Sunday, March 13, 2011

Holy Scripture and the Church


"Christ founded the Church. The Church existed even when there was not yet a single book of New Testament Scripture. The books of the New Testament were written by the Apostles later, over the course of more than half a century after the beginning of the historical existence of the Church. In the books written by them, the Apostles left behind testimony of their oral preaching of the Gospel. They wrote for a Church already in existence, and entrusted their books to the Church to serve as perpetual edification. It is evident that the books of Holy Scripture do not constitute the essence of Christianity, since Christianity itself is not a teaching but a new life, established in mankind by the Holy Spirit on the basis of the Incarnation of the Son of God. Thus, it would not be impertinent to say that it is not by Holy Scripture, as a book, that man is saved, but by the grace of the Holy Spirit, Who lives in the Church. The Church guides people to perfection. In the Church there are also other ways, other means to that effect, besides the books of Holy Scripture. St. Irenaeus of Lyons writes: “Many nations of those barbarians who believe in Christ” have “salvation written in their hearts by the Spirit, without paper or ink, carefully preserving the ancient tradition... Those who, in the absence of written documents, have believed this faith, are barbarians, so far as regards our language; but as regards doctrine, manner, and tenor of life, they are, because of faith, very wise indeed; and they do please God, ordering their conversation in all righteousness, chastity, and wisdom.” In order to become a follower of a particular philosophical school it is necessary to assimilate the philosophical works by the father of that school. But is it sufficient to know the New Testament in order to become a Christian? Would this knowledge be enough for salvation? Certainly not. It is possible to know the entire New Testament by heart, it is possible to know perfectly the entire teaching of the New Testament, and still be very, very far from salvation. For salvation it is necessary to be added to the Church, just as it is said in the Book of Acts that those who were being saved were added to the Church (cf. Acts 2:47; 5:13–14). This was when there were no Scriptures, but there was the Church, and there were those who were being saved. Why was it essential to be added to the Church? It is because special grace-bearing power is needed for salvation, and this power can only be possessed by those who participate in the life of the Church, in the life of the single and indivisible Body of Christ. The grace-filled power of the Holy Spirit acts in the Church in many different ways: in the Mysteries and rites of the Church, in common prayer and mutual love, in church services; and, as the divinely inspired Word of God, it also operates through the books of Holy Scripture. Here we are coming close to the definition of Holy Scripture. The books of Holy Scripture are one of the means in the Church through which the grace-filled power of God acts upon people. The Spirit of God gives life only to the body of the Church, and therefore Holy Scripture can have meaning and significance only within the Church. “Flee to the Church, and be brought up in her bosom, and be nourished with the Lord’s Scriptures. For the Church has been planted [like a Paradise] in this world; therefore says the Spirit of God, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat (Gen. 2:16), that is, Eat ye from every Scripture of the Lord.” Thus, Holy Scripture is one of the manifestations of the common grace-filled life of the Church. Holy Scripture is the property of the Church, precious and priceless, but precisely the Church’s property. Holy Scripture cannot be torn away from the overall life of the Church. Only the Church gives meaning to the existence of Scripture. Holy Scripture is not an independent quantity; it cannot be considered a law given to the Church that she can fulfill and from which she can deviate. Holy Scripture arose in the midst of the Church and for the sake of the Church. The Church possesses Holy Scripture and uses it for the benefit of her members."

New Hieromartyr Hilarion (Troitsky), Archbishop of Verey,
Holy Scripture and the Church

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