Greetings in the name of Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior,
Saint Ambrose once said, “For there is but one true teacher, the only one who never learned what he taught everyone. But men have first to learn what they are to teach, and receive from him what they are to give to others. Now what ought we to learn before everything else, but to be silent that we may be able to speak?…It is seldom that anyone is silent, even when speaking does him no good.”
This quote struck me in a profound way when I read it over the weekend! I have always felt that my spiritual gift was teaching. I do believe I have the gift of teaching. I know some may agree or disagree, but that is a matter between the Lord, my spiritual father, and me. But what really struck me about the quote is that I have often not been willing to be taught. Or perhaps not reluctant, but just making too much noise on my own to hear. I have never received. And I think this is where finally having a spiritual father, a spiritual director, to guide me and give to me the teaching he received in the Orthodox faith will be of great benefit to my soul. But it was profound for me because it forced me to think about how I could teach if I haven’t been taught.
Anyone who knows me knows that I love a great debate and that I love to discuss all things theological. I know this about myself, and I don’t think that that is a bad thing per se. But upon reading Christopher Hall’s “Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers” I have come to the precipice of a new world. I have come to the beginning of a journey that will lead me to a new world, the world of patristic exegesis. And my journey this world comes at the same time as my embarking on a new adventure as a soon-to-be catechumen in the Orthodox Church. I believe it is no coincidence that my heart is embarking to these two new, foreign worlds at the same time.
It is the discovery of this new world of patristics (the study of the Church Fathers) that has led me to the fact that I must remain quiet and humble myself before the Fathers of the faith and their exegesis, so that I may receive a teaching from them. Chris Hall writes, “Learning to read the Bible through the eyes of Christians from a different time and place will readily reveal the distorting effect of our own cultural, historical, linguistic, philosophical, and yes, even theological lenses.”
It is exactly my hope that those distortions will be revealed! Up to this point in my life, I have not studied the Church Fathers deeply or the Orthodox Church, which is has its roots in the Church Fathers. That isn’t to say I’m stepping blindly into the Orthodox Church. I have studied it and the Fathers enough to have a working knowledge, but I’m not satisfied with just a working knowledge. I want to go deeper! And I know that I believe things that are distorted due to my culture, history, and upbringing. It is my hope that my distortions will be corrected as I go along this journey.
Upon this realization, I have decided to refrain from all theological discussions on facebook. No debates, no sharing theological status updates, no theological notes or anything. I intend to embark to the world of patristic exegesis as a blank slant, as if I know nothing of the Scriptures. I clearly do know something about the Scriptures and have faith, but I think the best way to approach the world of the Fathers’ exegesis is to approach it in silence and humility, which means I refrain from theological discussions keeping my mouth shut and being humble as I read the Scriptures with the Church Fathers.
I want my entrance to this world to be marked with humility, self-awareness, a listening ear, prayer, and a sense of humor. Chris Hall writes, “Our ability to learn from them [the Church Fathers] will largely be determined by our willingness to remain quiet and simply listen, perhaps listen more fervently thatn we have for a long time. In turn, our willingness to listen will be influenced by our expectations, hopes, prejudices, and presuppositions.” It is my intention to be completely willing to do all of those things. To listen. To learn. To receive. To be taught.
So I have decided that deactivating my facebook for a while will aid me in my journey and free me from distractions I don’t need and temptation to get on and discuss theologically-driven things.
I’m entering into my time as a catechumen, so I want to submit myself to my spiritual father’s teaching and guidance. I’m also taking Patristics this fall with Jason Mead here at Johnson and want to study and read the Fathers. I have The Early Church Fathers Series, which is a 38 volume of the Fathers’ work. I also have Eusebius’ “The Church History”, which is for my Patristics course. So I have plenty to read and a lot of wisdom into which I can dive!
My purpose with deactivating facebook is two-fold. I spend entirely too much time and energy on this stupid and meaningless thing. I believe time away will serve my soul well and cleanse me of much of the filth and strife that can come with having a facebook and spending too much time on it. Chris Hall writes, “The fathers affirmed a deep connection between the spiritual health of biblical interpreters and their ability to read the Bible well. For the fathers, the Scripture was to be studied, pondered, and exegeted within the context of worship, reverence, and holiness. The fathers considered the Bible a holy book that opened itself to those who themselves were progressing in holiness through the grace and power of the Spirit. The character of the exegete would determine in many ways what was seen or heard in the text itself. Character and exegesis were intimately related.”
It is my goal in this to study the Scripture, patristic exegesis, work on my character, and humble myself at His feet and let Him teach me! This is perfect timing in my life to embark on this journey. I am participating in the life of the Orthodox Church as one of her catechumens. I am being formed and molded on that level. And devoting myself to study and prayer will aid me in this journey.
St. Athanasius said, “The searching and right understanding of the Scriptures [demands] a good life and a pure soul…One cannot possibly understand the teaching of the saints unless one has a pure mind and is trying to imitate their life…Anyone who wants to look at sunlight naturally wipes his eye clear first, in order to make, at any rate, some approximation to the purity of that on which he looks; and a person wishing to see a city or country goes to the place in order to do so. Similarly, anyone who wishes to understand the mind of the sacred writers must first cleanse his own life, and approach the saints by copying their deeds. Thus united to them in the fellowship of life, he will both understand the things revealed to them by God and, thenceforth escaping the peril that threatens sinners in the judgment, will recieve that which is laid up for the saints in the kingdom of heaven.”
My patron saint, St. Athanasius says it better than I ever could. So please pray for me in my embarking to a new world my brothers and sisters. If you wish to follow my blog here to keep up with me then that would be great: https://orthodoxruminations.wordpress.com/
Also, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you wish to contact me or rely a message via my wife if you need to reach me.
I appreciate your time and prayers. And if you have embarked on this journey yourself then please feel free to share with me your insights and advice before I head off facebook come this Friday.
May the love of God the Father, the peace of Christ, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all,
David Jonathan Anderson
Books I hope to read thorough and digest:
“The Early Church Fathers Series” (38 volumes)
“The Early Church: The Story of Emergent Christianity from the Apstolic Age to the Dividing of the Ways Between the Greek East and Latin West” by Henry Chadwick
“The Sayings of the Desert Fathers”
“The Fathers Know Best: Your Essential Guide to the Teachings of the Early Church” by Jimmy Akin
“Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers” by Chris Hall
“The Early Christians in Their Own Words” compiled by Eberhard Arnold
“Eusebius: The Church History” translation by Paul Maier