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Under the Church's Guidance


In the church, everything is in its proper place. In the Church everything has its own tone and correct illumination. This applies as well to the Old Testament Scriptures. We know by heart the Ten Commandments that were given on Sinai, but we understand them far more profoundly than the Jews did, because for us they are illuminated and deepened by the Saviour's Sermon on the Mount. Much moral and ritual legislation passes before us throughout the Mosaic Law, but the words, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul and with all thy mind and Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself, which are to be found amid the mass of Moses' other instructions, have only through the Gospel begun to shine for us with their full brilliance.

Neither the tabernacle, nor Solomon's temple exist any more; yet we study their construction because many symbols of the New Testament are contained in their ordinances. In church we hear readings from the prophets; but they are not offered to us so that we may know the fate of the peoples who surrounded Palestine, but because in these readings prophecies are made of Christ and the events of the Gospel.

But then it happened (in the 16th century, in Western Europe) that an enormous group of "Christians" who refused to be guided by ecclesiastical tradition (in over-reaction, of course, against the Roman distortion of the true Tradition), threw aside all the wealth of the Tradition of the ancient Church, deciding to keep, as the source and guide of faith, only the Holy Scriptures: the Bible in its two parts: the Old and the New Testaments. This is how Protestantism acted. Let us give it its due: it had become inflamed with thirst for the living word of God, it had come to love the Bible. But it did not learn that the Sacred Scriptures were collected by the Church and belong to the Church in her historical, apostolic succession. It did not take into account that the Church's Faith is illuminated by the Bible, just as, in its turn, the Bible is illuminated by the Church's Faith; one requires the other, each rests on the other. Left with the Holy Scriptures only, these "Christians" frenziedly began studying it, in the hope that, following its path closely, they would see this path so clearly that no longer would there be any cause for disagreements about faith. The Bible, three quarters of which, in terms of its overall volume, consists of the Old Testament, became a constant reference book. They investigated it in its minutest details, compared it with ancient Hebrew texts, counted how many times certain words are used in the Holy Scriptures. However, in doing this they began to lose a sense of proportion; they thought of the Old and New Testaments as two equivalent sources of the same Faith, as mutually supplementing each other, as two completely equal aspects of it. And with certain groups of Protestants, the predominance in quantity of the Old Testament and the fact that it occupies first place in order in the Bible gave rise to the view that the Old Testament also occupies first place in significance. Thus the Judaizing sects made their appearance. They began to place the monotheism (which they considered to be belief in simply one God) of the Old Testament higher than the New Testament monotheism with its divinely revealed truth of the one God in the Holy Trinity; the commandments given on Sinai became more important than the Gospel teaching; the Sabbath more important than Sunday, the day of the Resurrection.

Others, who may not have taken this Judaizing path, are yet unable to distinguish between the spirit of the Old Testament and that of the New, the spirit of slavery and the spirit of sonship, the spirit of the law and the spirit of freedom. Under the influence of certain passages of the Old Testament, they have rejected that fullness of worship which is expressed in the Christian Church in various forms of worship involving both the spirit and the body, they have rejected external methods of expressing it and, in particular, have disdained the symbol of Christianity the Cross and other sacred images, thereby bringing themselves under the Apostle's condemnation: Thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou commit sacrilege? (Rom. 2:22).

A third group of people (more humanistically oriented) confused either by the simplicity with which the ancient accounts are told, or by the severe character of antiquity (especially as it manifested itself in war), or by Hebrew ethnicism or by other features of the pre-Christian era, began to take a negative attitude towards these accounts, and then to the Bible itself in its entirety.

Even as it is impossible to eat bread alone without water, even though bread is essential for the organism, so it is impossible to be nourished spiritually by the Scriptures alone, without the refreshment of Grace provided by life in the Church. Protestant theological faculties, which purport to guard Christianity and its sources, and work on the study of the Bible, are, as it were, left with a bitter taste in their mouths. They were carried away with the critical analysis of scriptural texts, initially of the Old Testament, and later, of the New. As they gradually ceased to feel its spiritual power, they began to approach the sacred books like the ordinary documents of antiquity, using the methods and techniques of nineteenth century positivism. Some of these theologians sought to outdo each other in contriving theories for the origin of various books, contrary to the sacred tradition of antiquity. In order to explain instances of the foreknowledge of future events in the sacred books, they began to say that these books were, in fact, written at a later date, at the time of the actual events. The theories have changed, but the method itself has, for them, dealt a blow to the authority of Holy Scripture and the Christian Faith. It is true that simple Protestant believers ignored this so-called "Biblical criticism," and to a degree continue to do so. But in so far as the pastors have attended modernist theological schools, they themselves not infrequently have been transmitters of this critical thought in their communities. The period of Biblical criticism is now on the wane, but this upheaval has led a large number of sects to the loss of dogmatic faith; they have begun to recognize only the moral teaching of the Gospel, forgetting that it is inseparable from its dogmatic doctrine.

It often happens that even good undertakings have their dark side.

Thus, the translation of the Bible into all contemporary languages was a great event in the field of Christian culture. We must admit that to a great degree this task has been fulfilled by Protestantism. However, it must also be admitted that it is more difficult to feel the breath of deep and sacred antiquity of the Old Testament Scriptures in our contemporary languages. When reading the Scriptures in these languages, not everyone will take into account the immense distance which separates the two epochs, the apostolic and our own, and hence, there arises an inability to understand and value the simplicity of the Biblical accounts. Not without reason some Jews carefully preserve the ancient Hebrew language of the Scriptures, and even avoid using a printed Bible for prayers and readings in the synagogues, but use manuscript copies of the Old Testament written on parchment.

Propagating the Bible over the face of the earth in editions of many millions was also certainly a great deed. But even here, has not the mass distribution made people take a less reverent attitude towards the Book of books?

What we have just said relates to activities within "Christendom." But to this were joined other circumstances from without. The Bible found itself face to face with scientific research: with geology, paleontology, archaeology. From beneath the earth appeared the world of the past, hitherto almost unknown. Contemporary science gave antiquity a span which extended back over an enormous number of millennia. The enemies of religion did not hesitate to use scientific data as evidence against the Bible, which they placed on the judgement seat, saying to it in the words of Pilate: Behold how many things they witness against Thee (Mark 15:4).

Under these new conditions, we must confirm ourselves in a sure consciousness of the sanctity of the Bible, of its truth, of its value, of its exceptional nature and its grandeur, as the Book of books, the authentic record of mankind. Our task is to protect ourselves from confusion and doubts. It is chiefly the Holy Scriptures of the Old Testament which are contested by contemporary scientific theories. Therefore, let us approach the Old Testament more closely. Let us look into their very essence. As far as science is concerned, we may be quite sure that objective, unprejudiced, authentic science will always testify in its conclusions to the truth of the Bible. Saint John of Kronstadt advises:

"When you doubt in the truth of any person or any event described in Holy Scripture, then remember that all Scripture is given by inspiration of God (2 Tim. 3:16), as the Apostle says, and is therefore true, and does not contain any imaginary persons, fables, and tales, although it includes parables which everyone can see are not actual narratives, but are written in figurative language. The whole of the Word of God is one, entire, indivisible truth; and if you assert that any narrative, sentence or word is untrue, then you sin against the truth of the whole of Holy Scripture and its primordial Truth, which is God Himself." (My Life in Christ, Saint John of Kronstadt, p. 70).

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