Fountains in the Desert

Book launch by En Plo Publications in Athens

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This event has been a most humbling experience! The ethos of the two panel speakers, Hieromonk Chrysostomos of Koutloumousiou Monastery, Mount Athos, and Fr. Bogdan-Konstantin Georgeskou, and that of the author himself, Fr. Jonathan Hemmings, permeated all the events. Such love and humility, especially in the face of various trials and tribulations, the least being an airline strike (!) impacting with its last-minute flight cancellations our speakers’ trips, felt like a rare blessing in “the apostasy of our times”. Fr. Seraphim’s Rose warning “Do not be deceived !” “It is later that you think, hasten therefore to do the work of God” is a favourite motto of  Father Jonathan, his spiritual grandchild.

The book presentation proved to be a Panorthodox Synaxis, truly ecumenical! So many Greek, Romanian and English Orthodox friends turned up. En Plo Bookstore was packed out! The occasion provided everybody with the grace of fellowship.

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Hieromonk Chrysostomos, the first panelistsummed it all aptly in the opening sentence of his presentation: “I have not come here to introduce or recommend the book, which needs no such thing, as this is evident to anyone who begins to read it, but I have come here, all the way from Mount Athos, to meet its author!” 

Because “cradle Orthodox” have so much to learn from “Orthodox converts“! (One of the ‘ironies’ of this event was that in the many conversations which followed with priests, academic theologians and lay people, Father Jonathan, himself a ‘convert‘, had to repeatedly ‘defend’ Orthodoxy from ‘cradle Orthodox‘ faithful, from their disillusionment, doubts, and confusion about ‘their’ faith).

For Hieromonk Chrysostomos presentation, “Monasticism as Unity and Overcoming Divisions” go to http://www.pemptousia.gr/video/ierom-chrisostomos-koutloumousianos-monachismos-ine-i-enotita-ke-i-ipervasi-ton-diereseon/

A vignette of the occasion which was indelibly marked in my heart was the author himself, in front of the audience in the packed room, all quiet during Hieromonk Chrysostomos’ presentation, deeply immersed in prayer, bending in humility his head, radiant, otherworldly, silent, and yet so eloquent, so full of the Holy Spirit amidst all this noise and praise in the crowded building. And I write ‘building’, because both floors were packed, and people were also waiting outside the book store too!

The long queue of the author’s spiritual children at the end of the book launch, their love and gratitude was such a heartwarming experience on its own! “And they shall come from the east, and from the west, and from the north, and from the south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 13:29) So many memories, of his life and ministry, of his works and his deeds, of love, which will continue in them and in their families. Father Jonathan was himself visibly moved to be with his spiritual children and dearest supporters of the ‘crucified’ Community of the Holy and Life Giving Cross in Lancaster, England and meet new friends in Christ and make further ‘connections’ in the Holy Spirit with those who are part of Christ’s extended family.

 

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The two panel speakers’ presentations were outstanding, and the author impressed the audience with his profound humility, his love for everybody, his wise words, the purity of ‘his’ Orthodoxy, his poetry and his knowledge of the Greek language:

“It is with a profound sense of thanksgiving that in humility I thank you for publishing “Fountains in the Desert.” It is the product of a long lived admiration for those who found the desert to be a treasury of blessings. I have simply woven my own experiences into this mystical landscape. Any worth in it springs from the overflowing love of God for me, a prodigal, and to those whose zeal, patience, kindness and loving example have been spiritual signposts of the faith for my own journey through the desert.

Such salvation is experienced when one is thirsty for the Truth and the saints who Christ sends, provide the living water from which one drinks deeply of the sparkling fresh fountains of our Orthodox Christian faith. I wish to recognise in particular the heaven endowed, grace-filled influences of His Eminence Metropolitan Antony of Sourozh, Archimandrite Barnabas of New Mills, Archimandrite David of Walsingham, Archpriest Michael Harper and Hieroschemamonk Ambrose ( formerly Fr.Alexey Young) the spiritual son of Blessed Seraphim Rose, who chrismated me .

The Apostle Paul writes to the Christians at Ephesus:

Ephesians 5:2

“Walk in the way of love just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

When we drink deeply from these sparkling springs and living waters of Orthodoxy, there is an inevitable outpouring of love to sustain us in our journey and an inexpressible joy to share this life giving water with others who thirst after truth. This is the life of the Church, to share the Gospel.

Luke 13:29

 

29 And they shall come from the east, and from the west, and from the north, and from the south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God.

So we have much to do- because for to those who have been given much, much is expected. We rejoice with those returning to the Orthodox Church. We weep with those who find themselves exiled from their lands. We are warmed by the fact that so many of our parishes are microcosms of Pentecost with faithful being welcomed from all over the world regardless of nationality. We thank God that we witness strength of faith and growth in His Church and we ask empowerment for the apostolic mission set before us to bring God’s love to a hungry and thirsty world.

The glory of God is revealed in joy. The mercy of God is experienced in suffering. The grace of God is discovered in fellowship. The power of God is realised in miracles. The love of God is manifested in mission. Our dialogue is with heaven, even in the deserts of our cities where we encounter ourselves, the evil one and God. Christ only speaks one language and that is the language of love for His creation. May His love give voice to our faith.” (excerpts from the author’s presentation)

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Fr. Jonathan‘s interview following the booklaunch has been videotaped by pemptousia.com and will appear shortly.

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The Orthodox Christian Parish of the Holy and Life ­Giving Cross at Lancaster (United Kingdom) belongs to the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of the British Isles and Ireland, is a relatively small parish led by Fr. Jonathan, but with faithful from more than half a dozen nationalities, a ‘crucified’ parish, literally ‘on the move’ for over 20 years. After 20 years of using borrowed premises (a quite typical situation for ‘convert’ Orthodox parishes at the UK), they are renting a former Anglican church St Martin’s of Tours Church from Friday to Sunday evening, in order to serve the needs of the Orthodox Christians in the Lancaster area.  To this end, they are making an appeal to raise funds to cover the rent and other needs of the Church on a permanent basis. Apart from your much needed prayers, you can find information on how to contribute to their fund raiser here. The proceedings from this Greek translation of the book or the English original will be likewise used to cover basic needs of the Church. The Holy and Life ­Giving Cross at Lancaster is a lively parish which enjoys Christian fellowship, having meals together and taking part in pilgrimages to Orthodox monasteries, churches, ancient Christian sites and other worship places (photos), produce a newsletter each month with their news and spiritual food for thought, and is engaged in a number of holy tasks.

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The Art of Spiritual Reading

An Introduction to the Art of Reading God’s Word accompanied by some of the most beautiful medieval manuscripts

Top 10 Most Beautiful Medieval Manuscripts

Black Hours (M. 493 › Morgan Library & Museum)

The Black Hours is a product of unequalled luxury. All 121 vellum folios are stained in black. To make the writing stand out against the dark background, only white lead and opaque paints were used for the miniatures, and gold and silver ink for the script. Only three of these black parchment manuscripts survive to this day.
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WE BELIEVE THAT THE SCRIPTURES constitute a coherent whole. They are at once divinely inspired and humanly expressed. They bear authoritative witness to God’s revelation of Himself – in creation, in the Incarnation of the Word, and the whole history of salvation. And as such they express the word of God in human language. We know, receive, and interpret Scripture through the Church and in the Church. Our approach to the Bible is one of obedience.

We may distinguish four key qualities that mark an Orthodox reading of Scripture, namely

Top 10 Most Beautiful Medieval Manuscripts

Prayerbook of Claude de France (MS M. 1166 › Morgan Library & Museum)

In the words of Roger Wieck, curator of manuscripts at the Morgan Library: “An artistic triumph…” The personalized prayer book of the French queen Claude de France enchants us especially by its delicate paintings in a charmingly small format of 69 x 49 mm, and even more so by the unusual wealth of illustration it contains.

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Reading the Bible with Obedience

FIRST OF ALL, when reading Scripture, we are to listen in a spirit of obedience. The Orthodox Church believes in divine inspiration of the Bible. Scripture is a “letter” from God, where Christ Himself is speaking. The Scriptures are God’s authoritative witness of Himself. They express the Word of God in our human language. Since God Himself is speaking to us in the Bible, our response is rightly one of obedience, of receptivity, and listening. As we read, we wait on the Spirit.

But, while divinely inspired, the Bible is also humanly expressed. It is a whole library of different books written at varying times by distinct persons. Each book of the Bible reflects the outlook of the age in which it was written and the particular viewpoint of the author. For God does nothing in isolation, divine grace cooperates with human freedom. God does not abolish our individuality but enhances it. And so it is in the writing of inspired Scripture. The authors were not just a passive instrument, a dictation machine recording a message. Each writer of Scripture contributes his particular personal gifts. Alongside the divine aspect, there is also a human element in Scripture. We are to value both.

Each of the four Gospels, for example, has its own particular approach. Matthew presents more particularly a Jewish understanding of Christ, with an emphasis on the kingdom of heaven. Mark contains specific, picturesque details of Christ’s ministry not given elsewhere. Luke expresses the universality of Christ’s love, His all-embracing compassion that extends equally to Jew and to Gentile. In John there is a more inward and more mystical approach to Christ, with an emphasis on divine light and divine indwelling. We are to enjoy and explore to the full this life-giving variety within the Bible.

most beautiful medieval manuscripts lindisfarne gospels

Lindisfarne Gospels (Cotton MS Nero D IV › British Library)

The Lindisfarne Gospels doesn’t need many words of introduction: it’s one of the finest works in the unique style of Hiberno-Saxon or Insular art, combining Mediterranean, Anglo-Saxon and Celtic elements.

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Because Scripture is in this way the word of God expressed in human language, there is room for honest and exacting inquiry when studying the Bible. Exploring the human aspect of the Bible, we are to use to the full our God-given human reason. The Orthodox Church does not exclude scholarly research into the origin, dates, and authorship of books of the Bible.

Alongside this human element, however, we see always the divine element. These are not simply books written by individual human writers. We hear in Scripture not just human words, marked by a greater or lesser skill and perceptiveness, but the eternal, uncreated Word of God Himself, the divine Word of salvation. When we come to the Bible, then, we come not simply out of curiosity, to gain information. We come to the Bible with a specific question, a personal question about ourselves: “How can I be saved?”

As God’s divine word of salvation in human language, Scripture should evoke in us a sense of wonder. Do you ever feel, as you read or listen, that it has all become too familiar? Has the Bible grown rather boring? Continually we need to cleanse the doors of our perception and to look in amazement with new eyes at what the Lord sets before us.

We are to feel toward the Bible with a sense of wonder, and sense of expectation and surprise. There are so many rooms in Scripture that we have yet to enter. There is so much depth and majesty for us to discover. If obedience means wonder, it also means listening.

Hours of Jeanne d’Evreux (Acc., No. 54.1.2 › Metropolitan Museum of Art) 

All miniatures are in demi-grisaille, a painting technique using mainly shades of grey and coloring for the figures’ face and hands. The surprising amount of details that can be fit in such small space is outstanding.

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We are better at talking than listening. We hear the sound of our own voice, but often we don’t pause to hear the voice of the other person who is speaking to us. So the first requirement, as we read Scripture, is to stop talking and to listen – to listen with obedience.

When we enter an Orthodox Church, decorated in the traditional manner, and look up toward the sanctuary at the east end, we see there, in the apse, an icon of the Virgin Mary with her hands raised to heaven – the ancient Scriptural manner of praying that many still use today. This icon symbolizes the attitude we are to assume as we read Scripture – an attitude of receptivity, of hands invisibly raised to heaven. Reading the Bible, we are to model ourselves on the Blessed Virgin Mary, for she is supremely the one who listens. At the Annunciation she listens with obedience and responds to the angel, “Be it unto me according to thy word” (Luke 1:38). She could not have borne the Word of God in her body if she had not first, listened to the Word of God in her heart. After the shepherds have adored the newborn Christ, it is said of her: “Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). Again, when Mary finds Jesus in the temple, we are told: “His mother kept all these things in her heart” (Luke 2:5l). The same need for listening is emphasized in the last words attributed to the Mother of God in Scripture, at the wedding feast in Cana of Galilee: “Whatsoever He saith unto you, do it” (John 2:5), she says to the servants – and to all of us.

In all this the Blessed Virgin Mary serves as a mirror, as a living icon of the Biblical Christian. We are to be like her as we hear the Word of God: pondering, keeping all these things in our hearts, doing whatever He tells us. We are to listen in obedience as God speaks.

Westminster Abbey Bestiary

Westminster Abbey Bestiary (Ms. 22 › Westminster Abbey Library)

Out of all the Bestiaries, the Westminster is considered to be one of the most beautiful and richly decorated bestiaries in the world, and is full of all kinds of incredible descriptions, legends and myths.

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Understanding the Bible Through the Church

IN THE SECOND PLACE, we should receive and interpret Scripture through the Church and in the Church. Our approach to the Bible is not only obedient but ecclesial.

It is the Church that tells us what is Scripture. A book is not part of Scripture because of any particular theory about its dating and authorship. Even if it could be proved, for example, that the Fourth Gospel was not actually written by John the beloved disciple of Christ, this would not alter the fact that we Orthodox accept the Fourth Gospel as Holy Scripture. Why? Because the Gospel of John is accepted by the Church and in the Church.

It is the Church that tells us what is Scripture, and it is also the Church that tells us how Scripture is to be understood. Coming upon the Ethiopian as he read the Old Testament in his chariot, Philip the Apostle asked him, “Understandest thou what thou readest?” And the Ethiopian answered, “How can I, unless some man should guide me?” (Acts 8:30-31). We are all in the position of the Ethiopian. The words of Scripture are not always self-explanatory. God speaks directly to the heart of each one of us as we read our Bible. Scripture reading is a personal dialogue between each one of us and Christ – but we also need guidance. And our guide is the Church. We make full use of our own personal understanding, assisted by the Spirit, we make full use of the findings of modern Biblical research, but always we submit private opinion – whether our own or that of the scholars – to the total experience of the Church throughout the ages.

The Orthodox standpoint here is summed up in the question asked of a convert at the reception service used by the Russian Church: “Do you acknowledge that the Holy Scripture must be accepted and interpreted in accordance with the belief which has been handed down by the Holy Fathers, and which the Holy Orthodox Church, our Mother, has always held and still does hold?”

We read the Bible personally, but not as isolated individuals. We read as the members of a family, the family of the Orthodox Catholic Church. When reading Scripture, we say not “I” but “We.” We read in communion with all the other members of the Body of Christ, in all parts of the world and in all generations of time. The decisive test and criterion for our understanding of what the Scripture means is the mind of the Church. The Bible is the book of the Church.

godescalc-evangeliary

Godescalc Evangelistary (Ms. Nouv. acq. lat. 1203 › Bibliothèque Nationale de France)

Why is this manuscript so important? In the words of Godescalc himself:

Golden words are painted [here] on purple pages,
The Thunderer’s shining kingdoms of the starry heavens,
Revealed in rose-red blood, disclose the joys of heaven,
And the eloquence of God glittering with fitting brilliance
Promises the splendid rewards of martyrdom to be gained. 

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To discover this “mind of the Church,” where do we begin? Our first step is to see how Scripture is used in worship. How, in particular, are Biblical lessons chosen for reading at the different feasts? We should also consult the writings of the Church Fathers, and consider how they interpret the Bible. Our Orthodox manner of reading Scripture is in this way both liturgical and patristic. And this, as we all realize, is far from easy to do in practice, because we have at our disposal so few Orthodox commentaries on Scripture available in English, and most of the Western commentaries do not employ this liturgical and Patristic approach.

As an example of what it means to interpret Scripture in a liturgical way, guided by the use made of it at Church feasts, let us look at the Old Testament lessons appointed for Vespers on the Feast of the Annunciation. They are three in number: Genesis 28:10-17; Jacob’s dream of a ladder set up from earth to heaven; Ezekiel 43:27-44:4; the prophet’s vision of the Jerusalem sanctuary, with the closed gate through which none but the Prince may pass; Proverbs 9:1-11: one of the great Sophianic passages in the Old Testament, beginning “Wisdom has built her house.”

These texts in the Old Testament, then, as their selection for the feast of the Virgin Mary indicates, are all to be understood as prophecies concerning the Incarnation from the Virgin. Mary is Jacob’s ladder, supplying the flesh that God incarnate takes upon entering our human world. Mary is the closed gate who alone among women bore a child while still remaining inviolate. Mary provides the house which Christ the Wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:24) takes as his dwelling. Exploring in this manner the choice of lessons for the various feasts, we discover layers of Biblical interpretation that are by no means obvious on a first reading.

The Grimani Breviary

Grimani Breviary (Ms. Lat. I, 99=2138 › Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana) 

A monumental witness to the splendor of Flemish art produced during the Renaissance. Perhaps an outstanding features of this manuscript is the choice of motifs, which alternate between religious and lay themes.

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Take as another example Vespers on Holy Saturday, the first part of the ancient Paschal Vigil. Here we have no less than fifteen Old Testament lessons. This sequence of lessons sets before us the whole scheme of sacred history, while at the same time underlining the deeper meaning of Christ’s Resurrection. First among the lessons is Genesis 1:1-13, the account of Creation: Christ’s Resurrection is a new Creation. The fourth lesson is the book of Jonah in its entirety, with the prophet’s three days in the belly of the whale foreshadowing Christ’s Resurrection after three days in the tomb (cf. Matthew 12:40). The sixth lesson recounts the crossing of the Red Sea by the Israelites (Exodus 13:20-15:19), which anticipates the new Passover of Pascha whereby Christ passes over from death to life (cf. 1 Corinthians 5:7; 10:1-4). The final lesson is the story of the three Holy Children in the fiery furnace (Daniel 3), once more a “type” or prophecy of Christ’s rising from the tomb.

Such is the effect of reading Scripture ecclesially, in the Church and with the Church. Studying the Old Testament in this liturgical way and using the Fathers to help us, everywhere we uncover signposts pointing forward to the mystery of Christ and of His Mother. Reading the Old Testament in the light of the New, and the New in the light of the, Old – as the Church’s calendar encourages us to do – we discover the unity of Holy Scripture. One of the best ways of identifying correspondences between the Old and New Testaments is to use a good Biblical concordance. This can often tell us more about the meaning of Scripture than any commentary.

In Bible study groups within our parishes, it is helpful to give one person the special task of noting whenever a particular passage in the Old or New Testament is used for a festival or a saint’s day. We can then discuss together the reasons why each specific passage has been so chosen. Others in the group can be assigned to do homework among the Fathers, using for example the Biblical homilies of Saint John Chrysostom (which have been translated into English). Christians need to acquire a patristic mind.

Morgan-Crusaders-Bible

Morgan Crusader Bible (Ms M.638 › Morgan Library & Museum; Ms Nouv. Acq. Lat. 2294 › Bibliothèque Nationale de France; Ms Ludwig 16 83. M.A. 55 › Getty Museum)

In this manuscript history is depicted in great detail, without any text and recalls the Creation of the world, the Righteous Wars and the deeds of the most important characters of the Old Testament. The Crusader’s Bible fascinates through its rich and refined gold embellishment which comes to enhance the luminosity of the colors.

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Christ, the Heart of the Bible

THE THIRD ELEMENT in our reading of Scripture is that it should be Christ-centered. The Scriptures constitute a coherent whole because they all are Christ-centered. Salvation through the Messiah is their central and unifying topic. He is as a “thread” that runs through all of Holy Scripture, from the first sentence to the last. We have already mentioned the way in which Christ may be seen foreshadowed on the pages of the Old Testament.

Much modern critical study of Scripture in the West has adopted an analytical approach, breaking up each book into different sources. The connecting links are unraveled, and the Bible is reduced to a series of bare primary units. There is certainly value in this. But we need to see the unity as well as the diversity of Scripture, the all-embracing end as well as the scattered beginnings. Orthodoxy prefers on the whole a synthetic rather than an analytical approach, seeing Scripture as an integrated whole, with Christ everywhere as the bond of union.

Always we seek for the point of convergence between the Old Testament and the New, and this we find in Jesus Christ. Orthodoxy assigns particular significance to the “typological” method of interpretation, whereby “types” of Christ, signs and symbols of His work, are discerned throughout the Old Testament. A notable example of this is Melchizedek, the priest-king of Salem, who offered bread and wine to Abraham (Genesis 14:18), and who is seen as a type of Christ not only by the Fathers but even in the New Testament itself (Hebrews 5:6; 7:l). Another instance is the way in which, as we have seen, the Old Passover foreshadows the New; Israel’s deliverance from Pharaoh at the Red Sea anticipates our deliverance from sin through the death and Resurrection of the Savior. This is the method of interpretation that we are to apply throughout the Bible. Why, for instance, in the second half of Lent are the Old Testament readings from Genesis dominated by the figure of Joseph? Why in Holy Week do we read from the book of Job? Because Joseph and Job are innocent sufferers, and as such they are types or foreshadowings of Jesus Christ, whose innocent suffering upon the Cross the Church is at the point of celebrating. It all ties up.

A Biblical Christian is the one who, wherever he looks, on every page of Scripture, finds everywhere Christ.

Wiener-Genesis

Vienna Genesis (Codex Theol. Gr. 31 › Österreichische Nationalbibliothek)

It is the most ancient purple manuscript surviving today. The fragment of the Genesis (from the Greek Septuagint translation) is compiled in golden and silver ink, on a beautifully purple-dyed calfskin vellum. Each page contains a lavish miniature depicting the text, for a total of 48 well-preserved images.

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The Bible as Personal

IN THE WORDS of an early ascetic writer in the Christian East, Saint Mark the Monk: “He who is humble in his thoughts and engaged in spiritual work, when he reads the Holy Scriptures, will apply everything to himself and not to his neighbor.” As Orthodox Christians we are to look everywhere in Scripture for a personal application. We are to ask not just “What does it mean?” but “What does it mean to me?” Scripture is a personal dialogue between the Savior and myself – Christ speaking to me, and me answering. That is the fourth criterion in our Bible reading.

I am to see all the stories in Scripture as part of my own personal story. Who is Adam? The name Adam means “man,” “human,” and so the Genesis account of Adam’s fall is also a story about me. I am Adam. It is to me that God speaks when He says to Adam, “Where art thou?” (Genesis 3:9). “Where is God?” we often ask. But the real question is what God asks the Adam in each of us: “Where art thou?”

When, in the story of Cain and Abel, we read God’s words to Cain, “Where is Abel thy brother?” (Genesis 4:9), these words, too, are addressed to each of us. Who is Cain? It is myself. And God asks the Cain in each of us, “Where is thy brother?” The way to God lies through love of other people, and there is no other way. Disowning my brother, I replace the image of God with the mark of Cain, and deny my own vital humanity.

In reading Scripture, we may take three steps. First, what we have in Scripture is sacred history: the history of the world from the Creation, the history of the chosen people, the history of God Incarnate in Palestine, and the “mighty works” after Pentecost. The Christianity that we find in the Bible is not an ideology, not a philosophical theory, but a historical faith.

Then we are to take a second step. The history presented in the Bible is a personal history. We see God intervening at specific times and in specific places, as He enters into dialogue with individual persons. He addresses each one by name. We see set before us the specific calls issued by God to Abraham, Moses and David, to Rebekah and Ruth, to Isaiah and the prophets, and then to Mary and the Apostles. We see the selectivity of the divine action in history, not as a scandal but as a blessing. God’s love is universal in scope, but He chooses to become Incarnate in a particular comer of the earth, at a particular time and from a particular Mother. We are in this manner to savor all the uniqueness of God’s action as recorded in Scripture. The person who loves the Bible loves details of dating and geography. Orthodoxy has an intense devotion to the Holy Land, to the exact places where Christ lived and taught, died and rose again. An excellent way to enter more deeply into our Scripture reading is to undertake a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and Galilee. Walk where Christ walked. Go down to the Dead Sea, sit alone on the rocks, feel how Christ felt during the forty days of His temptation in the wilderness. Drink from the well where He spoke with the Samaritan woman. Go at night to the Garden of Gethsemane, sit in the dark under the ancient olives and look across the valley to the lights of the city. Experience to the full the reality of the historical setting, and take that experience back with you to your daily Scripture reading.

Then we are to take a third step. Reliving Biblical history in all its particularity, we are to apply it directly to ourselves. We are to say to ourselves, “All these places and events are not just far away and long ago, but are also part of my own personal encounter with Christ. The stories include me.”

Betrayal, for example, is part of the personal story of everyone. Have we not all betrayed others at some time in our life, and have we not all known what it is to be betrayed, and does not the memory of these moments leave continuing scars on our psyche? Reading, then, the account of Saint Peter’s betrayal of Christ and of his restoration after the Resurrection, we can see ourselves as actors in the story. Imagining what both Peter and Jesus must have experienced at the moment immediately after the betrayal, we enter into their feelings and make them our own. I am Peter; in this situation can I also be Christ? Reflecting likewise on the process of reconciliation – seeing how the Risen Christ with a love utterly devoid of sentimentality restored the fallen Peter to fellowship, seeing how Peter on his side had the courage to accept this restoration – we ask ourselves: How Christ-like am I to those who have betrayed me? And, after my own acts of betrayal, am I able to accept the forgiveness of others – am I able to forgive myself? Or am I timid, mean, holding myself back, never ready to give myself fully to anything, either good or bad? As the Desert Fathers say, “Better someone who has sinned, if he knows he has sinned and repents, than a person who has not sinned and thinks of himself as righteous.”

Have I gained the boldness of Saint Mary Magdalene, her constancy and loyalty, when she went out to anoint the body of Christ in the tomb (John 20:l)? Do I hear the Risen Savior call me by name, as He called her, and do I respond Rabboni (Teacher) with her simplicity and completeness (John 20:16)?

Reading Scripture in this way – in obedience, as a member of the Church, finding Christ everywhere, seeing everything as a part of my own personal story – we shall sense something of the variety and depth to be found in the Bible. Yet always we shall feel that in our Biblical exploration we are only at the very beginning. We are like someone launching out in a tiny boat across a limitless ocean.

“Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (Psalm 118 [119]:105).

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Lectio Divina  is a four-part way of reading Scripture:
Lectio. Read. God is speaking, so I listen intently to what he says.
Meditatio. Engage. God is speaking to me, so I listen personally.
Oratio. Pray. God is speaking to me, so I listen personally and reply personally in prayer.
Contemplatio. Live. God is speaking to me, so I listen personally and reply in prayerful living.

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By Bishop Kallistos Ware: “How to Read the Bible” at http://orthodoxeurope.org/page/11/1/4.aspx#obedience

 

Source: MEDIEVALISTS.NET, “Top 10 Most Beautiful Medieval Manuscripts” http://www.medievalists.net/2015/10/03/top-10-most-beautiful-medieval-manuscripts/

Remove The Sandals From Your Feet

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Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees.

— Revelation 7:3

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The saints embrace the whole world with their love.

— St. Silouan the Athonite

On the Holy Mountain of Athos, the monks sometimes put up beside the forest paths special signposts, offering encouragement or warning to the pilgrim as he passes. One such notice used to give me particular pleasure. Its message was brief and clear: “Love the trees.”

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Fr. Amphilochios, the geronta or “elder” on the island of Patmos when I first stayed there, would have been in full agreement. “Do you know,” he said, “that God gave us one more commandment, which is not recorded in Scripture? It is the commandment “love the trees.” Whoever does not love trees, so he believed, does not love God. “When you plant a tree,” he insisted, “you plant hope, you plant peace, you plant love, and you will receive God’s blessing.” An ecologist long before ecology had become fashionable, when hearing confessions of the local farmers he used to assign to them a penance, the task of planting a tree. During the long summer drought, he himself went round the island watering the young trees. …

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Fr. Amphilochios was by no means the first spiritual teacher in the modern Greek tradition to recognize the importance of trees. Two centuries earlier, the Athonite monk St. Kosmas the Aetolian, martyred in 1779, used to plant trees as he traveled around Greece on his missionary journeys, and in one of his “prophecies” he stated, “People will remain poor, because they have no love for trees.” We can see that prophecy fulfilled today in all too many parts of the world. …

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“Love the trees.” Why should we do so? Is there indeed a connection between love of trees and love of God? How far is it true that a failure to reverence and honor our natural environment — animals, trees, earth, fire, air, and water — is also, in an immediate and soul-destroying way, a failure to reverence and honor the living God?

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Let us begin with two visions of a tree. Edward Carpenter, in Pagan and Christian Creeds [records] a partial vision of a tree. “It was a beech, standing somewhat isolated, and still leafless in quite early Spring. Suddenly, I was aware of its skyward-reaching arms and up-turned finger-tips, as if some vivid life (or electricity) was streaming through them far into the spaces of heaven, and of its roots plunged in the earth and drawing the same energies from below. The day was quite still and there was no movement in the branches, but in that moment the tree was no longer a separate or separable organism, but a vast being ramifying far into space, sharing and uniting the life of Earth and Sky, and full of amazement.”

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… Two things above all are noteworthy in Edward Carpenter’s “partial vision.” First, the tree is alive, vibrant with what he calls “energies” or “electricity”; it is “full of most amazing activity.” Second, the tree is cosmic in its dimensions: it is not “a separate or separable organism” but is “vast” and all-embracing in its scope, “ramifying far into space … uniting the life of Earth and Sky.” Here is a vision of joyful wonder, inspired by an underlying sense of mystery. The tree has become a symbol pointing beyond itself, a sacrament that embodies some deep secret at the heart of the universe. The same sense of wonder and mystery — of the symbolic and sacramental character of the world — is strikingly manifest in Peaks and Llamas , the master-work of that spiritual mountaineer, Marco Pallis.

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Yet there are at the same time certain limitations in Carpenter’s tree-vision. The mystery to which the tree points is not spelt out by him in specifically personal terms. He makes no attempt to ascend through the creation to the Creator. …

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Let us turn to a second tree-vision, which is by contrast explicitly personal and theophanic: “Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then He said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” He said further, “I am the God of your Father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.”  (Ex 3:1-6)

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Comparing the experience of Moses with that of Carpenter, we observe three things: in the first place, the vision described in Exodus reaches out beyond the realm of the impersonal. The burning bush at Horeb acts as the locus of an interpersonal encounter, of a meeting face-to-face, of a dialogue between two subjects. God calls out to Moses by name, “Moses, Moses!” and Moses responds, “Here I am.” “Through the creation to the Creator”: in and through the tree he beholds, Moses enters into communion with the living God.

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In the second place, God does not only appear to Moses but also issues a practical command to him: “Remove the sandals from your feet.” According to Greek Fathers such as St. Gregory of Nyssa, sandals or shoes — being made from the skins of dead animals — are something lifeless, inert, dead and earthly, and so they symbolize the heaviness, weariness, and mortality that assail our human nature as a result of the Fall.

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“Remove your sandals,” then, may be understood to signify: Strip off from yourself the deadness of familiarity and boredom; free yourself from the lifelessness of the trivial, the mechanical, the repetitive; wake up, open your eyes, cleanse the doors of your perception, look and see! And what, in the third place, happens to us when in this manner we strip off the dead skins of boredom and triviality? At once we realize the truth of God’s next words to Moses: “The place on which you are standing is holy ground.” Set free from spiritual deadness, awakening from sleep, opening our eyes both outwardly and inwardly, we look upon the world around us in a different way.

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So we enter the dimensions of sacred space and sacred time. We discern the great within the small, the extraordinary within the ordinary, “a world in a grain of sand … and eternity in an hour,” to quote Blake once more. This place where I am, this tree, this animal, this person to whom I am speaking, this moment of time through which I am living: each is holy, each is unique and unrepeatable, and each is therefore infinite in value.

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Combining Edward Carpenter’s living tree, uniting earth and heaven and the burning bush of Moses, we can see emerging a precise and distinctive conception of the universe. Nature is sacred. The world is a sacrament of the divine presence, a means of communion with God. The environment consists not in dead matter but in living relationship. The entire cosmos is one vast burning bush, permeated by the fire of divine power and glory. …

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For more Orthodox ecology of Transfiguration, theophanic transparency, pellucid double vision and Zen ‘haeccitas’, read the full article THROUGH CREATION TO THE CREATOR by Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia

 at http://incommunion.org/2004/12/11/through-creation-to-the-creator/