Ch. 2 from
The Truth of Our Faith:: A Discourse from Holy Scripture on the
True Christianity, By
Elder Cleopa of Romania
Inquirer: What do we mean by the term “Holy
Cleopa: The term Holy Scripture denotes the sum of holy
books that were written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit within a time
period of close to 1,500 years, namely, from Moses, 1,400 years before Christ,
until the writer of the Apocalypse, nearly 100 years after Christ.
Inq.: Why don’t the bishops and priests sanction
Christians, who are members of the Church, to interpret and preach publicly the
word of God from the Scriptures?
EC: 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).
Inq.: Some say that it is not right that members
of the Church don’t have the right to interpret and expound upon Scripture. As
this excerpt says, each Christian knows how to render Holy Scripture: “But ye
have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things,” and “the anointing
which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach
you” (1 John 2:20, 27).
EC: Holy Scripture is like a very deep well wherein is comprised the infinite
wisdom of God. If someone thirsty dives into this well to drink of all its water,
he will be drowned within. If, however, he will fetch the water with a bucket
and from there will drink with a cup, then there is no fear of being engulfed.
What man is so crazed as to wish to plunge into such an abyss of water without
knowing how to swim? Holy Scripture, according to the Fathers, is “bone” and no
one will venture with teeth “fit for milk” to break the strong bones of Holy Scripture
- for those teeth will be crushed.
read in Scripture about the eunuch of Candace, Queen of the Ethiopians? He was
reading the Prophet Isaiah when the Apostle Philip asked him if he understood
that which he read, to which he replied: “How can I, except some man should guide
me?” (Acts 8:31).
realize also that the word “unction,” or “anointing” (χρίσμα)
that you mentioned above means the effusion of the Holy Spirit in the Mystery
of Holy Chrism, directly after Baptism (Acts 8:17).
phrase “you know all things” signifies everything that contains Christian truth
and salvation, as well as everything that is related to the antichrist and his
adherents, to whom the subsequent verse of the epistle of the holy John the Theologian
refers. One must not, therefore, teach according to one’s own understanding and
perception, for one will be deceived.
Inq.: All the same, it is said that each Christian
has the right and obligation to read Holy Scripture on his own, as the Saviour
admonishes us: “You search the Scriptures, because you think that in them you
have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness of me” (Jn. 5:39).
EC: Be careful, because many heretics of earlier eras made bold to immerse
themselves in the fathomless sea of Scripture and drowned spiritually, thus perishing
together with as many as followed them. They don’t have all the same spiritual
maturity. They are not all able to understand the mystery of Holy Scripture.
Scripture is understood and explained in three ways: 1) according to its literal
meaning, namely the nominal, grammatical, verbal and historical, 2) allegorically
or metaphorically, which is superior to the former, and 3) spiritually. According
to the Fathers, the simplest of senses to alight upon is the first meaning, according
to the letter of Scripture; to penetrate with discretion to the nature of Scripture
requires modest learning, while to explain the depth of the meanings of Scripture
is of the highest spiritual advancement and in need of the most divine grace.
The perfect wisdom of Scripture belongs, according to Saint Paul, to the perfect:
“Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this
world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to naught: But we speak the
wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before
the world unto our glory” (1 Cor. 2: 6-7).
Inq.: There are those who contend that it is not
necessary for someone to have much learning to be able to understand the teachings
of Scripture, since to the unlearned He revealed the wisdom of these teachings,
just as the Saviour says: “I thank Thee, O Father, . . . because Thou hast hid
these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes” (Mat.
EC: Yes, God revealed His wisdom to those that were known to be babes in
wickedness but not in mind  and judgement. In other words, He
revealed His wisdom to those who, with respect to good works, were perfect and
had attained to the innocence of infants. That’s why Paul counsels the Corinthians
as follows: “Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be
ye children, but in understanding be ye men” (1 Cor. 14:20).
Inq.: Yet, God rebuked the wisdom and knowledge
of men, as this passage indicates: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and
will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent” (Is. 29:14). Saint Paul
also says: “Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this
world? Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?” (1 Cor. 1:19). Might
it not be that God is not able to give the wisdom of understanding the Scriptures
to certain people who are worldly-wise, as the Orthodox maintain?
EC: You should know that God does not condemn just any wisdom and knowledge,
but that which kills man spiritually. If He were to censure every wisdom, He would
have to reject also the wisdom of Solomon, the wisdom of Joshua, son of Sirac,
the wisdom of Christ the Saviour, of the Prophets and Apostles, to those whom
He gave the commandment to be “wise as serpents, and harmless as doves” (Mat.
10:16). Yet, it isn’t like this in the least. Hence, take care not to resemble
those to whom the Saviour said: “Your do err, not knowing the Scriptures, nor
the power of God” (Mat. 22:29).
Inq.: Is Holy Scripture sufficient in order to
guide man to salvation?
EC: No, it is not sufficient to guide man to salvation,  inasmuch as, firstly, it wasn’t given
to man from the beginning and, secondly, when it was given it wasn’t the only
authentic text, with regard to the salvation of human souls, because before it
there was the Holy Tradition. Many years before Moses began writing the first
books of the Old Testament, there was sacred piety in the community of the people
of Israel. Similarly, the books of the New Testament began to be written ten years
after the formal foundation of the Church, which took place on the day of Pentecost.
The Church chose and sealed as inspired by God the books of the two Testaments
over one hundred years later. These then comprised the declared
Canon of the books of Holy Scripture. Thereafter the Church maintained this Canon
of Truth, inasmuch as it is the very “pillar and ground of truth” (1 Tim. 3:15).
The Holy Spirit operates within all of this for the preservation of the truth
about salvation. Where the Church is, says Saint Jerome, there also is the Spirit
of God and where the Spirit of God is, there also is the Church and all grace
- since the Spirit is truth.
nous: mind, thought, reason; attitude, intention, purpose;
understanding, discernment: The English word that best conveys the meaning of
the Greek word nousis probably the word mind, however, it also
has other meanings as well. The Fathers refer to the nous as the soul (the “spiritual
nature” of a man, St. Isaac the Syrian) and the heart (or the “essence of the
soul”). More particularly, it constitutes the innermost aspect of the heart (St.
Diadochos). Yet, it is also referred to as the “eye of the soul” (St. John of
Damascus) or the “organ of theoria” (St. Macarius of Egypt) which is “engaged
in pure prayer” (St. Isaac the Syrian). In this book the words mind and intellect
have been used most often when rendering the Greek word nous.
“We cannot assert that Scripture is self-sufficient; and this is not because it
is incomplete, or inexact, or has any defects, but because Scripture in its very
essence does not lay claim to self-sufficiency. . . . If we declare Scripture
to be self-sufficient, we only expose it to subjective, arbitrary interpretation,
thus cutting it away from its sacred source. Scripture is given to us in tradition.
It is the vital, crystallising centre. The Church, as the Body of Christ, stands
mystically first and is fuller than Scripture. This does not limit Scripture,
or cast shadows on it. But truth is revealed to us not only historically. Christ
appeared and still appears before us not only in the Scriptures; He unchangeably
and unceasingly reveals Himself in the Church, in His own Body. In the times of
the early Christians the Gospels were not yet written and could not be the sole
source of knowledge. The Church acted according to the spirit of the Gospel, and,
what is more, the Gospel came to life in the Church, in the Holy Eucharist. In
the Christ of the Holy Eucharist Christians learned to know the Christ of the
Gospels, and so His image became vivid to them.” Fr. George Florovsky, Bible,
Church, Tradition: An Eastern Orthodox View, pp.
By the end of the first century . . . the Church possessed the four Gospels of
Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Although they were not perhaps as yet collected
into one volume, each had been accepted by the group of churches for which it
was written. Very soon afterward they were combined in one quadripartite Gospel,
and in the middle of the second century the Christian apologist Tatian composed
the first harmony, or code, of the Gospels. . . The appearance of the New Testament
in the Church as a book, as Scripture, was therefore not a new factor, but a record
of the founding tradition. Just because it was identical with the original
tradition as the Church already knew it, there appeared at first no need of a
canon, or precisely fixed list of accepted records of Scripture.” (Fr. Alexander
Schmemann The Historical Road of Eastern Orthodoxy, pg. 44) In fact,
for the western Church it was not until 419 AD at the Council of the 217 Blessed
Fathers assembled at Catharge that the entire New Testament as we know it today
was irrevocably canonised (Canon XXIV). - Editor