“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.