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April 5, 2014

How To Interpret Holy Scripture as an Orthodox Theologian

By Protopresbyter Fr. John Romanides

I remember someone I met in America - we gave lectures together. We were in Denmark and we used to eat together, and we were going to eat with some other people. I joked with him - I would have been twenty-four years old then - and said: "The Protestants will only understand Holy Scripture when they understand sacred relics," by which I meant glorification.

Augustine, however, set aside the experience of the glorified and replaced the experience of the glorified with two things: the Church and Holy Scripture, that is to say, books, written texts. He shifted the authority in the Church. Exactly as the Orthodox do today. Contemporary Orthodox do just the same. "The Church says...", or, "Holy Scripture says...", or, "The Ecumenical Council says...".

If someone wants to become a theologian, it is better for him to read the hymns of the Church. Blessed were those of former times, who had neither the University of Athens nor the University of Thessalonica where they could study. They only had the liturgical books and the Fathers. They read them and were first class Orthodox theologians.

The University of Athens was founded. Halki was founded. Afterwards they sent young people to study Holy Scripture, biblical criticism, interpretation and so on with the Western Christians. What did they bring from the West? The theology of the Franks! The mistake of Augustine, which became the foundations of the interpretive tradition of Western Christians up to the present day, these are what they brought to Greece. But before they brought them here to Greece, they had taken them to Russia.

There is no need for someone to be an academic in order to undertake this interpretation. The interpretive method of the Fathers does not come only from books that they read, but also from their experience. So when they speak about dogmas, they not only interpret texts but also speak from their experience. In the same way as an astronomer, who when he teaches, does not speak only from astronomical books, but also through the telescope and corroborates with the telescope what is written in the books. In fact the telescope is more important than the books.

Thus, in patristic theology, the nous of those who are illuminated is even more important than books. When the nous is in the state of illumination, it is like an astronomer looking through the telescope.

In the battle against heretics, they used reason. Enlightened by their illuminated nous, they correctly interpreted Holy Scripture and strove against heretics. The struggle against heretics was directed by the illuminated nous, but it was carried out by reason.

If someone does not know about noetic prayer, he cannot interpret the Apostle Paul correctly. The Protestants have been reading Holy Scripture for years now. Have they ever found out on their own from Holy Scripture about noetic prayer? Never. Now that the Orthodox draw their attention to this phenomenon they see noetic prayer in Holy Scripture.

Who will implement correctly the teaching of the Old and New Testaments on illumination and glorification? Someone who has no idea about illumination and glorification, or someone who is in the state of illumination and knows what this illumination is?

This means that, for the Fathers of the Church, Holy Scripture is exactly what a reference book on surgery is for the surgeon, or one on biology for a biologist. Holy Scripture is not simply a book that someone can pick up and imagine that the Holy Spirit will come and enlighten him to read it correctly.

Excerpts from Empirical Dogmatics of the Orthodox Catholic Church According to the Spoken Teaching of Father John Romanides (vol. 1), by Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos, pp. 285-287.