Simple Suggestions for Orthodox Study of Scripture

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Saint Isaac the Syrian writes, “Very often many things are said by the Holy Scriptures and in it many names are used not in a literal sense… those who have a mind understand this” (Homily 83, p. 317).

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The Holy Scriptures are indeed edifying for the Christian life – particularly as they are read and memorized. There they become a treasure in our heart that can be drawn upon at need. I find that even in simple tasks, such as trimming the wicks in the Church, that reciting psalms and other Scriptures helps center the heart and fittingly gives praise to God.

It was once an enforced part of Tradition that anyone chosen for the office of Bishop had to also know the Psalter by heart. Much of this had to do with the fact that such memorization was standard for monks at the time. Today it is not strictly enforced – though I am constantly amazed at the amount of Scripture, particularly Psalms, that my brother priests in the Church do know. Psalm 50 (LXX) “Have mercy on me, O God, according to Thy loving-kindness” is required memorization by priests and deacons. It is to be said quietly while they cense the Church.

St. Seraphim of Sarov read all four gospels in the course of a week, every week. My own taste of this comes every year during Holy Week when all four gospels are read aloud in the Church during the services of the hours. It is hard to describe the effect of any single gospel as it is read in its entirety.

Another great source for study is can be found in the Festal Menaion (translated by Met. Kallistos Ware and Mother Mary) and the Lenten Triodion. Both books contain reich material that is itself a commentary on Scripture that is also part of the devotional life. It is not just an education in Scripture but an education in how to read the Scripture.

Mentioned already in our comments is the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete. It is a meditation on Scripture with a particularly theme – but provides a “mystical” or “moral” approach to the reading of the Holy Scriptures.

Needless to say, the writings of the Fathers – the sermons of St. John Chrysostom and the like, are also invaluable.

In all of these things we are moving away from the individualism that has marked so much treatment of the Bible in modern times. It is a return to the life of humility and a searching for the mind of the Church. It is a submitting of ourselves for the “renewing of our mind” (Romans 12:1) and a discipline that frees us from the tyranny of the individualized constructs of a consumer conscience.

Other thoughts, proven in the fire of life, are welcome.

Comments

  1. Dean Arnold says

    Approaching scripture corporately. Makes sense as an Orthodox.

    I was chatting last night with the editor of “Walk to Emmaus” and noting how, as a Protestant, I used to long to have been in earshot when Christ talked with the two disciples on that trip and how, “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.”

    A couple years into Orthodoxy it occurred to me that I do get to listen to that sermon. It is preached through the verses and stychera of the daily services: how Christ is weaved throughout the Old Testament. Kind of obvious after the fact: Jesus shared these secrets with his disciples and they passed it along to us.

    This is one of the many benefits of approaching the scripture “corporately” rather than individually. Whily personally I might find a few nuggets myself trying to identify Christ in the Old Testament, the Church has a riverfull gushing our way if we’ll only submit to it.

  2. zoe says

    Lord have mercy on us. May we study the Holy Scriptures in the spirit of humility so that we may understand with our hearts as well as our minds; so that seeing, we may see; hearing we may hear; seeking we may find the Truth that is Jesus Christ. May the Holy Spirit of God fill “that which is lacking”. I thank the Lord for “renewing my mind” through the teachings of the Orthodox Church; for to continue with my old mind-set was pure misery.

    Thank you Fr. Stephen for all your posts.

  3. David Di Giacomo says

    Father Stephen, what are your thoughts on the Orthodox Study Bible? I am not yet Orthodox, but my wife and I have set ourselves on the path from Pentecostalism to Orthodoxy, and I want to begin to learn to read the Scriptures in an Orthodox manner. I ask because I remember reading a less-than-favourable Orthodox review of the study material presented in it; the gist of the criticism was that it was too protestant by far. However, this article was on