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.
The Story of the World We Live In
July 8, 2020 · Fr. Stephen Freeman
Some ten or so years ago, my wife and I were hunting for a long-ish audiobook to entertain us as we made a 10-hour drive. A novel was one possibility, but none came to mind. As it was, we chose a book named “Salt.” It was an account of the world in terms of salt – its use, its production, its vital importance to human life, and its place in the shaping of our history. I was skeptical as the trip began, but found myself intrigued as the hours rolled by and we journeyed across world history courtesy of everyone’s favorite condiment. Salt apparently belongs to something of a literary genre. The author of Salt has also given us Milk, Cod, Salmon, and Paper. I need to schedule more road trips.
What these fascinating books illustrate is that the story of the world, and civilization, can be told from any number of angles. Is the world really just the story of salt? Or, could the story of the world be told from the point-of-view of a single grain of sand? Doubtless, more would be said of the endless procession of ocean waves than is accounted for in our historical travails. As narrative creatures, we tend to dismiss the grain of sand as nothing more than background, a prop that supports the real action. A single grain’s story, however, would provide a great deal to consider. The silica and other elements that make up the average beach have an origin, no less complex than our own, though with fewer words and emotional tensions.
These exercises in historical perspectives are instructive for understanding the limits of all historical conversations. In history, we are always right to ask, “Who is telling the story? What’s this story about? From what point of view is it written?” If we were speaking of a “pure” history, then it would be the story of everything, about everything, told from everything’s point of view. Such, of course, is impossible. Choices must be made. When the choices are made, those questions will be answered more finitely and with greater precision. But what is then called “history” is not really about everything – but about a few things, and always with a point.
During a time of social upheaval, one of the most disturbing aspects of our lives is the turmoil within the public narrative. How do we speak about ourselves and others? How do we describe what is taking place. What is unfolding?
For the faithful, this disturbance should be revealing. The nature of the secular world is that it establishes the dominant narrative for the world. Without noticing, we quietly make the Christian story to be a sub-plot of this larger account. Our faith becomes what secularism tells us: a personal option that is, at most, a religious life-style. We feel powerless and worry that the voice of the Church is silent. Indeed, I hear this when various people suggest how the Church could make its voice more “effective.”
There is a “clash of narratives” as Christ stands before Pontius Pilate. Pilate imagines that the Roman Imperium is the true narrative and defining story of the world. He threatens Christ, “Don’t you know I have the power to kill you or to release you?” For Christ, the Roman Imperium is but a passing moment within the salvific providence of God. “You would have no power over me were it not given to you from above.”
This same clash of narratives occurs day-by-day in our own lives, though we rarely notice. We hear the dominant cultural narrative announce its importance and power. Our response is anxiety and concern flows from the fact that we believe its claims to be true. Imagine Pontius Pilate’s shock at being told that he would have “no power” over Jesus had it not been given to him by God (“from above”). It is Christ’s complete dismissal of the Roman narrative. The martyrs of the early Church lived in the same dismissal. Their faith was the full acceptance of the narrative we have received from God in Christ. Christ’s death and resurrection is the final word of God on the outcome of human history. In Christ, history comes to an end, and we won. That quiet assurance eventually led to the complete failure of Rome’s claims.
The danger resurfaces, however, as converted empires, and their secularized children, begin to assert new narratives that seek to replace the gospel of the Kingdom of God with the bastardized gospel of progress and human perfection.
There is always a danger within the political life of modernity that our participation will mark our capitulation to its narrative. As such, our vote (or other such actions) always borders dangerously on the pinch of incense offered to the emperor as worship, a thing rejected as idolatry by the early martyrs. I say, “borders,” because it need not be a capitulation. But, in order to refrain from that capitulation and blasphemous offering, there is a need to deconstruct our own vote.
So, what is the narrative that explains our vote? Do we imagine that history depends on such a thing, that the world is being constructed through politics? Again, in His dialog with Pilate, Christ said:
“If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” (John 18:36)
The ballot is certainly a “peaceful” way of joining battle (thank God!), but it, nevertheless, generally assumes the Hobbesian contract in which the world is a pitched battle for control. The nature of the American social contract is an agreement to allow the ballot box to replace the battlefield. Nevertheless, it presumes the supremacy of the ballot. That is its presumed narrative.
For the Christian, the narrative of the gospel of Christ is, always, the controlling structure of our life. That work of Christ, completed in His death and resurrection, are the sole source of peace and true meaning. We may vote, but the outcome rests in Christ, just as surely as the outcome of Pilate’s judgment was not truly in his own hands. None of this denies the actual historical reality of our actions. Rather, it affirms the historical reality of Christ’s actions and their lordship over every human reality. There may be an election whose outcome could be classified as “death.” It remains a fact that Christ “tramples down death by death.”
For too many, the Cross of Christ has disappeared into the historical past and become a “fact” about which we proclaim a doctrine, a religious belief. As for the present, we take up our swords (even the peaceful ones) and imagine ourselves as having been delivered into the wars of this world for good or ill. (Do your best!) However, the historical character of the Cross does not exhaust its content. The Cross is an event of the God/Man. It is the marriage of heaven and earth, both within time and utterly transcendent of time. It is an eternal moment while being truly historical. Its “cause-and-effect” is equally eternal and triumphant over every human cause. Every human cause is thus “judged” by the Cross. An election, like every act of the human will, stands before the Cross and has its meaning within the light of the Cross. It is only in that Light that we see light.
Christ’s words, “Be of good cheer. I have overcome the world,” remain true and triumphant. Today, this is the story by which we live. All of creation holds meaning only in its light. God forbid that we imagine this to be a religious conversation and not a conversation about the whole of life.
We all stand before Pilate. However, it is God’s story that rules the world.
About Fr. Stephen Freeman
Fr. Stephen is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.