Orthodoxy & Holy week, the first days of the Holy Week

  1. 1.       Monday of Holy Week &
    the blessed and Noble Joseph the All-Comely and
    the fig tree which was cursed and withered by the Lord

The story of Joseph, the All-Comely is told in the book of Genesis.
Joseph was the penultimate of  Patriarch Jacob’s 12 sons, and his favorite.
His father fashioned a “coat of many colors” for Joseph.
This, in addition to Joseph telling his brothers about dreams
that were not flattering to the brothers made them very envious.

One day, when out in the field, all the brothers  save Ruben (the eldest) and Benjamin,
who was yet to be born, conspired to kill Joseph.
Ruben suggested that instead they throw him into a pit
and wait to see what happened.
He intended to come back later and rescue Joseph,
in the meantime, Joseph was sold into slavery in Egypt by some traders.
The brothers killed a sheep, and put its blood on Joseph’s coat,
which they had taken from him previously, and told their father
that Joseph had been torn to pieces by a wild animal.

He was in the employ of Potiphar, an important man in Egypt.
Potiphar’s wife made many passes at Joseph, but he was chaste.
One day, when Joseph was alone in the house, his wife grabbed him
and he fled away naked. She made up a story about his advances
and Joseph was thrown in prison.
In prison, he interpreted the dream Pharaoh’s butler and baker
and his interpretation came true to the letter.
The butler was restored to Pharaoh’s service and the baker was executed.
The butler had promised to bring Joseph’s case before Pharaoh,
but forgot until Pharaoh  had a dream that none of his wise men could interpret.
The butler then remembered Joseph, and he correctly interpreted the dream
as prophesying seven years of plenty, followed by seven years of famine.

Pharaoh put Joseph over all of Egypt, in order to prepare for the famine.
When the famine struck, Jacob sent his sons to get food in Egypt.
Joseph recognized his brothers, but they did not know him.
After Benjamin also came to Egypt, much to the consternation of Jacob,
Joseph made himself known to his brothers in an incredibly emotional scene.
Soon thereafter, all of Jacob’s family moved to Egypt.

Joseph is a type of Christ:
There are many parallels between Joseph and our Lord Jesus Christ.
► Joseph was a slave “in body
– our Lord took on the form of a slave – humanity.
► Joseph was sold into slavery
because of the envy of his brothers for 20 pieces of silver
– Jesus our Saviour was sold for thirty pieces of silver
by his close confederate, the unworthy Apostle Judas,
because of the envy of the Jewish rulers.
► Joseph was cast in to a pit and later thrown into prison
– our Lord Jesus Christ went into the gloomy pit of Hell to save imprisoned humanity.
► Joseph did not complain about his lot,
– our Lord was silent in the face of His accusers.
► Joseph was chaste when tempted by Potiphar’s wife,
unlike the First Adam, who gave into temptation.
– the Second Adam, our Lord was perfectly sinless and showed us the way to perfect chastity.
► Joseph became Lord over Egypt [which represents sin].
– Jesus Christ is Lord over all of His human nature,
making us capable of becoming Lords over our Egypt – our human nature.
► Joseph was immersed in a land with many temptations
[especially since he became the second greatest man in Egypt],
an yet he remained chaste and good, and eventually saved all his people.
– our Lord was immersed in many temptations
and did not sin once, and eventually made us capable of perfection.
► He saved his people by feeding them bread in a time of famine.
– Jesus the Saviour saves mankind,
and feeds them with the bread of heaven – His body and blood.

Kontakion          Tn 8, Holy Monday Matins
Jacob lamented the loss of Joseph,
but his righteous son was seated in a chariot and honoured as a king.
For he was not enslaved to the pleasures of Egypt,
but he was glorified by God who sees the hearts of men
and bestows on them a crown incorruptible
“.

Ikos       Tn8, Holy Monday Matins
Let us now add our lamentation to the lamentation of Jacob,
and let us weep with him for Joseph,
his wise and glorious son
who was enslaved in body but kept his soul free from bondage
and became lord over all Egypt.
For God grants unto his servants a Crown incorruptible
“.

The barren Figtree
Then Christ told this parable:
A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any.
So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard,
‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’
“.
‘Sir,’ the man replied,
‘leave it alone for one more year
and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it.
If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down’

Luc.13: 6-9
In the parable of the barren fig tree, the owner is generally regarded as representing God,
Who had a fig tree [tree of knowledge] planted in his vineyard [the Garden of Eden]
and came seeking fruit [Righteous Works, which in part is a Mystery].
The Gardener [vinedresser] is God and the Vine is Jesus [the Tree of Life].
Fig trees were often planted in vineyards.
The fig tree was a common symbol for Israel
and may also have that meaning here,
or the tree in the Parable may refer to the religious leadership.
In either case, the Parable reflects Jesus offering his hearers
one last chance for repentance.
“These three years” logically refers to the period of Jesus’ Ministry.
The Parable has been connected to the Miracle of cursing the fig tree.
This Parable is one which our Lord may be said
to have put before his hearers twice; once in words,
once in action.

  1. 2.       Holy Tuesday & the Parable of the Ten Virgins
    The parable of the Ten Virgins teaches us
    that we must prepare ourselves now for the coming of Christ and prepare ourselves for the wait no matter how long it takes.

Our Lord first admonished His hearers
to pray and not to faint“;
His concluding remark is
And will not God revenge His elect
who cry to Him day and night and
will He have patience in their regard? I say to you, that He will quickly revenge them
“.
                                                                               Luc.18: 7–8

The conclusion of the parable of the ten virgins
which also indicates this association:
Watch you therefore, because you know not the day or the hour”.
Matth.25: 13
In this parable the foolish virgins, by neglecting to take oil with their lamps,
failed to welcome the bridegroom at his arrival and,
consequently, merited the punishment of not participating in the wedding feast.
The debt is this.
Just as the virgins were obliged
to have their lamps burning when the bridegroom arrived,
so too the faithful are obliged to prepare for Christ’s coming
in judgment by their good works.
Those who do will enter into everlasting life,
but those who do not will be condemned
by those dreadful words:
Amen I say to you, I know you not“.

This central comparison is extended to other parts of the image.
The bridegroom Who bars the foolish virgins from the wedding feast
is Christ Who will reward each man according to his deeds.
The wedding feast, therefore, represents the everlasting happiness of Heaven.
The uncertainty regarding the time of the bridegroom’s arrival signifies
that the time of Christ’s second coming is hidden from us.
There are many other incidents in the parable
which have no supernatural counterpart.
It is of no significance, for example,
that while the bridegroom tarried all the virgins slept.
This is merely a detail enhancing the realism of Christ’s story.
The same is true of the refusal of the wise virgins to share their oil with the foolish.

  1. 3.       Wednesday, commemoration
    of the sinful Women who anointed the Lord Jesus with Myrrh
    The woman who was a harlot and
    who anointed the Lord with myrrh,
    while this took place a short time
    before the saving Passion.
    Judas from becoming a traitor,
    the woman is honoured by saying
    that her good deed would be related everywhere, throughout the whole world.

That nard, or rather myrrh, with which the harlot anointed Christ, was very costly.
It belonged to that type of compound called myrrh,
which Moses was commanded by God to make
for the anointing of priests and chief priests.
It is of this that David says,
It is like the precious oil on the head, running down to the beard,
to Aaron’s beard, running down to the edge of his garment” [Psalm 132 : 2].
It was a compound of four substances: myrrh, flowers, fragrant cinnamon, and oil.
It was called true or genuine, because skilled and trusted men were appointed
to prepare that which God had in a Mysterious manner revealed to Moses alone.
An alabaster jar is a glass vessel made with no handle,
which is also called a vykion.

We should know that today the deceitful Judas,
that lover of money,
that whelp of Satan, began the negotiations with the wicked Sanhedrin
to betray the Master for thirty pieces of silver.
Being indignant after Christ rebuked him
for showing concern for the cost of the oil of myrrh,
he sought out the Jews who were at the court of Caiaphas.
After taking council with the Jewish High Priests,
he searched for an opportunity to betray the Lord when He was alone,
for the Sanhedrin feared the multitude that followed Christ.

We see in today’s Gospel [Matth.26: 6-16]
that the sinful woman brought oil of myrrh to anoint Christ
while Judas brought his greed to the Sanhedrin.
She spread out her hair to wipe the Lord’s feet,
while Judas stretched out his hands for the money.
She rejoiced to pour out the very precious oil on the Lord,
while Judas made plans to sell the One who is above all price.
By anointing Christ, she acknowledged Him as Lord,
while Judas severed himself from the Master.
She was set free of her sins,
while Judas was entrapped and became a slave of the devil.
She tenderly kissed the feet of Christ, asking for forgiveness,
|while Judas plotted to betray the Lord with a kiss,
anticipating the silver.

Apolytikion of the Bridegroom
Behold! The bridegroom approaches in the middle of the night,
And blessed is that servant whom He shall find watching;
But unworthy he whom He shall find careless.
Beware, therefore, O my soul.
Be not overcome with sleep,
lest thou be given over to death and shut outside the kingdom.
But arise and cry:
Holy, holy, holy art Thou, O God!
Through the Theotokos have mercy on us!
“.

Kontakion          Tn4
Though I have transgressed, O Good One,
more than the harlot,
I have never offered Thee a flood of tears.
but, praying in silence,
I fall down before Thee,
with love embracing Thy most pure feet,
that You as Master mayest grant me remission of sins.
And I cry to You, O Saviour:
Deliver me from the defilement of my evil deeds
“.

Ikos
Having come to hate the works of sin and carnal pleasure,
the woman who before had been a prodigal became chaste at once.
Calling to mind the magnitude of disgrace
and the condemnation of torment which harlots and profligates,
of whom I am first, shall endure, I also am afraid;
yet I foolishly continue in my evil ways.
But the woman who was a harlot, having been filled with fear,
hastened quickly to the Deliverer, crying out:
“O compassionate Lord Who loves mankind,
deliver me from the defilement of my evil deeds
“.

The Exapostilarion [The Hymn of Light]
Your bridal chamber, O my Saviour, I see adorned,
and I have no raiment with which to enter therein.
Enlighten the garment of my soul,
O Giver of Light, and save me.

The Hymn of Cassia
O Lord, the woman who had fallen into many sins,
perceiving Your Divinity, became one of the Myrrhbearers,
bringing You ointment in tears before Your burial.
She cried,
– “Woe is me!
– “For I lived in a night of licentiousness,
moonless and dismal love of sin.
– “Accept the fount of my tears
O Thou who draws the waters of the sea from the clouds.
– “Bow down Your ear to the sighing of my heart,
– “O You Who did bow the Heavens in Your ineffable self-emptying,
– “that I may kiss Your most pure feet
and wipe them again with the hairs of my head,
– “the feet whose step Eve once heard in Paradise in the cool of the day,
when for fear she hid herself.
– “My sins are many. And who may search the depths of Thy judgments?
– ” O Saviour of souls, my Saviour,
– “despise not Your servant “in Your limitless mercy
“.

► The extraordinary hymn of Kassia,
sung at the matins of Holy Wednesday,
is based on the above Gospel account of the sinful woman.
As Jesus is dining at the house of Simon, a Pharisee,
the sinful woman enters the house and begins anointing his feet with myrrh and tears
and wiping them with her hair.
This event, as recounted by Lucas,
takes place at the beginning of Jesus’ Public ministry,
although its commemoration has been placed
during the Bridegroom Matins of Holy Week
because of its symbolic interpretation
as a preparation for his burial.

Psalms created on Truth – PSALM 70 – How to grow old

O God, in You I hope;
may I never be put to shame.
Deliver me in your righteousness,
and set me free;
Incline Your ear to me and save me.
Be to me a God for Protection
and a strong place for Salvation,
for You are my Foundation and my refuge.
O my God,
deliver me from the hand of the sinner,
from the hand of those who transgress the Law and act un-justly;
for You are my patience, O Lord;
the Lord from my youth.
by You I have been supported from birth;
from my mother’s womb You have been my Protector;
My song shall be always of You.
I am become as a wonder to many,
and You are my strong Helper.
Let my mouth be filled with Your praise,
that I may sing of Your Glory
and of Your Magnificence all the day long.
Do not abandon me in the time of old age;
when my strength fails do not forsake me.
For my enemies speak against me,
and those who watch for my soul plot together,
saying, “God forsook him; pursue and lay hold of him,
for there is no deliverer”.
o God, do not stand far off from me;
O my God, give heed to help me.
Let those who falsely accuse my soul
be shamed and forsaken;
let those who seek evils for me
be covered with shame and reproach.
But I will hope continually,
and I will add to all Your praise.
My mouth shall proclaim Your Righteousness,
Your Salvation all the day,
for I am not acquainted with learning.
I shall enter into the Power of the Lord;
O Lord, I shall remember Your Righteousness,
Yours alone.
You taught me, O God, from my youth,
and from then until now I will
proclaim Your Wonders.
And even to old age and to my last breath,
O God, do not abandon me,
until I proclaim Your Arm to every
coming generation,
your mighty Deeds and Your
Righteousness.
O God, I proclaim the magnificent
Things You did,
even to the highest Heaven;
O God, Who is like You?
How great end evil are the afflictions
You showed me,
and You returned, and made me live;
and You raised me up again from the
depths of the earth.
You multiplied Your Greatness,
and You returned and comforted me;|You brought me up again from the
depth of the earth.
Truly, I will give thanks to You with the
instrument of a Psalm, o God;
I will sing to You with the lyre,
O Holy One of Israel.
My lips will greatly rejoice
when I sing to You:
So will my soul,
which You redeemed.
My tongue shall meditate on
Your Righteousness all the day long,
when those who seek evils for me
are dishonoured and shamed“.
Psalm 70
Mp3: Psalmul 70 [Romanian] 

εις σαλωμων ο θεος το κριμα σου τω βασιλει δος
και την δικαιοσυνην σου τω υιω του βασιλεως
κρινειν τον λαον σου εν δικαιοσυνη
και τους πτωχους σου εν κρισει
αναλαβετω τα ορη ειρηνην τω λαω σου
και οι βουνοι εν δικαιοσυνη
κρινει τους πτωχους του λαου
και σωσει τους υιους των πενητων
και ταπεινωσει συκοφαντην
και συμπαραμενει τω ηλιω
και προ της σεληνης γενεας γενεων
και καταβησεται ως υετος επι ποκον
και ωσει σταγονες σταζουσαι επι την γην
ανατελει εν ταις ημεραις αυτου δικαιοσυνη
και πληθος ειρηνης εως ου ανταναιρεθη η σεληνη
και κατακυριευσει απο θαλασσης εως θαλασσης
και απο ποταμου εως περατων της οικουμενης
ενωπιον αυτου προπεσουνται αιθιοπες
και οι εχθροι αυτου χουν λειξουσιν
βασιλεις θαρσις και αι νησοι δωρα προσοισουσιν βασιλεις αραβων
και σαβα δωρα προσαξουσιν
και προσκυνησουσιν αυτω παντες οι βασιλεις παντα τα εθνη δουλευσουσιν αυτω
οτι ερρυσατο πτωχον εκ χειρος δυναστου
και πενητα ω ουχ υπηρχεν βοηθος
φεισεται πτωχου και πενητος
και ψυχας πενητων σωσει
εκ τοκου και εξ αδικιας λυτρωσεται τας ψυχας αυτων
και εντιμον το ονομα αυτων ενωπιον αυτου
και ζησεται και δοθησεται αυτω εκ του χρυσιου της αραβιας κ
αι προσευξονται περι αυτου δια παντος ολην την ημεραν ευλογησουσιν αυτον
εσται στηριγμα εν τη γη επ’ ακρων των ορεων υπεραρθησεται υπερ τον λιβανον
ο καρπος αυτου και εξανθησουσιν εκ πολεως ωσει χορτος της γης
εστω το ονομα αυτου ευλογημενον εις τους αιωνας προ του ηλιου διαμενει το ονομα αυτου
και ευλογηθησονται εν αυτω πασαι αι φυλαι της γης παντα τα εθνη μακαριουσιν αυτον
ευλογητος κυριος ο θεος ο θεος ισραηλ ο ποιων θαυμασια μονος
και ευλογητον το ονομα της δοξης αυτου εις τον αιωνα
και εις τον αιωνα του αιωνος
και πληρωθησεται της δοξης αυτου πασα η γη γενοιτο γενοιτο
εξελιπον οι υμνοι δαυιδ του υιου ιεσσαι

I am the first one taken captive
In Psalm 70 teaches the [Orthodox] Church
about deliverance  from  taken captive to the devil and his angels [my enemies vs 10; Eph 6: 12].
For these enemies ensnared mankind in the fear of death and the lifetime of bondage it begotten“.
Hebr.2: 15
But from birth to death, we are delivered
by the Lord Jesus Christ from fear.
For we are delivered and set free in His Righteousness,
on which we meditate . . . . .
all the day long . . . . .

Everyone born into this world becomes a captive of Satan by birth.
We are called children of Hell,
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!
for you compass sea and land to make one proselyte
and when he is made, you make him twofold more
the child of hell than yourselves
Matth.23: 15
Every individual born into this world is a captive of Satan,
as his parents are captives
– all are born under the power of the devil and his angels.
Salvation then is a deliverance from the power of the devil
and a Translation into the Kingdom of God [Col. l: 13].
The law of the slave:
If a slave married while he was yet a slave,
even though he obtained his freedom at the end of seven years,
his wife and children born while in slavery still belonged to the slave master
until they were able to obtain their freedom individually.
Though you and I may be redeemed by the Grace of God,
delivered from Satan by God’s power, yet our children born to us are captives of Satan.
They are captives by birth. Now you let that soak into your heart, Mother!
Let that soak into your heart, Father
“.
Ex.21: 2-4
Christ said: “You are of your father the devil,
and the lusts of your father you will do“.
John 8: 44
So every individual out of Christ is a captive of Satan,
held prisoner by Satan, a child of Satan, and a child of Hell,
until he is redeemed by the Blood of Christ
and delivered by power from Satan.

With these thoughts in mind,
let’s notice now the conditions of Satan’s captives.
Every individual held captive by Satan is in the kingdom of Satan,
which is the kingdom of darkness [Acts 26: 18].
Paul was commanded to preach to turn sinners
– “from darkness to Light
and from the power of Satan unto God“.
This great truth is also stated in,
Who [God] has delivered us from the power of darkness
and has translated us into the Kingdom of His Dear Son“.
Col.1: 13
Sinners of today are not in the place that God put them
when He placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden;
they have been transported into another kingdom, into a far country [Luc.15: 13].
They are far away from God, from the New Covenant and from His Son.
How long will I take counsel in my soul,
having grief in my heart daily?
How long will my enemy be exalted over me?
“.
Psalm 12: 3

The “freeing from sin”,
and also the “making them servants to righteousness
Rom. 6: 18, which is better than any freedom.
For God has done the same
as if a person were to take an orphan,
who had been carried away by savages into their own country
and were not only to free him from captivity,
but were to set a kind father ever him
and bring him to very great dignity.
And this has been done in our case;
for it was not our old evils alone that He freed us from,
since He even led us to the life of angels
and paved the way for us to the best conversation;
handing us over to the safe keeping of Righteousness
and killing our former evils and deadening the old man
and leading us to an immortal life.

So when you could see your own situation,
you would be the most unhappy subject
that Satan ever had in his kingdom.
I know I am writing to some Orthodox believers
who are very unhappy to say to be a sinner.
Ah, you are stirred, you are deeply moved. You are miserable.
The only reason a sinner is content in his present state
is because he is asleep in Satan’s lap,
We know that we are children of God
and that the whole world is
under the control of the evil one
“.
1John 5: 19
I am a sinner, this is my shameful case.
I am a captive of Satan. Once I was there.
When God opened my eyes and showed me my awful, ruined condition,
when He showed me that I was held captive by Satan,
that I could not flee his territory – I could not break his bands!
Knowing that He had proclaimed liberty unto the captives,
I cried unto the Lord and He heard my cry,
He broke the bands of Satan, and set me free
– gave me liberty in Christ Jesus, the Lord!

Then, I, sinner-friend,
I have not only been transported to the kingdom of darkness,
been plundered and robbed and stripped,
but I was conquered by the power of Satan.
I was no longer master of myself.
Who are taken captive by him at his will” [2Tim.2: 26].
My liberty is gone, and gone forever,
unless Christ delivers me;
I am a slave to the master of tyrants
and I am serving him to my own ruin.
I am not only his captive, a sinner-friend,
but, alas! I have no liberty.
I have to come and go at his stream and call;
I have to obey his every command, according to
I see another law at work in me,
waging war against the law of my mind
and making me a prisoner of the law of sin
at work within me
” [Rom. 7: 23].
I am a sinner-friend, if I get anything of any value, I can’t keep it;
the devil tears it from you.
If I receive a conviction of sin
and make a resolution to amend my life,
I can’t carry it out
– Satan will not rest until I have thrown it away.
I may be seemingly deeply moved under this message
and I may be made to cry out and say,
“Indeed that’s my condition;
this is describing me,
but I can’t retain the impressions.
All my resolutions pass away”.
It is because Satan will not let you keep them.
You are bent on pleasing Satan.
That’s right, but:
Christ has rescued us from the dominion of darkness
and brought us into the Kingdom of the Son God loves
in Whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
The Son of God is the image of the invisible God,
the Firstborn over all Creation
“.
Col.1: 13-15
You may ask, “Why doesn’t God come and deliver me now?“.
My friend, it may be that He wants
you to realize fully what your condition is in Satan’s territory
so that you will never forget from whence He delivered you.

I want to tell you,
I’ll never forget from whence the Lord delivered this poor old sinner!
Never do I cease to thank my Deliverer, the Lord Jesus,
for hearing my cry, coming to my rescue,
taking me by force out of Satan’s net as his prisoner
and setting my feet upon the rock of freedom in Christ
and putting a new song in my mouth
a song of deliverance,
whereby I am praising Him daily
for Salvation and Deliverance.
O God, I proclaim
the Magnificent things You did,
even to the highest Heaven;
O God, Who is like You?
“.
Psalm 70: 19

God’s Holy Personality is  Sublime,
unsearchable, exalted, and Glorious
is His Way of making men righteous.
His plan of righteousness uplifts men
from the gates of hell
to the country seat of Heaven.

Man is a great mystery,
a sacred mystery of God.
So great and so sacred,
that God Himself became man,
in order to give us understanding
of all the depth of the mystery of Man“.
Justinus Popovitch [1894 – 1979]

Psalms created on Truth – Psalm 12, – faith and trust in God

To speak of God’s “Grace” is
to put feeble words in the service of describing
the infinite goodness and love of God
which reaches out to his creatures prior
to their own reaching [Eph.2: 4,5; Rom.5: 8].
To speak of God’s Grace is to speak of God’s capacity
to initiate and complete His work of restoring
a broken world
and reconciling alienated people.
As the Kingdom of Grace, it does not come
because we pull it into the world,
but because God unceasingly works toward
its consummation with Christ’s return.

Yet, we get the wrong picture altogether
if we forget the unique shape of God’s ongoing activity.
God chose to create a world in which His ordinary, inadequate creatures – you and me – are invited to participate in the drama of God’s Kingdom activity.
He invites us to discover and play our role,
a role that always follows after at a distance,
but a genuine role nonetheless.

So we might say this: to pray
Your Kingdom come,
your will to be done
on earth and it is in Heaven” is
to confess a tension that requires of us not only Grace
– that God’s Kingdom comes by His Power alone
– but impatience as well.

To pray with impatience
is to recognize and confess that things are not as they should be
and not as they will be when the Kingdom of Christ comes in its completeness.
To pray with impatience is to be more dis-satisfied
than I am afraid most of us are
– or at least I have been.

In a world broken and marred by sin
– full of pain and confusion and our lives brimming with so many unfinished sentences –
praying
Your kingdom come,
your will be done
on earth as it is in Heaven
requires of us and fosters in us
a growing dis-satisfaction with the world as it stands.
To hunger and thirst,
to long and to ache for the Kingdom to come
is to pray as the same Grace and impatience
as the Psalmist did
How long O, Lord?
Will You forget me to the end?
How long will You turn Your Face from me?
How long will I take counsel in my soul,
having grief in my heart daily?
How long will my enemy be exalted over me?
look upon me and hear me, O Lord, my God;
enlighten my eyes, lest I sleep in death,
Lest my enemy say,
‘I prevailed against him’,
those who afflict me greatly rejoice,
if I am shaken.
But I hope in Your Mercy;
my heart shall greatly rejoice in Your Salvation;
I will sing to the Lord, Who shows kindness to me;
I will sing to the Name of the Lord Most High
”.
Psalm 12

Ψαλμοί 12
Μέχρι πότε, Κύριε, θα με λησμονείς για πάντα; Μέχρι πότε θα κρύβεις από μένα το πρόσωπό σου;
Μέχρι πότε θα έχω βουλές μέσα στην ψυχή μου, οδύνες καθημερινά μέσα στην καρδιά μου; Μέχρι πότε θα υψώνεται επάνω μου ο εχθρός μου;
Επίβλεψε· εισάκουσέ με, Κύριε, Θεέ μου· φώτισε τα μάτια μου, μήπως κοιμηθώ τον ύπνο τού θανάτου·
μήπως και ο εχθρός μου πει: Υπερίσχυσα εναντίον του, κι αυτοί που με θλίβουν υπερχαρούν, αν σαλευτώ.
Εγώ, όμως, έλπισα στο έλεός σου· η καρδιά μου θα αγάλλεται στη σωτηρία σου.
Θα ψάλλω στον Κύριο, επειδή με αντάμειψε.

Must I bear pain in my soul
and have sorrow in my heart all day long?
When do we have faith in God?
When things are going well, when our health is good
and our back account balanced?
The psalmist has pain in his soul and sorrow in his heart.
This is  David deep in suffering,
yet he says he has trusted in God’s steadfast love
and his heart shall rejoice in God’s Salvation!
We can learn a  great lesson by meditating on this concept.
David doesn’t say,
I’m suffering and when this is over, I’ll praise  my God“, or
As soon as life is going my way again, I’ll get back to  being thankful“.
Instead he trusts so much in God’s ultimate ability
to  save him from his misery,
that he rejoices in the middle of his sorrow!
This to me is ultimate Faith in God:
to trust in Him when everything is  going wrong,
to continue believing help is coming
even when the sky is  dark with threatening clouds
and no one comes forth to comfort us
[this Psalm is used in Great Compline and during Lent].

This comes from “We shall see him as He is
by Blessed Archmandrite Sophrony:
O Lord, I am weak.  Thou knowest this.
In fear I seek the way to Thee.  Despise me not.
Forsake me not in my fall.
Draw near even unto me, who am of no account, yet I thirst after Thee.
Take up Thine abode in me and do Thou Thyself perform in me all
that Thou hast commanded of us.  
Make me Thine for ever and ever, in love unshakable
“.
It doesn’t give what Psalm it is.

Orthodoxy & avoiding to fall as a prey to demons

Beware me for idleness“,
Saint Ephraïm the Syrian warns the hermits, for
without it a monk cannot fall
into the hands of those who strive to enslave him
“.
Saint Ephraïm warns hermits not to neglect psalmody nor prayer because in abandoning them,
the solitary opens a door to the demons.

Idleness is inactivity, as a Christian we have to be active.
The Judgement of God comes upon us not because we have neglected spiritual discipline,
as though God punishes us for legal omissions,
failing to accomplish our duty or
incorrect use of our resources;
but rather the judgement of God comes upon us through the torment of demons
because we ourselves have opened the door to them.
The spiritual disciplines help us shut the door;
without spiritual disciplines, our wandering mind, roaming lusts,
hidden fears and latent self-importance emerge, prying open the door
for the tormenting demons to enter.

“It is written,” Saint Ephraïm says,
He who is not subject to the will of God, is subject to his adversary“.
Spiritual disciplines are the primary way
we subject ourselves to the will of God.
For those in the Monastic life and especially for solitaries, those disciplines are all-consuming activities of prayer, reading, and work.
• But for us in the world, the spiritual disciples relate to our neighbour:
Love your neighbour, don’t kill him by words or behaviour,
don’t commit adultery, corrupt behaviour,
be kind, be content with what you have,
be generous to others, don’t judge, backbiting [slander],
weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice.

I imagine some of my readers are wondering:
Are these spiritual disciplines?
Yes. These are par excellence spiritual disciplines.
When we struggle to be kind or generous or content, we are struggling to be like Christ
and the door through which tormenting demons enter is pressed firmly shut.

Of course what we find out right away
when we seriously embark on the spiritual life
in the world is
that we fail miserably at keeping the spiritual disciplines that Christ and the Apostles commanded.
We find out right away that we cannot easily be kind,
even when we want to be kind
—> and then there are the many times
we don’t want to be kind!
We find out right away that within ourselves,
within the resources of our own will and desire,
we do not have what it takes
to practice the spiritual disciplines.
And because we fail to practice the disciplines,
the tormenting demons attack us
—> the door of our mind being left wide open for them.

Yet, it is the very suffering caused by the demons, the guilt, the confusion, the anger, the lustful passion, it is this very suffering that drives us to God in prayer.
It is our awareness of our great need
that turns us to God again and again for help.
But how do we pray?

Certainly, “Help, my Lord and my God!
is a good start.
However, in the same way that one might use home remedies for a minor cold or to mend a scratched knee,
yet will go to an expert in medicine for a serious condition;
so also in our spiritual life we go to the doctors,
the men and women who have spent a lifetime learning prayer.
We go to the Monastics,
and particularly to those Monastics [or Monastic Writings]
that have proven over time to be reliable
and helpful in producing the fruit of the Holy Spirit
in those who have heeded their advice.

– Remember, the goal is not to pray like a monk
while living in the world.
– The goal is to Love our neighbour as Christ
while we live in the world.
– Prayer rules and techniques are the means,
the means to transformation
so that we will be filled with the Holy Spirit
and show forth the love and life of Christ.
– We shut the door to the demons
and avoid God’s Judgment by actively pursuing the spiritual life.

This pursuit requires repentance and our own healing
and manifests itself in love of God and neighbour.
Prayer is a part of this, an essential part
—> I might even say an integral part of our pursuit of God
and of our shutting the door to the demons that torment us.
• But he who says the most prayers is not necessarily
[and not probably in my experience] the one
who is experiencing the most success
in the spiritual life in the world.
– The one who is succeeding in the spiritual life
is the one who is learning Love the unlovely,
– who is looking for opportunities to be generous to those who ask,
– who tries to shut down judgemental thoughts, and
– who is practicing kindness and mercy
even when he or she doesn’t feel like it.

Such a one will be heeding
the advice of Saint Ephraïm,
avoiding spiritual idleness
and therefore not becoming the prey
of his spiritual adversary.

5th Sunday of Lent – restored by the Blood of Christ

But when Christ came as High Priest of the good things
that are now already here,
He went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands,
that is to say, is not a part of this Creation.
He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves;  but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood,
thus obtaining Eternal Redemption.
The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer
sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean
sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean.
How much more, then, will the Blood of Christ,
Who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death,
so that we may serve the living God!“.
Hebr.9: 11-14

The Blood of Christ, Who through the eternal Spirit
offered himself unblemished to God,
cleanse our consciences
from acts that lead to death,
so that we may serve the living God!
“.

Everyone has a conscience.
It affects the way we think and live.
Just listen to people talk, hear their excuses for actions
and observe the plastic looks portrayed.
The conscience has a bearing on every action, work, and relationship.
Many marriages are wrecked over guilty consciences.
Children often rebel due to guilty consciences.
It even determines how we approach God.

The very idea of a sinful person approaching a holy God unnerves a thinking person.
A conscience imprisoned by guilt
enslaves a person in his Worship,
Service, Prayer, Witness, and Affections.

What is this conscience?
The conscience is properly man’s inner knowledge of himself,
especially in the sense of his answerability for his motives
and actions in view of the fact that he,
as a creature made in the image of God,
stands before and must give an account of himself to his Creator

Inner knowledge of yourself” implies that the searchlights of the soul
peer into the caverns of the mind, discovering decaying bones and stolen treasures
hidden by a bent toward sin.
A man might live with decaying bones and hidden treasures
if he never had to give an answer for them.
But the Creator Who gave life and the conscience to those
who share in his image, also demands an accounting.

While it would appear that a guilty conscience would drive a man to God,
often the very opposite happens due to the grip of lost-ness upon the soul.
Men will try everything imaginable to relieve or avoid or stuff guilt.
Paul explains that when a man rejects the revelation God has given in the conscience
then he becomes hardened toward God and softened toward idolatrous and sinful behaviour.
[cf. Rom.1: 18-32]
In the end temporary measures to salve guilt are only that-temporary
and offer nothing of eternal value
that can give a person a right standing with God.
To pursue creative means of dealing with the conscience
is akin to grabbing after the wind.
Ultimately such pursuits are elusive and empty.
But God has made provision for sinful men
to have clean consciences before Him.

The first century audience receiving
the Epistle to the Hebrews
struggled over dealing with their guilt.
Would they find relief if they returned
to the ceremonial practices of Judaism?
To do so would be to live under the Old Covenant that was “becoming obsolete
rather than knowing the experience of the New Covenant relationship to God through Christ.
It would not be the sacrifice of bulls and goats
that would take away the guilt of sin.
Only the death of Christ delivers us from the guilt of sin
and liberates us to serve the living God.
How can we be sure of this?
Consider the “much more” of the death of Christ
in cleansing our consciences from sin.

1.]. Not to a certain extent!
The Apostle backtracks into territory familiar to his audience.
– They were brought up under the shadows of Judaism.
– They knew the intricacies practiced by the high priest
as he sought to approach God on behalf of the people.
So to help them understand the temporary nature of everything
they had lived with and now what they considered returning unto,
he paints a picture of a scene in the tabernacle
and the work of the high priest.

1a]. An untorn curtain
Rather than dealing with any symbolism found in “the earthly Sanctuary“,
the pastoral author tells them
of these things we cannot now speak in detail“.
Mystics have given detailed applications of symbolism for every thread in the tabernacle.
But not our writer since the point he wants to make is with all of the magnificence and pageantry of the Old Covenant practices,
the average Joe still had no access to God.
The veil remained untorn and the way to God inaccessible under the Old Covenant of Law.
Only in Jesus Christ was the curtain [veil] removed
and the way to God opened for all who believe.

The ancient writer believed that the Holy Spirit was the author of Scripture.
His statement in Hebr.9: 8 affirms this and demonstrates the continuity of Scripture
by the application he makes.
The Holy Spirit is signifying this,
that the way into the Holy Place has
not yet been disclosed
while the outer tabernacle is still standing,
which is a symbol for the present time
“.
Look at the tabernacle.
Within it, if one could steal a look, would be
the Lampstand and the Table and the Sacred Bread“.
Here the priests in their order would move about to daily burn incense, offer prayers, and maintain the national Worship.
Beyond this was “The second veil . . . . .
which is called the Holy of Holies,
having a golden altar of incense and
the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold,
in which was a golden jar holding the manna, and Aaron’s rod which budded,
and the tables of the Covenant;
and above it were the Cherubim of Glory overshadowing the Mercy Seat
“.
A sense of awe fills the mind
when contemplating these consecrated symbols of worship under the Old Covenant.
But there is a major problem.
As long as the “outer tabernacle is still standing” or the focal point of worship,
then the way to God has not been known.
Only the high priest could enter the Holy of Holies.  And he could do so only once a year.
Every time he entered he did so with fear and trembling.
It was not a joyous entry but the most solemn of occasions in hope
that he would find acceptance by God
for himself and all the people.

So what is this pastor attempting to do?
He wants his congregation to wake up to
the reality that under the Old Covenant,
in spite of all the pageantry and symbolism,
there was no access to God.
The veil remained like an impenetrable wall
between the sinner and Almighty God.
The way into the Holy Place has not yet been disclosed
the Apostle tells them.
Why would anyone want to hang on
to a practice that left the veil intact?

Does some of this same spirit run through any of you?
Because of the pageantry and symbolism that pleases your senses you hang on
to a religious practice than cannot open the way to God.    As the Gospel writers tell us, upon Jesus Christ’s God-satisfying death at the Cross, the veil that barred access to God in the Holy of Holies
was torn from top to bottom!
God opened the way to him through His own Son [Matth.27: 51].

1b]. An unaffected conscience
But wait a minute, one might insist.
Were there not thousands of sacrifices offered and tons of gifts given under the old covenant?
That is correct.
But hear what our writer tells us,
Accordingly both gifts and sacrifices are offered
which cannot make the worshiper perfect in conscience
“.
It is not what we offer God that cleanses our conscience from sin.
While none of us have presented blood sacrifices upon a brazen altar
I would dare say that some have offered
bloodless sacrifices and gifts‘ in hope of clearing away the guilt of sin.

The predicament faced by the high priest
and all the people was that everything they did
related to only external Satisfaction.
For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats
to take away sins
“.
Hebr.10: 4

To further explain this our writer points out  that the sacrifices offered were for the priest
and “for the sins of the people committed in ignorance“.
It was the “slip-ups“, the unintentional sins that were atoned for by the high priest.
The wilful, rebellious, arrogant, cold-hearted practice of sin had no atonement.
That is why David faced a dilemma when he sinned against God by his wilful acts
toward Bathsheba and Uriah.
His appeal was not to a quick sacrifice
offered for his sin but to the Mercy of God.
You do not delight in sacrifice,
otherwise I would give it;
you are not pleased with burn offering“,
David cried [Psalm 50:16].
David had to look beyond the Sacrificial System
and the rituals of the tabernacle to have his conscience
cleansed from the guilt of sin.
He prayed,
Have Mercy, O Lord,
according to Your loving-kindness

or Mercy Covenant [Psalm 50: 1].
It was not the cut and dry statements of the Old Covenant
that satisfied David in time of guilt.
David trusted in God’s Covenant of Grace,
a Covenant that he did not fully understand,
but cast his hope upon.

1c]. An unaccomplished event
All of this boils down to an unaccomplished event.
The worship of the tabernacle and ceremonies of the high priest
were never intended to be the end-all for man in his relationship to God.
They functioned in the realm of the “not quite”
when it came to being in right relationship to God.
Our writer observes of the old covenant sacrificial system,
Since they relate only to food and drink and various washings,
regulations for the body imposed until a time of restoration
“.
All of the Patriarchs and Prophets and people lived in the realm of the great until.
Everything done under the Old Covenant served as a stop-gap measure
until a time of Renovation“,
until the fullness of time when God would send
forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law,
so that He might redeem those who were under the Law,
that we might receive the adoption as sons
“.
Gal.4: 4-5
During the time of David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, it had not happened.
But now, to the audience this writer addresses
the “time of restoration” through Christ had come.

The word “time” is not the Greek term for chronological time
but the word kairos, a term that refers to an event.
In this case it was a momentous,
even cataclysmic event that affected all of human history,
even all of eternity.
The “time of restoration ” summarizes the Incarnation, sinless life of Christ, atoning death, burial, and Resurrection.
It was a time of “restoration
or ‘restoring what was out of line
or putting in an ‘new order’ as some have termed it.
All of the practices in Judaism were fulfilled in this “time of restoration” in Christ.
There was no need to revert to shadows when the substance had come!

2.].  Much more New!
The Apostle was not denigrating the ceremonial practices of Judaism as if they did no good.
For indeed these practices helped to boost the confidence of the people to seek the Lord,
to find him as merciful and gracious.
But they were “imposed until a time of restoration”,
demonstrating the inadequacy of the Old Covenantal practices
in approaching God and knowing deliverance from the guilt of sin.
The Old Covenant never secured anything for the people, even the most earnest people.
Instead it pointed to the fulfilment in the New Covenant through Jesus Christ.
In contrast to an entire system that never secured anything for worshipers,
the writer now points to how much more Jesus Christ
has secured for all who trust in Him.

2a]. Secured redemption
The contrast with the work of the high priest is intentional.
He explains,
“Now when these things have been so prepared,
the priests are continually entering the outer tabernacle performing the Divine Worship,
but into the second, only the high priest enters once a year, not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the sins of the people committed
in ignorance”.
Leviticus 16 describes the scene as the high priest
dons the white linen tunic covering linen undergarments, girded with a linen sash,
and wearing a linen turban,
he first takes a bull that he offers as a sin offering
for himself and his household.
With two handfuls of incense lofting aroma
as he places it upon the coals of his firepan,
he enters behind the veil carrying the blood of the slain bull.
Upon the Mercy seat and in front of it,
he sprinkles the blood seven times to atone for his own sins.
He slips out from behind the veil and returns with the blood of the goat of the sin offering,
bringing its blood inside the veil and sprinkling it upon the Mercy Seat to atone
for the sin of the people.
He must even make atonement for the tabernacle itself
due to the impurities of the people.
He then lays his hands upon a second goat, the scapegoat,
confessing the sins of the people over it
so that as it is led into the wilderness
it symbolically bears away the sins of the people.

What were the people to see through all of this ritual:
Properly understood, the ritual of the Day of Atonement
in its various parts was sacramental in character,
inviting the people to look beyond the sign to the reality,
yet to be fulfilled, when the perfect high priest would come,
able to represent them without hindrance of sin in the presence of God,
and would offer the perfect sacrifice for the forgiveness
and the removal of their sins forever.

In contrast we find Jesus Christ!
But when Christ appeared as a High Priest of the good things to come
[hence the Old Covenant practices were temporary
and were to be looked beyond to the Messiah],
He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle,
not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation;
and not through the blood of goats and calves,
but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all,
having obtained eternal redemption“.
Several questions are answered in this text.

First, who secured eternal redemption?
It was Jesus Christ, appearing as
a High Priest of the good things to come
that secured redemption.
The word, “obtained“, is in the aorist tense
and points back to one event that did the securing or obtaining of redemption.
Literally, the phrase is translated,
after He had secured eternal redemption“,
thus pointing to the sufficiency of Jesus’ work on the Cross,
redemption decisively secured there.
Jesus appeared in Heaven for us
after he had secured Eternal Redemption“, not to secure it.
Some have mistakenly thought that Jesus had to carry a basin of blood
into the Heavenly tabernacle just like the priest did in the earthly one.
But the text makes clear that the death of Christ
secured our redemption not a subsequent act.

Second, how did He secure eternal redemption?
“Not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood”.
The use of “blood” in the language of Scripture always implies death
and typically a vicious death.
“‘The blood of Christ’ means Christ’s death regarded as a sacrifice for sin….
In this context blood is not death in general
but death as seen as a sacrifice“.
Again, the language is very clear
that the redemptive work that took place refers
to the death of Jesus on the cross
so that his entrance into heaven was through
[Greek, dia or ‘by means of’ used instrumentally] his bloody death.
The idea of a blood sacrifice appears primitive in our day.
However we are not talking about pleasantries or socially acceptable behaviour in this context,
but the Satisfaction that God’s Justice demands.
How can a monetary offering satisfy Him who owns all?
How can good deeds assuage the wrath of Him
who has been offended by our sins?
How can some inanimate object or non-human creature
actually satisfy the wrath of God directed toward humanity?
How can ritual or ceremony appease God who is not so silly
as to be charmed like the brute gods of heathenism?
How can God overlook the infinite stain of mankind’s collective sin,
much less the initial offense of our representative,
Adam, in the Garden of Eden?
It was not the blood of Christ in a basin or vial or container
offered in Heaven that secured eternal redemption,
but the bloody death of the Son of God at the cross as God
caused the iniquities of us all to fall on Him
Isaiah 53: 6
Is that where your hope rests?

Third, what did Jesus secure?
While the priest could do nothing to
make the worshiper perfect in conscience“,
Jesus Christ, “through His own blood . . . obtained eternal redemption“.
The word “eternal” immediately qualifies
what Jesus has done as distinct from the temporal work of priests.
His work is eternal.
The work specifically s called “redemption”.
The word literally means, “to release by the payment of a price“.
The price was “through His own blood“.
The payment made was not to man or to the devil,
as some mistakenly say, but it was a payment to God.
It was the demand of God’s own righteousness.
It is a release from the curse of the Law.
One writer expressed it like this:
Like a black thundercloud the Law hung over men’s heads,
and they looked up to it in fear that
at any minute the lightning of the divine judgment
might flame out from its heart.
What could be done?
God took the initiative.
Christ came and on the Cross bore for us the doom which sin involved . . .
Christ bore the penalty which in strict justice we ought to have borne . . .
Death was the curse of the Law,
and that curse Christ took upon Himself.

The release points to deliverance from slavery to sin,
from the penalty of sin, from the guilt associated with sin,
and ultimately, deliverance from the wrath of God.
Deliverance from slavery is at the heart of this term,
and indeed, as our Substitute, Jesus Christ bore
the price of our slavery so that we might be set free
into the liberty of sons of God.

Fourth, how can I be certain that Jesus secured eternal redemption?
This is the point of the
“more perfect tabernacle, that is to say, not of this creation”.
As Jesus “entered the holy place once for all”
He secured forever our release from sin’s guilt
and liberated us into relationship to God.
While the priests were continually offering sacrifices,
Jesus offered one sacrifice “once for all”.
This means that the sacrifice of Christ can never be repeated;
it is complete and can never be added to;
and it is final, accepted by God in
the “more perfect tabernacle”.

A cleansed conscience is not found
by improved meditation techniques or psychotherapy.
It is the result of Faith in Jesus Christ
Who has obtained eternal redemption for you
by his complete, unrepeatable death on the Cross.

Conclusion
Jesus Christ is the only one
Who can deliver you from the guilt of sin.
Have you trusted Him alone
as your Redeemer?
Look to Christ by Faith, turn from your sin,
and rest in the sufficiency of
the Crucified and Risen Lord.

Psalms created on Truth – Orthodoxy & her Psalterion

Introduction
The Psalms are among the most hauntingly beautiful songs and prayers that this world possesses; they are poems whose appeal is permanent and universal.
As an anthology of 150 gems the Psalter is
a work of consummate art,
a thing of beauty which is a joy for ever;
its loveliness increases.
The most valuable thing the Psalms do for me is to express that same delight in God
which made David dance“,
said the late C. S. Lewis.

The Bible is a presentation of the Divine Drama in which we are all taking part.
The theme of the Drama is
the great acts and interventions of God,
past, present and future.
The Psalms are a distillation of the Old Testament and especially of the teaching
of the Hebrew Prophets.
They sum up
the whole Theology of the Old Testament.
They are the quintessence of the faith and devotion of Israel.
Yet they express the feelings and reactions
not only of one nation but of all mankind.
They reflect timelessly the universal hopes and fears, love and hate, joys and sorrows
of the human heart.
Individually they are the outcome of someone’s personal experience, though not perhaps all of them.
They reveal the varying moods of the human spirit from awestruck wonder at God’s mighty acts and the marvels of creation to groping perplexity at the apparent prosperity
of selfish scoundrels, from calm trust and deep certainty to cries of frustration
and desperation bordering on despair.
In these ancient poems we see the fundamental unity of mankind
and of the Old and New Testaments.
The unity is that of Promise and Fulfilment.

If the relic of a Saint or loved one is dear to us,
how much more precious is everything
connected with Jesus Christ, the Lord of Life.
The Psalter was both His Prayer Book and Song Book.
While dying on the Cross,
the only portion of Holy Scripture
that Christ quoted was the Psalter.
Of His seven last words, four of them are echoes from the Book of Psalms:
My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?
[Psalm 21: 2; Matth.27:46; Marc.15: 34];
I thirst” [John.19: 28; Psalm 41: 2; 62: 2; 142: 6];
It is done, accomplished, finished” [Psalm 21: 32; John.19: 30];
“Into Your hands I entrust My spirit” [Psalm 30: 6; Luc.23: 46].

Fullness and Fulfilment
We only realize the full significance of the Psalms
as we read them in Christ, the Truth,
through His eyes, and in His Spirit.
Faith is vision. Unbelief is blindness.
If the Good News is veiled,
it is veiled only to those
who have lost their way.
When the Old Testament is read,
a veil lies over their minds.
Only in Christ is the veil removed.
The minds of unbelievers are so blinded by the god of this world
that the light of the glorious Gospel of Christ
cannot dawn upon them.
God Who told light to shine out of darkness
has shone in our hearts with the light of the knowledge
of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ [2Cor.4-6].
So let all Israel know for certain
that God has made Jesus Whom you crucified
both Lord and Messiah [Acts 2: 36].

Israel failed to respond to the Divine call
and commission to give God’s light and love to the world.
The vine lifted out of Egypt (Psalm.79: 9; Matth.2: 15) is Jesus; the True Vine [John.15].
As the true Israel He fulfils Israel’s mission,
so that from the Cross and Resurrection
the New and True Israel is the community of those
whose hearts receive by faith the Divine Word spoken in Him [Hebr.1: 2].
His life is offered that it may flow in our veins as the Blood of the New Covenant,
the fruit of the vine [Marc.14: 24],
the love that conquers death [1 Cor.15: 54-57].
When the risen Lord walked and talked
with Lucas and Cleophas:
He began with Moses and all the Prophets
and explained to them the passages
which referred to Himself in every part of the Scriptures
“.
And at Emmaus He added,
This is what I meant when I said, while I was still with you, that everything written about Me in the law of Moses
and in the Prophets and Psalms was bound to be fulfilled

Luc.24: 27, 44

The songs of Israel find their full meaning only in the New Adam.
The Psalmist’s voice is his Master’s voice.
It was the Spirit of Christ in the Prophets foretelling the sufferings in store for Christ and the Glories that would follow.
And it was revealed to them
that it was not for themselves
but for you that they were administering those very Mysteries,
Which have now been announced to you through those who preached the Gospel
to you in the Power of the Holy Spirit [1Petr.1: 11].
Christ’s Birth, Sufferings and Death,
His triumphant Resurrection and Ascension, and His coming in Judgment,
are all clearly portrayed in the Psalms,
not merely as historical events but as perpetual and saving realities.
The eternal Spirit transforms history into Theology.
Saint Athanasius the Great says that the line of the Psalmist,
Open your mouth wide
and I will fill it
[80: 11] refers
to receiving the Gift of the Holy Spirit
“.
The outpouring of the Spirit is the fulfilment of the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms.

Correspondence and Recapitulation
The Christian Church accepted the
Old Testament as sacred Scriptures.
The Apostles and Christian preachers and teachers cited passages of the Old Testament
as Prophecies of the events of the Gospel.
They also saw correspondences between things and events under the Old and New Covenants.
The Exodus from Egypt and the giving of the Law and the Covenant have their counterpart in the redemption of mankind through the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ and the giving of the New Covenant in His blood [1Cor.11: 25]
and the new commandment which fulfils the Law [John.13: 34; Gal.5: 14; Rom.13: 10].
The temple at Jerusalem has its counterpart in the temple of the Church
composed of living stones [Eph.2: 20-22; 1Petr.2: 5].
The Heavenly Manna has its counterpart in
Jesus as the heavenly bread of life [John.6: 32-58].
The Creation of the earthly man has its counterpart
in the New Creation born in the death and Resurrection
of the Heavenly Man Who is the Lord from Heaven
[John.12: 24; 1Cor.15: 47-49; 2Cor.5: 17].
Adam, the head of a sinful race of mortals,
has his counterpart in Christ, the second Adam, the New Man,
the head of a race of immortals [1Cor.15: 45-49].
In all these ways the New Covenant recapitulates the Old Covenant.

Similarly Christ was seen to be both [High-]Priest and Victim [Hebr. 8: 1 – 9: 15].
He is the Sacrificial Lamb and also the Victorious King [John.1: 36; 18: 37].
He is the Good Shepherd and also the Lion of the tribe of Judah [Psalm. 22; John.10: 11; Rev.5: 5].
He is the Son of Man foreseen by the Prophet Daniel [7: 13,14] destined to receive an eternal Kingdom
and also the Son of God foreseen by the Prophet David [Psalm 2] destined to reign over all Creation.
Jesus fulfils the role of Israel by attaining
the Triumph of His kingdom and Exaltation through Humiliation and Obedience to the point of death [Marc.14: 21; Hebr.2: 5-9; Isaiah 53].

The Church also understood that Jesus was the Word
(John.1: 14; 1John.1: 1; Rev.19: 13].
He was Himself the utterance of God’s Love and Grace,
Light and Truth in the world.
The utterances of the Old Testament had been
partial, incomplete, fragmentary, preparatory, Prophetic.
In Jesus we have the fullness and finality of the Divine utterance.
Jesus embodies the Divine utterance both in His teaching and in Himself.
The Word and the Person are completely identical.
The Word Who became flesh [John.1: 14] was in origin and originally God [John.1: 1),
ever at work with the Father and the Spirit in the creation of the world [John.5: 17],
ever giving life and light to men and angels [John.1: 9].
And so we see that the Word is a Person.
Life is not something but Someone [Gal.2: 20; Phil.1: 21].
The whole pageant of the past is recapitulated
in the Gracious Personality of Jesus the Messiah.
He recapitulates in His Person the whole destiny of mankind [Eph.1: 10].
God has predestined men to become
conformed to the image of His Son [Rom.8: 29].

The Church and the Bible
Under both Old and New Covenants the Church preceded the Bible.
The essential role of the Church, as of the individual Christian,
is to bear witness to experience, to what has been seen and heard
[Acts 1: 8; 4: 20; 22: 15].
Man’s vocation and destiny are supernatural
[Hebr.3: 1; Rom.8: 29; 2Tim.1: 9; 1Cor.1: 2].
Scripture is a communication of Divine Light
to guide us in the way of perfection [Matth.5: 48].
To know Christ (Truth) is to love Him and be free [1John.4].
So a supernatural Revelation of God’s Nature, Will and Purpose is essential.
Such is the Word of God contained in the Bible.
It is a love-letter written by our Heavenly Father
and transmitted by the sacred writers to the human race
on our pilgrimage towards our Heavenly country [Saint John Chrysostomos].
Readers of the Bible have the Church to guide them.
No Prophecy of Scripture is a matter of private interpretation,
nor can it be understood by one’s own powers.
For no Prophecy ever originated in the human will,
but Holy men of God spoke as they were prompted by the Holy Spirit [2Petr.1: 20].
It is the Church’s mission to interpret the Bible.
People who live humbly and honestly in the fellowship of the Church
have their minds conditioned
and attuned to understand the Scriptures
as the Revelation of the mind of God
[1Cor.2: 16; Phil.2: 5; 2Petr.3: 1]

The Nature of the Psalms
It would be a mistake to think that the Psalms
are a beautiful expression of nature Mysticism,
inspired by the natural beauty of the countryside
and the soothing sounds of softly murmuring streams.
They are rather the war-songs of the Prince of Peace,
the vigorous shouts and cries of the whole man,
responding or reacting with his whole being to the One Who comes to him in all the circumstances of life.
Jesus Himself tells us that we shall never see Him
until we say in every situation:
Blessed is He Who comes in the Name of the Lord” [Luc.13: 35].
In this matter of the Sanctification of the total man
made to love God with His whole nature
” [Luc.10: 27],
Israel was unlike the religions of the world.
The New Israel, the Church of Christ, inherits and continues this Tradition and
should develop it in an even more thoroughgoing manner.

The Jews prayed and worshipped with spirit, soul and body.
They beat their breasts, clapped their hands, stretched out their arms,
fell prostrate on the ground; they sang, they shouted, they danced;
they used drums, tambourines, cymbals, castanets, bells, horns, trumpets, pipes,
and various stringed instruments.
We find these features in the Psalms.
Saint Isaac the Syrian says:
Every prayer in which the body does not participate
and by which the heart is not affected
should be reckoned as an abortion without a soul
“.

Varieties of prayer are found in the Psalms:
Worship and Bowing Down, Love and Adoration, Meditation and Contemplation,
Stillness and Watching, Waiting and Listening, Hope and Desire,
Acts of Faith and Trust, Praise and Blessing,
Exaltation and Magnification, Repentance and Confession,
Weeping and Groaning, Exultation and Thanksgiving, Joy and Gladness,
Vows and Affirmations, Exorcism and Adjuration, Surrender and Submission,
Petition and Intercession.
We need to learn afresh the Christian use of the Psalter.
One reason for the neglect of the Psalms
in our devotional life is the disproportionate attention given
to critical and historical research in modern biblical study,
to the almost total exclusion of the Vital meaning
and Purpose of the Word of God.
To be ignorant of Scripture is not to know Christ“, says St. Jerome.

Practical Use of the Psalter
The Church never merely studied the Psalms.
They were her chief book of devotion.
Her divine Founder had quoted them,
had used them in prayer,
had explained them to His disciples,
and had died with them on His lips.
The Apostles ordered the faithful to use the Psalms both in their personal lives
and in community worship [Jac.5: 13; Col.3: 16; Eph.5: 19].
Saint Jerome tells us that at Saint Paula’s funeral in 404,
the Psalms were sung now in Greek, now in Latin, now in Syriac;
and this not only during the three days that elapsed before she was buried,
but throughout the rest of the week.
He also says that the Psalms sung in churches were also sung in the fields:
The toiling reaper sings Psalms as he works,
and the vine-grower, as he prunes his vines,
sings one of David’s songs. [so what are we doing during our daily work???]

At first the Psalter was the only hymnbook available.
Many both of the clergy and laity knew it by heart.
Saint Germanus in Constantinople and Saint Gregory in Rome
refused to consecrate as bishops men
who were unable to recite the Psalter.
A disused canon so ruled.
Even when the Church Services began to be compiled,
the Psalter was the Church’s first Service Book,
and it retains that position to this day.
All the services draw heavily upon the Psalms.
The Psalter is a quarry and treasury of Christian prayer and devotion.

Poetic Characteristics
The Psalms are poetry and this version retains the original poetic form
by printing the lines as in the Septuagint.
Much is lost when the Psalms are printed as prose.
Hebrew verse does not rhyme except occasionally and accidentally.
It is based on what is called parallelism, and is mostly in the form of couplets.
The second line of the couplet may be a repetition of the theme in different words,
or a contrast, or a heightened emphasis.
There is rhythm, but little metre.
Often there is a play on words, or assonance, or alliteration, or some figure of speech.
These are not reproducible in translation.
But the parallelism is clearly retained.
If the line endings occasionally rhyme,
that is quite incidental as in the original Hebrew.

It must not be thought that the parallelism of Hebrew poetry
merely means that the second line of every couplet
simply repeats the thought of the first line in different words.
Far from it. It may enrich or amplify the thought of the first line,
or it may modify it in other ways.
For example, the Prophet Isaiah writes [55: 7]:
Let the wicked forsake his ways and the sinful man his thoughts.
Or take the opening words of that wonderful outburst of praise
which the Holy Spirit put on Mary’s lips [Luc.1: 46]:
My soul magnifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour
“.
This does not mean that soul and spirit are therefore identical [cp. 1Thess.5: 23].
Rather it indicates that the second half of the couplet is a result of the first.
With my soul I magnify the Lord
[soul including understanding, intellect, memory, imagination, desire, will].
As a result of my growing consciousness and realization of the greatness
and goodness and glory of God,
my spirit is filled with joy and I exult in God my Saviour.
So the inspired lines are found to contain a simple technique
for the praise of God.

Divergences
Every new translation of the Psalter
has been made primarily for use in the Services
of the Orthodox Church.
It will be found to follow closely and often word for word previous versions made from the Hebrew.
It will also be found to differ widely in many places.
This is because the Orthodox Church
is committed to the Septuagint version of the Bible,
which was the Bible of the whole Christian Church
during the first thousand years of its existence.
It is also the version of the Bible that was used
and quoted by our Lord Jesus Christ and the Apostles, though they also occasionally referred to the Hebrew.
That is why it will be found that this version of the Psalms tallies in almost every instance
with the Psalms quoted in the New Testament whereas the Hebrew Psalms are often widely divergent.
For example, Psalm 4:5,
Be angry, yet do not sin, is quoted word for word by the Apostle Paul [Eph.4: 26].
The Hebrew gives quite a different reading.

If it is asked why the Septuagint often differs
so totally from the Massoretic text,
the answer probably is that Hebrew was a kind of shorthand,
entirely without vowels when the Psalms were written.
It is easy to see that a word like brd could be rendered
bread, bird, bard, brayed, broad, beard, bored, breed,
broody braid, bride, bred, buried.
It is not surprising that there are variant readings.
What is surprising is that the Septuagint
reproduces a vast amount of the Hebrew text almost verbatim,
so that we can often check the Massoretic.
Another reason for differences in the Septuagint
may be that the Seventy translators used a Hebrew version
that differed in many respects from the Massoretic text.

We cannot give footnotes to explain
how we arrive at every puzzling rendering of the Greek,
as it is not within our scope.
If we take a single instance, it will be seen
how lengthy and complicated such explanations could be.
In Psalm 101: 27, change them like clothing could be rendered,
roll them like clothing.
Actually there is a variant reading at this point,
some texts reading roll, others change.
As the thought suggested is
that of a person rolling or stripping off a worn-out garment,
we believe that the word change
faithfully conveys the sense of either Greek word
and also the meaning of the Hebrew original.
In fact, the idea of change and renewal and the rebirth of the soul
as a New Creation is a basic concept throughout Holy Scripture
[cp. John.3: 3-5; 2Cor.5: 17; Gal.6: 15; Eph.2: 10; 4: 24].

Songs with a Difference
The Psalms provide food for the fed up
and Heavenly bread in the wilderness.
But what about the stone-age ethics?
How does King Og aid
our Sanctification or help our prayer?
In some of the Psalms we seem to be thirsting not for God
but for our enemies’ blood.
Sometimes we seem to be howling war-cries with a tribe of savages.
How can we speak the Truth in love with Hebrew tribal’s
who even sink to sacrificing their sons and daughters to demons? [Psalm 105: 37]

 

The purpose of God’s written word of which the Psalms are a part is
to make known to men the saving Truths
that God has revealed to us about Himself in His eternal Being
and about His action in time and place and His plan for the new world order.
Christian Theology is essentially the knowledge of God
and His will revealed to man through God’s action in history, which is truly His story.
Orthodox Theology as a unity of knowledge
is a means to an end that transcends all knowledge.
This end is Union with God.
The Psalms sum up the whole Salvation history and theology of the Old Covenant.
The Lights and shadows of the total panorama are all here.

So the Psalms are unlike the sacred books of the world religions.
The Bible is the record of the life of a community
offered by the Church as divine revelation.
We see the living God in the movement of events.
It is not merely the history of a progressive revelation,
but history as Revelation.
The meaning of the events lies in man’s meeting with God.
The Prophet, like the Priest, is a public person.
His encounter with God is not merely private experience,
like that of the mystics and sages of the world religions.
The pressure of public events
is the normal occasion of the Prophet’s meeting with God.
The Truth which the encounter reveals to his mind is public property.
God’s Choice of the Prophet is not an act of favouritism,
but an invitation or call to special responsibility [cp. Amos 3: 2].
The word of God which gives the vital meaning to history always has a twofold action:
– it is the word of crisis and judgment,
– and it is the creative word of renewal and regeneration.
If anyone is in the Truth, there is a New Creation [cp. 2Cor.5: 17].
Judgment is followed by the New Heavens and New Earth [2Petr.3: 13]
and the Universal Restoration of all things  {Acts 3:21].
The Light that judges us, Transfigures and Saves us” [John.12: 47].
In Your Light we see light” [Psalm 35: 10].
The supreme message of the Psalter is that the Vision of God,
to know and love Him, to trust and obey Him;
and to offer Him the Sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving
is eternal life and happiness [John 6: 40; 17: 3; Luc.10: 25- 28; 1Petr.1: 8f].

The Divine Initiative
The Psalms are the Bible in miniature.
By a kind of Divine tom-tom
they drum into our consciousness the Truth
that we meet God in the world of persons, things and events.
Here and now we are to pass through the visible
and transient to the Invisible and True.
Yet the initiative always rests with God.
The word of God comes out of the everywhere into the here
and breaks into our life from beyond us.
The Bible is a record of God’s search for man.
The people of God are not those
who have a special bent or natural genius for religion.
Far from it.
All the saints would agree
that they had a natural bent for unbelief and waywardness,
but for the Grace of God. “We love because He first loved us” [1John 4: 19].
When we were still sinners Christ died for us [Rom.5: 8].
It was when we were sick and powerless to help ourselves . . . . . when we were enemies
that we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son
” [Rom.5: 6, 10].
His was the first Birth out of death [Col.1: 18].
Last but not least, the Psalms remind us of our response
to God’s love which means life from the dead.
It is the response of obedient love and loving obedience.
“I love You, O Lord, my Strength [Psalm 17: 1].

In the Psalms David speaks as if he were not going to die,
as if God would not leave him in hell or allow him to see corruption [15: 10].
Yet David died and his Kingdom vanished.
Now hear the Apostle Peter at Pentecost:
Men and brethren, I can speak freely to you about the Patriarch David:
he died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day.
But being a Prophet, he foresaw and spoke of the Resurrection of Christ,
when he said that his soul would not be left in hell,
nor would his flesh see corruption.
This Jesus God raised to life
and we are all His witnesses
” [Acts 2: 29f].

The Psalms were the utterances of both David and Christ.
God Who spoke in David and Who became incarnate as the Son of David
was speaking of His own coming into visibility
as the Divine Messiah and of His plan of Salvation.
This plan is only fully revealed in its fulfilment,
when men are filled with the Holy Spirit of God.
The incarnation of the Word
as the visible image of the invisible God [Col.1: 15]
is the supreme demonstration of the Divine Initiative and Intervention.
It is the Climax of God’s search for man
and the discovery and redemption of the lost image
and likeness in the Saviour’s death and Resurrection.

The Messiah
A striking and mysterious figure looms larger and larger
and gradually takes shape, as we read and re-read the Psalms.
He is the Son of God, appointed King on Zion to rule the nations [Psalm 2].
He is addressed as God, His kingdom is to last for ever,
His Reign is gentle and just, yet strong as iron.
He is lovely with a Beauty beyond the sons of men
and because of His love of justice and goodness
He has a joy surpassing His fellow men [Psalm 44].
He is a King and Judge Who shares the Throne of God.
He is a Priest, not in the Levitical line,
but an Eternal Priest-King like Melchizedek [Psalm 109].
His reign will bring lasting Peace and Justice,
all kings and nations will worship Him,
He will take special care of the poor and destitute
and in Him all the families of the earth will be blessed [Psalm 71].
Yet this Sovereign Ruler of nations
Whom all mankind will worship will undergo terrible sufferings,
will be treated as an outcast, a worm
and not a man, will endure outrageous handling by men
who have become more like wild beasts: bulls, lions and dogs.
And they will strip Him and pierce His hands and feet
and will then stand and gloat over Him [Psalm 21].
Yet when He comes in Judgment to claim His Kingdom,
it will be a world-wide assembly, including rich and poor alike,
who will all worship Him and partake of
a sacrificial meal in His honour [Psalm 21, 93, 95].
Such is the King Messiah, portrayed especially in
5 Messianic Psalms: 2, 21, 44, 71 and 109.
They foretell the advent, Kingdom, Priesthood, sufferings, death,
Resurrection and Ascension of the coming Redeemer.
But different facets of the same Face and Person
are sprinkled throughout the Psalter
and we need them all to get the full Portrait.

Figures and Symbols
The Psalms foreshadow in figure and symbol,
the way of life and freedom
• fully revealed only in the New Adam
[Rom.5: 12f., 1Cor.15: 21f.],
the New Noah, father of the new race
• who rise from the baptismal waters [1Petr.3: 20f; 2Petr.2: 5],
• the Prophet like Moses [Deut.18: 15, 18; John 1: 21, 46; 6: 14, 32; Acts 3: 22].
• So He explains the miracle of the bronze serpent
which Moses fixed to a sign-post or standard
and which brought a change of heart [Num.21: 9]:
As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness,
so must the Son of Man be lifted up,
that whoever believes in Him may not perish but have eternal life [John 3: 14].

But the crucial and decisive event of
the old Covenant history was the Exodus from Egypt,
which the Psalms mention so frequently.
Just as the Christian remembers and relives the Sacrifice of Christ
by the celebration of the Liturgy, so the Jew recalls and re-enacts the Exodus
by the celebration of the Passover.
This act of Worship is not just an escape from the present into the past,
but a means of actual experience.
The Passover ritual says:
In every generation it is a man’s duty to imagine
that he himself has escaped from Egypt” [cp. Ex.13: 8].

As Moses led the Hebrew slaves out of Egyptian bondage
through the Red Sea towards the Promised Land
and celebrated their escape or deliverance by the sacrifice of the Passover Lamb,
so Christ the True Lamb of God by His Sacrifice on the Cross
leads men through the red sea of His life-giving blood
out of the real slavery of sin
into the Glorious freedom of the Children of God,
Which is Heaven on earth or the Promised Land.
The Great theme of history is the conflict between belief and unbelief.
Human societies like human beings live by Faith
and die when Faith dies [Rom.1: 17; Jac.2: 20].
Faith is the light in which we see God.
As we grow in faith and love,
the Mystery and Unity of the Exodus
and Christ’s Passover becomes more and more
a matter of personal experience.
Yet the experience is not the essential reality,
but only an effect of the reality
which is infinitely beyond experience, namely God in us:
Christ in you [Col.1].

By faith in Christ [John 5: 24]
and by the New Birth [John 3: 3-5]
we enter a new dimension of life and become amphibians, living at once in time and eternity.
We are at the same time in the wilderness and in the Promised Land.
Our life is in Heaven [Phil.3: 20].
God has enthroned us with Christ in Heaven [Eph.2: 6].
The Songs of Zion will tell us again and again that by faith
we are Christ’s Body in this world [1Cor.12: 27]
and that He lives in us [Col.1: 27; 2: 6; Gal.2: 20].
– Be what you are! they keep saying.
– Be forgiven, be reconciled, be friends with God,
– be clean, be free, be filled with the Spirit,
– be whole, be Holy, be Children of God,
– be citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven! [Phil.3: 20].

Some Difficulties
Some people object to parts of the Psalms
because they seem to contradict
the Divine Law of Love taught by Christ.
But the Mystery of the Divine wrath and vengeance
reveals the total incompatibility of evil with the Divine Nature.
You who love the Lord, hate evil” [Psalm 96: 10; Rom.12: 9].
Judgment and vengeance belong to God and must be left to Him [Deut.32: 35].
God’s Judgment is His Appearance, Manifestation, Epiphany [Psalms 49: 1-4; 79: 2; 93: 1].
In its Fullness this appearing or manifestation refers to the Incarnation,
when Christ becomes the visible criterion in Whose Light we see light [Psalm 35: 10].
All the evil and malice of the world culminates in the Crucifixion of Christ.
When vengeance is left to God,
it takes the form of the agony and death of the God-man.
God takes His own medicine.
With Christ we are to hate the reign of evil, the vile spirits and passions
that prevent the reign of Christ in our hearts and in the world.
As we hate and forsake sin, we become free
to love and pray and labour for God’s Reign and Rule on earth.

Spiritual things must be spiritually understood.
People contrast spirit and letter.
But what letter is there in the Word of God
Who says Himself, My words are spirit and life? [John 6: 63].
Truly the letter kills [2Cor.3: 6].
To a literalist the message and meaning of the Bible
is bound to elude his most meticulous search.
The resident aliens whom God’s people are to drive out of Canaan
are the enemies of the human soul.
The harsh Psalms are the strong weapons used by the Church to exorcize
and drive out evil spirits from the souls and bodies of men.
The weapons of our warfare are not material,
but are powerful with God for the overthrow of the enemy’s strongholds [2Cor.10: 4].
The Word of God which is the Sword of the Spirit [Eph.6: 17]
is given us to expel evil and idle thoughts and replace them
by the Divine Light of the Beauty of Holiness and Truth.
Let the word of God dwell in you richly [Col.3: 16].

Other people object that they cannot sincerely say with some of the Psalms
that they are blameless, innocent, faithful, holy; it seems hypocritical.
Still others say that they do not share the agony and suffering of the Psalmist,
that their knees are not weak from fasting,
and how can they give thanks for joys and victories
they have never experienced?
The trouble with all these people is
that they have lost the sense of solidarity and unity with all mankind in Christ,
still less do they have a sense of the unity of all being in God.

After Pentecost when the Spirit restored men to unity, we read,
The whole Body of believers had one heart and soul, and none of them called any of his possessions his own, but everything was shared as common property“. Acts 4: 32
We cannot repeat too often that the Psalms refer to Christ and can be applied fully only to Him.
“But it is Christ in you Who is the hope of Glory for you”. Col.1: 27
He ever lives to make intercession in you,
with you, for you“. Hebr.7: 25
The Psalms teach us to enlarge our hearts or consciousness to embrace all mankind.
Remember those who suffer as if you shared their pain“.
Hebr.13: 3

Today we hear much of the priesthood of the laity.
The Psalms, if used aright, compel us to exercise our priesthood
and act as the voice of all mankind in Christ,
the one Mediator Priest and Intercessor.
We even act as the mouth of all dumb creation
to thank and glorify God for His Goodness.
The Angels in Heaven and all God’s creatures are invited to join the Divine praises.
To Him Who loves us and has washed us from our sins in His own blood
and made us a Kingdom of priests to serve His God and Father,
to Him be Glory and Triumph throughout endless ages [Rev.1: 5].
As we pray with and for all mankind,
we get a vision of hidden realities visible only to the eyes of faith
and we actually begin to see God’s New Creation taking shape.
When He appears, we shall be like Him,
for we shall see Him as He is [1John 3: 2].
If we are faithful, God will keep us till the end.
So Saint Athanasius explains Psalm 93:14 thus:
The Lord will guard His people in their troubles and afflictions
and He will direct and guide them until His Justice returns in judgment,
that is, until Christ judges the world;
for God has made Him our wisdom, our righteousness
,
our holiness and our redemption [1Cor.1: 30].
But disobedience always incurs God’s Judgment” [Jer.44].

The Cross is the Key
Og, Sehon, Pharaoh are so many troubles and trials.
“There is plenty of suffering and misery on earth”. 2Tim.3: 12
We make use of it aright when we offer it in union with the sufferings of Christ.
In union with Christ our sufferings assume infinite redemptive value,
just as a drop of water thrown into a great river does all that the river does“.
cf. Col.1: 24
In this way our sufferings are transformed into Light and Power and Joy.
We find true happiness by dying
because we can only enter Heaven
by dying to earthly things

cf. Acts 14: 22
That is why the Cross is the key to the Psalms, as it is the key to the Kingdom.
“Unless the grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies,
it remains alone, merely a grain of wheat”.
John 12: 24
It is when Christ is lifted up that He draws all to Himself into the Unity of the Spirit.
It is by dying that Jesus has drawn all into the triumph of His Resurrection.
So Caiaphas prophesied “that Jesus would die for the nation
and not for the nation only, but to re-unite into one family
the scattered children of God
“.
John 11: 51, 52

Importance of the Psalterion
All the Psalms have as their aim the Glorification of God.
They were sung in the Temple, in the Synagogues, and in Jewish homes.
Today they are used by both Jews and Christians, uniting us in praise.
The Psalter is the hymnbook of the universal Church.
It is difficult to overestimate the importance of the Book of Psalms.
The Hebrew poets took these timeless religious experiences
and made them the theme of their songs.
The Psalms are poems intended to be sung.
The Hebrew title means Songs of Praise.
But they can be read with a song in the heart,
they can be prayed in Spirit and Truth.
The inspired poets of Israel reflect the spiritual experience of the human soul.
So the Psalms belong to all mankind.
As there is no book in the New Testament corresponding to the Book of Psalms,
the Psalter belongs to both the New and Old Covenants
and forms a bridge linking the Old and New Testaments.
It is eloquent proof of the Unity of the Bible.
The Psalms constitute one of the most vital forms of prayer for men of all time.
Their Inspiration is expressly stated [2Sam.23: 1-5].

At the time when the Psalms were written they were not of such use
to those among whom they were written as they are to us,
for they were written to foretell the New Covenant among those
who lived under the Old Covenant [Saint Augustine].
The one great theme is Christ in regard to His inner life as the God-man
and in His past, present and future relations with the Church and the world.
The Psalter is the expression of the heart of the True man.
It is the Prophetic portrait [Icon] of the mind and heart of the coming Saviour.
God speaks to men in human words.
What wonderful Beauty there is in the words,
Let the lifting up of my hands be an evening Sacrifice [Psalm 140],
when applied to the one great Sacrifice of our Redemption
which was offered in the evening of the world
and on the eve of the Passover by the stretching out of the Saviour’s hands
to embrace all mankind on the Cross!
This we sing daily at Vespers.
What profound significance we can see in the words,
I will not die but live and proclaim the works of the Lord” [Psalm 117: 17],
when we refer them to the morning of the Resurrection and that first Easter Day
and the commission to the Apostles to make disciples of all nations!
This we sing daily at Matins. On Easter Day itself we sing.
This is the day which the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it!
” [Psalm 117: 24].
And every day is the New day fresh from the and
in addition of the living God, so let us keep festival [1Cor.5: 8].

Inspiration
The inspiration of the Psalms as an integral part of inspired Scripture
is vouched for and guaranteed by Christ the Truth, Who asked the Pharisees:
How is it that David, inspired by the Spirit, calls Christ Lord, saying Psalm 109: 1:
The Lord said to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand till I put Thy enemies under Thy feet’“.
If David calls Him Lord, how can He be his son? [Matth.22: 43-45].
Christ classes the Psalms,
the chief book of the Chetubim or Hagiographa,
with the Law and the Prophets [Luc.24: 44].
Inspiration is explicitly defined in 2Tim.3: 16 and 2Petr.1: 20, 21.

Date and Authorship
The title of Psalm 89 attributes it to Moses.
The psalm itself recalls how the first generation of Israelites
were doomed to die in the wilderness
for their infidelity and disobedience.
So about 1280 B.C. some of the Psalms were probably being sung.
The titles ascribe 84 of the 150 to David, who lived about 1000 B.C.
So the earliest of the Psalms are well over 3000 years old
and the compilation covered perhaps 1000 years.
There are indications of editing at different dates.
For instance, after Psalm 71 an editor has added:
The songs of David the son of Jesse are ended.
But later we meet more Psalms attributed to David,
evidently inserted by other editors [90, 92, 93 etc.].
The Book of Psalms was perhaps completed
for the Jewish canon by about 300 B.C.
The Greek translation was made in Egypt
about 250 B.C. by Jews of the dispersion.

We cannot summarize the matter of authorship
better than by quoting the words of Saint Gregory the Dialogist:
Who was the author?
A very useless question as soon as we believe
that the book was the work of the Holy Spirit
Who dictated what was to be written.
If we received a letter from a Great Personage,
would we be curious to know what pen he used to write it?
“.

Historical Coverage
Besides studying the past, we can sing songs about it.
That is what the Psalmists did.
The whole History of the world as recorded in the Old Testament,
from the Creation of the universe till after the Babylonian Exile,
is put into poetry by the Psalmists.
Psalm 136 looks back to the Babylonian Exile
as a thing of the past [cp. also Psalm 125].

Unity and Divisions
The Psalms form a single book.
So our Lord refers to them [Luc.20: 42]
and so do His Apostles [Acts 1: 20].
The Orthodox Church has divided the Psalter
into 20 kathismas or sessions
[perhaps because it is customary to sit during the reading of a kathisma].
Each kathisma is further divided into 3 sections, marked by a Glory.
At each Glory it is customary to stand and sing as follows:

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and
to the Holy Spirit,
now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.
Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia. Glory to You,
O God.
Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia. Glory to You,
O God.
Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia. Glory to You,
O God.
Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit,
now and ever, and to the ages of ages.                                                                                            Amen
“.
Mp3:  Romanian Orthodox Chant – Psalm 1,2,3 at Putna Monastery

Effect of the Psalms
People talk of haunted houses.
The Psalter is a house of prayer haunted by the Spirit of Christ
Who inspired the Psalms.
Used aright, they cannot fail to lift us above and beyond ourselves.
They confront us with God and we find ourselves haunted
by His presence and gradually brought face to face with Him.
They bring our hearts and minds into the presence of the living God.
They fill our minds with His Truth in order to unite us with His Love.
The Saints and Holy Fathers of the Church,
like the Patriarchs and Prophets of Israel,
were haunted by the living reality of the Redeemer
revealed to the world in the Psalter.
He is the Word of God hidden in these words of God.
As you persevere in praying the Psalms,
you will be drenched with the Holy Spirit
as the trees are drenched with the rain [Psalm 103: 16],
you will be rapt in God and penetrated from time to time
with vivid intuitions of His action,
your mind and heart will be purified.
The pure in heart know God as the Father of mercies
Who has so loved the world as to give His only Son for their redemption [John 3: 16]
and they see Him making all things New [Rev.21: 5].
They see and know Him not merely by faith, still less by speculation,
but by Interior and incommunicable Experience.
As we sing His Glories, we are led by Faith to see His vast activity in every aspect of life.
By beholding the Glory of the Lord, we are transformed into His likeness
from Glory to glory by the Spirit of God [2Cor.3: 18].
But this will only happen if we see Christ
as the way, the truth and the life of the Psalms [John 14: 6],
the Great God in Whom we live and move and have our being [Acts 17: 28].
As we persevere in seeking His Face, we find that the Psalms stir and arouse in us
the will to Believe and the will to Love.
By Faith and Love we pass into the realm of Eternal Reality
and new vistas of experience open before us [John 5: 24].

The Voice and The Voices
The Church functions as a voice.
Its ministers are servants of the word [Luc.1: 2].
The Word of life was made visible. Life is a Person.
The eternal life that was with the Father was made visible to us.
What we have seen and heard we declare to you,
that you may share our fellowship,
the life we share with the Father and His Son in the unity of the Spirit,
that our joy may be complete [1John 1: 1-4].
In one who is obedient to His word,
the Divine love has indeed reached perfection [1John 2: 5].
In the Psalms many voices are audible:
• sometimes it is the Psalmist Who speaks,
• sometimes a fool, sometimes Israel,
• sometimes the soul, sometimes evil spirits,
• sometimes the Father, sometimes the Son, sometimes the Spirit;
• sometimes the Messiah seems to be identified with Israel,
as in the Suffering Servant of Isaiah.
With these swift transitions,
it is often difficult at first sight to tell who is the speaker.
As in the Psalms, so it is in our lives:
• “Be still and know I am” [Psalm 45: 11].
• “Speak Lord, for Your servant is listening” [1Sam.3: 9].
The good Shepherd says,
• “My sheep hear My voice” [John 10: 27].
• The voice of the Psalmist is the Voice of Christ.
• The Voice of the bride is the Voice of the Bridegroom.
“He who hears you, hears Me” [Luc.10: 16].

Come you also
– And the Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come’.
– And let everyone who hears say, ‘Come’.
– And let everyone who is thirsty come,
– and let everyone who has the will to do so take the water of life as a free gift [Rev.22: 17].
– Here the Spirit of God and the Church with one voice
invite every living soul to come to the only fountain of life and happiness.
– Then every listening soul is told to cry out of the depths of his hunger and need, Come!
Finally the thirsty and needy and willing are told to come
and receive the Water of Life freely.

Here we have two comings:
– the final coming of Christ to the world and
– the coming of each soul to Christ.
In fact, Christ comes to us continually in all the changes and chances of our lives,
supremely in the Mystery of Communion [1Cor.11: 23-30; John.6: 31-58],
and in many special Manifestations of His real Presence [John.14: 19-23].
The Psalms tell us that we cannot find
satisfaction in sin or work or riches or culture or honour and glory.
But in Jesus we find here and now Satisfaction and Happiness, Pardon, Purity and Peace:
Happy are those who hunger and thirst for Righteousness [Christ],
for they will be satisfied [Matth.5: 6).
Pardon: In Him we have the forgiveness of our sins [Eph.1: 7].
Purity: He has washed us from our sins in His own blood [Rev.1: 5].
Peace: My peace I give you (Jn. 14:27). He is our Peace [Eph.2: 14].

And so we watch in eager expectation
for the coming of the Son of God in power and glory,
praying and working for that golden age foreseen and foretold
by the holy Prophets where God’s Will of perfect Love is done on earth
as it is in Heaven.
Let us take as our motto the words of the Psalmist:
I will live to please the Lord in the land of the living [Psalm 114: 9],
the Promised Land, the honeycomb of the earth [Ez.20: 6 LXX],
peace beyond all understanding [Phil.4: 7],
the joy of the Lord [Matth.25: 23],
Heaven within you [Luc.17: 21],
Divine life in the soul of man [2Cor.5: 15],
sharing the Divine Nature [2Petr.1: 4].
He who has the Son has the Life [1John 5: 12].
Come, Lord Jesus, come [Rev.22: 20].

Panegyric on the Psalms [from Saint John Chrysostom – Extract]
If we keep vigil in Church, David comes first, last and central.
If early in the morning we want songs and hymns, first, last and central is David again.
If we are occupied with the funeral solemnities of those who have fallen asleep,
or if virgins sit at home and spin,
David is first, last and central.
O amazing wonder!

Many who have made little progress in literature know the Psalter by heart.
Nor is it only in cities and churches that David is famous;
in the village market, in the desert, and in uninhabitable land,
he excites the praise of God.
In monasteries, among those holy choirs of angelic armies,
David is first, last and central.
In the convents of virgins, where are the communities of those who imitate Mary;
in the deserts where there are men crucified to the world,
who live their life in Heaven with God,
David is first, last and central.
All other men at night are overcome by sleep.
David alone is active, and gathering the servants of God into Seraphic bands,
he turns earth into Heaven, and converts men into Angels”.
cf. Father Lazaros Moore – 1st printed 1966

Orthodoxy & the visit at the home of the two sisters

“Trust in the Lord at all times;
people, pour out your heart before Him:
God is a refuge for us”.
Psalm 61: 8

In the Gospel of Lucas,
Jesus visits the home of two sisters
named Mary and Martha,
living in an unnamed village.
Mary is contrasted with her sister Martha,
who was “cumbered about many things
Luc.10: 40
while Jesus was their guest,
while Mary had chosen “the better part“,
that of listening to the master’s discourse.

Though they are not specifically named as such in the Gospels, the Orthodox Church counts Mary and Martha among the Myrrh-bearing Women.
These faithful followers of Jesus stood at Golgotha during the Crucifixion of Jesus
and later came to His tomb early on the morning following the Sabbath with myrrh,
according to the Jewish tradition, to anoint their Lord’s body.
The Myrrh-bearers became the first witnesses
to the Resurrection of Jesus, finding the empty tomb
and hearing the joyful News
from an angel.

Orthodox tradition also relates that Mary’s brother Lazaros was cast out of Jerusalem
in the persecution against the Jerusalem Church
following the Martyrdom of Saint Stephanos.
His sisters Mary and Martha fled Judea with him,
assisting him in the proclaiming of the Gospel in various lands.
The three later moved to Cyprus,
where Lazarus became the first Bishop of Kition [today Larnaca].
All three died in Cyprus.

You are the only one who makes the choice
Have you ever met an individual that just seemed to have God all over them?
It seemed that they possessed a walk with the Lord
that was head and shoulders above anything you have ever experienced yourself
and you wondered how they accomplished it.
Well, I have been there! I think the answer lies in what they have discovered.
It just seems to me that some people have learned
to abide at the feet of Jesus as they go through life
and this translates into peace of heart,
Power of life and Purpose before God.
I want that kind of life for myself! How about you?
I would like to be constantly and consistently filled
with the Holy Spirit of God
and I would like to be found at the feet of Jesus.

The Gospels mention a woman named Mary.
She was the sister of Lazarus and Martha
and she is mentioned 3 times in the Gospel account.
Every time Mary is mentioned, she is always found
at the feet of Jesus.
Her experiences there can teach us
all some valuable lessons about our own walk with the Lord.
Today, we want to take a few minutes
and join Mary at the feet of Jesus.

1.]. a place of stillness [Luc.10; 38-42]
Martha opened her home to Jesus and did her best to be a good hostess.
Mary, on the other had opened her heart to Jesus
and tried her best just to love the Lord.
She found a place where:
a.] She Could forget her Cares –
while Martha was “cumbered“,
Mary was sitting, calmly listening to the Words of Jesus.
When we come into His presence, [i.e., in prayer, Bible reading, worship, etc.],
the burdens of life tend to grow amazingly light.
It would do many Christians good to learn to sit in His presence and forget about the cares of the whole World.
Learn to love the Lord more than your worries
and you will be able to find that calm place
in His blessed Presence.
When we focus our attention on Him,
other things tend to become very shadowy [Phil.4: 6-9]

b.] She could feed her Soul
– Martha was worried over physical nourishment
while Mary was more concerned
with getting her soul fed.
In His presence, we will find food for our souls and strength for our journey.
It is no wonder that many Christians are weak and lacking in spiritual vitality.
They never take the time to just come into His Presence and feed on Him!
We need soul food, or we will dry up spiritually! [2Tim.2: 15; Job 23: 12; 1Petr.2: 2]

c.]. She could focus her priorities
– Looking in on this scene at Martha’s home,
we can tell what each sister’s priorities were.
Martha was concerned with preparing the meal and serving her guests.
Mary, however, was more concerned with being in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Often, the level of spirituality we are able to achieve in life is directly related to the time we are willing
to spend in His presence.
If everything in our lives takes
precedence over being with the Lord,
then we are in danger at the heart of our experience.
Even being overly busy in His work,
to the point where we have no time
to spend at His feet, is a bad thing.
[your first love – Rev. 2: 1-7]
The more time one spends at His feet,
the easier it is to make it a priority in life.
The larger He gets in our eyes, the smaller other things seem to become.
Ask yourself this question:
Is sitting at Jesus’ feet a priority in my life?
We need to seek this Place of stillness before the Lord!

d.] She could find herself
– In sitting at Jesus’ feet, Mary found fulfilment and contentment.
What she found at His feet was worth more than all the money in the world can buy.
In fact, in just sitting at the Lord’s feet,
Mary found something that millions live their entire lives and never discover.
She found acceptance and true contentment.
Those things alone are worth spending time in His presence.
If we as Christians could learn the value of spending time in at His feet,
a lot of psychiatrists and psychologists would have to go out of business.
God has promised us that we can find rest at His feet [2Tim.1: 17].

At the feet of Jesus we can see:
that next to a Place of stillness
and a Place of supplication [John 11: 32]
we can see:
That our Lord’s has interest in the need of His People
– When Jesus arrived in Bethany,
Martha ran out to meet Him.
In their conversation, Jesus demonstrated a great concern for and interest in their need.
After speaking with Martha, Jesus apparently calls for Mary.
He is concerned about the grief and pain that they are experiencing.

Every ‘child of God’ needs to understand
that Jesus cares about our need.
He is interested in what we are experiencing [Hebr.4: 15].
Never think for an instant that God does not care for you.
– That is the devil’s lie!
Jesus is extremely interested in everything
you are facing in life:
Though the Lord is high,
and He respect unto the lowly
“.
Psalm 137: 6
The word “respect” means “to see, discern, behold“.
This tells us that the Lord is looking down at our lives
and He misses nothing that affects His children:
Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing?
and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father.
But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.
Fear you not therefore,
you are of more value
than many sparrows
“.
Matth.10: 19-31

Our Lord’s Invitation To His People
– Jesus called for Mary
to come unto Himself.
She responded and came.
There, she was able to place
her burdens upon the Lord.
The Lord has invited
all His children to come unto Him and experience what He can do in a time of crisis
Cast your burden upon the Lord
and He shall sustain you:
He will never suffer
the righteous to be moved
“.
Matth.11: 28; 1Petr.5: 7; Isaiah 55: 22

Isn’t it amazing that the Person
Who can do the most, the quickest
is often the last One we turn
in a time of need.
=> Resources are to be used persistently,
without question in time of need.
Doctors are to be sent for in sickness.
Lawyers are to be consulted when property
or character needs defence.
The help of all friends is to be sought.
But still after all,
the first thing to be done is to cry to the Lord Jesus for help.
Whether or not you come to Him in a time of trouble,
His invitation is stands.

Mary heard that Jesus was calling her,
she ran to meet Him. What a lesson for God’s children!
When the time of crisis comes, Jesus is always near.
Run quickly to Him and He will meet your need!

Apolyticion        Tn 4
Today is the beginning of our Salvation,
The revelation of the eternal Mystery!
The Son of God becomes the Son of the Virgin
as Gabriel announces the coming of Grace.
Together with him let us cry to the Theotokos:
Rejoice, O Full of Grace,
the Lord is with You!

4th Sunday of Lent – Saint John Climacos – God’s promises

For when God made promise to Abraham,
because He could swear by no greater,
He swore by Himself,
Saying, Surely blessing I will bless you
and multiplying I will multiply you.
And so, after he had patiently endured,
he obtained the promise.
For men verily swear by the greater:
and an oath for confirmation is to them an end of all strife.
Wherein God, willing more abundantly to show unto the heirs of promise
the immutability of his counsel,
confirmed it by an oath:
That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie,
we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge
to lay hold upon the hope set before us:
Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul,
both sure and steadfast, and which enters into that within the veil;
whither the forerunner is for us entered,
even Jesus, made an High Priest
for ever after the order of Melchisedec“.
Hebr.6: 13-20

It seems as though I have heard a lot of promises lately.
Oh, yes, it is an election year isn’t it?
I hope that all of us have figured out that almost all of the promises
we hear from political candidates [whatever their political party] are empty words.
In many instances the candidates promise different things to different people,
knowing that they cannot deliver.
In a few instances, the candidates may actually think that they can deliver,
but chances are they will not.

This message is about the kind of promises
you can count on, promises
you can “take to the bank,” so to speak.
The particular promises
we are dealing with here in this letter of Paul
are those which God has sworn to uphold as unchanging.

Saint Paul has presented the Hebrews a powerful demonstration of the sufficiency of God the Son
in chapters 1 and 2,
and then drew our attention to the deficiency of men in chapters 3 and 4.
He did so by means of the example of the first generation of Israelites to leave Egypt,
and by the lessons the author of Psalm 94 drew from their failures.
He then proceeds to show how the Son is the solution
to our dilemma by means of becoming our Great High Priest,
a priest after the order of Melchizedek.

Having issued a solemn warning to those outside the faith,
the author is quick to reassure his readers
that he is assured of better things concerning their Salvation.
In particular, their lives have demonstrated service to the Saints,
manifesting the love which should characterize those who are followers of Jesus:
“Everyone will know by this that you are my disciples
– if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).

This manifestation of love has continued to the present
and the author hopes that it will continue.
Thus he urges them to persevere in the faith with all diligence,
so that they may realize the full assurance of their hope, up to the very end [Hebr.6: 11].
This will remedy the problem of sluggishness
and will be evident as they imitate others [such as Abraham]
in patiently enduring to the end,
and thus inheriting God’s promises [Hebr.6: 12].

Key of this Text
But we passionately want each of you to demonstrate
the same eagerness for the fulfilment of your hope until the end,
so that you may not be sluggish,
but imitators of those who through faith and perseverance
inherit the promises
“.
Hebr.6: 11-12

The apostle desires for his readers to continue to manifest
the same eagerness and diligence they have demonstrated
in the pursuit of their hope to the very end [Hebr.6: 10].
In doing so, they will be imitators of those, like Abraham and others.
The ones who have demonstrated faith and patient endurance
are those who inherit the promises.

[We know from Hebrews 11: 13-15 & 39-40 that these Old Testament Saints
died without receiving all that God had promised.
They believed, by faith, in what they could not see,
but in what God had promised.
Thus, they still await the full inheritance of the promised blessings
]
.
In this sense, hope is not only the basis for perseverance;
it is also the result of perseverance.
We can find this sequence elsewhere in Scripture.
For example, consider these words in Romans:
Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith,
we have Peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,
through Whom we have also obtained access by faith
into this Grace in which we stand,
and we rejoice in the hope of God’s Glory.
Not only this, but we also rejoice in sufferings,
knowing that suffering produces endurance,
and endurance, character, and character, hope.
And hope does not disappoint, because the love of God
has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit
Who was given to us.
For while we were still helpless,
at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.
(For rarely will anyone die for a righteous person,
though for a good person perhaps someone might possibly dare to die).
But God demonstrates His own love for us,
in that while we were still sinners,
Christ died for us
“.
Rom.5: 1-8

Christians rejoice in the hope of seeing God’s Glory [Rom.8: 18-25]
and they do so in the midst of trials and tribulations.
How can this be?
Paul tells us that God uses suffering to enhance our hope and our endurance.
When we endure suffering by Faith, we experience God’s sustaining strength.
We discover that suffering actually strengthens our faith
because God is faithful to sustain us.
Successful suffering gives us greater confidence in God
and thus it produces hope by assuring us that,
with God’s enablement, we will endure to the end
and thus experience the full revelation of God’s Glory in the future.

What the author of Hebrews is going to do in the verses which follow [6: 13-20]
is to show how God’s Covenant promises undergird and strengthen our hope,
which then becomes the basis for perseverance and endurance in the midst of adversity.
He will show that as we persevere God provides further confidence in His promises,
which enhances our hope.
All of this is God’s way of showing us
that His promises are the basis for our perseverance.
Thus, it really is all about God, and not about our performance.

The Example of Abraham
“The Lord’s angel called to Abraham a second time from Heaven
and said, “‘I solemnly swear by my own name,’ decrees the Lord,
‘that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son,
I will indeed bless you, and I will greatly multiply your descendants
so that they will be as countless as the stars in the sky
or the grains of sand on the seashore.
Your descendants will take possession of the strongholds of their enemies.
Because you have obeyed me, all the nations of the earth
will pronounce blessings on one another
using the name of your descendants’

Genesis 22: 15-18

We begin with the account in Genesis.
The promise which God affirmed by His oath is found in Genesis 22.
It comes immediately after Abraham’s greatest test of faith
– his willingness, if necessary, to sacrifice his son Isaac in obedience to God’s command.
This was now Abraham’s only heir,
the one through whom God’s Covenant blessings would be fulfilled.
And now God commands Abraham to offer this son up as a Sacrifice.
We know from Hebr.11: 19 that Abraham did so in Faith,
believing that if he did so
God would raise Isaac from the dead.

The promise that God made in Genesis 22 was not something new.
It had been made at various times and occasions
during those years before and after Isaac’s birth.
It was initially given in Genesis 12:1-3,
as the basis for leaving both home and family and seeking the Promised Land.
It was repeated in chapter 13 after Abram and Lot separated [Gen.13:14-17].
In chapter 15, God assured Abram that the promised seed
would not be the child of one of his servants, but his own offspring.
We are then told that Abram believed God,
and it was reckoned to him as righteousness [Gen.15: 6].
In response to Abram’s Faith, God sealed this promise
by making it a Covenant with him [Gen.15: 7-21].
In chapter 17, God affirmed his Covenant with Abram
and gave him the sign of circumcision.
He also clarified that the promised son
would not only come through Abram,
but that the mother of that descendant would be Sarai.
God even gave Abram the name of that child – Isaac.
In chapter 18, the Lord specified
that Isaac would be born at the same time the following year.

Over time and by repetition,
God became more and specific about His Covenant with Abraham
and further assurances were also given.
Moses makes it clear that the assurance
is based upon God’s character and His Covenant
and not upon Abraham’s perfect performance.
Several lapses in Abraham’s Faith are recorded in the period
between the initial promise and the offering of Isaac.
In Genesis 12, shortly after the first recording of the Abrahamic Covenant [12: 1-3],
Abram leaves the Promised Land and sojourns in Egypt because of a famine.
To protect himself, Abram passes off Sarai as his sister,
resulting in her being added, for a time, to the Pharaoh’s harem.
It was only God’s divine intervention
that spared Abram’s life and Sarai’s virtue [12: 10-20].

There were further failures as well.
One was when Abram, at his wife’s suggestion,
took Hagar [Sarai’s handmaid] as his concubine
and produced an offspring [Ishmael] through her [Gen.16].
And then in Genesis 20, we find Abraham
repeating his same deception of passing off Sarah as his sister
– resulting in her being temporarily added to Abimelech’s harem.
And lest we think that he only did this on these two occasions,
Abraham’s confession to Abimelech seems to indicate
that this kind of deception was their usual practice:
Abraham replied, “Because I thought, ‘Surely no one fears God in this place.
They will kill me because of my wife.’
What’s more, she is indeed my sister, my father’s daughter,
but not my mother’s daughter. She became my wife.
When God made me wander from my father’s house,
I told her, ‘This is what you can do to show your loyalty to me:
Every place we go, say about me, “He is my brother”’

Gen.20: 11-13

My point in emphasizing Abraham’s failures is
to show that God was faithful to fulfil His promises to Abraham,
even though this man’s faith was not without its failures.
The birth of Isaac was God’s doing, for which Abraham can receive little credit.
Abraham’s faith sometimes failed, but God’s promises to Abraham were certain.

Why Did God Swear to Abraham Later, Rather than Sooner?
So we return to the question I raised earlier:
“Why does God now affirm his Covenant with Abraham
by swearing an oath after the greatest test of his faith?”
Shouldn’t God have given an oath before this test, rather than after it?
Let’s consider some important factors in the answer to this question.

1.]. Hope is the basis for endurance.
Hope inspires and encourages endurance.
We’ve seen this already in verses 11 and 12,
as well as from Romans 5: 1-8.
We see this also in:
For in hope we were saved.
Now hope that is seen is not hope,
because who hopes for what he sees?
But if we hope for what we do not see,
we eagerly wait for it with endurance
“.
Rom.8: 24-25

2.]. Hope is also a reward for perseverance and trusting in God’s promises.
A more certain hope is the fruit of [or reward for] endurance.
God’s promises were the reason why Abraham left his homeland and family
and set out for a new country.
God’s promises assured Abraham in those years
that he and Sarah were growing older
and thus even less able to bear children.
God’s promises inspired Abraham’s faith and thus his endurance.
But the reward for having endured for more than 25 years
was an even greater promise, a promise confirmed by an oath,
a promise that assured Abraham of God’s commitment
to bring His previous promises to fulfilment.
This time the promise of God was confirmed with an oath,
an even greater guarantee than that which he had received earlier.
And thus, Abraham had an even greater hope set before him.

3.]. God’s oath was His confirmation of His promises.
In today’s reading, we are told that men swear in order to confirm their statements
and to remove any doubt about them.
In order to give confirmation of their words,
men must swear by something greater than themselves [Hebr.6: 16].
Thus, when men swear to tell the truth in a court of law,
they swear with their hand on the Bible.
Since God is greater than anyone or anything else,
He can only swear by Himself [Hebr.6: 13].
God swears to remove any doubt
as to the certainty of His promises being fulfilled.

4.]. God’s oath assured Abraham
because he had not yet seen the complete fulfilment of God’s Covenant promises,
nor would he before his death.
These all died in faith without receiving the things promised,
but they saw them in the distance and welcomed them
and acknowledged that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth.
For those who speak in such a way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland.
In fact, if they had been thinking of the land that they had left,
they would have had opportunity to return . . . . .
And these all were commended for their Faith,
yet they did not receive what was promised.
For God had provided something better for us,
so that they would be made perfect together with us
“.
Hebr.11: 13-15, 39-40

 

Abraham was promised the land of Canaan,
but he had to purchase a portion of that land for a burial place.
Abraham was promised descendants that were as numerous as the sand of the sea,
or as the stars in the Heavens, and yet at this point in time he had but one son, Isaac.
Abraham was promised that his seed would become a source of blessing for all nations,
but this promise was not fulfilled as yet either.
As the time of his death drew ever more near,
God knew that Abraham would benefit greatly
from a further confirmation of His covenant promises.
This further confirmation came after the offering of Isaac,
by means of God’s promise being confirmed by an oath.

5.]. The confirmation of God’s promises to Abraham
was not just for Abraham’s benefit, but for his descendants as well.
His oath gives strong encouragement to the heirs of promise:
In the same way God wanted to demonstrate more clearly
to the heirs of the promise that his purpose was unchangeable
and so he intervened with an oath,
so that we who have found refuge in him may find strong encouragement
to hold fast to the hope set before us through two unchangeable things,
since it is impossible for God to lie
“.
Hebr.6: 17-18

His descendants would include Isaac, Jacob, Judah, and David,
but they would also include those Gentiles like us
who share Abraham’s Faith in God:
For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants
that he would inherit the world was not fulfilled through the law,
but through the righteousness that comes by Faith.
For if they become heirs by the law, faith is empty and the promise is nullified.
For the law brings wrath,
because where there is no law there is no transgression either.
For this reason it is by faith so that it may be by Grace,
with the result that the Promise may be certain to all the descendants
– not only to those who are under the law,
but also to those who have the Faith of Abraham,
who is the father of us all
“.
cf. Rom.4: 13-16

6.]. The confirmation of God’s promise to Abraham
made it clear that this Covenant was unconditional,
and thus unchangeable.
In the same way God wanted to demonstrate more clearly
to the heirs of the promise that his purpose was unchangeable
and so he intervened with an oath,
so that we who have found refuge in him
may find strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope
set before us through two unchangeable things,
since it is impossible for God to lie
“.
cf. Hebr.6: 17-18

It is important to recognize
that not all of God’s promises are unconditional [or unchangeable].
Consider, for example this text in Jeremiah:
There are times, Jeremiah, when I threaten
to uproot, tear down, and destroy a nation or kingdom.
But if that nation I threatened stops doing wrong,
I will cancel the destruction I intended to do to it.
And there are times when I promise to build up and establish a nation or kingdom.
But if that nation does what displeases me and does not obey me,
then I will cancel the good I promised to do to it
“.
Jer.18: 7-10

Some prophecies, for example,
are warnings that can be avoided by repentance.
For example, there was the warning that Jonah proclaimed to the Ninevites:
“When Jonah began to enter the city one day’s walk, he announced,
At the end of forty days, Nineveh will be overthrown!”.
Jonah 3: 4

The king of Nineveh called for repentance in case God might be merciful:
He issued a proclamation and said,
In Nineveh, by the decree of the king and his nobles:
No human or animal, cattle or sheep, is to taste anything;
they must not eat and they must not drink water.
Every person and animal must put on sackcloth and must cry earnestly to God,
and everyone must turn from their evil way of living and from the violence that they do.
Who knows? Perhaps God might be willing
to change his mind and relent and turn from his fierce anger
so that we might not die
”.
cf. Jonah 3: 7-9

As the king of Nineveh hoped, and as Jonah assumed,
God was merciful and compassionate, and thus in response to Nineveh’s repentance,
He suspended the judgment
Jonah proclaimed was coming in forty days.
This greatly angered Jonah,
who did not share God’s compassion toward sinners:
This displeased Jonah terribly and he became very angry.
He prayed to the Lord and said,
“Oh, Lord, this is just what I thought would happen
when I was in my own country.
This is what I tried to prevent by attempting to escape to Tarshish!
– because I knew that you are gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and abounding in Mercy
and one who relents concerning threatened judgment.
So now, Lord, kill me instead,
because I would rather die than live!”.
cf. Jonah 4: 1-3

As Jeremiah indicated, the impending judgment that God threatened was stayed,
because He had indicated that repentance may forestall Divine Judgment.
Daniel understood this as well
and this is why he appealed to Nebuchadnezzar to repent,
in order to avoid [or at least forestall] God’s judgment:
This is the interpretation, O king!
It is the decision of the Most High
that this has happened to my lord the king.
You will be driven from human society and you will live with the wild animals.
You will be fed grass like oxen and you will become damp with the dew of the sky.
Seven periods of time will pass by for you,
before you understand that the Most High is ruler over human kingdoms
and gives them to whomever he wishes.
They said to leave the taproot of the tree,
for your kingdom will be restored to you when you come to understand that heaven rules.
Therefore, O king, may my advice be pleasing to you.
Break away from your sins by doing what is right
and from your iniquities by showing mercy to the poor.
Perhaps your prosperity will be prolonged
”.
cf. Daniel 4: 24-27

When God confirmed His covenant with Abraham with an oath,
He was indicating to him that this was a Covenant that was unconditional.
This was done so that Abraham [and his descendants] would be assured
that His promises to him would most certainly be fulfilled.
Nothing would prevent His covenant promises from being fulfilled.

Let me illustrate how this works.
In Genesis 15, God entered into His Covenant with Abraham,
making some very specific commitments regarding the Exodus,
which He sealed by a formal covenant-making process:
The Lord said to him,
“Take for me a heifer, a goat, and a ram, each three years old,
along with a dove and a young pigeon”.
So Abram took all these for him and then cut them in two
and placed each half opposite the other,
but he did not cut the birds in half.
When birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.
When the sun went down, Abram fell sound asleep,
and great terror overwhelmed him.
Then the Lord said to Abram,
Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a foreign country.
They will be enslaved and oppressed for four hundred years.
But I will execute judgment on the nation that they will serve.
Afterward they will come out with many possessions.
But as for you, you will go to your ancestors in Peace and be buried at a good old age.
In the fourth generation your descendants will return here,
for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its limit”.
When the sun had gone down and it was dark,
a smoking fire pot with a flaming torch passed between the animal parts.
That day the Lord made a covenant with Abram:
“To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river,
the Euphrates River
– the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites,
Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites, and Jebusites
”.
Gen.15: 9-21

When the Israelites sinned in worshipping the golden calf,
God threatened to wipe out the nation
and to start a new nation through Moses.
But look at the basis on which Moses intercedes for the Israelites:
So now, leave me alone so that my anger can burn against them
and I can destroy them, and I will make from you a great nation”.
But Moses sought the favour of the Lord his God and said,
“O Lord, why does your anger burn against your people,
whom you have brought out from the land of Egypt
with great power and with a mighty hand?
Why should the Egyptians say,
‘For evil he led them out to kill them in the mountains
and to destroy them from the face of the earth’?
Turn from your burning anger,
and relent of this evil against your people.
Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel your servants,
to whom you swore by yourself and told them,
‘I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven
and all this land that I have spoken about I will give to your descendants
and they will inherit it forever’”.
Then the Lord relented over the evil
that he had said he would do to his people
“.
cf. Exodus 32: 10-14

Moses did not promise God
that the Israelites would try harder and do better.
In truth, they persisted in their unbelief and rebellion,
so that this generation would die in the wilderness
and the second generation would possess the Promised Land under Joshua.
Moses interceded with God on the basis of His [Abrahamic] Covenant promises,
His character, and His glory.
The un-changeableness of this Covenant gave Moses
the courage to boldly intercede for the Israelites.

The author tells us, his readers,
that God gave us strong encouragement
by two specific matters in which He could not lie:
In the same way God wanted to demonstrate more clearly
to the heirs of the promise that his purpose was unchangeable
and so he intervened with an oath,
so that we who have found refuge in Him
may find strong encouragement to hold fast
to the hope set before us through two unchangeable things,
since it is impossible for God to lie
“.
cf. Hebr.6: 17-18

So just what are these “two unchangeable things”?
Scholars do not all agree on this matter,
so I will just tell you my opinion as to
what these “two unchangeable things” are.
I believe these two things are matters
in which God has confirmed His promise with an oath,
matters which are found nearby in Hebrews.
And these would be the two promises which were confirmed by an oath:
Now when God made his promise to Abraham,
since he could swear by no one greater,
he swore by Himself . . .

Hebr.6: 13

And since this was not done without a sworn affirmation
– for the others have become priests without a sworn affirmation,
but Jesus did so with a sworn affirmation by the one who said to him,
The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind,
‘You are a priest forever’”
accordingly Jesus has become
the guarantee of a better Covenant
“.
Hebr.7: 20-22

Thus, I believe that the two unchangeable things
which the author of Hebrews has in mind are the Abrahamic Covenant (chapter 6),
and His oath by which He appointed the Lord Jesus a priest forever,
after the order of Melchizedek (chapter 7).
These two covenant promises are the basis
for our Salvation, Sanctification, and eternal Security.
How much more secure could our Salvation be?

Jesus Christ, our Lord is the Anchor for our Soul
We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, sure and steadfast,
which reaches inside behind the curtain,
where Jesus our forerunner entered on our behalf,
since He became a Priest forever
in the order of Melchizedek
“.
Hebr.6: 19-20

The Apostle changes to different imagery
to describe the Safety and Security of the Christian.
Because our hope is Secure in Christ,
due to God’s oath and His Character,
we need only to cling to Him as our Great High Priest,
Whose substitutionary death on the Cross of Calvary
paid the penalty for our sins
and whose mediatory High-Priestly Ministry at the Father’s right hand
gives us access to draw near for help in our time of need.

The imagery of an anchor should come as no surprise
to the reader of this apostle-reading.
It no doubt is used
because of what we have already read:
Therefore we must pay closer attention
to what we have heard,
so that we do not drift away
“.
cf. Hebr.2: 1

It is not difficult to see how an anchor prevents drifting.
A certain hope in God’s Covenant promises made to Abraham and his descendants,
guaranteed by God’s oath, is the Anchor for our souls.
As it is unchangeable, so it is immovable.
We shall not drift if we cling to Christ.
And these unchangeable promises are found in the Scriptures,
Old Testament and New.
Thus, we dare not neglect God’s final Word,
revealed in the Person of His Son
“.
cf. Hebr.2: 1-4

For what purpose are you coming to Church?

To whom will I have respect,
but (save?) to the humble and meek
and the man that trembles at my words.
For all those things My hand has made
and all those things have been’,
said the Lord:
‘but to this man will I look,
even to him that is poor,
of a contrite spirit,
and trembles at My Word’“.
Isaiah 66: 2

“Awake, O sleeper
and Christ shall shine upon You”.
Eph.5: 14

We know from the life of Saint Arsenius the Great
that after entering upon a life of solitude and prayer
he constantly asked himself,
Arsenios, to what purpose have You gone out?

We as Orthodox Christians, similarly
must ask ourselves each and every time
we approach our Parish church,
for what purpose am I coming to church?

Surely, we attend church for our own spiritual profit.
One might say, yes.       But what is our goal?
We know from many sources
– one of which is the Conversation of Saint Seraphim of Sarov with Moltivilov –
that the reason that we labour at any of the virtues and the ultimate purpose of Christian life is for us to become partakers of the Grace of the Holy Spirit.
But as we know from this same discourse,
one can labour at the virtues to no purpose as the foolish virgins did,
receiving no oil for their lamps, that is,
receiving no Grace for their labours.
It follows that,
yes, we can labour to attend church
and gain nothing.

As Saint Seraphim explains in the same Conversation
and the Lord says:
Not every one that said unto Me: Lord, Lord shall be saved,
but he that does the will of My Father
“.
Matth.7: 21
– that is,
he who does the work of God
and, moreover,
does it with reverence,
‘for cursed be he that does the work of God negligently’
Jer.31: 10, LXX

For this reason the Saints sought to cultivate a reverent fear of God.
Saint David of Thessalonica prayed and fasted for three years while enduring the ascetical feat of dwelling in an almond tree,
in his wisdom he all the while entreated God for this Gift of reverent fear.
As it is recorded in the Life of the Saint,
“When the three years had passed,
a holy angel appeared unto him saying,
‘David,
the Lord has heard your supplication
and grants unto you this favour for which you have asked many times,
that is, that you be humble-minded and modest,
and that you fear Him and worship Him with proper reverence’.
We know from his life that this “Mother Virtue”

[to borrow a term from Saint John Climacus]
gave birth to many spiritual “daughter virtues”
and Saint David was manifested
to all as a clairvoyant wonderworker
“.
from Orthodox Word 1970 May/June, vol. 6 No. 3, pg.123

If one reads the church Service books, one can see
that this reverence and fear of God
is an intrinsic part of the Church’s understanding.
As it is proclaimed in the Great Ektenia:
For this Holy House, and for them that with faith,
reverence, and fear of God enter herein,
let us pray to the Lord
“.

After the Our Father when the deacon commands,
bow your heads unto the Lord“!

[why nobody in Church is bowing?
– indeed, when you only come to Church to hear nice old Greek or Russian words on a nice sound,
you will never understand the background; you even don’t know
you have to bow!!!
]

the priests secret prayer reads as follows:
We give thanks unto You, O invisible King,
Who by Your measureless power hast created all things,
and in the multitude of Your Mercy has out of nothing
brought all things into being.
Do You Yourself, O Master,
look from Heaven upon them
that have bowed down their heads to You:
for they have bowed them not to flesh and blood,
but to You, the dread God . . . . .

In the holy Liturgy we encounter our awesome and terrible God,
Who created all things by His measureless Power
and Who came in Meekness and Humility
in order to gather us
as a hen does her chicks.
A strange and unheard of paradox
which is beyond the mind of man.
[so next Sunday you bow all your heads ???]

Saint Pachomius the Great explains the awesomeness of the New Covenant
and the fearful world – transcending Divine Liturgy.
As a monk describes the words of Saint Pachomius in his life,
“. . . . . He explained the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies,
applying the explanation to the two peoples,
‘For the first people’, he said is the outer Tabernacle,
whose service consisted in animal sacrifices, visible loaves,
the lamp stand and the lamps, and some other things.
But the calling of the Nations is the Holy of Holies,
that is, the fulfilment of the Law.
And everything in the Holy of Holies
is more glorious than the outer Tabernacle.
For instead of animal sacrifices it has a censer of incense;
instead of a table, the Ark of the Covenant with the spiritual loaves,
the book of the Law and all that is to be found there,
and instead of the light of the lamp stand,
the Mercy Seat where God appears as a consuming fire,
that is, God the Incarnate Word
Who was made propitiation for us by appearing in the flesh
“.

In every Divine and Sacred Liturgy
fearful and awesome things are accomplished,
God appears as a consuming fire
to sanctify the gifts and overshadows all of the faithful.
Let us not draw nigh carelessly.
It is our Father’s house and
He calls us all to the banquet,
but let us with fear of God, faith,
and love draw nigh.

Treasures of Orthodoxy:
The fear of the Lord is
the beginning of Wisdom;
and there is good understanding
to all that practice it:
and piety toward God
is the beginning of discernment;
but the ungodly will set
at nought wisdom and instruction
“.
Prov.1: 7

Fear is the paternal rod which guides our way until we reach the spiritual Paradise of good things.
When we have attained there to,
it leaves us and turns back.
Saint Isaac the Syrian, ascetical Homily Forty-Six

What children should be given to read
Father Ambrose:
“It is my opinion that a young mind should first of all
be occupied with sacred history and readings of the Lives of Saints
of your choice,
which will unnoticeably sow the seeds of the fear of God
and Christian life.
You especially need to make them understand, with God’s help,
how important it is to keep God’s commandments
and what disastrous consequences follow breaking them.
All of this will lead them away from the example set by our first parents,
who ate the forbidden fruit and were therefore exiled from Paradise.
You can put Krylov’s fables away until later
[Иван Андреевич Крылов 1769 – 1844, Russian translator and imitator of existing fables],
for now teaching your child some prayers by heart,
like the Symbol of Faith and certain Psalms, for example:
He that dwells in the help of the Most High” [Psalm 90];
The Lord is my Light” [Psalm 26], and the like.
The main thing is that the child himself
be occupied according to his strength
and directed toward fear of God.
Everything good and kind comes from this.
while, to the contrary, idleness and not being instilled with the fear of God
are often the cause of all evil and misfortune.
When the fear of God is not instilled,
children will not bring forth the desired fruits of good morals
and a well-ordered life, no matter what you occupy them with.
When the fear of God is instilled,
all occupations are good and profitable”.
Elder Ambrose of Optina – Амвросий Оптинский [1812-1891]

And they put the ark of the Lord on a new wagon,
and took it out of the house of Aminadab who lived on the hill:
and Oza and his brethren the sons of Aminadab drove the wagon with the ark,
and his brethren went before the ark.
And David and the children of Israel were playing before the Lord
on well-tuned instruments mightily,
with songs, with harps, with lutes, with drums,
with cymbals, and with pipes.
And they come as far as the threshing floor of Nachor;
and Oza reached forth his hand to the ark of God to keep it steady,
and took hold of it; for the ox shook it out of its place.
And the Lord was very angry with Oza;
and God smote him there:
and he died there by the ark of the Lord
before God
“.

Certainly, the idea of conforming one’s actions,
one’s approach to living and thinking,
and even the eye of one’s noetic heart
to live chiefly to glorify God
runs completely contrary to what “the World” values today,
especially in its prevailing secular outlooks of modernism and relativism,
which challenge and question the very concept and existence of objective Truth.
This is why the True heart of the Christian Gospel appears
“as foolishness to those who live
and think and have their being in and of the world,
outside of a yearning for God”.
cf. 1Cor.1: 18-25
Indeed, Saint John the Theologian, beloved apostle of the Lord,
reminds us that our love, if truly selfless,
is something the world not only often fails to understand,
but indeed, because it is selfless, is something the world often despises:
“Wonder not, brethren,
if the world hates you.
We know that we have passed from death to life,
because we love the brethren.
He that loveth not, abideth in death”.

1John 3: 13-14

 

Orthodoxy & the CROSS in the OLD TESTAMENT

In this day and age,
where one is “infatuated” by everything that is “fashionable“,
new schools of biblical thought tend
to separate the Old Testament from the New.
To these doctors who wish to be “in fashion” and “in the stream of things“,
our response is that the Old Testament is like the New;
both are the Book of Jesus Christ and His redeeming work.
From the beginning to the end of the Old Testament,
the main subject is the coming of the Messiah,
the Liberator of Israel and the Nations.
“. . . He has chosen us
before the foundation of the world . . .”
Eph.1: 4

The whole of the Old Testament
was a vague image of the New.
It was destined to disappear.
It is again Paul the divine, the mouth of Christ,
who says in his Epistle to the Hebrews that God,
by declaring that He was going to build a New Covenant,
“. . . hath made the first old.
Now that which decayed and waxed old is ready to vanish away“.
Hebr.8: 13
Those therefore that think that the Old Testament
has an independent existence are much mistaken.
They should put themselves
in the guidance of the School of the Holy Spirit
and the Fathers and sing with us:
The shadow of the Law passed away
With the coming of Grace, O Virgin.
As the Bush was burning but not consumed,
A Virgin, thou gavest birth
A Virgin, thou remained.
Instead of the pillar of fire,
The Sun of justice shone forth,
And instead of Moses
Christ, the Saviour of our souls
“.
Theotokion of Saturday Vespers             Tn 2

He who possesses spiritual eyes
can easily see in the Old Testament
the Light of the New
which begins to break through.
Behind all the events in the History of the Hebrew people,
one can see the unfolding of Divine economy
and hear the footsteps of the approaching Messiah.

The Patriarchs, the Prophets, the Sacrifices,
the religious figures of Worship,
announce the coming of the God-Man and yet,
Christ was not the only One
about Whom Prophesies were made.
The People who would take part in the Divine-Human tragedy are equally prophesied:
the Mother of God, John the Forerunner,
the Apostles, the enemies of Jesus
and the sign of the Son of Man
– the Cross.

The ecclesiastic year begins in September,
the month in which we celebrate the universal exaltation of the Cross [Sept.14th].
The Cross is prophesied about not only in the Old Testament but also, if one could say, by the New.
It must appear, preceding the Saviour,
the day of His Second and Glorious Coming.
And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man, in Heaven:
and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn,
and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of Heaven, with Power and great Glory
“.
Matth.24: 30
The Prophet Isaiah says that
“. . . and the Government [Kingdom]
shall be upon His shoulders . . .”
Isaiah 9: 5
The Kingdom is the Cross
that the Saviour carried on His shoulders.
The Kingdom is His Power
“. . All power is given unto Me in Heaven and in earth“.
Matth.28: 18

The first Mystical and Mysterious sign of the Cross
is hidden in the Paradise of Eden.
In the celebrated Heavenly valley
where there was no sin, corruption, or death,
man lived in the blessing and familiarity of God.
Marvellous trees of all types were planted there.
And out of the ground made the Lord God
to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight,
and good for food . . .
“.
Gen.2: 9
Among them stood two mysterious trees,
two trees which were not strangers to
the adversity, trials, and tribulations of our ancestors:
the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil [Gen.2: 9].

This Tree of Life, from which man did not taste,
is the first and oldest sign of the venerable Cross.
There were many symbols regarding
the Cross in the Old Testament,
but none of them was as clear as that of the Tree of Life.
You only have to glance at the theology of the Fathers
and at the Hymnology of the Church
to discover the close relationship between
the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Cross.
The Cross is characterized as “venerable”, as “sacred”
and overall as “Tree of Life”, “Life Giving Tree”,
“Tree Holder of Life”, etc.
These names proclaim that for the Church,
the Cross is the new Tree of Life.

If one were to ask me
what was the most admirable thing that Christ did,”
says St. John Chrysostom,
I would put aside the Heaven, the earth, the sea,
the Resurrection of the multitude of dead and all the other miracles
and I would display only the Cross which is the most glorious of all . . . “.

If in the image of the Tree of Life
and in that of the Tree of the Cross, we see only the obvious,
that is to say, a tree and a collection of wood;
even if we see a sacred symbol, the relationship between the image
and that which is represented will be trivial.
However,
– if we are to quench our thirst at the source of Church dogmas,
– if we examine the teachings of this authentic exegete of Scripture,
which is the Church, and what She says
about the purpose of the Tree of Life,
and afterwards,
– if we turn our spiritual eyes to the Cross,
we will then see it as
the Sacrifice of the New Adam,
of Jesus the God-Man,
the only One without sin,
expiatory victim for the deliverance of all humanity from sin and from eternal death.
By sacred mediation our eyes will open
and we will understand that
which was the Tree of Life
before our fall from the height of our original beauty and also that which is the Cross after the Redemption.

God, says the Apostle Paul,
loved us in Christ before the foundation of the world.
Understand!
– before the foundation of the world,
God had in mind the deification of man.
But man, seduced by the counsel of the serpent-devil, believed he could become God
by his own initiative, by his own power, without the Grace and blessing of his Creator.
It is this Divine plan, of the deification of man,
which served as the argument
for the Devil to fool our ancestors.
For God does know that in the day you eat thereof,
then your eyes shall be opened,
and you shall see as gods. . .
“.
Gen.3: 5

In this way,
man hastened to taste from that Tree of Knowledge
which would make him equal to God
even though he was not worthy to digest such nutrition.
The result was the opposite.
His eyes opened, says Scripture,
He knew good and evil,
he saw that he was naked,
and he was afraid.
“. . . And the eyes of both of them were opened
and they knew that they were naked . . .
and Adam and his wife hid themselves
from the presence of the Lord God
amongst the trees of the Garden”.
Gen.3: 7-8

So that man would
not live eternally in spiritual death
– and this is another aspect of the mystery –
God chased him from Paradise.
And the Lord God said,
Behold, the man is become as one of us,
to know good and evil:
and now, let he put forth his hand,
and take also of the tree of life,
and eat, and live for ever
“.
Gen.3: 22

It is from compassion, forgiveness, and love
that God allowed death and bodily dissolution
in order that spiritual death,
the result of the rupture in the link with the Source of Life,
would not be eternal, as is the misfortune of nakedness,
which is the absence of the Grace of God.

Saint Basilios the Great raises this mystery
in the anaphora of his Liturgy during Sunday’s of Lent
“. . . in Your just judgment, O God,
You hast exiled him [Adam] from Paradise
and placed him in this world;
You has returned him to
the earth from where he was taken,

all the while preparing him for Salvation
by rebirth in Your Anointed One.

For You did not reject forever
the creature which You had fashioned, 
O Good One,
nor didst Thou forget the work of Your hands
. . .”.

Saint Cosmas the Melodius,
the composer of the canon of the Exaltation of the Cross,
sums up brilliantly this theology and in the Troparion of the 5th ode,
he also identifies the Tree of Life with the Cross:

It was on thee, O Tree memorable,
That Christ was suspended.
It is thee, O Cross, that the turning sword
Which guarded Eden protected.
Even the dread Cherubim fell back
Before Christ Who was suspended on thee,
Granting peace to our souls“.

Man, unworthy of the Divine honour,
was chased far from the Tree of Life,
whose safekeeping was now placed in the hands of the Cherubim
and the turning sword.
So He drove out the man;
and He placed at the east of the Garden of Eden, Cherubims,
and a flaming sword which turned every way,
to keep the way of the Tree of Life“.
Gen.3: 24

The question, then, that is raised is this:
if Adam, still without sin, could not eat from the Tree of Life,
how would he be able to participate after the fall?

The Fathers divinely resolve the difficulty:
God Who so loved His creation before it existed, Who wished freely to give man incorruptible Life,
would send His only Son to open anew
the door to the Tree of Life.

The Lord, having become Man,
taught the eternal Truths.
But He was not content with only this
because where would be the significance?
What would man have gained
by knowing eternal Truths
if he did not have in him Life Eternal,
which is given only by the Tree of Life?

Bodily and spiritual death would have rendered the heavenly truths empty.
However, the Bible, which has the Saviour come down from the heavens to earth,
tells us that the Lord is not only the Truth, but He is also the Life.
“. . I am the Way, the Truth and the Life . . ”
John 14: 6

The death on the Cross and the Resurrection
gave the Divine teaching all of its value.
All the Economy of our redemption finds
its climax in the mystery of the Cross.
It is by the Cross that the Apostle Paul finds
the breadth, the length, the height
and the depth of the mystery of God [Eph.3: 18].

The Cross and the Resurrection
have purified man from sin
and from the ancestral curse.
From them we have become participants in Eternal Life.
The Blood of Christ the God-Man,
the fruit of the death on the Cross,
nourishes us and grafts onto our aged trunk the new man,
the son of immortality.

The new life,
the beginning of future immortality,
the new  spiritual Paradise, is the Church,
the very Body of Christ.
That which we should have received from the Tree of Life, from which we were originally deprived because of the transgression,
we now receive freely from the Cross
by the Grace of God in the Church
and nowhere else
because outside the Church there is no Eucharist.

The Tree of Life, the Cross, are not ordinary symbols,
but a  substantial and fundamental reality.
Clement of Alexandria sees in the Cross,
the Tree on which Christ, our Life, was hung,
from which  we eat the fruits of eternal Divine knowledge.
The holy Fathers  Cyril of Jerusalem and Photios of Constantinople see
the whole earth as Paradise, in the centre of which is planted the Cross,
the new Tree of Life, just as the old one was planted
in the beginning in the centre of Paradise.
By the new Tree, the earth, in the past cursed,
is now full of blessings and has become Paradise.

For the Apostle Paul, who has risen to the third heaven,
the new reality is the Church, which appeared in this world by the Incarnation.
She is the new Creation, the New Man.
And He that sat upon the Throne said,
Behold I make all things New. . .”.
Rev.21: 5

New Creation, Christ the second Adam, new Tree of Life: the Cross.
This is why the Incarnation of Christ is a Mystery
more profound and greater than that of the creation of the world.

All the events in the Bible, especially those of the Divine Passion,
are linked to events and things in Paradise.
They are a repetition, a recapitulation, a clearing up,
one could say, of the ancient acts of those
who caused our fall from our first beauty
into misery and death.
There is a certain parallel.

Christ does not find fruit on the fig tree.
This is because the first earthly Adam ate the fruit
and used its leaves to hide his nudity.
“. . . and they sewed fig leaves together
and made themselves aprons
“.
Gen.3: 7
It is also in this context that one should put
the mysterious episode of the withered fig tree
of which the Evangelist Mark speaks [Marc.11: 12-14]
and which confounds the exegetes and makes those who mock smile.
Isidore of Peluse speaks of a tradition received from the Fathers,
according to whom the tree of transgression is the fig tree,
whose leaves served the transgressors to cover their nudity.

At the time of the sin of the ancestors, the forbidden tree was not cursed.
Christ cursed it later in His love for us so that it would no longer
produce harmful and mortal fruit for His creation.
Truly the Mysteries of God are unfathomable!

Adam tasted of the forbidden tree and we were chased from Paradise;
Christ fasted and we entered into spiritual Eden.
By sinning, Adam lost the vestment of incorruptible glory woven by God;
he remains nude and covered with shame.
The Lord again covered the nakedness of our ancestor
when He ascended the Cross.
All of you who have been baptized in Christ have put on Christ“,
writes Saint Paul.

Our ancestors did not eat of the Fruit of the Tree of Life,
but we, we eat and drink the Body and Blood of Christ,
fruits of His sacrifice, Eternal Life.

Adam, created on the sixth day,
holds out his hand to receive the forbidden fruit.
On the sixth day and at the sixth hour [Friday],
Christ holds our His hands on the Cross to save us.

In the middle of the new spiritual Paradise rises the Cross, the Tree of Life.
The first flower is the self-acknowledged thief.
He is the first to enter there.
This theme is repeated every Sunday in the Beatitudes
which we sing with their Stichera in the Liturgy.

By the Tree Adam was deceived,
by the Tree of the Cross,
You saved him once more
,”.
2nd Beatitude, Tn 6

The fruit, beautiful to behold and good to eat,
brought me death.
But by tasting of Christ,
the Tree of Life,
I no longer die and with the thief I cry out:
Remember me, O Lord, in Your Kingdom
“.
1st Beatitude, Tn 7

“By food the enemy led Adam out of Paradise.
By the Cross, Christ brought the thief in again, crying:
Remember me when You comes in Your Kingdom”.
1st Beatitude, Tn 1

In the person of Christ, human nature, immaculate and without guilt,
enters into the perfect Beatitude at the right hand of God.
In the person of the self-acknowledged thief, sinful human nature,
but whose heart is well-disposed,
enters liberated into the beatitude of Eden
and eats from the Tree of Life.

In the person of the unrepentant thief,
sinful and un-repenting nature,
whose heart is ill-disposed,
– refuses to eat from the Tree of Life,
– refuses to participate in the Cross,
– in the fruit of the Cross,
– and falls to death.
It is this teaching that is represented
by the lower and diagonal branch
of the Cross,
which rises on the right towards Heaven
and descends on the left towards the abyss.

In Christ, we are given more than we received from Adam.
The Economy of the  Redemption in Christ
is not  merely a return to the paradisiacal state.
It is something greater, more grandiose.

The Church is a New world, a New Paradise.
In his commentary on Saint Paul’s Epistle to the Romans,
Saint John Chrysostom says,
Christ does not make us well in the same proportion
that Adam made us ill, . .  .  but much more . . .
for the Apostle does not simply say ‘Grace’,
but ‘a superabundance of Grace’ . . .
Where sin abounded, Grace did much more abound“.

The Cross, says Saint Simeon the New Theologian,
is the altar on which was offered the fearsome sacrifice.
It is on the Cross that the Son of God died
because of the fall of mankind.
Also, the Cross is venerated and symbolized
as the sign of the universal redemption of man.
All those who worship the wood of the Cross
are delivered from the curse of Adam
and receive the benediction
and Grace of God to achieve all virtue.

For Christians, the Cross is a pride, a glory, a strength.
All our strength comes from that of Christ crucified;
our sin is put to death by the death of Christ on the Cross.
Our elevation, our glory, are owed to the extreme humiliation of God
Who is humiliated even unto dying with thieves and brigands.

What is there greater for a Christian than to become god through Grace?
This is why Christians who believe in Christ sign themselves with the sign of the Cross
–  not carelessly, out of habit, or without thought,
but with attention, intelligence, fear, trembling,
reverence and piety.

The sign of the Cross shows the transformation of each man
and his friendship with God.
The demons fear the sign of the Cross
and cannot stand to even see it traced in the air
because they know that the Cross is
the sign of friendship between mankind and God.
Demons are apostates, the enemies of God.
They are far removed from the Divine Face.
They cannot approach those who have made peace with God,
who have united with Him.
The demons can no longer injure them.

If at times they tempt certain Christians
– as everyone knows they do –
it is those who do not understand
as they should the  sublime Mystery of the Cross.
For, those who know it,
know from experience the strength
and the power of the Cross against demons.
The Cross gives the soul strength, power, intelligence, inspired wisdom
and those who know the Mystery of the Cross cry out in joy,
But God forbid that I should glory,
save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,
by Whom the world is crucified unto me,
and I unto the world
“.
Gal.6: 14

Therefore, the sign of the Cross being great and fearsome,
it is every Christian’s duty
to make the sign of the Cross with fear and trembling,
with piety and attention,
and not carelessly and foolishly,
only out of habit or with distraction.
Everyone receives strength and help from God
according to the measure of piety he has for the Cross.
Father Ambroise Fontrier
La Lumiere du Thabor” no.20.