Monthly Archives: July 2019

The Orthodox Faith – Salvation History (7)

As we have seen earlier, sacrifice is an important aspect of religion. Throughout the history of humanity sacrifice is found in many religions, in many places in the world. Sacrifice comes naturally to human beings to the point that live human sacrifice was practiced. The idea is that we offer something valuable to God. In the Old Testament and in the beginning of the New Testament, parents had to offer a sacrifice for their first born son. Because Mary and Joseph were poor, they could only afford to offer two turtledoves rather than sheep or goats.

“And when the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every male that opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.”(Luke 2:21-23)

We may want to say that we are sorry to God or to ask God to heal our illnesses or to protect our country from attack or many other reasons.

All of this is true. When we read the Old Testament, we see precise details about how to perform sacrifice for different reasons and so on. The Old Testament sacrifice was ordered by God, but the sacrifice of sheep or goats could only have a limited efficacy. Something more was needed and that something was Jesus Christ.

In the New Testament, especially in the Letter to the Hebrews, the author tells us the many different ways Christ is the true sacrifice. Here are some quotes.

But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the Holy Place, taking not the blood of goats and calves but his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the sprinkling of defiled persons with the blood of goats and bulls and with the ashes of a heifer sanctifies for the purification of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify your conscience from dead works to serve the living God. (Heb 9:11-14)

For Christ has entered, not into a sanctuary made with hands, a copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the Holy Place yearly with blood not his own; for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. (Heb 9:24-28)

Christ is the perfect priest and the perfect sacrifice. Christ is the offering and the offered. As the priest prays in the Divine Liturgy “Thou (i.e., Christ) didst become man, yet without change or alteration and as Ruler of All didst commit to us this liturgical and bloodless sacrifice. … For Thou art the offering and the offered, the Receiver and the Received.”

The idea here is that Jesus Christ is acting through our offering of bread and wine which will become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. Christ offers, Christ receives. So we see that Jesus Christ is the one perfect sacrifice fulfilling all the sacrifices of the Old Testament and indeed, of all sacrifices no matter wherever they are found. Sins are forgiven, and humanity attains union with God.

Fr. John

The Orthodox Faith – Salvation History (6c)

As noted earlier the Temple of Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans. Now, Christians themselves are the Temple.

‘But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near in the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby bringing the hostility to an end. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built into it for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.” (Eph 2:13-22)

“Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If any one destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and that temple you are..” (I Cor 3:16-17)

“Come to him, to that living stone, rejected by men but in God’s sight chosen and precious; and like living stones be yourselves built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and he who believes in him will not be put to shame.” (I Pet 2:4-6)

The point of all of this is clear. The Temple in Jerusalem was the presence of God on earth. For Jews, there was nothing as holy as this. So, when Jesus identifies His body with the Temple and claims authority over it, He is telling us that He Himself is that locus of Holiness, both in this world and the next. And we ourselves as baptized Christians are ourselves become temples of the Lord. We may fail to live up to this standard, but we do indeed partake of God’s holiness. And, of course, there will be no temple in heaven. The Book of Revelation, the last book of the Bible describes heaven in this way:

“I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband; and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them; … And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine upon it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light shall the nations walk; and the kings of the earth shall bring their glory into it, and its gates shall never be shut by day — and there shall be no night there; they shall bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean shall enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life. (Rev 21: 1-3, 22-27)

It seems that the Ark of the Covenant was taken from the Temple when the Babylonians sacked the Temple in 585 BC. It’s location now is a matter of conjecture.

Some Jewish sources suggest that the Ark was hidden in caves beneath the Temple when the Babylonians were attacking the Temple. On the other hand, there is a strong, ancient tradition in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church that they possess the Ark of the Covenant. Other sources suggest it was in Rome or someplace else in Europe. Even now people search for the Ark. But this is difficult. Because of the political situation in Jerusalem, excavation beneath the Temple Mount is restricted. Also, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church while claiming that it has the Ark refuses to show it to the world. As far as Rome goes, Rome itself was sacked by the barbarians, so what happened to the Ark after this?

The Ark also occurs in secular culture. We may remember the 1980 movie “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” The search for the Ark is the theme of this movie. In general, we see many instances in popular culture from movies, books, video games, etc. But we should never forget that the Ark is a holy Jewish and Christian relic. It does not have magical powers but is a reminder of God’s covenant and presence with humanity.

Fr. John