Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Chrysostom on the Scriptures - Part Two

More quotations of St. John Chysostom on the Holy Scriptures. Again, I am thankful to my bishop BASIL for compiling and sending these.

On the lack of attention paid when listening to the reading of Scriptures in church, when in fact it is not the clergy but God who addresses them. "They think that when they enter in here [the church], that they enter into our presence [the clergy], they think that they hear from us. They do not lay to heart, they do not consider that they are entering the presence of God, that it is He who addresses them. For when the Reader standing up says "Thus says the Lord", and the Deacon stands and imposes silence on all, he does not say this as doing honor to the Reader but to honor Him who speaks to all through him [the Reader]. If they knew that it was God who through His prophet speaks these things, they would cast away all their pride. For if rulers are addressing them, they do not allow their minds to wander, much else would they when God is speaking. We are ministers, beloved. We speak not our own things, but the things of God. Letters coming from heaven are read every day.… These letters are sent from God; therefore let us enter with becoming reverence into the churches and let us hearken with fear to the things here said." (Hom. IX On Thessalonians.)

On the importance of instructing children in the Holy Scriptures. "Do you wish your son to be obedient? From the very first, "Bring him up in the chastening and admonition of the Lord." Never deem it an unnecessary thing that he should be a diligent hearer of the divine Scriptures. For there the first thing he hears will be this: 'Honor thy father and thy mother'. So then, this is for you. Never say, 'This is the business of monks'. Am I making a monk of him? No, there is no need he should become a monk. Why be so afraid of a thing so replete with so much advantage? Make him a Christian. For it is of all things necessary for laymen to be acquainted with the lessons derived from this source, but especially for children. For theirs is an age full of folly and to this folly are added the bad examples derived from the heathen tales, where they are made acquainted with those heroes so admired amongst them…[A child] requires therefore the remedies against these things. How is it not absurd to send children out to trades and to school, and to do all you can for these objectives, and yet, not to "Bring them up in the chastening and admonition of the Lord?" And for this reason truly we are the first to reap the fruits, because we bring up our children to be insolent and profligate, disobedient and mere vulgar fellows. Let us not then do this; no, let us listen to this blessed Apostle's admonitions "Let us bring them up in the chastening and admonition of the Lord". Let us give them a pattern. Let us make them from the earliest age apply themselves to the reading of the Scriptures…..Study not to make him an orator, but train him up to be a [Christian] philosopher. In the want of the one there will be no harm whatever; in the absence of the other, all the rhetoric in the world will be of no advantage. Tempers are wanted, not talking; character, not cleverness; deeds not word. These gain a man the kingdom. These confer what are benefits indeed. Whet not his tongue but cleanse his soul. I do not say this to prevent you teaching him these things, but to prevent your attending to them exclusively. Do not imagine that the monk alone stands in need of these lessons from Scripture. Of all others, the children just about to enter into the world especially need them." (Hom. XXI Ephesians) [Fr. James' note: How many of us Orthodox Christians actually make a regular, conscious effort to teach the Scriptures to our children? Or do we just leave it up to the Church? The primary responsibility for teaching a child the Scriptures lies with the parent(s).]

The Scriptures were written for a purpose and it is a great evil to be ignorant of them. "From this it is that countless evils have arisen - from ignorance of the Scriptures; from this it is that the plague of heresies has broken out; from this it is that there are negligent lives; from this there are labors without advantage. For as men deprived of this daylight would not walk aright, so they that look not to the gleaming of the Holy Scriptures must be frequently and constantly sinning, in that they are walking in the worst darkness." (Intro. Hom. On Romans)

On the importance of attentiveness when listening to the readings. "If a man should come here with earnestness - even though he does not read the Scriptures at home - and if he pays attention to what is said here, within the space of even one year he will be able to obtain a considerable acquaintance with them. For we do not read these Scriptures today, and tomorrow others that are quite different, but always the same section and consecutively. However, in spite of this, many have such an apathetic attitude that after such reading they do not even know the names of the books. And they are not ashamed, nor do they shudder with dread, because they have come so carelessly to the hearing of the word of God. On the other hand, if a musician, or a dancer, or anyone else connected with the theater should summon them to the city, they all hurry eagerly, and thank the one who invited them, and spend an entire half-day with their attention fixed on the performer exclusively. Yet when God addresses us through the prophets and apostles, we yawn, we are bored, we become drowsy. (Hom. 58 On John)

Ignorance of the Scriptures by Christians is a disgrace. "Is it not strange that those who sit in the marketplace tell the names, and races, and cities and talents of charioteers and dancers, even accurately state the good and bad qualities of horses, while those who assemble in this place [the church] understand nothing of what is taking place here and even are ignorant of the number of the [sacred] Books?" (Hom. 32 On John) [Fr. James' note: I would add that it is also disgraceful that most evangelical Christians know their Bibles inside and out, but most of us Orthodox do not.]

Christians who are ignorant of their faith are responsible for the pagans' unbelief and the blasphemies which they say about Christ. "It is ridiculous if he who professes to be a Christian is unable to utter a word in defense of his own faith…It is this that prevents the pagans from quickly realizing the absurdity of their error. Inasmuch as, relying on falsehood, they make every effort to obscure the baseness of their teachings, while we who are the guardians of truth cannot even open our mouth, what will prevent them from despising the great weakness of our doctrine? Will they not get the idea that our teaching is deceitful and foolish? Will they not blaspheme Christ as a dissembler and deceiver who makes us of the stupidity of the majority to advance his deceit? And we are responsible for this blasphemy if we are not willing to be on the alert to speak in defense of righteousness, but rate such matters as superfluous, and concern ourselves about the things of earth. To be sure, and admirer of a dancer or of a charioteer or of a contender against wild beasts runs every risk and makes every effort so as not to come off worsted in disputes concerning his favorite. Moreover, these men string together long commendations, building up a defense against those who find fault with them, casting countless jibes at their opponents. But, when arguments are proposed about Christianity they all bow their heads, and rub them and yawn, and when laugh at, withdraw. Now are you not deserving of unmitigated anger if Christ appears less honored among you than a dancer? For while, you have thought up countless defenses of their deeds - even though all of these are somewhat base - you do not even exert yourself to give any thought and care to the wondrous deeds of Christ." (Hom 17 on John)

To those who say that there is no harm in worldly pursuits while neglecting the spiritual life. "Now I say this for there are some, much less responsive than this audience here, who do not become ashamed at my words, but even speak at length in defense of their behavior. And if you ask, 'Who is Amos, or Abias, or what is the number of the Prophets or of the Apostles?' they cannot even open their mouth. But with regard to horses and charioteers, they can compose a discourse more cleverly than sophists or rhetors. Furthermore, after all this they say: "What harm, now?" and "What loss?" Indeed, it is for this reason that I am groaning, namely because you do not know that the thing is harmful, and have no perception of the evil. God has given you a limited period of life to serve Him, and if you squander it vainly and fruitlessly, and to no purpose, do you still seek to learn what the loss is? If you completely squander your days entirely on Satan's pomps, do you consider that you are not doing anything wrong? Though you ought to spend your entire life in prayers and supplications, while actually you waste your life, fruitlessly and for your damnation, in shouting and tumult and base words and quarreling and unlawful pleasure and deeds of sorcery - even after all this do you ask 'What loss is there?' You are not aware that time must be expended more sparingly than anything else, If you spend gold, you will be able to replenish your supply, but if you lose time you will repair the loss with great difficulty for a small amount has been dispensed to us in the present life. Therefore, if we do not use it as we ought, what shall we say when we depart to the next life?" (Hom. 58 On John)


Fr. Christian Mathis said...

"I would add that it is also disgraceful that most evangelical Christians know their Bibles inside and out, but most of us Orthodox do not."

What is the answer to this? We too as Catholics seem to not care about reading the Scriptures, but my evangelical friends are on fire for it. We are missing out on a treasure.

Clint said...

Two things: First, thank you Father for sharing these quotes with us. I was just telling Debbie about the posts. I especially appreciate the two comments on children. So true...

Secondly, in regard to Fr. Christian's question (What is the answer to the lack of scripture knowledge): I certainly don't know the answer, but I do have some things that come to mind.

One thing is that we have to remember that Evangelicals believe that the scripture is THE Word of God and therefore find life within the written pages of the Bible. Orthodoxy teaches that Jesus Christ is THE Word. Perhaps the Protestants are so intent on the scriptures because they are looking for life, and since they don't really find it (at least in its fullness) they devour the scriptures, thinking that they are missing something.

Orthodox (and I can only presume Catholics), since they have a different relationship with scripture don't have that same "drive" to absorb it. We tend to be content with the ritual of our Faith.

I hope that doesn't ramble too much and I beg your forgiveness if I say anything in error (for I have so much more to learn about my faith). I do pray that we can learn to immerse ourselves in the scriptures as well as the Liturgy and other rituals and neglect none of them.

Katrina said...

I find reading the lives of the Saints, those who preached the Gospel with their very lives, sometimes more helpful in a practical way than reading something like St.Paul's Epistle to the Romans which, for me, can be really difficult reading without help. Thanks be to God for our OSB! Because without those notes, I would be totally lost. The OSB was the most influential thing (outside of Christ Himself of course) in my coming back to the Church. I devoured the OSB in the year prior to my actually stepping foot in an Orthodox Church again.

However, even with the OSB, the Scriptures are still not the easiest thing to read without help. I did not attend Bible College nor can I call my priest every time I have a question. If I have a big question, I'll email him, but the the little things I just have to let go. I don't want to read things into the Scriptures that are not there. You can really mess with your head if you do, and then you end up with thousands of Protestant groups with their own idea of what the Bible says.

Father James, I really enjoy your line by line Bible study. It's something I can't do on my own, due to time restraints and lack of any *real* quiet time without distractions. Actually, because of your Bible Study, I've decided to use the New Testament as my sole Lenten Reading this year.

Another thing in defense of people not reading Scripture as much as they should...
In St. John Chrystostom's time the family structure was very different. Extended families don't live together anymore. What a tremendous blessing it would be to even have extended family live next door. Satan has it all worked out now that we can't spend REAL quality time with the Scriptures and other holy reading. Maybe while I'm cooking/cleaning/paying bills/etc. another adult could be sitting with my children reading the Scriptures or telling Bible or spiritual stories. I don't have another adult with me during the day. My husband is either working at one of his two jobs, and quite honestly, I can't expect him to come home and immediately sit down and read to the kids. I'm thinking that this is most people's lives, not just mine. The breakdown of the extended family structure, I think, is the single most destructive thing that has happened to the human race. We need each other, and one or two adults cannot do it all...something has got to give.

And I have to say, from the many Evangelical Christian adults that I know, that they can spend too much time with Bible Study and then neglect everything else. They go to Bible Study 2 or 3 times a week, feed their kids Burger King because they don't have time to cook, and stick their kids in child care while they attend their classes. But hey they are reading their Bibles! This is no good too.

I realized that I have rambled far too long. Please forgive me if I have offended anyone.

Katrina said...

Okay, it's me again..

I just want to clarify that I'm not trying to justify not reading the Bible, especially with your children. I do in fact do this.

My 10 yo daughter has a white board in her room that I update twice a month with a new piece of Scripture or words of wisdom from the Saints. We discuss it's meaning and how it should be lived out. She also has the OSB and she can be found, not daily as I would hope, reading it at least once a week. She's more into reading the lives of the saints. She loves St. Elizabeth the New Martyr. Concillar Press has a kids chapter book on her. It's terrific.

My 5 yo daughter every night asks for stories about Jesus. So as she is falling asleep I repeat the 12 or so stories that she can somewhat grasp. It's very cute and I think it does more for me than her.

My 3 yo son...well...he pretty much collapses into bed every night. For now, Sunday school will have to suffice and our little teachings about God through nature during the week. He'll be going to a Christian preschool next fall (Methodist) which will definitely help.

It's not as much as I would like, but maybe if I didn't spend so much time on the Internet I could do more!

God help us all!

Fr. James Early said...

Thank you all for your comments. These are very good thoughts. I think I am going to devote a full post to addressing them. We all need to wrestle with why we neglect the Scriptures, and what are some practical ways that we can NOT do so? Unless any of you object, I may quote parts of your comments in the post (making you look good, of course! :-).

Clint said...

lol, it will take alot of work on your part to make my comments look good.

I look forward to the post.