Tuesday, June 30, 2015

‘Return to the Constitution!’

This is the rallying cry for many who call themselves conservatives in the [u]nited States, and on the surface it is attractive.  For the [u.] S. Constitution has received an abundance of praise for being a conservative document, even from such insightful men as Dr Russell Kirk and Prof Mel Bradford, as well as for its being well-crafted in its various articles and sections.

ƿe (We) do not wish to disparage good men, but the history of the Constitutional Convention of 1787 shows that the national compact was not written with the intent to find a golden mean in governlore (politics), to preserve local customs and distributed power, and such like. 

James Madison, the Father of the Constitution, made it abundantly clear before and during the Convention that he thought the national government ought to have the power to veto directly acts of State legislatures, as well as other powers to bring the States to heel for the sake of the ‘general interest’ (Bill Kauffman, Forgotten Founder, Drunken Prophet: The Life of Luther Martin, Wilmington, Del.: ISI Books, 2008, pgs. 21-2, 53-5, quote at 53). 

Furthermore, those delegates at the Convention like Madison who leaned towards scrapping the weaker, decentralized Articles of Confederation for a more powerful, centralized system of national government far outnumbered those of who sought simply to fix what was lacking in the Articles (pgs. 19-20). 

In this group we find even George Washington himself, ironically.  For he is the most outstanding symbol of the War for Independence, and the Articles of Confederation that he sought to overthrow ‘was a constitutional expression of the philosophy of the Declaration of Independence’ (Merrill Jensen, The Articles of Confederation, quoted in Kauffman, p. 12).  Indeed, Jensen says well that the making of the 1787 Constitution was a ‘counter-revolution’ fought against the political ideas put forward in 1776 that ‘erected a nationalistic government whose purpose in part was to thwart the will of “the people” in whose name they acted’ (The Articles of Confederation, Madison, Wis.: U. of Wisconsin Press, 1970 [1940], p. 245).

This is not meant to endorse the anti-Christian humanism that is at the heart of the program of 1776, but simply to say to those who are willing to hear that the Constitution of 1787 is not the greatest achievement in the history of governlore, that the ‘demi-gods’ assembled in Philadelphia who wrote it had far different motives than those usually given to them by well-meaning conservatives.

For those looking for good models of government, in the Souð and elsewhere, we shall need to look away from the ‘efficient’ and ‘energetic’ model of the 1787 Constitution to what has been tried and proven throughout the ages (and especially in earlier times in our own States) and adapting those things to our present circumstances as best we can:  giving deference to age, to elders, in the halls of government; vesting again with power those chosen by God through the ‘accident of birth’ (that is, re-introducing hereditary elements); and so on. 

Colonial Virginia offers a good ensample of such praiseworthy old principles in action.  May we learn from our Southern forebears what we ought.

Judged by the quality of the men it brought to power the eighteenth-century Virginia way of selecting political leadership was extremely good; but judged by modern standards of political excellence, it was defective at nearly every point. As for voting qualifications, there was discrimination against women, poor men, and Negroes. There was no secrecy in voting, and polling places—only one in each county—were spaced too far apart. The two-party system was not in existence. Local government was totally un­democratic, and few offices at any level of government were filled by direct vote of the people: only burgesses in the colonial period and not many other officers for many years after the Revolution. Such modem refinements of political processes as the nominating primary, initiative, referendum, popular recall, proportional voting, and mechanical voting machines were, of course, unknown.

Nearly every detail of the political processes of eighteenth-century Virginia has been repudiated; but, at the same time, the men elevated by those processes have come to be regarded as very great men. Here is a dilemma in an area of fundamental importance, and its resolution is no simple matter. Was eighteenth-century Virginia so full of great men that a random selection would have provided government with a goodly supply of great statesmen? If not, must it not follow that the selective system played an important part in bringing to the top the particular men who managed the public affairs of that day?

 . . .

Source:  Charles S. Sydnor, ‘The Eighteenth Century to the Twentieth’, http://www.abbevilleinstitute.org/review/the-eighteenth-century-to-the-twentieth/, posted 23 April 2014, accessed 12 June 2015

Friday, June 26, 2015

How Healthy Is Our Culture?

Anthony Esolen asks some simple but thought-provoking questions that we may use as a measuring rod in his essay ‘What Is a Healthy Culture?’.  Here are a few of them:

 . . .

How do we adorn our homes and our public places with art that comes from the people and is for the people? What whimsical craftsmanship is to be found on the steps of the post office, or the balustrade at the courthouse, or the eaves of the dry goods store? Do we build what is simple and sweet, or rather what is dull and drab? Do we build what is colorful and bold, or rather what is garish and obnoxious? Do we build what is noble and grand, or rather what is gigantic and inhuman?

What songs do we sing? If our captors asked us to sing the songs of Sion in an alien land, would we know any? How many of us could pick up a guitar or a fiddle nearby and play a love song passed down from ear to hand to ear to hand, from one generation to the next? What music brings together grandparent and grandchild?

 . . .

When we get together with all of our neighbors, what do we do? Do we build a house, raise a barn, glean the corn, bale the hay, march in parade, listen to patriotic speeches, play music, compete in games of skill or speed or strength, sing songs, honor the dead, or fall to our knees in prayer? Do we in fact do anything with our neighbors?

 . . .

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Should Christians Demand Rights?

The air in the [u]nited States is soaked with the talk of rights - rights to property, speech, privacy, etc.  To some this is proof that America is the people that God loves more than any other (before, now, or after), that mankind under the benign influence of individualistic, evangelical, Calvinistic Christianity has reached its fullest maturity here and can improve no more.  But this is not the sense one gets when looking through the Holy Scriptures and the life of the Church.

Consider first the teachings and ensample of our Lord Jesus Christ.  He did not plead His right to a fair trial before Herod or Pilate.  His Enfleshment itself, His sufferings and tortures, His hanging on the life-giving Tree, were all a refusal of His ‘rights’ as God (Phil. 2:5-11).  And He teaches everyone to live the same way. 

And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me (Luke 9:23 KJV).

Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you (Matt. 5:10-12 KJV).

Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth:
But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.
And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also.
And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.
Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.
Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.
But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;
That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.
For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?
And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?
 (Matthew 5:38-47 KJV).

The Holy Apostles continued these commandments of their Master’s in word and deed.  In the face of persecutions by Jewish and Roman authorities, they did not organize political protest movements, but instead taught their spiritual children such things as these:

I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men;
For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.
For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour . . . (I Tim. 2:1-3 KJV).

 Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme;
Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well.
For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men:
As free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God.
Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king.

 . . .

For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps:
Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth:
Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously:
Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.
 (I Peter 2:13-17, 21-24 KJV).

 . . . and when they had called the apostles, and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.
And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name (Acts 5:40-41 KJV).

 . . . exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God (Acts 14:22 KJV).

The Christians of the days after the Apostles likewise did not protest their cruel treatment before the palaces of Roman or Persian governors and emperors.  Rather, if they were sentenced to torture or to death, these holy mothers and fathers embraced their dooms as precious riches.

We see this in the life of St Ignatius the God-bearer of Antioch (+ 107):

In his Epistle [to the Romans], St. Ignatius asks Christians not to try to save him from death.  «I entreat you, do not unseasonably befriend me. Suffer me to belong to the wild beasts, through whom I may attain unto God.  I am God's grain, and I am ground by the teeth of wild beasts, that I may be found pure bread. »

In the life of St Polycarp of Smyrna (+ 167):

Placed on the pyre, Polycarp lifted his eyes heavenward and gave thanks to God for finding him worthy to share with the holy Martyrs of the cup of Christ.
(From entry for 23 Feb.)

In St Alban’s life, the first martyr of Britain (+ 3rd hundredyear):

When the judge perceived that he was not to be overcome by tortures, or withdrawn from the profession of the Christian religion, he sentenced him to be beheaded. Being led to execution, he came to a river, which was divided at the place where he was to suffer with a wall and sand, and the stream was very rapid. Here he saw a multitude of persons of both sexes, and of all ages and ranks, who were doubtless assembled by a divine impulse, to attend the most blessed confessor and martyr; and had so occupied the bridge on the river, as to render it almost impossible for him and all of them to pass over it that evening. Almost every body flocking out of the city to see the execution, the judge, who remained in it, was left without any attendance.

St. Alban therefore, whose mind was filled with an ardent desire to arrive quickly at his martyrdom, approached to the stream, and, lifting up his eyes to heaven, addressed his prayer to the Almighty; when, behold, he saw the water immediately recede, and leave the bed of the river dry, for them to pass over.

And in the lives of many, many more holy martyrs and confessors.

Talk of rights is wrongheaded for Christians; the grasping after them separates us from one another.  Rights are a refinement of the heaðen feudalism that has plagued Western European thought and life for more than a thousand years now, which teaches that every man is at war (on some level) with every other man for earthly dominion (Dr Vladimir Moss, An Essay in Universal History: Part I, pgs. 268-72; available HERE), that he must build a bulwark to shut out others so that he may protect his life and what he has gathered for himself.  It is a fairly continuous line from the armed knights in their castles to citizens in constitutional republics armed with a vote (Ivan Kireevsky, ‘On the Nature of European Culture and on Its Relationship to Russian Culture’, On Spiritual Unity).  The ‘other’ in any of these ages is looked at with suspicion, as one who might take away something from the ‘I’ who owns it.

The Orthodox Church teaches something very different (see, e.g., Metropolitan John Zizioulas, Being as Communion).  The individual who cuts himself off from others is not a complete person.  Alone in his home with his gadgets and other comforts, he is nearly dead (and such an one may be alone despite the presence of others in the home with him, as we see in the modern phrase ‘alone together’).  A man or woman only becomes a full person, fully alive, by emptying his life of his own will for the sake of others:

Only by renouncing his own content, freely giving it up, ceasing to exist for himself alone, does a person fully express himself in the single nature of all.  Renouncing his separate good, he endlessly expands and is enriched by everything that belongs to all (Vladimir Lossky, in Fr Dumitru Staniloae, The Experience of God, Vol. 2, Brookline, Mass., 2000, p. 98).

Þis is precisely what we see in the life of the Most Holy Trinity, to which we are to conform in every way.  The way of love, of giving, of self-emptying, of humility, is the way of the Christian, not the way of demanding rights from others, the way of pride, self-love.  ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’ (Acts 20:35 KJV).  Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ’ (Gal. 6:2 KJV).  It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak’ (Romans 14:21 KJV).  ‘So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do’ (Luke 17:10 KJV).

One could say soþlice (truly) that the prideful demand for rights (the right to equality with God, the right to the knowledge of good and evil, the right to eat of any tree in the Garden) led to the Fall of our first parents (Gen. 3:1-6) and to the train of evils that has followed upon it.

Granted, there are nuances to this general rule, as we see, for ensample, in the life of the Holy Prince Lazar of Serbia who led his people into battle against the Turks to defend their homeland.  But the West’s obsession with rights shows that its soul is sick:  It is more heedsome of the Kingdom of Man than of the Kingdom of Heaven.  It has forgotten the words of the Blessed Savior:

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel's, the same shall save it.  For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?  Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?  (Mark 8:35-37 KJV)

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Worshipping Politics

The dogged stubbornness with which the South has held to its evangelical Christianity is very admirable in some ways, yet, as we have discussed heretofore, its more troublesome aspects do manifest themselves from time to time.  A case-in-point is seen in this 1890 quote from Sen John Warwick Daniel, spoken in honor of Pres Jefferson Davis:

Daniel said, “Jefferson Davis never advocated an idea that did not have its foundation in the Declaration of Independence; that was not deducible from the Constitution of the United States as the fathers who made it interpreted its meaning; that had not been rung in his ears and stamped upon his heart from the hour when his father baptized him in the name of Jefferson . . . (Source:  Brion McClanahan, ‘Jefferson Davis and the Lame Lion of Lynchburg’, http://www.abbevilleinstitute.org/blog/jefferson-davis-and-the-lame-lion-of-lynchburg/, posted 1 June 2015, accessed 5 June 2015).

Æfter Western European Christians (Protestant and Roman Catholic) had become so exhausted from fighting wars amongst themselves over religious doctrine in the seventeenth hundredyear, they decided that tolerance and pluralism rather than correct doctrine were preferable.  Thus, Western Christianity became the concern of the individual merely.  The Church could no longer be the unifying force for society, that which integrates all into one body.  But man longs for integration with others, as Richard Weaver says in his book Visions of Order; he longs for a creed held in common with his fellows.  The Church’s unique, Divine-human characteristic of being a universal brotherhood, a body in which all kinds of men can be joined together and become one, was therefore imitated by Western man to the best of his ability in other institutions: in most cases in the nation-state.

Because of all this, Southerners usually do not argue much over religious doctrine.  ‘Just believe in Jesus’ is good enough for most; the other doctrines of Christianity aren’t worth fighting over, even though, as St Justin Popovich says, ‘The sacred dogmas are the eternal and saving divine Truths’ (Orthodox Faith and Life in Christ, 3rd ed., Belmont, Ma., 2005, p. 201) the rejection of which leads to our being sundered from God.

However, ask a Southerner about his view of the [u.] S. Constitution or politics in general, and one will get an earful.  We are to be gravely concerned about how the ‘fathers of the Constitution’ interpret that document, but to care little for what the Holy Fathers say about the Holy Scriptures.  We may be baptized in the name of political heroes like Jefferson and Washington, but to speak of Saints of the Orthodox Church, and how much more so to be baptized with their names, is silly superstition.

Đe South, and the Western theods (nations) in general, now define themselves primarily by politics.  Political creeds trump religious creeds.  So when immigrants come to the [u]nited States they swear loyalty not to the Holy Trinity or to Jesus Christ or to a Christian denomination but to the Holy Constitution, which makes of Americans one people regardless of ‘race, color, or creed’, as it is often said.

But as history has shown us, politics is thin gruel for the sawl (soul) of man.  How long it will be before Southrons tire of their daily political bread of talk radio and newspapers we cannot say.  But we pray that they will soon be enlightened by the prayers of the Holy Mothers and Fathers of their forebears of France, Scotland, Africa, England, and the rest, and of the Most Holy Mother of God, the Protectress of the Southland; turn away from the worship of the Kingdom of Man, whether known or unknown; and become a ghostly (spiritual) community rooted in the Holy Orthodox Church, which alone can show us the true God - Father, Son, and Holy Ghost - and the way to true union with Him and with one another.

 . . . Enlightened, as was this man:

Friday, June 12, 2015

Know the Past

Sen Sam Ervin of North Carolina reminds us in this laughsome story that we ought to know our Souðern history. 

Thanks to the Abbeville Institute for posting the reel:

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

The Scriptures and the South - Part IV

Most Southern Christians, being the evangelical, Protestant kind, hold to this view of Holy Scripture:

VII. All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all: yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them (Westminster Confession, http://www.reformed.org/documents/wcf_with_proofs/index.html?body=/documents/wcf_with_proofs/ch_I.html, accessed 9 June 2015).

But with such a view ‘the centre cannot hold’.  Unity of faith will fly apart as individual interpretations multiply, as pride and delusion give birth to schism after schism.  Indeed, the very need for a Church disappears if one believes that the Bible is the one thing needful for a person’s salvation.  With the Church thus rent apart and sore weakened by arguments over what is true and what is not, souls become disordered, and vice tramples virtue underfoot in secret and in the open.  

If the South wants to keep same-sex ‘marriage’, transgender rights, pornography, no-fault divorce, theft, rioting, and all the rest of it from flooding into every corner of her land, she will have to show humility by returning to the Ancient Faith of her forebears and learning from the Holy Mothers and Fathers of the Church how to rightly interpret the Scriptures.  Without the unifying, life-giving effects of the Orthodox Faith, Dixie will remain defenseless before the march of ‘Progress’.  As it has been elsewhere in the West, so will it be here.

So let us once again listen to Elder Cleopa Ilie of Romania:

 . . .

Holy Scripture contains within it unanswerable passages or, as Saint Gregory of Nyssa puts it, strong bones. Some would like to break these bones of Scripture with their wisdom teeth as of yet still only suitable for sucking milk. However, such a thing they would never be able to manage. All who have desired to plunge into the depths of Scripture have drowned in the fathomless ocean that is the wisdom of God. Such was the portion shared by Origen, Arius, Macedonius, Nestorius, Sabellius, Dioscorus, Eutyches and all the other chiefs of the ancient heresies who have been swallowed up in the unfathomable sea of Holy Scripture. The profundity and depth of Scripture was not the cause of their fall and drowning, but rather they themselves were the cause, due to their own insufficiencies, of being drowned in the depths of the mysteries of the Scriptures.

Holy Scripture is like a fountain or an endless spring, of the wisdom of God in which we must be steeped and partake in accordance with our level of wisdom and spiritual maturity. Just as we take water from the well with a bucket, empty it into our pitcher and then into our glass in order to quench our bodys thirst, so must we also do with our spiritual thirst when we are urged to drink of the deepest ocean of wisdom, the Holy Scriptures. Thus, spiritually speaking, if we draw more water from the well of Scripture than is drinkable (out of desire for the purity of our intellect (νούς) and heart), due to our pride and inquisitiveness we will be destroyed in our attempt to grasp the incomprehensible with our limited human faculties. If, for example, we were to see a child from the first grade trying to learn and to teach others that which is taught at the university, how much laughter and amusement would it provoke in us! The same and worse happens to those who desire to scrutinize and unravel the incomprehensible mysteries of the Scriptures with an intellect inexperienced and unenlightened by the Holy Spirit.

The divine Prophets and Apostles, as well as the holy Fathers of the Church, while by the purity of their lives attaining to the simplicity and innocence of infants, at the same time also, on account of their wisdom, became as perfect spiritual men (Eph. 4:13). Nevertheless, they were never so bold as to delve into the impenetrable mysteries of the wisdom of God. Before these elevated notions and expressions they remained as if enraptured saying, How great are Thy works, O Lord, exceeding deep are Thy thoughts, (Ps. 91:6) and Great is our Lord, and great is His strength, and of His understanding there is no measure (Ps. 146:5). Still further, in another place, it is said: Hast thou not known? Hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? There is no searching of his understanding (Is. 40:28). Listen also to the vessel of election, the Apostle Paul, as he says with wonderment; O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgements, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? Or who hath been his counsellor? (Rom. 11: 33-34).

You understand, therefore, my friend, that this fathomless depth of the wisdom of God cannot be approached by any intellect among His creatures, neither those found in the heavens, nor those on earth. Much more difficult is it for those who, without purifying their intellect (νούς) and heart from the passions, and being bereft also of divine enlightenment, presume on their own to penetrate the unbounded abyss of the Scriptures.

 . . .

Source:  The Truth of Our Faith, http://orthodoxinfo.com/inquirers/ec_salvation.aspx, accessed 9 June 2015

He says elsewhere in the same book,

 . . . Each Christian has the need to read Holy Scripture, yet each Christian does not also have the authority or ability to teach and interpret the words of Scripture. This privileged authority is reserved for the Church via its holy clergy and theologians, men who are instructed in and knowledgeable of the true faith. When we consider how our Saviour gave the grace of teaching to His Holy Apostles (Mat. 28:20) and not to the masses it is easy for us to see that the prerogative to teach is held only by the bishops, priests and theologians of our Church. It was the Apostles who were sent by Christ to teach and to celebrate the Holy Mysteries (Sacraments). Our Apostle Paul says: How shall they preach, except they be sent? (Rom. 10:15). Accordingly, the bishops are the lawful successors to the Apostles and those sent for the preaching (κήρυγμα) to the people. Paul entrusts the heavy burden of the instruction of the people to Timothy and not to the faithful. He speaks of this elsewhere: Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? (1 Cor. 12:29) Again he says to Timothy that the clergy must be apt to teach others (1 Tim. 3:2). He does not, however, say the same thing for the faithful. He makes a distinction between shepherd and sheep, between teacher and those taught. Still, the teachers cannot teach whatever they would like, but that which the Church teaches universally. They teach in the name of the Church and of Christ. Not everyone has the intellectual ability and the requisite divine grace necessary to expound Holy Scripture correctly. The Apostle Peter also says this in his second epistle, referring to the epistles of the Apostle Paul. He says the following: There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures (2 Peter 3:16).

 . . .

Source:  The Truth of Our Faith, http://orthodoxinfo.com/inquirers/ec_holy_scripture.aspx, accessed 9 June 2015

Gabe Martini adds,

 . . .

As Orthodox Christians, we believe the proper context of scripture is the life of the Church.

Rather than isolating scriptures from the life of the Church and taking them “on their own,” we recognize that the life-giving Spirit inspiring the authors of holy writ is the same life-giving Spirit indwelling, guiding, and preserving the holy Church through history; the same life-giving Spirit that creates and perpetuates this “thing” we call holy tradition. After all, holy tradition is little more than the life of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church.

As a consequence, understanding the scriptures depends more on a person’s unity with God than it does education. Deification or theosis—an acquisition of the Holy Spirit through ascesis, prayer, almsgiving, mercy, and the sacred Mysteries—is the path laid before us, and it’s a path every single person in the Church is called to follow (i.e. it is not for the super-spiritual alone). This is one of the reasons why on the Great Feast of Pentecost, we sing of simple, illiterate fishermen who became great apostles through the sending of the Holy Spirit.

Discovering the true context of scripture is not really all about the best exegesis or commentaries, but rather embracing the Mind of the Church.

Isolation Begets Schism

Going back to taking passages of scripture “on their own,” history paints a rather graphic picture of what happens when enough individual Christians adhere solely to this maxim.

Influenced largely by humanism and other concepts of individual liberty, the key architects of the Reformation paved the way for an uncontrollable revolution—a revolution in which anyone could be the final arbiter of truth. Instead of a single, corrupt papacy, there were now thousands of individual “popes,” all serving as the head of their own unique movement. And today we now have dozens of different English translations of the scriptures, each with its own “spin” on the text and various liberties taken to massage one passage here or there in a certain, doctrinal direction.

The goal of escaping every presupposition has failed—indeed, it is impossible—and we’re left with a choice of which presupposition. Left to our vices, discovering the “original context” of the Bible becomes an exercise in dividing the people of God.

Embracing the Body of Christ

For Orthodox Christians, the choice should be rather clear: we believe “in one holy, catholic, and apostolic Church,” as our Creed demands we acknowledge. A prerequisite to partaking of the very Body and Blood of Jesus Christ is a confession of this fact. And through that Mystery of Mysteries, we truly become the Body of Christ.

The Church is, of course, the pillar and foundation of the truth (1 Tim. 3:15), but this has little to do with us individually, and everything to do with her sole Head: Jesus Christ (Eph. 5:23; Col. 1:18). In Christ is truth personified, and so by following the words of his apostles and their successors, we embrace a continuation of Christ through the ages.

Additionally, we know that the Church is built on a foundation of the apostle and prophets, with Christ the chief cornerstone (Eph. 2:20). This is not a structure in need of linguistic or historical analysis in order to discover the hidden meaning behind words penned two thousand years ago (or more); she is rather a Body that lives and breathes through history, with a “great cloud of witnesses” (Heb. 12:1) alongside us each and every step of the way.

We are not Deists, believing that God has left us on our own until he decides to return—we are children of the Incarnation, of a God named Immanuel (“God with us”); of a personal and loving God that sends a Helper to guide us into all truth (John 14:26); of a long-suffering and merciful God that gives us his very Body and Blood for sustenance and communion in him (John 6:55ff). This is not a God merely of ideas and books, but of flesh and blood—of matter and substance.

Rather than facing the impossible task of discovering the “original context” of cultures and societies long past, we look to the Body of Christ. We look to the Saints and martyrs, the hymns and divine services, the iconography and sacred Mysteries. We look to our bishops and priests, men ordained in faithful succession from one of Christ’s apostles.

In the end, discovering the original context of the Bible is not a question of epistemology; it is a question of ontology. And as faithful Christians, we belong—body, mind, and spirit—to the all-holy Trinity. It is through our union with Christ and in his Body that we are guided into all truth.

Source:  ‘How to Read the Bible and Divide the Church’, http://blogs.ancientfaith.com/onbehalfofall/how-to-read-the-bible-and-divide-the-church/, posted 2 June 2015, accessed 9 June 2015

And finally St Gregory of Sinai warns,

 . . . For to act on one's own and not on the advice of those who have gone before us is overweening presumption - or, rather, it engenders such presumption. If the Son does nothing of His own accord, but does only what the Father has taught Him (cf. John 5:19-20), and the Spirit will not speak of His own accord (cf. John 16:3), who can think he has attained such heights of virtue that he does not need anyone to initiate him into the mysteries? Such a person is deluded and out of his mind rather than virtuous. One should therefore listen, to those who have experienced the hardships involved in cultivating the virtues and should cultivate them as they have - that is to say, by severe fasting, painful self-control, steadfast vigils, laborious genuflexions, assiduous standing motionless, constant prayer, unfeigned humility, ceaseless contrition and compunctive sorrow, eloquent silence, as if seasoned with salt (cf. Col. 4:6), and by patience in all things (ch. 15, ‘On Stillness: Fifteen Texts’, The Philokalia, Vol. IV, http://www.holybooks.com/wp-content/uploads/Philokalia.pdf, p. 1069, accessed 9 June 2015).  . . .

Be humble, O Souþron, be humble.