The Pastoral Value of the Old Testament Challenge

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by Fr. John A. Peck

Very shortly, we will be announcing the pre-reqs for the Old Testament Challenge, so that those who wish to participate may prepare themselves to do so. Generally speaking, these aren’t difficult, but they require some commitment, and so will make an excellent prep for joining in.

Before that I’d like to highlight some of the pastoral value of the Old Testament Challenge. This post is an offering primarily for parish priests.

What is Pastoral ‘Value’?

I define something with ‘pastoral value’ as something which makes

  • the task of pastoring your people easier,
  • the edification of parishioners more thorough,
  • flexible enough to use to direct conversations toward timely or locally necessary topics,
  • easy to do ‘out-of-the-box‘ so to speak.

In truth, I’ve tried to make most of the material I publish easy to use as is, requiring little preparation on the part of the leader/teacher/pastor.

Bible-MoraliseThe Challenge

Since 2010, Preachers Institute has offered a New Testament Challenge every year during the Nativity Fast. Many of you readers are familiar with it, and have emailed us to tell us you do it every year. Thanks for that! This challenge has been taken up by parishes, priests and parishioners alike, together and individually.

The benefits of reading, word for word, the entire New Testament, together with many others, in a limited period of time has been an invaluable benefit for those who otherwise might not even attempt such an undertaking. The feedback we received here has been wonderful, with many requests to repeat the exercise, and many to do the same for the Old Testament.

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Why An Old Testament Challenge?

As previous stated, the Old Testament is 85% of the Bible. That is an ocean of context lost to the average Bible reader every time they read the Gospels, epistles or even the book of Revelation. No, not everyone has to become a Biblical scholar to learn the Bible better, and even become expert in its content. Yes – there is value to becoming expert in Bible content. St. John Chrysostom gives great wisdom about the Scriptures and knowing them well, and warns about what proceeds from ignorance of them.

“From this it is that countless evils have arisen – from ignorance of the Scriptures; from this it is that the plague of heresies has broken out; from this it is that there are negligent lives; from this there are labors without advantage.” (Homily On Romans)

All the Books of the Orthodox Bible

This is the only reading schedule of its kind – one that includes all the OT books of the Orthodox Bible, and all in 100 days, with days off for rest or catching up. There is simply no better time to prepare and take this challenge.

 

Why Orthodox Christians Should Do It

You and your parishioners should do it together. It’s more than leading by example, though it is also that. It allows them to partake of your wisdom and experience. How many of your parishioners can identify most of the typological themes in their Old Testament reading? How many can identify the prokeimenons? Alleluia verses? Lord I call verses from Vespers? Canon references from Matins? The depth and breadth of Biblical themes from Divine Liturgy? References to the interior life? 

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The worship of the Church will come alive in bright details as the hymnography and liturgical actions which they see every week suddenly take on new meaning and life-altering significance. In undertaking this important exercise with them, you’ll be their guide through an adventure that they can’t even imagine the depth of. 

Weekly lessons for adults, blog entries, Bible studies and sermons will provide you with ample opportunities to highlight the important themes of the readings which are underway. There is simply no better way to get everyone on the same page more easily!

But What Page Should We All Be On?

Many of our parishioners know some about the Old Testament, but still do not see it with the eye of the Church. That is, they don’t see it from the perspectives which are

  • Christological, because Christ is on every page of the OT;
  • Trinitarian, because the Trinity is repeatedly revealed in the OT;
  • Ecclesiological, because the people of God are identified in their corporate worship of Him. (If you didn’t eat the Passover lamb, you were not a part of the Covenant)

Indeed, the Church sees the Old Testament in no other way. Far from simply identifying ‘typologies’ you’ll be leading a guided tour of salvation history, with generous helpings of important and timely topics, so crucial to Christian life today, such as

  1. Righteousness/Social Justice
  2. Tithing and First Fruit Offerings/Financial Responsibility
  3. Ecclesiology/Corporate worship as the identifying mark of the believers
  4. God’s identification with His people
  5. The importance of the interior life, as opposed to a life of exterior ritualism.
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The connection between priest and parishioner will become a bond through this as you interpret for them the passages they read through the eye of the Spirit, with the mind of the Church. 

Take the Old Testament Challenge this September.

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About Fr. John A. Peck

Director of the Preachers Institute, priest in the Orthodox Church in America, award-winning graphic designer and media consultant, and non-profit administrator.
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