Thursday, November 30, 2006

the Bible? sure, I've read that . . .

I finally got Bl. Theophylact's The Explanation of the New Testament (well, the volumes on Matthew, Mark, and Luke, anyway, which is all that's been published so far in English). I read The Arena a while back, in which Bishop Ignaty hammers his monastic readers on the need to spend time in the Gospels. Honestly, if you're not careful, you can easily come away from a lot of these exhortations with the impression that all Orthodox spiritual fathers want from their children is for them to be more Evangelical--read your Bible more, pray from the heart, don't get so caught up in ritual, etc.

In a sense, it probably is true--everything has its tendencies, and often strengths go hand-in-hand with corresponding weaknesses. So yes, there are areas where Evangelicals probably have a leg up on a lot of Orthodox. As my wife says, Orthodox worship may look more reverent, but isn't it also easier to mask when the people don't actually feel more reverent? Well, yes it is. Viewed positively, you can also play the behaviorist and say that doing it whether you feel it right now or not is a good way to help your feelings catch up. But the negative point is still valid. (On the other hand, the same thing can apply to Evangelicalism--how many times have I found myself singing out, singing well--by all appearances "in to" the worship--but not paying attention to a single word of the lyrics?) But the problem with Evangelicalism is never that it gets everything wrong; it gets quite a bit right. The problem with Evangelicalism is its minimalism--how it jettisoned so much that was good along with the bad that it found in Catholicism. And it can be seen that Evangelicals returning to Orthodoxy bring with them some strengths that the Church needs. But they're strengths that only become useful when they're "baptized" into the Church. Anyway, enough of this tangent.

The point is that reading Bishop Ignaty and St. Theophan the Recluse, both harping on the need to read Scripture, got me thinking that I should be spending more time with it myself. I've always had Scripture, so when I came to Orthodoxy, there was all this other stuff to read, and I got distracted from what's most important. Plus, I had learned not to trust my own understanding of Scripture, so I was hesitant to get back into it until I'd had a chance to learn from the Church. Anyway, it was an overreaction on my part, I'm sure, so after reading The Arena I decided to take a break from the library and spend time in the Gospels. I figured I'd focus my attention on Matthew, Mark, and Luke, since John is supposed to be for those who are already in communion. I started with good intentions, and for a while I stuck it out, but I still felt like something was missing. Bishop Ignaty had stressed reading Theophylact along with the Gospels, and I'd noted at the time that there was an English translation available, but I was too cheap to rush out and buy it.

Finally, I got my first installment of Christmas money (from the in-laws, since we saw them for Thanksgiving but won't for Christmas) and ordered the three volumes, which--lucky for me--cover exactly the material I wanted to read anyway. They arrived a couple of days ago, and I started on Matthew. I'm having a hard time putting it down. I especially like the format, which reproduces the whole text of the Gospel throughout the commentary. That way, I don't have to bounce back and forth between two volumes while I read.

Anyway, no profound insights to share just yet. It's enough for now to record my excitement at diving back into Scripture, this time in dialog with the Church as I go. More to follow, I'm sure.

1 comment:

Jim N. said...

Hmmm... I may do this with you!