Guidance from Father Milton

Weekly Message    

The Canon of the Bible

In recent years, there has become an interest in the books – some Christian, and some with Gnostic (pagan) influences – that did NOT make it into the Bible. This renewed interest in non-canonical books is due primarily to discoveries in the last century of ancient texts. One discovery was at Nag Hamadi, Egypt, in 1945 by a local farmer. The find included some 52 treatises, mostly Gnostic; and some Christian writings with Gnostic influence, like the Gospel of Thomas. The other discovery was at Qumran in a cave near the Dead Sea on the West Bank in the late 1940’s. These scrolls shed light on the Hebrew canon, and include books found in the Orthodox and Catholic Bibles and not in the Protestant Old Testament, which contains only 39 books. 

Another reason for this renewed interest in the books that were not included in the Bible may be spurred by a secular-humanist effort to discredit traditional Christianity, i.e., the Church. We should be wary of these attempts. Fundamentally, the are iconoclastic.

So what is the canon? Canon refers to the collection of divinely inspired, authoritative writings to which nothing can be added and from which nothing can be taken away. According to Church History and Tradition, the canon of the Bible was confirmed definitively in a Paschal Letter distributed to the churches by St. Athanasios the Great in the year 367 AD. It does not mean the other writings are bogus or not useful. They have significance and can shed light on early Christianity, but are simply not part of the Bible for one or more reasons. This is to safeguard "orthodoxy."

So, what criteria did the Church (aka St. Athanasios and others use) to determine what is the Bible and what is not? How did he discern which should be considered divinely inspired?

The Criteria for Canonicity are four:

1. Apostolic Origin - directly attributed to and/or based on the preaching/teaching of the first-generation apostles, in particular, from one of the Twelve Apostles.

2. Universal Acceptance - acknowledged by all major Christian communities  throughout the world, west and east, north and south. In other words, not merely accepted and used in a part of the Church.

3. Liturgical Use - read in Church worship, publicly along with the Old Testament readings, when early Christians gathered for the Divine Liturgy (the Eucharist or Lord’s Supper, their weekly worship service).

4. Consistent Message - containing theological ideas compatible with other accepted Christian writings, including the divinity and humanity Jesus Christ. Over-emphasis of the humanity at the expense of the divinity, or over-emphasis of the divinity neglecting His humanity were viewed as not consistent with the witness of the Apostles.

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Thanksgiving and Stewardship

There are no two themes so incredibly linked as are stewardship and thanksgiving.  Stewardship is the recognition that all belongs to God; thanksgiving is our gratitude for all He has given to us. 

There is a custom I learned while on a mission in Africa.  If one person gives another a gift, it is received by holding out both hands.  No matter how small, the gift is accepted with both outstretched hands as a gesture of appreciation.  Later, when stationed in Japan, I learned this to be the custom in the Far East as well.  To accept any gift in a cavalier manner, like with just one hand, would be rude and arrogant.  Gratitude is expressed in the way in which we receive the gift. Stewardship is a gesture of appreciation.

Our great and gracious God has blessed us abundantly.  We who live in this country are especially blessed.  Our nation was founded on freedom and liberty, and here we can say what we wish, worship as we choose, and seek our personal happiness as we see fit—within limits of the Law, of course.  As Orthodox Christians, we are the inheritors of a great tradition founded by the Apostles and passed on generation after generation; a tradition that focuses on the greatest gift God could give: the gift of His Son, who voluntarily died on the Cross and rose from the dead for our salvation. We should be grateful for all our blessings.

Religious freedom as we understand it in this country means we are free to worship as we choose… or not.  We can do nothing at all if we so choose; believe nothing; go to no house of worship; support no religion.  No one compels us to go to Church. Nor are we forced to support our Church.  I, however, this Sunday, plan to uplift both hands to God in an expression of gratitude and acceptance of His great gifts.  I urge you to do the same, in thanksgiving.  Recognizing His blessings, I would also commend each and every one in our parish to be good and faithful stewards of His Holy Church, supporting it and working for the greater good of His community here in Williamsburg.

Discovering our Traditions

Why We Cross Ourselves

On the Lighting of Candles in Church

On Prayer and Fasting

Church Etiquette

Suggested Readings

Encountering the Mystery by Patriarch Bartholomew