I'm teaching homiletics at Christ the Saviour for the fourth time (I think) at Christ the Saviour Seminary. It is a year-long course. The goals are tough: speaking well; writing as a pastor clearly and directly; preaching without notes; preaching from scripture, through Holy Tradition, and to (and with) the present community (which is conditioned by modernity/post-modernity).
These are old, standing goals. But I have some new ones this year:
I think we need to pay more attention to what we call the "Old Testament." The Psalms outline the psychic experience of the person in theosis. The Prophets clearly articulate ethical values -- and these humane, communal values are not removed from their surface meanings: witness Chrysostom and Basil on the necessary care for the poor, and against usury.
Perhaps a long customary neglect of the prophets (under the convenient rubric of "we are not pietists") might suggest some reasons why our social ethic is so implicit (at best).
On the other hand, simple surface meanings do not serve for the Old Testament histories. The gruesome wars of the Judges (and really the entire corpus) cannot give license for any aggression or violence by a Christian. After the Incarnation, the imprecations of the Psalms can no longer be prayed against fellow humans, who bear the image of Christ whether they believe or not. After Pentecost, politically determined national boundaries no longer carry theological meaning -- a fact that itself makes impossible any historicist hermeneutic. Much of the Old Testament really must be allegorized -- and that allegorical method cannot be arbitrary, but can only follow the Christological image.
A Christian interpretation of the Old Testament is only Christological: it really isn't possible to limit oneself to the positivist strictures of the critical schools. Anyone else is free to deconstruct the passage as is their wont. But Christians in general -- and Orthodox preachers in particular -- can only identify the "enemy" as the demonic, and the "wrath of God" only as the free evil choices of others or the brokenness of the world. The Orthodox hermeneutic is liberated only insofar as it "eisogetes" or recognizes Christ in every moment of the Old Testament.
That said: I remember, fondly, what my old homiletics prof once said atWinebrenner Theological Seminary, way back in the early 80s. His name was Dr George Weaver, who was never outside his skin of gray suit, dark tie and usually white shirt. One day, in a gruff mood, he rose up to denounce the use of inspirational "chicken soup" stories from Readers' Digest or the "funnies," or -- his personal animus -- "stuff from TV or sports." (This was the man who told us to take a volume of the TDNT in with us to the bathroom.) He said, in his lapidary manner, "If you're looking for an illustration, go no further than Scripture itself. The Fathers themselves used the Old Testament like this. Don't you think you know better."
Yes George. We need to teach David again, and the Prophets. We need to follow Abraham on his journey into the beautiful unknown. We need to climb, with Moses, up the hard slopes into the cloud of unknowing.
As Abba Zossima said, soon before he died: "Friends and teachers ... Let [the priest] open that book and begin reading it without grand words or superciliousness, without condescension to them, but gently and kindly, being glad that he is reading to them and that they are listening with attention, loving the words himself, only stopping from time to time to explain words that are not understood by the peasants ... Fathers and teachers, forgive me and don't be angry, that like a little child I've been babbling of what you know long ago, and can teach me a hundred times more skillfully. I only speak from rapture, and forgive my tears, for I love the Bible. Let him too weep, the priest of God, and be sure that the hearts of his listeners will throb in response. Only a little tiny seed is needed -- drop it into the heart of the peasant and it won't die, it will live in his soul all his life, it will be hidden in the midst of his darkness and sin, like a bright spot, like a great reminder ..." (Brothers Karamazov, of course).
Yes, Zossima. Yes, Dr Weaver.