Holy Scripture
in Orthodox Christian Life

St. Thomas Sunday was my first "solo" lesson with the 1st and 2nd grade class at Church School, and we were discussing the Body of Christ in terms of Church and parish. What did we do in Church? Praise God, thank Him, and come closer to Him by listening to the Holy Gospel and receiving Holy Communion.

One of the girls told about her visit to a non-Orthodox relative's church, and how it was very different: "They read from the Bible, and sang fun songs, not like us. They had a drawing at the end, and everyone got a tractor!" A tractor?

I asked her mother about it after Liturgy, and she laughed about what kids remembered, but expressed her chagrin that we don't "actually use the Bible" more in the Church School and during services. Her daughter didn't realize that we read the Bible all the time!

A "typical" scripture experience?

As I was growing up, my best friend Melinda and I were inseparable from first grade through high school. We did everything together: school, chorus and dance, family vacations (she came along with our family, and I went with hers), weekend sleepovers, everything! Many of our weekends included going with the other family to church: my family was (and still is) Orthodox, hers was full-Gospel Evangelical. When she came to Liturgy with my family, she went to Church School, sang in the choir, and helped make fried bread dough for the Teen-SOYO sales at coffee hour. When I went with her family, she and I sat in a small auditorium with a lot of other pre-teens and listened to youth pastors talk about the evils of rock music and dangers of teen sex. There was no Sunday school, because almost everyone attended a weeknight "Bible study" session.

I was fascinated by Melinda's family's Bible. It was big, bound in leather, with a zipper to keep it shut - necessary to avoid loosing all the bookmarks and pieces of paper with verses and notes. This Bible was highlighted, beaten up, obviously well-used. This was the Bible her father used to read from at dinner, and "packed up" for church on Sunday mornings. (I was envious. I wanted one of my own, with a zipper.)At her church and home, "chapter and verse" combinations were thrown around in casual conversation, as a justification for this decision, or encouragement for that task: "Acts 23:5", "Luke 9:5". And these disembodied references made sense to them!

I felt awkward, because that was not the way I, as an Orthodox Christian, was used to referring to Holy Scripture. I knew the stories whole episodes: the greeting of Christ and the Theotokos by St. Simeon, the parables He told, the progression from Christ's reception into Jerusalem through to the announcement of the Angels that He was not in the tomb, the conversion of Saul. As a frequent reader at Church, I could accurately paraphrase large tracts and knew from which book they were taken. But to identify a single verse, out of context out on a baseball field: impossible!

After twenty years of reading and studying first my old Oxford's The New English Bible with Apocrypha, and now my Orthodox Study Bible, I still can't quote "chapter and verse". And that's okay for me, now. (I've gotten over my zipper obsession, too, and plastered my Bible with sticky-notes: no zipper needed!)

In its wisdom, the Orthodox Church allows us to experience over the course of a year's Vespers, Matins and Liturgies exactly the right mix of Old Testament, Psalms, the story of Christ (Gospels), and history of the early Church (Acts and "Letters" of the Apostles) at exactly the right times to bolster our joy at the feasts, and strengthen and inspire us as we prepare for and live out the fasts.

This "perfect planning" set me in awe, until I realized that the New Testament, inspired by God, was compiled by the Church - the Holy Orthodox Church - to preserve its witness to the Truth over any time or distance. The Holy Scriptures actually belong to the Church, who is their only accurate interpreter and teacher. In the Orthodox Tradition, Scripture never stands alone, but is always read and discussed in context with the Church's festal cycle, the Liturgy, the Sacraments, and our whole Orthodox lifestyle. Scripture is woven into every prayer, every service.

Where are we today?

Twenty years apart, that little girl and I had very similar experiences in discovering the role of Holy Scripture in the Orthodox Church. Fr. Peter Gillquist, Director of Orthodox Evangelism for the Antiochian Archdiocese, in discussing the effort which produced the Orthodox Study Bible, observed that Orthodox Christians "have never been known as great readers of Scripture", but that is changing as Orthodox interact with Protestant and Evangelical co-workers, schoolmates, and neighbors who know "chapter and verse" but struggle to find the context which will enable them to understand.

How can we help our children to "grow up" with Holy Scriptures, while keeping everything in context? Here are some ideas:

Purchase an age-appropriate Bible or Bible story book for your child, and keep updating it as your child grows. (Consult your parish priest if you have any doubts about the "Orthodoxy" of its content or presentation.)
Use the Bible story book for younger children's first bedtime story each night, and move the fairy tales to the second position. Our Katie usually enjoys three stories: a Bible story, an Arthur book, and something else.
On Saturday night, read the Gospel story that will be read in Church at Liturgy the next morning from your child's Bible storybook, then mark the place and take the storybook with you to Liturgy. If the child doesn't read yet, have him look at the pictures that go with the story.
Be sure to point out (often) that the beautiful book that Father or Father Deacon reads, blesses us with during Liturgy, and (in the Slavic custom) places on the tetrapod for us to kiss at Matins, is the Gospel - the first four books of the New Testament. After services one day, ask Father if you can look at the Altar Gospel; point out that the words are big so Father can see them easily, so he can read to us very clearly.
Discuss the Epistle and Gospel with your children on the way home from Church, reinforcing (or "translating for little ears") any points made about them during the homily. It doesn't have to be a deep philosophical discussion, just a few words on the meaning of the story and how it applies to us today.
Children have "favorite" Bible stories that they ask to have read over and over. Introduce the "big kid's Bible" to your child by reading his favorite story from the Orthodox Study Bible, and pointing out how the "big kid's Bible" tells the same story with more detail than his Bible storybook. As children get older, you can begin to read more from it and to point out chapter and verse numbers.
As children get older, begin to read the "daily readings" from the Epistle and Gospel together at the dinner table. Fr. Peter relates that, in his own house he read the Epistle and Gospels at the table only for feast days and during fasting seasons, to prevent his children from "dreading another reading". They enjoyed the dinner-table readings so much, they actually asked when the next fasting season began, and looked forward to them!
Encourage older children (especially those in chorus or the Church choir) to speak with the choir director or cantor and learn to read the Epistle during Liturgy.
Let your children - at every age - see you reading the Bible at home or attending a study group at Church. More than anything else, our children learn from our example.

by Nichola Toda Krause

© 1998 by Orthodox Family Life and the original author(s).
URL: http://www.theologic.com/oflweb. This web site is donated and maintained by TheoLogic Systems, which provides software and information tools for Orthodox Christians and parishes world wide.