Now that we have entered Advent/Nativity Fast, and many of us have begun the 2009 New Testament Challenge (some will begin on Dec. 1st), I’d like to make a simple offering about the actual reading of the Holy Scriptures.
When I am teaching my parishioners or catechumens to read the Bible, few actually ask how one does this in the Orthodox way, but I believe this is an important idea, and in the spirit of giving, I always offer it to them.
I believe that the Orthodox Christian way of reading the Scriptures can be summed up as follows:
That’s it – A A A – the triple As.
This stands for:
ALOUD – Read it aloud;
APPLY it to yourself;
ACT on it immediately.
Let’s have a brief look at each of these.
Read it aloud. The Scriptures are literature, and literature, believe it or not, is written to be read aloud. Try reading Shakespeare or Milton aloud and you’ll discover things which you missed before. Likewise, the Scriptures were written to be read aloud, to inspire faith in the listener, not the reader. After all,
“Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” -Romans 10:17
And indeed, comes with a blessing;
“Blessed is he that reads, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand.” – Rev. 1:3
Whenever you are reading Scripture, read aloud. Gain what you can from it, but in reading it and hearing it yourself, you will not only retain it better, but it will have a more profound impact on you. This is what God wants. This is the Orthodox way.
APPLY it to yourself.
When you read the Scriptures, it is very important to heed the words of our Savior, Jesus Christ, Who said,
“He who has ears to hear, let him hear..”
- Matt. 11:15, 13:9; Mark 4:9; Luke 8:8, 14:35; Rev. 2:7, 11, 17, 29, etc.
“First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” - Matt. 7:5
That’s us. Jesus often spoke to His hearers rather bluntly.
If you who are evil, know how to give good things to your children..
- Matt. 7:11; Luke 11:13
So when we are perusing the Holy Bible, whenever we come across a comparison, we should apply both to ourselves only. After all, we are sinners. A good example of this is the parable of the Publican and the Pharisee.
“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
- Luke 18:10-14
In this parable we see two men; a Pharisee and a Publican/tax collector. How do we actually apply both to ourselves?
This is a great example, actually, and simple to apply.
We should compare ourselves with the Pharisee, and realize that in many ways he was far more righteous than we are. This man fasted faithfully, according to the Jewish tradition, he tithed from everything he received from God – even the herbs of his garden! He did what he was supposed to do. He is better than we are. He is more faithful. He is more of a believer. He really is.
We should also compare ourselves with the Publican, he wasn’t just a sinner – he was a traitor, a blood-sucking leech who lived on the misery of his own people, his own neighbors. Yet, in spite of this, he still comes to the Temple, and in great repentance, does not present the Lord with a laundry list, but only begs for mercy for himself. He already knows two things – one, God looks with mercy on the truly heartfelt confession of sin and repentance, from the bottom of his soul. After all, he would not even lift up his eyes to heaven. Second, God will not answer any other prayers for him until he repents. He is not only a better believer, he is wiser than we are. He really is.
When applying the Bible verses you read only to yourself, you will find plenty to work with, and open the doors of repentance and love of your own heart. This is what God wants. This is the Orthodox way.
Act on it immediately
The third part of this trinity of Bible reading, is to take action. The Lord says,
“Behold, now is the accepted time. Today is the day of salvation.” – 2 Cor. 6:2
There is no other time, but now. The Lord gave His name to Moses saying, “I AM.” That should be enough for anyone to see that God is eternally present.
“I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.” – Matt. 22:32
The Lord is the God of the Living. He is the God of the moment. When you are reading the Holy Scriptures, you are encountering God at that moment. That is the moment to act on it. Many of the saints have advanced in holiness by reading the Scriptures, but the difference between us and them is that when they read the Bible, they put what they read into literal action at that moment. Everything else which followed was a flood of God’s grace. This is what God wants. This is the Orthodox way.
Friends, every Christian must take the time to read the Scriptures daily. During this year’s New Testament Challenge, we have a unique opportunity to read the Bible in the Orthodox way. Should we read them any other way?
I offer to you what I offer all those who attend my Bible study classes.
It is easy to learn. It is easy to remember. It is the Bible in spiritual color, as opposed to parables and moral lessons on ink and paper. Try reading the Bible the Orthodox way. If you are participating in the New Testament Challenge, you won’t recognize yourself at the end. You will be transfigured.
This is what God wants.
This is the Orthodox way.