Sacrament of Scripture


“Ignorance of the Scriptures is a great cliff and a deep abyss. Not knowing the Scriptures is the cause of all evils.”


A renowned, evangelical pastor preached these words on a Sunday morning. Afterwards, he and a number of parishioners talked back and forth about the topic. Most insisted that they were too busy. One said he had a wife to take care of. Another said she had children to feed. A city official insisted he was too overwhelmed with responsibilities. The pastor rebuked them.


“What are you saying?! It is your duty more than others, more than monks.” Looking at the dads, moms, grocers, bankers, and all the laity before him, he admonished, “You need treatment all the more, because you are constantly under such blows. Ignorance of the Scriptures is a great cliff and a deep abyss. Not knowing the Scriptures is the cause of all evils.”


You may recognize the name of this radical pastor. Today, we call him St. John Chrysostom.


The bible must be at the center of our lives. It is well known how seriously the Protestants take the bible. Bible studies, scripture memorization, daily readings and devotionals are non-negotiable to them, as the Eucharist and Confession are to Orthodox Christians. What do we make of this? I have heard too many statements in Orthodox communities, in which we try to justify our ignorance of Scripture: “We don’t do bible studies. We do the liturgy;” or, “They read the Bible. We read the Church Fathers.” What is heart rending about this attitude is that if we did, indeed, read the Church Fathers, we would see in their lives and their teaching a very different attitude.


Today, once again, we hear from the lips of St. John the Baptist. The Sunday Scriptures repeat themselves throughout Advent. It is not enough that St. John’s words cry out from the desert once. They have to cry out again and again, like an echo echoing across the desert.


“Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth; And all flesh shall see the salvation of God” (Lk. 3:4-6).


This is the very depiction of our Christian life. All the rough places in our heart must be made smooth. Every mountain must be cleared. Every valley filled.


How can this happen? We are infinitely complicated. Our wounds are so deep. Most of us struggle to our last breathe with daddy complexes, wounds from childhood, and all the garbage that we pick up along the bumpy road of life. Where can we find healing? The Life of the Church heals. The sacraments, the prayer, the fasts and feasts are medicines for the soul. Yet, without the Holy Scriptures, we remain crippled and unchanged.


The valleys and hills in our mind must be cleared. St. Paul writes: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Rm. 12:2). It is true that, for most of history, the Christian laity was illiterate. For centuries, Christians have been unable to read the scriptures. To combat that, they immersed themselves in long church services where, 99% of the time, every word prayed is Holy Scripture, and in church buildings with walls covered in scriptural paintings. Even in a world of illiteracy, the Church flooded its faithful with Holy Scripture. Nevertheless, we are not illiterate. An unschooled peasant could achieve holiness without reading the bible. It is a huge leap to say we can.


We are bombarded with words and messages all day long. The peasant woke up in silence. He did not have a radio blaring or a television set in the dinning room. He ate in silence and labored in silence. If he got news, it was at the end of the day in a quiet conversation with peers. His main source of information was at church. We, on the other hand, are pumped full with messages and stimuli from every direction. News reports, soap operas, billboards, facebook ads… the media pummel messages through our skulls a million miles per hour.


Consider the words: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” How are we conformed to the world? We are shaped and beaten all day long by all the media around us. We are molded and conformed by each and every subliminal message poured through our eyes and ears. After 24 hours of this, do we really think a minute or two in the bible can combat all the noise of the day. We are without excuse. We must fight back.


Today, the Christian has a greater need to study scriptures than ever in history, if for no reason but to undo the devastating impact of the worldly noise everywhere. If not immersed in Holy Scripture, we will be washed away in all the world’s filth.


What did the Church Fathers say about studying scripture?


If I am not convincing, we need to hear from the pillars of our Church.


St. John Chrysostom maintained: “Just as those who are deprived of light cannot walk straight, so also those who do not behold the ray of the Holy Scriptures must necessarily sin, since they walk in the deepest darkness.”


St. John of Damascus urged: “To search the scriptures is a work most fair and most profitable for souls. For just as the tree planted by the channels of waters, so also the soul watered by the divine Scripture is enriched and gives fruit in its season…Wherefore let us knock at that very fair garden of the Scriptures…let us not knock carelessly but rather zealously and constantly. For thus it will be opened to us. If we read once or twice and do not understand what we read, let us not grow weary, but let us persist, let us talk much, let us inquire…let us luxuriate, let us revel insatiate.”


St. Ignatius Brianchaninov required: “Devote all possible care and attention to the reading of the Holy Gospel. [A Christian] should study the Gospel so closely that it is always present in his memory…Keep on studying the gospel until the end of your life. Never stop. Do not think that you know it enough, even if you know it all by heart.”


St. Augustine talked about the “Sacramentum Scripturae” — the Sacrament of the Scriptures. Our time meditating on scriptures is sacramental. In Scripture, we breath in the breathe of the Holy Spirit. Do you wish to encounter God, read the bible and you will commune with Him directly.


St. Tikhon of Zadonsk explains: “Whenever you read the Gospel, Christ Himself is speaking to you. And while you read, you are praying and talking with Him.”


Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand. The Church calls this out to us in this Advent Season: God is coming. Prepare yourself. In a world with everything trying to take us down, we must retreat to the Holy Scriptures. We have to carve out time through every day to rest in the Word. We need to be deliberate, fanatical, violent with ourselves, whatever it takes, in order to wash our hearts of all the worldliness and soak in the grace of God in His Holy Scriptures.


“Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth; And all flesh shall see the salvation of God” (Lk. 3:4-6).


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