Recovering the Scriptures
St. Evagrius wrote "may the rising sun find you with a Bible in your hand." It is sad and unpardonable that we have allowed some misguided televangelists to hijack the Word of God from us, so much so that we are afraid to proclaim the truths found in the Bible for fear of being labeled a protestanto.
This is wrong. We, Orthodox Christians, are a people of the Scriptures. We know God through the Scriptures. We meet Christ in the Scriptures. We die on the cross in the Scriptures. We live the resurrection in the Scriptures. All our doctrines are founded on the truths of the Scriptures. All the writings of the early Church Fathers are based on the Scriptures. Our worship is based on the Scriptures. And if we call ourselves Christian, then our life must be based on the Scriptures.
It is in Scriptures that we find God's revelation in words. And the more we study these words the more we grow in the grace and the knowledge of Jesus Christ. It is the knowing of God that is the key. And the way we get to know Him is through the Word of God—the Scriptures, as interpreted to us by the Holy Spirit.
The Bible shows us the way to live. But most of all, what the Bible does is equip us for every good work by changing who we are and what we find satisfaction and meaning in so that our obedience, like St. Paul says in all of his letters, comes from within—freely, not by force or obligation.
Is this not what Paul wrote to Timothy just before he was going to be taken up to be executed: "But you must remain faithful to the things you have been taught. You know they are true, for you know you can trust those who taught you. You have been taught the holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It straightens us out and teaches us to do what is right. It is God's way of preparing us in every way, fully equipped for every good thing God wants us to do" (2 Timothy 3:14 NLT). It is through the Scriptures that Clement of Alexandria said we become theodidacti or "taught by God."
The Eucharist of the Word
The Word of God is meant to transform us when we read it and meditate over it every day. In other words, the Word of God needs to be saturated in us. We must read and eat the words of Scripture, not so we can imitate what it says, but rather so that we can become what it says. The reading of the Bible should be consumed eucharistically, as Origen says because it is here that the Word is mysteriously broken. What's more, St. Gregory of Nazianzen said "we eat his flesh and drink his blood in the divine Eucharist but also in the reading of the Scripture." So we not only find Christ in the Bible, but Christ is the Bible—He is the gospel.
So how do we go back to reading the Bible? Well certainly not the way the religious leaders in Christ's time did. Have you ever wondered why the Pharisees constantly clashed with Jesus? Surely, they knew the Scriptures. In fact, they knew them very well. So much so, that they memorized, revered and used them to meticulously control every part of their life. But there was one crucial thing missing. Not unlike so many of us today, they read the Scriptures but they did not listen to them. They did not read to listen to God and find Him, and so the Scriptures eventually became nothing more than dead parchment. As Jesus once said to the Jewish leaders who opposed Him, "You search the Scriptures because you believe they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me! Yet you refuse to come to me so that I can give you this eternal life" (John 5:39 NLT).
We cannot give life to the Scriptures because this comes only from the presence of God. In order for the Bible to become alive, there must be an epiclesis — a calling down of the Holy Spirit to burn in our hearts so we can submit to its truth and let it blossom in our lives. It is this aching for the love of God that the Holy Spirit etches in our hearts. It is the Holy Spirit that drops the scales from our minds so that we begin to read and in reading, we begin to listen and in listening, we begin to see Jesus. We see Jesus!
This is what the Bible is all about. If we read the Bible and don't come away with a feeling deep in our soul that Christ is in us, then we have not experienced the mystery of His life being lived in us. Christ is embedded in every page of the Bible and everything is written so that we might see Him: "For this is the secret: Christ lives in you, and this is your assurance that you will share in his glory" (Colossians 1:27 NLT).
Burning for God
Most of us are familiar with the story recorded in Luke's Gospel of the two disciples who were walking from Jerusalem toward the village of Emmaus. Jesus Christ had risen from the tomb and the whole area was just buzzing with chatter about the resurrection of Christ. Yet there was also a lot of doubt and uncertainty. Did Jesus really rise from the dead? Who is it that saw Him? Could this be happening? Jesus' death on the cross brought so much apprehension, fear and yearning in all of the disciples. And in one of Jesus' more humorous moments, He gently walks up beside these two disciples on their way to the village of Emmaus and asks, "What is this conversation which you are holding with each other as you walk?" They just look at each other and incredulously ask, "Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?" And Jesus says to them, "What things?" You have to love this! The look on their faces must have been priceless.
And so the disciples go on to explain how:
Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since this happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning and did not find his body; and they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive (Luke 24:17-23 RSV).
Then, Luke tells us: "beginning with Moses and all the prophets," the stranger—the risen Jesus—"interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself" (Luke 24:27 RSV). And later on, as they were thinking over what just happened, they said to each other, "Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the scriptures?" (Luke 24:32 RSV).
The Verbal Icon of God
Imagine experiencing that same burning fire in our heart? And therein lies the secret to everything we need to know about the purpose of the Bible. The Bible ignites our hearts till it aches so deeply to be with God. Unless we approach the Word of God with faith, fear and the love of God like we do the body and blood of Christ and unless our hearts burn inside us as it did with those two disciples of Emmaus with an unbearable aching for God's presence—then this book we call the Holy Bible will collect dust on our shelves and in our lives. There is only one way to the truth and only one way to see Jesus.
Everything in the Bible points to this one thing: that Jesus is the gospel. The Bible is the verbal icon of Christ. And there is only one way to use the Word of God and that is, to use it to get closer to God. Moses and all the prophets begged for this one thing-to behold God-to be in God's presence. And King David cried out "Thy face, Lord, do I seek" (Psalms 27:8 RSV). Jesus is the best news we could ever receive and when we get to the moment in life where we finally understand that the message of the Bible is to show us that joy and truth and salvation are found in Christ and Him alone then we will have come one step closer to beholding our God.
John Kapsalis is a graduate of Holy Cross Seminary.