Knowledge of Scripture is Essential
Updated: Sep 18, 2019
One morning when I was in seminary at Holy Cross, I showed up for my Old Testament class and took my seat. Our professor, Metropolitan Demetrios of Vresthena (yes, our former Archbishop Demetrios) came in and plopped his books down on the front desk and stared at us. It was unlike him, as he usually came in and greeted us with a smile. He then pointed directly at us and in an uncharacteristic voice said, “Make…no…mistake. Knowledge of scripture is essential!” Metropolitan Demetrios kept staring at us for a moment and we were frozen. After that came his usual smile, and he went into his usual lecture style.
Now, I didn’t know if he said this because he felt we weren’t up to snuff on our Old Testament work, or whether something had just happened in a faculty meeting. I’ll never know. But the words struck into me and I still remember them. Ever since then, I have committed myself to scripture study in a new way. I try to never let a day pass without reading the bible. It is my oxygen.
I knew the day I left seminary and began working, that it would be harder to keep my bible study going. We are all super-busy, I know. We have to fight with all our might for that beautiful space of spending time with God’s Word. Gladly, it is a part of my evening routine and I love it.
So, how do I read the bible? First thing in the morning I read the Epistle and Gospel readings for the day from the Orthodox lectionary. This is prayer/reading, really. I begin with the priest’s prayer before the reading of the Gospel in the Divine Liturgy:
Illumine our hearts, O Master Who lovest mankind, with the pure light of Thy divine knowledge. Open the eyes of our mind to the understanding of Thy gospel teachings. Implant also in us the fear of Thy blessed commandments, that trampling down all carnal desires, we may enter upon a spiritual manner of living, both thinking and doing such things as are well-pleasing unto Thee. For Thou art the illumination of our souls and bodies, O Christ our God, and unto Thee we ascribe glory, together with Thy Father, Who is from everlasting, and Thine all-holy, good, and life-creating Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.
All I know is, St. Paul and the Gospel writers show the Christ “according to the scripture” (the Old Testament), and I fear that if we don’t know scripture, we really don’t know who Jesus Christ is.
My evening practice is part of my routine of reading the bible through each year. I use Logos Bible software these days, so that I can read in English and the original languages as much as possible.
I usually don’t read cover-to-cover. I know some people prefer to do this, but here is why I don’t: Each day I read one passage from the Tanakh (the Pentateuch), and then the historical books and the prophets. The next passage comes from Psalms and Wisdom literature. The third passage is from the New Testament. Logos has an easy reading plan called 365-Day Connect the Testaments. The thing about it is this – reading this way has deepened my ability to see the wonderful interconnections in the text, to see the arc of the grand narrative better, and how it all fits together.
My current biblical hobby-horse: Seeing - from Genesis to Revelation - all of the references of God tabernacling with creation and humankind - and what this means for new humanity in Christ.
If you aren’t reading the bible every day, I recommend starting today. Whether it is reading the daily lectionary readings, or a “making-your-way-through-the-bible” effort, you won’t believe the spiritual benefits you will receive. My fear is that Orthodox Christians are reading contemporary Orthodox writers, or they are focusing on writings like Theophan the Recluse and Elder Paisios – which is fine – unless they are doing so without the grounding of really knowing any of scripture to put it into context.
Maybe I am wrong. All I know is, St. Paul and the Gospel writers show the Christ “according to the scripture” (the Old Testament), and I fear that if we don’t know scripture, we really don’t know who Jesus Christ is.
Next up: How in the world do we interpret scripture?