Monday, April 14, 2008

The Gentle Breeze of Scripture.

Bishop Atanasije (Jevtic) writes:
In spirit and character, the Holy Scriptures resemble the "gentle breeze" in the Prophecy of Elijah, or the "breath of life" in the Prophecy of Ezekiel that revived the dead and the dry bones of Israel. This is the humble and modest, awe-inspiring and fear-inspiring attitude of the Bible toward us, as well as ours the holy Word of God. This is the "fear of God," which according to the Bible is the "beginning of wisdom" of both man and God (Prov 1:7): and, the Wisdom of God, according to the Bible, is Christ (cf. I Cor 1:24). Our Orthodox faithful possess exactly this kind of awe-inspiring respect toward the Holy Scriptures, especially toward the Gospels, but without creating a cult around them. Our pious people listen to and learn the Holy Scriptures primarily from the Holy Liturgy as part of the church services. That is why the best patristic commentaries on the Holy Scriptures are liturgical sermons, spoken to a live church community, to the people of God, to whom even today God speaks with His Spirit through the prophets. This is the source of all church hymnography, of all the songs and hymns of our church services, which constitute an excellent, practical, and poetically inspired interpretation of the Holy Scriptures. (It is characteristic that the great Fathers, the interpreters of the Bible, were actually more often than not the great liturgists and hymnographers of the Orthodox Church).

In addition, it must be said that the patristic approach to the Holy Scriptures was never confined to allegorical or literal interpretations, but included something more than both, and that is typological, mystagogical, and liturgical interpretations, of which the Epistles of St Ignatius of Antioch, the works of St Irenaeus of Lyons, the Theological and the Festal works of St Gregory the Theologian, the work of St Basil the Great On the Holy Spirit, St John Chrysostom's Sermons, the Interpretations of John's Gospel by St Cyril of Alexandria, the Mystagogy by St Maximus, the Catechism of St Symeon the New Theologian, among others, constitute the best examples. Of course, all this is no way belittles or marginalizes the need for modern biblical sciences: archeology, history, philology, and other sciences helpful to biblical hermeneutics. However, the sum of all this can show only "the binding covers of the Holy Scriptures," as Fr Justin Popovich, one of the greatest contemporary neo-patristic interpreters of the Holy Scriptures, sometimes said, unless the central link of the Holy Scriptures with Christ and His Body – the Church – is fully understood.

For the Holy Fathers, the interpretation of the Holy Scriptures is first of all the initiation into and revelation of the Great Mystery of Christ, which is spoken of particularly by the Apostle Paul and by St Maximus the Confessor. The Liturgy in our Church is the presence and actualization of this Mystery. In other words, up to today the Orthodox approach to the Holy Scriptures is the approach to the living Gospel of Christ – or, to be even more exact and faithful to the Holy Fathers, it is the approach to the living Christ the God-Man, Who is the First and Last, the personal and all-encompassing Gospel of the Lord.
Excerpted from the essay "The Holy Fathers and the Holy Scriptures," in Christ – the Alpha and Omega, which I recommend to all of you.

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