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.
Beautiful truth. Thank you.
You are welcome, Jane.
Too many Orthodox parents rely only on the weekly one hour Sunday School lesson for the spritual upbringing of their children. This is like feeding them birdseed for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Parents must raise their children by praying and reading the Bible as a family on a daily basis. They must Church themselves as a family at least once per week – more often on special feast days. They must fast together, do almsgiving together and regularly go for confession together. The home must become a little Church. That way, even if the children stray when they are older, they will always return because the Word of God is still growing in their hearts.
I love “They will always return because the Word of God is still growing in their hearts.” Thank you.
Truly it’s needed, more holy Bible teaching by priests in Orthodox faith… and group prayer too is powerful.
Prayer is power! The Word of God is indeed the “sword of the spirit.”
What you say is true to degree. But it must come from within the Church. Otherwise it will be what it was at the reformation when lay people first had access to the Bible ,to the Gospels ,in the own language Soon 20 people and ten different views.
And when you say Bible ,do you as many protestants ,mean obsessively the Old Testament ? How many protestants don’t ever refere to or mention the words of Christ !
And the Bible ,even the Gospels ,at human level are through the prism of the human hand. Yes I believe the word of God but not in a literal way as if God wrote it a la Koran coming from heaven. Τhat is primitive and a petty god. The Genesis stories obviously relate to their middle East background ( paradeaza,see Iranian meaning of ) For me the glories shown by science fill me with awe and worship and that we as humans are connected to rest of creation. Why does that fact revolt many Christians? That view has caused so much of the destruction of our World.
God acts through us human beings and it’s messy and unclear often. Through a glass darkly as St Paul says. I have had personal experience of that .
And don’t forget,THE GOSPELS AND BIBLE ENTIRE CAME OUT OF THE CHURCH AND NOT THE OTHER WAY ROUND.!
As has been said if there was no Bible, Christianity would exist in the Church. A only bible based faith is a neutured faith. A Protestant faith.
I agree with you 100% in what u saying about the church ,and it’s current state and most orthodox clergy who I find passive and βουβός!
We are in a spiritual crisis and one reason is the IT revolution. People no longer understanding the Christian message. Being saved is a meaningless phrase to them as all the rest. It’s irrelevant.
The church maybe has lost itself in Greek philosophy that we worship as God almost just as the western church did scholastic and Aristotle.
We need as in the 4 th century ,a new language to explain.
Not everything that we find post communism , in the cupboard is good or needed and much as you say that is baggage that we worship.
What do you know Jackie about the suffering of the Russian church during Communism and it’s martyrs and saints.? Sweet nothing I bet. Does the figure of the surgeon bishop Luke mean anything to you ?
Have you read or know if the late London based bishop and spiritual figure ,Antony Bloom who lived all you saying in how his diocese lived it’s life. And the flowering that came from it but since his death (2003) has been killed by the bureaucracy of the Moscow Patriarchate as business as usual.
Our orthodox church today is so often as the western church at time of Luther. The Phanar is corrupt totally and the Moscow Patriarchate politically enslaved. I would imagine any orthodox Ukrainian believer is sick of them all.
Είμαι Έλληνας , ζώντας στη Βουλγαρία. Μια ορθόδοξη χορα !! Η εκκλησία κοιμάται,σε νάρκη ! ,0,03% των Βουλγάρων εκκλησιάζονται τακτικά και στις εορτές δεν αυξάνει ο αριθμός πολύ. Ούτε για το Πάσχα.
Αυτή είναι η Αλήθεια γενικά αλλά ακούμε στη ορθόδοξη εκκλησία μόνο φωνές για χρήματα και δόξα και όσο υλικά . Λατρεία των Πλούτων και των μεγάλων του κόσμου και η εκκλησία πεθάνει σιγά σιγά.
I recommend a very good book by the late renowned catholic theologian who the Vatican tried to shut up,Hans Kung ,called ‘ On being a Christian ‘. Do get ,on Amazon and read. Please can you.
Beautifully well said my friend Jackie!
“Now the parable is this: the seed is the word of God. Those beside the road are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their heart, so that they will not believe and be saved. Those on the rocky soil are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no firm root; they believe for a while, and in time of temptation fall away. The seed which fell among the thorns, these are the ones who have heard, and as they go on their way they are choked with worries and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to maturity. But the seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance” (Luke 8:11-15).
1. Be Intentional and Focused Whenever the Word of God Is Presented
2. Stay in God’s Word until It Takes Root
3. Remove Anything in Your Life That Is Contrary to God’s Word
4. Live with a Humble Attitude, Acknowledging Your Continued Need of God’s Word
How is your heart? Is it humble? Good? Honest? Or are there some weeds of worldliness or dangerous distractions that are keeping you from bearing the fruit of a true follower of Jesus?
God’s Word never returns void, but as His children, we have a responsibility to keep our hearts tender toward His work. That is the mark of a fruitful, growing Christian.
Thank you, my sister, in Christ. Your words are instructive and uplifting!
Ps. Jackie don’t mistake the workings of an over stimulated parasympathetic nervous system to the workings of the holy spirit . Be careful. I worked in psychology and mental health for decades in UK.
Many years ago bishop Antony Bloom was invited to a pentacostal speaking in tongues meeting. There was a man in ecstasy talking a ‘ spirit language ‘. The man he had come with who was not English or Russian ,turned to the bishop and said that this other processed man was speaking his language and blastheming God in the most appalling language .
It’s not the ‘ speaking in tongues” but how they are after this.
This in itself is mass hysteria. I understand what you are trying to say but the joy of God is for instance the experience of St Seraphim of Sarov who was transfigured in light and recorded by Molotov who was with him. They did not weep and scream etc but were filled with an overwhelming sweet peace. With a quiet joy. And the experience I had the same.
Also St Sophrony (1994) of Essex UK. Do YOU KNOW OF THESE SAINTS. ? I THINK NOT JACKIE. Get to know deeper your tradition and of catholic west too. And even of Protestant figures who experienced this quiet joy. And I have much more respect for traditional Protestantism than may appear.
Nikos Stone, twice you have employed “All Caps”, which is the written equivalent of shouting. And several times you have made assumptive remarks about what I and others know and do not know, including personally to me: “Sweet nothing I bet” and “Do you know of these saints? I think not Jackie”, I removed your All Caps when repeating these words – because I choose not to shout at myself. Sarcasm is not “joyful” discourse.
You then follow with putting a limitation and judgment on what God can and can’t do and how He can or cannot reveal himself to His followers – attempting to put boundaries on the “joy” that anyone can experience. When scripture says: “Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all your upright in heart! (Psalm 32:11). I put no limitation on my God – nor do I negate nor need to limit the ways in which others experience my Lord and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. “All things are possible to those who believe” (Mark 9:23). You also limit how God’s Word should be received and experienced only “within the church.”
With all due respect, your years of medical study which relies heavily on the scientific approach – appears to have compartmentalized your understanding of the true nature of illness and healing. We are not compartmentalized beings – but body, mind, and spirit and made whole in Jesus Christ, the Master Physician of our souls and bodies. Reacquaint yourself on Jesus’ healing ministry in the Bible – that we are commissioned to continue. You condemn those who speak in tongues – and are swept up in the spirit – when we are told: “And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly think, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover” (Mark 16:17-18).
There is a spirit of cynicism, ridicule, limitation, and disbelief in your words – and we know that our words (tongues) betray our minds, and our mind betrays our heart. “Death and life are in the power of the tongue; And they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof” (Proverbs 18:21). Therefore, given all this – I rebuke the spirit of cynicism, ridicule, limitation, and disbelief evident in your words against me and all who follow the Lord in Jesus’ Name.”
I attended an online Bible Study in an excellent parish. We were learning about the parables of Jesus. For some reason, we got on the topic whether. the Bible was the. Word of God and the priest said NO, absolutely not. Why do the priests bring the Bible out and read from the Epistles and the New Testament and we stand when reading the New Testament? If. our children grew up learning verses from. the Bible, perhaps they would understand right from wrong much better and grow up to be solid Christian citizens and we would have more people. in church.
But the west badly mistranslates the Bible. Words like Meek (Πραος, gentle, not humble; A banker or lion can be called Πραος), fornication (Πορνεια, prostitution not premarital sex), Magog (Mongol, Magyar). SO the West has no real understanding of Christianity. The West is the real Magog because of their Hun, Lapp, Finn, Viking and American Indian lineage. We differ from the west especially with regards to Original Sin (Προπατορικο; If Jesus wanted us to be like children, he didn’t believe they had Original Sin; Mary CHOSE to be sinless), passion (sorry Mel Gibson, we believe in repressing our passions, not embracing them) and reason (god & truth are incomprehensible mystery). Jews answer by question and Greeks by dialectic because truth is incomprehensible.