Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Reading The Scriptures in an Orthodox Manner

From Fr. Ted's blog "Reading The Scriptures in an Orthodox Manner":

One of the common concerns for devout Orthodox Christians is the desire to read the Scriptures in an Orthodox manner. Especially many converts are concerned about this – they learned the importance of the Scriptures in the Christian tradition from which they came, but now that they have become Orthodox Christians they want to know how to read the Scriptures within Orthodox Tradition. They embraced Orthodoxy welcoming its understanding of Christ, the Holy Trinity, and salvation but now want to make sure they also read the Bible through an Orthodox perspective rather than retaining perspectives on Scripture learned from their days in other Christian traditions.

While Orthodoxy claims to understand the Scriptures through the Patristic Tradition that does not readily translate to a quick and easy interpretive trick or exegetical method. For the Fathers saw the Scriptures as a treasury of the richness of God’s revelation and wisdom, and they used many interpretive tools to reach their understanding of what God is revealing to us.

There is an interesting passage in the writings of St. Isaac the Syrian (7th Century) in which he describes reading the scriptures as one of the ministries of the Church which is also an ascetical path to which some Christians are called. He points out, however, that this ministry of interpreting Scriptures is to be done within the spiritual tradition of the Church. Reading Scripture for St. Isaac is not the same discipline as studying other literature.
“… and if there is someone with the ability, the reading (of Scripture) too, though this person cannot, and is not permitted at all to, perceive the (full) sense of what he is reading, even though he may be very learned and highly educated in the habit of ordinary reading and in the exact rendering of the words. As for the exact meaning, corresponding to the spiritual significance, this is something which, in accordance with the growth of the inner person in the ascetic life and (his) hidden progress, the divine power will cause him to taste—that power which acts as a guide to him on the great and extensive ocean of stillness.” (St. Isaac the Syrian, ISAAC OF NINEVEH: THE SECOND PART, p 138)
St. Isaac equates the reading of Scripture for its exact meaning with finding the spiritual significance of the text. Discovering this exact meaning of what God has placed in the words/text of the Scriptures comes about only as there is spiritual growth in the inner person who is following an ascetic discipline. Understanding the Scriptures cannot come about just by learning the right hermeneutic or exegetical method – it requires one to be growing spiritually and to be following the discipline of a Christian community. Understanding the Word of God is not a matter of getting university degrees, but of becoming a disciple of Christ the Teacher.

Finding the spiritual significance of any text of Scripture is an Orthodox interpretive goal. Following that line of thinking we might consider what spiritual significance St. Andrew of Crete (d. 712AD?) found in some of the early chapters of Genesis. St. Andrew was writing about the same time as St. Isaac or a decade or two after him. St. Andrew’s reading of Scripture comes through in his famous Great Canon of Repentance which is sung in the 5th and 1st weeks of Great Lent in the Orthodox tradition. We can look at a few of the poetic verses which St. Andrew composed to get a sense of his understanding of the spiritual significance of Scriptural narratives.

Complete article here.

1 comment:

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