Tag Archive for: Bible

More to Jesus than Written

Armodoxy for Today: What More?

Before finishing his Gospel, St. John writes:

And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name. (chapter 20)

And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. (chapter 21)

Armodoxy maintains that we come to know Jesus through the stories we read but also by the Tradition that has been handed down to us through the centuries from the time of Christ, in other words, “all the things that could not be contained in the books.” These verses are important reminders of the vastness of Christianity and the unique place of the Armenian Orthodox Tradition, and Apostolic Tradition, which was there at the time of Christ and represents the most ancient form of Christianity. It is the calling card of Armodoxy.

Let us pray,

O glorious Lord, receive the prayers of your servant; and fulfill my requests that are deemed good. Through the intercession of the Holy Mother of God, and St. John the Baptist, and St. Stephen the first martyr, and St. Gregory our Illuminator, and the Holy Apostles, Prophets, Doctors of the Church, Martyrs, Patriarchs, Hermits, Virgins, and all your saints in heaven and on earth. Unto you, O indivisible Holy Trinity, be glory and worship, forever and ever. Amen. -St. Nersess Shnorhali

Historical Context

Roots of Armodoxy: Historical Context

Recently I read a post on social media which said, “Don’t ever say, ‘Bible-reading is for monks; am I making my child a monk?’ No! It isn’t necessary to make him a monk. Make him a Christian!” The quote was place atop a graphic of St. John Chrysostom, a giant of the Christian Church who lived in 4th century. (347-407AD).

Like many pronouncements made by the beloved saint, the statement is simple and profound. But something bothered me about it. Of course, it is the admonishment we expect, especially parents or anyone concerned with the Christian upbringing of a child. But something was off, and it was as simple as the date of the quote.

The Bible wasn’t put together until the 5th century? Even more, Bibles weren’t readily accessible by the people until the advent of the printing press in the 15th century. What did the words, “Bible-reading” mean in this case? Here is a saint of the Church, of the 4th century, admonishing people to have their children read the Bible, before the Bible was put together in the form we refer to as Bible and during a time when literacy was not common.

When I was first ordained a priest, an elderly parishioner of mine brought a hand-written letter for me read to her. This was 1982. I did. I was personal in nature. She thanked me and went off. She was a survivor of the Genocide and had traveled through refugee camps and made her way to America where she formed her family. I wondered why did she bring this letter to me? It was sometime after this reading that I learned that the in the old-country, priests would be the learned members of a village. It was common for people to bring written documents to the priest for reading, knowing that they would have confidentiality and a fair interpretation of the words. This episode was just a few years back, and literacy was not common. And so, I had to find out what was the source of the quote attributed to St. John Chrysostom? What did he mean when he said, have your children “read the Bible”?

I found an article, “Eight Quotes from St. John Chrysostom on How to Raise Children” and the original to the quote in question was there: “Never deem it an unnecessary thing that he should be a diligent hearer of the divine Scriptures.”

“Bible-reading” was loosely translated in that post from the words, “diligent hearer of the divine Scriptures.” And while this may seem like a mere 21st century upgrade to the words, Chrysostom’s words mean so much more than reading the Bible. Holy and Divine Scripture have a place in the Church. The Scriptures are a tool of the Church. The words of the saint are a call to attend the Body – the church – the Community, the Corporate Worship of the Church, where the “diligent hearing of divine Scriptures” becomes possible.

Historical context is essential to understanding instruction in all walks of life, especially in the spiritual instruction in the Christian Church.

Since the Protestant reformation we have deviated from the original intention of Holy Scriptures in the Church. Granted that the abuse of those Scriptures was cited as one of many reasons for the reform, still the outcome of the reformation, some 500+ years later is that the free reign on translating and interpreting the words of Holy Scripture has led to much anguish among those who are oppressed in the name of an interpretation, or excluded because of the intolerance which has been justified by a personal understanding of the Scriptures.

In the Armenian Church, Holy Scriptures are referred to as the Breath of God. It is sacred. The Church shares the Gospel through that Breath. It is in a historical context – the long history of the Christian Church – that the Scriptures come alive.

We end today with a meditation on this topic which comes from the Sermon on the Mount. It is the lectionary reading for the feast of the Holy Translator (the Translators of the Bible) and Jesus instructs us, “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.”

We continue with more roots of Armodoxy tomorrow. Join us at epostle.net

Structure

In this post-Pentecost week, we have been talking about certain characteristics of the Church which point to structure and discipline. Whether its order vs. chaos or the canon laws of the church, it becomes clear that the Christian Church has a structure and a system of operations, which often becomes difficult for people, especially in the West, to understand and accept. We have a tendency to oversimplify some of the most critical and important concepts in Faith.

We have all heard preachers who call people to a “Bible based Church.” That’s fine and certainly within their prerogative, but the Apostolic Church was and continues to be a “Jesus based Church.” This is not merely a word play, but a built-in mechanism to assure that faith is beyond words, but actually engaging with Christ. Often, we hear a preacher or Christian teacher take a passage from one book of the Bible, verify it with a passage from another book, justify it with yet another verse from yet another book. The Bible was never meant to be read like that. The Bible is one book, about God’s love for us. From beginning to end, it is one book. It has its place within our Church – the collective body of Christians – as the “Աստուածաշունչ,” that is, the “Breath of God.” It is sacred, as the Breath of God certainly is.

As we learned, from Ascension to Pentecost, the Church took form. And through the centuries the Church evolved, like all living bodies. But the centrality of Christ never changed because the structure, the discipline of the Church was codified in the canons. This is what gave order and stability to the Church. There is a hierarchy within the Church made up of bishops, priests and deacons, and each has a role. This structure comes from the Apostolic era. We believe that the Holy Spirit guides the Church, and calls individuals to the collective work of the Church, each according to the gifts given to them.

As we conclude this post-Pentecost week, we read St. Paul’s message concerning the different gifts of the Spirit and how it is essential to honor the structure, the order and discipline of the Body. In reading it, we understand even in those early years of the Church’s history, this rebellion against structure was at issue. But we also hear that structure, order and discipline were essential for the Church.

From the 12th chapter of St. Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians, he writes,

There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all: for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills.

For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit. For in fact the body is not one member but many.

If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling? But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased. And if they were all one member, where would the body be?

But now indeed there are many members, yet one body.  And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary. And those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, on these we bestow greater honor; and our unpresentable parts have greater modesty, but our presentable parts have no need. But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it, that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.

Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually. And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers…. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the best gifts. And yet I show you a more excellent way. (NKJV)

Non Denominational Closeup

Non-Denominational Closeup

As a kid I remember a commercial on television featuring a nice looking building. A voice asks, “Nice building, huh?” Then the camera zooms in to reveal cracks and chips that were painted over, and without skipping a beat the voice would divulge the truth, “…until you look up closely!” The body of the voice would then come on screen to plug some kind of texture coating that hid the scars of the building.

Usually things look nice from a distance, but upon a closer look the cracks start showing. Religion is also included in this rule. We will stick our discussion today to the Christian religion. One of the popular designations of Christianity that needs to receive a closer look is the term “non-denomination.” It is fairly popular these days because it is presented as a free-spirited version of Christianity. “Generally, non-denominational churches believe that the Bible is the sole authority that dictates every aspect of the church, with scripture shaping their beliefs and philosophies. They are also self-governing entities, with elders often overseeing the church’s organization, structure, and traditions.” (source: https://christianministryedu.org)

Before we take a closer look, let’s remember the course we have travelled to get to this point in Armodoxy for Today. We went through a period of preparation called Lent. We celebrated the Resurrection, and then continued with the formation of the first Christian communities. Currently we are in that period between Ascension (40 days after Easter) and the Pentecost (50 days after Easter).

There is a reason the Church asks you to take this journey. The Bible does not exist as a Book unto itself. When Jesus was crucified, there was no Bible. When he resurrected, there was no Bible. When he ascended, there was no Bible. In fact, there was no formal Bible for a few hundred years! However, at all those same events – crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, and on into the formation of the communities –there was the Church!

Those who claim to be non-denominational say that they accept the Bible as the sole authority in matters of their faith. By their own admission, they have exclude themselves from a major part of Christian history and development.

God’s greatest gift to humanity was not the Bible. Much more important than the Bible is Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God the Father. Jesus’ gift to humanity was not the Bible, rather it was his holy and precious Body, namely the Church. And it was the Church that compiled the books together to give us what we refer to as the Bible.

The Armenian word for Bible is Asdvadzashunch, which literally means the Breath of God. The Armenian Church refers to it as the “breath” because it guides us as spirit, not as a book of laws and regulations, along the paths of Truth, Hope and Love.

I understand the appeal of non-denominationalism, especially in our world today when everyone is given a platform to interpret, or even worse, to create a derivative of Christ’s holy and sacred message. In other words, within the non-denominational category, you can have a few million or billion derivatives of the faith. This is why when we speak of the Armenian Apostolic Church, we are grounding ourselves in a Tradition that dates back to the time of Christ, that is, before there was a Bible. We are not a Bible-centered community of believers, we are Christ centered.  Non-denominationalism is very nice looking, and appealing, but when you look up closely you notice the chips and the holes. Jesus set up his Church and it is guided by the Holy Spirit. In his unfailing words Jesus says, “The gates of Hell will not prevail against it!” (Matthew 16:18)

We conclude with a prayer from the Holy Divine Liturgy of the Armenian Church: We thank you, Father almighty, who did prepare for us the holy Church as a haven, a temple of holiness, where the name of the holy Trinity is glorified. Alleluia. We thank you, Spirit of Truth, who have renewed the holy Church. Keep her without blemish through the faith in the Trinity forevermore. Amen.

Punctuation

Armodoxy for Today: Punctuation

One of the ways that knowledge is passed along from teacher to students, from generation to generation is through by the written word. The Bible evolved from an oral tradition to the written word, to the printed collection we carry today. It was written in Greek, Biblical Hebrew and Biblical Aramaic. The printing press was not invented until the 15th century. Up until then, it was transferred to new audiences by scribes who painstakingly copied words from one manuscript onto new parchment and arduously inspected the words, to avoid mistakes, and those words became the stories of the Faith.

Interestingly enough many of the texts, especially the Greek text in the New Testament were written in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS with no spaces and probably no punctuation.

Punctuation is necessary to give meaning to the words strung in a sentence. Take for instance the sentence, “Women without her man is nothing.” Now hold off, before you decide to stop following this post, or even worst, if now you’ve become a fan of this post, I want you to realize that the sentence is void of punctuation. Again: Women without her man is nothing. Now, let’s add some punctuation: Woman, without her, man is nothing. The same words, with added punctuation, reveal a sentence that expresses a thought quite the opposite of the original one.

Imagine now, the tremendous task that was before the Church in deciphering the sentences and the sentence structures. When Jesus turns to the thief on with me the cross and says, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise,” there is a certainly that life continues after death immediately. But if a comma were to move over by one word “Truly I tell you today, you will bein paradise” the immediacy of the moment is lost opening up speculation about the next step.

Fortunately, the Church was there from the beginning and knew the meaning of the words before they were written in a sentence.

Punctuation – a dot, a line, a squiggle – is more than a pause or an accent. It’s a way of passing along a message.

We pray today, “Lord, open my heart to your word. I hear with my ears and read with my eyes, but it is my heart that I commit to you. Amen.”

Bible Origins

Armodoxy for Today: Bible Origins

We are in a four-day period on the Armenian Church calendar called the Fast of the Catechumens. This fast is unique to the Armenian Church. To follow on our lesson from yesterday, regarding the lack of specific scriptural readings for these four days, today we will look at the structure and make-up of the Bible.

On Pentecost, 50 days after the Resurrection of Christ, (Acts 2:1ff) the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles and the Church was born. The Apostles were the first Christian community, the first Christian Church.  They had no “Bible.” The Gospel or the “Good News” which they preached was that Christ had risen – resurrected! This was an earth-shaking experience in the lives of the Apostles, and their mission was to spread the Good News—Christ had risen, giving an opportunity for all humankind to share in this new life.  This was the first Gospel and it was transmitted orally.

The first Christians felt that Christ’s return would be imminent. In fact, throughout the first century, they were living with the expectation that the Second Coming of Christ was right around the corner. They lived their lives accordingly.  (See I Thessalonians 4:13-18.)

The Apostles spread the Gospel to various parts of the world. New Christian communities sprouted. As time went on, problems arose in the communities – daily problems – which were complicated by their expectation of an imminent end. The communities were faced with questions such as, “Should we obey the local authorities if Christ is due back any day?” Or “Is it proper for us to marry, if Christ will be returning soon?” Or, “What will happen to all those who die before Christ returns?”

To address these problems, the Apostles, now scattered throughout the known world, wrote responses to the communities, giving specific instructions on how to conduct their lives until Christ returned. Among the most popular letters were those of the apostle Paul. The books in the New Testament which follow the Gospels are the letters St Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome, Corinth, Thessalonica, Ephesus, and so on. The first of these letters (I Thessalonians) was written in the 40’s.

The Church existed without a bible. The Church had its worship services, which included partaking of the Holy Eucharist, reading psalms or prophetic literature of the Old Testament, and prayer. The letters they received such as those from the apostle Paul, were read during the gathering of the faithful, and are regarded as epistles, that is general letters to the community.

As more time went on, and Christ had not yet returned, further problems developed. For one, all the eyewitnesses to Christ’s life on Earth were passing away.  Who would covey the stories of Christ’s life to future generations? Furthermore, the communities and churches were asking about the details of Christ’s life, for example, His birth, His upbringing, whether He was baptized, and so on.  For this reason, the Gospels were written to provide the details of Jesus’ life. Again, the point must be made that they were written for the sole use of the Christian Church.  The Church demanded it, and, therefore, they were produced.

The Gospels according to St. Matthew, St. Mark, and St. Luke, including the Book of Acts, (called the synoptic gospels) were written between 60 and 80 AD.  The Gospel according to St. John was written sometime later. Although these books were written, they had not yet been put into the form of a “Bible.”

There were other books about Jesus’ life as well.  For example, there was the Gospel of Thomas, or, as the author called his book, The Secret Words Which Jesus the Living Spoke and Jude Thomas Wrote Down. It might be thought of as a more complete Sermon on the Mount. There was also a book called the Gospel of the Infancy of Jesus Christ.  It is one of the more fascinating books of what is called the New Testament “apocrypha” or “hidden books.” One story relates how Jesus, while still in the cradle looks up at his mother and says, “Mary, I am the Son of God.” Another story is generated from the account of the anointing of Jesus by Mary Magdalene.  The story claims an old lady kept Jesus’ navel string in an alabaster box of old oil of spikenard.  It was out of this box that Mary took the oil to anoint Jesus. Still another story relates how Jesus and some other young boys were molding clay figures of animals. Upon Jesus’ command, the clay figures begin to walk and fly.  The entire book is filled with miraculous stories of this nature. This was one of many books that were circulating in the 2nd Century.

It was the Church that decided which books would be considered “The Bible,” designating them as scriptural canon. All of the books that are in The Bible as we know it today are in a list compiled in the 2nd century, except the Book of Revelation. It was in 419 AD, at the Regional Council held in Carthage that the Book of Revelation was accepted as being canonical. So until the 5th century the Church existed without the Bible that we know.

Tomorrow, we will journey further through the Fast of the Catechumens to learn closer the beauty of Christ and the Christian faith.

Let us pray, a prayer for Catechumens, from the Roman Catholic tradition, “We thank you for these catechumens whom you have called. Strengthen them in faith, that they may know you, the one true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. Keep them clean of heart and make them grow in virtue, that they may be worthy to receive baptism and enter into the holy mysteries. Amen.”

No Bible Today

Armodoxy for Today: No Bible Today

Today begins the Fast of the Catechumens. This four day period is unique to the Armenian Church. It takes place a few weeks before Great Lent and offers an opportunity for purification, by restricting diet to bread and salt.

There are no Biblical passages assigned to the four days of the Fast of the Catechumens. The Lectionary is a list or book of portions of the Bible appointed to be read at church services. Every day of the year is assigned with Bible readings that pertain to that day. For instance, the lectionary for Easter includes a narrative of the Resurrection from the Gospel accounts. These four days of the Fast of the Catechumens are the only days with no lectionary assignment, which begs the question, how can you have a Church without a Bible? Actually, the more correct question is, how can you have a Bible without a Church?

We have been conditioned to believe that the Bible is a book that was handed down to us by God. With the Protestant reformation came the proclamation that the Bible alone is the final authority on all matters of belief and practice. And so, hearing that the Church is the seat of authority in Christianity seems against religious conventions for many outside Orthodox and Roman Catholic traditions.

The truth is that the Bible was not given to us by God. God gave us something much greater than the Bible. He gave is His Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ. Even Christ, did not give us the Bible. He did not write anything that we know of, nor did he hand down a book to his disciples. More important, He gave us His Body, the Holy Church and he said with his words which cannot lie “The gates of Hell will not prevail against it!” (Matthew 16:18). It was in turn that the Church produced the Bible, and that Bible was meant as a tool for the Church to evangelize and teach the catechumens.  (A catechumen is a recent convert to Christianity who is under instruction before baptism.)

A quick look at history will lend more to the puzzle of which came first, the Bible or the Church? At the time of Jesus there was no Bible. At his Crucifixion, there was no Bible. At his Resurrection, there was no Bible. The Bible as we know it was finalized by the Church, with the different books in the 5th century. For five centuries, the Church existed and led the Christian community without a Bible.

The authority of the Church is singular: Jesus Christ. The ascription of “Apostolic” to the Holy Church means that it is in direct succession with the Holy Apostles who were commissioned by Jesus Christ himself. The Holy Bible has a unique place in the Armenian Church and referred to as the “Breath of God.”

These next few days, we will journey through the Fast of the Catechumens to learn closer the beauty of the Christ and the Christian faith.

We pray, a prayer of the Catechumens, “O Lord our God, who dwells in the heavens, and looks down upon all Your works, look down upon Your servants, the catechumens, and us, who have bowed our necks before You, and grant us a light yoke. Amen.”

Don’t Look Up

Next Step with Fr. Vazken #729: Ascension… The story of Christ continues through the Church with a strict command to NOT look up. The work of the Church is around us. The shooting in Texas, the death of children, and conditions of the world… where then to look? Beyond the “whys” is the “where” – making sense of faith on the street and not in the books… The Next Step is a step toward Armodoxy.
Ascension according to Acts
Texas Shooting
NPR: What now?
The Sound of Santour
Produced by Suzie Shatarevyan for InHisShoes.org
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Before Refrigeration

Next Step with Fr. Vazken #699: Adopting the Cross and Jesus from Biblical times and now: clues to the adoption process. The danger of Revelation and the nonsense of non-denominationalism. Gorbachev’s revelation. Halloween, death, and afterlife before and after refrigeration units. Beginning the process of extracting media from SM. And… answering the questions should Uma have been Yvonne?
Loving as your son: St. Joseph’s example
Purgatory Concept from Maccabees
In Step with Christ: Halloween, Masks and Saints
Few Minutes with Der Hayr (1994): Halloween and Fear
Vernacular Verbose Special ed. 
Vitamin String Quartet
Produced by Suzie Shatarevyan for InHisShoes.org
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Good-heart Bible

Next Step #639: Does over analysis and applying reason to the Bible lead you away from Faith? It’s the starting question for this discussion, recognizing there are no wrong questions. Mark 4:35f and hardness of heart: doubt vs. experience. Reconciling absurdity with Faith: Learning and testing through vs computer programming. A different look at the rules that define us.
Tsitsernag by Arax
Waking Up in the Storm (Sermon) 8/30/2020
Buy a Bible: Catholic, Evangelical, Atheist
Labor Day message: Labor, Anxiety & Enthusiasm
Cover: Salmon eggs
Technical Director: Ken Nalik
Produced by Suzie Shatarevyan for InHisShoes.org
Look for The Next Step on blubrry.com
Listen via Stitcher Radio on demand!