities for communicating with the Divine?  For Ephrem the answer is that “God speaks to humanity through the biblical text, allowing himself, as it were, to become incarnated into human language.”  As the Evangelist John tells, “The Word became flesh” (J0hn 1:14). The incarnation of God is the key – creation is capable of bearing God, thus God can become incarnate in ways which make divinity accessible to us.  The biblical text is one such way in which God chooses to reveal Himself to us.

“God, stirred by love for his creation, has himself crossed this gap and entered the created world, allowing himself to be described in human terms and in human language in the Bible. Thus, before becoming incarnate in the human body, he first became incarnate in human language, or, in Ephrem’s own homely metaphor or clothing, God put on names.’ or metaphors, in the Old Testament, just as subsequently he ‘put on a body’ at the incarnation. Of great importance for Ephrem in all this is the fact that God is not forcing himself on humanity; rather, he is deliberately encouraging the use of his gift to humanity of free will. …

Christ the Wisdom of God

The very fact that the biblical text moves from on metaphor for God to another should be a sufficient warning against any such misconception. Thus, instead of fixing one’s mind on the literal meaning of the metaphors, one should allow these metaphors to act as pointers upwards, as it were, towards the hiddenness of God, whose true nature cannot be described by, let alone contained in, human language.” (Sebastian Brock & George A. Kiraz, Ephrem the Syrian: Select Poems, pp 16-17) 


Reading Scripture: Bread, Wine and Oil

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and return not thither but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and prosper in the thing for which I sent it.”(Isaiah 55:10-11)

Because the Word of God is living, that Word interacts with all those who receive Him.  The Word of God is not to be confused with letters printed in a book, though sometimes He may come to us under the guise of those letters.  The Prophet Jeremiah testifies over and over:

Now the word of the LORD came to me saying, …

God’s Word speaks to us, in our hearts, leaping off the pages of the bible and actively engaging our hearts, minds, souls, imaginations, bearing spiritual fruit for God in this world.   The word of God becomes seed in our hearts where it can germinate and bear fruit.

As for what was sown on good soil, this is he who hears the word and understands it; he indeed bears fruit, and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”  (Matthew 13:23)

We see there is no “one size fits all” mentality regarding the Word of God.   God’s Word bears fruit differently in each person – in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.  The living Word is not a static one, fixed on a page; rather, the Word interacts with the believer at the spiritual level of the person.  There is not just one message in a verse but an abundance of seeds in each – and and all can bear varied fruit in the believers, and so it does.  We each may hear the same Word, and yet like on Pentecost (Acts 2:4-12), it will be in the language we understand, even if we understand the  Word on different levels due to abilities, experience, education, intelligence, perception.  That sown seed will blossom in us proportionate to our abilities.    What speaks to each of us from the same Word may be slightly different than what speaks to our fellow believer, but we receive from God what we need to know and hear.   Nikitas Stithatos expresses this quite well in THE PHILOKALIA:

“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).”    (Kindle 38302-38331)

What Stithatos does is to remind us of the Parable of the Talents  – Jesus says the master gives differing amounts of wealth to the various people each according to their ability (Matthew 25:15).   And there are differing expectations as to what each person will do with what God gives them – to whom much is given, much is expected (Luke 12:48).  So too when we hear the Gospel, we receive it in different degrees/amounts according to our abilities.  Some are able to give away all they have before following Christ, others give to charity while still owning homes and holding jobs and supporting families.  Some are able to accept martyrdom, some are able to bear having their face slapped and turning the other cheek, some are able to pray for enemies.    Some bear fruit, 30 or 60 fold, and some 100 fold.   We all hear the same Gospel (same words) but it becomes incarnate in each of us differently, according to our abilities, our spiritual maturity and according to what God gives us and expects from us.  Some repent as soon as they hear the Gospel and spend the remaining time of their life in repentance, while others repent on their deathbed.     Whether they come at the 1st or 11th hour, they are accepted.  Reading the scriptures is not our reading meaning into God’s Word, but rather is hearing God’s Word within our selves and interacting with that Word and allowing Him to bear fruit in us.  [And, as in the Parable of the Talents, there is a right handling of the word, and one can mishandle it as well – not all possible meanings one can get from the text are in fact right.]

Reading God’s Word is not quite the same as discerning the meaning of the words in the bible.  It means allowing the Word to act upon our hearts, minds and souls so that we together with the Word produce spiritual fruit for God in His creation.   The Word of  God is living and active.  It’s animating vitality is not found in the pages of a book, but when written on the heart of the believer.  Only in our hearts does it reveal its vitality and vigor.

The Prophet and The Word of God

The Prophet Joel is commemorated in the Orthodox Church on October 19th each year. Old Testament Professor Terence E. Fretheim describes the relationship that a prophet of God has with the Word of God:

“God does not, as in the older theophanies, just appear, speak a word, and then leave. God leaves the word behind imbedded in the prophet. God calls the prophet to take the word received and embody that word from the moment of the call onward. The prophet, in effect, is called to function as an ongoing theophany. In the prophet we see a development from the more transient messenger of God to a more extended appearance of the Word of God in human form. One can thus now speak, not only of the participation of God in the appearance of the human, but also in the history of the human. The story of God is lived out in the story of the prophet.”The Suffering of God: An Old Testament Perspective, pp 151-152)

In some ways Fretheim is describing what in Orthodoxy is sometimes called the pre-Incarnation of the Word:  centuries before God became flesh in Jesus Christ, the Word of God was being manifested in the world in various ways.

“In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of his nature, upholding the universe by his word of power. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high …”  (Hebrews 1:1-3)

St. Paul writes that “the truth of Christ is in me(2 Corinthians 11:10).    The Word of God became incarnate in Christ Jesus the Savior, and continues to come and dwell in believers!


The Word of the Lord Says

The Book of the Prophet Ezekiel offers us a mystical look at God as well as giving some very profound insights into God’s love, plan for salvation, and into the work of the promised Messiah.  Ezekiel also offers us some very specific insights into the Word of God, and also into the Scriptures.

In this blog we look at a few passages from Ezekiel and why they are so significant to our  experience of and understanding of the Word of God.  For Ezekiel the word of God is not equated with the Scriptures, for the Word of God is not a written text, but rather speaks to us and is heard by us.  In Ezekiel, “the word of the Lord” is not merely an object which comes forth from God  but more importantly “the word of the Lord” is a personal subject who himself acts in the world.  For example at the very beginning of the Prophecy, the Book states:

“…the word of the LORD came to Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the Chebar canal, and the hand of the LORD was upon him there.”  (Ezekiel  1:3)

The text has “the word of the Lord” coming to Ezekiel which is a different image than God speaking a word to Ezekiel, for the text says the Word Himself acts and comes to Ezekiel.  What the text suggests is that while the Word comes from God, the Word of the Lord is distinct from the Lord but also a person.  We find this same theology in Psalm 33:6, “By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and all their host by the breath of his mouth.”     In the New King James translation of the Bible, as in the Orthodox Study Bible,  we read both the Prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel  dozens of times using this phrase:   “The word of the Lord came to me saying...”   It is an interesting phraseology for it is not saying it is the Lord who comes to the prophets, but the word of the Lord,  giving us the image that the Word of the Lord is a person who speaks to the prophets as a person would speak.  God’s word is not a thing which God says, but a divine person who speaks!  This is the basis for our theological doctrine of the Holy Trinity.  And, not only this but also God comes fully present in the divine Word.  This is the basis for our understanding of theosis as defended by St. Gregory Palamas.  God comes fully present in the Word and we receive not a word from God but God present in His Word, thus enabling us to participate in God.

The Word of the Lord comes to Ezekiel


That God comes present in the Word of the Lord, and that the Word is a fully divine person is the theology found the Prologue of John’s Gospel:

“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.  …  He came to his own home, and his own people received him not. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. 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 1:1-3, 1114)

The Word of the Lord who creates all things in the beginning and who becomes incarnate in Jesus Christ and comes to the people of God is the same Word of the Lord who speaks to the Prophets.

Again he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the LORD.”   (Ezekiel 37:4-6)

The dry bones of the people of Israel are to listen to the Word of the Lord, for He speaks to them the divine, life-giving message.  In hearing the Word the dry, dead bones are vivified.  Union with God’s Word gives life to the body.

The idea of the Word of the Lord speaking, rather than God speaking a word,  is found in the Prophet Jeremiah:

Prophet Jeremiah

And the word of the LORD came to me, saying, “Jeremiah, what do you see?” And I said, “I see a rod of almond.” Then the LORD said to me, “You have seen well, for I am watching over my word to perform it.” The word of the LORD came to me a second time, saying, “What do you see?” And I said, “I see a boiling pot, facing away from the north.” Then the LORD said to me, “Out of the north evil shall break forth upon all the inhabitants of the land.    (Jeremiah 1:11-14)

The Word is capable of speaking because the Word is  a divine Person;  in the above text,  the Word of the Lord speaking is God speaking.  The phrases “the word of the LORD came… saying” and “the Lord said to me”  parallel and enrich each other giving us the Trinitarian sense of the Lord and the Word of God being distinct divine Persons.

Then in Ezekiel 3:1-3 we find another image of the Word of God, this time in the written Scriptures:

And he said to me,  “Son of man, eat whatever you find here. Eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel.” So I opened my mouth, and he gave me this scroll to eat. And he said to me, “Son of man, feed your belly with this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it.” Then I ate it, and it was in my mouth as sweet as honey.”  

The Word of God is not only spoken to us by God, but is a Person.  The Word of God is not only something to which we listen, nor even only someone who speaks to us, for the Word comes to us to be consumed by us, entering into our very being.  We not only hear the Word of God with the ear, but we commune with the Word in our very being, physically and spiritually.

Your words were found, and I ate them, and Your word was to me the joy and rejoicing of my heart; For I am called by Your name, O LORD God of hosts.(Jeremiah 15:16)

We consume the Word in order to commune with God in our hearts.

Moreover, he said to me, “Son of man,  all my words that I shall speak to you receive in your heart, and hear with your ears.  (Ezekiel 3:10)

The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart…”  (Romans 10:8)

The Word of the Lord enters into our hearts and unites us to God the Trinity.

Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You.(Psalm 119:11)

For thus says the high and lofty One who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite.(Isaiah 57:15)

When the Word of God enters into us, physically and spiritually, we are transformed, becoming partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4).  God does not only speak the Word, but the Word Himself speaks to us in our hearts uniting us to God thus bringing about our salvation.

In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of his nature, upholding the universe by his word of power. (Hebrews 1:1-3)




Scriptures of Ink Vs. Engraving the Heart

You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on your hearts, to be known and read by all men; and you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts . . . a new covenant, not in a written code but in the Spirit; for the written code kills, but the Spirit gives life. (2 Corinthians 3:2-3, 6)

Evangelist Mark

As important as Christians believe Scriptures to be, they have their limit.  Scripture alone is not sufficient for a life in Christ.  St. Paul in his Letter to the Corinthians, quoted above, shows there are other ways that the Holy Spirit works in our lives which give us “written” works that are not pages in a printed book.  Each of us when open to the Holy Spirit are to become “letters”, scriptures if you  will – but the “writing” is the Holy Spirit working on our hearts.  We become witnesses through our very lives, and our lives can be living witnesses to God even more effective than words recorded in books.  In Orthodoxy, we would call such living scriptures, Saints or the Holy Ones.   The written word has its limits, it even can kill according to St. Paul.  The living word written in our hearts gives life.  If we are being the Church, we should be able to point to our members as being “letters from God” which we can deliver to others to bear witness to God’s own activity in their lives.

We know in the New Testament there are plenty of examples where having the Scriptures was not enough for the Israelites to believe in God.  In the Gospel lesson for Pentecost for example (John 7:37-52), the Pharisees clearly have the Law, the Scriptures but it does them no good in seeing the hand of God at work in their lives or in believing in God who loves the world.   Jesus warns the religious leaders that searching the Scriptures itself is of no value if they don’t see that the Scriptures are witness to the Messiah (John 5:38-40).

 St. Macarius The Great  (d. 392AD) reinforces these Scripture lessons:

“Grace engraves the laws of the Spirit in the hearts of the sons of light. Therefore they should not draw their assurance only from the Scriptures of ink, for the grace of God also engraves the laws of the Spirit and the heavenly mysteries on the tables of the heart.”

Jesus Christ the Lord

We are not seeking to find the Scriptures, they are readily available to us, but rather we are seeking what the Scriptues bear witness to, the treasures found in them including the grace of God.  The Scriptures can help us seek the Holy Spirit so that God Himself engraves His commandments on our hearts.  These words of God are not to be external to us written in a book, but rather belong within us, just as the kingdom of heaven is within us.  St. Macarius is teaching us the same thing that we find in the New Testament writings about the nature of the Bible: we are to become living scriptures with the Holy Spirit writing on our hearts.  We are to become true living icons of God.  St. Macarius continues:

“For the heart commands and rules the whole body. And grace, once it has taken possession of the pastures of the heart, reigns over all our members and all our thought. For in the heart are the spirit (nous) and all the thoughts of the soul and its hope. Through it, grace passes into all the members of the body. Equally with those that are children of darkness: sin reigns over their heart and passes into all their members…” (The Spirituality of the New Testament & The Fathers, Louis Bouyer, p 378)

The heart is even more valuable than a Bible.  For on our hearts the Holy Spirit can engrave God’s words, but also in our hearts sin can reign.  The true focus of our spiritual lives is not to be the Bible which is external to ourselves, but on our hearts where the Holy Spirit inspires us, making God present within us every day of our lives.  On our hearts we can find the living scriptures of God.

For a short reflection on the relationship of the Holy Spirit to God’s Word, see my blog The Word of  God and God’s Holy Spirit.

The Feast of the Meeting of the Lord (2014)

Like all Feasts of the Orthodox calendar year, the Feast of the Meeting of the Lord in the Temple (which commemorates the events detailed in Luke 2:22-40) offers us a great deal of theology to contemplate.  Here, we can look at a few hymns from the matins of the Feast to taste of the theological banquet set before us.

Orthodox festal hymns assume that the the encounters with God the Israelite saints had, as described in the Old Testament, were in reality encounters with the pre-Incarnate Christ.  So in this Feast when Simeon the Righteous Elder looks upon Christ, he is seeing directly what Moses saw only in darkness and shadow.


All of the Old Testament Saints and Prophets, at least in traditional Orthodox thinking, encountered Christ.   Christ spoke to the Israelites through Torah and through the Prophets.  His voice was heard in the prophets and it is His words which the prophets spoke.

The Prophets for their part are not only speaking about future and the Messiah who is to come.  They also are speaking what they have seen in Christ and heard from Him.  They are making the Word of God present in a pre-incarnational form.   So when we read them, if we only look for insight into the past or try to hear a voice from the past, we will fail to hear the voice of Christ or to see His revelation.   If we read them only to peer into the past, we will fail to see they were forward looking, seeing even into the Kingdom of God which is yet to come.

Christ both speaks through the Law and in the Law and can be heard in the Law.  The scriptures are a written recording of the Word of God, but their task is to reveal the Word of God, who is Jesus Christ, to us.  We read the scriptures not just to hear rules and regulations, but to encounter the Word made flesh.  The Word becomes flesh for our salvation.


The reason to read the Old Testament, the Torah, the Prophets, the Wisdom and the Psalms is to hear Christ’s voice and to have Christ revealed to us.   All the saints of the Old Testament were speaking and writing about Him.  He was speaking to us through them.  For us Christians today, the study of the Old Testament is not so much to learn history (and certainly not to learn science) but to see Christ.  Obviously in the New Testament we have even a more clear vision of Him.  He was however being revealed all along to God’s people.


So the Feast teaches us what the significance of the Old Testament is and how to read it.  Christ has come, and we can now also see Him in the Old Testament lessons and hear His voice and recognize the love, wisdom, word and power of God.

Finally, in this Feast we also encounter a beautiful image of the complete synergy between God and humanity.  A synergy God intended from the beginning but which was broken through sin.  For in the Virgin Theotokos, Mary, God’s Word is fully revealed, and Mary offers back to God the Father in holiness what she has received from Him.


Mary makes the offering in the Jerusalem Temple of her son, Christ the Lord.  Finally God receives from humanity a pure offering, holy and divine, a sacrifice of thanksgiving acceptable to Him.  God receives creation fully in communion with Him.

St. John Chrysostom (d. 407AD), according to Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, says the human was to be “… the ‘bond’ and ‘bridge’ of God’s creation.  Uniting earth and heaven, making earth heavenly and heaven earthly, we reveal the spirit-bearing potentialities of all material things, and we disclose and render manifest the divine presence at the heart of all creation.” (TOWARD AN ECOLOGY OF TRANSFIGURATION, p 98).    This is what the Virgin Theotokos does in receiving the incarnate Word of God into her womb.  The image of the Theotokos as bridge and bond is most obvious when in the Temple she lifts the Son of God up as an offering to the God the Father.

God’s Word Present in God’s Creation

“When they discuss Christology, many Western theologians tend to focus their attention on Christ’s earthly life, from his birth until the Resurrection – the so-called ‘historical Jesus.’ In the East, however, emphasis is placed on the risen Christ, on Christ ascended, on Christ who will come again, on the Lord and Logos of the world. […] Though the Orthodox would agree that salvation is only found in Christ, the notion of salvation is more fluid than it is in the West. For this reason, according to Archbishop Anastasios, Orthodox Christians are much more willing to contemplate that saving work of the Logos at all times and places – past, present, and future. In the often repeated words of  St. Athanasius, ‘The Word was made man in order that we might be made divine,’ which in essence is the Orthodox concept of theōsis, there is an implicit openness to seeing Christ wherever he might be found.”       (Andrew M. Sharp, Orthodox Christians and Islam in the Postmodern Age, pp. 66-67)