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)