I come from a Protestant background. In services, most everyone follows along in the hymnal, and most everyone reads the scripture along with the pastor or reader because they brought their own Bibles to church (or there are plenty in the shelves in the pews). In the early years of my youth, I even brought notebooks to church to take notes on sermons, and my own Bible so that I could shuffle through and take note of everything the pastor referenced.
And then I attended my first Orthodox service. I brought my Bible. Boy, I felt awkward and surprised, because no one else brought a Bible. And it made me wonder, “What do they do if they don’t have their Bibles?”
As I got to know the Orthodox way of worship better, I began to understand a little more, that Scripture is more like an integrated piece into the whole of the service. The idea is more to lose yourself in the worship than a deep, intense study of Scripture.
Yet even the wisdom of the church indicates that Christian believers (monks and laypeople) should engage in intentional and regular reading of Scripture to deepen their faith and understanding. “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ,” said St. Jerome. And St. Justin Popovich says, “By reading the Bible you are adding yeast to the dough of your soul and body, which gradually expands and fills the soul until it has thoroughly permeated it and makes it rise with the truth and righteousness of the Gospel.”
So if you want to get better at knowing your Scripture, bring a Bible to church and make yourself search for the day’s readings (even if its written in the bulletin). You’ll start to notice patterns of which gospels are being used when, and when you’re more towards the front of your Bible (Old Testament) than the rear (New Testament). You may be surprised to find that many of the elements of the liturgy were drawn from Scripture directly. After all, that’s one of the reasons that as a Protestant, I was impressed with the Orthodox liturgy–so much of God’s Word!
The habit of reading Scripture in my youth has served me well to know how the church uses Scripture in its worship. And this habit that I happened to inherit from my Protestant background are about a personal, intentional faith that seeks to deepen and grow in knowledge of Christ at every opportunity.
And I don’t know what sounds more like theosis than that. Says St. Nikon of Optina, “In order to fulfill the commandments of Christ, you must know them! Read the Holy Gospel, penetrate its spirit and make it the rule of your life.”