On Scriptural Interpretations

191710.pSt. Maximus the Confessor ca. 580-662

I ask you not to take what I say as a definitive spiritual interpretation of the [biblical] passages in question, for I am very far from the mind and meaning of the divine words, with respect to which I need to be taught by others. If it should happen that you—on your own or with others—are able to provide a better interpretation or perchance to learn something from what I have written, this is for you to determine, and produce a more elevated and true understanding, the fruit of which is the heart’s fulfillment for those who long for spiritual insight into the things that puzzle and perplex them. This is because the divine word [of Scripture] is like water, for just as water operates in different species of plants and vegetation and in different kinds of living things—by which I mean in human beings who drink the Word Himself—the Word is manifested in them through the virtues, in proportion to their level of knowledge and ascetic practice, like burgeoning fruit produced according to the quality of virtue and knowledge in each, so that He becomes known to others through other qualities and characteristics. For the divine Word could never be circumscribed by a single individual interpretation, nor does it suffer confinement in a single meaning, on account of its natural infinity. (Questions to Thalassius, Prologue)

On the Difference Between True and False Prophets

wolves and lambsPope St. Gregory the Dialogist 540-604

It must also be known that sometimes the Holy Prophets, when they are consulted, through their familiarity with prophesying, pass judgment from their own spirit, believing that they speak thus with the spirit of prophecy, but because they are holy men are swiftly corrected by the Holy Spirit, from Whom they hear what is true and censure themselves for speaking falsely. For who does not know that the Prophet Nathan was a holy man who reproached David the King openly concerning his guilt, and proclaimed what would befall him because of this same guilt? However, at the moment when David had inquired of him because he wished to build a Temple to the Lord, he replied: ‘Go, do all that is in thy heart; because the Lord is with thee’ (2 Kgs. 7:3). Concerning him, it was immediately added: ‘But it came to pass that night, that the word of the Lord came to Nathan, saying: Go, and say to my servant David: Thus saith the Lord [God], shalt thou build Me a house to dwell in? Whereas I have not dwelt in a house from the day that I brought the children out of the land of Egypt even to this day’ (2 Kgs. 7:4-6). And a little further on: ‘And when those days shall be fulfilled, and thou shalt sleep with thy fathers; I will raise up thy seed after thee, which shall proceed out of thy bowels, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house to my name’ (2 Kgs. 7:12-14). Behold Nathan the Prophet, who before had said to the King, ‘Go, and do,’ presently apprised through the spirit of prophecy, proclaiming that this could not be, contradicted the King’s counsel and his own words because he discovered that what he said from his own spirit was false.

In this matter, the difference between true and false prophets is such that true Prophets, if they sometimes speak from their own spirit, having learnt from their hearers’ mind through the Holy Spirit, rapidly correctly this. For false prophets make false prophecies and those alien from the Holy Spirit continue in their falsity. (Homilies on the Book of Ezekiel, Homily 1.16-17)

On Moths and Rust

MothSt. Ambrose of Milan ca. 338-397

[T]he Gospel was written to Theophilos, i.e., to him whom God loves. If ye love God, it was written to you, discharge the duty of an Evangelist. Diligently preserve the pledge of a friend in the secrets of the Spirit. Frequently consider, often discuss the good things committed to thy trust by the Holy Spirit Who is given to us (2 Tim. 1:14). Faith is due first to a pledge; diligence follows faith, lest moth or rust consume (cf. Mat. 6:19-20) pledges committed to you; for what is committed to you can be consumed. The Gospel is a fine pledge, but see neither moth nor rust consume it in your spirit. Moths consume if ye poorly believe what ye have well read. A moth is a heretic… a moth… tears the garment… A moth is to know Christ without faith in His Godhead or in the Sacrament of His Body… But those who are of God keep the faith and therefore cannot suffer from the moth which divides the garment. For everything which is divided within itself, like the kingdom of Satan, cannot be everlasting (cf. Mat. 12:25). Moreover, it is the rust of the spirit when the keenness of religious intention is dulled by the defilements of worldly desires or the purity of the faith is stained by a cloud of unbelief. Rust of the mind is a desire for the familiar; rust of the mind is carelessness; rust of the mind is longing for honors, if the greatest hope of the present life is set thereon. And, therefore, let us turn toward the Divine, and let us sharpen our character; let us drill our disposition, so that we may have that sword which the Lord bade us sell our garment and buy (Lk. 22:36), always ready and shining, as if sheathed in the scabbard of our mind. For the soldiers of Christ must always have strong spiritual weapons for the destruction of fortifications against God (2 Cor. 10:4), lest when He come, the Leader of the Heavenly Host (cf. Josh. 5:13; Lk. 2:13), offended by the dullness of our weapons, separate us from the company of legions. (Exposition of St. Luke, Bk. 1: 12-14)

On Law, Grace and the Holy Canons

PatsavosDr. Lewis Patsavos, Professor Emeritus of Canon Law

What is said about the Holy Canons comes at a time when there is much confusion about the character and role of the canons in the Church. This sense of confusion is due mainly to the spirit of secularism which pervades our society…

The pastoral ministry of the Church has always been based upon Holy Canons, which constitute the Church’s law. Nevertheless, the relationship between pastoral ministry and the canons is not always correctly understood. The result is that we are sometimes directed towards antinomianism, which is the autonomous exercise of pastoral ministry in the absence of the canons, and other times towards legalism, i.e., the exercise of pastoral ministry according to the letter of the canons only, in a legalistic, juridical way.

The adoption and application of the Holy Canons by the Church as her law coincides with the teaching of Holy Scripture that the Law, which is an expression of grace, is a gift of God to His people. It has an instructive and pastoral character, which helps elevate and free the believer in Christ.

When one understands the true character of the Law in Holy Scripture and the relationship between law and grace, one also correctly understands the relationship between the Holy Canons and pastoral ministry. Understood in this way, pastoral ministry is protected from the two dangerous extremes of legalism and antinomianism.

An overview of the theology of law in the Old and New Testaments reveals the following conclusions:

  1. The Law of the Old Testament is not in substance detrimental, even though it is incomplete and temporary. The Law has a pastoral and soteriological character. Even the incomplete law of the Old Testament is necessary as a “pedagogue in Christ”. As decreed by the 82nd Canon of the Sixth Ecumenical Synod: “Therefore, embracing the ancient types, and the shadows, as symbols of the truth and patterns given to the Church, we prefer grace and receiving it as a fulfillment of the Law” (Gal. 3:19-25).
  2. The Law is not some beneficial human invention, but an expression of God’s revealed will for humankind (Ex. 24:12; Lev. 24:22).
  3. The Law is a means and not an end. By applying the law in humility, a person can be elevated to a relationship of love towards God and fellow human beings. In such a relationship one receives divine grace, the life of God, and salvation (1 Tim. 1:8-11).
  4. Misuse of the Law by transforming it from a means to an end becomes spiritually fatal for a person. However, the Law is not responsible for this misinterpretation (Rom. 7:6-16, 9:30-32).
  5. The Lord reveals the true content of the misinterpreted Law of the Old Testament and indicates that its true character is to be found in love. Love and decrees of law are in a relationship of substance and form (Mt. 22:36-40; Rom. 13:8-10).
  6. True freedom for the believer is not to be found in discarding the law, which is lawlessness, but in preserving it by living in love as responsible freedom towards God and fellow human beings (Rome. 6:15-18; Jas. 1:25).

According to the patristic interpretation of Scripture, there is no contradiction between law and Grace; rather, law constitutes an expression of grace. (Patsavos, L. J., Spiritual Dimensions of the Holy Canons, pp. 60-63)

St. Seraphim on Reading Holy Scripture

seraphim1St. Seraphim of Sarov 1759-1833

It is very profitable to occupy oneself with reading the word of God in solitude, and to read the whole Bible intelligently. For one such occupation alone, apart from good deeds, the Lord will not leave a person without His mercy, but will fill him with the gift of understanding. And when a man nourishes his soul with the word of God, there is realized in him an understanding of what is good and what is evil. The reading of the word of God should be performed in solitude, in order that the whole mind of the reader might be plunged into the truths of Holy Scripture, and that from this he might receive warmed and is filled with spiritual gifts, which rejoice the mind and heart more than any word. (Little Russian Philokalia, p. 41)

On the Words of Holy Scripture

saint_leo3Pope St. Leo the Great ca. 400-461

[D]issent even in a single word from the teaching of the Gospels and Apostles is forbidden, as is any opinion on Holy Scripture that differs from what the blessed Apostles and our Fathers learnt and taught. (Epistle 82, To Emperor Marcian)

On the Grace of the Torah

st_maximus_the_confessorSt. Maximus the Confessor ca. 580-662

The grace of the New Testament is mystically hidden in the letter of the Old; thus, the Apostle says that “the Law is spiritual” (Rom. 7:14). The Law, consequently, although in the letter it ages and grows old when not being practiced (cf. Heb. 8:13), nevertheless in the spirit it constantly grows  young, being energized. For grace is absolutely unaging. (Two Hundred Chapters on Theology, 1.89)

On the Impossibility of Falsehood in Holy Scripture

St. John Damascene ca. 676-749

It is good to search the Scriptures, but we must attend to them with a discerning mind. Beloved, it is impossible that God should prove false. (Against the Attackers of Holy Images, 2.7 excerpted from Payton Jr., James R. 2013-08-01. “A Patristic Treasury, Early Church Wisdom for Today” [Kindle Locations 7107-7108]. Ancient Faith Publishing. Kindle Edition)

On Church Preaching

Moscow Council of 1917 following the election of Patriarch St. Tikhon of Moscow

The Moscow Council December 1, 1917

Church preaching, in accordance with the Word of God (Matt. 28:19-20. Mk. 16:15, Acts 1:8, 1 Cor. 9:16, 2 Tim. 4:2, et al.), Church Canons (Apostolic Canons 36 and 58, Canon 19 of the Sixth Ecumenical Council, Canon 2 of the Seventh Ecumenical Council), and the directions of the typikon of the Church, is one of the major duties of the pastoral ministry and must be heard as often as possible at the public and private services, outside of services, but without exception at every Divine Liturgy celebrated on Sundays or Feast Days (Canon 19 of the Sixth Ecumenical Council), as well as in special circumstances that concern the life of the Church, society, or the State. As a reminder of this, Canon 58 of the Holy Apostles, Canon 19 of the Sixth Ecumenical Council, and Canon 2 of the Seventh Ecumenical Council shall be printed in the new editions of the Priest’s Service Book and of the Archieratikon, with the following commentary:

If a bishop or a presbyter celebrates the Divine Liturgy on a Sunday or Feast Day and does not preach the Word of God or commission the preaching to his concelebrants, and thus shows neglect for the clergy and the people, he commits a grave sin, for he saddens Christ, Who commanded to the shepherds of His Church to preach the Gospel. He disregards the word of the Apostle who says, “Take heed to yourself and to your teaching; hold to that, for by doing so you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Tim. 4:16), and forgets the injunctions of the Holy Fathers, shepherds, and teachers of the Universal Church. But, following the example of Christ the Chief Shepherd, of the Holy Apostles and of the Holy Fathers, may the bishops and presbyters of the Orthodox Church of Russia be divinely inspired preachers who console by the salvific teaching, denounce those who oppose it, and rather than only on Sundays or Feast Days, as was said above, but in every day may they preach the Word of God, and rather than only at the time of Divine Liturgy, may they also preach at other services and sacramental rites, if it is possible. So also may they at any other time call their flock to the hearing of the Word of God. (‘The Definition of the Sacred Council of the Orthodox Church of Russia on Church Preaching’. The Moscow Council [1917-1918] The Creation of the Conciliar Institutions of the Russian Orthodox Church by Hyacinthe Destivelle, O.P., p. 25-26)

On the Letter

St. Maximus the Confessor ca. 580-662

It is necessary that the one who seeks after God in a religious way never hold fast to the letter, lest that one mistakenly understand things said about God for God Himself. (Chapters on Knowledge, 2.73)

On the Holy Spirit in Holy Scripture

St. Gregory the Theologian ca. 329-389

But, he says, who in ancient or modern times ever worshipped the Spirit? Who ever prayed to Him? Where is it written that we ought to worship Him, or to pray to Him, and whence have you derived this tenet of yours? We will give the more perfect reason hereafter, when we discuss the question of the unwritten; for the present it will suffice to say that it is the Spirit in Whom we worship, and in Whom we pray. For Scripture says, God is a Spirit, and they that worship Him must worship Him in Spirit and in truth. And again,—We know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit Itself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered; and I will pray with the Spirit and I will pray with the understanding also; —that is, in the mind and in the Spirit. Therefore to adore or to pray to the Spirit seems to me to be simply Himself offering prayer or adoration to Himself…

Over and over again you turn upon us the silence of Scripture. But that it is not a strange doctrine, nor an afterthought, but acknowledged and plainly set forth both by the ancients and many of our own day, is already demonstrated by many persons who have treated of this subject, and who have handled the Holy Scriptures, not with indifference or as a mere pastime, but have gone beneath the letter and looked into the inner meaning, and have been deemed worthy to see the hidden beauty, and have been irradiated by the light of knowledge…Since, then, there is so much difference in terms and things, why are you such a slave to the letter, and a partisan of the Jewish wisdom, and a follower of syllables at the expense of facts?

The New manifested the Son, and suggested the Deity of the Spirit. Now the Spirit Himself dwells among us, and supplies us with a clearer demonstration of Himself. For it was not safe, when the Godhead of the Father was not yet acknowledged, plainly to proclaim the Son; nor when that of the Son was not yet received to burden us further (if I may use so bold an expression) with the Holy Ghost; lest perhaps people might, like men loaded with food beyond their strength, and presenting eyes as yet too weak to bear it to the sun’s light, risk the loss even of that which was within the reach of their powers; but that by gradual additions, and, as David says, Goings up, and advances and progress from glory to glory, the Light of the Trinity might shine upon the more illuminated. For this reason it was, I think, that He gradually came to dwell in the Disciples, measuring Himself out to them according to their capacity to receive Him, at the beginning of the Gospel, after the Passion, after the Ascension, making perfect their powers, being breathed upon them, and appearing in fiery tongues. And indeed it is little by little that He is declared by Jesus, as you will learn for yourself if you will read more carefully. I will ask the Father, He says, and He will send you another Comforter, even the spirit of Truth. This He said that He might not seem to be a rival God, or to make His discourses to them by another authority. Again, He shall send Him, but it is in My Name. He leaves out the I will ask, but He keeps the Shall send, then again, I will send,—His own dignity. Then shall come, the authority of the Spirit.

You see lights breaking upon us, gradually; and the order of Theology, which it is better for us to keep, neither proclaiming things too suddenly, nor yet keeping them hidden to the end. For the former course would be unscientific, the latter atheistical; and the former would be calculated to startle outsiders, the latter to alienate our own people…

This, then, is my position with regard to these things, and I hope it may be always my position, and that of whosoever is dear to me; to worship God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost, Three Persons, One Godhead, undivided in honour and glory and substance and kingdom, as one of our own inspired philosophers not long departed showed. Let him not see the rising of the Morning Star, as Scripture says, nor the glory of its brightness, who is otherwise minded, or who follows the temper of the times, at one time being of one mind and of another at another time, and thinking unsoundly in the highest matters. For if He is not to be worshipped, how can He deify me by Baptism? But if He is to be worshipped, surely He is an Object of adoration, and if an Object of adoration He must be God; the one is linked to the other, a truly golden and saving chain. And indeed from the Spirit comes our New Birth, and from the New Birth our new creation, and from the new creation our deeper knowledge of the dignity of Him from Whom it is derived.

This, then, is what may be said by one who admits the silence of Scripture. But now the swarm of testimonies shall burst upon you from which the Deity of the Holy Ghost shall be shown to all who are not excessively stupid, or else altogether enemies to the Spirit, to be most clearly recognized in Scripture. Look at these facts:—Christ is born; the Spirit is His Forerunner. He is baptized; the Spirit bears witness. He is tempted; the Spirit leads Him up. He works miracles; the Spirit accompanies them. He ascends; the Spirit takes His place. What great things are there in the idea of God which are not in His power? What titles which belong to God are not applied to Him, except only Unbegotten and Begotten? For it was needful that the distinctive properties of the Father and the Son should remain peculiar to Them, lest there should be confusion in the Godhead Which brings all things, even disorder itself, into due arrangement and good order. Indeed I tremble when I think of the abundance of the titles, and how many Names they outrage who fall foul of the Spirit. He is called the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Christ, the Mind of Christ, the Spirit of The Lord, and Himself The Lord, the Spirit of Adoption, of Truth, of Liberty; the Spirit of Wisdom, of Understanding, of Counsel, of Might, of Knowledge, of Godliness, of the Fear of God. For He is the Maker of all these, filling all with His Essence, containing all things, filling the world in His Essence, yet incapable of being comprehended in His power by the world; good, upright, princely, by nature not by adoption; sanctifying, not sanctified; measuring, not measured; shared, not sharing; filling, not filled; containing, not contained; inherited, glorified, reckoned with the Father and the Son; held out as a threat; the Finger of God; fire like God; to manifest, as I take it, His consubstantiality); the Creator-Spirit, Who by Baptism and by Resurrection creates anew; the Spirit That knows all things, That teaches, That blows where and to what extent He lists; That guides, talks, sends forth, separates, is angry or tempted; That reveals, illumines, quickens, or rather is the very Light and Life; That makes Temples; That deifies; That perfects so as even to anticipate Baptism, yet after Baptism to be sought as a separate gift; That does all things that God does; divided into fiery tongues; dividing gifts; making Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors, and Teachers; understanding manifold, clear, piercing, undefiled, unhindered, which is the same thing as Most wise and varied in His actions; and making all things clear and plain; and of independent power, unchangeable, Almighty, all-seeing, penetrating all spirits that are intelligent, pure, most subtle (the Angel Hosts I think); and also all prophetic spirits and apostolic in the same manner and not in the same places; for they lived in different places; thus showing that He is uncircumscript.

They who say and teach these things, and moreover call Him another Paraclete in the sense of another God, who know that blasphemy against Him alone cannot be forgiven, and who branded with such fearful infamy Ananias and Sapphira for having lied to the Holy Ghost, what do you think of these men? Do they proclaim the Spirit God, or something else? Now really, you must be extraordinarily dull and far from the Spirit if you have any doubt about this and need some one to teach you. So important then, and so vivid are His Names. Why is it necessary to lay before you the testimony contained in the very words? And whatever in this case also is said in more lowly fashion, as that He is Given, Sent, Divided; that He is the Gift, the Bounty, the Inspiration, the Promise, the Intercession for us, and, not to go into any further detail, any other expressions of the sort, is to be referred to the First Cause, that it may be shown from Whom He is, and that men may not in heathen fashion admit Three Principles. For it is equally impious to confuse the Persons with the Sabellians, or to divide the Natures with the Arians. (Oration 31.12, 21, 26-30)

On Fasting and Prayer in Holy Scripture

Patriarch Jeremiah II of Constantinople 1530-1595

Since the fasts and the prayers are necessary, hearken unto the Lord who says in the second chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Luke: “And there was a prophetess Anna… She did not depart from the Temple, worshipping with fasting and prayer night and day” (Lk. 2:36-37). Also, hear Paul in the seventh chapter of his First Epistle to the Corinthians: “that you may devote yourselves to fast and prayer” (1 Cor. 7:5). And also, the sixth chapter of his Second Epistle to the Corinthians [reads]: “in watchings, in fastings” (2 Cor. 6:5). And if someone would like to elicit similar testimonies from the Scripture, he will easily find many others. (Augsburg and Constantinople, p. 209. The Three Answers: Second Exchange: Constantinople to Tubingen, 15)

On When One Can’t Find a Spiritual Father

St. Nil of Sora 1443-1508

Gregory of Sinai and other saints concur. They insist that it is not an easy task to find a skilled and trustworthy guide in this wonderful discipline. For, they explain, such a trustworthy instructor must have much personal experience and be grounded in the wisdom of the holy Writings.

He must also have acquired the gift of spiritual discernment. Even in the time of those saints we are told that such a teacher was not easily found. In our present time of such evil, all the more diligence must be had in seeking such a guide. But if such a teacher cannot be found, they, the saintly Fathers, order us to study the Sacred Scriptures and hear our Lord Himself speaking: “Search the Scriptures and in them you will find eternal life.” For St. Paul the Apostle says that all that was written in the Sacred Scriptures was written for our instruction (cf. Rom 15:4). Thus the saints, who underwent great discipline to control their feelings and labored in mental prayer in the vineyard of their own heart and purified their mind of all passions, have discovered the Lord and attained spiritual wisdom. We, too, who are so enflamed by the fires of our passions, are enjoined to draw the living water from the fountain of the Sacred Scriptures, which have the power to extinguish the fires of our passion and instruct us in the understanding of the truth.

For this reason, even though I am a great sinner and not endowed with wisdom, I also assiduously have applied myself to the holy Writings according to the inspired Fathers’ teachings. Like a slave I was imprisoned by unbecoming passions, which are the basic roots of evil in all things. Thus it is not because I have overcome the passions in a healthy, benevolent silence, but because of my sickness of the passions that I have collected together a little out of what I found from the holy Writings. Like a dog picking up crumbs that fall from the table, so I have gathered together the words of those blessed Fathers and have written all this to be a reminder to us to imitate them, even if it be only in an insignificant way. (The Monastic Rule [Ustav], Introduction)

On the Agreement of Holy Scripture

Patriarch Gennadios Scholarios 1400-1473

[T]he Scriptures of our faith are in agreement in all things because those who wrote them had a common Teacher: the grace of God. Were it other than this they might disagree. (The Truth of Our Faith)

On Holy Writ

Pope St. Gregory the Dialogist ca. 540-604

[T]here are two Testaments of Holy Writ, both of which God wished to be written in order to set us free from the death of the soul. Or indeed because there are two precepts of charity, namely love of God and love of our neighbor, whereby the sayings of Holy Writ quicken us… For we are restored to life through the precepts of Holy Writ, we who lay dead in our guilt. Thus it is rightly said through the Psalmist to Almighty God: “Thy justifications I will never forget: for by them Thou hast given me life” (Ps. 118:93). The precepts of the Lord are called justifications by which He justifies us by correcting us. Of these the Psalmist speaks more plainly: “I will think of Thy justifications: I will not forget Thy words” (Ps. 118:16). Then He quickens us therein because He thereby shows us the spiritual life, and by the afflation of the Spirit instills it into our minds. Because this happens daily in the midst of the elect through the gift of grace…

This Holy Writ has become the light of our journey for us in the darkness of this present life. Hence Peter too says: “Whereunto you do well to attend, as to a light that shineth in a dark place” (2 Pet. 1:19). Hence the Psalmist too says: “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (Ps. 118:105). Yet we know that our very lantern is dim for us unless Truth light it for our minds. So the Psalmist says a second time: “For Thou lights my lamp, O Lord: O my God, enlighten my darkness” (Ps. 17:29). For who is a burning lantern unless the light is there? But created light does not shine for us unless it is illumined by the Uncreated Light. (Homilies on Ezekiel, Homily 7.16-17)

St. Maximus on Supposed Contradictions in Holy Scripture

St. Maximus the Confessor ca. 580-662

I believe, therefore, that if the meaning of the whole of Divine Scripture is properly and piously smoothed out, the disagreements perceived on the literal level of the text will be seen to contain nothing contradictory or inconsistent. (Ambigua to John, Ambiguous 21)

On the Orthodox Old Testament Canon

Apocrypha in the 1611 KJV

Archbishop Chrysostomos of Etna and Bishop Auxentius of Photiki

As regards the canon of the Old Testament and the apocryphal, or deuterocanonical, texts, we cannot deal with our subject as easily as…the canon of the New Testament. Here, a comparative perspective is quintessential. We might characterize the Eastern Orthodox position on the Apocrypha as lying somewhere between the stance of the Protestants and that of the Roman Catholics, which represent the extremes of a spectrum of opinion ranging from acceptance to rejection of the texts.

Excepting Psalm 151 and III Maccabees, the Roman Catholic Church accepts the Septuagint text of the Old Testament. Despite Saint Jerome’s characterization of the Apocrypha as mere ecclesiastical books, the Augustinian notion of the full canonicity of the books prevailed. Partially in response to the Protestant Reformation, and its rationalistic reassessment of the value of the deuterocanonical books, the Counter-Reformation Council of Trent (1545-1563), in its fourth session, endowed the canon of the Old Testament, including the Apocrypha, with dogmatic authority.

To describe the Protestant position as one which rejects the Apocrypha as part of the Old Testament Canon is admittedly artificial. Lacking a criterion of conciliar ratification such as the pronouncements of Trent, it is difficult to pinpoint an official Protestant determination. Moreover, there is, strictly speaking, no such thing as a “Protestant” determination, simply because Protestantism is a fairly inaccurate term used to cover a broad range of theological tradition and creeds. However, we shall, for the sake of comparison (by which to elucidate the Orthodox view of the Old Testament Scripture), define as the Protestant stance the view presented by a number of historically significant Reformed bodies.

Martin Luther’s (1483-1546) translation of the Bible (1534) grouped the Apocrypha at the end of the Old Testament; they were good for reading, but not equal to Holy Writ. The Thirty-nine Articles of Religion (1563) of the Church of England directed that the deuterocanonical texts were not to be used to establish doctrine. The King James Bible of 1611 printed the Apocrypha as separate texts between the Old and New Testaments. And the Westminster Confession of 1647 rejected the Apocrypha as writings of men only. Granted that modern Protestant theologians have varying opinions on the disputed books, our tentative, if admittedly contrived, view of the Protestant treatment of the Apocrypha marks one pole of the spectrum of attitudes.

It would be indeed unwise if we were to see the Orthodox attitude toward the Apocrypha as a kind of midpoint along our spectrum. In this sense, we would abuse our conceptual construct. The Orthodox position is one which which corresponds, in part, with both the Roman Catholic and Protestant views, neither representing one or the other faithfully, nor providing a distinct alternative to either. On the one hand, as in Roman Catholicism, the Orthodox accept the decrees of the Church Councils as authoritatively binding. On the other hand, they see these decrees as efficacious only when they are accepted by the universal Church and brought to full maturity by their compatibility with spiritual life and experience, with what is “Orthodox”. About this we will have much more to write. Suffice it to say that this principle (the marriage of practice and authority, indeed of praxis and theoria) accounts for the fact that, today (as was so vividly apparent at the unfortunate Pan-Orthodox Synod of Rhodes in 1961), Greek theological thinkers fully accept the Apocrypha, while some contemporary Russian theologians express reservations about them. Yet the unity of the two Churches prevails. It is not that two attitudes prevail in the one Church, but that the two attitudes define and constitute the position of the One Church. This is always the way we must speak of the Church, in these times of trial, when Her unity is paradoxical, internal, and not subject to cold, rational analyses. (Scripture and Tradition pp. 20-22)

On Searching the Divine Scriptures

St. Symeon the New Theologian ca. 949-1022

[L]et us be persuaded by the Master Who says: “Search the Scriptures” (Jn. 5:39). Search, that is, and not meddle! Search the Scriptures and do not busy yourselves with disputes which lie outside the sacred writings. Search the Scriptures so that you may learn about faith, and hope, and love. About faith, so that you may not be tossed about by every wind which comes from the trickery of unstable men, but are rather rooted in the true dogma of the apostolic and catholic Church and “rightly divide” the word of her truth (II Tim. 2:15). And not only this, but you should be taught as well to seek out the fruits of faith and the profit which derives from them through the practice of the commandments. (First Ethical Discourse XII)

On the Benefits of Knowing Holy Scripture

St. Theophan the Recluse ca. 1815-1894

Psalm 118:16 On Thy statutes will I meditate; I will not forget Thy words.

St. Basil the Great bears witness that in his time children were made to memorize some psalms and parables. Do we do anything like that now? Is anything like that done by those who have taken up the yoke of asceticism? Yes, in many ways we have fallen behind the salutary practices of old. This, however, does not diminish the value of what is described in this verse. It means the following: Memorize verses of Scripture considered in the preceding text, and repeat what was memorized whenever the mind and speech are free. The Hebrew word corresponding to will meditate means “to turn over with delight in the mind and on the tongue” — as one might a piece of candy, for instance. Such an occupation could be offered to all who sincerely seek to please God in all.

Among us, amy of those living ascetic lives read the Psalter at home in their cells. This partly fulfills the lesson of our verse. And perhaps home prayers, personal and monastic, could be regarded as this type of activity. But more directly it means: to intentionally choose passages of the Holy Scriptures for memorizing and then repeating them in our minds.

Through this last practice, the commandments, having already occupied all the faculties of the soul, shall occupy the memory and sanctify it. The blessing from this is indescribable! …The same thing happens to the soul as to poor fruit when it is sugared. The sugar penetrates its pores, making it sweeter and protecting it from spoiling. Similarly the soul, saturated with memorized words of God, rejects the corruption of shameless and empty thoughts and is filled to sweetness with the memory of things divine.

…If we accept this, then here is a rule for beginners as to how to deal with evil thoughts. Memorize as many passages of the Scriptures as possible, in particular the words of and deeds of Christ the Savior, and repeat them often. (Psalm 118, A Commentary by St. Theophan the Recluse, pp. 47-48)

On How to Read Holy Scripture

Hieromonk Seraphim Rose 1934-1982

It is well known that Protestants spend a great deal of time on Holy Scripture, because for them it is everything. For us Orthodox Christians the Scripture also holds an essential place. Often, however, we do not take advantage of it, and do not realize what importance it has for us; or if we do, we often do not approach it in the right spirit because the Protestant approach and Protestant books about the Scriptures are widespread, while our Orthodox approach is quite different.

The fact that Scripture is an essential part of our Faith can be seen in our Orthodox services. There are daily readings from the New Testament from both the Epistles and Gospels. In one year we read through almost the entire New Testament. In the first three days of the week before Pascha—the feast of Christ’s Resurrection, the four Gospels are read in church, and on Thursday night of Passion Week twelve long selections from the Gospels are read concerning the Passion of our Lord, with verses sung in between, commenting on these passages. The Old Testament is also used in the services. In the vespers for every great feast three parables are read prefiguring the feast. And the Divine services themselves are filled with Scriptural quotations, Scriptural allusions and inspiration coming directly from Holy Scripture. Orthodox Christians also read the Scripture outside the services. St. Seraphim, in his monastic life, read the entire New Testament every week. Perhaps it is because we have such a richness of Scripture in our Orthodox tradition that we are often guilty of taking them for granted, of not valuing and making use of the Scriptures.

One of the leading interpreters of Holy Scripture for us is St. John Chrysostom, an early 5th century Holy Father. He wrote commentaries on practically the whole of the New Testament, including all of St. Paul’s epistles and also many Old Testament books. In one sermon concerning Scripture, he addresses his flock:

“I exhort you, and I will not cease to exhort you to pay heed not only to what is said here, but when you are home also you should occupy yourselves attentively with the reading of Holy Scripture. Let no one say to me such cold words—worthy of judgment—as these: ‘I am occupied with a trial, I have obligations in the city, I have a wife, I have to feed my children, and it is not my duty to read the Scripture but the duty of those who have renounced everything.’ What are you saying?! It is not your duty to read Scripture because you are distracted by innumerable cares? On the contrary, it is your duty more than those others, more than the monks; they do not have such need of help as do you who live in the midst of such cares. You need treatment all the more, because you are constantly under such blows and are wounded so often. The reading of Scripture is a great defense against sin. Ignorance of the Scripture is a great misfortune, a great abyss. Not to know anything from the word of God is a disaster. This is what has given rise to heresies, to immorality; it has turned everything upside down.”

Here we see that the reading of Holy Scripture provides us with a great weapon in the fight against the worldly temptations surrounding us—and we do not do enough of it. The Orthodox Church, far from being against the reading of Scripture, greatly encourages it. The Church is only against the misreading of Scripture, against reading one’s own private opinions and passions, even sins into the sacred text. When we hear that the Protestants are all excited about something that they say is in the Scripture—the rapture, for example, or the millennium—we are not against their reading the Scripture but against their misinterpretation of the Scripture. To avoid this pitfall ourselves we must understand what this sacred text is and how we should approach it.

The Bible—the Holy Scripture, the Old and New Testaments—is not an ordinary book. It is one that contains not human but divinely revealed truths. It is the word of God. Therefore, we must approach it with reverence and contrition of heart, not with mere idle curiosity and academic coldness. Nowadays one cannot expect a person who has no sympathy for Christianity, no sympathy for the Scriptures to have a proper attitude of reverence. There is, however, such power in the words of Scripture—especially in the Gospels—that it can convert a person even without this proper attitude We have heard of cases in communist countries; the police go out in special squads to persecute believers and break up their meetings; they confiscate all their literature: Bibles, hymn books, patristic texts—many written out by hand. They’re supposed to burn them, but sometimes either the person who is assigned to bum them or the person collecting them gets curious and begins reading the condemned materials. And there have been cases where this has changed the person’s life. All of a sudden he meets Jesus Christ. And he’s shocked, especially if he has been raised with the notion that this is a great evil; here he discovers that there is no evil here but rather something quite fantastic.

Many modern scholars approach the Scriptures with a cold, academic spirit; they do not wish to save their souls by reading Scripture: they only want to prove what great scholars they are, what new ideas they can come up with; they want to make a name for themselves. But we who are Orthodox Christians must have utmost reverence and contrition of heart; i.e., we must approach the word of God with a desire to change our hearts. We read the Scripture in order to gain salvation, not, as some Protestants believe, because we are already saved without the possibility of falling away, but rather as those desperately trying to keep the salvation which Christ has given us, fully aware of our spiritual poverty. For us, reading Scripture is literally a matter of life and death. As King David wrote in the Psalms: Because of Thy words my heart hath bee, afraid. I will rejoice in Thy sayings as one that hath found great spoil.

The Scripture contains truth, and nothing else. Therefore, we must study the Scripture believing in its truth, without doubt or criticism. If we have this latter attitude we shall receive no benefit from reading Scripture but only find ourselves with those “wise” men who think they know more than God’s revelation. In fact, the wise of this world often miss the meaning of Scripture. Our Lord prayed: I thank Thee, O Father…that Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent and hast revealed them unto babes (Luke 10:21). In our approach we must not be sophisticated, complicated scholars; we must be simple. And if we are simple the words will have meaning for us.

For our reading of Scripture to be fruitful, to help save our souls, we must ourselves be leading a spiritual life in accordance with the Gospel. The Scriptures are addressed precisely’ to those who are trying to lead a spiritual life. Others will usually read them in vain, and will not even understand much. St. Paul teaches: The natural [i.e., unspiritual] man receiveth not the things of the spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned (I Cor. 2:14). The more one is leading a spiritual life, the more one is capable of understanding the Scripture.

A second point. Because we are weak and can only boast of our infirmities, we must pray to God to open the eyes of our understanding by His grace Even Christ’s disciples on the road to Emmaus did not understand the Scripture; they did not understand that it was Christ in front of them interpreting the Scripture, until Christ Himself opened their minds (Luke 24:45). So unless we have our minds opened—which comes from the grace of God—we will read Scripture and not understand it; hearing we will not understand, seeing we will not see.

The Inspiration of Scripture

Why do we say that Scripture is the inspired word of God? Among occultists and spiritualists there is a phenomenon known as automatic writing, in which a person is literally possessed by a spirit and writes without using his free will. In fact, the latest fashion in this kind of occultism is to sit in front of a typewriter and let the spirit take over your fingers, and “spirit messages” appear. This is not the way Holy Scripture is inspired. This is the way demons operate. St. Basil, in his introduction to his commentary on the book of Isaiah, writes:

“Some think that the prophets prophesied in ecstasy, so that the human mind was eclipsed by the Spirit. But it is against the promise of God to give divine inspiration in an ecstatic state, so that when a person is filled with divine teachings he should go out of his normal mind, and when he gives benefit to others he should receive no benefit from his own words… And in general,” St. Basil continues, “is it reasonable that the spirit of wisdom should make a man like someone out of his mind, and that the spirit of knowledge should annihilate the power of reason? Light does not produce darkness, but on the contrary awakens the power of sight given by nature. And the spirit does not produce darkness in souls; on the contrary, the mind which has been cleansed of sinful defilements is thereby awakened to mental vision or contemplation.’

The revelation of Holy Scripture is thus given to pure and holy men who are in an exalted end inspired state but in full possession of their mental faculties. Those who wish to understand the Scriptures must likewise be struggling to lead a pure and holy life, receiving God’s grace to understand what the Holy Spirit has revealed. St. Basil, in this same introduction, writes:

“The first and great gift, which requires that a soul be carefully cleansed, is to contain in oneself divine inspiration and to prophesy of God’s mysteries [This refers to a person who writes the Scripture]. And the second gift after this, which likewise requires great and assiduous care, is to pay heed to the intent of what has been declared by the Spirit, and not to err in understanding it, but to be led up to this understanding by the Spirit.” That is, the second great thing is to understand what these prophets, the writers of Holy Scripture have written in their state of respiration. So we ourselves must be striving to receive God’s grace and inspiration to understand the Scripture. Therefore, the labor of interpreting the Scripture is not an easy one. In fact, St. Basil teaches, ‘there are many places in Scripture that are deliberately difficult to understand.’ How can this be? He writes:

“Just as our Creator did not will that we should be like the animals and that all the conveniences of life should be born together with us [i.e., fur to clothe us, horns to defend us, etc], so that the lack of what is ncessary should lead to the use of the mind; so too is Scripture, He allowed there to be a lack of clarity is [sometimes] for the benefit of the mind, so as to arouse its activity. That which is obtained with labor somehow attaches itself more to us, and what is produced over a long time is more solid, while that which is obtained easily is not so much enjoyed.” That is, we see that the Scriptures are deliberately difficult so that we might force our mind to be raised up to a state of understanding and not simply received on a platter an already obvious meaning.

All this shows that the reading of Scripture is not to be taken up lightly, and it is not just to gather information which we can take or leave. Rather, it is for the salvation of our souls. And as we read we must be n the process of changing ourselves because this is the purpose of Scripture. If we are not converted: it is to convert us, if we are already converted it is so that we will work on ourselves more, if we are working on ourselves it is so that we will be humble and not think too highly of ourselves. There is no state in which Scripture is not applicable to us.

All this is quite different from the teachings of those Protestants who regard Scripture as an infallible oracle (which is, in fact, similar to a belief in the infallibility of the Pope of Rome) and that man’s common sense can understand its meaning. If you look at the innumerable Protestant sects you will see that they each have different peculiar interpretations of the same passages, and they all say theirs is the ‘obvious’ meaning. Sometimes they learn Greek, and they say that’s ‘obviously’ what the Greek says, while someone else has exactly the opposite interpretation and he thinks it’s just as obvious. How do you know what it really says?

How to Interpret Scripture

First, some examples of how to misinterpret Scripture. There are in Scripture numerous passages which seem to contradict other passages. For example, ‘Whosoever abideth in God sinneth not, and Whosoever sinneth hath not seen Him, neither knoweth Him’ (I John 3:9). According to the plain meaning of this passage you would think that a person who becomes a Christian ceases to sin. If this is so, why do we have confession? Why do we look at ourselves and see that we constantly sin? Does this mean that we are not really Christians? But in this same epistle we read: ‘If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us’ (I John 1:8). How can the same writer say two such seemingly contradictory, things? It’s obvious that we must have a deeper understanding of both passages. We must understand that while we have the grace of God we do not sin; when we sin it proves we have lost the grace of God, and we must struggle to regain it. We must recognize that there is a standard, a model which we must follow, which is not to sin. We must not deceive ourselves in thinking that we are constantly in a sinless state; rather, we are constantly striving towards it, sometimes reaching it and then falling away. That is our Christian lift. These passages must be read with an awareness of what it is to struggle as an Orthodox Christian.

Again, St. Matthew says, ‘Call no man your father on the earth’ (Matthew 23:9). Many Protestants interpret this quite literally and thereby refuse to call any clergyman “Father”. But even this same book of St. Matthew calls Abraham the father of us all (Matthew 4:16). That, of course, concerns a father who is dead; that’s one difference. In his epistle to the Hebrews, St. Paul speaks of the fathers and prophets of the Old Testament; these are also dead. But he also speaks about living fathers: ‘Though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the Gospel’ (1 Cor. 4:15). Here he says quite clearly that “I am your spiritual father.” He doesn’t say this in so many words, so the Protestants overlook this passage. Nevertheless, he is saying, “that you have not many fathers, therefore you have some, and I am one of them because I have begotten you in the Gospel”. That seems to contradict what the Lord says, “Call no man father upon the earth”. But here Our Lord is speaking about the One Father; there is One Who is Father in the sense that no one else is father. There are others who are fathers in the limited sense: there are some spiritual fathers, there are fathers in the flesh…, they are all fathers but different types Just as He says, Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, Even Christ (Matthew 23:10).

Literal vs. Non-literal

Once we were visited by some Protestants who told us that they interpreted the Bible absolutely literally. I asked them about the passage, “Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink His blood, ye have no life in you”‘ (John 6:53). And the first thing they said was, “Well, that is not literal.” Immediately they contradicted themselves. They think that they accept everything literally, but they make excuses for not accepting literally those passages which do not agree with their beliefs.

Many passages in Scripture can only by understood in the context of dogmatic teaching—which a person receives either from other scriptures or from some other source, either from the authority of the Church or the private opinions of some particular teacher. Some Seventh-Day Adventists, commenting on the Lord’s promise to the wise thief, “Verily I say unto thee, today thou shalt be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43), claim that it is mispunctuated, that it should read: “Verily, I say unto thee today, thou shalt…”, because they believe that when a person dies his soul goes to sleep, and therefore the thief could not be with Christ in Paradise today. Here is an example of changing the meaning of Scripture to conform with one’s beliefs. And because their dogmatic teaching is wrong on this subject, their interpretation of Scripture is also wrong.

There are many such seeming problems which can be seen if one looks at separate verses of Scripture. Some Protestants argue for hours, even years, over such questions. It is important for us not to get bogged down in such problems. We must understand the principles of correctly interpreting Scripture. About this St. John Chrysostom writes in his homily in Philippians:

“One must not simply seize the words of Scripture and tear them out of their connection and context. One must not take bare words, depriving them of support from what precedes and what follows in order then simply to ridicule and make clever tricks. For if in criminal trials, where we examine worldly matters, we set forth everything which serves for justification—the place and time, the causes, the persons and much else—would it not be absurd when we have before us the struggle for eternal life to quote the words of Scripture simply, just as they occur.”

This is precisely what many Protestants do; not having the whole context, not having the whole, reasoned theological dogma, they quote the Scriptures just as they occur: “It’s obvious that’s what it means.” But Scripture must be placed in context, in the complete picture both of the book in which they occur, in the rest of Holy Scripture, and in the whole teaching of Christ as handed down in His Church.

A difficult question concerns what in Holy Scripture is to be interpreted literally and what is not to be interpreted literally. We cannot answer this question by “common sense” because this only causes new sects to arise. St. Simeon the New Theologian, the great Orthodox Father of the 11th century, explains this in concise form:

“Christ the Master of all daily teaches us through the Holy Gospel, where some things He speaks in a hidden way so that not many might understand, when He speaks in parables. And some of these things He later explains alone to his disciples, saying: ‘Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the Kingdom of God, but to the rest in parables’ (Luke 8:10). But other things He speaks plainly, clearly to everyone, as the Apostle said to him, ‘Lo, now speakest Thou plainly and speakest no parable’ (John 16:29). Therefore, it is our duty to investigate and find out in which words the Lord taught plainly and clearly, and in which He taught in a hidden manner and in parables.”

St. Simeon gives examples of when our Lord speaks plainly. For instance,” Love your enemies” (Matt. 5:44). We are to understand that literally. Or again, in the Beatitudes: “Blessed are they that weep for they shall laugh, etc.” We must understand this as it is written; now is a time for weeping. And again, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” (Matt. 3:2); or “He that loveth his own soul will lose it” (John 3:25); or “If any would follow Me, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow Me” (Matt. 16:24). Some of these things are very hard to do. And some are even quite difficult for our worldly minds to grasp. But, with knowledge of the Kingdom of Heaven and the spiritual life, they become clear and they are interpreted literally, even though sometimes also by the use of metaphors. As examples of parables, St. Simeon speaks of “faith being like a mustard seed” (Luke 13), or of “the Kingdom of Heaven being like the pearl of great price” (Matt. 13:45) or “leaven” (Matt. 13:33). St. Simeon continues:

“Therefore, reflect, I beg you, on how great is God’s wisdom, that by means of such sensuous examples, which seem to us to be lowly, He depicts for us and like an artist sketches out in our mind that which is unthinkable and unapproachable. He does this so that unbelievers might remain blind, deprived of knowledge of those good things of heaven, since they have become unworthy of this by reason of unbelief. But believers, on the other hand, hearing and receiving with faith the word of the parable, might see the truth and clearly know the reality in the things which are shown by the parables, for parables are the images of spiritual things.” (Homily 53) St. Simeon teaches that the epistles of the apostles also contain many hidden things, in addition to the things which are said plainly.

Closely related to the literal vs. the mystical meaning of texts are cases in which a particular text has many meanings, where material objects are spoken of in order to raise our minds to spiritual realities. This is not to say that we should deliberately search the Scriptures for symbols, as if whatever is said means something else; rather, it is a matter of raising ourselves to a spiritual level where we can begin to understand the spiritual reality about which the inspired writers often speak. Thus, when David says, “Thou has broken my bonds asunder” (Ps. 115), he is not merely speaking of physical bonds and using this as a symbol of deliverance from corruption and death. This is the mystical meaning. But he is not using this worldly image of “bonds” in order only to express the mystical meaning, the lack of corruption or immortality; he is also speaking at the same time on a second level of meaning, using the physical image as an opportunity to express the spiritual truth of deliverance from corruption. If we already know the Christian teaching of Adam’s fall, the corruption of the world, and our redemption by Jesus Christ, and if we are struggling to raise ourselves to this spiritual level, we do not need a commentary to explain the words; that is, the Holy Fathers will help us, but we don’t need a commentary to tell us that “x=y.” The words themselves express the spiritual meaning. Anyone who reads and prays with the psalms has experienced this. Especially in times of sorrow, the words of psalms acquire a new and deeper meaning; we find that physical things refer to our own sorrows and dejection and our need to receive deliverance from Christ.

The Orthodox services are full of this same kind of language, which we call sacred poetry. The key to understanding this poetry is the leading of a spiritual life, which is what Scripture speaks about. In a word, the understanding of Scripture requires God’s grace. St. Simeon the New Theologian gives an excellent image of this:

“Spiritual knowledge is like a house built in the midst of Greek and worldly wisdom, in which house, like a tightly locked trunk, there is the knowledge of the divine Scriptures, and the unutterable treasure hidden in this knowledge of the Scriptures, that is, Divine grace. Those who enter this house cannot see this treasure if the trunk is not opened for them, but this trunk cannot be opened by any human wisdom. This is why people who think in a worldly way do not know the spiritual treasure which lies in the trunk of spiritual knowledge, and just as someone who lifts this trunk on his shoulders cannot by this alone see the treasure which is inside, so also even if someone were to read and learn by heart the divine Scriptures, and could read them all like a single psalm, he cannot by this alone acquire the grace of the Holy Spirit, which is hidden in them. For just as what is hidden in the trunk cannot be revealed by the trunk itself, so also what is concealed in the divine Scriptures cannot be revealed by the Scriptures themselves.” (Homily 39)

This is a very interesting passage; is shows that the Protestants are clearly wrong—for Scripture itself does not reveal the meaning of Scripture. Rather, it is revealed by God’s grace. St. Simeon continues:

“When God comes to dwell in us and reveals Himself to us consciously, then we awaken to knowledge, i.e., we understand in reality those mysteries which are concealed in the divine Scriptures. But it is impossible to attain this in any other way. Those who do not know what I have spoken about and have not experienced it in reality have not yet tasted of the sweetness of the immortal life which the divine words have, and they boast only of their knowledge; they place the hope for their salvation on the knowledge of the divine Scripture alone and in the fact that they know it by heart. Such ones, after death, will be judged more than those who have not heard the Scripture at all. Especially do those who have gone astray in ignorance corrupt the meaning of divine Scripture and interpret it according to their lusts. For them the power of divine Scripture is inaccessible. One who has the whole of Divine Scripture on his lips cannot understand and attain to the mystical divine glory and power concealed in it if he will not fulfill the commandments of God and be vouchsafed to receive the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, Who might open to him the words of Divine Scripture as a book, and show him the mystical glory which is within them and might at the same time show the power and glory of God; which good things are concealed in them, together with eternal life overflowing with those good things. But these things are concealed and unknown to all those who are careless disdainers of God’s commandments.”

Thus, in order to read and understand the Scriptures we must be leading a life according to the commandments, receiving the grace of the Holy Spirit, even as the authors of the sacred books were doing. And we must be eager and zealous in our reading. St. John Damascene, the great Orthodox Father of the 8th century, who summed up the teaching of the earlier Fathers in his book, On the Orthodox Faith, says, “Let us not knock casually, but with eagerness and persistence, and let us not lose heart while knocking, for so it will be opened to us. If we should read once and then a second time and still not understand what we are reading, let us not be discouraged. Rather, let us persist, let us reflect and inquire, for it is written: ‘Ask thy father and he will declare it to thee, thy elders and they will tell it thee’ (Deut. 32:7). For not all have knowledge. From the fountain of paradise let us draw ever flowing and most pure waters springing up into life everlasting; let us revel in them; let us revel greedily in them to satiety, for they contain the grace which cannot be exhausted.”

Another important point in approaching Scriptures is that we should approach them with humility, i.e., we should not expect to read just once and immediately “understand”; we should not expect to read and use our common sense and think that we really understand; but we should have a very humble idea that there is probably a great deal that we missed, even in the most seemingly “obvious” passages. We must have this basic humility because the underlying cause of all these Protestant sects, which are based on different interpretations of Scriptures, is precisely pride. They read and they think, “I understand what it says.” And that is wrong. When we read the Scriptures we must think to ourselves: “I understand a little, my fathers have taught me, I’ve read commentaries and heard sermons in Church, and my understanding is in accordance with what I’ve been taught by Church Tradition; but still, I don’t trust entirely that I know what it means.” We cannot simply take the first idea that comes into our minds—or even the second or third idea; we must go deeper and see what the Fathers teach us, what the Church teaches us, how this fits in with other books of the Bible, always thinking that our knowledge of Scripture—no matter how much we know—is always deficient; we never know enough; we must always be willing to learn more. (Source)

On Interpreting Genesis “Literally”

Hieromonk Seraphim Rose 1934-1982

I am afraid that not all who speak about Genesis and evolution pay attention to this principle. Some people are so concerned to combat Protestant Fundamentalism that they go to extreme lengths to refute anyone who wishes to interpret the sacred text of Genesis “literally”; but in so doing they never refer to St. Basil or other commentators on the book of Genesis, who state quite clearly the principles we are to follow in interpreting the sacred text. I am afraid that many of us who profess to follow the patristic tradition are sometimes careless, and easily fall into accepting our own “wisdom” in place of the teaching of the holy Fathers. I firmly believe that the whole world outlook and philosophy of life for an Orthodox Christian may be found in the holy Fathers; if we will listen to their teaching instead of thinking we are wise enough to teach others from our own “wisdom,” we will not go astray. (Letter to Dr. Alexander Kalomiros)

On Living According to Holy Scripture

St. Anthony the Great ca 251-356

Pay attention to what I tell you: whoever you may be, always have God before your eyes, whatever you do, do it according to the testimony of the Holy Scriptures… (Sayings of St. Anthony the Great, 3)

On How the Devil Uses Holy Scripture

St. Ambrose of Milan ca. 338-397

For God’s power is to conquer; Scripture conquers for me. Learn, here, too, that Satan transforms himself into an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14), and from the Holy Scriptures themselves often prepares a snare for the Faithful. Thus he makes heretics, thus he dissipates faith, thus he assails the duties of piety. Therefore, let not a heretic seize you because he can cite some examples from the Scriptures, nor let he who seems learned arrogate them. The devil, too, uses the evidence of the Scriptures (Lk. 4:10-11), yet not in order to teach, but to entrap and deceive. He recognizes one intent on religion, illustrious with virtues, and very powerful with signs and wonders; he sets the snare of bragging, in order to puff up such a man with pride, so that he does not trust in his piety, but trusts in bragging, nor does he impute it to God, but seizes it for himself. (Exposition of St. Luke Bk. IV, 26)

On the Resurrection in the Torah

St. Epiphanius of Salamis ca. 315-403
‘Pentateuch’ I mean Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy; in Hebrew their names are Bereshith, Elleh Shamoth, Vayyiqra, Vayidabber and Elleh ha Devarim.

There are intimations of the resurrection of the dead in these five books, but it is certainly not proclaimed plainly. There also hints in them of God’s Only-Begotten Son, of the Holy Spirit, and of opposition to idolatry, but as the most obvious doctrine in them the subject of the Monarchy is introduced, and in the Monarchy the Trinity is proclaimed spiritually.

But they are refuted in every way with regard to the resurrection of the dead. First from Abel, since his blood conversed with the Lord after he died. But blood is not soul; the soul is in the blood. And God did not say, ‘The soul crieth unto me,’ but, ‘The blood crieth unto me,’ proving that there is hope for a resurrection of bodies.

Moreover Enoch was translated so as not to see death, and was nowhere to be found. Sarah too, made fruitful again at the implantation of seed, after her womb was dead and her menstrual flow dried up; conceiving a child by promise in her old age, because of the hope of the resurrection.

And this is not all. When Jacob too was seeing to his own bones, he was giving orders about them as of things that were not going to perish. And not only he but Joseph too, when he gave his orders in his turn, gave indication of the form of the resurrection.

And this is not all. Moreover Aaron’s rod, which budded when it was dry, bore fruit again in hope of life, showing that our dead bodies will arise, and pointing to resurrection. And Moses’ wooden rod similarly gave token of resurrection, since it was brought to life by God’s will and became a serpent.

Moreover, in blessing Reuben Moses says, ‘Let Reuben live, and let him not die,’ though he means someone who has died long ago. This is to show that there is life after death, but a sentence of second death, for damnation. So he gives him two blessings by saying, ‘Let him live,’ at the resurrection, and ‘Let him not die,’ at the judgment—not meaning death by departing the body, but death by damnation. (Panarion 2.1-2.2, 3.1-3.5)

On Education and False Enlightenment

St. Seraphim of Sarov 1759-1833

Under the pretext of education, we have reached such a darkness of ignorance that what the ancients understood so clearly seems to us almost inconceivable. Even in ordinary conversation, the idea of God’s appearance among men did not seem strange to them. Thus, when his friends rebuked him for blaspheming God, Job answered them: How can that be when I feel the Spirit of God in my nostrils? (cf. Job 27:3). That is, ‘How can I blaspheme God when the Holy Spirit abides with me? If I had blasphemed God, the Holy Spirit would have withdrawn from me; but lo, I feel His breath in my nostrils.’

In exactly the same way it is said of Abraham and Jacob that they saw the Lord and conversed with Him, and that Jacob even wrestled with Him. Moses and all the people with him saw God when he was granted to receive from God the tables of the Law on Mount Sinai. A pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire, or, in other words, the evident grace of the Holy Spirit, served as guides to the people of God in the desert. People saw God and the grace of His Holy Spirit, not in sleep or in dreams, or in the excitement of a disordered imagination, but truly and openly.

We have become so inattentive to the work of our salvation that we misinterpret many other words in Holy Scripture as well, all because we do not seek the grace of God and in the pride of our minds do not allow it to dwell in our souls. That is why we are without true enlightenment from the Lord, which He sends into the hearts of men who hunger and thirst wholeheartedly for God’s righteousness. (Converastion with N. Motovilov)

On Biblical Questions

St. Basil the Great ca. 330-379

Read your Bible carefully, and you will find the answer to your question there. (Letter 188.16)

On Teaching in Accordance with Holy Scripture

St. Cyril of Alexandria ca. 376-444

I will say this, that it is proper that those, who in some manner are brought forward to teach or wish to write, behold with the sincere eye of the mind the understanding of divine Scripture and proceed rightly toward its intention and thus dispose their utterances unto judgment, fearing lest perhaps by teaching or thinking on the contrary the opposite to what it is, they may be called least in the Kingdom of Heaven (cf. Mt. 5:19), the desire for which forces those who look toward it to reject wandering from the way which leads to that Kingdom and to hasten to that blessed life. (cf. Mt. 7:13-14) (Letter 91.5 [Alternate Version])


On the Authority of the Canonical Scriptures

St. Mark of Ephesus 1392-1444

We should not hold the judgment of a man, even though this man might have been Orthodox and had a high reputation, as the same kind of authority as the canonical Scriptures, to the extent of considering it inadmissible for us, out of the reverence we owe such men, to disapprove and reject something in their writing if we should happen to discover that they taught other than the truth which, with God’s help, has been attained by others or by ourselves. This is how I am in regard to the writings of other men; and I desire that the reader will act thus with regard to my writings. (Second Homily on Purgatorial Fire, Ch. 15-16; Archimandrite Ambrose Pogodin, pp. 127-132)

On the Mystery of Holy Scripture

St. Jerome ca. 347-420
In the Apocalypse a book is shown sealed with seven seals, Rev. 5:1 which if you deliver to one that is learned saying, Read this, he will answer you, I cannot, for it is sealed. Isa. 29:11 How many there are today who fancy themselves learned, yet the Scriptures are a sealed book to them, and one which they cannot open save through Him who has the key of David, he that opens and no man shuts; and shuts and no man opens. Rev. 3:7 In the Acts of the Apostles the holy eunuch (or rather man for so the scripture calls him Acts 8:27) when reading Isaiah he is asked by Philip Do you understand what you read?, makes answer:— How can I except some man should guide me? Acts 8:30-31 To digress for a moment to myself, I am neither holier nor more diligent than this eunuch, who came from Ethiopia, that is from the ends of the world, to the Temple leaving behind him a queen’s palace, and was so great a lover of the Law and of divine knowledge that he read the holy scriptures even in his chariot. Yet although he had the book in his hand and took into his mind the words of the Lord, nay even had them on his tongue and uttered them with his lips, he still knew not Him, whom— not knowing— he worshipped in the book. Then Philip came and showed him Jesus, who was concealed beneath the letter. Wondrous excellence of the teacher! In the same hour the eunuch believed and was baptized; he became one of the faithful and a saint. He was no longer a pupil but a master; and he found more in the church’s font there in the wilderness than he had ever done in the gilded temple of the synagogue.

These instances have been just touched upon by me (the limits of a letter forbid a more discursive treatment of them) to convince you that in the Holy Scriptures you can make no progress unless you have a guide to show you the way.

…You see how, carried away by my love of the Scriptures, I have exceeded the limits of a letter yet have not fully accomplished my object. We have heard only what it is that we ought to know and to desire, so that we too may be able to say with the psalmist:— My soul breaks out for the very fervent desire that it has always unto your judgments. But the saying of Socrates about himself— this only I know that I know nothing — is fulfilled in our case also. The New Testament I will briefly deal with. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are the Lord’s team of four, the true cherubim or store of knowledge. With them the whole body is full of eyes, they glitter as sparks, Eze. 1:7 they run and return like lightning, Eze. 1:14 their feet are straight feet, Eze. 1:7 and lifted up, their backs also are winged, ready to fly in all directions. They hold together each by each and are interwoven one with another: Eze. 1:11 like wheels within wheels they roll along Eze. 1:16 and go wherever the breath of the Holy Spirit wafts them. Eze. 1:20 The apostle Paul writes to seven churches (for the eighth epistle— that to the Hebrews— is not generally counted in with the others). He instructs Timothy and Titus; he intercedes with Philemon for his runaway slave. Of him I think it better to say nothing than to write inadequately. The Acts of the Apostles seem to relate a mere unvarnished narrative descriptive of the infancy of the newly born church; but when once we realize that their author is Luke the physician whose praise is in the gospel, we shall see that all his words are medicine for the sick soul. The apostles James, Peter, John, and Jude, have published seven epistles at once spiritual and to the point, short and long, short that is in words but lengthy in substance so that there are few indeed who do not find themselves in the dark when they read them. The Apocalypse of John has as many mysteries as words. In saying this I have said less than the book deserves. All praise of it is inadequate; manifold meanings lie hidden in its every word.

I beg of you, my dear brother, to live among these books, to meditate upon them, to know nothing else, to seek nothing else. Does not such a life seem to you a foretaste of heaven here on earth? Let not the simplicity of the Scripture or the poorness of its vocabulary offend you; for these are due either to the faults of translators or else to deliberate purpose: for in this way it is better fitted for the instruction of an unlettered congregation as the educated person can take one meaning and the uneducated another from one and the same sentence. I am not so dull or so forward as to profess that I myself know it, or that I can pluck upon the earth the fruit which has its root in heaven, but I confess that I should like to do so. I put myself before the man who sits idle and, while I lay no claim to be a master, I readily pledge myself to be a fellow-student. Every one that asks receives; and he that seeks finds; and to him that knocks it shall be opened. Mat. 7:8 Let us learn upon earth that knowledge which will continue with us in heaven. (Letter 53)

On the Biblico-Patristic Mindset

Fr. Georges Florovsky 1893-1979

If you turn to the Fathers of the Church you will see that they are scriptural throughout, in their preaching, in their basic vocabulary. Well, can we say that our Orthodoxy today is as scriptural as it was in the Fathers? The Protestants remind us of this. (Interview published in the magazine Concern, Vol. III, No. 4, Fall 1968.)

St. Jerome on False Interpretations of Scripture

St. Jerome ca. 347-420

Marcion and Basilides and other heretics . . . do not possess the Gospel of God, since they have no Holy Spirit, without which the Gospel so preached becomes human. We do not think that Gospel consists of the words of Scripture but in its meaning; not on the surface but in the marrow, not in the leaves of sermons but in the root of meaning. In this case Scripture is not really useful for the hearers when it is not spoken without Christ, nor is presented without the Fathers, and those who are preaching do not introduce it without the Spirit . . . It is a great danger to speak in the Church, lest by a perverse interpretation of the Gospel of Christ, a gospel of man is made … (in Galat., I, 1. II; M. L. XXVI, с 386) 

On Reading the Apocalypse

St. Barsanuphius of Optina 1845-1913

In the Apocalypse it is said: Blessed is he that readeth the words of this book. If this is written, it means that it is really so, for the words of the Sacred Scripture are the words of the Holy Spirit. But in what does this blessedness consist? The more so, in that people may object that we do not understand anything of what is written. Perhaps it consists in the consolation to be gained from reading the Divine words. One can also think as follows: that which is not understood by us now will become understandable when the time described comes to pass. Judge for yourselves. Who reads the Apocalypse now? Almost exclusively those who live in monasteries and in theological academies and seminaries – they have to. But in the world hardly anyone reads it. Clearly, then, he who reads the Apocalypse before the end of the world will be truly blessed, for he will understand what is taking place. And in understanding he will prepare himself. In reading he will see in the events described in the Apocalypse one or other of the events contemporary with him. (Russia Before the Second Coming, pg. 79)

On the Anthropomorphisms Used of God in Scripture

St. Melito of Sardis died ca. 180

Head of the Lord– His simple Divinity; because He is the Beginning and Creator of all things: in Daniel.

The white hair of the Lord, because He is “the Ancient of Days: “as above.

The eyes of the Lord– the Divine inspection: because He sees all things. Like that in the apostle: For all things are naked and open in His eyes.”

The eyelids of theLord- hidden spiritual mysteries in the Divine precepts. In the Psalm: “His eyelids question, that is prove, the children of men.”

The smelling of the Lord– His delight in the prayers or works of the saints. In Genesis: “And the Lord smelled an odour of sweetness.”

The mouth of the Lord– His Son, or word addressed to men. In the prophet, “The mouth of the Lord hath spoken; ” and elsewhere, “They provoked His mouth to anger.”

The tongue of the Lord– His Holy Spirit. In the Psalm: “My tongue is a pen.”

The face of the Lord– His manifestation. In Exodus, “My face shall go before thee; ” and in the prophet, “The face of the Lord divided them.”

The word of the LordHis Son. In the Psalm: “My heart hath uttered a good word.”

The arm of the LordHis Son, by whom He hath wrought all His works. In the prophet Isaiah: “And to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed? ”

The right hand of the Lord– that is, His Son; as also above in the Psalm: “The right hand of the Lord hath done valiantly.”

The right hand of the Lordelectio omnis. As in Deuteronomy: “In His right hand is a fiery law.”

The wings of the Lord– Divine protection. In the Psalm: “In the shadow of Thy wings will I hope.”

The shoulder of the Lord– the Divine power, by which He condescends to carry the feeble. In Deuteronomy: “He took them up, and put them on His shoulders.”

The hand of the Lord– Divine operation. In the prophet: “Have not my hands made all these things? ”

The finger of the Lord-the Holy Spirit, by whose operation the tables of the law in Exodus are said to have been written; and in the Gospel: “If I by the finger of God cast out demons”

The fingers of the Lord– The lawgiver Moses, or the prophets. In the Psalm: “I will regard the heavens,” that is, the books of the Law and the Prophets, “the works of Thy fingers.”

The wisdom of the LordHis Son. In the apostle: “Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God; ” and in Solomon: “The wisdom of the Lord reacheth from one end to the other mightily.”

The womb of the Lord– the hidden recess of Deity out of which He brought forth His Son. In the Psalm: “Out of the womb, before Lucifer, have I borne Thee.

The feet of the Lord– His immoveableness and eternity. In the Psalm: “And thick darkness was under His feet.”

The throne of the Lord– angels, or saints, or simply sovereign dominion. In the Psalm: “Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever.”

Seat– the same as above, angels or saints, because the Lord sits upon these. In the Psalm: “The Lord sat upon His holy seat.”

The descent of the Lord– His visitation of men. As in Micah: “Behold, the Lord shall come forth from His place; He shall come down trampling underfoot the ends of the earth.” Likewise in a bad sense. In Genesis: “The Lord came down to see the tower.”

The ascent of the Lord– the raising up of man, who is taken from earth to heaven. In the Psalm: “Who ascendeth above the heaven of heavens to the east.”

The standing of the Lord– the patience of the Deity, by which He bears with sinners that they may come to repentance. As in Habakkuk: “He good and measured the earth; and in the Gospel: “Jesus stood, and bade him be called,” that is, the blind man.

The transition of the Lord– His assumption of our flesh, through which by His birth, His death, His resurrection, His ascent into heaven, He made transitions, so to say. In the Song of Songs: “Behold, He cometh, leaping upon the mountains, bounding over the hills.”

The going of the Lord– His coming or visitation. In the Psalm.

The way of the Lord– the operation of the Deity. As in Job, in speaking of the devil: “He is the beginning of the ways of the Lord.”

Again: The ways of the Lord– His precepts. In Hosea: “For the ways of the Lord are straight, and the just shall walk in them.”

The footsteps of the Lord– the signs of His secret operations. As in the Psalm: “And Thy footsteps shall not be known.”

The knowledge of the Lord– that which makes men to know Him. To Abraham He says: “Now I know that thou fearest the Lord; ” that is, I have made thee to know.

The ignorance of God is His disapproval. In the Gospel: “I know you not.”

The remembrance of God– His mercy, by which He rejects and has mercy on whom He will. So in Genesis: “The Lord remembered Noah; ” and in another passage: “The Lord hath remembered His people.”

The repentance of the LordHis change of procedure. As in the book of Kings: “It repented me that I have made Saul king.”

The anger and wrath of the Lord– the vengeance of the Deity upon sinners, when He bears with them with a view to punishment, does not at once judge them according to strict equity. As in the Psalm: “In His anger and in His wrath will He trouble them.”

The sleeping of the Lord– when, in the thoughts of some, His faithfulness is not sufficiently wakeful. In the Psalm: “Awake, why sleepest Thou, O Lord? ”

The watches of the Lord– in the guardianship of His elect He is always at hand by the presence of His Deity. In the Psalm: “Lo! He will not slumber nor sleep.”

The sitting of the Lord– His ruling. In the Psalm: “The Lord sitteth upon His holy seat.”

The footstool of the Lord– man assumed by the Word; or His saints, as some think. In the Psalm: “Worship ye His footstool, for it is holy.”

The walking of the Lord– the delight of the Deity in the walks of His elect. In the prophet: “I will walk in them, and will be their Lord.”

The trumpet of the Lord– His mighty voice. In the apostle: “At the command, and at the voice of the archangel, and at the trumpet of God, shall He descend from heaven.” (Fragments)


On Contradictory Scriptures

St. Justin the Philosopher ca. 103-165

If you spoke these words… and then kept silence in simplicity and with no ill intent, neither repeating what goes before nor adding what comes after, you must be forgiven; but if [you have done so] because you imagined that you could throw doubt on the passage, in order that I might say the Scriptures contradicted each other, you have erred. But I shall not venture to suppose or to say such a thing; and if a Scripture which appears to be of such a kind be brought forward, and if there be a pretext [for saying] that it is contrary [to some other], since I am entirely convinced that no Scripture contradicts another, I shall admit rather that I do not understand what is recorded, and shall strive to persuade those who imagine that the Scriptures are contradictory, to be rather of the same opinion as myself. (Dialogue with Trypho, 65)

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On the Creed

St. Cyril of Jerusalem ca. 313-386

But in learning the Faith and in professing it, acquire and keep that only, which is now delivered to you by the Church, and which has been built up strongly out of all the Scriptures. For since all cannot read the Scriptures, some being hindered as to the knowledge of them by want of learning, and others by a want of leisure, in order that the soul may not perish from ignorance, we comprise the whole doctrine of the Faith in a few lines. This summary I wish you both to commit to memory when I recite it , and to rehearse it with all diligence among yourselves, not writing it out on paper, but engraving it by the memory upon your heart, taking care while you rehearse it that no Catechumen chance to overhear the things which have been delivered to you. I wish you also to keep this as a provision through the whole course of your life, and beside this to receive no other, neither if we ourselves should change and contradict our present teaching, nor if an adverse angel, transformed into an angel of light 2 Cor. 11:14 should wish to lead you astray. For though we or an angel from heaven preach to you any other gospel than that you have received, let him be to you anathema. Gal. 1:8-9 So for the present listen while I simply say the Creed, and commit it to memory; but at the proper season expect the confirmation out of Holy Scripture of each part of the contents. For the articles of the Faith were not composed as seemed good to men; but the most important points collected out of all the Scripture make up one complete teaching of the Faith. And just as the mustard seed in one small grain contains many branches, so also this Faith has embraced in few words all the knowledge of godliness in the Old and New Testaments. Take heed then, brethren, and hold fast the traditions which you now receive, and write them on the table of your heart.

Guard them with reverence, lest per chance the enemy despoil any who have grown slack; or lest some heretic pervert any of the truths delivered to you. (Catechetical Lecture 5.12-13)

On Where to Find True Biblical Teaching

Tertullian ca. 160-220

For wherever it shall be manifest that the true Christian Rule and Faith  shall be, there will likewise be the true Scriptures and expositions thereof, and all the Christian Traditions.

On Reading the Old Testament

St. Basil the Great ca. 330-379

Never neglect reading, especially of the New Testament, because very frequently mischief comes of reading the Old; not because what is written is harmful, but because the minds of the injured are weak. All bread is nutritious, but it may be injurious to the sick. Just so all Scripture is God inspired and profitable, and there is nothing in it unclean: only to him who thinks it is unclean, to him it is unclean. (Letter 42, 3)

On Being Puffed Up

St. Neilos the Wise died ca. 430

You wax haughty over your reading of the Scriptures, and you boast, being puffed up over your theoretical attainments, delighting in the possession of bare leaves instead of fruit, and you sneer at those who lack such knowledge. This is something that even actors are often capable of doing. But seek instead to beautify and adorn your soul with works pleasing to God. For “Woe to the Scribes and Pharisees,” it is said, “who pretend that they are learned in the blessed words, for they say good things, but do not do them” (cf. St. Matthew 23:2-3). First, therefore, do, and after this, teach. (Epistle I.83)

St. Clement on Holy Scripture

Pope St. Clement of Rome fl. ca. 80-102

Look carefully into the Scriptures, which are the true utterances of the Holy Spirit. Observe that nothing of an unjust or counterfeit character is written in them. (Epistle to the Corinthians, 45)

On the Translation of the Seventy (LXX)

St. Cyril of Jerusalem ca. 313-386

For the process was no word-craft, nor contrivance of human devices: but the translation of the Divine Scriptures, spoken by the Holy Ghost, was of the Holy Ghost accomplished.

Of these read the two and twenty books, but have nothing to do with the apocryphal writings. Study earnestly these only which we read openly in the Church. Far wiser and more pious than yourself were the Apostles, and the bishops of old time, the presidents of the Church who handed down these books. Being therefore a child of the Church, trench thou not upon its statutes. (Catechetical Lectures, 4.34-35)

On Two Ideals of Perfection for the Orthodox

St. Athanasius the Great ca. 297-373

The Holy Scriptures, which instruct us, and the life of Mary, Mother of God, suffice as an ideal of perfection and the form of the heavenly life. (De Virginitate, in Le Museon 42: 255. Mary and the Fathers of the Church: The Blessed Virgin in Patristic Thought by Luigi Gambero pg. 104)

On the Church and the Canon of Holy Scripture

St. Hilarion Troitsky 1886-1926

[R]eason left to itself will not stop at the abolition of the very books of Holy Scripture. Indeed, what is the basis for recognizing these or other books as Holy Scripture and genuine Apostolic works? There can only be one answer to this question: our recognition of certain books as Holy Scripture and authentic Apostolic works is based solely on faith in the Church and on trust in the authority of the Church. The books of Holy Scripture were written by the Apostles and entrusted to the custody of the Church. The Apostles, and particularly the Apostle Paul, even gave special proof of the genuineness of their Epistles, providing them with their own handwritten signature. The custodian of the authentic Epistles and all the Apostolic writings was the Church. Only she could judge the Apostolic value of her property. After all, the Church expressed in her decisions her teaching on the composition of Holy Scripture. Thus we must recognize as the New Testament precisely those twenty-seven well-known books which were recognized as the New Testament by the Church.

Blessed Augustine said: “Ego uero Euangelio non crederem, nisi me catholicae ecclesiae commouerat auctoritas.” For my part, I should not believe the gospel except as moved by the authority of the Catholic Church. (Against the Epistle of Manichaeus called Fundamental 5.6) These words of Augustine express a great truth. If there is no Church, there will be no Holy Scripture either. Protestants and sectarians seemingly recognize and revere Holy Scripture; but does not their recognition hang in thin air? Let Protestants or sectarians completely and sincerely think out the question: why do we recognize exactly these books as Holy Scripture? To refer to one’s personal opinion is to refuse to give a reasonable answer. We cannot refer to scholarship either. The question of the origin and authenticity of the books of Holy Scripture is much debated in scholarly circles. This scholarly literature has already been growing for entire centuries. Piles of books have been written, but with no positive results. There are simply no results that could command the agreement of all. How can a Protestant refer to his “impartial” scholarship, when hopeless disputes go on, even concerning the authenticity of the Gospels, especially the Gospel of John? Let the Protestants resolve the question of the genuineness of the Pastoral Epistles of the Apostle Paul! But the representatives of Protestant scholarship all answer this question in different ways. The conservative scholars recognize them to be genuine works of the Apostle Paul. Others say that they are only based on authentic letters of Paul; in their present form they cannot possibly belong to him and they contain later additions. Still others declare the Pastoral Epistles to be complete later forgeries with a tendentious motive: that they were written to justify the newly established hierarchical structure and were written in the middle of the second century, and the name of the Apostle Paul has simply been falsely ascribed to them. To whom should we listen? Why this scholar and not another? Are there many people who are capable on their own of weighing the mass of contradictory arguments? And are there many people who are capable of entering into the fine points of scholarly investigation? There is no common authority and it is not known whom to listen to. Listening to all of them at the same time is impossible, since one goes to the woods, while another goes to the woodpile; one strives for the clouds, while another goes backwards; and yet another wants to go into the water.

 Doubt in the authenticity of the books of Holy Scripture arose with Protestantism itself. Indeed, Luther rejected the Epistle of James, calling it for some reason a straw letter. And the followers of Luther went incomparably further. Therefore, it is necessary to recognize that the concept of an absolute canon of Holy Scripture is exclusively a Church concept; outside of the Church it is totally inconceivable.

It is completely incomprehensible when sectarians want to talk about canonical and uncanonical books of Holy Scripture. Protestants study the history of the New Testament canon a good deal, but that very history is utterly devastating to the concept of canonicity outside the Church. History shows that the canon has not always and in all the [local] Churches been the same. A few centuries passed before the canon was fixed by conciliar decisions. For us there is nothing tempting in this, since we believe in the Church, and therefore her decisions are equally sacred, whether they belong to the second, fourth or twentieth century. But not so for the Protestants and others who deny the truth of the Church. For them, the history of the New Testament canon casts doubt upon the very concept of canonicity. The more consistent Protestants do not conceal this. For example, Adolf Jülicher concludes his study on the history of the New Testament canon with a very characteristic sentence: “The unassailable fact of the human and gradual genesis of the New Testament canon may serve the purpose of liberating us from the danger that this canon could turn from being a support into being an oppressive yoke.” (Holy Scripture and the Church)


On Those Who Say That the Scriptures Err

St. John of Kronstadt 1829-1908

The whole of the word of God is single, entire, indivisible truth; and if you admit 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… everything that is said in it has either taken place or takes place. (My Life in Christ, pg. 70)

On the Place of the Gospels at the Ecumenical Councils

Fr. Georges Florovsky 1893-1979

With so much controversy over who presided at the Ecumenical Councils, with so much written on that subject, one reality is often lostneglected, or forgotten. In the middle of the assembled clergy something special lay upon a desk or table. That something special held a special place and had a special significance at all councils. On that desk or table lay an open copy of the Gospels. It was there not only as a symbol but also as a reminder of the real presence of Christ in accordance with His promise that where two or three are gathered together in His name, He will be present. In a very real sense it was the presence of the open Gospel, which presided. Christ is the Truth. The source and the criterion of the truth of Christianity is the Divine Revelation, in both the apostolic deposit and in the Holy Scriptures. (The Byzantine Fathers of the Fifth Century)

On How to Debate Iconophobes

St. Hilarion Troitsky 1886-1929

Today we ever more frequently run up against this kind of reasoning: “We read such and such in Holy Scripture. The Church teaches differently. So the Church is wrong.” All kinds of sectarians monotonously chant in this manner ad nauseam. There are even those who echo these ideas while calling themselves Christians, that is, they have adopted incomprehensible arrogance in their attitude toward the Church, placing themselves far above her. Holding the point of view described above regarding the sources of doctrine, it is not easy to respond properly. Let us consider, for example, the issue of the veneration of icons. A sectarian points out the prohibition of images in the Old Testament (cf. Ex. 20:4), or the words of Christ about spiritual worship (cf. Jn. 4:23). For him icons are a contradiction. Do we respond by saying that the veneration of icons is based on Tradition? But Tradition is to be accepted only when it does not contradict Scripture. References, for example, to the Cherubim on the curtain of the Old Testament Temple are not very convincing. Thus, the dispute continues without end and to no avail because the missionaries themselves adopt the sectarian perspective, and that perspective by its very essence leads only to a battle of words, but not to the truth. In contrast, drawing from the idea of the Church, we do not even need to argue on the basis of Scripture; for us, our faith in the Church is enough. The fruitlessness of disputes “from the Scripture” was recognized long ago by Tertullian, who said that such arguments could only make your stomach and brain ill or cause you to lose your voice, falling finally into rabid fury from the blasphemies of heretics (Prescription Against Heretics, 17). He asserts that it is not worth appealing to Scripture, since victory is either unlikely or completely impossible. But a person of the Church can boldly reiterate these words, since to  him “it is quite the same to be taught by Scripture and by the Catholic Church” (The Confession of Dositheus). (Holy Scripture and the Church)

On the Septuagint

St. Philaret of Moscow 1782-1867

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 an equal level with the original and even elevating it above the Hebrew text, as is generally accepted in the most recent editions. (On the Dogmatic Worthiness of the Septuagint [Moscow, 1858])

St. Hilary on the Biblical Canon

St. Hilary of Poitiers ca. 300-368

The reason for reckoning twenty-two books of the Old Testament is that this corresponds with the number of the [Hebrew] letters. They are counted thus according to old tradition: the books of Moses are five, Joshua son of Nun the sixth, Judges and Ruth the seventh, first and second Kings the eighth, third and fourth [Kings] the ninth, the two of Chronicles make ten, the words of the days of Ezra the eleventh, the book of Psalms twelfth, of Solomon the Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs are thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth, the Twelve Prophets sixteenth, then Isaiah and Jeremiah (with Lamentations and the Epistle [of Jeremiah]) and Daniel and Ezekiel and Job and Esther complete the number of the books at twenty-two. To this some add Tobit and Judith to make twenty-four books, according to the number of the Greek letters, which is the language used among Hebrews and Greeks gathered in Rome. (Tractates on the Psalms 15)

source: http://www.bible-researcher.com/hilary.html

On Episcopal Requirements

Seventh Ecumenical Council Nicea II 787

When we recite the Psalter, we promise God: I will meditate upon your statutes, and will not forget your words. It is a salutary thing for all Christians to observe this, but it is especially incumbent upon those who have received the sacerdotal dignity. Therefore we decree, that every one who is raised to the rank of the episcopate shall know the Psalter by heart, so that from it he may admonish and instruct all the clergy who are subject to him. And diligent examination shall be made by the metropolitan whether he be zealously inclined to read diligently, and not merely now and then, the sacred canons, the Holy Gospel, and the book of the divine Apostle, and all other divine Scripture; and whether he lives according to God’s commandments, and also teaches the same to his people. For the special treasure of our high priesthood is the oracles which have been divinely delivered to us, that is the true science of the Divine Scriptures, as says Dionysius the Great. And if his mind be not set, and even glad, so to do and teach, let him not be ordained. For says God by the prophet, You have rejected knowledge, I will also reject you, that you shall be no priest to me.

Ancient Epitome: Whoever is to be a bishop must know the Psalter by heart: he must thoroughly understand what he reads, and not merely superficially, but with diligent care, that is to say the Sacred Canons, the Holy Gospel, the book of the Apostle, and the whole of the Divine Scripture. And should he not have such knowledge, he is not to be ordained. (Canon 2)

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Florovsky on Scripture and Tradition

Protopresbyter Georges Florovsky 1893-1979
It is quite false to limit the “sources of teaching” to Scripture and tradition, and to separate tradition from Scripture as only an oral testimony or teaching of the Apostles. In the first place, both Scripture and tradition were given only within the Church. Only in the Church have they been received in the fulness of their sacred value and meaning. In them is contained the truth of Divine Revelation, a truth which lives in the Church. This experience of the Church has not been exhausted either in Scripture or in tradition; it is only reflected in them. Therefore, only within the Church does Scripture live and become vivified, only within the Church is it revealed as a whole and not broken up into separate texts, commandments, and aphorisms. This means that Scripture has been given in tradition, but not in the sense that it can be understood only according to the dictates of tradition, or that it is the written record of historical tradition or oral teaching. Scripture needs to be explained. It is revealed in theology. This is possible only through the medium of the living experience of the Church.
We cannot assert that Scripture is self-sufficient; and this not because it is incomplete, or inexact, or has any defects, but because Scripture in its very essence does not lay claim to self-sufficiency. We can say that Scripture is a God-inspired scheme or image (eikón) of truth, but not truth itself. Strange to say, we often limit the freedom of the Church as a whole, for the sake of furthering the freedom of individual Christians. In the name of individual freedom the Catholic, ecumenical freedom of the Church is denied and limited. The liberty of the Church is shackled by an abstract biblical standard for the sake of setting free individual consciousness from the spiritual demands enforced by the experience of the Church. This is a denial of catholicity, a destruction of catholic consciousness; this is the sin of the Reformation. Dean Inge neatly says of the Reformers: “their creed has been described as a return to the Gospel in the spirit of the Koran” (Very Rev. W. R. Igne, The Platonic Tradition in English Religious Thought, 1926, p. 27). If we declare Scripture to be self-sufficient, we only expose it to subjective, arbitrary interpretation, thus cutting it away from its sacred source. Scripture is given to us in tradition. It is the vital, crystallizing centre. The Church, as the Body of Christ, stands mystically first and is fuller than Scripture. This does not limit Scripture, or cast shadows on it. But truth is revealed to us not only historically. Christ appeared and still appears before us not only in the Scriptures; He unchangeably and unceasingly reveals Himself in the Church, in His own Body. In the times of the early Christians the Gospels were not yet written and could not be the sole source of knowledge. The Church acted according to the spirit of the Gospel, and, what is more, the Gospel came to life in the Church, in the Holy Eucharist. In the Christ of the Eucharist Christians learned to know the Christ of the Gospels, and so His image became vivid to them.
This does not mean that we oppose Scripture to experience. On the contrary, it means that we unite them in the same manner in which they were united from the beginning. We must not think that all we have said denies history. On the contrary, history is recognized in all its sacred realism. As contrasted with outward historical testimony, we put forward no subjective religious experience, no solitary mystical consciousness, not the experience of separate believers, but the integral, living experience of the Catholic Church, catholic experience, and Church life. And this experience includes also historical memory; it is full of history. But this memory is not only a reminiscence and a remembrance of some bygone events. Rather it is a vision of what is, and of what has been, accomplished, a vision of the mystical conquest of time, of the catholicity of the whole of time. The Church knows naught of forgetfulness. The grace-giving experience of the Church becomes integral in its catholic fulness.
This experience has not been exhausted either in Scripture, or in oral tradition, or in definitions. It cannot, it must not be, exhausted. (The Catholicity of the Church)

The Papal Ruling on Church Slavonic

The Slavs rejoiced to hear the greatness of God extolled in their native tongue. The apostles [Cyril and Methodius] afterward translated the Psalter, the Oktoechos, and other books.

…[S]ome zealots began to condemn the Slavic books, contending that it was not right for any other nation to have its own alphabet apart from the Hebrews, the Greeks and the Latins, according to Pilate’s superscription, which he composed for the Lord’s Cross. When the Pope at Rome heard of this situation, he rebuked those who murmured against Slavic books, saying:

“Let the word of Scripture be fulfilled that ‘all nations shall praise God’ (Ps. 71:17), and likewise that ‘all nations shall declare the majesty of God according as the Holy Spirit shall grant them to speak’ (Acts 2:4). Whosoever condemns the Slavic writing shall be excluded from the Church until he mend his ways. For such men are not sheep but wolves; by their fruits ye shall know them and guard aginst them. Children of God, hearken unto His teachings, and depart not from the ecclesiastical rule which Methodius your teacher has appointed to you.” (The Russian Primary Chronicle, 25)

On St. Emperor Constantine and the Holy Scriptures

St. Emperor Constantine the Great ca. 272-337

Constantinus Augustus, the great and the victorious, to Eusebius.

In the city which bears our name, a great number of persons have, through the providential care of God the Saviour, united themselves to the holy Church. As all things there are in a state of rapid improvement, we deemed it most important that an additional number of churches should be built. Adopt joyfully the mode of procedure determined upon by us, which we have thought expedient to make known to your prudence, namely, that you should get written, on fine parchment, fifty volumes, easily legible and handy for use; these you must have transcribed by skilled calligraphers, accurately acquainted with their art. I mean, of course, copies of the Holy Scriptures, which, as you know, it is most necessary that the congregation of the Church should both have and use. A letter has been sent from our clemency to the catholicus of the diocese, in order that he may be careful that everything necessary for the undertaking is supplied. The duty devolving upon you is to take measures to ensure the completion of these manuscripts within a short space of time. When they are finished, you are authorised by this letter to order two public carriages for the purpose of transmitting them to us; and thus the fair manuscripts will be easily submitted to our inspection. Appoint one of the deacons of your church to take charge of this part of the business; when he comes to us, he shall receive proofs of our benevolence. May God preserve you, beloved brother. (Letter to Eusebius of Palestine)

St. Gregory on Holy Scripture

St. Gregory the Theologian ca. 329-389

We however, who extend the accuracy of the Spirit to the merest stroke and tittle, Mat. 5:18 will never admit the impious assertion that even the smallest matters were dealt with haphazard by those who have recorded them, and have thus been borne in mind down to the present day: on the contrary, their purpose has been to supply memorials and instructions for our consideration under similar circumstances, should such befall us, and that the examples of the past might serve as rules and models, for our warning and imitation. (Oration 2.105)

St. Athanasius on Holy Scripture

St. Athanasius the Great 297-373

Now it is the opinion of some, that the Scriptures do not agree together, or that God, Who gave the commandment, is false. But there is no disagreement whatever, far from it, neither can the Father, Who is truth, lie; ‘for it is impossible that God should lie Heb. 6:18,’ as Paul affirms. But all these things are plain to those who rightly consider them, and to those who receive with faith the writings of the law. (Letter 19.3)


St. Isaac on Reading Holy Scripture

St. Isaac the Syrian died ca. 700

We should consider the labor of reading to be something extremely beneficial; its importance cannot be exaggerated. For it serves as the gate by which the intellect enters into the divine mysteries and takes strength for attaining luminosity in prayer: it bathes with enjoyment as it wanders over the acts of God’s dispensation which have taken place for the benefit of humanity…From these acts prayer is illumined and strengthened — whether it be that they are taken from the spiritual Scriptures, or from things written  by the great teachers in the Church on the topic of the divine dispensation; or among those who teach the mysteries of the ascetic life. These two kinds of reading are useful for the man of the spirit… Without reading the intellect has no means of drawing near to God: Scripture draws the mind up and sets it at every moment in the direction of God; it baptizes it from this corporeal world with its insights and causes it to be above the body continually. There no other toil by which someone can make better progress. Provided that person is reading Scripture for the sake of truth, these sorts of things he will discover from it. (The Spiritual World of St. Isaac the Syrian by Hilarion Alfeyev pg. 175)

On Memorizing the Holy Scriptures

St. Nilus of Sora ca. 1443-1508

Learn something from the Scriptures by heart, keeping your mind focused on it. These things impede the demons from making incursions against us. This is also a stratagem of the Holy Fathers.  (The Complete Extant Ascetical Works [in Greek] [Thessaloniki: Ekdoseis “Orthodoxos Kypsele,” 1985], pp. 229-230)

St. Augustine on Holy Scripture

Blessed Augustine of Hippo ca. 354-430

For I confess to your Charity that I have learned to yield this respect and honour only to the canonical books of Scripture: of these alone do I most firmly believe that the authors were completely free from error. And if in these writings I am perplexed by anything which appears to me opposed to truth, I do not hesitate to suppose that either the manuscript is faulty, or the translator has not caught the meaning of what was said, or I myself have failed to understand it. As to all other writings, in reading them, however great the superiority of the authors to myself in sanctity and learning, I do not accept their teaching as true on the mere ground of the opinion being held by them; but only because they have succeeded in convincing my judgment of its truth either by means of these canonical writings themselves, or by arguments addressed to my reason. I believe, my brother, that this is your own opinion as well as mine. I do not need to say that I do not suppose you to wish your books to be read like those of prophets or of apostles, concerning which it would be wrong to doubt that they are free from error. Far be such arrogance from that humble piety and just estimate of yourself which I know you to have, and without which assuredly you would not have said, “Would that I could receive your embrace, and that by converse we might aid each other in learning!” (To St. Jerome, Letter 82.1.3)

On Teaching Holy Scripture

Council in Trullo 692

It behooves those who preside over the churches, every day but especially on Lord’s days, to teach all the clergy and people words of piety and of right religion, gathering out of Holy Scripture meditations and determinations of the truth, and not going beyond the limits now fixed, nor varying from the tradition of the God-bearing fathers. And if any controversy in regard to Scripture shall have been raised, let them not interpret it otherwise than as the lights and doctors of the church in their writings have expounded it, and in those let them glory rather than in composing things out of their own heads, lest through their lack of skill they may have departed from what was fitting. For through the doctrine of the aforesaid fathers, the people coming to the knowledge of what is good and desirable, as well as what is useless and to be rejected, will remodel their life for the better, and not be led by ignorance, but applying their minds to the doctrine, they will take heed that no evil befall them and work out their salvation in fear of impending punishment. (Canon 19)

On How to Read Holy Scripture

St. Philaret of Moscow 1821-1867

What rules must we observe in reading holy Scripture?

First, we must read it devoutly, as the Word of God, and with prayer to understand it aright; secondly, we must read it with a pure desire of instruction in faith, and incitement to good works; thirdly, we must take and understand it in such sense as agrees with the interpretation of the orthodox Church and the holy Fathers. (The Longer Catechism, 56)

On Moses and Elijah

Bede the Venerable ca. 673-735

They were not forbidden to listen to Moses and Elias, that is, the Law and the Prophets, but listening to the Son was to take precedence, since He came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets. It is impressed upon them that the light of Gospel truth was to be put before all the types and obscure signs of the Old Testament. (Homily 1.24, 242)

St. Athanasius on the Psalter

St. Athanasius the Great ca. 297-373

You see, then, that the grace of the one Spirit is common to every writer and all the books of Scripture, and differs in its expression only as need requires and the Spirit wills. Obviously, therefore, the only thing that matters is for each writer to hold fast unyieldingly the grace he personally has received and so fulfil perfectly his individual mission. And, among all the books, the Psalter has certainly a very special grace, a choiceness of quality well worthy to be pondered; for, besides the characteristics which it shares with others, it has this peculiar marvel of its own, that within it are represented and portrayed in all their great variety the movements of the human soul. It is like a picture, in which you see yourself portrayed, and seeing, may understand and consequently form yourself upon the pattern given. Elsewhere in the Bible you read only that the Law commands this or that to be done, you listen to the Prophets to learn about the Saviour’s coming, or you turn to the historical books to learn the doings of the kings and holy men; but in the Psalter, besides all these things, you learn about yourself. You find depicted in it all the movements of your soul, all its changes, its ups and downs, its failures and recoveries. Moreover, whatever your particular need or trouble, from this same book you can select a form of words to fit it, so that you do not merely hear and then pass on, but learn the way to remedy your ill. Prohibitions of evil-doing are plentiful in Scripture, but only the Psalter tells you how to obey these orders and abstain from sin. Repentance, for example, is enjoined repeatedly; but to repent means to leave off sinning, and it is the Psalms that show you how to set about repenting and with what words your penitence may be expressed. Again, Saint Paul says, Tribulation worketh endurance, and endurance experience, and experience hope, and hope maketh not ashamed [Rom 5:3, 5]; but it is in the Psalms that we find written and described how afflictions should be borne, and what the afflicted ought to say, both at the time and when his troubles cease: the whole process of his testing is set forth in them and we are shown exactly with what words to voice our hope in God. Or take the commandment, In everything give thanks. [1 Thess 5:18] The Psalms not only exhort us to be thankful, they also provide us with fitting words to say. We are told, too, by other writers that all who would live godly in Christ must suffer persecution;[2 Tim 3:12] and here again the Psalms supply words with which both those who flee persecution and those who suffer under it may suitably address themselves to God, and it does the same for those who have been rescued from it. We are bidden elsewhere in the Bible also to bless the Lord and to acknowledge Him: here in the Psalms we are shown the way to do it, and with what sort of words His majesty may meetly be confessed. In fact, under all the circumstances of life, we shall find that these divine songs suit ourselves and meet our own souls’ need at every turn.

…I have heard…from wise men, that in old days in Israel they put daemons to flight by reading of the Scriptures only, and in the same way uncovered plots made by them against men.

For this reason he rebuked as being worthy of the utmost condemnation people who neglect the Scriptures, while making use of impressive words from other sources for the purposes of exorcism so-called. [Acts 19:14-16] Those who did that were playing with the sacred words, he said, and offering themselves as to daemons, as did those Jews, the sort they tried in that way to exorcise the man at Ephesus. On the other hand, daemons fear the words of holy men and cannot bear them; for the Lord Himself is in the words of Scripture and Him they cannot bear, as they showed when they cried out to Christ, I pray you, torment me not before the time. [Lk 8:28; Mt 8:29] In the same way Paul commanded the unclean spirits, [Acts 16:18] and daemons were subject to the disciples. [Lk 10:17] The hand of the Lord was on Elisha the prophet also, and he prophesied about the waters to three kings, when the minstrel played and sang according to His bidding.[4 Kings 3:15(2 Kings 3:15)] So also is it with us today: if any one have at heart the interests of those who suffer, let him use these words, and he will both help the suffer, let him use these words, and he will both help the sufferers more and at the same time prove his own faith to be true and strong; thus God, perceiving it, will grant the suppliants perfect health. Well knew the holy Psalmist that, when he said in Psalm 119, I will meditate in Thy judgements: and I will not forget Thy words; and again, Thy statutes were my songs in the place of my sojourning. For with these words they all worked out their own salvation, saying, If Thy law were not my meditation, then had I perished in my humiliation. Paul also strengthened his disciple with like words, saying, Ponder these things, abide in them, that thy progress may be manifest.[1 Tim 4:15]

And so you too…pondering the Psalms and reading them intelligently, with the Spirit as your guide, will be able to grasp the meaning of each one, even as you desire. And you will strive also to imitate the lives of those God-bearing saints who spoke them at the first. (To Marcellinus, On the Interpretation of the Psalms)


St. Basil on Studying Holy Scripture

St. Basil the Great ca. 330-379

The study of inspired Scripture is the chief way of finding our duty, for in it we find both instruction about conduct and the lives of blessed men, delivered in writing, as some breathing images of godly living, for the imitation of their good works. Hence, in whatever respect each one feels himself deficient, devoting himself to this imitation, he finds, as from some dispensary, the due medicine for his ailment. He who is enamoured of chastity dwells upon the history of Joseph, and from him learns chaste actions, finding him not only possessed of self-command over pleasure, but virtuously-minded in habit. He is taught endurance by Job [who, not only when the circumstances of life began to turn against him, and in one moment he was plunged from wealth into penury, and from being the father of fair children into childlessness, remained the same, keeping the disposition of his soul all throughuncrushed, but was not even stirred to anger against the friends who came to comfort him, and trampled on him, and aggravated his troubles.] Or should he be enquiring how to be at once meek and great-hearted, hearty against sin, meek towards men, he will find David noble in warlike exploits, meek and unruffled as regards revenge on enemies. Such, too, was Moses rising up with great heart upon sinners against God, but with meek soul bearing their evil-speaking against himself. [Thus, generally, as painters, when they are painting from other pictures, constantly look at the model, and do their best to transfer its lineaments to their own work, so too must he who is desirous of rendering himself perfect in all branches of excellency, keep his eyes turned to the lives of the saints as though to living and moving statues, and make their virtue his own by imitation. (Letter 2.3)

St. Ambrose on Holy Scripture

St. Ambrose of Milan ca. 338-397

The Divine Scripture is a sea, containing in it deep meanings, and an abyss of prophetic mysteries; and into this sea enter many rivers. There are Sweet and transparent streams, cool fountains too there are, springing up into life eternal, and pleasant words as an honey-comb. Agreeable sentences too there are, refreshing the minds of the hearers, if I may say so, with spiritual drink, and soothing them with, the sweetness of their moral precepts. Various then are the streams of the sacred Scriptures. There is in them a first draught for you, a second, and a last. (Letter 2.3: To Constantius, A Newly Appointed Bishop)

St. Mark the Ascetic on Reading Holy Scripture

St. Mark the Ascetic ca. 5th cent.

When reading the Holy Scriptures, he who is humble and engaged in spiritual work will apply everything to himself and not to someone else. (On the Spiritual Law, 6)

Do not grow conceited about your interpretations of Scripture, lest your intellect fall victim to blasphemy. (ibid. 11)

When you read Holy Scripture, perceive its hidden meanings. ‘For whatever was written in past times was written for our instruction’ (Rom. 15:4). (ibid. 26)

Understand the words of Holy Scripture by putting them into practice, and do not fill yourself with conceit by expatiating on theoretical ideas. (Ibid. 85)

On the Grace of Holy Scripture

St. Fulgentius of Ruspe ca. 465-533

Study your heart in the light of the Holy Scriptures, and you will know therein who you were, who you are, and who you ought to be. If you approach the Scriptures in meekness and humility, you will really discover there both the prevenient grace by which it is possible to be inspired to a beginning, and the concomitant grace, by which it is possible to continue a journey on the right path, as well as the subsequent grace, by which one is enabled to achieve the blessedness of the heavenly kingdom. (Letter to Senator Theodore 6.12)

On the Authorship of Job

St. Gregory the Dialogist ca. 540-604

It would certainly be a vain enterprise to ask who wrote the Book of Job, since in any case the Author of the book is believed, in the Faith, to be the Holy Spirit. He, therefore, wrote this book, who dictated what was to be written. He wrote it, who is both the Inspirer of him who did the work of writing, and who transmitted to us, by the word of the one writing, the facts that were to be presented. If we were to read the words of some great man in a letter we had received, but were to question by what pen the letter had been set down in writing, it would surely be ridiculous to know the author of the letter and to recognize its meaning, and at the same time to try to discover by what sort of pen those words had been inscribed. But when we know the thing itself and hold firmly that the Holy Spirit is its Author, and yet we inquire after its writer, what else are we doing but questioning about the pen which inscribed the words we read? (Moral Teaching from Job Preface 1.2)

Blessed Theodoret on the Psalms

Blessed Theodoret of Cyr ca. 393-457

Some say that not all the Psalms are by David, but that some are by others… About this I make no very strong affirmation. What difference does it make to me whether all of them or some of them [are David’s], when it is clear in any case that all are written under the operation of the Divine Spirit? (Interpretation of the Psalms, Preface)

Elder Sophrony on Holy Tradition

Blessed Elder Sophrony Sakharov of Essex 1896-1993

Sacred Tradition, as the eternal and immutable dwelling of the Holy Spirit in the Church, lies at the very root of her being, and so encompasses her life that even the very Scriptures come to be but one of its forms. Thus, were the Church to be deprived of Tradition she would cease to be what she is, for the ministry of the Spirit of the New Testament is the ministry of the Spirit ‘written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God: not in tables of stones, but in the fleshly tables of the heart’. (cf. 1 Cor. 3:18-19).

Suppose that for some reason the Church were to be bereft of all her books, of the Old and new Testaments, the works of the holy Fathers, of all service books – what would happen? Sacred Tradition would restore the Scriptures, not word for word, perhaps – the verbal form might be different – but in essence the new Scriptures would be the expression of that same ‘faith which was once delivered unto the saints’ (Jude 3). They would be the expression of the one and only Holy Spirit continuously active in the Church, her foundation and her very substance.

The Scriptures are not more profound, not more important than Holy Tradition but, as said above, they are one of its forms — the most precious form, both because they are preserved and convenient to make use of. But removed from the stream of Sacred Tradition, the Scriptures cannot be rightly understood through any scientific research.

If the Apostle Paul had the ‘mind of Christ’, how much more does this apply to the whole body of the Church of which St. Paul is one member! And if the writings of St. Paul and the other Apostles are Holy Scripture, then new Scriptures of the Church, written supposedly after the loss of the old books, would in their turn become Holy Scripture for according to the Lord’s promise God, the Holy Trinity, will be in the Church even unto the end of the world.

Men are wrong when they set aside Sacred Tradition and go, as they think, to its source — to the Holy Scriptures. The Church has her origins, not in the Scriptures but in Sacred Tradition. The Church did not possess the New Testament during the first decades of her history. She lived then by Tradition only — the Tradition St. Paul calls upon the faithful to hold (cf. 2 Thess. 2:15).

It is a well-known fact that all heresiarchs have always based themselves on the Holy Scriptures, only their interpretations differing. The Apostle Peter spoke of this perversion of the meaning of the Scriptures when they are construed personally, by the individual reader (cf. 2 Pet. 3:16).

Individual members of the Church — not excluding her finest sons and teachers — do not achieve the whole fulness of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and so their teachings and writings are marred by one or another imperfection — sometimes even error — whereas as a whole the Church’s schooling, possessed of the gifts and knowledge, remains true for all time. (St. Silouan the Athonite, Chap. 5: The Staretz’ Doctrinal Teaching)

St. Ignaty on the Holy Gospel

St. Ignatius Brianchininov 1807-1867

Never cease studying the Gospel till the end of your life. Do not think you know it enough, even if you know it by heart. The Lord’s commandments are exceedingly broad (Ps. 119:96), even though they are expressed in few words. The Lord’s commandment is infinite, just as the Lord who uttered it is infinite. The practice of the commandments and progress in them is unlimited. The most perfect Christians, brought to a state of perfection by divine grace, remains imperfect in regard to the commandments of the Gospel. (The Arena, Chap. 6)

St. Hilary on Holy Scripture

St. Hilary of Poitiers ca. 300-368

Scripture is not in the reading, but in the understanding. (Ad Constantium Aug. Bk. 2.9)

For there have risen many who have given to the plain words of Holy Writ some arbitrary interpretation of their own, instead of its true and only sense, and this in defiance of the clear meaning of words. Heresy lies in the sense assigned, not in the word written; the guilt is that of the expositor, not of the text. Is not truth indestructible? (On the Trinity Bk. 2.3)

…[T]hough we are not responsible for the words of Scripture, yet we shall have to render an account for the sense we have assigned to them. (On the Trinity Bk. 4.19)

On the Ground of Pillar of Our Faith

St. Irenaeus of Lyons died ca. 202

We have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from those through whom the Gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and, at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith. For it is unlawful to assert that they preached before they possessed perfect knowledge, as some do even venture to say, boasting themselves as improvers of the apostles. For, after our Lord rose from the dead, [the apostles] were invested with power from on high when the Holy Spirit came down [upon them], were filled from all [His gifts], and had perfect knowledge: they departed to the ends of the earth, preaching the glad tidings of the good things [sent] from God to us, and proclaiming the peace of heaven to men, who indeed do all equally and individually possess the Gospel of God. Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, and laying the foundations of the Church. After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter. Luke also, the companion of Paul, recorded in a book the Gospel preached by him. Afterwards, John, the disciple of the Lord, who also had leaned upon His breast, did himself publish a Gospel during his residence at Ephesus in Asia. (Against Heresies Bk. 3.1.1)

On Spirit and Ink

St. Macarius the Great ca. 4th cent.

It is like this in Christianity for anyone who tastes the grace of God. For it says: “Taste and see how sweet the Lord is” (Ps. 34:8). Such a taste is this power of the Spirit working to effect full certainty in faith which operates in the heart. For as many as are sons of light and in the service of the New Covenant through the Holy Spirit have nothing to learn from men. For they are taught by God. His very grace writes in their hearts the laws of the Spirit. They should not put all their trusting hope solely in the Scriptures written in ink. For divine grace writes on the “tables of the heart” (2 Cor. 3:3) the laws of the Spirit and the heavenly mysteries. For the heart directs and governs all the other organs of the body. (Fifty Spiritual Homilies, Homily 15.20)

Blessed Augustine of Hippo ca. 354-430

And thus a man who is resting upon faith, hope and love, and who keeps a firm hold upon these, does not need the Scriptures except for the purpose of instructing others. Accordingly, many live without copies of the Scriptures, even in solitude, on the strength of these three graces. So that in their case, I think, the saying is already fulfilled: Whether there be prophecies they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. 1 Cor. 13:8 Yet by means of these instruments (as they may be called), so great an edifice of faith and love has been built up in them, that, holding to what is perfect, they do not seek for what is only in part perfect— of course, I mean, so far as is possible in this life; for, in comparison with the future life, the life of no just and holy man is perfect here. Therefore the apostle says: Now abides faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity: 1 Cor. 13:13 because, when a man shall have reached the eternal world, while the other two graces will fail, love will remain greater and more assured. (Christian Doctrine Bk. 1.39.43)

St. Sophronius of Jerusalem ca. 560-638

St. Mary of Egypt: I am fed and clothed by the all-powerful Word of God, the Lord of all. For it is not by bread alone that man lives. And those who have stripped off the rags of sin have no refuge, hiding themselves in the clefts of the rocks.

Hearing that she cited words Scripture, from Moses and Job, Zosimas asked her: “And so you have read the psalms and other books?”

St. Mary smiled at this and said to the elder: “Believe me, I have not seen a human face ever since I crossed the Jordan, except yours today. I have not seen a beast or a living being ever since I came into the desert. I never learned from books. I have never even heard anyone who sang and read from them. But the word of God which is alive and active, by itself teaches a man knowledge. (The Life of St. Mary of Egypt)

St. Maximus the Confessor ca. 580-662

So long as we only see the Logos of God as embodied multifariously in symbols in the letter of Holy Scripture, we have not yet achieved spiritual insight into the incorporeal, simple, single and unique Father as He exists in the incorporeal, simple, single and unique Son, according to the saying, ‘He who has seen Me has seen the Father… and I am in the Father and the Father in Me’ (John 14:9-10). We need much knowledge so that, having first penetrated the veils of the sayings which cover the Logos, we may with a naked intellect see – in so far as men can – the pure Logos, as He exists in Himself, clearly showing us the Father in Himself. Hence a person who seeks God with true devotion should not be dominated by the literal text, lest he unwittingly receives not God but things appertaining to God; that is, lest he feel a dangerous affection for the words of Scripture instead of for the Logos. For the Logos eludes the intellect which supposes that it has grasped the incorporeal Logos by means of His outer garments, like the Egyptian woman who seized hold of Joseph’s garments instead of Joseph himself (cf. Gen. 39:7-13), or like the ancients who were content merely with the beauty of visible things and mistakenly worshipped the creation instead of the Creator (cf. Rom. 1:25). (Two Hundred Texts on Theology and the Incarnate Dispensation of the Son of God: Second Century 73)

St. Isaac of Syria died ca. 700

Until a man has received the Comforter, he requires inscriptions in ink to imprint the memory of good in his heart, to keep his striving for good constantly renewed by continual reading, and to preserve his soul from the subtelties of the ways of sin; for he has not yet acquired the power of the Spirit that drives away delusion which takes soul-profiting recollections captive and makes a man cold through the distraction of the intellect. When the power of the Spirit has penetrated the noetic powers of the active soul, then in place of the laws written in ink, the commandments of the Spirit take root in his heart and a man is secretly taught by the Spirit and needs no help from sensory matter. (The Spiritual World of St. Isaac the Syrian by Hilarion Alfeyev  pg. 183)

St. Symeon the New Theologian ca. 949-1022

Just as the more comprehensive commandments contain within themselves all the more particular commandments, so the more comprehensive virtues contain in themselves the more particular virtues. For he who sells what he has and distributes it to the poor (cf. Matt. 19:21), and who once and for all becomes poor himself, has fulfilled at once all the more particular commandments: he no longer has to give alms to the person who asks him for them, nor does he have to-refrain from rejecting the man who wishes to borrow from him (cf. Matt. 5:42). So, too, someone who prays continuously (cf. 1 Thess. 5:17) has in this act included everything and is no longer obliged to praise the Lord seven times a day (cf. Ps. 119:164), or in the evening, in the morning, and at noonday (cf. Ps. 55:17): he has already done all that we do by way of prayer and psalmody according to the regulations and at specific times and hours. Similarly, he who has acquired consciously within himself the Teacher of spiritual knowledge (cf. Ps. 94:10) has gone through all Scripture, has gained all that is to be gained from reading, and will no longer have need to resort to books. How is this? The person who is in communion with Him who inspired those who wrote the Divine Scriptures, and is initiated by Him into the undivulged secrets of the hidden mysteries, will himself be an inspired book to others – a book containing old and new mysteries and written by the hand of God; for he has accomplished all things and in God, the principle of perfection, he rests from all his labors. (One Hundred and Fifty-Three Practical and Theological Texts 118)

But while he (St. Symeon’s elder, St. Symeon of Studion) was still alive he said that he had God wholly within himself, and after his death he shouted aloud that which he wrote with his own hand, “Gain God as your friend and you will not need the help of man…”, and again, “Gain God for yourself and you will not need a book.” This he showed by his deeds, as he wrote a book by his own efforts, or rather by the Spirit that dwelled within him (Rom. 8:11), though he had no literary education. (The Discourses Chap. VI, The Example and Spirit of Symeon the Pious)

also see: http://classicalchristianity.com/2011/08/26/chrysostom-on-the-written-word/

St. Epiphanius on Holy Scripture

St. Epiphanius of Salamis ca. 315-403

[N]othing of discrepancy will be found in Sacred Scripture, nor will there be found any statement in opposition to any other statement. (Panarion 70.7)

St. Andrew on Holy Scripture

St. Andrew of Caesarea ca. 6th cent.

First, therefore, as you yourself well know, since there are three parts to a human being, all divinely inspired Scripture has been endowed with three parts by divine grace. And by this (grace), the body is somewhat like the letter and like history established according to sense perception.  In like manner, the soul is the figurative sense, guiding the reader from that which can be perceived by the intellect. Likewise the spirit has appeared to be the anagogoical sense and the contemplation of the future and higher things, so that the first level moreover is appropiate to the ones guided by the Law, the second (is appropiate) to the ones governed by grace, and the third (is appropiate) to those who exist in the blessed condition in which the Spirit governs, having subordinated to it all carnal thoughts and motions. (Commentary on the Apocalypse, Introduction)


St. Jerome on Sects and Holy Scripture

Blessed Jerome ca. 347-420

I will tell you my opinion briefly and without reserve. We ought to remain in that Church which was founded by the Apostles and continues to this day. If ever you hear of any that are called Christians taking their name not from the Lord Jesus Christ, but from some other, for instance, Marcionites, Valentinians, Men of the mountain or the plain, you may be sure that you have there not the Church of Christ, but the synagogue of Antichrist. For the fact that they took their rise after the foundation of the Church is proof that they are those whose coming the Apostle foretold. And let them not flatter themselves if they think they have Scripture authority for their assertions, since the devil himself quoted Scripture, and the essence of the Scriptures is not the letter, but the meaning. Otherwise, if we follow the letter, we too can concoct a new dogma and assert that such persons as wear shoes and have two coats must not be received into the Church. (Dialogue with the Luciferians 28)

On Sola Scriptura and Churchless Christianity

St. Hilarion Troitsky 1886-1929

There are an increasing number of people among us who dream of some sort of churchless Christianity. These people have a seemingly constant anarchical system of thought. They are either incapable, or more often, are simply too lazy to think through to the end of their thoughts.

Without even speaking of the most evident contradictions of the churchless quasi-Christianity, it is always possible to see that it is completely void of the genuine Grace of Christian life, and the inspiration and quickening of the Spirit.

When people take the Gospel book, forgetting that the Church gave it to them, then it becomes like the Koran, said to have been dropped by Allah from the sky. When they somehow contrive to overlook the teaching about the Church in it, then all that remains of Christianity is the teaching, so powerless to re-create life and man, as is every philosophical system.

Our forebears, Adam and Eve, sought to become “like gods” without God, relying on the magical power of the beautiful “apple.” This is how many of our contemporaries dream of being saved: with the Gospel, but without the Church and without the God-man. They hope on the book of the Gospel exactly as Adam and Eve hope on the paradise apple.

The book, however, does not have the power to give them a new life. People who deny the Church constantly speak about “evangelical principles,” about evangelical teaching; but Christianity as life is completely alien to them.

In the churchless form, Christianity is only a sound, now and then sentimental, but always a caricature and lifeless. It is precisely these people who, while denying the Church, have made Christianity, in the words of V. S. Soloviev, “deathly boring.” As David Strauss observed, “When the edifice of the Church is destroyed and, on the bare, poorly leveled place, there is erected only the edifying sermon, the result is sad and terrible.” (Christianity or the Church)

On the Facts in Holy Scripture

St. Cyril of Alexandria ca. 376-444

People who deprecate the facts given in the inspired Scriptures as of little relevance fail in all likelihood to understand as they should what is recorded in them. While in fact a spiritual interpretation is fine and beneficial, and by very clearly illuminating the mind’s eyes fills them with insight, it is when we find in the sacred Scriptures something that actually happened that it befits us to hunt for the benefit offered by the facts so that the inspired Scripture may everywhere prove salutary and advantageous. (Commentary on Isaiah, Chap. 7)

On the Never-Ending Word

St. Aphrahat the Persian Sage ca. 270-345

But concerning these things that I have written for you, my beloved, namely, concerning that which is written in Daniel, I have not brought them to an end, but (have stopped) short of the end. And if any man dispute about them, say thus to him, that these words are not concluded, because the words of God are infinite, nor will they be concluded. For the foolish man says, Here unto (these) words reach. And again, it is not possible to add to them or to diminish from them. Deut. 4:2 For the riches of God cannot be computed or limited. For if you take away water from the sea, the deficiency will be imperceptible. And if you remove sand from the sea-shore, its measure will not be diminished. And if you count the stars of heaven, you will not arrive at the sum of them. And if you kindle fire from a burning, it will not a whit be lessened. And if you receive of the Spirit of Christ, Christ will not a whit be diminished. And if Christ dwell in you, yet He will not be completed in you. And if the sun enter the windows of your house, yet the sun in its entirety will not come to you. And all these things that I have enumerated for you were created by the word of God. Therefore know that, as concerning the word of God no man has reached or will reach its end. Therefore, have you no disputation about these things, but say:— These things are so. That is enough. But hear these things from me, and also enquire about them of our brethren, children of our faith. But whosoever shall mock at the words of his brother, even if he say, mine are wise, yet hearken not to his words. (Demonstrations 5.25)

The Key to the Closed Chest of Holy Scripture

St. Symeon the New Theologian ca. 949-1022

Brethren and Fathers,

Spiritual knowledge is like a house built in the midst of secular and pagan knowledge, in which there is laid up, like a solid and well-secured chest, the knowledge of the inspired Scriptures and the inestimable riches they contain. Those who enter into the house will never at all be able to see those treasures unless this chest is opened for them. But it does not belong to human wisdom (cf. 1 Cor. 2:13) ever to be able to open it, so that the riches of the Spirit deposited in it remain unknown to all who are worldly.

A man might pick up the entire chest and carry it on his shoulders without knowing what treasure is contained in it. So a person may read the Scriptures and commit them to memory and carry them with him as if they were but one psalm, and yet be ignorant of the gift of the Holy Spirit hidden within them. It is not by the chest that its contents are exposed, nor is it by the Scripture that the contents of Scripture become clear. How is this so? Listen!

You see a small chest, firmly secured on every side. By means of its weight and its external beauty you conjecture, or perhaps believe from what you have heard, that it contains a treasure. You pick it up quickly and go off with it. But tell me, what will it profit you if you constantly carry it about closed and locked without opening it? As long as you live you will never see the treasure it contains; you will not see the sparkling of its precious stones, the luster of its pearls, the flashing gleam of its gold. What will you profit, if you are not found worthy to take even a small part of it to but some food or clothing? But if, as we have said, you carry the chest about with you entirely sealed, even though it is filled with a great and costly treasure, will you not be worn out with hunger, thirst, and nakedness? You will not profit at all!

Pay heed to me brother, and apply this to spiritual things. Think of the chest as the Gospel of Christ and the other divine Scriptures. In them there is enclosed and sealed up eternal life together with the unutterable and eternal blessings which it contains, though unseen by physical eyes. As the Lord’s word says, “Search the Scriptures, for in them is eternal life” (Jn. 5:39). As for the man who carries the chest about, think of him as one who learns all the Scriptures by heart and always quotes them with his mouth. He carries them about in the memory of his soul as in a chest containing God’s commandments as precious stones (cf. Ps. 19:11) wherein is eternal life. For Christ’s words are light and life, as He Himself says, “He who does not obey the Son shall not see life” (Jn. 3:6). Together with the commandments [it contains] the virtues, like pearls.

From the commandments spring the virtues, and from them the revelation of the mysteries that are hidden and veiled in the letter. From the fulfillment of the commandments comes the practice of the virtues; through the practice of the virtues the commandments are fulfilled. Thus by means of these the door of knowledge has been opened to us (cf. Lk. 11:52); or rather, it has been opened, not by them, but by Him Who has said, “He who loves Me will keep My commandments, and My Father will love him, and I will reveal Myself to him” (Jn. 14:23,21). When, therefore, God “lives in us and moves among us” (2 Cor. 6:16) and perceptibly reveals Himself to us, then we consciously contemplate the contents of the chest, the divine mysteries that are hidden in the divine Scripture. Let no one decieve himself — in no other way it is possible for the chest of knowledge to be opened to us, and for us to enjoy the good things that it contains and partake of them and contemplate them. (The Discourses: XXIV On Spiritual Knowledge 1-3)

On the Heretical Abuse of Scripture

St. Vincent of Lerins died ca. 445

Here, possibly, some one may ask, Do heretics also appeal to Scripture? They do indeed, and with a vengeance; for you may see them scamper through every single book of Holy Scripture—through the books of Moses, the books of Kings, the Psalms, the Epistles, the Gospels, the Prophets. Whether among their own people, or among strangers, in private or in public, in speaking or in writing, at convivial meetings, or in the streets, hardly ever do they bring forward anything of their own which they do not endeavour to shelter under words of Scripture. Read the works of Paul of Samosata, of Priscillian, of Eunomius, of Jovinian, and the rest of those pests, and you will see an infinite heap of instances, hardly a single page, which does not bristle with plausible quotations from the New Testament or the Old.

But the more secretly they conceal themselves under shelter of the Divine Law, so much the more are they to be feared and guarded against. For they know that the evil stench of their doctrine will hardly find acceptance with any one if it be exhaled pure and simple. They sprinkle it over, therefore, with the perfume of heavenly language, in order that one who would be ready to despise human error, may hesitate to condemn divine words. They do, in fact, what nurses do when they would prepare some bitter draught for children; they smear the edge of the cup all round with honey, that the unsuspecting child, having first tasted the sweet, may have no fear of the bitter. So too do these act, who disguise poisonous herbs and noxious juices under the names of medicines, so that no one almost, when he reads the label, suspects the poison.

It was for this reason that the Saviour cried, Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Matt. 7:15 What is meant by sheep’s clothing? What but the words which prophets and apostles with the guilelessness of sheep wove beforehand as fleeces, for that immaculate Lamb which takes away the sin of the world? What are the ravening wolves? What but the savage and rabid glosses of heretics, who continually infest the Church’s folds, and tear in pieces the flock of Christ wherever they are able? But that they may with more successful guile steal upon the unsuspecting sheep, retaining the ferocity of the wolf, they put off his appearance, and wrap themselves, so to say, in the language of the Divine Law, as in a fleece, so that one, having felt the softness of wool, may have no dread of the wolf’s fangs. But what says the Saviour? By their fruits you shall know them; that is, when they have begun not only to quote those divine words, but also to expound them, not as yet only to make a boast of them as on their side, but also to interpret them, then will that bitterness, that acerbity, that rage, be understood; then will the ill-savour of that novel poison be perceived, then will those profane novelties be disclosed, then may you see first the hedge broken through, then the landmarks of the Fathers removed, then the Catholic faith assailed, then the doctrine of the Church torn in pieces.

Such were they whom the Apostle Paul rebukes in his Second Epistle to the Corinthians, when he says, For of this sort are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. 2 Cor. 11:12 The apostles brought forward instances from Holy Scripture; these men did the same. The apostles cited the authority of the Psalms; these men did so likewise. The Apostles brought forward passages from the prophets; these men still did the same. But when they began to interpret in different senses the passages which both had agreed in appealing to, then were discerned the guileless from the crafty, the genuine from the counterfeit, the straight from the crooked, then, in one word, the true apostles from the false apostles. And no wonder, he says, for Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. It is no marvel then if his servants are transformed as the servants of righteousness. Therefore, according to the authority of the Apostle Paul, as often as either false apostles or false teachers cite passages from the Divine Law, by means of which, misinterpreted, they seek to prop up their own errors, there is no doubt that they are following the cunning devices of their father, which assuredly he would never have devised, but that he knew that where he could fraudulently and by stealth introduce error, there is no easier way of effecting his impious purpose than by pretending the authority of Holy Scripture.

But some one will say, What proof have we that the Devil is wont to appeal to Holy Scripture? Let him read the Gospels wherein it is written, Then the Devil took Him (the Lord the Saviour) and set Him upon a pinnacle of the Temple, and said unto Him: If you be the Son of God, cast yourself down, for it is written, He shall give His angels charge concerning you, that they may keep you in all your ways: In their hands they shall bear you up, lest perchance you dash your foot against a stone. What sort of treatment must men, insignificant wretches that they are, look for at the hands of him who assailed even the Lord of Glory with quotations from Scripture? If you be the Son of God, says he, cast yourself down. Wherefore? For, says he, it is written. It behooves us to pay special attention to this passage and bear it in mind, that, warned by so important an instance of Evangelical authority, we may be assured beyond doubt, when we find people alleging passages from the Apostles or Prophets against the Catholic Faith, that the Devil speaks through their mouths. For as then the Head spoke to the Head, so now also the members speak to the members, the members of the Devil to the members of Christ, misbelievers to believers, sacrilegious to religious, in one word, Heretics to Catholics.

But what do they say? If you be the Son of God, cast yourself down; that is, If you would be a son of God, and would receive the inheritance of the Kingdom of Heaven, cast yourself down; that is, cast yourself down from the doctrine and tradition of that sublime Church, which is imagined to be nothing less than the very temple of God. And if one should ask one of the heretics who gives this advice, How do you prove? What ground have you, for saying, that I ought to cast away the universal and ancient faith of the Catholic Church? He has the answer ready, For it is written; and immediately he produces a thousand testimonies, a thousand examples, a thousand authorities from the Law, from the Psalms, from the Apostles, from the Prophets, by means of which, interpreted on a new and wrong principle, the unhappy soul may be precipitated from the height of Catholic truth to the lowest abyss of heresy. Then, with the accompanying promises, the heretics are wont marvellously to beguile the incautious. For they dare to teach and promise, that in their church, that is, in the conventicle of their communion, there is a certain great and special and altogether personal grace of God, so that whosoever pertain to their number, without any labour, without any effort, without any industry, even though they neither ask, nor seek, nor knock, have such a dispensation from God, that, borne up by angel hands, that is, preserved by the protection of angels, it is impossible they should ever dash their feet against a stone, that is, that they should ever be offended. (Commonitory 25-26)

On Anthropomorphisms

St. Ephrem the Syrian ca. 306-373

If someone concentrates his attention solely on the metaphors used of God’s majesty, he abuses and misrepresents that majesty by means of those metaphors with which God has clothed Himself for humanity’s own benefit, and he is ungrateful to that Grace which has bent down its stature to the level of human childishness, even though God has nothing in common with it. He clothed Himself in the likeness of humanity in order to bring humanity to a likeness of Himself. (Introduction to Hymns of Paradise trans. by Sebastian Brock)

Bede on the Holy Scripture

Bede the Venerable ca. 673-735

Holy Scripture is above all other books not only by its authority because it is Divine, or by its utility because it leads to eternal life, but also by its antiquity and its literary form. (De Schematibus)

On Protestantism in the Early Church

St. Vincent of Lerins died ca. 445

We inveighed also against the wicked presumption of Nestorius in boasting that he was the first and the only one who understood Holy Scripture, and that all those teachers were ignorant, who before him had expounded the sacred oracles, forsooth, the whole body of priests, the whole body of Confessors and martyrs, of whom some had published commentaries upon the Law of God, others had agreed with them in their comments, or had acquiesced in them. In a word, he confidently asserted that the whole Church was even now in error, and always had been in error, in that, as it seemed to him, it had followed, and was following, ignorant and misguided teachers. (The Commonitory Chap. 31.83)

On the Scriptures and Patristics

St. Paisius Velichkovsky 1722-1794

…[A]las for our times, whose woeful state our God-bearing Fathers foresaw by the Holy Spirit, and out of pity, as to their children, set forth for all of us in their holy writings to strengthen us. Thus, the divine Symeon the New Theologian says: ‘Rare are they, in truth, and especially now, who know how to shepherd and treat skillfully rational souls. For many, perhaps, have pretended to acquire, or in deed have acquired, fasting, vigil, and the appearance of reverence, and with ease can speak from the breast and teach how to multiply words; but very few are they who cut off the passions by means of humility of wisdom and constant lamentation and tears, and who acquire the ruling virtues inseparably from themselves.’ In confirmation of his words he quotes the most ancient Holy Fathers, and speaks thus: ‘For our divine Fathers say: he who wishes to acquire virtues, acquires them by means of lamentation. For it is evident that a monk who does not weep every day neither cuts off the passions nor performs the virtues, nor is he ever a partaker of [spiritual] gifts; for one thing,’ he says, ‘is virtue, and another is gifts.’

Likewise, the God-bearing father so near to us, the Russian luminary, Nilus of Sora, having examined all this with much care in the Divine Scriptures and seen the woeful state of these ties and the present unconcern of men, in the foreword to his book counsels zealots in this manner: ‘With great pains one must seek out an undeceived instructor; and if we do not find one, then the Holy Fathers have commanded us,’ he says, ‘to take instruction from the Divine Scriptures and the teaching of the Holy Fathers, hearing the Lord Himself, Who said: Search the Scriptures, and in them ye shall find eternal life’ (Jn. 5:39). And if this saint spoke thus only concerning the mental work [of the Jesus Prayer], then how much more is there need to find a skilled practitioner and undeceived instructor for the deliverance of the soul from all evil passions and instruction in the right path of doing God’s commandments? Wherefore, O brother, we have extreme need now to learn day and night, with much pain and many tears, from the Divine and Patristic writings, and to be instructed in the commandments of God and in the doings of our Holy Fathers by taking counsel of like-minded zealots among our eldest Fathers. And thus, by the mercy of Christ and by forcing ourselves, we can receive salvation. (Blessed Paisius Velichkovsky: The Man Behind the Philokalia pp. 66-67)

On Holy Scripture in the Church

Confession of Dositheus 1672

We believe the Divine and Sacred Scriptures to be God-taught; and, therefore, we ought to believe the same without doubting; yet not otherwise than as the Catholic Church has interpreted and delivered the same. For every foul heresy accepts the Divine Scriptures, but perversely interprets the same, using metaphors, and homonymies, and sophistries of man’s wisdom, confounding what ought to be distinguished, and trifling with what ought not to be trifled with. For if [we were to accept Scriptures] otherwise, each man holding every day a different sense concerning them, the Catholic Church would not  by the grace of Christ continue to be the Church until this day, holding the same doctrine of faith, and always identically and steadfastly believing. But rather she would be torn into innumerable parties, and subject to heresies. Neither would the Church be holy, the pillar and ground of the truth, (1 Timothy 3:15) without spot or wrinkle; (Eph. 5:27) but would be the Church of the malignant (Psalm 25:5) as it is obvious the church of the heretics undoubtedly is, and especially that of Calvin, who are not ashamed to learn from the Church, and then to wickedly repudiate her.

Wherefore, the witness also of the Catholic Church is, we believe, not of inferior authority to that of the Divine Scriptures. For one and the same Holy Spirit being the author of both, it is quite the same to be taught by the Scriptures and by the Catholic Church. Moreover, when any man speaks from himself he is liable to err, and to deceive, and be deceived; but the Catholic Church, as never having spoken, or speaking from herself, but from the Spirit of God — who being her teacher, she is ever unfailingly rich — it is impossible for her to in any wise err, or to at all deceive, or be deceived; but like the Divine Scriptures, is infallible, and has perpetual authority. (Decree 2)

We believe that the Catholic Church is taught by the Holy Spirit. For He is the true Paraclete; whom Christ sends from the Father, (cf. John 25:26) to teach the truth, (cf. John 26:13) and to drive away darkness from the minds of the Faithful. The teaching of the Holy Spirit, however, does not directly illuminate the Church, but [does so] through the holy Fathers and Leaders of the Catholic Church. All Scripture is, and is called, the word of the Holy Spirit, not that it was spoken directly by Him, but that it was spoken by Him through the Apostles and Prophets. In like manner the Church is taught indeed by the Life-giving Spirit, but through the medium of the holy Fathers and Doctors (whose rule is acknowledged to be the Holy and Ecumenical Synods; for we shall not cease to say this ten thousand times); and, therefore, not only are we persuaded, but do profess as true and undoubtedly certain, that it is impossible for the Catholic Church to err, or at all be deceived, or ever to choose falsehood instead of truth. For the All-holy Spirit continually operating through the holy Fathers and Leaders faithfully ministering, delivers the Church from error of every kind. (Decree 12)

On Scripture, Tradition and the Church

St. Hilarion Troitsky 1886-1929

In defining the essence of Holy Scripture, we can now formulate the following proposition:

Holy Scripture is one of the aspects of the common grace-filled life of the Church, and outside the Church there cannot be any Holy Scripture in the true sense of the word.

If we establish this view of Holy Scripture, then we ought to express our disapproval of the outlook which prevails even in our [Orthodox] academic theology, according to which Holy Scripture is first and foremost a source of Church doctrine. It must be admitted that the question of the sources of doctrine is in an almost hopeless state in our philosophizing dogmatics. Two sources of doctrine are usually spoken of: Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition. Both of these sources are necessary, although preference is often given to Holy Scripture. In disputes with sectarians and Protestants, much effort is made to prove that Holy Scripture alone is insufficient, that besides Scripture Holy Tradition is also needed. But if Holy Scripture is a source of doctrine, how do we extract the doctrine contained within this source? It is enough to remember Arianism and the First Ecumenical Council in order to realize that every heresy is based on Scripture. The question clearly arises: “How are we to understand Scripture so as to obtain from it true doctrine?” “It has to be understood in accordance with Tradition,” they respond to us. “Wonderful! And what sort of tradition should we accept?” “That which does not contradict Scripture.” What do we end up with? Scripture must be interpreted in accordance with Tradition, and Tradition must be verified by Scripture. We end up with circular logic, idem per idem, or, translated somewhat loosely into Russian, the story of the white calf. *

Church doctrine has but one Source: the Holy Spirit, Who lives within the Church, Whom Christ promised would guide the Church into all truth ( John 16:13). Thus, the Church possesses true doctrine not because she draws it from Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition, but only because she is in fact the Church of the Living God, the Pillar and Ground of Truth, guided by the Holy Spirit. It is necessary to speak only about the Church. Both Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition stand or fall together with the Church. A. S. Khomiakov wrote well in his Treatise on the Catechetical Exposition of the Teaching on the Church: “The Spirit of God, alive in the Church, guiding her and making her wise, is manifested in her in multiple forms: in Scripture, in Tradition, and in works; for the Church, performing the works of God, is the Church that preserves Tradition and wrote the Scripture. It is neither individuals nor a multitude of individuals in the Church that preserves Tradition and wrote Scripture, but the Spirit of God, alive in the sum of the Church. Therefore it is impossible and improper to search for the foundations of Tradition in Scripture, or for proofs of Scripture in Tradition, or for justifications of Scripture and Tradition in works. To one who lives outside of the Church neither Scripture, nor Tradition, nor works are comprehensible. To one, however, who remains within the Church and who is in communion with the Spirit of the Church, their unity is evident by the grace that lives in her.” (Holy Scripture and the Church)

* “Story of the white calf “: A Russian saying that usually designates the impossibility of drawing a logical conclusion from something.

On Fundamental Orthodox Exegesis

St. Justin Popovich 1894-1979

The Holy Fathers recommend serious preparation before reading and studying the Bible; but of what does this preparation consist?

First of all in prayer. Pray to the Lord to illuminate your mind–so that you may understand the words of the Bible–and to fill your heart with His grace–so that you may feel the truth and life of those words.

Be aware that these are God’s words, which He is speaking and saying to you personally. Prayer, together with the other virtues found in the Gospel, is the best preparation a person can have for understanding the Bible.

How should we read the Bible? Prayerfully and reverently, for in each word there is another drop of eternal truth, and all the words together make up the boundless ocean of the Eternal Truth.

The Bible is not a book but life; because its words are “spirit and life” (John 6:63). Therefore its words can be comprehended if we study them with the spirit of its spirit, and with the life of its life.

It is a book that must be read with life–by putting it into practice. One should first live it, and then understand it.

Here the words of the Saviour apply: “Whoever is willing to do it–will understand that this teaching is from God” (John 7:17). Do it, so that you may understand it. This is the fun­damental rule of Orthodox exegesis. (How to Read the Bible and Why)

Source: http://www.sv-luka.org/library/howtoread_jp.htm

On Authority in the Church

Blessed Augustine of Hippo ca. 354-430 

…[I]f you acknowledge the supreme authority of Scripture, you should recognise that authority which from the time of Christ Himself, through the ministry of His apostles, and through a regular succession of bishops in the seats of the apostles, has been preserved to our own day throughout the whole world, with a reputation known to all. (Against Faustus Bk. 33.9)

On the Patristic Old Testament Canon

Following the rule of the Catholic Church, we call Sacred Scripture …”The Wisdom of Solomon,” “Judith,” “Tobit,” “The History of the Dragon” [Bel and the Dragon], “The History of Susanna,” “The Maccabees,” and “The Wisdom of Sirach.” For we judge these also to be with the other genuine Books of Divine Scripture genuine parts of Scripture. For ancient custom, or rather the Catholic Church, which has delivered to us as genuine the Sacred Gospels and the other Books of Scripture, has undoubtedly delivered these also as parts of Scripture, and the denial of these is the rejection of those. And if, perhaps, it seems that not always have all of these been considered on the same level as the others, yet nevertheless these also have been counted and reckoned with the rest of Scripture, both by Synods and by many of the most ancient and eminent Theologians of the Catholic Church. All of these we also judge to be Canonical Books, and confess them to be Sacred Scripture. (Confession of Dositheus 1672, Question 3)

The Didache ca. 80

My child, him that speaks to you the word of God remember night and day; and you shall honour him as the Lord; for in the place whence lordly rule is uttered, there is the Lord. And you shall seek out day by day the faces of the saints, in order that you may rest upon their words. You shall not long for division, but shall bring those who contend to peace. You shall judge righteously, you shall not respect persons in reproving for transgressions. You shall not be undecided whether it shall be or no. Be not a stretcher forth of the hands to receive and a drawer of them back to give. (Sirach 4:36) (Didache 4)

Pope St. Clement of Rome fl. 96

Many women also, being strengthened by the grace of God, have performed numerous manly exploits. The blessed Judith, when her city was besieged, asked of the elders permission to go forth into the camp of the strangers; and, exposing herself to danger, she went out for the love which she bare to her country and people then besieged; and the Lord delivered Holofernes into the hands of a woman. (Judith 8:30)Esther also, being perfect in faith, exposed herself to no less danger, in order to deliver the twelve tribes of Israel from impending destruction. For with fasting and humiliation she entreated the everlasting God, who sees all things; and He, perceiving the humility of her spirit, delivered the people for whose sake she had encountered peril. (To the Corinthians 55)

Now women prophesied also. Of old, Miriam the sister of Moses and Aaron, Exodus 15:20 and after her Deborah, Judges 4:4 and after these Huldah 2 Kings 22:14 and Judith Judith 8 — the former under Josiah, the latter under Darius. The mother of the Lord did also prophesy, and her kinswoman Elisabeth, and Anna; and in our time the daughters of Philip; Acts 21:9 yet were not these elated against their husbands, but preserved their own measures. (Apostolic Constitutions 8.2)

St. Polycarp of Smyrna ca. 69-155

Stand fast, therefore, in these things, and follow the example of the Lord, being firm and unchangeable in the faith, loving the brotherhood, 1 Peter 2:17 and being attached to one another, joined together in the truth, exhibiting the meekness of the Lord in your intercourse with one another, and despising no one. When you can do good, defer it not, because alms delivers from death. (Tobit 4:10, Tobit 12:9) Be all of you subject one to another 1 Peter 5:5 having your conduct blameless among the Gentiles, 1 Peter 2:12 that you may both receive praise for your good works, and the Lord may not be blasphemed through you. But woe to him by whom the name of the Lord is blasphemed! Isaiah 52:5 (Epistle to the Philippians 10)

St. Irenaeus of Lyons died ca. 202

For who is the God of the living unless He who is God, and above whom there is no other God? Whom also Daniel the prophet, when Cyrus king of the Persians said to him, Why do you not worship Bel? did proclaim, saying, Because I do not worship idols made with hands, but the living God, who established the heaven and the earth and has dominion over all flesh. (Bel and the Dragon 1:4-5) Again did he say, I will adore the Lord my God, because He is the living God. (Against Heresies 4.5.2)

St. Athenagoras of Athens ca. 133-190

But, since the voices of the prophets confirm our arguments— for I think that you also, with your great zeal for knowledge, and your great attainments in learning, cannot be ignorant of the writings either of Moses or of Isaiah and Jeremiah, and the other prophets, who, lifted in ecstasy above the natural operations of their minds by the impulses of the Divine Spirit, uttered the things with which they were inspired, the Spirit making use of them as a flute-player breathes into a flute—what, then, do these men say? The Lord is our God; no other can be compared with Him. (Baruch 3:36) And again: I am God, the first and the last, and besides Me there is no God. (Isa. 44:6) (Plea for Christians 9)

Clement of Alexandria ca. 150-215

Excellently, therefore, the Divine Scripture, addressing boasters and lovers of their own selves, says, “Where are the rulers of the nations, and the lords of the wild beasts of the earth, who sport among the birds of heaven, who treasured up silver and gold, in whom men trusted, and there was no end of their substance, who fashioned silver and gold, and were full of care? There is no finding of their works. They have vanished, and gone down to Hades.” (Bar. 3:16-19) (The Instructor Bk. 2.3)

Tertullian of Carthage ca. 160-220

Then, if God had been unable to make all things of nothing, the Scripture could not possibly have added that He had made all things of nothing (2 Macc. 7:28): (there could have been no room for such a statement,) but it must by all means have informed us that He had made all things out of Matter, since Matter must have been the source; because the one case was quite to be understood, if it were not actually stated, whereas the other case would be left in doubt unless it were stated. (Against Hermogenes 21)

St. Hippolytus of Rome ca. 170-236

I produce now the prophecy of Solomon, which speaks of Christ, and announces clearly and perspicuously things concerning the Jews; and those which not only are befalling them at the present time, but those, too, which shall befall them in the future age, on account of the contumacy and audacity which they exhibited toward the Prince of Life; for the prophet says, The ungodly said, reasoning with themselves, but not aright, that is, about Christ, Let us lie in wait for the righteous, because he is not for our turn, and he is clean contrary to our doings and words, and upbraids us with our offending the law, and professes to have knowledge of God; and he calls himself the Child of God. And then he says, He is grievous to us even to behold; for his life is not like other men’s, and his ways are of another fashion. We are esteemed of him as counterfeits, and he abstains from our ways as from filthiness, and pronounces the end of the just to be blessed. And again, listen to this, O Jew! None of the righteous or prophets called himself the Son of God. And therefore, as in the person of the Jews, Solomon speaks again of this righteous one, who is Christ, thus: He was made to reprove our thoughts, and he makes his boast that God is his Father. Let us see, then, 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 condemn him with a shameful death, for by his own saying he shall be respected. (Wisdom 2:12-20) (Against the Jews 9)

Origen ca. 185-254

Then, knowing that there was a secret and mystical meaning in the passage, as was becoming in one who was leaving, in his Epistles, to those who were to come after him words full of significance, he subjoins the following, Behold, I show you a mystery; which is his usual style in introducing matters of a profounder and more mystical nature, and such as are fittingly concealed from the multitude, as is written in the book of Tobit: It is good to keep close the secret of a king, but honourable to reveal the works of God, — in a way consistent with truth and God’s glory, and so as to be to the advantage of the multitude. (Contra Celsum 5.19)

Solomon, e.g., declaring in one passage, that instruction unquestioned goes astray; and Jesus the son of Sirach, who has left us the treatise called Wisdom, declaring in another, that the knowledge of the unwise is as words that will not stand investigation. Our methods of discussion, however, are rather of a gentle kind; for we have learned that he who presides over the preaching of the word ought to be able to confute gainsayers. (Contra Celsum 6.7)

St. Cyprian of Carthage died ca. 258

This law of prayer the three children observed when they were shut up in the fiery furnace, speaking together in prayer, and being of one heart in the agreement of the spirit; and this the faith of the sacred Scripture assures us, and in telling us how such as these prayed, gives an example which we ought to follow in our prayers, in order that we may be such as they were: Then these three, it says, as if from one mouth sang an hymn, and blessed the Lord. (Song of the Three Children 27) (Treatises 4.8)

St. Methodius of Olympus died ca. 311

But it is not satisfactory to say that the universe will be utterly destroyed, and sea and air and sky will be no longer. For the whole world will be deluged with fire from heaven, and burnt for the purpose of purification and renewal; it will not, however, come to complete ruin and corruption. For if it were better for the world not to be than to be, why did God, in making the world, take the worse course? But God did not work in vain, or do that which was worst. God therefore ordered the creation with a view to its existence and continuance, as also the Book of Wisdom confirms, saying, For God created all things that they might have their being; and the generations of the world were healthful, and there is no poison of destruction in them. Wisdom 1:14 And Paul clearly testifies this, saying, For the earnest expectation of the creature waits for the manifestation of the sons of God. For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him that subjected the same in hope: because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. (Rom. 8:19-21) (Discourse on the Resurrection 8)

St. Athanasius the Great ca. 297-373

There are, then, of the Old Testament, twenty-two books in number; for, as I have heard, it is handed down that this is the number of the letters among the Hebrews; their respective order and names being as follows…then Jeremiah with Baruch, Lamentations, and the epistle, one book… (39th Festal Epistle)

Pope Damasus I ca. 305-384

Now indeed we must treat of the divine Scriptures, what the universal Catholic Church accepts and what she ought to shun. The order of the Old Testament begins here: Genesis, one book; Exodus, one book; Leviticus, one book; Numbers, one book; Deuteronomy, one book; Joshua [son of] Nave, one book; Judges, one book; Ruth, one book; Kings [1 & 2 Samuel, 1& 2 Kings], four books; Paralipomenon [Chronicles], two books; Psalms, one book; Solomon, three books: Proverbs, one book; Ecclesiastes, one book; Canticle of Canticles, one book; likewise Wisdom, one book; Ecclesiasticus [Sirach], one book. Likewise is the order of the Prophets: Isaias, one book; Jeremias, one book…Lamentations, Ezechiel, one book; Daniel, one book; Osee…Nahum…Habacuc…Sophonias…Aggeus…Zacharias…Malachias…likewise the order of the historical [books]: Job, one book; Tobit, one book; Esdras, two books; Esther, one book; Judith, one book; Maccabees, two books. (The Decree of Damasus)

St. Cyril of Jerusalem ca. 313-386

For when they speak against the ascension of the Saviour, as being impossible, remember the account of the carrying away of Habakkuk: for if Habakkuk was transported by an Angel, being carried by the hair of his head , (Bel and the Dragon) much rather was the Lord of both Prophets and Angels, able by His own power to make His ascent into the Heavens on a cloud from the Mount of Olives. (Catechetical Lectures 14.25)

St. Epiphanius of Salamis ca. 315-403

For if thou were begotten of the Holy Ghost, and taught by the Apostles and Prophets, this should you do: Examine all the sacred codices from Genesis to the times of Esther, which are twenty-seven books of the Old Testament, and are enumerated as twenty-two; then the four Holy Gospels… the books of Wisdom, that of Solomon, and the Son of Sirach, and in fine all the books of Scripture [Gk. divine writings]. (Adversus Haereses, Haeres 76.5)

St. Basil the Great ca. 330-379

What Scripture says is very true, As for a fool he changes as the moon. (Sirach 27:12) (Hexaemeron 6.10)

St. Ambrose of Milan ca. 337-397

For it is written: Hedge your ears about with thorns; Sirach 28:28 and again: Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers; Phil. 3:2 and yet again: A man that is an heretic, avoid after the first reproof, knowing that such an one is fallen, and is in sin, being condemned of his own judgment. Tit. 3:10-11 So then, like prudent pilots, let us set the sails of our faith for the course wherein we may pass by most safely, and again follow the coasts of the Scriptures. (De Fide Bk. 1.6.47)

The prophets say: In Your light we shall see light; and again: Wisdom is the brightness of everlasting light, and the spotless mirror of God’s majesty, the image of His goodness. Wisdom 7:26 See what great names are declared! (ibid. Bk. 1.7.49)

St. John Chrysostom ca. 347-407

But why does he call it old? Either because our former life was of this sort, or because that which is old is ready to vanish away, (Hebrews 8:13) and is unsavory and foul; which is the nature of sin. For He neither simply finds fault with the old, nor simply praises the new, but with reference to the subject matter. And thus elsewhere He says, (Sirach 9:15) New wine is as a new friend: but if it become old, then with pleasure shall you drink it: in the case of friendship bestowing his praise rather upon the old than the new… Elsewhere the Scripture takes the term old in the sense of blame; for seeing that the things are of various aspect as being composed of many parts, it uses the same words both in a good and an evil import, not according to the same shade of meaning. Of which you may see an instance in the blame cast elsewhere on the old: Psalm 17:46. ap. Septuagint They waxed old, and they halted from their paths. And again, Psalm 6:7 ap. Septuagint I have become old in the midst of all mine enemies. And again, O you that are become old in evil days. (Daniel 13:52. Hist. Susannah) So also the Leaven is often taken for the kingdom of Heaven , although here found fault with. But in that place it is used with one aspect, and in this with another. (Homilies on First Corinthians, 15.10)

Blessed Jerome ca. 347-420

Among the Hebrews the Book of Judith is found among the Hagiographa, the authority of which toward confirming those which have come into contention is judged less appropriate. Yet having been written in Chaldean words, it is counted among the histories. But because this book is found by the Nicene Council to have been counted among the number of the Sacred Scriptures, I have acquiesced to your request, indeed a demand, and works having been set aside from which I was forcibly curtailed, I have given to this (book) one short night’s work translating more sense from sense than word from word. (Preface to Judith)

St John Cassian ca. 360-435

And so far do all who perish, perish against the will of God, that God cannot be said to have made death, as Scripture itself testifies: For God made not death, neither rejoices in the destruction of the living. (Wisdom 1:13) (Conference 13.7)

St. Vincent of Lerins died ca. 445

…[W]hereas the divine Oracles cry aloud, Remove not the landmarks, which your fathers have set, (Prov. 22:28) and Go not to law with a Judge, (Sirach 8:14) and Whoso breaks through a fence a serpent shall bite him, (Ecclesiastes 10:8) and that saying of the Apostle wherewith, as with a spiritual sword, all the wicked novelties of all heresies often have been, and will always have to be, decapitated, O Timothy, keep the deposit, shunning profane novelties of words and oppositions of the knowledge falsely so called, which some professing have erred concerning the faith. (1 Tim.6:20) (Commonitory 21.51)

St. Cyril of Alexandria ca. 376-444

Since the holy seraphim offered hymns of praise with pure and holy mouths, you see, he [Isaiah the Prophet] for his part was fearful, being instructed by God and not unaware that no appealing hymn is found in the mouth of a sinner, (Sirach 15:9) as Scripture says. (Commentary on Isaiah, Chap. 6)

St. Patrick of Ireland ca. 387-493

“The Almighty turns away from the gifts of wicked men.” “He who offers sacrifice from the goods of the poor, is like a man who sacrifices a son in the sight of his own father.” (Sirach 34:24) “Those riches,” it is written, “which he has gathered in unjustly will be vomited out of his belly.” “And now the angel of death comes to drag him away. He will be mauled by angry dragons, killed by the serpent’s tongue. Moreover, everlasting fire is consuming him.” So, “Woe to those who feast themselves on things that are not their own.” Or, “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and suffers the loss of his own soul?” (Letter to Coroticus 8)

And so, now you, Coroticus-and your gangsters, rebels all against Christ, now where do you see yourselves? You gave away girls like prizes: not yet women, but baptized. All for some petty temporal gain that will pass in the very next instant. “Like a cloud passes, or smoke blown in the wind,” (Wisdom 5:15) so will “sinners, who cheat, slip away from the face of the Lord. But the just will feast for sure” with Christ. “They will judge the nations” and unjust kings “they will lord over” for world after world. Amen. (Letter to Coroticus 19)

St. Benedict of Nursia ca. 480-547

As for self-will, we are forbidden to do our own will by the Scripture, which says to us, “Turn away from your own will” (Sirach 18:30), and likewise by the prayer in which we ask God that His will be done in us. (Rule of St. Benedict: 7)

St. Justinian the Emperor ca. 483-565

We marvel at how empty their minds are, for they dare to oppose themselves to the divine Scripture which says quite plainly, “Both the godless and their wickedness are equally abhorrent to God.” (Wisdom 14:9) (The Edict on the True Faith)

St. John Damascene ca. 676-749

And although the holy Scripture says, Therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness , it is to be observed that the holy Scripture often uses the past tense instead of the future, as for example here: Thereafter He was seen upon the earth and dwelt among men. (Baruch 3:38) For as yet God was not seen nor did He dwell among men when this was said. And here again: By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down; yea wept. For as yet these things had not come to pass. (Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith Bk. 4.6)

The divine Scripture likewise says that the souls of the just are in God’s hand (Wisdom 3:1) and death cannot lay hold of them. (Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith Bk.4.15)

St. Gregory Palamas ca. 1296-1359

Scripture tells us, ‘God did not create death’ (Wisdom 1:13). Rather, He impeded its inception in so far as this was fitting, and in so far as it was consistent with His justice to obstruct those to whom He Himself had given free will when He created them. For from the beginning God gave them a counsel that would lead to immortality, and so that they would be safeguarded as far as possible He made His life-generating counsel a commandment. (Topics of Natural and Theological Science and on the Moral and Ascetic Life: One Hundred and Fifty Texts, 47)

For more information on the Old Testament canon of the Church:

On Holy Scripture and Spiritual Books

St. Epiphanius of Salamis ca. 315-403

The acquisition of Christian books is necessary for those who can use them. For the mere sight of these books renders us less inclined to sin, and incites us to believe more firmly in righteousness.

Reading the Scriptures is a great safeguard against sin.

It is a great treachery to salvation to know nothing of the divine law.

Ignorance of the Scriptures is a precipice and a deep abyss.

(The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, Sayings 8-11)

St. Benedict of Nursia ca. 480-547

But for those who would hasten to the perfection of that life there are the teaching of the holy Fathers, the observance of which leads to the height of perfection. For what page or what utterance of the divinely inspired books of the Old and New Testaments is not a most unerring rule for human life? Or what book of the holy Catholic Fathers does not loudly proclaim how we may come by a straight course to our Creator? Then the Conferences and the Institutes and the Lives of the Fathers, as also the Rule of our holy Father Basil — what else are they but tools of virtue for right-living and obedient monks? But for us who are lazy and ill-living and negligent they are a source of shame and confusion. (Rule of St. Benedict, Chap. 73)

On How to Read the Scriptures and the Fathers

St. Athanasius of Alexandria ca. 293-373

…[F]or the searching of the Scriptures and true knowledge of them, an honourable life is needed, and a pure soul, and that virtue which is according to Christ; so that the intellect guiding its path by it, may be able to attain what it desires, and to comprehend it, in so far as it is accessible to human nature to learn concerning the Word of God. For without a pure mind and a modelling of the life after the saints, a man could not possibly comprehend the words of the saints. For just as, if a man wished to see the light of the sun, he would at any rate wipe and brighten his eye, purifying himself in some sort like what he desires, so that the eye, thus becoming light, may see the light of the sun; or as, if a man would see a city or country, he at any rate comes to the place to see it—thus he that would comprehend the mind of those who speak of God must needs begin by washing and cleansing his soul, by his manner of living, and approach the saints themselves by imitating their works; so that, associated with them in the conduct of a common life, he may understand also what has been revealed to them by God, and thenceforth, as closely knit to them, may escape the peril of the sinners and their fire at the Day of Judgment, and receive what is laid up for the saints in the Kingdom of Heaven, which eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, whatsoever things are prepared for them that live a virtuous life (1 Cor. 2:9), and love the God and Father, in Christ Jesus our Lord: through Whom and with Whom be to the Father Himself, with the Son Himself, in the Holy Spirit, honour and might and glory for ever and ever. Amen. (On the Incarnation of the Word, 57)

Patristics Are a Little Safer

Abba Amoun of Nitria ca. 295-353

‘When I am obliged to speak to my neighbor, do you prefer me to speak of the Scriptures or of the sayings of the Fathers?’ The old man [Abba Poemen the Great] answered him, ‘If you can’t be silent, you had better talk about the sayings of the Fathers than about the Scriptures; it is not so dangerous.’ (The Saying of the Desert Fathers, Abba Amoun: 2)

On the King and the Fox

St. Irenaeus of Lyons died ca. 202

[T]hey disregard the order and the connection of the Scriptures, and so far as in them lies, dismember and destroy the truth. By transferring passages, and dressing them up anew, and making one thing out of another, they succeed in deluding many through their wicked art in adapting the oracles of the Lord to their opinions. Their manner of acting is just as if one, when a beautiful image of a king has been constructed by some skilful artist out of precious jewels, should then take this likeness of the man all to pieces, should rearrange the gems, and so fit them together as to make them into the form of a dog or of a fox, and even that but poorly executed; and should then maintain and declare that this was the beautiful image of the king which the skilful artist constructed, pointing to the jewels which had been admirably fitted together by the first artist to form the image of the king, but have been with bad effect transferred by the latter one to the shape of a dog, and by thus exhibiting the jewels, should deceive the ignorant who had no conception what a king’s form was like, and persuade them that that miserable likeness of the fox was, in fact, the beautiful image of the king. (Against Heresies Bk. 1.8.1)

St. Irenaeus on the Four Gospels

St. Irenaeus of Lyons died ca. 202

It is not possible that the Gospels can be either more or fewer in number than they are. For, since there are four zones of the world in which we live, and four principal winds, while the Church is scattered throughout all the world, and the pillar and ground 1 Tim. 3:15 of the Church is the Gospel and the spirit of life; it is fitting that she should have four pillars, breathing out immortality on every side, and vivifying men afresh. From which fact, it is evident that the Word, the Artificer of all, He that sits upon the cherubim, and contains all things, He who was manifested to men, has given us the Gospel under four aspects, but bound together by one Spirit. As also David says, when entreating His manifestation, You that sits between the cherubim, shine forth. For the cherubim, too, were four-faced, and their faces were images of the dispensation of the Son of God. For, [as the Scripture] says, The first living creature was like a lion, Rev. 4:7 symbolizing His effectual working, His leadership, and royal power; the second [living creature] was like a calf, signifying [His] sacrificial and sacerdotal order; but the third had, as it were, the face as of a man,— an evident description of His advent as a human being; the fourth was like a flying eagle, pointing out the gift of the Spirit hovering with His wings over the Church. And therefore the Gospels are in accord with these things, among which Christ Jesus is seated. For that according to John relates His original, effectual, and glorious generation from the Father, thus declaring, In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Jn. 1:1 Also, all things were made by Him, and without Him was nothing made. For this reason, too, is that Gospel full of all confidence, for such is His person. But that according to Luke, taking up [His] priestly character, commenced with Zacharias the priest offering sacrifice to God. For now was made ready the fatted calf, about to be immolated for the finding again of the younger son. Matthew, again, relates His generation as a man, saying, The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham; and also, The birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise. This, then, is the Gospel of His humanity; for which reason it is, too, that [the character of] a humble and meek man is kept up through the whole Gospel. Mark, on the other hand, commences with [a reference to] the prophetical spirit coming down from on high to men, saying, The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, as it is written in Esaias the prophet,— pointing to the winged aspect of the Gospel; and on this account he made a compendious and cursory narrative, for such is the prophetical character. And the Word of God Himself used to converse with the ante-Mosaic patriarchs, in accordance with His divinity and glory; but for those under the law He instituted a sacerdotal and liturgical service. Afterwards, being made man for us, He sent the gift of the celestial Spirit over all the earth, protecting us with His wings. Such, then, as was the course followed by the Son of God, so was also the form of the living creatures; and such as was the form of the living creatures, so was also the character of the Gospel. For the living creatures are quadriform, and the Gospel is quadriform, as is also the course followed by the Lord. For this reason were four principal (καθολικαί) covenants given to the human race: one, prior to the deluge, under Adam; the second, that after the deluge, under Noah; the third, the giving of the law, under Moses; the fourth, that which renovates man, and sums up all things in itself by means of the Gospel, raising and bearing men upon its wings into the heavenly kingdom. (Against Heresies Bk. 3.11.8)

Different Theologies Involve Different Paradigms

Many times there is confusion within Orthodox and western conversation that seems to be somewhat of bandit; that is, there is a problem that swiftly and frequently snatches an important state of solitude from the minds of those discussing and even considering Orthodoxy. What seems to happen is that the western Christian presupposes paradigms that use various words found in the Bible as if they were originally written as dogma words with exclusive meanings. Many times we begin to take on these presuppositions of the western Christian without even knowing we are doing such a thing. If not caught right away within conversations, this adoption of presuppositions creates this confusion.

Within western theology certain words are capitalized on to become dominant words, thus creating particular western paradigms, whereas other paradigms such as that of Eastern Orthodoxy use less of a “capitalistic” framework and rely more on layering information – more prerequisites to reach final points of dogma, which enables Orthodoxy to cover much more ground with much deeper concentration. But it does not fit in the pocket very well! This is the harsh reality of Orthodoxy. It is not your processed and packaged Christianity that so many western people adore. Many times, with Orthodoxy, you have to literally build a relationship with people to help layer the amounts of information for them to digest. There really is no condensed Bible paradigm that offers a quick  systematic theology. Our paradigms are wide and cease from placing too much weight on language itself, presupposing the concept and very doctrine of faith. The words we use within our theology do not carry the authority as many western Christians suppose they do.

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The Bible of the Fifth Century Roman Church

Pope St. Innocent I ca. died ca. 417

Which books really are received in the canon, this brief addition shows. These therefore are the things of which you desired to be informed. Five books of Moses, that is, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, and Joshua the son of Nun, and Judges, and the four books of Kings together with Ruth, sixteen books of the Prophets, five books of Solomon, and the Psalms. Also of the historical books, one book of Job, one of Tobit, one of Esther, one of Judith, two of Maccabees, two of Ezra, two of Chronicles. And of the New Testament: of the Gospels four. Epistles of the apostle Paul fourteen. Epistles of John three. Epistles of Peter two. Epistle of Jude. Epistle of James. Acts of the Apostles. John’s Apocalypse. But the rest of the books, which appear under the name of Matthias or of James the Less, or under the name of Peter and John (which were written by a certain Leucius), or under the name of Andrew (which were written by the philosophers Xenocharides and Leonidas), or under the name of Thomas, and whatever others there may be, you should know they are not only to be rejected but also condemned. (Epistle to Exsuperius, Bishop of Toulouse)

Source: http://www.bible-researcher.com/innocent.html

St. Ephrem on the Sects

St. Ephrem the Syrian ca. 306-373

While (the sects) mutually refute and condemn each other, it has happened to truth as to Gideon; that is, while they fight against each other, and fall under wounds mutually inflicted, they crown her. All the heretics acknowledge that there is a true Scripture. Had they all falsely believed that none existed, some one might reply that such Scripture was unknown to them. But now that have themselves taken away the force of such plea, from the fact that they have mutilated the very Scriptures. For they have corrupted the sacred copies; and words which ought to have but one interpretation, they have wrested to strange significations. Whilst, when one of them attempts this, and cuts off a member of his own body, the rest demand and claim back the severed limb…It is the Church which perfect truth perfects. The Church of believers is great, and its bosom most ample; it embraces the fulness (or, the whole) of the two Testaments. (Syr. Serm. 2, Ephraem Adv. Haeres excerpted from “The Faith Of Catholics Confirmed by Scripture and Attested by the Fathers of the First Five Centuries of the Church” pg. 371)

Council of Carthage on the Biblical Canon

Council of Carthage ca. 419 
That nothing be read in church besides the Canonical Scripture.ITEM, that besides the Canonical Scriptures nothing be read in church under the name of divine Scripture.

But the Canonical Scriptures are as follows:

  • Genesis
  • Exodus
  • Leviticus
  • Numbers
  • Deuteronomy
  • Joshua the Son of Nun
  • The Judges
  • Ruth
  • The Kings (4 books)
  • The Chronicles (2 books)
  • Job
  • The Psalter
  • The Five books of Solomon
  • The Twelve Books of the Prophets
  • Isaiah
  • Jeremiah
  • Ezechiel
  • Daniel
  • Tobit
  • Judith
  • Esther
  • Ezra (2 books)
  • Macchabees (2 books)

The New Testament:

  • The Gospels (4 books)
  • The Acts of the Apostles (1 book)
  • The Epistles of Paul (14)
  • The Epistles of Peter, the Apostle (2)
  • The Epistles of John the Apostle (3)
  • The Epistles of James the Apostle (1)
  • The Epistle of Jude the Apostle (1)
  • The Revelation of John (1 book)



 (Canon XXIV)

Laodicean Canon of Scripture

Council of Laodicea ca. 390

These are all the books of Old Testament appointed to be read: 1, Genesis of the world; 2, The Exodus from Egypt; 3, Leviticus; 4, Numbers; 5, Deuteronomy; 6, Joshua, the son of Nun; 7, Judges, Ruth; 8, Esther; 9, Of the Kings, First and Second; 10, Of the Kings, Third and Fourth; 11, Chronicles, First and Second; 12, Esdras, First and Second; 13, The Book of Psalms; 14, The Proverbs of Solomon; 15, Ecclesiastes; 16, The Song of Songs; 17, Job; 18, The Twelve Prophets; 19, Isaiah; 20, Jeremiah, and Baruch, the Lamentations, and the Epistle [of Jeremiah]; 21, Ezekiel; 22, Daniel.

And these are the books of the New Testament: Four Gospels, according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John; The Acts of the Apostles; Seven Catholic Epistles, to wit, one of James, two of Peter, three of John, one of Jude; Fourteen Epistles of Paul, one to the Romans, two to the Corinthians, one to the Galatians, one to the Ephesians, one to the Philippians, one to the Colossians, two to the Thessalonians, one to the Hebrews, two to Timothy, one to Titus, and one to Philemon. (Canon 60)

The Muratorian Canon

Muratorian Fragment ca. 170-210

Missing the beginning and end, the fragment is as follows…

…at which nevertheless he was present and so he placed it in his narrative. The third book of the gospel is that according to Luke. Luke the well know physician wrote it in his own name, according to the general belief after the ascension of Christ when Paul had associated him with himself as one zealous for correctness. One who took pains to find out the facts. It is true that he had not seen the Lord in the flesh. Yet having ascertained the facts he was able to begin his narrative with the nativity of John. The fourth book of the gospel is that of John’s, one of the disciples. In response to the exhortation of his fellow disciples and bishops he said “Fast with me for three days then let us tell each other whatever shall be reveled to each one.” The same night it was reveled to Andrew, who was one of the Apostles, that it was John who should relate in his own name what they collectively remembered. Or that John was to relate in his own name, they all acting as correctors. And so to the faith of believers there is no discord even although different selections are given from the facts in the individual books of the gospels. Because in all of them under the one guiding spirit all the things relative to his nativity, passion, resurrection, conversation with his disciples, and his twofold advent, the first in humiliation rising form contempt which took place and the second in the glory of kingly power which is yet to come, have been declared. What marvel it is then if John induces so consistently in his epistles these several things saying in person “what we have seen with our eyes and heard with our ears and our hands have handled, those things we have written.” For thus he professes to be not only an eye witness but also a hearer and a narrator of all the wonderful things of the Lord in their order. Moreover the Acts of all the apostles are written in one book. Luke so comprised them for the most excellent Theophilus because of the individual events that took place in his presence. As he clearly shows by omitting the passion of Peter. As well as the departure of Paul, when Paul went from the city of Rome to Spain. Now, the epistles of Paul, what they are and for what reason they were sent they themselves make clear to him who will understand. First of all he wrote at length to the Corinthians to prohibit the system of heresy, then to the Galatians against circumcision. And to the Romans on the order of scriptures intimating also that Christ is the chief matter in them. Each of which is necessary for us to discuss seeing that the blessed apostle Paul himself, following the example of his predecessor John, writes to no more that seven churches by name, in the following order: Corinthians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Galatians, Thessalonians, and Romans. But he writes twice for the sake of correction to the Corinthians and to the Thessalonians. That there is one church defused throughout the whole earth is shown by this seven fold writing and John also in the Apocalypse. Even though he writes the seven churches, he speaks to all. But he wrote out of affection and love one to Philemon, one to Titus, two to Timothy and these are held sacred in the honorable esteem of the church catholic, in the regulation of Ecclesiastical discipline. There are adduced one to the Laodiceans another to the Alexandrians, forged in the name of Paul against the heresy of Marcion. And many others which can not be received into the church catholic for it is not fitting that gall be mixed with honey. Further an epistle of Jude and two bearing the name of John are counted among the catholic epistles. And Wisdom written by the friends of Solomon in his honor. We receive the Apocalypses of John and Peter only. Some of us do not wish the Apocalypse of Peter to be read in church. But Hermas wrote “the Shepherd” in the city of Rome most recently in our times, when his brother bishop Pious was occupying the chair in the church at Rome. And so indeed it ought to be read but that it be made public to the people in the church and placed among the prophets whose number is complete or among the apostles is not possible to the end of time.(*) Of Arsenus, Valentinus, or Miltiadees we receive nothing at all. Those also who wrote the “new book of Psalms,” Marcion together with Basilides, and the Asian Cataphrigians… (Muratorian Fragment, trans. by Kenneth Johnson)

(*) alternative rendering: “for it is after [their] time.”

The 7th Ecumenical Council on Sola Scriptura

Nicea II, 7th Ecumenical Council 787 a.d.

Anathema to those who spurn the teachings of the holy Fathers and the tradition of the Catholic Church, taking as a pretext and making their own the arguments of Arius, Nestorius, Eutyches, and Dioscorus, that unless we were evidently taught by the Old and New Testaments, we should not follow the teachings of the holy Fathers and of the holy Ecumenical Synods, and the tradition of the Catholic Church. (Session I)

A Biblical Canon of St. John Damascene

St. John Damascene ca. 676-749

Observe, further , that there are two and twenty books of the Old Testament, one for each letter of the Hebrew tongue. For there are twenty-two letters of which five are double, and so they come to be twenty-seven. For the letters Caph, Mem, Nun, Pe , Sade are double. And thus the number of the books in this way is twenty-two, but is found to be twenty-seven because of the double character of five. For Ruth is joined on to Judges, and the Hebrews count them one book: the first and second books of Kings are counted one: and so are the third and fourth books of Kings: and also the first and second of Paraleipomena: and the first and second of Esdra. In this way, then, the books are collected together in four Pentateuchs and two others remain over, to form thus the canonical books. Five of them are of the Law, viz. Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. This which is the code of the Law, constitutes the first Pentateuch. Then comes another Pentateuch, the so-called Grapheia , or as they are called by some, the Hagiographa, which are the following: Jesus the Son of Nave , Judges along with Ruth, first and second Kings, which are one book, third and fourth Kings, which are one book, and the two books of the Paraleipomena which are one book. This is the second Pentateuch. The third Pentateuch is the books in verse, viz. Job, Psalms, Proverbs of Solomon, Ecclesiastes of Solomon and the Song of Songs of Solomon. The fourth Pentateuch is the Prophetical books, viz the twelve prophets constituting one book, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel. Then come the two books of Esdra made into one, and Esther. There are also the Panaretus, that is the Wisdom of Solomon, and the Wisdom of Jesus, which was published in Hebrew by the father of Sirach, and afterwards translated into Greek by his grandson, Jesus, the Son of Sirach. These are virtuous and noble, but are not counted nor were they placed in the ark.

The New Testament contains four gospels, that according to Matthew, that according to Mark, that according to Luke, that according to John: the Acts of the Holy Apostles by Luke the Evangelist: seven catholic epistles, viz. one of James, two of Peter, three of John, one of Jude: fourteen letters of the Apostle Paul: the Revelation of John the Evangelist: the Canons of the holy apostles , by Clement. (An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith Bk. IV,17)

An Early Biblical Canon

Apostolic Constitutions Bk. 8. XLVII

Let the following books be esteemed venerable and holy by you, both of the clergy and laity. Of the Old Covenant: the five books of Moses— Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy; one of Joshua the son of Nun, one of the Judges, one of Ruth, four of the Kings, two of the Chronicles, two of Ezra, one of Esther, one of Judith, three of the Maccabees, one of Job, one hundred and fifty psalms; three books of Solomon— Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs; sixteen prophets. And besides these, take care that your young persons learn the Wisdom of the very learned Sirach. But our sacred books, that is, those of the New Covenant, are these: the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; the fourteen Epistles of Paul; two Epistles of Peter, three of John, one of James, one of Jude; two Epistles of Clement; and the Constitutions dedicated to you the bishops by me Clement, in eight books; which it is not fit to publish before all, because of the mysteries contained in them; and the Acts of us the Apostles. (Apostolic Canons 85.)

St. John Chrysostom on the Written Word

St. John Chrysostom ca. 349-407

It were indeed meet for us not at all to require the aid of the written Word, but to exhibit a life so pure, that the grace of the Spirit should be instead of books to our souls, and that as these are inscribed with ink, even so should our hearts be with the Spirit. But, since we have utterly put away from us this grace, come, let us at any rate embrace the second best course.

For that the former was better, God has made manifest, both by His words, and by His doings. Since unto Noah, and unto Abraham, and unto his offspring, and unto Job, and unto Moses too, He discoursed not by writings, but Himself by Himself, finding their mind pure. But after the whole people of the Hebrews had fallen into the very pit of wickedness, then and thereafter was a written word, and tables, and the admonition which is given by these.

And this one may perceive was the case, not of the saints in the Old Testament only, but also of those in the New. For neither to the apostles did God give anything in writing, but instead of written words He promised that He would give them the grace of the Spirit: for He, says our Lord, shall bring all things to your remembrance. Jn. 14:26 And that you may learn that this was far better, hear what He says by the Prophet: I will make a new covenant with you, putting my laws into their mind, and in their heart I will write them, and, they shall be all taught of God. (cf. Jer. 31:33 LXX; Jn. 6:45) And Paul too, pointing out the same superiority, said, that they had received a law not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart. (2 Cor. 3:3)

But since in process of time they made shipwreck, some with regard to doctrines, others as to life and manners, there was again need that they should be put in remembrance by the written word.

Reflect then how great an evil it is for us, who ought to live so purely as not even to need written words, but to yield up our hearts, as books, to the Spirit; now that we have lost that honor, and have come to have need of these, to fail again in duly employing even this second remedy. For if it be a blame to stand in need of written words, and not to have brought down on ourselves the grace of the Spirit; consider how heavy the charge of not choosing to profit even after this assistance, but rather treating what is written with neglect, as if it were cast forth without purpose, and at random, and so bringing down upon ourselves our punishment with increase.

But that no such effect may ensue, let us give strict heed unto the things that are written; and let us learn how the Old Law was given on the one hand, how on the other the New Covenant. (Homily One on Matthew)

Sola Scriptura…The Biggest Deception of All Time!

This was taken from the Our Life in Christ Program. It is a must read. I would like to challenge any Reformed or Evangelical out there to read this. It will likely change your perspective of what the revelation of God is all about!

From Hank Hanegraaff’s CRI Series What Think Ye of Rome (Part 3)

On Chrysostom and the Pauline Epistles

Night had fallen, and promptly at the hour of Compline, an official who fell into the imperial disfavor besought St. Chrysostom for his mediation of the matter. He found Proclus, the saint’s disciple and a future bishop, and said that he had an appointment in Archbishop John’s cell. Proclus went towards the archbishop’s cell to announce the official’s arrival. Having found the door shut, he was thinking there was no one inside the cell. He then peered through the little opening in the door. He observed the saint sitting and writing. A bald man of venerable aspect, who was over John’s shoulder, was bent over and speaking into his ear. He was unable to interrupt the archbishop who was engrossed with the words of the visitor who was speaking into his ear. This continued for three nights. When the third morning came and the saint remembered the court official, he asked Proclus about him, who answered, “He came, Despota, and waited three nights here, but he was unable to meet with thee.” The saint said, “And how come thou didst not come and tell me about him, even as I commanded thee?” Proclus replied, “I did come, my Despota, five, even ten times, but it was not possible to speak with thee, because a certain reverent-looking bald man was standing over thee, speaking into thine ear, and I did not wish to interrupt his conversation, for I observed thou didst give great heed to what he uttered.” The saint asked, “And who was that person who was speaking?” Proclus answered, “My Despota, who that man was, I know not.” Proclus then went on describing the man, when he happened to look at the wall opposite where the archbishop had his writing desk. There was an icon of St. Paul on the wall. Proclus took one glance of the icon, and understood immediately that the man he was describing was already depicted in the sacred image, and exclaimed, “The man with whom I saw thee was like unto the Apostle Paul, whom thou hast in the icon before thee when thou dost write!” (The Lives of the Three Great Hierarchs, Buena Vista, Co.: Holy Apostles Convent, 1998, pp.167-168)

Orthodoxy and Communion with the Saints

Has a passage from Saint Paul ever leaped out at you like never before? Has Saint David spoken to you in the Psalms in such a way that you will never forget? Have you been comforted by any of the Saints?

We need to be comforted by the Saints! If we do not receive comfort from them then how can we really say that we are completely a part of the Body of Christ? The Body of Christ is not just the visible but it is also the invisible, the invisible reality of the Kingdom of God that Christ speaks of in the Holy Scriptures.

One may say, “I am comforted by the Holy Spirit,” He is my comforter as Christ says! Well, that is very exciting but what is equally exciting is becoming a part of what Christ says in Matthew 16:19; that the kingdom is accessed through the Saints, the “cloud of witnesses” that Hebrews 12:1 proclaims. Access to the Saints and the kingdom is essential to our wellbeing in Christ. The Saints are here for us to fellowship with, through prayer and other forms of “intercession” such as meditation, thoughts of truth, conviction and overall comfort. It is all done through the Holy Spirit of course, but without the Saints, Holy Spirit “activity” easily turns more into a facade of feminine emotionalism and just plain craziness.

The union that we have with the Saints is indeed isolated. There is a one on one relationship happening with them as we embrace them and worship with them. One reason why credit is given to the “Holy Spirit” when one encounters the truth of the Saints is because these Christians are completely unaware of the Canon of Scripture and what it means to embrace the Canon. The Canon of Scripture is a confirmation of certain writings of certain Saints…and also a confirmation of certain writings of unknown Saints. The Canon/Bible is not a unified book dropped out of the sky from the Holy Spirit. The Canon is a collection of saintly communications. If we want to participate in these communications we must be a part of the Saints that actually wrote the letters themselves, as well as the Church that harbors them.

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The So-called “Intertestamental” Period

To thoroughly understand the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ we must know the context in which the Gospel was actually formed. Certainly we must consider the fact that the prophets of the Old Testament foretold the coming of Christ and that Christ would “redeem” his people. Certainly we must consider the fact that Christ became the “perfect sacrifice” and the “new Adam,” and also, as the Prophet Isaiah says, the people of God are to experience heaven on earth where the “wolf will live with the lamb.” All of these things are important theological developments, but these and many more developments beg the question of how all this began to happen on a cultural and even existential level at the time of the second Temple (515B.C – 70 AD).

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The Old Testament Canon, Law, and Eastern Orthodoxy

As discussed in the post on Marcion, the place of the Law of God in Christian theology has been a hot point amongst many believers. In the early Church the Law of God was constantly brought up to ward off the ceremonial practices of the Jews, especially regarding the Sabbath day. Many Christians insisted that the Sabbath was still to be regarded as holy. Of course, there are no Christians that believe that today, except for the Seventh Day Adventists, who by their many heretical statements about the Gospel and the Church can hardly be considered Christian.

In the Middle Ages, especially in the West, the place of the Law was so often debated because of the relationship (or lack thereof) of the Church and the State. Many Christians wanted the Church to rule the State, so they often quoted the Law of God to support the theology to do so. And while the Church was gaining momentum in this “ministry” the civil Law of God within the Old Testament was often quoted so as to support penal actions such as the death penalty for heresy and “mortal” sins such as adultery and murder.

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Heterodox Quote of the Week

“St. James’ Epistle is really an epistle of straw, for it has nothing of the nature of the Gospel about it.” — Martin Luther

K(no)w Bishop, K(no)w Bible

Here is a link that helps us understand the fact that the bishopric is the arbitrator of truth and that the Bible, our primary repository of truth, belongs only to the Church that is under this bishopric.

From the link above we can see that there are dozens of early writings that are not in the Bible. In the first few hundred years of the New Testament Church the authority of revelation was verbally transpired by the bishops, to the priests and then to the rest of the Church. In the fourth century the bishops decided which books out of these many would be “canonized.” This Canon of early letters began to be called the Bible.

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On the Bible and Apostolic Succession


Many Modern Christians make this general type of assumption that the Bible was handed over from Christ or the Apostles themselves as some sort of gift to all mankind. But research shows us this is not the case!

The Bible is a product of the bishopric! The Bible is a result of the Church. If you do not believe in the authority of the ancient Church then you cannot believe that the Bible is the actual rule of faith. The authority of the Church is its bishopric, which no modern Christian has a part of. The ancient fathers made it very clear that if one is not under the authority of the Bishop then one is not a part of the Church. Granted, the many modern churches of today that do not have apostolic succession certainly do have the grace of God but this grace is not embraced on an “affluent” level. They have a serious defect that needs healing and remedy.

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On Understanding the Bible

There is one subject that continues to divide Christendom in our day. Few books are written on the subject, even though it was an enormous controversy with the Protestant Reformers. I am speaking of the subject of canonicity, or what many know as the Bible. I have written about the canon of Scripture under the Bible tab on this site and have downloaded a video on it that can be found on the right column of the web page. You can also look at the sub-tab “Oral Tradition” under the main Early Fathers tab.

Here are four false assumptions that I see modern Christians making in regards to how they understand the very nature of Scripture.

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History of the “Apocrypha”

“While Noah Webster, just a few years after producing his famous Dictionary of the English Language, would produce his own modern translation of the English Bible in 1833; the public remained too loyal to the King James Version for Webster’s version to have much impact. It was not really until the 1880’s that England’s own planned replacement for their King James Bible, the English Revised Version(E.R.V.) would become the first English language Bible to gain popular acceptance as a post-King James Version modern-English Bible. The widespread popularity of this modern-English translation brought with it another curious characteristic: the absence of the 14 Apocryphal books.”

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On Proof-text Theology

BibleOne of the biggest stumbling blocks for dispensational believers to begin to understand the more historic  view of theology is their  insistence on clinching tightly to, what I call, proof-text theology. Proof-text theology has, like all theological camps, its own hermeneutic. Its particular hermeneutic involves…yes, you guessed it, proof-texting. I’m sure you have heard, when discussing theology with your dispensational friends, how this particular theology is not found in the Bible and that particular theology is not found in the Bible and that there simply is not enough “scriptural support” for your Orthodox argument.

The modernists assume that the Bible has been written in propositional terms, as if the Apostles set out to write a New Covenant Leviticus of some sort that is completely adaptable to all future didactic arguments. There is no evidence that the Apostles had these types of intentions; to write a series of propositions for the sake of the entire future of systematic theologies. One simply cannot say, “there is no verse for you to refute my theology.” This, many times, depending on the context of the argument, assumes that the Bible is written in this propositional manner.

Proof-text theology is the theology of cut-and-paste. Verses are cut out and pasted on ones wallboard to support a particular theology, and are then placed into theological papers with parenthesise securing the verses in various places for support. But if this same artist would turn around to carefully notice all of the left over scraps of their Bible, they would notice that there is a tremendous amount of narrative with no home. This is not to say that proof-texting is somehow not necessary. On the contrary! Proof-texting is, in some cases necessary, but it is not to be used as the sole authority of the Church or the overarching rule of theology.

Without going into thesis mode I would like to state in a concise manner that the historic faith sets out to capture the entirety of the Bible and cannot be reduced to a sentence here and a sentence there from the Bible. The Bible is an exhaustive narrative of God and his covenant promises to His people. This involves a vast amount of narrative in both the Old and New Testament. One must be able to grapple with hard-to-digest facts such as Old Testament evangelism and New Testament monasticism that are clearly found in the narrative but are not necessarily concisely proposed in one sentence here or there.

Proof-text theology is certainly appealing to the novice in that it involves bite-sized nuggets rather than the full course of the Bible; all books in their entirety. How does Genesis relate to Revelation, for instance, and how is the Gospel found in the Old Testament and to what affect does it have on the New Testament people? Proof-text theology cannot answer these simple questions. A Sacramental theology can, though. sacramental theology involves God dealing with His people as a Church rather than short propositions of didactic dogmas.

Orthodox Christians are actually STILL LIVING the New Testament age. We have a succession of authority that is not so much after a new revival in the world but  after an ancient revival in the world; not that we are seeking to bring back everything old but that that we are seeking to grow from this “old” and ancient tradition as our foundation. This means that WE are the same people that God spoke of in the Old Testament (Galatians 3:7-9).

Origen’s New Testament Canon

Origen of Alexandria ca. 185-254

So to our Lord, whose advent was typified by the son

of Nun, when He came, sent His Apostles as priests bearing well-

wrought trumpets. Matthew first sounded the priestly trumpet in

his Gospel. Mark also, Luke and John, each gave forth a strain on

their priestly trumpets. Peter moreover sounds loudly on the

twofold trumpet of his Epistles; and also James and Jude. Still

the number is incomplete, and John gives forth the trumpet-sound

in his Epistles and Apocalypse; and Luke while describing

the Acts of the Apostles. Lastly however came he who said: “I

think that God has set forth us Apostles last of all,” and thundering

on the fourteen trumpets of his Epistles, threw down even to

the ground the walls of Jericho, that is to say all the instruments

of idolatry and the doctrines of philosophers. (Homilies on Joshua 7.1)

St. James’ Book on the Theotokos

St. James is believed to have written a short book that has been extremely valuable to the Church throughout the centuries. The book describes the life of Mary and her role in the incarnation of Christ and the very birth of the New Testament Church.

One thing that must be remembered about the saints is that their history goes beyond what is mentioned in the canon. There are many assumptions out in modern Christendom that if a book is ancient and is not in the canon then it is not truth. This assumption is ignorant of what the canon of Scripture is about! The canon is not the end-all of truth. It is truth indeed but it is a certain portion of the truth that has been chosen because of its ability to withstand throughout the ages. Some writings of the earliest saints such as this “Protoevangelium of James,” (same James that wrote the canonical book) have not been written as “robust” as canonical books and thus are not a part of the canon. Nonetheless, they remain a valuable part of our history.

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Origen on the LXX Additions to Daniel

Origen of Alexandria ca. 185-254

Again, through the whole of Job there are many passages in the Hebrew which are wanting in our copies, generally four or five verses, but sometimes, however, even fourteen, and nineteen, and sixteen. But why should I enumerate all the instances I collected with so much labour, to prove that the difference between our copies and those of the Jews did not escape me? In Jeremiah I noticed many instances, and indeed in that book I found much transposition and variation in the readings of the prophecies. Again, in Genesis, the words, God saw that it was good, when the firmament was made, are not found in the Hebrew, and there is no small dispute among them about this; and other instances are to be found in Genesis, which I marked, for the sake of distinction, with the sign the Greeks call an obelisk, as on the other hand I marked with an asterisk those passages in our copies which are not found in the Hebrew. What needs there to speak of Exodus, where there is such diversity in what is said about the tabernacle and its court, and the ark, and the garments of the high priest and the priests, that sometimes the meaning even does not seem to be akin? And, forsooth, when we notice such things, we are immediately 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?

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On How to Discern the Biblical Canon

Blessed Augustine of Hippo ca. 354-430

The most skillful interpreter of the sacred writings, then, will be he who in the first place has read them all and retained them in his knowledge, if not yet with full understanding, still with such knowledge as reading gives, — those of them, at least, that are called canonical. For he will read the others with greater safety when built up in the belief of the truth, so that they will not take first possession of a weak mind, nor, cheating it with dangerous falsehoods and delusions, fill it with prejudices adverse to a sound understanding. Now, in regard to the canonical Scriptures, he must follow the judgment of the greater number of catholic churches; and among these, of course, a high place must be given to such as have been thought worthy to be the seat of an apostle and to receive epistles.

Accordingly, among the canonical Scriptures he will judge according to the following standard: to prefer those that are received by all the catholic churches to those which some do not receive. Among those, again, which are not received by all, he will prefer such as have the sanction of the greater number and those of greater authority, to such as are held by the smaller number and those of less authority. If, however, he shall find that some books are held by the greater number of churches, and others by the churches of greater authority (though this is not a very likely thing to happen), I think that in such a case the authority on the two sides is to be looked upon as equal.

Now the whole canon of Scripture on which we say this judgment is to be exercised, is contained in the following books: — Five books of Moses, that is, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy; one book of Joshua the son of Nun; one of Judges; one short book called Ruth, which seems rather to belong to the beginning of Kings; next, four books of Kings, and two of Chronicles— these last not following one another, but running parallel, so to speak, and going over the same ground. The books now mentioned are history, which contains a connected narrative of the times, and follows the order of the events. There are other books which seem to follow no regular order, and are connected neither with the order of the preceding books nor with one another, such as Job, and Tobias, and Esther, and Judith, and the two books of Maccabees, and the two of Ezra, which last look more like a sequel to the continuous regular history which terminates with the books of Kings and Chronicles.

Next are the Prophets, in which there is one book of the Psalms of David; and three books of Solomon, viz., Proverbs, Song of Songs, and Ecclesiastes. For two books, one called Wisdom and the other Ecclesiasticus, are ascribed to Solomon from a certain resemblance of style, but the most likely opinion is that they were written by Jesus the son of Sirach. Still they are to be reckoned among the prophetical books, since they have attained recognition as being authoritative.

The remainder are the books which are strictly called the Prophets: twelve separate books of the prophets which are connected with one another, and having never been disjoined, are reckoned as one book; the names of these prophets are as follows: — Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi; then there are the four greater prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Ezekiel. The authority of the Old Testament is contained within the limits of these forty-four books.

That of the New Testament, again, is contained within the following: — Four books of the Gospel, according to Matthew, according to Mark, according to Luke, according to John; fourteen epistles of the Apostle Paul — one to the Romans, two to the Corinthians, one to the Galatians, to the Ephesians, to the Philippians, two to the Thessalonians, one to the Colossians, two to Timothy, one to Titus, to Philemon, to the Hebrews: two of Peter; three of John; one of Jude; and one of James; one book of the Acts of the Apostles; and one of the Revelation of John. (On Christian Doctrine Bk. 2.8)

On St. Jerome’s Change of Mind

Blessed of Jerome ca. 347-420


Jerome to the Bishops in the Lord Cromatius and Heliodorus, health!

I do not cease to wonder at the constancy of your demanding. For you demand that I bring a book written in Chaldean words into Latin writing, indeed the book of Tobias, which the Hebrews exclude from the catalogue of Divine Scriptures, being mindful of those things which they have titled Hagiographa. I have done enough for your desire, yet not by my study. For the studies of the Hebrews rebuke us and find fault with us, to translate this for the ears of Latins contrary to their canon. But it is better to be judging the opinion of the Pharisees to displease and to be subject to the commands of bishops. I have persisted as I have been able, and because the language of the Chaldeans is close to Hebrew speech, finding a speaker very skilled in both languages, I took to the work of one day, and whatever he expressed to me in Hebrew words, this, with a summoned scribe, I have set forth in Latin words. I will be paid the price of this work by your prayers, when, by your grace, I will have learned what you request to have been completed by me was worthy.

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Rufinus’ Defense of the LXX

Rufinus ca. 345-410

Perhaps it was a greater piece of audacity to alter the books of the divine Scriptures which had been delivered to the Churches of Christ by the Apostles to be a complete record of their faith by making a new translation under the influence of the Jews. Which of these two things appears to you to be the less legitimate? As to the sayings of Origen, if we agree with them, we agree with them as the sayings of a man; if we disagree, we can easily disregard them as those of a mere man. But how are we to regard those translations of yours which you are now sending about everywhere, through our churches and monasteries, through all our cities and walled towns? are they to be treated as human or divine? And what are we to do when we are told that the books which bear the names of the Hebrew Prophets and lawgivers are to be had from you in a truer form than that which was approved by the Apostles? How, I ask, is this mistake to be set right, or rather, how is this crime to be expiated? We hold it a thing worthy of condemnation that a man should have put forth some strange opinions in the interpretation of the law of God; but to pervert the law itself and make it different from that which the Apostles handed down to us,–how many times over must this be pronounced worthy of condemnation? To the daring temerity of this act we may much more justly apply your words: “Which of all the wise and holy men who have gone before you has dared to put his hand to that work?” Which of them would have presumed thus to profane the book of God, and the sacred words of the Holy Spirit? Who but you would have laid hands upon the divine gift and the inheritance of the Apostles?

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