Serbian Orthodox Bishop of Dalmatia Fotije
THE WORD OF GOD IN THE LIFE
AND MISSION OF THE CHURCH
Allow me to begin my short exposition on the Holy Scripture with the words of great Church father – St. John Chrysostom, great and spirit-bearing interpreter of the Holy Scripture, who commented and interpreted almost all Books of the Old, as well as of the New Testament. He says: “Holy Scripture is a way and who gets off it, he goes astray.” Furthermore, trying to reach its deeper meaning and to extend the previous statement, he says: “The Prophets and Divine Law were nothing but fairy tales and dummy stories for the rich man (Lk. 16, 19), but when he moved down to hell, he realized everything.” Through these statements, St. John emphasises that the way to salvation is being revealed in the Holy Scripture, because the Law and Old Testament Prophets, as well as New Testament Gospels, bring us to the Incarnated Word and Logos Jesus Christ (Jn. 1, 1). On the other hand, the story about unreasonable rich man (Lk. 16, 19) clearly shows that academic understanding of the Holy Scripture does not bring salvation. The Holy Scripture saves only “those who hear the word of God and keep it” (Lk. 11, 28).
According to the doctrine of the Holy Scripture, written word of Truth has eternal and unchangeable meaning, since our God Jesus Christ said that “heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Mt. 24, 35). Generally speaking, the Holy Scripture characterizes this world as reality which is “in the power of the evil one” (1. Jn. 5, 19). Thus, this can especially be applied to the modern world, founded on innumerable innocent victims, numerous and diverse anarchy, where the ground, sodden with blood of the righteous, yearns for the righteousness of God (Rom. 1, 17). Therefore, being the one and only word that can give truthful hope, honest consolation and divine peace, salvific Word is something that modern man and mankind mostly need.
Interpreting the Books of the Old and New Testament, many Church Fathers underlined the baleful phenomenon of academic understanding of divine Law, faith and the Holy Scripture. Such knowledge neither brings man to God in ancient times, nor does it today. Academic understanding of words and spirit of the Holy Scripture keeps the faith of people on “their lips” (Mk. 7, 6), while in their hearts there is no place for God “to lay His head” (Lk. 9, 58). What this modern world indispensably need are truthful witnesses (martyrs) of the Holy Scripture - as live and authentic doctrine of Resurrection – whose lives witness the reality of the Holy Scripture. Their lives are inspired by the Holy Spirit, so their ministry is not “the code that kills” (2. Cor. 3, 6), but word that resurrects, transforms and creates a new man in Christ.
In The Second Epistle of Saint Apostle Peter (2. Pet. 3, 16) is said that the divine wisdom written in the Holy Scripture is hard to understand and that many people twist it to their own destruction. In that way St. Apostle Peter clearly draws our attention to the appearance of heretics in the period of early Church. On the other hand, he points out the inevitable need that Word of God in the Holy Scripture has to be interpreted by the Holy Spirit and through the Holy Spirit (1. Pet. 1, 12). Therefore, following the Orthodox Tradition, interpretation of the Holy Scripture has always been based on inspired patristic teachings. God raised Church fathers in this world to be “the light of the world” and “a city set on a hill” (Mt. 5, 14); their god-inspired explanations of the Holy Scripture reveal the most profound mystery of Faith “into which even angles long to look” (1. Pet. 1, 12).
Today we speak about the general problem of the world’s secularization and obvious domination of materialism upon spiritual values. Our Saint Apostles and god-bearing Church fathers guard the biblical interpretation of the salvific Word of God, thus preventing it to be defiled by this temptation of secularization. Therefore, Apostles and Church Fathers wrote and preached the Word of the Holy Scripture, that we can live and walk on this narrow path of salvation through that knowledge. St. Athanasius the Great - the teacher of the Church - says that the Holy Scripture is given to us through Church only because of our salvation, and not because of human knowledge, nor philosophy.
According to the gospel parable of the sower (Mt. 13, 18), all those who sometimes in their lives hear the word of God, can be divided into four groups. Firstly, there are those who have heart of stone. In their hearts the gospel seed can not grow, since the Satan, and not God, is the one who rules over them. The second type are those people who are unstable in virtue; and when they hear the Word of God, they receive it with joy, but they accept neither the cross, nor tribulation or persecution on account of the Word. The third group are those people who worship everything that is of this world; they are imprisoned in greed and ostentation, so the Word, being choked, proves unfruitful. Only the fourth group of people is compared with fertile gospel ground; when they hear the Word of God, they understand it “and yield, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty” (Mt. 13, 8). This parable of the sower illustrates “the tragedy of human freedom”. Freedom is an immense Divine gift, that every man can abuse, and instead of life in that God-given freedom (like, for example, Adam’s life), he voluntary becomes “a slave to sin” (Jn. 8, 34). Regardless of the importance and clarity of this story, Church must always remember the words of St. Apostle Paul (1. Cor. 9, 16): “Woe to me”, and to all of us, “if I do not preach” the Word of God, i.e. the Holy Scripture, irrespective of one will accept it or not.
Mission of the Church and expansion of the Word of God, i.e. the Holy Scripture, is a commandment that Apostles received from our Lord Jesus Christ: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Mt. 28, 19). This commandment lasts even today and will last until the end of the world and its history. Preaching the Word of God is even connected with apocalyptic prophecy about the Second Coming, that is to happen after the preach of the Word of God in the cities of Israel (Mt. 11, 1).
According to St. Symeon the New Theologian, the Holy Scripture is a written Living word of the Living God, which is “salt and light of the world” (Mt. 5, 14). The most profound internal and spiritual meaning of the Holy Scripture is being revealed in its fullness through the life and Holy Liturgy. Being the Kingdom of God that is to come, the Holy Liturgy, according to the words of our Lord, is something that we have “to seek first”, and all other “things shall be our as well” (Mt. 6, 33). The Holy Scripture reveals that salvific dialogue between God and man and man and God, as the Blessed Augustine says: “Through prayer we talk with God, but in the Holy Scripture God talks with us.”
I would like to end this short exposition about salvific Word of God, written in the Holy Scripture and proclaimed to all nations of all times, with the words of Saint Abba Justin of Chelije: “Are you sad – the Holy Scripture will give you consolation; if you are sorrowful – joy; if you are angry - peace; if you are lascivous - chastity; if you are unwise – wisdom; if you are evil – goodness; if you are villain – grace and justice; if you do not have love – charity. In it (the Holy Scripture), you will find cure for all your vices and flaws, as well as for all strength for enduring in all your virtues and efforts.”