All of Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, refuting, improving, and educating in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16). The word of God has a crucial role in our lives. We learn His word to get to know God, and thus build a relationship with Him. Through His word, we come to know His character. It is a way in which God reveals Himself to man. From an early age, many of us have been taught that we must be present at the readings of the liturgy in order to take communion. But the reason why these readings are so important goes much deeper than just ritual. They are the bread of life (Matthew 4:4), the light of our way (Proverbs 6:23), the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17), the safety of our ministry (Joshua 1:8), and our meditation throughout the day (Psalm 1:2).
The readings are like a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day comes and the morning star rises in your heart (2 Peter 1:19).
To understand the importance of the readings, let’s look at the story of the disciples of Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35). Two disciples were on their way to Emmaus where they met the risen Christ. They were not aware at the time that they were speaking to Jesus. Jesus began to speak with them about Moses and all the prophets. The disciples felt their hearts burning in them as Jesus shared the Word with them. They urged Him to stay with them and when that happened and He took the bread at the table, blessed it and broke it, their eyes were opened and they recognized Him.
There are three aspects here that we need to pay attention to:
- The word of God, spoken by Christ himself.
- The actions and lifestyles that bear the title ‘Love’.
- We see the divine gift: opening their inner eye.
First, Jesus began about Moses and all the prophets and explained to them what was written about Him in all the scriptures (Luke 24:27). Jesus was talking about himself here, which is why the disciples felt their hearts burning. This feeling made them ready to receive the Divine gift in the end. This is also what our church is trying to do with the spiritual rituals for the readings, and especially for the Gospel. For this reason, there is a special piece in the liturgy, which is called the Liturgy of the Word, in which there are five readings of the Holy Bible. The church therefore has five readings ready for each liturgy. The Pauline epistles, the Catholic letter, the Acts (Praxis), the Synaxarion and the Holy Gospel. These lectures provide an opportunity for biblical contemplation and teaching. These lectures are in addition to the lectures that were said during the lifting of Vespers and Morning Weed smoke. The priest also prays some prayers in silence in which he asks God to enlighten the people and give them grace to apply the words they are about to hear to their own spiritual lives. He then prays the first mystery of Pauline incense, saying:
“O good God and lover of mankind, we ask you, give us and all your people a spirit free from wandering and a clear understanding, that we may know and understand how profitable your holy teachings are that are now being read to us by him. And as he followed Your example, O Author of life, also make us worthy to be like him in deed and faith.”
While the people listen to the Pauline letter, the priest enters the Sanctuary and prays (silently), pleading with God, to give His people a spirit that is not preoccupied with the world and its concerns. He also implores the Lord to give them, as well as himself, for a pure understanding, a clear mind, knowledge, and wisdom, and to reveal to them the deep spiritual meanings that lie behind the words that are read.
For the Catholic letters, the priest prays (silently):
“O Lord God, who, through your holy apostles, has revealed to us the mystery of the glory of your son Jesus Christ and has made known to all nations the glad news of the unseen riches of your mercy.”
The word “Catholic” is a Greek word that means “universal.” The seven letters, which follow Paul’s letters, are called the Catholic epistles, beginning with the epistle of James. They are called the “universal” letters because they were written to all nations and not to a particular person or group of people (like Paul’s letters). The Gospel of Christ, as taught by the apostles, is the teaching of Heaven. If we follow it, it will lead us to a happy life. The Lord chose His disciples so that they can preach to the nations about the riches of the Kingdom of Heaven and of Christ’s salvation through His death on the cross and His glorious resurrection.
In addition, the Church has drawn up a special provision for the person who leads the lectures, the [Gnostos], that is, the reader and interpreter of the holy books. That is, he who gives the lectures must carry the word of God in his heart (Deuteronomy 6:6).
But when we come to the Gospel, we find more willingness and much more fear; as if we are approaching a mountain that is smoldering with fire (Exodus 24:17). That is why the Church has prepared a litany specifically for the gospel, to praise it and bless those who hear its word (Revelation 1:3). For for many prophets and righteous people had been the desire to hear the word and the preaching of salvation; that was even the desire of the angels (1 Peter 1:10-12).
The priest silently prays, “May we be made worthy to hear you Holy Gospels , may we keep your precepts and commandments and produce fruit from them, one hundredfold, sixtyfold, and thirtyfold, in Jesus Christ our Lord.”
The priest here asks God to purify his heart and the hearts of his people and to relinquish from them the thistles and thorns of the devil’s false cares and attacks. He also begs the Lord to bring us to repentance and to live the words of the Gospel and to produce fruit. The priest asks for all these blessings in the name of Jesus Christ.
We behold the deacon’s call, and the cross pointing upwards, to call us to attention (tilt your ears wisely so that we may hear the holy gospel). The priest offers incense for His presence at his word to the Bible holder. Two deacons stand in the foreground, with candles proclaiming the light of His word; and a pious people, waiting in reverence for the light of His salvation, the power of His Divine presence, and His message to each of them personally. Here we may have to dwell for a moment on St. John the Seer (Revelation 4 & Revelation 5), when he found the sealed book, which no one else on earth or in heaven could open but the Son of God (the Lamb, standing as if it had been slain). If we consider the atmosphere of that Book at the opening and revelation, we find the following:
- The Lamb stood as if it had been slain (the sacrifice of the Eucharist).
- The 24 Elders (priesthood).
- Harps and incense vessels filled with incense, which are the prayers of the saints (incense).
- Ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands of angels (the partnership of those who are in heaven).
- A liturgical hymn that says, (Holy, Holy, Holy).
- Then comes the answer of the people and the believers, “Amen.” This is an emphasis that the Divine revelation expressed in the word and in the Holy Bible is expressed in the liturgy. In other words, it is the Eucharist that opens our eyes to His presence in His word. In each liturgy, God opens his sealed books, amidst the incense of the priests, the hymn of the liturgy (Agios hymn), and the partnership with the heavenly (prayer of the intercessions); just as it happened with St. John the Beloved at the time of his revelation (Revelation 4 and Revelation 5). That is, the culmination of divine revelation in the holy books is reached through the liturgy! This is shown by the fact that Abraham saw God in sacrificing the sheep instead of Isaac, as the reverend father Tadros Ya’qoob Malati says: “Jehovah sees,” that is, (God sees); (Genesis 22:14). Thus God was shown to Abraham at the place of sacrifice, where reconciliation was made between God and man; and we have become worthy to see Him as sons who can be taken up into the bosom of the Father. Through the sacrifice, the Holy Spirit lifts us up and leads us to the bosom of God, so that we may receive the gift of seeing Him; not with temporary sight, but with the sight of oneness with God, and the enjoyment of participating in His eternal glorifications. Hence came the altar of the Church of the New Testament as an embodiment of the heavens… the place of God’s encounter with man through the slain Son.
(FR. Tadros Ya’qoob Malati – Explanation of the Book of Genesis, chapter 22).
This may explain why there are saints among our people who have never received any education, yet their communion with the liturgy and the word of God, which was transmitted through it, has enriched them in faith (James 2:5). They even grew into chosen vessels to proclaim the name of God (1 Corinthians 1:27). When His liturgical word (through mass) comes together with what He gives to man’s daily life, His heart will burn with His love, and he will clearly hear His voice in the readings of the Church.
Thus, we will have no need for philosophies or studies that suggest ways to hear His voice; for He has a still, small voice (1 Kings 19:12); He will not cry (Matthew 12:19), and no one on the street (no spirit full of vain thoughts) hears His voice. Only those who can have inner peace and quiet (Isaiah 30:15). I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say: whoever goes to church to listen to the readings and contemplate them, thirsting for His love and presence, focusing entirely on what the Spirit says, (Revelation 2:7), will hear His voice coming out of the windows (Song of Songs 2:9). He will also say: I have found Him who loves my soul. He will perceive and experience the richness of His love (Song of Songs 8:3). When the light shines in our hearts, our needs will change, and we will submit to His will until death (Acts 21:13). This is illustrated by the scribe: as he emphasizes the importance of listening to and caring for the church’s readings on the one hand, and their relevance to the holy life on the other. “If we read carelessly, without striving for insight or knowledge, Scripture can be covered with a veil in its entirety —even the Gospels and the Epistles.”
“Among you are some, who come immediately after the readings; others don’t ask questions or speak about what they hear. They do not remember the divine commandments of the law, which say, “Ask your father, and he will show it to you; your elders, and they will tell you.” (Deuteronomy 32:7). Some may not wait until they have finished the lectures in the Church; others may not even be worried about whether or not the lectures are held… About them I say that when Moses is read, not only a veil, but also a wall and fence will be placed in their hearts.”
“Research alone is not enough for us to fathom the Holy Scriptures; nevertheless, it is up to us to beg and tempt the Lord day and night, until the Lamb comes from the tribe of Judah to hold the sealed book and open its seals (Revelation 5:5). It is He who, when He expounded the scriptures to His disciples, set their hearts on fire, so that they said, “Was not our hearts burning in us, as He spoke to us along the way and opened the scriptures to us? (Luke 24:32). May the Lord have mercy on us now. They say, “The Lord is a Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17). May this freedom of knowledge be confirmed in us, so that we can be freed from the slavery of the veil over our eyes. That is why the apostle also said, “But we all behold with our faces the glory of the Lord…” But how can we enjoy such freedom as long as we are bound to the world, to the greed and desires of the body?!”
The Scholar – Explanation of the Book of Exodus – 34 – FR. Tadros Ya’qoob Malati
The second important point in this story can be traced back to Luke 24:29: they urged Him to do so and said, “Stay with us, for it is by the evening and the day has fallen.” And He went in to stay with them. What is significant here is the actions and lifestyle of a follower of Christ. We are asked, like Christ, to act in love for our neighbors. Imagine if the disciples did not urge Him to stay with them… they wouldn’t experience the miracle. This shows the value of Christian love in the readings of the church. He who loves his brother remains in the light (1 John 2:10). The light of his word shines in our loving hearts. Our love for other and open hearts is like a path that leads us to sacred places, people and events of our Savior. But without love, everything we say or hear is like sounding brass or a blaring cymbal (1 Corinthians 13:1), even as we spoke the languages of men and angels!
We also see this in the Old Testament. There is a connection between the love and generosity that Abraham had for others and that God appeared to him (Genesis 14:15). We also see this in the story of Job. God encouraged Job to forgive his friends who had sinned against Him (Job 42:10), and this was before God had compensated Job again. Here we see once again the meaning and value of his Divine love and commandments that has a presence in our lives through God’s word.
The third point is found in verse 31 of Luke 24. It says, “And their eyes were opened, and they recognized Him, but He disappeared from their faces.” Every liturgy, our eyes are opened by the word of God. The one believes and lives according to Christian love, not with a materialistic view of the world, but with an open heart to see God’s nature, love and attributes. Our lives change every time we hear and take in the Holy readings (2 Corinthians 3:18). When our eyes are opened, we grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18). In addition, we also become more aware of our human weaknesses (2 Corinthians 12:5) and how we have our treasures in earthen jars (2 Corinthians 4:7). The revelation of the word is a free Divine gift, given to all who feel miserable and poor (Psalm 70:5), and to all who put all their hope in God’s love and grace (Matthew 5:3).
So our holy church provides us with readings that take us to the upper room, to sit with Christ, that He washes our feet and sins, and gives us the most beautiful thing we can ever get: “His life in us” (1 John 5:11) through His Holy body and His pure blood. That we hang on the cross with Him and in Him and participate in the resurrection.
Blessed is the person who lives his life with communion and liturgy, full of thanksgiving, praise, loving, generous and finds satisfaction in His word and the richness of His presence. “His service (thanksgiving, praise, giving and preaching) is another liturgy for this person from which he derives so much satisfaction,” as Anba Athanasius, Metropolitan of Beni-Suef said. May we gain more knowledge for the readings of the Church, and be made perfect in God (Ephesians 3:19). All glory, goodness, praise, thanksgiving, strength, and authority to the Holy Trinity, forever and ever. Amen.