I have always appreciated the freedom I have to preach on Sunday from the lectionary of the Church. I don’t choose which Gospel is read, nor do I choose which “theme” is emphasized on any given Sunday. If the Church lists the Gospel of the Samaritan Woman, that is the Gospel, and I will preach on it and so will every other Orthodox Christian Church in the world. I also find it quite freeing that I am not left to my own imagination when it comes to how the Holy Scriptures are to be interpreted. If the Church says it means something, then it means THAT, not what I think it might mean.
Yet in today’s secular world in which more than 45,000 denominations of Christianity exist according to Gordon Conwell Seminary, preachers every Sunday are picking their own passages and interpreting them as they wish. In this reality, every denomination has one thing in common that is in direct contrast with the Orthodox Church besides theology. In the Protestant West, every denomination (and sometimes individual pastors) believe they can determine what the Holy Scriptures mean personally rather than being told what they mean. It has been said that in Protestantism every pastor is his own bishop.
Just glance at the opening dialogue between Christ and the Jews in today’s Gospel reading (you can read the entire passage below) and you will hear the essence of Orthodox Christian Theological exercise. “My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me.” As an Orthodox Christian Priest, I am not free to teach and preach as I personally interpret. I am sent by the Church, to teach according to how the Church interprets the Word of God.
In this sense, I explain colloquially, that the Church has theological checks and balances. I teach what the Bishops through the seminary approve for me to learn. The Bishops are loyal to what the Holy Saints and Fathers of the Church have taught before them. The Holy Saints and Fathers were loyal to what the Holy Apostles taught before them. The Holy Apostles were loyal to Christ, and the Holy Spirit who was promised by Christ to guide them “into all truth.” (John 16.13) As Orthodox Christians we live and learn as all the Orthodox Christians before us.
This loyalty to the past gives us freedom. We are free to live without fear that we might be getting theology wrong. Instead our contemporary responsibility is to receive the timeless truth and apply it to today’s circumstances without departing from the truth. Studies predict the total number of denominations to reach 55,000 by 2025. They will all have one thing in common. They will teach what they want, rather than what they have received. We teach what was “once for all delivered to the Saints." (Jude 1.3)
About the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the temple and taught. The Jews marveled at it saying, "How is it that this man has learning, when he has never studied?" So Jesus answered them, "My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me; if any man's will is to do his will, he shall know whether the teacher is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority. He who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but he who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is not falsehood. Did not Moses give you the law? Yet none of you keeps the law. Why do you seek to kill me?" The people answered, "You have a demon! Who is seeking to kill you?" Jesus answered them, "I did one deed, and you all marvel at it. Moses gave you circumcision (not that it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and you circumcise a man upon the sabbath. If on the sabbath a man receives circumcision, so that the law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with me because on the sabbath I made a man's whole body well? Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment." Some of the people of Jerusalem therefore said, "Is not this the man whom they seek to kill? And here he is, speaking openly, and they say nothing to him! Can it be that the authorities really know that this is the Christ? Yet we know where this man comes from; and when the Christ appears, no one will know where he comes from." So Jesus proclaimed, as he taught in the temple, "You know me, and you know where I come from? But I have not come of my own accord; he who sent me is true, and him you do not know. I know him, for I come from him, and he sent me." So they sought to arrest him; but no one laid hands on him, because his hour had not yet come. – John 7.14-30