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Back to Basics: How do I build a connection with Holy Scripture? by Fr. Anthony Mourad

December 11, 2019

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, One God, Amen.

We’ve all been told a thousand times in Church and Sunday School: Say your Prayers, Read your Bible… but have you ever grappled with trying to read scripture consistently? Or do you struggle to understand what you read? Then this video is for you. Let’s take a look at this together.

My beloved, it seems obvious to all of us that one of the most essential aspects of the life of the Christian believer, is the belief that Holy Scripture is the inspired word of God handed down to us by the Church in holy written tradition. And no one can believe this and not exert an honest effort in attempting to daily reading scripture.

 

And so it is fitting for us today, as we continue in our series of “Back to Basics” that we discuss the importance of Holy Scripture as a crucial part of the believers life. And so today we ask the question: How do I build a connection with Holy Scripture? Now many of us have attempted several times in our lives to be consistent in our Bible reading. Some have succeeded, many have not. Some complain that while they do read, then don’t retain knowledge, or don’t understand… All of these are hurdles that the believer must both overcome and even anticipate when pursuing a true relationship with Holy Scripture. Like all habits that lead to our salvation, we must expect that we will be warred against with the purpose of having us give up. Nevertheless, it is crucial for us as believers to always remember the importance of daily scriptural reading, and also to understand why the Church prescribes this as an essential part of our relationship with the Lord God.  

 

 

My father of confession when I was younger used to always tell me, “If you have not read your bible, then don’t eat! Do not feed the body, unless you’ve first fed the soul!” Now some may hear this and think it extreme, but in truth, there is a valuable lesson to be learned here. Scripture is one of the most vital ‘foods’ that the soul will nourish itself on. It is the word of God that sustains the mind and will of the human being.  

 

After Moses died, the people of Israel had lost their great leader and heroic prophet. Joshua, Moses’ disciple suddenly found himself with the daunting task of filling some very big shoes. It is here that the Lord speaks to Joshua and gives him an extremely important commandment by which he must establish his ministry. Let’s read together what the Lord commands Joshua:  

 

“[…] Be strong and very courageous, that you may observe to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may prosper wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.” Joshua 1:7-8.    

 

This commandment to Joshua is clearly applicable to us today. We are called, just as he was, to do three things: 1) have the words of scripture be on our mouth – meaning we should use scripture as the foundation of our lives and speech. Just as Christ himself did when tempted by Satan in the wilderness; His every response was scriptural. We should therefore be acquainted and even memorize scripture that we may be guarded by its valuable teachings.  

 

2) Mediate in it day and night; the word of God should be the very thing that occupies our mind and hearts, being inspired by those it speaks of as heroes, learning from the lessons found within it, and finding life in it’s very words and teachings – specifically the life and teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself as handed down to us in the Gospels 

 

And finally, 3) That we observe to do all that is found within it. Seeing it as the standard of our lives and actions – the very inspiration of how we ought to live. 

 

Needless to say, that we can only hope to achieve this level of dedication, is that a genuine and committed effort must be made to both read and understand scripture on a daily basis. For us to be able to do this, let me suggest a few key principles that would set us up to succeed:  

 

  1. Have a spiritual guide! No one jumps into an ocean when trying to teach one-self how to swim… that would be both futile and dangerous. So also the same applies with diving into scripture. Even scripture itself tells us that we need someone to unlock for us the mysteries found within. When St Philip the apostle saw the Ethiopian Eunuch reading scripture alone, he asked him, Do you understand what you are reading? The Eunuch replied ““How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he asked Philip to come up and sit with him. (Acts 8:31)” We too need guidance and support if we are to attempt to understand scripture.  
  1. Devote the right time to reading! Most people will attempt reading right before going to bed. I ask you honestly, is this really the time when you are most awake and focused to receive the word of God? For many, heading to their bedroom at the end of a long day is usually the time where you are most tired, your mind is exhausted and all you want to do is sleep. If this is the case, then assign a different time to your reading. Try reading at a time when you are refreshed – before eating or studying. Or even in the morning before starting your day. But be consistent and devote that time every day.  
  1. Your reading ought to be about quality and not quantity. While reading plans that help you finish the bible in a year can be useful for some, please ensure that you are setting yourself up to not read scripture as if it were a textbook! This must be read carefully with the intention of having an impact on your life. And so if this means we take the time to read, to write notes, to meditate and ask questions to our Spiritual Guides, then so be it! A single chapter a day of focused and intentional reading is often much better than the sprinting through of a dozen chapters where we retain nothing.  
  1. Finally, don’t just read, but study scripture! We are blessed to have access to many Scriptural Commentaries in the Orthodox Church that can help us properly interpret and understand what we are reading. To unlock these hidden gems, we ought to search out what the mind of the Church has to say about the passages that we read. I would personally recommend that you consider using Fr Tadros Malaty’s commentaries. This most blessed Father has written commentaries on almost every book in the Bible and has packed them with historical and contextual facts, spiritual meditations, as well as Early Church Patristic commentary. We encourage you please, look him up online and you will surely find the body of his work that can be of great benefit to you as it has been for me.  

 

 

Now we’ve discussed the ‘how’ to approach the establishment of a committed relationship – however its just as important to speak of the demeanor and the mindset we need to have when approaching scripture. To do this, let’s look towards some great and holy people whose relationship to scripture is exemplary.  

 

Lets begin with a great father of the Church, St Irenaeus of Lyon. He says:  

 

…By the will of God, [the evangelists] handed the gospel down to us in the Scriptures  to be the ground and pillar of our faith.” (St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies 

 

Scripture is indeed the solid ground and pillar on which we establish our faith! While we do not limit all our understanding of theological matters to Biblical text only, surely we benchmark all our beliefs to that which is revealed to us in the mystery of divinely inspired scripture.   

 

Another great saint is Augustine of Hippo. He teaches something of great importance saying 

 

“…To believe what you please, and not to believe what you please, is to believe yourselves, and not the gospel…” (Contra Faustum, Book XVII 

 

We begin with the premise that we cannot pick and choose, or even reject what we like or don’t like in Scripture. As Christians we are called to both accept and understand the cumulative message of the entirety of Scripture. We ought never to take a single verse or passage – often even out of context – and make any conclusions based on that. We must bring all that we read into the complete understanding of the mind of the Holy Church, inspired by the Holy Spirit.  

 

Now, St John Chrysostom, who has many poignant sayings on Scripture, teaches us the following:  

 

“It is not possible, I say not possible, ever to exhaust the mind of the Scriptures. It is a well which has no bottom.” (St. John Chrysostom, Homily XIX on book of Acts) 

 

Rest assured dear brothers and sisters, that no matter how many times we read over the same scriptural passages and stories, that the Holy Spirit will speak something new to us that we are in need of hearing. The Bible is not a novel that we read once and say – done! Ive read it! No matter how many times we approach it, we are convicted with a new message or at the least reminded of what we may have forgotten.  

 

Finally, I will share with you what two great Syrian fathers have left for us as advice.  

 

St Isaac the Syrian says:  

 

In all things that you find in the Holy Scriptures, seek out the purpose of the words, that you may enter into the depth of the thoughts of the saints and understand them with greater exactness. Do not approach the reading of the Divine Scriptures without prayer and asking the help of God. Consider prayer to be the key to the true understanding of that which is said in the Holy Scriptures.” (St. Isaac the Syrian, Sermon 1) 

 

And St Ephraim the Syrian, compliments this by saying:  

 

“When you begin to read or listen to the Holy Scriptures, pray to God thus:  “Lord Jesus Christ, open the ears and eyes of my heart so that I may hear Thy words and understand them, and may fulfill Thy will.” Always pray to God like this, that He might illumine your mind and open to you the power of His words. Many, having trusted in their own reason, have turned away into deception.” (St. Ephraim the Syrian 

 

Let us learn from all of these great saints my beloved. Let us seek a serious and committed relationship with the word of God – and let us pray and ask that the Holy Spirit may speak to us and open our hearts and minds to receive and keep the words of Scripture that we may live by them all the days of our life

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