As you can imagine, as an Orthodox Christian priest, I have regular interactions with people outside the Church. Sometimes they are Christians of other denominations, and other times they are not believers. I have noticed a trend that is concerning when it comes to discussions about God and faith. It seems too often we get caught in the “that’s not what I think it means,” trap. From elementary school science projects to graduate school papers, no matter what we are discussing, ‘it’ rarely means what WE think it means. We must be taught what ‘it’ means.
There is an ancient Greek saying, γεράσκω αεί διδασόμενος, which translates I grow old always being taught. We have come to know this saying slightly adapted to, I grow old always learning, but learning and being taught are two different things. One can be accomplished alone, while the other requires a relationship. We can only be taught by someone who knows. Take a moment and read today’s reading from Acts.
In those days, an angel of the Lord said to Philip, "Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza." This is a desert road. And he rose and went. And behold, an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a minister of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of all her treasure, had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. And the Spirit said to Philip, "Go up and join this chariot." So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and asked, "Do you understand what you are reading?" And he said, "How can I, unless some one guides me?" And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. Now the passage of the scripture which he was reading was this: "As a sheep led to the slaughter or a lamb before its shearer is dumb, so he opens not his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken up from the earth." And the eunuch said to Philip, "About whom, pray, does the prophet say this, about himself or about some one else?" Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this scripture he told him the good news of Jesus. And as they went along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, "See, here is water! What is to prevent my being baptized?" And Philip said, "If you believe with all your heart, you may." And he replied, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God." And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught up Philip; and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. – Acts 8.26-39
This reading best illustrates the difference between learning and being taught. The Ethiopian could read and even ponder what was written, but only when St Philip taught him could he understand he had been reading about Christ. The same is true when we read the Holy Scriptures. We can ponder what they mean, but only when we are guided by the Church, can we fully understand what is written. There are many examples of this in the Holy Scriptures, in which the learned Pharisees did not understand what had been written until then had been taught be Christ. Even the Apostles had this problem.
Reading the Holy Scriptures should be a prat of our daily life as Orthodox Christians, but if we leave it to our own interpretation, we run the risk of ignorance rather than being uplifted to heaven. There are many resources we can make us of to avoid this danger. Thankfully, thousands of pages of the writings of the Holy Fathers on the Holy Scriptures have been saved and translated into English for our benefit. St John Chrysostom, one of my favorites, preaches on just about every verse of the Bible, and many of his sermons are available free online.
The relationship between the Holy Fathers of yesterday and our reading today is just one benefit of being Orthodox. It is the relationship that makes the difference. Anyone can read the Holy Fathers, but only those who allow those readings to guide them, can be taught. The next time you read from the Scriptures, look also at what the Holy Fathers taught about what those verses mean. Then you will be like the Ethiopian and St Philip, in a relationship that leads to salvation.
The easiest way to include this into your life is to attend an Orthodox Christian Bible study lead by a priest. He will open your eyes to understand what the Church teaches about the Scriptures rather than ‘just what he thinks’ the words mean. You can always join our LIVE Bible Study right here on Be Transfigured Ministries. We study the Scriptures inspired by the homilies of St John Chrysostom.