Friday, August 23, 2019

Stump the Priest: Sacraments and Sinful Priests

St. Augustine arguing with Donatists

Question: "I have a recent convert friend who is worried about the validity of his chrismation after the priest left the Church. What should we say to people who received sacraments from priests who either apostatize later or turn out to be grossly immoral, and so now doubt the validity of those sacraments?"

The validity of the sacraments do not depend on the personal worthiness of the priests. This is an issue that was dealt with very early on in Church history. When the dust was settling from the last great Roman persecution of the Church, there was a controversy that arose in North Africa, because there was a bishop, Felix of Aptunga, that was accused of having been a traditor, which means that he was accused of having handed over sacred texts to the Romans to be burned, in order to avoid further persecution. This bishop denied the charge, but the Donatists believed him to be guilty, and therefore declared that any sacraments performed by him were invalid. The Church condemned Donatism as a heresy.

Of course, if a clergyman really is guilty of a sin that warrants he be removed from his office, this should happen, and there are canons that lay out that process. But imagine, for a moment, if we accepted the claims of the Donatists. You could never know for sure if you had received a valid sacrament, because you could never be sure that the priest or bishop performing that sacrament was worthy enough to have performed it. You could never be sure if you were really married sacramentally. You could never know for sure that when you received Communion, that you were really receiving the Body and Blood of Christ. You could never be sure that you were even really baptized. And even if your parish priest was a saint, if the bishop who ordained him was secretly immoral, even his own sanctity would be no guarantee that he was even a real priest.

What the Church teaches is that so long as a clergyman performs sacraments while they are in good standing with the Church, the sacraments he performs are true sacraments. After all, the clergy preside over the sacraments, but they do not perform them alone. They act on behalf of the Church, and the prayers of the entire Church and the grace of the Holy Spirit that is present in the Church ensure that the sacraments are grace-filled.

The teaching of the Church on this subject is not only reassuring to the laity, it is also reassuring to the clergy. I am sure most clergy have a sense of personal unworthiness, and if the validity of the sacraments depended on their personal worthiness, they could not in good conscience attempt to perform them.

It is instructive to consider the prayer that the priest says during the singing of the Cherubic Hymn at the Liturgy:
"None is worthy among them that are bound with carnal lusts and pleasures, to approach or to draw nigh, or to minister unto Thee, O King of glory, for to serve Thee is a great and fearful thing even unto the heavenly hosts themselves.  Yet because of Thine ineffable and immeasurable love for mankind, without change or alteration Thou didst become man, and didst become our High Priest, and didst deliver unto us the ministry of this liturgical and bloodless sacrifice, for Thou art the Master of all.  Thou alone, O Lord our God, dost rule over those in heaven and those on earth, art borne upon the throne of the Cherubim, art Lord of the Seraphim and King of Israel, Thou alone art holy and restest in the saints.  I implore Thee, therefore, Who alone art good and inclined to listen: Look upon me, Thy sinful and unprofitable servant, and purge my soul and heart of a wicked conscience, and, by the power of Thy Holy Spirit, enable me, who am clothed with the grace of the priesthood, to stand before this Thy Holy Table, and to perform the sacred Mystery of Thy holy and immaculate Body and precious Blood.  For unto Thee do I draw nigh, bowing my neck, and I pray Thee: Turn not Thy countenance away from me, neither cast me out from among Thy children, but vouchsafe that these gifts be offered unto Thee by me, Thy sinful and unworthy servant: For Thou art He that offereth and is offered, that accepteth and is distributed, O Christ our God, and unto Thee do we send up glory, together with Thine unoriginate Father, and Thy Most holy and good and life-creating Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages."

Friday, August 16, 2019

Stump the Priest: Did Christ quote from the Septuagint?

Question: "I have heard that Christ quoted the Septuagint. Is there a listing of these quotes?"

It is a generally recognized fact that "the writers of the New Testament used almost exclusively the Greek Septuagint" (Timothy Michael Law, When God Spoke Greek: The Septuagint and the making of the Christian Bible (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2013), p. 850. And we find this in quotations of the Old Testament from Christ as well.

For example, when Christ entered into Jerusalem before his Passion, and the chief priests and scribes were expressing their disapproval of the children crying "Hosanna to the son of David!", Christ said:
"Yea; have ye never read, "Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise?"" (Matthew 21:16).
This is a reference to Psalm 8:2, which according to the Masoretic Hebrew text, reads:
"Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength because of thine enemies, that thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger" (Psalm 8:2 KJV).
Which is close, but significantly different when it comes to the very reason why Christ quoted from this Psalm in the first place. However, when you look at the Septuagint text, we find the text exactly as Christ quoted it:
"Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings hast Thou perfected praise, because of Thine enemies, to destroy the enemy and avenger" (Psalm 8:2, LXX).
The Greek text of Matthew 21:16 and the Greek text of Psalm 8:2 in the Septuagint are identical:
"ἐκ στόματος νηπίων καὶ θηλαζόντων κατηρτίσω αἶνον."
You can find a list of Old Testament quotations in the New Testament, which compares the Hebrew  and Septuagint readings here:
Table of Old Testament quotes in the New Testament, in English translation, by Joel Kalvesmaki
You can find a similar list, with the differences highlighted, by R. Grant Jones, by clicking here.

Update: As to the question of whether Christ actually quoted from the Greek Septuagint, or simply from the Hebrew text-type that was behind the Septuagint, there is no way to know. Perhaps there was a little of both, but in either case, His quotations match the Septuagint in substance.

For more information, see:

Stump the Priest: The Septuagint vs. the Masoretic Text

Tuesday, August 06, 2019

Recommendations on Editions of the King James Version

The first question to ask before you get a Bible is what translation you should use. For an article on that question, see An Orthodox Look at English Translations of the Bible. But if you want to get a copy of the King James Version, you have a lot of options. There are several factors to consider when you are considering which edition to buy: 1. the text itself (font size, paragraphing, etc), 2. the notes, 3. the appendices, 4. the binding, and 5. the cost. There are more options out there than would be practical to cover in one article, so I am going to focus on the options I would most recommend.

1. Cambridge New Paragraph Bible with the Apocrypha

The all around best text of the KJV, despite the font size (in my opinion), is the Cambridge New Paragraph Bible with the Apocrypha. This is the only edition of the KJV that includes the deuterocanonical books that is currently in print. It uses modern spelling, punctuation and paragraphing, it has the original KJV margin notes, but no cross references. It is also only available in black text (i.e., no red letter editions).

You can get it in a hard back version (for about $38); or you can get in a nice calfskin cover (for about $118). The shortcoming of this text is that it is printed in an 8.5 point font. You can still get the text in a 10 point font in calfskin if you contact Cambridge directly, but this is the original edition which had a few fairly minor typos that were corrected in the current edition. If you are interested in that text, click here for details. These editions have no appendices, maps, or a concordance, but it does have the full dedicatory epistle to King James, as well as the introduction of the translators to the readers (which was included in the original editions of the KJV, but which is normally omitted in most editions currently available). This edition is, I believe, especially useful when you are teaching your children to read, because the spelling, punctuation, and the layout of the text will not throw them (see How to teach your children to read and understand the King James Version of the Bible).

A review of the hardback edition of the Cambridge New Paragraph Bible

An edition that is somewhat similar, but which does not include the deuterocanonical books, or have the revised spelling or punctuation, but which is laid out in modern paragraph format, is the Cambridge Clarion KJV. It is in an 8.75 point font, and has a "Readers Companion", which has a number of useful features. Click here for a video review.

2. Cambridge Cameo KJV with Apocrypha

If you don't mind 8 point font, the Cambridge Cameo with Apocrypha has the advantage of having the full margin notes and cross references throughout the text, including the deuterocanonical books. It is available in calfskin currently for about $133.00. How long it will be available is unclear, because it is listed as being out of stock on several websites, including Cambridge. This text is the traditional Cambridge KJV text with double columns and center column references.

Review of the Cambridge Cameo KJV with Apocrypha

3. The Cambridge Turquoise

There are a number of other Cambridge editions to consider, but what I like about the Turquoise is that it has the traditional Cambridge KJV text, with the original KJV margin notes, and standard Cambridge Cross references. It has maps and a concordance in the back, and the dedicatory epistle and translators introduction to the reader at the beginning. And what I like best about this particular edition is that it is in 11 point font, which is very easy on the eyes. It does not include the deuterocanonical books, but the margin cross references frequently reference them. You can get either a black text only, or a red letter edition.

You can get this in a top of the line goatskin cover from Cambridge for around $200, or a calfskin for about $140. However, if you want the same text from another source, you can save money by getting it from Church Bible Publishers in a calfskin cover, for $75. Cambridge Bibles are printed on the best paper, and are bound very well, and so the quality from them is a little bit better, but Church Bible Publishers produce very high quality Bibles as well, and because this edition is public domain, it is essentially identical to the Cambridge edition between the covers, and is about half the price. Church Bible Publishers is a non-profit ministry, and so they sell their Bibles at close to the actual costs of production.

A review of the Cambridge Turquoise Reference Bible

This review compares the Cambridge Turquoise and the Church Bible Publishers Turquoise

Update: Church Bible Publishers has come out with a new edition of their Turquoise KJV that increased the font to 12 point. It is still $75.

4. The Westminster Reference Bible

The Westminster Reference Bible is produced by the Trinitarian Bible Society, which like Church Bible Publishers, is a non-profit ministry. This edition is a fairly recent computer setting, and so the font is very crisp and clear. You can get it in a large print 11.8 point font (which is what I would recommend), in a mid-size 9.6 point font, or a compact 7.3 point font. The large print text comes in a proportionately large size Bible, but personally I like it -- though some people do find in a bit unwieldy. If you don't mind the smaller size fonts, the other editions are closer to typical bibles in size. This edition has the original KJV margin notes, and the most extensive cross references of any edition of the KJV. It also provides definitions in the margins of any obscure words, or words that have change in meaning since the KJV was translated. It has 4 columns per page, and so the reference columns are specific to a text column, and so it is easy to see which references go with which text. It does not include the deuterocanonical books, and there is no red letter option, but it does have color maps. You can get the large print edition in a calfskin cover for about $81.00.The mid-size is very manageable, and readable, it sells in the calfskin cover for about $70.00. You can also get it in large print hardback for about $27; and the mid-size hardback for $18. The mid-size edition has a concordance, but the larger and smaller sizes do not. This Bible also has an introduction which explains how the column references work (which most bibles do not), and each chapter has a chapter summary at the beginning, as did the original King James version. Aside from the fact that it does not have the deuterocanonical books, this edition has a lot to recommend it, and because it defines obscure words in the margins, even people who are not used to the KJV text could start reading this text and do so without a great deal of difficulty.

Review of the Large Print Westminster KJV

5. The Thomas Nelson Premier KJV

If you want a goatskin Bible, but you don't want to pay $200 to get one, this is a great option. It does not have the deuterocanonical books, the original KJV margin notes, or the translator's introduction to the reader, but it is in a new comfort print typeface, and in 12 point font, which is very easy on the eyes. It has a good concordance. It also defines obscure words and phrases in the margin notes... and does so a bit more thoroughly than the Westminster does, though I often find the margin notes explain words and phrases that are not really obscure to me; however, this is also a text that even someone unfamiliar with the KJV could begin reading without difficulty, as a result. The quality of the binding is amazing, and it feels very good in the hand when you read it. You can get it from Christian Book Distributors for $85.49, which is amazingly cheap, given the quality of the text and binding. Because they use red ink for verse numbers, and book titles, there is no version of this with the words of Christ in red.

Review of the Thomas Nelson Premier KJV

6. Giant Print KJV

If you need a larger font than the editions above offer, Local Church Bible Publishers (yet another non-profit ministry), publishes an edition in an 18 point font, with a fairly bold text. It does not have the deuterocanonical books, or much else other than the text itself, but it is nicely bound in cowhide, and is a red-letter edition. It is available for $72 dollars.

Local Church Bible Publishers Giant Print KJV

7. Bi-Lingual Editions of the KJV

There are many bi-lingual editions that include the KJV. For example, if you want a KJV with a parallel Russian Synodal Bible, you can get it from Amazon for $45.95. You can get a parallel KJV Reina Valera Bible from a number of sources. And this is probably true of most major languages.

If you are interested in getting a Bible imprinted with a name, either for yourself or as a gift, Christian Book Distributors and both offer that as an option. I think this is especially a good idea for parents when giving a good quality Bible to their children when they reach young adulthood. It is something they will keep for the rest of their lives, and if you teach them well, they will use it too.

8. Deuterocanonical Texts

One solution to the problem of KJV editions that lack them is to buy a copy of "The Rest of the Old Testament," By Rdr. Peter Gardner, as a supplementary text. This text cost $14.95.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Beauty and the Bible

A Cambridge Cameo King James Bible, produced in the 70's

Beauty in a Translation Matters

For a number of years now, the best selling translation of the Bible in English has been the New International Version (NIV). Generally the King James Version (KJV) has maintained second place, however, this past month (according to the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association) it was actually in third place, with the new-comer, the Christian Standard Bible (CSB) in second place --though this is probably because it is a new version.

However, if instead of asking which translation is selling the most, we ask which translation is the most used, by people who actually read their Bibles, a very different picture emerges. In 2014, The Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture, at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, conducted a study, entitled: "The Bible in American Life," and what they found was that of those who actually read the Bible, 55% used the KJV, 19% use the NIV, 7% use the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), 6% used the New American Bible (NAB), 5% use the Living Bible (TLB), and 8% use some other translation.

I am sure that there is not just one reason that accounts for this entirely. I would imagine that some stick to the KJV because it is more deeply rooted in the culture, and their religious tradition. However, I think a good part of the reason for this is beauty. The KJV is simply a far more beautiful translation than any other. There is not even a close contender on that front.

Personally, I have been making a point of doing some of my personal Scripture reading out of the Orthodox Study Bible, because I want to be more familiar with its Old Testament translation. The Orthodox Study Bible uses contemporary English -- but it does preserve some of the cadence of the KJV, because it's Old Testament text used the New King James Version (NKJV) as its starting point, and in the New Testament, it is identical to the NKJV. However, despite the fact that it is one of the better examples of a contemporary English translation, reading that text compared to reading the King James is a bit like the difference between eating a hot dog and eating a good steak. A hot dog is better than nothing, and can even be enjoyable on some level, but when given a choice, most people will go with a steak. I make a point of reading the Orthodox Study Bible first each day, simply because I have found doing the least pleasant tasks first, and holding back on the more pleasant tasks, as a reward, is the best way to get them all done. I thoroughly enjoy reading the KJV, and look forward to it very much. And often, I will read it outside of my normal reading plan, later in the day, just because it is a joy to do so. And compared with the NIV, the Orthodox Study Bible is the Sistine Chapel.

People often buy other translations, because they are not used to reading the KJV and they have been convinced that it is too hard to read, but while reading a text like the NIV may be easier on the front end, it has all the beauty of reading a car repair manual, and about as much in it that resonates in the soul or inspires the reader. I think this explains why so many people buy that text, but so few people, comparatively, actually read it with any regularity.

I still have a copy of the NIV that I acquired not long after that translation was first published. And I did read it for a few years, but I have not even cracked it open in close to two decades. On the other hand, I have a copy of the KJV that my mother gave me a year or two earlier (identical to the one pictured above), and I still use it.

For More Information, See:

An Orthodox Look at English Translations of the Bible

King James English and Orthodox Worship

How to teach your children to read and understand the King James Version of the Bible

Friday, July 26, 2019

Stump the Priest: The Deuterocanonical Books in the New Testament

The Maccabean Martyrs, which we read about in 2 Maccabees 7
who are also referenced in Hebrews 11:35

Question: "Does the New Testament quote from the deuterocanonical books?"

There are no direct, complete quotations from the deuterocanonical books in the New Testament, but this is also true of several books in the Hebrew Old Testament canon, such as Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 2nd Kings, 1st and 2nd Chronicles, Esther, Ecclesiastes, the Song of Solomon, and several of the Minor Prophets. So obviously this is not proof that these books are not Scripture.

However, direct quotations are not the only way that the New Testament makes use of Old Testament texts. Often we find allusions to these texts, that would have generally been picked up by those familiar with them, and there are many allusions to the deuterocanonical books in the New Testament.

Here are some of the clearer examples:

1. In the sermon on the mount, Christ says:
"Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal" (Matthew 6:19-20).
The parallel passage in Luke says:
" Sell that ye have, and give alms; provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief approacheth, neither moth corrupteth" (Luke 12:33).
There is nothing parallel to this text in the Jewish canon, but there is in book of Sirach:
"Lose thy money for thy brother and thy friend, and let it not rust under a stone to be lost. Lay up thy treasure according to the commandments of the most High, and it shall bring thee more profit than gold. Shut up alms in thy storehouses: and it shall deliver thee from all affliction. It shall fight for thee against thine enemies better than a mighty shield and strong spear" (Sirach 29:10-13).
2. In both Matthew 11:25 and Luke 10:21, we find Christ using the phrase "Lord of heaven and earth" in prayer. This is a familiar phrase to us now, but it is not found anywhere in the Old Testament, except in Tobit 7:18.

3. In Matthew 27:43:, we find the chief priests, elders, and scribes mocking Christ as he hung on the Cross, and saying:
"He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him: for he said, I am the Son of God."
You find margin references in most Bibles that point you to Psalm 22:8 [21:8 in the LXX], which says:
"He trusted on the Lord that he would deliver him: let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him."
Now this passage is close, and certainly this is a prophecy of this mockery, but the assumption of these mockers is that God coming to Christ's aid would vindicate that he is in fact the Son of God, which is not specified in that psalm. However, it is specified in the Wisdom of Solomon:
"For if the just man be the son of God, he will help him, and deliver him from the hand of his enemies" (Wisdom 2:18).
4. In the John 10:22, we find a reference to the "feast of the dedication" (better known to us as Hanukkah, which was established during the Maccabean period, and we find the establishment of that feast recorded in 1 Maccabees 4:59:
"Moreover Judas and his brethren with the whole congregation of Israel ordained, that the days of the dedication of the altar should be kept in their season from year to year by the space of eight days, from the five and twentieth day of the month Casleu, with mirth and gladness."
5. In Romans 1:20-32, if you have a Cambridge KJV with margin notes, you will see that they reference all of Wisdom chapters 13 through 15 as parallel to this passage, but this is most obvious in the first part of each of these respective sections:
"For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened" (Romans 1:20-21).
"Surely vain are all men by nature, who are ignorant of God, and could not out of the good things that are seen know him that is: neither by considering the works did they acknowledge the workmaster" (Wisdom 13:1).
And further on in that section, St. Paul makes the connection between falling into idolatry and sexual immorality, which clearly parallels Wisdom 14:12,24-27:
"For the devising of idols was the beginning of spiritual fornication, and the invention of them the corruption of life. They kept neither lives nor marriages any longer undefiled: but either one slew another traitorously, or grieved him by adultery.... So that there reigned in all men without exception blood, manslaughter, theft, and dissimulation, corruption, unfaithfulness, tumults, perjury, disquieting of good men, forgetfulness of good turns, defiling of souls, changing of kind, disorder in marriages, adultery, and shameless uncleanness. For the worshipping of idols not to be named is the beginning, the cause, and the end, of all evil." 
6. In Ephesians 6:13-17, where St. Paul speaks of putting on the armor of God, there are definite parallels with a passage from the Wisdom of Solomon, which speaks figuratively of armor actually worn by God Himself, and this connection is also noted in the Cambridge KJV margin notes:
"He shall take to him his jealousy for complete armour, and make the creature his weapon for the revenge of his enemies. He shall put on righteousness as a breastplate, and true judgment instead of an helmet. He shall take holiness for an invincible shield. His severe wrath shall he sharpen for a sword, and the world shall fight with him against the unwise" (Wisdom 5:17-20).
Most directly parallel is the reference to the "breastplate of righteousness," which in the Greek text of Wisdom is "ἐνδύσεται θώρακα δικαιοσύνην"" and in Ephesians it is "ενδυσαμενοι τον θωρακα της δικαιοσυνης."

7. In Hebrews 11:35, as St. Paul recounts the heroes of the Faith of the Old Testament, we read:
"Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection."
In the original 1611 King James text, there were not nearly as many margin cross references as in later editions, but for this verse, it refers the reader to 2 Maccabees 7, in which we read about seven brothers who were tortured to death for their faith, and were encouraged to not give in by their mother, and notably, in verse 14, we read:
"So when he [the fourth brother] was ready to die he said thus, "It is good, being put to death by men, to look for hope from God to be raised up again by him: as for thee [Antiochus], thou shalt have no resurrection to life"" (2 Maccabees 7:14).
For More Information, See:

Stump the Priest: What is the "Apocrypha"?

Stump the Priest: The Septuagint vs. the Masoretic Text

Friday, July 19, 2019

Stump the Priest: What is the "Apocrypha"?

Question: "What do the terms "apocrypha" and "deuterocanonical" mean, and how does the Orthodox Church view them?"

The question of the Biblical canon is a somewhat complicated one, because it developed over a very long period of time, and there certainly have been some historical disagreements on the matter. The word "canon" comes the Greek word κανών, which means a measuring rod, or a rule. And so when we speak of the canon of Scripture, we are speaking of the lists of books that affirmed to be Scripture.

Christians have a precisely defined New Testament Canon, about which there is no dispute... at least not since the 4th century, and this is due in part because of a heretic by the name of Marcion who produced a very truncated New Testament canon, which included only the Gospel of Luke and some of the Epistles of St. Paul, which he edited to fit his heretical views. And then there were also heretical books that claimed to be written by Apostles, but which were not which the Church wanted to clearly reject. There was never any dispute about most of the books of the New Testament, but there were a few books that were not immediately accepted throughout the Church, but were eventually.

When it comes to the Old Testament canon, there is a precisely defined core canon, and fairly well defined next layer, and then less clearly defined edges. So why the precision in the case of the new, but not the Old? This is partly because there was not nearly as much controversy on the question, which is not to say that there were no disagreements, but the level of concern over these disagreements did not rise to nearly the same level. It was not until the time of the Protestant Reformation that this question did become a bigger issue, because for Protestants who generally took a low view of Tradition, whether or not a book was really part of Scripture became almost an all or nothing question. Either the book was Scripture, in which case it had all authority; or it was not scripture, in which case it had essentially no authority, though it might be a matter of some historical interest.

When we speak of the Canonical books of the Old Testament, or the "Protocanonical" books as Roman Catholics put it, we have general agreement. These books are the same as the books recognized by the Jews as Scripture. The only difference you find is that in some canonical lists the books of Baruch is sometimes listed as part of these books, and Esther is not.

But what are the names used for the "extra" books that are not part of the undisputed Old Testament Canon? Many early Fathers simply made no distinction, and referred to them as Scripture. Then you have some sources that refer to these books as "non-canonical"... but we will need to consider further what they really mean by that. St. Athanasius the Great referred to these books as "readable" books -- books not included in the Jewish canon, but which could be read in Church in the services. Then you have the term "Deuterocanonical," which is, I think, a useful term, but it is a Roman Catholic term that came into use to counter the Protestant rejection of these books. The implication of this name is that these books comprise a second Old Testament Canon, or you could say a list of canonical books which were known not to have been accepted by the Jews, but which were accepted by Christians. Then you have Protestants who labeled these books as "Apocrypha." To these terms we could add the term "Pseudepigrapha", which is a label applied to many texts that are almost universally rejected, but which claim the names of Old Testament saints as their authors.

There is a very interesting comment by Origen in his letter to Africanus (ANF v. IV, pp 386ff.), in which he responds to Africanus, who had asked him why he quoted from the portion of the book of Daniel which contains the story of Susanna, which is not found in the Hebrew text. Origen responds that he was not unaware of this fact (after all, he produced a six column text of the Old Testament,  the Hexapla, which was the first critical edition of the Old Testament, and which compared the Hebrew text with various Greek editions). Origen defended the authenticity of this portion of Daniel. His response is detailed, but let me highlight a few points:
"And, forsooth, when we notice such things, we are forthwith to reject as spurious the copies in use in our Churches, and enjoin the brotherhood to put away the sacred books current among them, and to coax the Jews, and persuade them to give us copies which shall be untampered with, and free from forgery!  Are we to suppose that that Providence which in the sacred Scriptures has ministered to the edification of all the Churches of Christ, had no thought for those bought with a price, for whom Christ died; whom, although His Son, God who is love spared not, but gave Him up for us all, that with Him He might freely give us all things?
In all these cases consider whether it would not be well to remember the words, “Thou shalt not remove the ancient landmarks which thy fathers have set.” Nor do I say this because I shun the labour of investigating the Jewish Scriptures, and comparing them with ours, and noticing their various readings.  This, if it be not arrogant to say it, I have already to a great extent done to the best of my ability, labouring hard to get at the meaning in all the editions and various readings; while I paid particular attention to the interpretation of the Seventy, lest I might to be found to accredit any forgery to the Churches which are under heaven, and give an occasion to those who seek such a starting-point for gratifying their desire to slander the common brethren, and to bring some accusation against those who shine forth in our community. And I make it my endeavour not to be ignorant of their various readings, lest in my controversies with the Jews I should quote to them what is not found in their copies, and that I may make some use of what is found there, even although it should not be in our Scriptures. For if we are so prepared for them in our discussions, they will not, as is their manner, scornfully laugh at Gentile believers for their ignorance of the true reading as they have them.  So far as to the History of Susanna not being found in the Hebrew."
Two important points are made here: Christians should use the texts preserved by the Church, and not feel like we have to go cap in hand to the Jews to find out what the Bible is. However, it is important for us to know what texts they accept and do not, so that when speaking to them, we not appear to be ignorant, and thus harm our witness to them.

Skipping further on in the text we find Origen saying that the reason for many of the omissions in the Hebrew texts are because the Scribes and Pharisees omitted things that made them look bad:
"But probably to this you will say, Why then is the “History” not in their Daniel, if, as you say, their wise men hand down by tradition such stories?  The answer is, that they hid from the knowledge of the people as many of the passages which contained any scandal against the elders, rulers, and judges, as they could, some of which have been preserved in uncanonical writings (Apocrypha).  As an example, take the story told about Isaiah; and guaranteed by the Epistle to the Hebrews, which is found in none of their public books."
Here Origen gives an interesting meaning to the term "Apocrypha" (hidden books). His argument is that the story of Susanna was omitted in the Hebrew text because it made the Jewish elders look bad. If you look at the Wisdom of Solomon, you could see how they might also have had incentive to have hidden this book too.
"Therefore let us lie in wait for the righteous; because he is not for our turn, and he is clean contrary to our doings: he upbraideth us with our offending the law, and objecteth to our infamy the transgressings of our education. He professeth to have the knowledge of God: and he calleth himself the child of the Lord. He was made to reprove our thoughts. He is grievous unto us even to behold: for his life is not like other men's, his ways are of another fashion. We are esteemed of him as counterfeits: he abstaineth from our ways as from filthiness: he pronounceth the end of the just to be blessed, and maketh his boast that God is his father. Let us see if his words be true: and let us prove what shall happen in the end of him. For if the just man be the son of God, he will help him, and deliver him from the hand of his enemies. Let us examine him with despitefulness and torture, that we may know his meekness, and prove his patience. Let us condemn him with a shameful death: for by his own saying he shall be respected" (Wisdom 2:12-20).
This is a very clear prophecy of the attitude which the Jewish leaders would take toward Christ. This text was used very effectively by Christians in the Early Church, and the Jews had good reason to want to dismiss it.

I think Origen puts his finger on the reason why many Fathers made a distinction between the "canonical" books of the Old Testament which the Jews accepted, and the books which they did not accept. Even to this day, you still find these books referred to as "non-canonical" by contemporary Orthodox writers, who mean by that only that they are not in the Jewish canon.

For example, Fr. Seraphim Slobodskoy, in The Law of God, wrote:
"Besides the canonical books, a part of the Old Testament is composed of non-canonical books, sometimes called Apocrypha among non-Orthodox. These are books which the Jews lost and which are not in the contemporary Hebrew text of the Old Testament.  They are found in the Greek translations of the Old Testament, made by the 70 translators of the Septuagint three centuries before the birth of Christ (271 B.C.). These book have been included in the Bible from ancient times and are considered by the Church to be sacred Scripture. The translation of the Septuagint is accorded special respect in the Orthodox Church. The Slavonic translation of the Bible was made from it. 
To the non-canonical books of the Old Testament belong:
1. Tobit
2. Judith
3. The Wisdom of Solomon
4. Ecclesiasticus,  or the Wisdom of Sirach
5. Baruch
6. Three books of Maccabees
7. The Second and Third book of Esdras
8. The additions to the (Book of Esther,) II Chronicles (The Prayer of Manasseh) and Daniel (The Song of the Youths, Susanna and Bel and the Dragon)” (Archpriest Seraphim Slobodskoy, The Law Of God: For Study at Home and School (Jordanville, NY: Holy Trinity Monastery, 1996), p. 423).      
While generally, not much is made of a distinction between the "canonical" and "deuterocanonical" books in the Orthodox, some writers continue to argue that there is a distinction, such as Fr. Michael Pomazansky:
"The Church recognizes 38 books of the Old Testament. After the example of the Old Testament Church, several of these books are joined to form a single book, bringing the number to twenty-two books, according to the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet. These books, which were entered at some time into the Hebrew canon, are called "canonical." To them are joined a group of "non-canonical" books-that is, those which were not included in the Hebrew canon because they were written after the closing of the canon of the sacred Old Testament books. The Church accepts these latter books also as useful and instructive and in antiquity assigned them for instructive reading not only in homes but also in churches, which is why they have been called "ecclesiastical." The Church includes these books in a single volume of the Bible together with the canonical books. As a source of the teaching of the faith, the Church puts them in a secondary place and looks on them as an appendix to the canonical books. Certain of them are so close in merit to the Divinely-inspired books that, for example, in the 85th Apostolic Canon the three books of Maccabees and the book of Joshua the son of Sirach are numbered together with the canonical books, and, concerning all of them together it is said that they are "venerable and holy." However, this means only that they were respected in the ancient Church; but a distinction between the canonical and non-canonical books of the Old Testament has always been maintained in the Church (Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, trans. Fr. Serpahim (Rose), (Platina, CA: St. Herman Press, 1984), p. 26f).
Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev), on the other hand, says:
     "In contemporary editions of the Bible the books of the Old Testament are subdivided into those books that are canonical and those not canonical. Those books that fall under the canonical category are understood to be those of the Hebrew canon. This canon (i.e. the list of books recognized as holy in the Jewish tradition) was formed over centuries and was finally solidified in the year 90 CE by the Sanhedrin in the Galilean city of Jamnia. The canonical texts differ from the non-canonical in their antiquity; the former were written in the period between the fifteenth and fifth centuries BCE, while the latter were written between the fourth and first centuries BCE. As for the number of non-canonical books concerned there are the books of Tobit, Judith, the Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach, 2 and 3 Esdras, the letter of Jeremiah, Baruch and 3 Maccabees, and also the Prayer of Manasseh at the end of 2 Chronicles, as well as various parts of the book of Esther, Psalm 151, and three fragments from the book of the Prophet Daniel (3.24-90, 13, 14).
     The Protestant Bible does not include the non-canonical books of the Old Testament, and in this way it differs from the Orthodox just as from the Catholic Bible. The Catholic Bible includes the non-canonical books under the category of "deuterocanonical" (this term was coined by the Council of Trent in 1546). For the Orthodox Christian, the difference between the canonical and non-canonical books of the Old Testament is of a conventional character inasmuch as the question is not about an Orthodox or Christian canon, but is about the Jewish canon, completed independently from Christianity. In the Orthodox Church, the basic criterion for the specific canonicity of this or that book in the Old Testament is its use in the divine services. In this regard one cannot consider the Wisdom of Solomon and those fragments of the book of Daniel which are absent from the Hebrew canon, but which hold an important place in Orthodox services, to be non-canonical. Sometimes the non-canonical books, from the viewpoint of the Hebrew canon and the "deutercanonical" Catholic canon, in Orthodox usage are called by the Greek term anaginoskomena, αναγινώσκωμένα (i.e. acknowledged, recommended reading).
     While all of the canonical books of the Old Testament are written in Hebrew, the basis of the Old Testament text in the Orthodox tradition is the Septuagint, a Greek translation by the "seventy interpreters" made in the third to second centuries BCE for the Alexandrian Hebrews and the Jewish diaspora. The authority of the Septuagint is based on three factors. First of all, though the Greek text is not the original language of the Old Testament books, the Septuagint does reflect the state of the original text as it would have been found in the third to second centuries BCE, while the current Hebrew text of the Bible, which is called the "Masoretic," was edited up until the eighth century CE. Second, some of the citations taken from the Old Testament and found in the New mainly use the Septuagint text. Third, the Septuagint was used by both the Greek Fathers of the Church, and Orthodox liturgical services (in other words, this text became part of the Orthodox church Tradition). Taking into account the three factors enumerated above, St. Philaret of Moscow considers it possible to maintain that "in the Orthodox teaching of Holy Scripture it is necessary to attribute a dogmatic merit to the Translation of the Seventy, in some cases placing it on equal level with the original and even elevating it above the Hebrew text, as is generally accepted in the most recent editions" (Orthodox Christianity, Volume II: Doctrine and Teaching of the Orthodox Church, (New York: St. Vladimir Seminary Press, 2012) p. 33f).
To complicate matters further, if you look at the Russian Synodal Bible and compare with the standard Orthodox edition of the Bible in Greek, there are some books that included in one that are not in the other (the Greek Bible included 4th Maccabees, and the Russian Bible includes 2nd Esdras (also called 4th Esdras in some editions), and so what should we make of all of this?

If you think of the Tradition as a target, with concentric circles, you could put the Gospels in the middle, the writings of the apostles in the in the next ring, maybe the Law of Moses, in the next, the prophets in the next, the writings in the next, the deutrocanonical books in the next, the wrings of those who knew the Apostle in the next, the Ecumenical Canons in the next, etc. The only debate would be which ring to put them on... and ultimately, is that the most important question? For a Protestant, this is a huge question. For the Orthodox, it is not so much.

For most of the books in the Orthodox Bible, there is no question that they are Scripture in the full sense. The Deuterocanonical books are certainly Scripture as well, though some Fathers and some writers would argue that they have secondary authority. Then there are some books that are included more along the lines of being appendices to the Scriptures (4th Maccabees and 2nd Esdras). They all are part of the larger Tradition, and they all have to be understood within the context of that larger Tradition -- and that is the key thing to keep in mind.

For more information, see:

Stump the Priest: The Septuagint vs. the Masoretic Text

This discussion with Gary Michuta (a Roman Catholic apologists) is of interest:

He has also written a book entitled "The Case for the Deuterocanon: Evidence and Arguments," which has a lot of useful information on this subject.

Saturday, July 06, 2019

Is Bible Study Orthodox?

Augustine's conversion as depicted in a fresco by Benozzo Gozzoli (1465)

It is unfortunately not uncommon to find Orthodox people who argue that it is not Orthodox to study the Bible. Perhaps clergy and monastics should study the Bible, they might concede, but not laymen. They argue that all that we need to know we get simply from the services of the Church, or perhaps from reading the Fathers of the Church, if they do not consider the Fathers to be off limits as well.

The problem with this reasoning is that if you actually read the Fathers of the Church, you will discover that they regularly admonished people to study the Scriptures... and not just clergy and monastics.

Let's begin with the Ecumenical Canons of the Church, which are certainly the most authoritative declarations of the Fathers of the Church. Canon 19 of the Quinisext Council states:
"We declare that the deans of churches, on every day, but more especially on Sundays, must teach all the Clergy and the laity words of truth out of the Holy Bible, analyzing the meanings and judgments of the truth, and not deviating from the definitions already laid down, or the teaching derived from the God-bearing Fathers; but also, if the discourse be one concerning a passage of Scripture, not to interpret it otherwise than as the luminaries and teachers of the Church in their own written works have presented it; and let them rather content themselves with these discourses than attempt to produce discourses of their own, lest at times, being resourceless, they overstep the bounds of propriety. For by means of the teaching afforded by the aforesaid Fathers, the laity, being apprised of the important and preferred things, and of the disadvantageous and rejectable, are enabled to adjust their lives for the better, and do not become a prey to the ailment of ignorance, but, by paying due attention to what is taught, they sharpen their wits so as to avoid suffering wrongly, and for fear of impending punishments they work out their own salvation" (D. Cummings, trans., The Rudder of the Orthodox Catholic Church: The Compilation of the Holy Canons, Saints Nicodemus and Agapius (West Brookfield, MA: The Orthodox Christian Educational Society, 1983), p. 313 [emphasis added]).
St. Nicodemus provides the following interpretation of this canons:
"The Canon decrees that the Deans of churches, by which term is meant preeminently the Bishops, but secondarily also the Presbyters, must teach all the Clergy and the laity every day in the week, and especially and above all on Sundays (or even other holidays). For on these days, since Christians are wont to rest from their manual work, they congregate in the churches and listen to the divine words. Consequently those teaching therein afford them additional benefit. But such men must not teach with their own words and thoughts, but with those of divine Scripture, without straying away from the definitions adopted and confirmed by Councils and the dogmas of the faith, or away from the teaching handed down by the God-bearing Fathers. And if at any time they repeat words of the Bible, they are not to explain them in any other way than as the teachers of the Church have explained them in their written works; and they must endeavour more to make headway by teaching the discourses of the divine Fathers than by composing sermons of their own, lest by employing thoughts and conceptions of their own, and being unable sometimes to understand things aright, they fall out of line with what is proper and the truth. For by learning things from this teaching of the doctrines taught by the Fathers, the laity learn what things are of advantage to their souls, and what are disadvantageous, and they accordingly change their mode of living from viciousness to virtuousness, and are freed from the darkness of ignorance. By paying attention, again, to that teaching, and hearing about the chastisements and punishments which bad persons are bound to suffer, for fear of these they abstain from vices and bring about their salvation. Besides this, however, c. XIX of Laodicea says that the Bishop must first give a didache (or “teachment”) in the liturgy" (Ibid., p. 313f). 
If the Church did not think the laity need to understand the Scriptures, such a canon issued by an Ecumenical Council would hardly have been necessary. And note that it encourages the deans of Churches to teach the Scriptures daily.

Furthermore, commenting on the Apostolic Canon that provides one of the earliest list of the canonical books of Scripture (Canon 85), St. Nicodemus states:
"These are the holy books of the Old and of the New Testament: according to the Maccabees, those in your hands; the sources of salvation, according to St. Athanasius; the records left by the holy men, according to the Areopagite; the books of the official testaments, according to Eusebius; the canonical books of the Bible, according to Council held in Carthage. Study therein, brethren and fathers, and meditate upon them day and night, in order that you may become more like the righteous man pronounced blissful by divine David. Read them continually and perpetually, because, according to St. Chrysostom, reading the Scriptures is the key which opens the way to heaven, and the mouths of the Prophets are the mouth of God. Busy yourselves therewith all the time that you have available, since, according to St. Augustine, the remedy for every disease of the soul is to be found in the Bible. Search the Scriptures in order that you may find therein the life that is everlasting, according to what the Lord Himself said (John 5:39)" (Ibid., p. 152 [emphasis added]).
In St. Athanasius the Great's canons, which were specifically affirmed by the Quinisext Council, he recites the list of the canonical books, and then speaks of the deutercanonical books, which he refers to as "the readable books", and states:
"Nevertheless, for the sake of greater exactness, I add also this, writing as I do the fact as a matter of necessity, that, there are also other books than these outside of the list herein given, which, though not canonically sanctioned, are to be found formally prescribed by the Fathers to be read to those who have just joined and are willing to be catechized with respect to the word of piety...." (Ibid, p. 769 [emphasis added).
Obviously, if catechumens were advised to read the deuterocanonical books as part of their preparation for baptism, it would be highly unlikely that after they were baptized they would have been prohibited from reading the canonical books.

It is objected that most people could not afford to own copies of the Bible prior to the printing press, and that most people were illiterate. Obviously, those who were illiterate would have not been able to read the Scriptures on their own, but even such people are known to have memorized large portions of Scripture. But there is good evidence that literacy among Christians and Jews during the first few centuries of Church history was not as low as is often asserted.
"Both Hellenism and Judaism promoted literacy, and the use of books was widespread during the early period before and after Christ. Already, by 75 BC, in Judah, elementary education was available to all boys -- the world's firs public school system, on could say. A significant number of people , at least in cities, could read, and "writing was an essential  accomplishment of life at almost all levels to an extent without parallel in living memory"[C. H. Roberts, "Books in the Graeco-Roman World and in the New Testament," in the Cambridge History of the Bible, edited by P. R. Ackroyd and C. F. Evans (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970), vol. 1, p. 48] (Dr. Mary D. Ford, The Soul's Longing: An Orthodox Christian Perspective on Biblical Interpretation (Waymart, PA: St. Tikhon Monastery Press, 2915), p. 60). 
It is true that a complete copy of the Bible would have been well beyond the reach of all but the most wealthy of Christians, but the Bible was not usually produced as a single volume text, and so copies of the Gospels, or the Epistles would have been circulated separately, and would have been something that people of more modest means could afford to get, though it was certainly a big investment. But we know that there were many scriptoria that employed as many as 100 scribes, and would produce about 1,000 manuscripts a month, and obviously, there had to be a large demand for such texts to sustain such levels of production (Ford, p. 64). In addition to the production of texts of Scripture there were also biblical dictionaries and commentaries which were produced to help readers better understand the Scriptures. (Ford, p. 68).

We can see an example of someone who was not even yet a Christian who had copies of Scripture at his disposal in St. Augustine's Confessions. He recounts the occasion which led him to become a Christian, when he was in his garden, and was experiencing a spiritual crisis as he struggled to determine what direction he should take:
"...I heard the voice as of a boy or girl, I know not which, coming from a neighbouring house, chanting, and oft repeating, “Take up and read; take up and read.” Immediately my countenance was changed, and I began most earnestly to consider whether it was usual for children in any kind of game to sing such words; nor could I remember ever to have heard the like. So, restraining the torrent of my tears, I rose up, interpreting it no other way than as a command to me from Heaven to open the book, and to read the first Chapter I should light upon. ...So quickly I returned to the place where Alypius [a lifelong friend of St. Augustine] was sitting; for there had I put down the volume of the apostles, when I rose thence. I grasped, opened, and in silence read that paragraph on which my eyes first fell,—“Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying; but put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.” No further would I read, nor did I need; for instantly, as  the sentence ended,—by a light, as it were, of security infused into my heart,—all the gloom of doubt vanished away. Closing the book, then, and putting either my finger between, or some other mark, I now with a tranquil countenance made it known to Alypius" (Confessions, 8:12:29-30).
But even if it were true that many did not study the Scriptures in the Early Church because they could not read it, or could not afford a copy of the Scriptures for themselves, this would hardly be a compelling argument against the private study of the Scriptures for those who can read and who can afford to have a copy of the Scriptures -- as is the case with most people in our time.

St. John Chrysostom makes it very clear that he considered the private study of Scripture to be an obligation of all Christians, including the laity -- and in fact says that they have a greater obligation and need to study the Scriptures than do monks:
"This, also, I am ever urging, and shall not cease to urge, that you give attention, not only to the words spoken, but that also, when at home in your house, you exercise yourselves constantly in reading the Divine Scriptures. This, also, I have never ceased to press upon those who come to me privately. Let not any one say to me that these exhortations are vain and irrelevant, for "I am constantly busy in the courts," (suppose him to say;) "I am discharging public duties; I am engaged in some art or handiwork; I have a wife; I am bringing up my children; I have to manage a household; I am full of worldly business; it is not for me to read the Scriptures, but for those who have bid adieu to the world, for those who dwell on the summit of the hills; those who constantly lead a secluded life." What dost thou say, O man? Is it not for thee to attend to the Scriptures, because thou art involved in numerous cares? It is thy duty even more than theirs, for they do not so much need the aid to be derived from the Holy Scriptures as they do who are engaged in much business. For those who lead a solitary life, who are free from business and from the anxiety arising from business, who have pitched their tent in the wilderness, and have no communion with any one, but who meditate at leisure on wisdom, in that peace that springs from repose -- they, like those who lie in the harbour, enjoy abundant security. But ourselves, who, as it were, are tossed in the midst of the sea, cannot avoid many failings, we ever stand in need of the immediate and constant comfort of the Scriptures. They rest far from the strife, and, therefore, escape many wounds; but you stand perpetually in the array of battle, and constantly are liable to be wounded: on this account, you have more need of the healing remedies" (Discourse 3 on the Rich Man and Lazarus, Chapter 1, emphasis added).
Despite the great expense in acquiring copies of Scripture, St. John Chrysostom nevertheless admonished people to get at least some portions, and to study them on their own. They should not put all of the burden for instruction on the clergy but should study themselves, and instruct others:
"Do not wait, I entreat, for another to teach thee; thou hast the oracles of God. No man teacheth thee as they; for he indeed oft grudgeth much for vainglory’s sake and envy. Hearken, I entreat you, all ye that are careful for this life, and procure books that will be medicines for the soul. If ye will not any other, yet get you at least the New Testament, the Apostolic Epistles, the Acts, the Gospels, for your constant teachers. If grief befall thee, dive into them as into a chest of medicines; take thence comfort of thy trouble, be it loss, or death, or bereavement of relations; or rather dive not into them merely, but take them wholly to thee; keep them in thy mind. This is the cause of all evils, the ignorance of the Scriptures. We go into battle without arms, and how ought we to come off safe? Well contented should we be if we can be safe with them, let alone without them. Throw not the whole upon us! Sheep ye are, still not without reason, but rational; Paul committeth much to you also. They that are under instruction, are not for ever learning; for then they are not taught. If thou art for ever learning, thou wilt never learn. Do not so come as meaning to be always learning; (for so thou wilt never know;) but so as to finish learning, and to teach others. In the arts do not all persons continue for set times, in the sciences, and in a word, in all the arts? Thus we all fix definitely a certain known time; but if ye are ever learning, it is a certain proof that ye have learned nothing" (Homily 9 on Colossians).
St. Seraphim of Sarov read the entire New Testament every week:
"So that our spirit will have freedom to uplift itself there and be nourished by sweetest conversation with the Lord, one must humble himself with prayers and the remembrance of the Lord, and I, humble Seraphim, for this reason, go through the Gospel every day. On Monday I read St. Matthew from beginning to end. On Tuesday, St. Mark. On Wednesday, St. Luke. On Thursday, St. John. The other days of the week I divide between the Acts of the Apostles and the epistles, and I do not for a single day neglect to read the epistle and gospel appointed for the liturgical day and the lives of the saints.
Through this not only my soul, but even my body rejoices and is vivified, because I converse with the Lord. I hold in my mind his life and suffering, and day and night I glorify and give thanks to my Redeemer for all his mercies that are shed upon mankind and upon me, the unworthy one" (quoted in "Reading the Scriptures with Accountability - Patristic Counsels on Bible Study," by Fr. Josiah Trenham, Ancient Father Radio, 11-12-2016).
Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky), gave the following advice on spiritual reading:
"But what should you read? First of all, read the Bible, concurrently from 1) Pentateuch and Kings, 2) from the Prophets and Wisdom Books and 3) from the New Testament. Read every day, for at least half an hour. If you make yourself read through the Bible twice in this way, then subsequently you will reread it at your own desire and inclination" (Confession: A Series of Lectures on the Mystery of Repentance, trans. Fr. Christopher Birchall (Jordanville, NY: Holy Trinity Monastery, 1975) p. 28).
He of course went on to advise that we should read from the lives of the saints and the Fathers as well, but this was first on his list.

In the classic text, The Way of a Pilgrim, the pilgrim carries with him two books every where he goes, the New Testament, and the Philokalia.

Had the Russian Church not wanted its people to read the Scriptures they would not have translated the Scriptures into Russian and published them. Go to any Church bookstore in Russia, and you will find many copies of Scripture available for the people to purchase and to read.

We must interpret Scripture in the light of the teachings of the Church and in accordance with the interpretation of the Fathers, but the study of Scripture is something that the Church places a high priority on, and admonishes all of her faithful to engage in, to the best of their ability.

How to Read the Bible and Why, by St. Justin (Popovich) of Chelije

How to Read the Holy Scriptures, by Hieromonk Seraphim Rose

Monday, June 17, 2019

2019 Moscow Trip -- Part 5

Thursday, February 28th

As I said in the previous post, the plan for this day was to get up early enough to drive out to the Optina monastery, and attend their morning service. Unfortunately, I made the mistake the night before of plugging my phone to be recharged right next to my bed, and so when my alarm went off in the wee hours of the morning, I turned it off without getting out of bed, and so went back to sleep. When I finally did wake up, and noticed that the sun was up, I quickly got out of bed, and then say Fr. Sergei relaxing on a couch in his living room with a Cheshire cat grin. I told him he could have woke me up, but he said he figured I must have needed the extra sleep.

So I quickly got ready, and we headed out of the "Batcave" and began heading down the highway to Optina. I noticed as we went, signs pointing the way to Kaluga, the town that our parish patron, St. Jonah or Manchuria, was born in... which helped explain his later connection to the Optina monastery.

Unlike the St. Sergius Trinity Lavra, the Optina monastery was closed during the Soviet period. It was closed after the revolution, but it was allowed to reopen in 1987, and today it is a thriving monastery. It does not have a town nearby, like Sergiev Posad, and so seems much more remote. February is not the prime tourist season, but the number of pilgrims is likewise much less, though there was a good number of them. In 1993, there were three monks who were martyred by a Satanist, and so there is a chapel built over the spot where they were killed on Pascha night, as they went out to ring the bells, which you can read about in Russian (or with Google Translate) here:

It was snowing on and off throughout the day that we were there.

Our parish has been getting vestments from Optina, and the quality has been exceptional, and the prices are very reasonable. One of the first stops we made was for me to get measured by a seamstress. I wanted to get a couple of cassocks, and a good riassa to go with them. Before we left the monastery, I picked up what I had requested, and these are now my favorites -- very well done, and very cool, which means a lot in Texas.

I brought with me an icon of St. Jonah, which we donated to the monastery. Some accounts say that he was a monk at Optina. I have seen some recent articles which say that he was not, but that his spiritual father was the Elder Gabriel of Optina. In any case, he had a connection, and when he was preparing for death, he read St. Andrew of Crete's prayers for the departure of the soul, while wearing an epitrachelion and cuffs which had belonged to St. Ambrose of Optina.

In the Church of the Mother of God of Kazan, they regularly do molebens to the Optina Elders, whose relics are found in various locations around the Church. The relics at the right of the above picture are those of St. Nectarios. The relics are housed in this church at present due to ongoing restoration work at the main Church of the Entry of the Theotokos, where these relics would normally be.

The very first Icon I was given after I was made a catechumen, was an icon of the Optina Elders, and ever since, I have been drawn to these saints. You certainly feel their presence everywhere in this monastery.

We took a walk out to the area where most monastics live, further back in Skete of St. John the Forerunner, which is a quick walk from the monastery, which one can only enter by invitation (and we had no such invitation).

By the way, you can take a 3-D tour of the Monastery by clicking the link on the left menu here:


After having Lunch, and picking up a few more things at their store, we headed to the Shamordino Convent, which was founded by St. Ambrose of Optina. Like Optina, it was closed during the Soviet period. The fate of the nuns after it was closed is a particularly moving story. They were told by their spiritual father that they should not cooperate with the Soviets or do any work for them at all. The Soviets then killed their spiritual father. The nuns then said "Now no one can release us from this obedience." Despite torture, they never ceased to keep this obedience. In fact, they were made to stand outside in sub-zero temperatures over a period of 3 days, and each day, they were made to stand their with less warm clothing than the preceding day. After three days, in which they stood their without giving, and without showing any signs of harm from the cold, the Soviets decided to leave them alone. Even atheists know a miracle when they see one. You can read one account here, and listen to a sermon about this here.

The main Church is huge, but you can tell from the mostly white walls that it still has a long way to go in terms of restoration. 

Inside the Church, I noticed yet again how popular the devotion to the Royal Martyrs and the New Martyr Elizabeth was.

As the sun began to set, we headed back to the Moscow suburbs, because Fr. Sergei needed to pick up his daughters from the Metro station nearest to their home. We had dinner at a nearby shopping center, where we went to a somewhat upscale hamburger restaurant. I had a beacon cheeseburger, with Jack Daniel sauce... and it was in fact a pretty good hamburger. 

The following morning I caught my flight back to Houston. The flight from Moscow to Frankfurt was again on Lufthansa, and was once again an excellent experience. At the Frankfurt airport, I had to go through security again, and I had a large Slavonic Gospel in my briefcase, that apparently looked suspicious to the agent watching the scan. I wish I could paint a picture with words to adequately convey the look on his face, when I took "the box" as he described out, opened it, and showed him that there where no explosives in the Gospel, beyond the message printed in the text.

The flight from Frankfurt to Houston was farmed out by Lufthansa to United Airlines, and while it was not horrible, it was a huge step down. What was most irritating is that I had been lugging around several books which I had intended to read on this flight, but I was in the middle row, and when they turned out the lights 2 hours into the flight, I had no ability to turn on a light, or to open up a window to read by the sunlight -- and because we were flying from the east to the west, the entire flight was in the daylight, and would have provided very good light, had I been better situated. It never occurred to me when I booked the flight that there were any planes still in use in which this kind of thing might happen. And so instead of knocking out a couple of books on the way, I was left with very little productive to do.

At long last, I made it home, very tired, but very much edified by the trip, and all the people I had been able to get to know, and all of the holy places and relics I had been able to see and venerate. There is a lot just in Moscow I still have yet to see, not to mention the rest of Russia -- and so I hope I will have opportunity to go again.

2019 Moscow Trip -- Part 4

Thursday, June 06, 2019

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.

The Importance of Reading the Bible in Christian Life. This was a talk given at the Lenten Retreat of the Holy Virgin Cathedral in San Francisco, St. Mary of Egypt Sunday, 2019

On what texts and translations you should use:
An Orthodox Look at English Translations of the Bible
The Septuagint vs. the Masoretic Text
On what resources you might use to help in your studies:
A Guide to Biblical Reference Texts
Computer Based Bible Study... for Free
On how to go about studying the Bible:
Beginning to Read and Understand the Bible: First Steps
Beginning to Read and Understand the Bible, Part 2: Staying on Track
Beginning to Read and Understand the Bible, Part 3: In Context
A Simple Approach to Reading the Entire Bible -- Suggestions for how to regularly read through the Bible.
How to teach your children to read and understand the King James Version of the Bible
Articles on how we approach the interpretation of the Bible:
Allegorical Interpretations of Scripture
Orthodox Biblical Interpretation and Protestant Biblical Scholarship
What we believe about the Bible:
The Inerrancy of Scripture
Sola Scriptura: An Orthodox analysis of the Protestant view of Scripture, and an explanation of the Orthodox perspective