Why reread the Bible? Sometimes people ask why they should reread the Bible? What is the point of studying the text of the Gospels and other books of the Bible again and again, if we already remember what they are about? Many Christians know whole passages of the Gospel by heart. But we do not read the Gospel in order to obtain new information. Why then should we try to read the sacred lines daily?
“Be not conformed to this world” (Rom. 12:2), wrote the Apostle Paul to the Christian community of Rome. Is this relevant to us? In our age of phenomenal speed, when there is a possibility of rapidly spreading news from around the world and to communicate freely with people from different countries and different continents. We are connected with the world by a thousand invisible threads. How to put into practice the apostolic calling to “be not conformed to this world”? To wear plain clothes? To walk with your head down? To delete your account from social network?
No, it is different. What the apostles meant by the expression “this world” was people’s obsession with earthly things. This is a way of life when a person devotes their time, strength, ability exclusively to seeking temporary advantages – power, money, and pleasure. In this situation, there is the opposite reaction, when not only a person seeks all possible pleasures from the world, but the world too seeks the person and tries to engross him or her entirely. “This world”, giving a person what they long for, requires in return more and more serious efforts, leaving nothing to other things.
The world attracts people with all new possibilities of pleasures and purchases to the last draining people’s life energy, talents, and time. As the Venerable Isaac the Syrian wrote, a man learns all the flattery and deceptiveness of the world only on the day of their death, when nothing can be corrected. But does not the Lord warn us about this, saying that one cannot serve God and mammon at the same time – “for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other” (Matt. 6:24). Every person knows firsthand how much time and effort necessary daily tasks take. One needs to tidy up oneself and one’s home, to serve one’s close ones, and to fulfill all duties at work. There are more things to do after work: one needs to cook dinner and lunch for the next day, to prepare clothes, to check one’s children’s homework, and so on. People are exhausted by evening and inevitably face a choice: what should they spend their few moments of leisure time on, when they are not capable of doing anything? Bowing down is already impossible. They can either gather their strength and read a chapter of the Gospel or relax and watch an episode or two of their favorite series. Their hand treacherously reaches for the TV remote instead of for the Bible on the shelf.
Indeed, a modern person is able to devote very little time and effort to the spiritual feat itself, even if they were suddenly freed from their daily duties. What should they do?First of all, they should not rush to extremes: fulfill everything or do nothing. People should exercise prudence: to act to the best of their strength and capabilities on each particular day. They should not dream of ideal conditions, we will not have them on earth.
It is no coincidence that the Lord puts a person in such circumstances, in which they spend most of their time on necessary activities for their survival and for maintenance of their existence. After all, if you give a person more free time, they will definitely not engage in prayer, because they will not be able to. Their soul is not used to this difficult activity. They will simply fall into idleness. Saint Ignatius (Brianchaninov) wrote that a person needs much more effort to push themselves to do the feat (prayer, divine thinking, worship), when they are in a state of idleness, rather than manage a feat, when there is little time for anything due to daily workload.
In monasteries in ancient times newcomers were engaged in household work and needlework: weaving baskets, etc in order to occupy themselves with work so that they would not be idle. But when they acquired the skill of prayer, they could already devote all their time or a significant part of it to divine thinking. Similarly, a person living in the world, in a chronic shortage of time and energy, can find time for prayer and divine thinking more often and more efficiently than a less busy person. This is not a paradox, it all depends on the state of their mind.
After all, the Holy Apostle Paul does not merely call us to “not be conformed to this world”, but also encourages Christians to take action: “but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom. 12:2). We should transform, in other words, we should change by the “renewal” of our mind. What is this about?According to the Holy Fathers, the mind of man is the least damaged. It is easiest to adjust one’s mind to the proper state, after which it is easier to adjust the heart and body, and to learn to subordinate them to the mind. However, one should start from the right thoughts – mind.
The adjustment tool of the mind is reading the Bible and patristic literature. Let us remember that the Venerable Seraphim of Sarov read one Gospel daily at the end of his life in order to keep his mind ready for the correct assessment of the events which took place in his own soul and in the surrounding life. The same goes for surgeons who keep their tools in full readiness so that if necessary they could immediately use them to save the patient.
For Christians, the purpose of reading the Gospel is not to receive new information, but to harmonize their spirit with the spirit of Holy Scripture. Careful reading the Gospel lines itself changes the inner state of a person, “renews” their mind. The course of all our earthly daily life, which flows into eternal life, is gradually adjusted through this small feat. A person should teach themselves to regularly delve into divine words, putting aside everyday worries for a few minutes. Someday we will certainly have to put them all aside, without exception. It would be good if we manage to prepare ourselves for a new reality, which will open before us.
Why does Orthodoxy have a tradition to read the Psalter in case of different needs? We read a kathisma of the Psalter, then read a short prayer, for example, for the repose of the departed, or for the salvation of the living, for the healing from a disease, or for another life need. Naturally, we can simply pray, even with our own words. Why read the Psalter?
This readings helps us to adjust our spirit to the right state in order to harmonize it with the inner state of the author of the Psalter whenever possible. Only then, from this state, one should offer one’s prayer. Likewise, at the end of the canonical prayer rule we pray for our needs, we address God from a different state, which is slightly closer to the state of the holy authors, whose prayers we just read.
For the same purpose Christians read a chapter of the Gospel, before offering a prayer for something important, beginning or finishing another day of their lives. A person needs to do this regularly, not because the Lord needs it, nor because the Gospel text has a magical effect, but in order to properly adjust their mind, soul, and conform them with the holy words of Scripture. You should not feel uneasy by the fact that the lines that we read have already been read by us more than once and that this is very familiar to us.