HOW TO STUDY SCRIPTURE FROM AN ORTHODOX PERSPECTIVE
What follows is not a comprehensive guide to how to the study the Bible, but it is a collection of previous articles into one post, so that they can be easily accessed.
First, a talk that covers why we should study the Scriptures, as well as some of the basics about how we should do so.
See more here: How to study the Scriptures
ARCHPRIEST GEOFFREY KORZ | 18 AUGUST 2020
At every liturgy in the Orthodox Church, just before the singing of the Nicene Creed, the priest or the deacon intones the words, “The doors! The doors!” This call dates back to the earliest times, when the doors of the church had to be barred shut, to prevent outsiders (in those days, Roman soldiers) from entering the church, witnessing those who confessed the faith, seizing them, and killing them.
Being a Christian was not safe.
Centuries later, under the Muslim Turks, Crypto-Christians – those who lived publically as Muslims, but secretly as Orthodox Christians – attended Liturgy in secret churches, often hidden beneath secret doors in the floors of their own homes, or in unknown caves. In rural villages, Orthodox priests sometimes posed as Muslim imams just to maintain their cover. If such a village of Crypto-Christians was discovered, everyone – from the old people down to the infants – was put to the sword.
Being a Christian was not safe.
Centuries later, under Communist regimes, faithful Christians would meet secretly in grey concrete apartment blocks, where priests would baptize for little ones who had been brought by their grandmothers, without the knowledge of the parents – a legitimate excuse for the parents to give to the atheist authorities if the family was ever caught. In the most severe Communist regimes, a handful of faithful would gather outside a city or town for a clandestine nighttime Liturgy, served by a priest brought in from far away to avoid the prying eyes of local authorities. In all these cases, the faithful knew, if they were found out, the punishment would be a swift execution, or worse – a slow and painful death in a concentration camp.
Being a Christian was not safe.
In the last few months, faithful around the world have experienced the closure of our churches, the prohibition of the public celebration of Holy Week, and the effective ban by bishops and civil authorities in different places on the reception of Holy Communion. In most places, churches have now reopened (at least in part).
Yet formal studies and informal observations show that about one-third of those who regularly attended holy services at the start of this year have now become accustomed to staying home on Sundays and feast days, and have not returned to church.
Perhaps good habits have been broken. Perhaps laziness has set in. Perhaps the lure of Sunday breakfast in bed has proven seductive.
Yet what has covered all the human laziness and brokenness behind the spiritual falling away is a single self-deception.
These are the words, “I will return to church when it is safe again.”
Curiously, one does not hear the same phrase repeated in relation to the liquor store – i.e. I will return to the liquor store when it is safe again. Nor does one hear it applied to the purchase of groceries: grocery stores seem somehow protected from all sicknesses, and remained so throughout the recent worldwide crisis.
Neither does one hear this phrase when it comes to the workplace – i.e. I will refrain from making an income, because the risk to my health is too high. I will return to work when it is safe again.
No, it seems only churches suffer from the unique level of danger – just as they did throughout the earlier part of this year, making them more risky than public transport and dollar stores combined.
The truth is, in the current climate of madness, many Orthodox Christians have not only shifted from realistic medical precaution to social hysteria, they have also found social hysteria to be a most convenient cloak for avoiding anything inconvenient or difficult.
Have to visit a relative? Not until it’s safe again.
Have to finish some difficult job? Not until it’s safe again.
And how about going back to church every Sunday morning…?
Brethren, attending the holy services of the Orthodox Church – Sundays or feast days – has never been safer than it is today. The truth is, however, it has never been safe to be a Christian.
In the catacombs around Rome rest the remains of more martyrs for Christ than live in my home city – over half a million martyrs. Being a Christian and going to church was always a risk for them – and so it will be for every generation of Christian, unto ages of ages.
So please, kindly set aside the idea that you will return to the holy services “when it’s safe”. That day will never come.
You will either make up your mind to live as a Christian and return to church, or you won’t.
Are you frequently being wakened at night?
It may be God calling…
There is strategic significance in praying during the early morning hours.
In the Gospel reading this past Sunday St. Matthew tells us that Jesus came to them walking on the water in the Fourth Watch of the night. (Matthew 14:22-33)
The fourth watch is defined by the Roman watch as a time spanning from 3am – 6am.
As I mentioned in my sermon on Sunday the Bible refers to this way of keeping time and also refers to hours of the day.
For instance, Matthew 27:45 Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour.
At the time of Christ on earth time was not as precise as it is today.
It was approximate. The 4th watch was the time between 3 and 6 am. More precisely, the 4th watch started at 3 am and the guards were on duty until day, 6 am.
The hours of the day were: 1st 6 am; 3rd 9 am; 6th Noon; 9th hour 3 pm.
The Orthodox Church reflects this in the Services of the Hours, appointed for those hours of the day, then Vespers at 6 pm. The new day beginning at Vespers. Plus there is the Compline Service and the Midnight Service.
So the first century Christian would understand St. Matthew to mean, it was about 3 am when Jesus came, walking on the water.
The darkest hour of the night. In a great storm. After a long day when they listened to the teaching of Jesus, He fed the 5000 and then sent them into the boat to go ahead of Him across the Sea of Galilee. Jesus went up the mountain to pray after He dismissed the crowds. They all must have been pretty tired. Fatigue can exaggerate fear. The disciples were afraid. Jesus was not.
Then as the disciples row across the Sea a storm fights them, the wind blows against them, keeping them from reaching the other side and threatening to drown them.
Remember, on one other occasion in a similar situation, Jesus was with them and calmed the storm to save them. (Matthew 8:23-27) This time they did not have Him in the boat.
St. Mark tells us (Mark 6:42-53) that Jesus “saw them in the boat” while He was still on the mountain praying. Verse 48 tells us “and he would have passed by them” walking on the water.
Jesus sees them from the mountain and leaves to help them, yet it says “He would have passed them by.” As if He was waiting to hear them ask for help, Matthew says they thought it may have been a spirit and they were very afraid. So they call out to Him and He comes to them.
The dark hours of the night, a raging storm, the disciples are afraid for their lives, the last time Jesus had saved them after they woke Him from sleep. This time they thought they were alone and He comes, but not until stretching their faith. A little.
Sometimes, this is how we awaken in the night. With frightening dreams, worry, fear for some thing or another. The dark seems to make it worse.
But just as Jesus saw them from afar, He sees us as well. Struggling with our thoughts, plagued with worry, lacking faith.
He comes to us, He is with us. But we see the storm and the waves, not Him.
The forces of “nature” seem often to oppose us, indeed the earth itself is against us (Genesis 3) but they are ultimately God’s servants and work at His bidding for our salvation (Romans 8:28).
The Gospel of St. John and St. Mark do not mention the fact that Peter walked on the water. Mark tells us that as soon as Jesus came to the boat it was at the land. Instant resolution.
St. Matthew tells us this story about the wonders of God and our weakness (why did you doubt?) in the midst of the storm; the small reference to the Fourth Watch is a detail that sets me to thinking.
What is it about the night?
- Jacob wrestled with God and met Him face to face. Gen 32:24
Gen 32:24 And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day.
- Moses led the Israelites across the Red Sea- Exodus 14:24
Exo 14:24 And it came to pass in the morning watch, that Jehovah looked forth upon the host of the Egyptians through the pillar of fire and of cloud, and discomfited the host of the Egyptians.
- Gideon defeated the Midianites (middle watch), Judges 7:19
Jdg 7:19 So Gideon, and the hundred men that were with him, came unto the outermost part of the camp in the beginning of the middle watch, when they had but newly set the watch: and they blew the trumpets, and brake in pieces the pitchers that were in their hands.
(before the Romans the Jews kept three watches)
- Peter and Jesus walk on water, Matthew 14:25.
- The angels appear to the shepherds in the field to announce the birth of the savior. Luke 2:8
Luke 2:8 And there were shepherds in the same country abiding in the field, and keeping watch by night over their flock.
- Jesus is resurrected from the dead, Matthew 28:1
Mat 28:1 Now late on the sabbath day, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre.
- The bridegroom comes at mid-night Matthew 25:6
Mat 25:6 But at midnight there is a cry, Behold, the bridegroom! Come ye forth to meet him.
Some pretty amazing things happen in the night!
What if you are awakened in the night for a spiritual reason? What if God wants to come to you in the night?
Maybe 8 straight hours of sleep isn’t the best plan.
The next time you wake in the night, grab some prayer before you try for more zzzzz’s.