We had our Lenten Retreat this morning sponsored by the local pan-Orthodox brotherhood. Our speaker was Fr. Maximos (Constas) of Simonas Petras Monastery on Mt. Athos. Recently he was featured on the 60 Minutes TV documentary of the Holy Mountain which aired last year on Pascha which, I’m sure, many saw. He gave two excellent talks. I hate to say I wasn’t expecting it to be so good but after listening to so many lectures and presentations and talks and while most them are very good and certainly edifying, I really wasn’t expecting this one to stand out. He gave two excellent talks, both an hour long which felt like 15 minutes. The only bad thing is that no one recorded the talk.
Anyway, his first talk was about reading Scripture. The quote below was distributed as a handout to all present, a quote which had an impact on Fr. Maximos and one I’m sure will benefit others. At least I can share this.
“When one undertakes to examine Scripture in an idle, intellectual way, he creates hatred and quarreling. Why? Because the intellect approach to Scripture does not help us to turn and reflect on our sins, but instead makes us focus on problems and concepts related to the study of Scripture, with the result that our logical and intellectual faculties are aroused to no real purpose. “Knowledge” by itself does not add anything. On the contrary, it encourages the cultivation of the individual and his private sense of things; it fosters the self-sufficiency of his personal opinions, which he then seeks to justify and impose on others. This kind of approach to Scripture immediately places you in conflict with others; it opposes your will and opinion to theirs, prompting you to disagree and argue with them, and to make enemies of your brothers. Filled as I am with my own opinions about things, I am not able to receive anything from God.
The correct way is to read Scripture with simplicity and to allow God to tell us what he wants to tell us. It’s one thing to read Scripture because you want to collect information, and another thing to read it because you want to acquire its true content, that is, the Holy Spirit. This kind of knowledge is the life of God (cf. Jn. 17:3), the entry and extension of God into our life; it is God’s descent and dwelling among us. We can judge whether or not our study of Scripture is authentic based on the number of tears we shed when we study. To be sure, I can also read Scripture without shedding tears, and without a strong sense of my sins, but with the hope that God’s grace, through the reading of Scripture, will break open my hardened heart. Read Scripture, then, but don’t forget about your sins and reduce Scripture to an object of intellectual inquiry, for at that point it ceases being the word of God and you start seeing it as something human. The criterion for your study should be this: the way you read the Bible should bring peace to your heart, communion with God, love of neighbors, and the consciousness of your own sinfulness: the recognition of how unworthy and ill-prepared you are to stand before God.”
Elder Aimilianos, On Abba Isaiah