The Importance of Reading Scripture

The Importance of Reading Scripture

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Welcome to The Daily Prayer Team messages, each day includes a passage of scripture, a reflection and a prayer. Sponsored by Saint John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL.

Apply your mind to instruction and your ear to words of knowledge. Proverbs 23:12

Over my years of ministry, I have asked many groups of people of various ages (teens at summer camp, college students, young adults, parents, senior citizens, etc.) this question:

I read the Bible

  1. Every day
  2. Once a week
  3. When I’m in crisis
  4. I hear whatever the priest reads in church if I get there on time

The overwhelming majority of people answer this question with letter d.  For some reason, Orthodox Christians do not read the Bible.

His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios once told the story of how a seminary in the Midwest discovered that they had a codex of the Bible from the 8th century which had been taken from a monastery in Greece.  They decided that after all these centuries, the Bible should be returned to where it came from.  In typical Orthodox fashion there were elaborate services with magnificent pageantry.  The Bible was carried in processions and venerated with piety.  His Eminence remarked how the Protestant professors who accompanied this old manuscript on the trip back to Greece marveled at the reverence the Orthodox had for this artifact of Scripture.  They couldn’t get over how we venerate it and carry it in procession as if it were the most precious treasure.  After he was done speaking, some of the clergy that had sat at my table during this presentation said “We venerate the Bible, but we don’t actually open it.  Most people have no idea what is in there.”  And sad to say, that is the truth.

Orthodoxy and Catholicism tend to stress the sacramental life—go to church, receive Holy Communion, go to confession.  There isn’t the push to read the Scripture.  The Protestant churches, which do not have the tradition of the sacramental life as we do, emphasize the reading of Scripture.  Hence many Protestants can quote the Bible extensively, while the Orthodox by and large are not very Bible literate.

Reading Scripture is important.  If prayer is where we speak to God, Scripture is the best way to listen to Him.  Scripture was written by men, not by God, but what is written in Scripture is either an historical account of the history of God’s people, or God-inspired prophecy or teaching.  The Bible was codified, meaning, the fragments of Scripture that were in existence were gathered and one collection of them was established, in the fourth century.  Since that time, the Bible has not changed.  It is one of the oldest books in existence.

The Old Testament tells the history of God’s people.  It begins with the story of Creation, tells of the Fall of mankind, included God’s covenant with Abraham, to establish His descendants as God’s children, and marks their history in the centuries before Christ came.  Also included in the Old Testament are prophecies foretelling of the Messiah, Psalms (which are prayers written by David the King) and Proverbs (life lessons which were written by David’s son, Solomon).

If I were to sum up the entire Old Testament in one word, it would be the word “promise.”  God created the world perfect, and created man and woman in His image and likeness, intending for us to live forever in perfect oneness with God.  Mankind chose to go away from God, which introduced sin into the world.  The majority of the Old Testament is God’s promise to redeem His people, and the foundation of this is laid through the history of the people of Israel as well as the prophets who foretold of the coming of Christ.

The New Testament includes the four Gospels, which recount the ministry and teachings of Christ, as well as His Passion, death and Resurrection.  The Acts of the Apostles is a history of the early church.  There are several Epistles from Saint Paul, James, Peter and John, letters to the early church which dealt with the challenges facing the early church, challenges that we still face in the modern church.  The New Testament concludes with St. John the Evangelist’s vision of the Apocalypse, in the book of Revelation.

The New Testament can also be summed up in one word, which would be “redemption.”  The New Testament is the story of how God redeemed His people through Jesus Christ, as well as the establishment of the early church, whose charge it was to spread God’s message of redemption to all people.

Again, the “why” of reading the Bible is this is an important way to “hear” the Lord speaking to us.  So where to start?  First, read the four Gospels and understand the life and ministry and teachings of Christ.  Read them over and over again several times.  Read a chapter, read a few verses, it doesn’t matter.  Spend time in the Gospels each day.  Then read the book of Acts and understand how the early church was established.  Following this, read the Epistles so that you can understand the challenges that face each Christian, because two thousand years ago, there were the same challenges as today.  Read the book of Psalms.  Each one captures one of our emotions.  Keep a list as you read the Psalms of how each on makes you feel.  Read the book of Proverbs, a few verses at a time.  This book is packed with life lessons.

You can read the daily readings that are provided by the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and sign up to receive them.  There is a reading for each day of the year.  The prayer team always begins with Scripture.  Don’t just read the verses and this message.  Reflect on the Scripture verse.

Sit with Scripture.  Read whatever you are going to read and then “sit” and meditate on it.  Ask God to open your heart and bring thoughts to your mind as you read Scripture.   Keep a journal for five minutes a day.  After a year, you’ll have the best book ever written—the book of thoughts that the Lord brought to YOUR mind.

You don’t have to read a lot to get a lot out of Scripture.  And even when you read the same passage over and over, you’ll still pick up new nuances and messages.  I have read the Bible many times, and certain passages dozens of times and I still find new things that I didn’t know.  God speaks to me through the same passage in a different way each time I read it.

As for the translation, in church, we generally read from the Revised Standard Version (RSV).  The Orthodox Study Bible is the New King James Version or the NRSV.  This is a good Bible because it has annotations or notes which help interpret what we are reading.  The New International Version (NIV) is also an easy to understand translation.  In my opinion, I would stick to one of these three, as the others tend to water down the translation from the original Greek too much.

The most important thing about the Bible is that we read it—whatever you read and however much you read on a given day is not the most important thing.  The most important thing is that we actually read it, more than what we hear in church on Sundays.  A popular Catholic priest says “No Bible, no breakfast.  No Bible, no bed.”  It’s a good reminder to spend a few minutes in Scripture each morning and each evening.

Shine in our hearts, O Master Who loves mankind, the pure light of Your divine knowledge, and open the eyes of our mind that we may comprehend the proclamations of Your Gospels.  Instill in us also reverence for Your blessed commandments, so that, having trampled down all carnal desires, we may lead a spiritual life, both thinking and doing all those things that are pleasing to You.  For You, Christ our God, are the illumination of our souls and bodies, and to You we offer up glory, together with Your Father, Who is without beginning, and Your all-holy good and life-creating Spirit, now and forever, and to the ages of ages.  Amen. (Prayer before the Holy Gospel in the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, Translation of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, Holy Cross Seminary Press, 2015)

Make reading the Bible a daily priority!

The Revised Standard Version of the Bible is copyrighted 1946, 1952, 1971, and 1973 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. and used by permission. From the Online Chapel of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.

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Fr. Stavros Akrotirianakis

Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015, has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany”: “https://amzn.to/2t1rXwh and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.” https://amzn.to/2WAcfG0