Friday, April 10, 2009

The Fathers on Reading Scripture, XVIII

I've recently begun listening to a podcast entitled Search the Scriptures by Presvytera Dr Eugenia Scarvelis Constantinou. Based on the lectures to which I've listened so far, I find it exemplary and can recommend it without reservation. While highly trained in the academic study of Scripture, Dr Constantinou reads and interprets Scripture primarily through the lens of the Patristic witness, especially that of St John Chrysostom. (Her M.Th. thesis at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology was entitled “St. John Chrysostom as an Interpreter of the New Testament: Three Exegetical Principles”; her Ph.D. thesis at UniversitĂ© Laval (Quebec) was entitled “Andrew of Caesarea and the Apocalypse in the Ancient Church of the East.”) Do give her podcast a listen.

I am grateful to Dr Constantinou for pointing out the following passage from St John Chrysostom's thirty-second homily on the Gospel of St John:
For which of you when in his house takes some Christian book in hand and goes over its contents, and searches the Scriptures? None can say that he does so, but with most we shall find draughts and dice, but books nowhere, except among a few. And even these few have the same dispositions as the many; for they tie up their books, and keep them always put away in cases, and all their care is for the fineness of the parchments, and the beauty of the letters, not for reading them. For they have not bought them to obtain advantage and benefit from them, but take pains about such matters to show their wealth and pride. Such is the excess of vainglory. I do not hear any one glory that he knows the contents, but that he has a book written in letters of gold. And what gain, tell me, is this? The Scriptures were not given us for this only, that we might have them in books, but that we might engrave them on our hearts. For this kind of possession, the keeping the commandments merely in letter, belongs to Jewish ambition; but to us the Law was not so given at all, but in the fleshy tables of our hearts. And this I say, not to prevent you from procuring Bibles, on the contrary, I exhort and earnestly pray that you do this, but I desire that from those books you convey the letters and sense into your understanding, that so it may be purified when it receives the meaning of the writing. For if the devil will not dare to approach a house where a Gospel is lying, much less will any evil spirit, or any sinful nature, ever touch or enter a soul which bears about with it such sentiments as it contains. Sanctify then your soul, sanctify your body, by having these ever in your heart, and on your tongue. For if foul speech defiles and invites devils, it is clear that spiritual reading sanctifies and draws down the grace of the Spirit. The Scriptures are divine charms, let us then apply to ourselves and to the passions of our souls the remedies to be derived from them. For if we understand what it is that is read, we shall hear it with much readiness. I am always saying this, and will not cease to say it. Is it not strange that those who sit by the market can tell the names, and families, and cities of charioteers, and dancers, and the kinds of power possessed by each, and can give exact account of the good or bad qualities of the very horses, but that those who come hither should know nothing of what is done here, but should be ignorant of the number even of the sacred Books? If you pursue those worldly things for pleasure, I will show you that here is greater pleasure. Which is sweeter, tell me, which more marvelous, to see a man wrestling with a man, or a man buffering with a devil, a body closing with an incorporeal power, and him who is of your race victorious? These wrestlings let us look on, these, which also it is seemly and profitable to imitate, and which imitating, we may be crowned; but not those in which emulation brings shame to him who imitates them. If you behold the one kind of contest, you behold it with devils; the other, with Angels and Archangels, and the Lord of Archangels. Say now, if thou were allowed to sit with governors and kings, and to see and enjoy the spectacle, would you not deem it to be a very great honor? And here when you are a spectator in company with the King of Angels, when you see the devil grasped by the middle of the back, striving much to have the better, but powerless, do you not run and pursue after such a sight as this? And how can this be? says some one. If thou keep the Bible in your hands; for in it you shall see the lists, and the long races, and his grasps, and the skill of the righteous one. For by beholding these things you shall learn also how to wrestle so yourself, and shall escape clear of devils; the performances of the heathen are assemblies of devils, not theaters of men. Wherefore I exhort you to abstain from these Satanic assemblies; for if it is not lawful to enter into an idol's house, much less to Satan's festival. I shall not cease to say these things and weary you, until I see some change; for to say these things, as says Paul, to me indeed is not grievous, but for you it is safe. [Philippians 3:1] Be not then offended at my exhortation. If any one ought to be offended, it is I who often speak and am not heard, not you who are always hearing and always disobeying. God grant that you be not always liable to this charge, but that freed from this shame you be deemed worthy to enjoy the spiritual spectacle, and the glory which is to come, through the grace and lovingkindness of our Lord Jesus Christ, with whom to the Father and the Holy Ghost be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

5 comments:

aaronandbrighid said...

He even got in a dig at sports--how gratifying!

Judge373 said...

Pres. Jeanie also has a new podcast on the Revelation hosted at OCN.

http://www.myocn.net/index.php/orthodox-podcasts/Beyond-the-Veil/

Felix Culpa said...

Thanks for the link -- although I still have sixty some of her podcasts to get through. Interesting that her two online commentaries should be on Genesis and Revelation.

sceptik said...

Interview with Father Andrew Philips. Very interesting:

http://sceptik.wordpress.com/2009/04/06/interview-with-father-andrew-philips-2009/

Kevin P. Edgecomb said...

This podcast thing is dangerous! Now do I not only have shelves of unread books, I have an iPod of unlistened-to podcasts. I sigh.