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Be in the Word: Slow Gospel Reading Experience

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Be in the Word: Slow Gospel Reading Experience

Reading the Word of God in a group turns our group into a community of disciples. Basically, we read the Scripture not like reading any other book in the library or at the university, but as reading in the community.

The main question: how to read? Reading – an attempt to enter the text. It is especially interesting to experience it on one’s own experience by reading the apostle John. The evangelist literally invites him to enter, because initially we are “outside”, to become intimate, to become a member of the John's community.

“If ye abide in my word” (John 8:31)

What does "abide" mean in John's language? This verb is in the top five of the favorite verbs of the evangelist. The word is a place, a space in which they dwell, live, live.

Is it enough for this to be stubborn and methodical to read without departing from the schedule? No no no.

An evangelist has a very specific goal: “All this is written for you, that you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing (= hearing) you have life in His name” (= in Him) (John 20:30) .

This expression itself can be interpreted as a complimentary offer to “master” the Gospel. However, the distance that separates us from it is more precious than the claims for perfect mastery and full understanding of the text. That is why the dialogues in the Gospel of John are tied up in a situation of mutual “misunderstanding,” sometimes “contempt,” and the interlocutor of Christ will literally go all the way to come to an understanding, to a recognition, to an insight. Such are the dialogues with the Samaritan woman, Nicodemus, the disciples …

Usually, reading in a group begins with what can be called "wild reading": after the first reading, you can share first impressions, "what is revealed." It is important not to dwell on this and not to turn to conversations on extraneous topics (such evangelical groups are also important, interesting, but they can quickly get bored).

When reading the evangelist John, it is important to feel that at the first reading we really "do not know", there is an initial misunderstanding (leitmotif of a conversation with Nicodemus). Reading is the way.

Who reads whom

At first it goes without saying: we read the Word; however, with slow reading it becomes obvious that in reality the Scripture reads us, it challenges us, changes us. If a meeting is really being made, after that we cannot remain the same. How impossible it is to see God and not die (Ex 33:20).

What are we doing

We are trying to move into the text. That is to cross the threshold, enter through the door (“I am the door”) as they enter a spacious house, inside which you can live, feel comfortable, move freely, look out the window, go out into the garden to take a look outside (in our case it’s means to see the context, to hear the voices of contemporaries – above all, the apostle Paul, the interpretation of the fathers, reflected in the liturgy, but also in works of art). The word is to create a “monastery” in it, “I will make myself a tabernacle”, “to remain”. The cloister is fundamentally different from the cursing, from the prison, in which there is no freedom.

This house has the size of a kingdom in which to be free, this is the house of the Father, in which the son feels different than a slave (8:35). A slave can be sold, exchanged, expelled, he is not privy to the plans of his father, and his son remains forever.

Being in the Word means deep thinking, thinking, contemplation – this is something that modern man is least capable of. This is where the real "housing problem."

Slow reading heals from haste, from the desire to quickly grasp the catchy slogan, for an intelligible scheme. To reflect means to partake in the text, to read and reread, as walking along the paths of the garden, opening its space.

When we read John, we are not just looking for something that might interest us, we want to seriously think, together with the author, on his favorite topics that are initially alien and incomprehensible to us.

His language, the structure of thoughts, his inner world are significantly different from the words and notions we are used to. We are initially “foreigners”, our earthly language is not well adapted to express the celestial realities. At the end of the meeting, we always have to return to our world. You can live in the world of our first birth, but still be in the Word. To be in the world and not of the world.

One of the most ungrateful activities is to try to artificially “synthesize”, smooth the urgency that the Word throws to our perception of the world. If we look in the Gospel for only confirmation of our prejudices, biased judgments, it remains a closed book. The gospel is above any local culture. Reading is a dialogue: between what we “learned” about our first birth, between our native culture, our usual Today and what our second birth, the new birth, the “water and Spirit” birth calls us to. Reading is a clash, a battle, a judgment. Any syntheses remain synthetic and fragile.

John the Evangelist turns our usual ideas about time and space. Christ-centered space is akin to the space of music, painting, poetry. Need to read in 3D.

A small example. The meeting with the Samaritan woman takes place at the 6th hour. Sometimes translated "at noon." Immediately imagination draws a mid-day heat, sheer shadows, a picture of Semiradsky's “Christ and the Samaritan woman” … But for John the Evangelist, it’s not the “noon” that is important, but the 6th hour, to translate “noon” means to do a disservice to the reader. And in John the Evangelist, numbers never express quantity, they indicate quality. The sixth hour is not just an indication of time. It is not for nothing that labor is mentioned (“tired of the way”). The weariness of Christ is not connected with the fact that it is hot, that the road from Jerusalem to Sychar was long. The Evangelist at this moment is thinking precisely of the Hour, that is, the hour of the Cross, death and resurrection. The word "labor" finds its full sound in a farewell conversation, in the parable of the woman giving birth. Labor, work is an agony, which is presented as labor pains and torments of the birth of a new world. “Give me a drink” – deliberately echoes other thirst. "Thirst." Christ gives the living water from the height of the Cross.

So slow reading lets you hear the leitmotifs, it’s like the way musicians read a symphony score.

The Evangelist John draws the reader into the space of events, giving us the opportunity to become an accomplice ("witness"). The word can be understood only once inside this event.

"We" as the voice of the community suddenly breaks into the fabric of the text. In the prologue, “we saw His glory” (1:14), in a conversation with Nicodemus this mysterious “we” also breaks in.

"You are the idaskal / teacher of Israel, and you are ignorant of these things." And he continues: “Amen, amen, speak to you – we are still with Nicodemus, for there is“ you ”- that we declare what we know, and we testify that we have seen, and you do not accept our testimony” (3:10 -eleven). What does this "we", "our" mean? After all, they are two, tete-a-tete, under cover of night. At this point, one can clearly distinguish the voice of the St. John's community, students who the Jews will be driven out of the synagogues half a century after the described dialogue. This voice from the future belongs to the generation of disciples of the Apostle John, and not to the protagonists of the scene. In reality, it does not break through, but is implied and present from the very beginning. Creating the gospel as a book, the evangelist can not think about his students, about his readers.

Where does the described events unfold, what is their mise en scene? For example, if a conversation with Nicodemus takes place in a garden, then “we” indicates that the matter is not limited to the space of the garden. In a word. In the heart of the one who listens and hears.

Even a story from the past that may seem like a “passing episode” is told in such a way that it turns out to be important for understanding the main thing. To understand the mystery of Christ. When John the Evangelist talks about the healing of a certain blindborn, we don’t even know his name, the text as a whole is worked out so that at the end it reaches me, it was born blind and I cannot say “I see” about myself. And I have to go my way to the pool Siloam.

The word is effective. It does not just inform, inform. The gospel was not written as a biography of Jesus. It creates a new reality. Makes possible a meeting, relationship. It takes a risk because it gives itself to everyone.

There is a popular belief that John the Evangelist is harder to understand than weather forecasters. In fact, weather forecasters are much harder to understand, because John, by contrast, gives the reader “keys to the house,” explaining in detail what a word means in the mouth of Christ. Very often, a short introduction is followed by a dialogue or an extensive monologue. The word unfolds, it is similar to how the seed germinates … "It is more difficult" only in the sense that the reader has to do the work, to go through his own part of the way. Above the weather forecasters easier to dream.

How to read? To hear simultaneously in different registers, measurements, in the original scale. The key to Scripture is to be found in Scripture itself. The most important thing is said at the end. The main key is the resurrection.

Read and understand the text, every episode, every key word – in the light of the resurrection. The gospel is not a biography, the evangelist gradually reveals, brings the reader to the Resurrection, initiates us into the mystery of the Resurrected.

Example: The prayer of Christ at the beginning of the 17th chapter: "Raising his eyes to heaven, He said:" Father, the time has come to glorify (that is, to reveal, to resurrect) Your Son, that your Son will glorify You (reveal You). " Every episode in which Christ reveals himself, every epiphany, is a spark of the great and final theophany, which is called the Resurrection.

Resurrection is the most incomprehensible. This is a secret source in the depths of the garden, which is invisible in itself, but we can learn about its presence by the fact that it secretly irrigates all the plants in the garden. Everything that is told in the Gospel is permeated with resurrection, so that the most beautiful scientific reading of Scripture can never be compared with the reading that is accomplished through the hearing of faith. “Hear” is another favorite verb of John the Evangelist, a synonym for “believe.”

The essence of the Gospel comes down to the confession of faith Christ is Risen. Before this word became the designation of four books under one cover, it meant just that. The apostle Paul loudly proclaims: “If Christ has not risen, then our canon (gospel) is in vain (canon), and your faith is empty” (1 Cor. 15:14). To paraphrase: the only gospel that is meaningful is Christ is Risen. If not this, then we have nothing to tell you, and you have nothing to believe in, any other “faith” will be a superstition, a vain faith.

As an example, how the first generation of Christians understood the beginning of Genesis. We are used to reading Being as a physical treatise on the origin of the universe. Already in the time of Tertullian (sc. 220), the Gnostics gained wide popularity, who began to apply cosmology to Scripture, borrowed from Plato's Timaeus dialogue. Tertullian understood this place in a different way: “God said let there be light — and revealed the Word Himself.” That is the resurrected Christ. The first generations of Christians saw in this text the archetype of any theophany. There are two precious testimonies to this: the prologue of the Gospel of John, which is read during the Easter service, and 2 Cor. 4: 6, where Christian exegesis is given, which in the mouth of God means "Let there be light."

“God, who said:“ Let darkness shine out of darkness, ”shone in our hearts, illuminating them with the light of the knowledge of God's glory on the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4: 6). God sheds our light into our hearts so that we can discern the radiance of Divine glory on the face of the Risen Christ.

The locus of Being is the heart of man. Let there be light — this is the Epiphany in our hearts. This is not from Plato or external sources. This is “according to the Scriptures,” the text itself says.

There is no need to be embarrassed by “misunderstanding,” the apostle John deliberately states: the disciples “did not understand then” (12:16). It is very important to be open. Misunderstanding, misunderstanding – an important point, the plot. The disciples, in order to understand, needed to retrospectively read all the experiences, in the light of the Resurrection. It makes sense for us to learn to read the Gospel too, to read life and live in the light of the Resurrection.

Theses of the speech of Archpriest Dimitry Sizonenko
at the First Bible Forum (St. Petersburg, 05/25/2019)

Photo: Rome Shagapov, Andrei Petrov

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