“Till I come, give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the eldership.”
1 Timothy 4:13-14
This was the opening scripture quote from the valedictorian of the Holy Cross Class of 2016, providing the context for a truly inspirational and challenging message. Notice the order Saint Paul lists for his spiritual son Timothy to follow. First, attend to reading, of course the reading of Scripture. Exhortation is second, and doctrine is last. Saint Paul is addressing those of us charged with the teaching ministry of the Church, pastors and lay people, so we need to make sure we have our priorities in order. As important as doctrine is, the only way to correctly and effectively apply doctrine is to know the Scriptures. We also need to know the Scriptures in order to exhort others.
The reason this message resounded with me then and to this day is because it reminds me of my personal shortcoming when it comes to the reading of Scripture. Looking back over 32 years of parish ministry, I believe I’ve preached (exhorted) proper doctrine, but I’ve neglected “the gift that is in” me by not giving Scripture its proper priority in my personal devotions. Some may think, “no big deal,” as long as you stay true to Orthodox Christian doctrine. But therein lies the crux of the matter. What good is preaching correct doctrine to others, even the whole world, unless we are personally grounded in the Word of God? The priority of reading Scripture is central to our continuing formation in Christ: “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).
As much as I want to believe my heart is in the right place, the fact remains that God’s word is the ultimate barometer for measuring my growth as a Christian, let alone a Priest. Indeed the “word of God is living and powerful,” but its impact is for naught if we don’t follow the lead of Saint Augustine: “At the high point of his spiritual crisis, wrestling with himself alone in the garden, St. Augustine heard a child’s voice crying out, ‘Take up and read, take up and read.’ He took up his bible and read; and what he read altered his entire life. Let us do the same: Take up and read.” (How To Read the Bible, by Metropolitan Kallistos of Diokleia, p. 1766, The Orthodox Study Bible)
May we endeavor to read the Scriptures more earnestly and grow closer to the very heart (Logos) of the Bible, Jesus Christ our Lord.
~ Rev. Father James Retelas, Proistamenos
Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church
From Old Testament times believers have burned incense as an offering when worshiping God. The ancient temple in Jerusalem even had priests whose sole duty was to keep the censer burning twenty-four hours a day.
Ancient pagan kings were often escorted with large fans of peacock feathers and burning incense when entering their palaces. Early Christians took both these symbols for their worship in recognition of Christ as their Sovereign King and Lord. To this day the Orthodox Church uses incense in most of her services, and large circular fans, reminiscent of the peacock fans of ancient times, are held over the Gospel book during the proclamation of God's word during celebrations of the Divine Liturgy.
As a young man attending my very first Orthodox Liturgy, I was struck by the use of incense. The words of the Psalmist King David, "Let my prayer arise as incense before Thee...", is chanted during every celebration of Vespers during the censing of the temple. During every service where there is a great censing of the whole church, the priest (or deacon) censes the frescoes and icons as windows into eternity, as the incense wafts upward as an offering of the people of God.
The people are also censed by the priest in recognition of their having been created in the image and likeness of their Creator God. Incense is so central in Christian worship that it is even used in the worship of the domestic church, where the family gathers in prayer around their own icons, reading the scriptures together, and offering their family prayers to the Lord.
"Let my prayer arise as incense before Thee." Psalm 141:2
With love in Christ,
- From Abbot Tryphon's FB page