By The Right Reverend JOSEPH, Bishop of Los Angeles and the West
For the Christian of true worship, the Holy Bible is the greatest source of Truth, virtue, and moral ethics. It is invaluable as a source of teaching doctrine and holiness. We call it the “Book of Life,” for in its pages we find the closest expression we have of the Inexpressible. From generation to generation, the books that make up the Canon of Scripture have communicated to us the lessons God has taught and still is teaching His people. It is open to all and should be read by all; men and women, clergy and laity, children and adults, believers and unbelievers.
The Bible Reveals God
From the beginning, God has revealed Himself to mankind. He never ceases to reach out to His creation with abundant blessings, desiring all to freely partake of the personal communion He offers. The Bible also establishes that it was humanity who rejected Him, following after the selfish desire to be as God. Certainly, humanity has afflicted itself with this delusion. Even so, the human race, even in its fallen state, is unable to deter God’s unceasing ministry to His people. The Scripture record this ongoing spiritual struggle between the loving Truth of God and man’s deluded expression of pride.
Once the Truth of God is accepted, and a person surrenders his pride and his denial of reality, his eyes become open to Christ our God, whose Divine Light invisibly enters in. This is what we call holiness, and therefore only in genuine holiness can we begin to understand the Bible and experience God revealed in it. The Scripture and the histories of the martyrs bear witness to the glory of God as it enters us. They also witness to us the terrible price that people pay when they refuse to acknowledge the presence of the Lord.
The Bible Reveals Our Need
The Old Testament establishes the way of thinking of the one who has “seen” God. He now sees the misery of fallen humanity. He discerns how, in our wretched state, we bring ruin upon ourselves with the lies our pride fabricates for us. In the pages of the Bible, we see how even good men can fail. And we see and hear the warning for us that, just as surely as sunset brings night, the disobedience of mankind brings death and destruction.
The Bible is not a document for the individual seeking to feel self-justified and full of wisdom. Rather, it is a mirror in which each person can see his own weakness without God and his need for Him. One who reads the Scripture and does not fall down praying for God’s mercy has not really read them. He may have read the words on the pages, but he is still a man of the world, a prisoner of his blinded intellect and fleshly desires. Perhaps such a person would do better with a technical manual or a history book. The Bible is neither of these. It is a spiritual tool, the greatest of all, designed to change us. It overcomes all boundaries of human time and transcends all cultures.
The Bible Reveals Salvation
The one who reads the Bible and repents of his own sinfulness, recognizing no good in his life without God, opens the door to a new life. He is transformed by encountering the Person of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son and Logos/Word of God. He is the One Whom the Prophets proclaim would save us from sin and the sting of death which we brought upon ourselves. When we read with a repentant heart, the words of the Bible are not lifeless rules and interesting stories, but insights into a world beyond expression. These words are doors through which to walk, so we may come to know God. The Bible challenges us to emerge from our own personal self-centered and illusory world, and to enter rather into the Kingdom of God. Then every word of the Bible is a window to heaven, to Paradise, and to Perfection.
Just as someone cannot “birth” himself, neither is a man “reborn” by himself. His personal faith in our Lord Jesus Christ will not be fulfilled outside of the Church. For it is there that we enter into a Tradition, a dynamic history of men and women–saints–who honored what they received from God and passed it on intact to the next generation. This embodiment of Faith is founded in the Incarnate Logos/Word of God, Jesus Christ, the Head of the Body which is His Holy Orthodox Church. Within the Church, the repented man, woman or child is born anew through the life-giving waters of Holy Baptism. Here, the passion of the individual begin to die and transformation is initiated.
Truly the fullness of the Scripture cannot be obtained outside the mind of the Church. Heretics and unbelieving intellectuals may read the words of Scripture, but they cannot understand it as does a spiritual man or woman within the Holy Community of the Church. Without the gift of the Holy Spirit to reveal within us the truth of God, the Bible is but raw data. Certainly, the Holy Spirit has whispered Truth into the ears of people not in the Church, but the place where He speaks the fullness of the Faith is within the Church where he dwells.
Only with the teachings of His Church–the Church that proclaims the Truth found in the Bible–can we begin our true work of breaking out of the self-imposed imprisonment of self-idolatry. When we submit our lives to Christ in repentance and lift us up. Therefore, it becomes our joyful duty to ceaselessly knock on the door of the Scripture, asking God to reveal the Truth to us through His Logos/Word, that we might walk through the gates and grow into an ever greater appreciation and experience of Him and His Heavenly Kingdom.
Simply put, the Holy Bible must be read with serious and humble prayer, a genuine desire for God’s mercy, along with sound instruction from the Church and the very presence of the Holy Spirit within us. Our Lord Jesus Christ left Himself within this Holy Book, that He might be found by those who genuinely see Him. May you find Him today! (Source: The Orthodox Study Bible)