The ascetic method of interpreting holy scripture, with particular reference to elder sophrony’s gift of interpretation
IOANNIS KARAVIDOPOULOS, The ascetic method of interpreting holy scripture, with particular reference
to elder sophrony’s gift of interpretation
In this presentation we hold that the way in which Elder Sophrony interprets Holy Scripture is the way of
ascetic Tradition, and in line with this, that ascetic interpretation emerges from the very life and Tradition
of the Church. We note the following basic hermeneutical approaches to Holy Scripture in the ascetics:
1. Ascetic interpretation of Scripture uses a special method of approaching the sacred texts which consists
in understanding Scripture by putting it into practice. In other words, one becomes familiar with
the biblical text by applying it in practice. Excessive theoretical involvement with the interpretation of
Scripture may lead to a neglect of its practical applications. On the contrary, daily practice leads to a
clearer vision. As Fr. Sophrony writes, “The deeper one’s experience, the clearer one’s vision”.
2. Praxis does not consist in showing some sort of activism, but it is an expression of obedience to the
commandments of Christ. According to Elder Sophrony, the commandments of Christ are not just precepts,
but they have an ontological content. In their essence they are a projection of divine life on earth.
3. Extraction of a passage from its original context is a common practice with ascetics, and manifests the
freedom with which they approach and live Holy Scripture. It leads to a kind of interpreta¬tion which
can be characterised as “spiritual interpretation”. In this respect one can discover a perceptible difference
between as-cetic writers and modern exegetical science, for which the prime hermeneutical principle
consists in establishing an inner connec¬tion when interpreting a certain passage or an event.
4. Finally, everything that stands for all the exegetes who were also Fathers of the Church surely stands
for the ascetics as well: the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit is essential for understanding and applying
Scripture. Their life in the Holy Spirit leads them to freedom in using and understanding the biblical
passages. Thus, they often apply and develop a given biblical passage in the course of, and according
to, the theme of their homily.
KEYWORD: ascetic, Holy Scripture, Holy Spirit, Elder Sophrony