In the words of an early ascetic writer in the Christian
East, Saint Mark the Monk: "He who is humble in his thoughts and engaged
in spiritual work, when he reads the Holy Scriptures, will apply everything to
himself and not to his neighbor." As Orthodox Christians we are to look
everywhere in Scripture for a personal application. We are to ask not
just "What does it mean?" but "What does it mean to me?"
Scripture is a personal dialogue between the Savior and myself - Christ
speaking to me, and me answering. That is the fourth criterion in our Bible
I am to see all the stories in Scripture as part
of my own personal story. Who is Adam? The name Adam means "man,"
"human," and so the Genesis account of Adam's fall is also a story
about me. I am Adam. It is to me that God speaks when He says to Adam,
"Where art thou?" (Genesis 3:9). "Where is God?" we often
ask. But the real question is what God asks the Adam in each of us: "Where
When, in the story of Cain and Abel, we read God's
words to Cain, "Where is Abel thy brother?" (Genesis 4:9), these
words, too, are addressed to each of us. Who is Cain? It is myself. And God
asks the Cain in each of us, "Where is thy brother?" The way to God
lies through love of other people, and there is no other way. Disowning my
brother, I replace the image of God with the mark of Cain, and deny my own
In reading Scripture, we may take three steps.
First, what we have in Scripture is sacred history: the history of the world
from the Creation, the history of the chosen people, the history of God
Incarnate in Palestine, and the "mighty works" after Pentecost. The
Christianity that we find in the Bible is not an ideology, not a philosophical
theory, but a historical faith.
Then we are to take a second step. The history
presented in the Bible is a personal history. We see God intervening at
specific times and in specific places, as He enters into dialogue with
individual persons. He addresses each one by name. We see set before us the
specific calls issued by God to Abraham, Moses and David, to Rebekah and Ruth,
to Isaiah and the prophets, and then to Mary and the Apostles. We see the
selectivity of the divine action in history, not as a scandal but as a
blessing. God's love is universal in scope, but He chooses to become Incarnate
in a particular comer of the earth, at a particular time and from a particular
Mother. We are in this manner to savor all the uniqueness of God's action as
recorded in Scripture. The person who loves the Bible loves details of dating
and geography. Orthodoxy has an intense devotion to the Holy Land, to the exact
places where Christ lived and taught, died and rose again. An excellent way to
enter more deeply into our Scripture reading is to undertake a pilgrimage to
Jerusalem and Galilee. Walk where Christ walked. Go down to the Dead Sea, sit
alone on the rocks, feel how Christ felt during the forty days of His
temptation in the wilderness. Drink from the well where He spoke with the
Samaritan woman. Go at night to the Garden of Gethsemane, sit in the dark under
the ancient olives and look across the valley to the lights of the city.
Experience to the full the reality of the historical setting, and take that
experience back with you to your daily Scripture reading.
Then we are to take a third step. Reliving
Biblical history in all its particularity, we are to apply it directly to
ourselves. We are to say to ourselves, "All these places and events are
not just far away and long ago, but are also part of my own personal encounter
with Christ. The stories include me."
Betrayal, for example, is part of the personal
story of everyone. Have we not all betrayed others at some time in our life,
and have we not all known what it is to be betrayed, and does not the memory of
these moments leave continuing scars on our psyche? Reading, then, the account
of Saint Peter's betrayal of Christ and of his restoration after the
Resurrection, we can see ourselves as actors in the story. Imagining what both
Peter and Jesus must have experienced at the moment immediately after the
betrayal, we enter into their feelings and make them our own. I am Peter; in
this situation can I also be Christ? Reflecting likewise on the process of
reconciliation - seeing how the Risen Christ with a love utterly devoid of
sentimentality restored the fallen Peter to fellowship, seeing how Peter on his
side had the courage to accept this restoration - we ask ourselves: How
Christ-like am I to those who have betrayed me? And, after my own acts of
betrayal, am I able to accept the forgiveness of others - am I able to forgive
myself? Or am I timid, mean, holding myself back, never ready to give myself
fully to anything, either good or bad? As the Desert Fathers say, "Better
someone who has sinned, if he knows he has sinned and repents, than a person
who has not sinned and thinks of himself as righteous."
Have I gained the boldness of Saint Mary
Magdalene, her constancy and loyalty, when she went out to anoint the body of
Christ in the tomb (John 20:l)? Do I hear the Risen Savior call me by name, as
He called her, and do I respond Rabboni (Teacher) with her simplicity
and completeness (John 20:16)?
Reading Scripture in this way - in obedience, as a
member of the Church, finding Christ everywhere, seeing everything as a part of
my own personal story - we shall sense something of the variety and depth to be
found in the Bible. Yet always we shall feel that in our Biblical exploration
we are only at the very beginning. We are like someone launching out in a tiny
boat across a limitless ocean.
"Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a
light unto my path" (Psalm 118