From The Blog

Mission Monthly – February 2007

“This is the cause of all evils, the not knowing the Scriptures.”

St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on Colossians

Every facet of the Orthodox Church is founded, whether explicitly or implicitly, on the Holy and Eternal Word of God. The Scripture as we know it is the written Word, but yet we know there is more to the Word than only what is written. The familiar end passage from the Gospel of St. John states, “But there are also many other things which Jesus did; were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written” (St. John 21:25). While in a finite way I suppose it is theoretically possible, however unlikely, that every spoken word and action of Jesus’ earthly life could have been recorded; in His eternal nature, however, there would be no way to “contain the uncontainable.” The written Word truly is only the smallest of records of God’s revelation of His Divine Life to His creation; and yet, it is absolutely fundamental to our life in Christ and His Church. It is not surprising, therefore, that the lack of knowledge of this Word would be “the cause of all evils.”

If one were to label a possible single deficiency in the regular devotional lives of many Orthodox Christians it would be a lack of knowledge of Holy Scripture. It would be ridiculous to say that Orthodox Christians have no knowledge of Scripture—certainly those Orthodox Christians who regularly attend services above and beyond Sunday Liturgy. The broader worship of the Church is filled with Scripture: the Psalms, Old Testament readings, the Epistle and Gospel readings and the multitude of prayers which directly quote Scripture. Vespers, Matins, Divine Liturgy, Great and Small Compline, Akathists, the Hours—all are filled with the richness of Scriptural content. Even those Orthodox Christians who generally attend only Sunday Liturgy are exposed to much Scripture. Yet whether or not one is frequently attending the various services of the Church these can never be a substitute for the direct knowledge one gains from the regular (daily) reading of Holy Scripture.

I suppose it would be a fair question to ask why some Christians do not read Scripture. Some might answer that they just don’t have the time, while the honest would probably answer out of laziness. Some might answer that they are doing alright without it, while the honest would probably answer that they are afraid to face the Truth of what they might see in themselves. St. John of Kronstadt asked it in this way, “Of those who do not read the Gospel, I would ask: Are you pure, holy, and perfect, without reading the gospel? Is it not needful for you to look in this mirror? Or is it that your soul is so deformed that you fear to look upon your deformity?” Some might answer that it’s just too hard and they don’t understand it, while the honest would say their lack of understanding is a result of neglect.

Another obvious question to ask would be how serious is the lack of Scriptural knowledge in causing evil. I remember a deep impression made upon me several years ago when reading “The People of the Lie” by psychologist, M. Scott Peck. This book probed the essence of human evil from cases Dr. Peck encountered in his psychiatric practice, vivid incidents of evil in everyday life, and also from examples of social evil drawn from events and periods of historical human madness. I clearly remember his definition of evil as simply “the absence of truth.” It is in this context that I can truly understand how a lack of Scriptural knowledge can be the cause of all evil. Scripture is Truth and so a lack of the knowledge of Scripture can also be considered a lack of knowledge of Truth; and the lack of knowledge (or absence) of Truth, according to M. Scott Peck, is evil.

It is expected of unbelievers to be more inclined to question and even oppose the Word though we know for certain that evil is not a monopoly held by unbelievers. The Devil himself “believes” in God and even quoted the word to the Word (St. Matthew 4:3-10), and yet his “lack of knowledge” of the Scripture is evidenced by the war he has raged against God ever since he deceived himself into believing he could be “like God” (Isaiah 14:14).

It is not my intention to prove anything here. I believe we are all well aware of the fundamental importance of reading and knowing the Scripture. Maybe this little reminder is to reiterate the urgency with which we need to address the matter. Our world needs the Truth: church life, public policy, the work place, our schools, intercultural relations, neighborhoods, families and each and every one of us. So many basic truths have been called into questions that many (even many Christians) believe there is no such thing as absolutes. This lie has only led our world into seemingly irreversible violence and virtual moral collapse.

In the grand scheme of things there may not be much that any one of can do but in this I am reminded of the words of Mother Teresa, “Do small things with great love.” The attention each of us gives to the Word of God will help even if it only brings the warming presence of Christian zeal into the circles of our tiny existence. Each of us can help deter this “cause of evil” and who knows how far the ripples may spread. The tiniest pebble in the largest pond could be enough to change the world, one heart at a time, starting with our own.