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To Know the Bible and the God of the Bible, We Have to Read it!
It is an unfortunate fact that we Orthodox Christians often do not read the Bible as we should. We revere the Bible, but we don’t actually read it. This is a terrible weakness in our spiritual lives at a personal level and is one of the reasons why our Churches, as communities, are often so spiritually weak.
Several generations ago many people could neither read nor write. The Bible had to be read to them. It was not something they could pick up and read for themselves. But this is no longer true of Orthodox Christians living in the U.S. today. An Orthodox Christian who can read but doesn’t read the Bible on a daily basis is a contradiction in terms.
Writing more than 1600 years ago, a great saint like John Chrysostom (354-407AD) could say: “Ignorance of the Scriptures is a great cliff and a deep abyss. Not knowing the Scriptures is the cause of all evils. Reading the Scriptures is like possessing a great treasure. A Christian cannot help but read the Scriptures. To be a Christian is to rejoice in the power of the Holy Spirit and the Spirit speaks to us through the Scriptures.” Or, as St. Jerome (347-420AD) said even more bluntly: “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.”
Someone once said: “Most books inform, a few reform, but only the Bible transforms.” In fact, the Bible does all three! The Bible informs us about the history of God’s dealings with the human race and most specifically about His love for us as expressed in the incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection of His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. The Bible provides the basis for reforming us, for in its pages we find the ideals and standards by which we are to live. And the Bible transforms us because in it we come face to face with the grace and power of Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit. In this sense, the Bible is sacramental because it conveys the presence of Christ in the Holy Spirit. “Whenever you read the Gospel,” writes St. Tikhon of Zadonsk (1724-1783), “Christ Himself is speaking to you. And while you read, you are praying and talking with Him.”
For us, therefore, it is not Word and Sacrament, as some Protestant folks say; rather, the Word is itself a Sacrament! St. Augustine (354-430AD), the bishop of Hippo Regius in North Africa, writing in Latin in the late 4th century, speaks of the sacramentum Scripturae, the “sacrament of the Scriptures.” To pick up the Bible and read it can never be a neutral act: we must say either Yes or No to the God whose message is contained within its pages.
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