Reading Scripture and the Holy Fathers
What you read has an impact on the way you think. So does what you watch on TV or at the movies. Think about what you want to let into your mind to influence your thinking. Your reading should be something that will be a positive impact on your spiritual growth, that will shape your mind and orient it towards God.
To maximize the positive conditioning of your mind, you should plan to make time to regularly read the Holy Scriptures, the writings of the Holy Fathers and the lives of the Saints. You should organize your life so that you can spend at least a half hour a day for this task, maybe instead of one of the TV programs you watch regularly. A good time for this is in the evening just before bedtime, before or after your evening prayer. When you do this, you will then fall asleep with these sweet thoughts in your mind.
The spiritual life is challenging. It is like an ascent up a steep slope or mountain side. It is a long and slow pathway with joyful moments along the way. As you move along the path, you gain strength. You can begin to look back and reflect on how far you have come while still seeing that you have much further to travel. As you gain strength, you will be able to face an ever more difficult terrain as well as the uncertainty of storms that you cannot predict. It is often a lonely path, and at times it seems like you will never reach the summit.
As you face these difficulties the readings, especially the lives of the Saints, can inspire you with courage to continue along the path. You can see that others have traveled this path before you, and with persistence and faith, they have reached much higher heights than you can now see. As you turn to those who had an intimate relationship with God, they will give you hope and kindle a spark of warmth in your heart. They will help you keep your head high and your eyes fixed on the summit ahead. They will show you that your capacity to choose, to change, and to endure is a reality. They will show you the way to wisdom and love and the potential to be able to radiate spiritual glory as you discover the uncreated light of God and find yourself in glorious union with Him.
The Bible contains the most important books to read regularly. Here are some suggestions on how to read the Bible:
Read the Bible with obedience. Remember that it is inspired by God. It is Christ Himself speaking to you. This means you need to maintain a sense of wonder along with listening without judgment. Don’t take wonder for granted. Because of your familiarity or the commonness of the Bible, you can take what is written in the Bible just like any other written material and lose your sense of awe and wonder as you read it. Reading the Bible cannot be like reading a novel or the daily newspaper. Just like prayer, you need to prepare your mind to the nature of the text you are about to read. This is the Word of God. With wonder, you can open yourself to listen to what is being said. Look for the spiritual significance of what is written. Remember the Bible is not a textbook, but a spiritual document. As you listen to the words as you read them, you will realize the awesome task that God has for you and His unlimited love He has for all humankind.
When you read the Bible, don’t try to make up your own interpretation. Scripture is to be interpreted through the Church. Remember the story of Philip coming in contact with the Ethiopian reading the Bible in his chariot? Philip asks him, “Do you understand what you are reading?” The Ethiopian replied, “How can I unless someone guides me”. This is the same attitude you should have. Scripture is not always self-explanatory. When you are at different stages of your spiritual growth, passages will take on different significance. As you grow spiritually, the Bible has more and more to teach you. You should take advantage of Biblical commentaries of the Church Fathers to help you. This is one of the advantages of using the Orthodox Study Bible, as it contains comments to help you understand what is written as interpreted by the Church. When you read the Bible you make full advantage of your own understanding illuminated by the Holy Spirit and also make full understanding of the commentaries of the Church Fathers. In the end when you have questions or opinions, submit them to the Church for clarification.
Your reading of the Bible should always be Christ-centered. Your interpretation should be made in light of the harmony and completeness that Jesus brought to this world. You cannot take an analytical approach and break each book or chapter into its own part. The Bible must be understood as a whole, with Christ as the bond and union.
You should also read the Bible for a personal application. Saint Mark the monk (5th-6th century) says, “He who is humble in his thoughts and engaged in spiritual work, when he reads Holy scriptures, will apply everything to himself and not to his neighbor.” Do not ask, “What does this mean?” But, instead ask “What does this mean for me?” When reading the Bible, first reflect that Scripture is a sacred history of the world from the time of Creation through the formation of the early Church. Then observe the particularity of this history where we find God intervening at specific times and places and entering into dialogue with specific individuals. After reliving this spiritual history, apply it to yourself. You need to bring these distant places and times into your own place and time and see that these stories include you.