A Homily given by Hieroschema Monk Nilus of St. Arsenius Hermitage.
The First Ecumenical Council and who can interpret the Holy Scriptures
Beloved of God, today, as we commemorate the Holy Fathers of the First
Ecumenical Council, let us consider Scripture interpretation, and
specifically ponder the question: Who is trustworthy to interpret the
Holy Scriptures? I pose this question because Arius, whom our Holy
Fathers withstood, based his heretical teaching upon his personal
interpretation of the Scriptures. So let me ask again: Who is
trustworthy to interpret the Holy Scriptures?
I would like to begin answering by bringing forward a comment of the
contemporary monk Theocletos of Dionisiou Monastery on the Holy
Mountain. Father Theocletos is mentioned in the book “Anchored in
God” as a noteworthy monk of the Holy Mountain. This book is authored
by Constantine Cavarnos who visited Athos in the 1950’s and wrote of
his experiences there. When I visited the Holy Mountain in 1986 I
heard about Father Theocletos as a monk who is both spiritual and
scholarly. At that time he was living a semi-reclused life, residing
in a house just outside the monastery. I visited him and asked a
number of questions. One, which I had often been asked by
Protestants, was, “Why is it that we Orthodox have so little of the
New Testament in our services?” So Father answered: “It is
Protestantism to read the Scriptures and interpret them. In the
Orthodox Church we go by the writings of the Holy Fathers. The Holy
Fathers lived the Gospel commandments, they were purified, they were
illumined by the grace of the Holy Spirit, and their writings
proceeded from the illumination they received.” He then encouraged me
to read the Holy Fathers.
In addition to this we could also make reference to St. John Cassian.
Somewhere in his writings he poses the question, “Why is it that we
find variant opinion among commentators of the Holy Scriptures?” And
he answers, “Because before being purified from the passions they rush
into the work of interpreting the Scriptures.”
So, for us, our Holy Fathers, such as those we commemorate today, are
the interpreters of the Holy Scriptures and they are our theologians;
they set down doctrine for us. Let us also consider what theology is,
since this also speaks of the state of grace acquired by the Saints
which enabled them to interpret the Scriptures. Archimandrite
Zachariah explains this well in relating how his spiritual father,
Elder Sophrony defines theology. He writes:
For Elder Sophrony, theology is above all an abiding in God. It is
accompanied by the saving and regenerating power of the Spirit, Whose
nature although it cannot be declared, nevertheless conveys an
illuminating revelation. The man who bears this state bears ‘the word
of life’ (Phil. 2:16)….
In his book on Saint Silouan, Elder Sophrony confirms that true
theology is neither the fruit of intellectual erudition, nor the
conjecturing of man’s reason, but rather the narration of an important
occurrence which is the encounter between the spirit of man and the
Living God. (Man the Target of God, pp. 101-2)
And Father Sophrony compares the rational approach of man to theology
with that which is the fruit of man’s experience of grace as follows:
With iron drills men drill the earth’s crust for oil, and are
successful. With their intellectual powers they drill heaven for the
fire of Divinity but are rejected of God because of their pride.
Divine contemplation is accorded to man, not in those precise moments
when he seeks it, and it alone, but when his soul descends into the
hell of repentance and does really feel that she is the meanest of
creatures. Contemplation forcibly attained, as it were, through the
reason is not true but only seemingly contemplation. To accept such
contemplation as truth creates conditions in the soul which may
prevent the action of grace and make genuine contemplation impossible.
Knowledge revealed in the contemplation which proceeds from grace
surpasses even the most sublime creations of the imagination, as St.
Paul affirmed when he said, ‘Eye hat not seen, nor ear heard, neither
have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared
for them that love Him.’ (ICor. 2:9) When man, as happened with the
Apostles, has been caught up by grace in to a vision of Divine Light,
he afterwards translates into theology the things he has seen and
known. Authentic theology consists, not in the conjecture of man’s
reason or the results of critical research but in a statement of the
life into which man has been introduced by the action of the Holy
Spirit. (Saint Silouan the Athonite, pp. 169-170)
Let us, therefore, put our trust in our Holy Fathers who experienced
this state and thank God for the great inheritance of their
writings—their expositions of true theology—which He has bequeathed
us. We should not expect to acquire the state of grace nor
illumination they experienced. However we shyuold be grateful to God
for their teachings. This is also a reason to grow in our love for
our Lord for He has not left us orphaned but has raised up for us the
Holy Fathers to preserve the Faith for us. Through the prayers of our
Holy Fathers may our Lord Jesus Christ hold us fast in the true faith
and save us. Amen.
A good follow-up to this article:
How to Study Scripture from An Orthodox Perspective
11/6/2022 09:23:16 pm
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