By Jackie Morfesis
Since I was a child, I was always awestruck at the solemn beauty of the Holy Bible being brought from the altar to the faithful by the priest, held high, as a declaration of our faith, during the Small Entrance procession in the Divine Liturgy service. Right here, at this moment is not only a symbolic testimony to our faith, but the Word being brought to us, powerfully and completely.
I was blessed to have inherited my yiayia’s (grandmother’s) bible. It is not a bible for display only. It was not gilded and ornate like the one we see in church. It is not pristine, untouched. Her bible was deeply worn, touched, read, studied, and cherished. Why? Because she loved God and she loved God’s Word. She had notes written on small pieces of paper, inserted into her bible. When you hold my grandmother’s bible in your hands, you are holding not only something dear to her, but a part of her.
Yiayia Virginia was an anomaly. A Greek Orthodox woman who like our clergy during the Great Entrance, carried her bible. She carried it in her hands and in her heart. Yet she was an anomaly because carrying our bible is not something familiar to most Orthodox Christians. Reading, studying, and referencing God’s Word is also something not familiar to most Orthodox Christians. Do you see bibles in the pews of our churches? No. And perhaps no for a reason.
We are not taught the bible in Orthodoxy. Our children are not taught the bible in Sunday School. Stories of the saints, parables, and commemorating name days, celebrating holidays, is not what I am referring to. I am speaking to being taught God’s Holy Word. Being taught to memorize God’s Word and have His Word penetrate our hearts. This is something that should begin with our children and continue with our youth, so that by adulthood, the bible is second nature to us. By adulthood, we should all be hungering and thirsting for God’s Holy Word. “Then Jesus declared, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty’” (John 6:35).
Too often, we, like the moment when the bible is brought to us in the Divine Liturgy, see the good news as only belonging in the hands of our clergy. As long as the priest has studied the bible, then we by proxy do not need to. Nothing can be further from the truth. For a million reasons. God’s Word is the “sword of the spirit.” If we do not know God’s Word, we do not have the tools nor ammunition to do spiritual battle in the warfare that surrounds us. If we do not read God’s Word, we do not know our true identity – “I am a child of God; my Heavenly Father loves me” (Psalm 82:6). Nor do we know our true authority and power in Christ – “Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions underfoot, and to trample on all the power of the enemy; and nothing shall by any means harm you” (Luke 10:19).
If we do not read and know God’s Word, we do not even know how to “armor up” nor be prayer warriors as instructed to us by St. Paul in Ephesians 6:10-18. I have actually asked fellow Orthodox to pray with me and also for me in my life and the answer has been: “I don’t know how, ask the priest.” “I don’t know how.” This is tragic. Tragedy that we do not even have the basic building blocks of the faith.
If we do not read and know God’s Word – we do not know when falsehood is spoken over us, our lives, or the life of the church. We are like lambs to slaughter, blindly being led to and fro, but not knowing how to realign ourselves with God’s plan and purpose for our lives. We will, like the lamb, be silent when we are told “The church is a business.” Why? Because we do not have the knowledge to even say, “The church is not a business. The church is God’s house, the Bride of Christ, the body of believers.” We are the church.
If we do not read and know God’s Word – we cannot see the writing on the wall. We are moved like the sands of time, shifting in the wind. Every new political and societal event erodes our spiritual foundation because we are not grounded on rock but again, sand as told to us in Matthew 7:24-27.
If we do not read and know God’s Word – we do not even know the callings God has placed on our lives, nor the gifts He has given us. We do not know that He has plans for us. “For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’” (Jeremiah 29:11). Instead, we speak of “fate” and “luck”, or as is said in Greek: “Ola Ine Tihera.” God did not send His Son to give us “luck”, He sent His Son to give us the promise of salvation.
If we do not read and know God’s Word – we do not know how to move in the world as a kingdom ambassador. Honestly, I did not even know I was a “kingdom ambassador” until I stepped out of the door of an Orthodox church. Nor did I know I was a “child of God” and “disciple of Christ.”
Some may say that I am having a crisis of faith. On the contrary, I am having a spiritual awakening. The world is hungry for God, and the Orthodox Church continues to preach the “mystery of God”, when God sent His Son so that we could have a personal relationship with Him. God wants to be known by us. His Son wants a personal and intimate relationship with us. Yet, we may spend our time reading the autobiographies of celebrities, in fact, we may know more about pop culture, than we know the story of our Lord. Every day is an opportunity to draw others to God, but that will not be achieved by telling them that “God is a mystery” and not “God sent His Son to have a personal relationship with you.” “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
I am tired. I am tired of speaking to the deep wounds of modern Orthodoxy. I am also tired of hearing complacency. No, it is not always seeing the world through a critical lens. It is in fact, finally seeing the world through a lens that has been cleansed from layers and layers of dust and dross. Layers that keep us from intimacy with our Lord, and instead put the responsibility of our faith walk in the hands of others.
God wants us. He desires us. And He should be our greatest desire. Our first love. Not the world. Not a romantic liaison, partners, and friends. Not even family. Nor our successes or achievements. God first. His Word first. “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world” (John 17:16).
The hour is getting late. One need only take a look at the world and know this truth. But all is not lost. Praise God for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Asbury University in Kentucky. Praise God that not only their chapel but chapels across our nation were and are being filled with the Holy Spirit, drawing tens of thousands to Christ from all over our nation and the world. “Then after doing all those things, I will pour out my Spirit upon all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your old men will dream dreams, and your young men will see visions” (Joel 2:28).
The Orthodox church has much to offer. Not only to the faithful Orthodox, but to the world. But we must be faithful to the church, protect her, and not distort her beauty and truth to the world. In doing so, we not only hurt our church, but we are also hurting our Lord.
In closing, if we do not rest our lives on God and His Holy Word and teach His Word to our children then as adults we have been short-changed. Not only short-changed, but tragically wounded. In ways that may take nothing short of a miracle to heal – a complete spiritual awakening that only God, in His infinite wisdom can orchestrate. Glory to God.