Dear Parish Faithful & Friends in Christ,
I would like to embody, in the form of a meditation, a particular analogy I used in Sunday's homily that was meant to challenge all of us with reading the Holy Scriptures as both a disciplined aspect of our Christian lives and a joyful experience of encountering Christ in the living Word of God.
So let us imagine a loving relationship with a particular person - the "beloved" - that has depth in addition to trust and commitment. The very presence of this person is a source of deep joy, even if no words are exchanged. You claim to find your very being in the beloved, as you hope the beloved finds his/her being in you. This relationship, based ultimately on love, gives purpose and direction to your existence. At least this is what you claim to others and to yourself with sincerity and conviction.
We then need to further imagine the distress you would feel if circumstances separated the two of you, so that the beloved was now far away and all intimate contact was interrupted. You no longer share the same space, and thus you are consumed with longing. If we could possibly further stretch our imagination and place ourselves in the pre-modern world of limited means of communication, then we might realize what a new meaning letter-writing would take on (sadly a dying art form today in the rushed and grammatically-challenged world of cyberspace email correspondence)! In other words, imagine reading the letters from your beloved one: the sheer anticipation and impatience with which you await such a letter amplifies the whole experience of the letter's arrival; your tearing it from its envelope and then devouring every word with intense concentration and an admixture of joy and apprehension, as you hope for good news and dread any possible bad news. Saving and re-reading these letters as you await further correspondence may actually become an integral part of your daily routine. All of this imagined scenario is based upon your heartfelt claim to truly love this person. In fact, this separation may test those very claims.
If, on the other hand, a friend came into your home and could not help but notice a large stack of unopened letters on your table, and was so bold as to ask what those were or where they came from; you may feel more than a small prick of conscience if you told your friend that the letters are from your beloved, but that right now you are too busy and too preoccupied to get to them, but that you will one day in the distant future when you had the time. Meanwhile, the pile grows higher and the dust continues to accumulate. If, following that response, your friend became a bit skeptical about your claims to truly love this person from whom you are separated and who writes theses letters carefully and lovingly, to what extent could you legitimately disagree, protest as you might against such skepticism? A painfully honest assessment would acknowledge that you had grown distant from your beloved over the course of time.
All analogies are imperfect, but I would like to apply this one to our claim to believe in Christ, to have faith in Christ, and to love Christ. I believe it was St. Tikhon of Zadonsk (an 18th c. Russian bishop) who wrote that the Scriptures are "love letters" from God. The saint is not aiming at sentimentality or cleverness in this expression, but trying to convey something of the overwhelming love of God for us which takes many forms. God communicates Himself to us through the words of Scriptures that we believe are the Word of God. More specifically, the Bible contains the words of the Word, Who became incarnate as our Lord Jesus Christ, but Who was "with God," and "was God" from all eternity. These "love letters" contain the revelation of God to all believing members of the Church in order to nourish, strengthen, and deepen our faith in Christ during or earthly pilgrimage. Christ is not "absent" from us, for He promised: Lo, I am with you always, even ot the end of the age." (MATT. 28:20) Thus, He is not the "absent Beloved," but the ever-present Beloved by the grace of the Holy Spirit. In this, our relationship with the Risen Lord transcends any human relationship which is more bound by the limitations of space and time. Yet, since His presence is not as palpable or concrete , He may seem distant at times, so He communicates to us through the living Word of the Scriptures, as He does through prayer and the Eucharist.
There is a definite connection between our claims to believe in Christ, to have faith in Christ, and to love Christ and the reading and study of the Holy Scriptures. The one "feeds" the other. What do those claims to love Christ even mean if we do not avail ourselves of His desire to communicate with us through the Holy Scriptures? An unopened Bible undermines those very claims. Or, we could say that the presence and availability of the Scriptures tests those claims. If our Bible remains closed and accumulating dust, to what purpose is it even present in our homes? It sounds like a silent reproach to our indifference sitting on the bookshelf.
Then again, we could read the Scriptures with the same intensity, concentration and commitment as we would devote to those letters sent by the beloved as described above. That was and remains the practice of the saints. In the language of mystical love that is found in the Church, Christ is the beloved Bridegroom of the soul, and the human soul is the bride. This union is one of trust, commitment and love. This union of love is nourished through prayer, the Eucharist, the keeping of the "law of Christ," and the careful and concentrated reading of the Holy Scriptures, the "love letters" from above sent down to us for our enlightenment and nourishment, so that "we may enter upon a spiritual manner of living, both thinking and doing such things as are well-pleasing" to our Lord (Prayer Before the Gospel).
Fr. Steven C. Kostoff
Christ the Savior/Holy Spirit Orthodox Churchhttp://www.christthesavioroca.org