The Orthodox Faith – Salvation History (5a)

We are continuing our look at how events and people in the Old Testament foreshadow events and people in the New Testament and the life of the church.

One if the most important events in the Judeo-Christian history and indeed in human history is the giving of the Law on Mt. Sinai. We remember that scene. After the Jewish people had escaped from slavery in Egypt, they wandered in the desert for forty years. In the third month of their wandering they came to Mt. Sinai and God called Moses, the Jewish leader to ascend the mountain. We see this in Exodus.

On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled. Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God; and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain. And Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire; and the smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain quaked greatly. And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder. And the Lord came down upon Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain; and the Lord called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up. (Ex 19:16-21)

At this point God gives the Ten Commandments as can be seen in Exodus 20:1-18.

And God spoke all these words, saying, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. “You shall have no other gods before me. “You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain. “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.  Six days you shall labor, and do all your work;  but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your manservant, or your maidservant, or your cattle, or the sojourner who is within your gates;  for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and hallowed it. “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land which the Lord your God gives you. “You shall not kill. “You shall not commit adultery. “You shall not steal. “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant, or his maidservant, or his ox, or his ass, or anything that is your neighbor’s.” Now when all the people perceived the thunderings and the lightnings and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled; and they stood afar off. (Ex 20:1-18)

When we think of the Ten Commandments we think only of the ten brief moral laws. However Jewish tradition holds that most of the laws given in the first five books of the Bible were given to Moses then. So the fundamental laws given to humanity in Old Testament times were given to Moses on Mt. Sinai.

Important as the laws found in the Old Testament are, there is always the danger that these laws will be something external to us and the observance of these laws a mere formality. Therefore, many times in the Old Testament God promised through his prophets that there would come a new law, written on human hearts by the Holy Spirit. For example:

“Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant which they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each man teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, `Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” Thus says the Lord, who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar — the Lord of hosts is his name:  “If this fixed order departs from before me, says the Lord then shall the descendants of Israel cease from being a nation before me forever.” Thus says the Lord: “If the heavens above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth below can be explored, then I will cast off all the descendants of Israel for all that they have done, says the Lord.” (Jeremiah 31:32-37)

Or

A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances. (Ezekiel 36:26-27)

In other words, the law will not be something external, placed on us by a distant God, but will rather be a law written on our hearts. This new law which is the fulfillment of the Old Testament can only happen when the Holy Spirit descended on the apostles and the Theotokos on the day of Pentecost.

Fr. John

The Orthodox Faith – Salvation History (4)

As we have seen in previous articles, events and people in the Old Testament point forward to and foreshadow the events and people in the New Testament and in the life of the church. For example, the manna with which God fed the Jews in the desert points forward to Christ feeding the 5000 in the wilderness, to the Last Supper and to the Holy Communion we receive at the Divine Liturgy.

The Jewish people were saved by going down into the sea which Moses had miraculously parted. In the same way we are saved by going down into the waters of Baptism.

We continue the same theme here. Consider the following quote from St. Paul.

“I want you to know, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same supernatural food and all drank the same supernatural drink. For they drank from the supernatural Rock which followed them, and the Rock was Christ.” (I Cor 10:1-4)

What is St. Paul talking about here? What is the supernatural Rock which followed them? To answer this question, we have to go back to the Exodus which describes the liberation of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt. It says,

“All the congregation of the people of Israel moved on from the wilderness of Sin by stages, according to the commandment of the Lord, and camped at Reph’idim; but there was no water for the people to drink. Therefore the people found fault with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” And Moses said to them, “Why do you find fault with me? Why do you put the Lord to the proof?” But the people thirsted there for water, and the people murmured against Moses, and said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst?” So Moses cried to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” And the Lord said to Moses, “Pass on before the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel; and take in your hand the rod with which you struck the Nile, and go. Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, that the people may drink.” And Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel.” (Ex 17:1-6)

The verses in St. Paul we see a reference to the “rock” which followed them. This may seem strange or even amusing. But St. Paul tells us the rock was Jesus Christ. The main point is important and clear.

In the desert people need water and water is often hard to find. God giving water to the Jews is a sign of God’s love for His people. Just as Jesus Christ is “bread from heaven” He is also the “living water”. We remember that when Christ speaks to the Samaritan woman he says

“the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and proclaimed, “If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, `Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.'”  Now this he said about the Spirit, which those who believed in him were to receive; for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” (Jn 7:37-39)

In other words, water is necessary for life, physical life. In the same way this “living water” is necessary for our spiritual health. St. John tells us that this living water is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit was given on the day of Pentecost.

Critics of Christianity often say that Christianity restricts human freedom, that it binds us with all sorts of rule and regulations. But if we look at the Bible, we see that Christianity is about liberation, about our freedom from slavery. The whole Book of Exodus is about the liberation of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt. In the same way, Christ frees us from slavery to sin and death. When we act out our passions, our sins bind and restrict our freedom. This bondage makes it difficult to love God and our neighbor. The Christian life is a process of regaining our freedom. And of course, our greatest fear is death. Christ, who rose from the dead, promises us that He will raise us up also. Christ is the conqueror of death and the water of Baptism, and the Body and Blood of Holy Communion incorporating us into Christ’s victory over death. Or to put it another way, Jesus said, “…you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”

Fr. John

The Orthodox Faith – Salvation History (3)

As we have seen, events and people in the Old Testament point forward to and foreshadow the events and people in the New Testament and in the life of the church. For example, during the Exodus when they were fleeing from slavery in Egypt, the Jews were starving in the desert.

“And the whole congregation of the people of Israel murmured against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, and said to them, “Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate bread to the full; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” (Ex 16:2-3)

As the scripture shows the Jews were starting to complain about Moses and they were thinking about going back to Egypt. They thought that although they were slaves in Egypt, they still had food. But God promised to send manna or bread from heaven.

“Then the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may prove them, whether they will walk in my law or not.: (Ex 16:4)

In other words, God fed the Jews with bread from heaven. This points forward to the New Testament. The Gospel tells us that Jesus was preaching to a large crowd in the wilderness and they were hungry. In Matthew we see the following,

“Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a lonely place apart. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. As he went ashore he saw a great throng; and he had compassion on them, and healed their sick. When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a lonely place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” They said to him, “We have only five loaves here and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.” Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass; and taking the five loaves and the two fish he looked up to heaven, and blessed, and broke and gave the loaves to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children. (Mt 14:13-21)

In other words, just as God fed the people with miraculous bread in the desert, in the same way Jesus fed the people with miraculous bread in the wilderness. This story points to Jesus’ divine status.

But even this points forward also. We remember that at the Last Supper, Jesus offered his body and blood in the form of bread and wine.

“Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I shall not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” (Mt 26:26-29)

Of course, this points forward to Holy Communion when Christ feeds us with his body and blood under the forms of bread and wine. So we can see that when we read the Bible we have to see how the Old Testament foreshadows the New and how both Testaments point to our lives in the Church.  However, we should not think that the Old Testament events are exactly the same as the New Testament. The Old Testament is fulfilled in the New Testament. In other words, Christ is the fulfillment of the Old Testament and we read the Old Testament with a “Christian lens” so to speak.

For example, the people who ate the manna in the desert lived normal human lives and died a normal human death. But see how Christ compares the Old Testament bread with the bread that he gives.

“When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of man will give to you; for on him has God the Father set his seal.” Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see, and believe you? What work do you perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, `He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'” Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven, and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Lord, give us this bread always.” Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me; and him who comes to me I will not cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me; and this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up at the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.” The Jews then murmured at him, because he said, “I am the bread which came down from heaven.” They said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, `I have come down from heaven’?” Jesus answered them, “Do not murmur among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, `And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. Not that anyone has seen the Father except him who is from God; he has seen the Father. Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.” The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So, Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me. This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever.” This he said in the synagogue, as he taught at Caper’na-um. (Jn 6:25-59)

By eating the consecrated bread given to us at Holy Communion we will ultimately inherit eternal life. The consecrated bread, the Body of Christ, gives us eternal life and frees us from death.

Fr. John

The Orthodox Faith – Salvation History (2b)

The first book of the Bible, Genesis, when God is creating the world He says:

“Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” (Gen 1:26)

In other words, God is saying “us” “our” and not simply “I” or “my”. It seems that there is a hit of plurality here. Jewish scholars and even some Christians would say that “our” and “us” is a plural of majesty. For example, in the ages of kings and emperors in Europe, they would send out orders and command in “our” name. The king might say “we are pleased” or “we are happy” or “we give our approval”. This may seem strange to us, but this custom still exists in some places even today. But again, we as Orthodox Christians, interpret these verses as a hit about the Trinity. Or in the book of the Prophet Isaiah, when Isaiah was in the temple he had this experience:

“In the year that King Uzzi’ah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and his train filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim; each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. (Is 6:1-4)

Orthodox theologians have always seen the triple “Holy, Holy, Holy” as pointing to the Trinity. Or in the Book of Psalms the church has always seen the “word and breath” as referring to Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.

“By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and all their host by the breath of his mouth.” (Ps 33;6)

Of all these hints of the Trinity in the Old Testament, the one that has left the most traces in Orthodoxy is the s tory of the appearance of the three angels to Abraham at Mamre. Abraham is sitting outside his tent at Mamre,

“And the Lord appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day. He lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, three men stood in front of him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them, and bowed himself to the earth, and said, “My lord, if I have found favor in your sight, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree, while I fetch a morsel of bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on — since you have come to your servant.” So they said, “Do as you have said.” (Gen 18:1-5)

At first the casual reader might miss the Trinitarian reference. There are three men (angels) who approach Abraham. However, Abraham addresses them as “my lord” in the singular. He does not say “My lords” in the plural. This is even clearer in an older translation,

“And said, My Lord, if now I have found favor in thy sight, pass not away, I pray thee, from thy servant: Let a little water, I pray you, be fetched, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree.”

We see here that Abraham addresses the three angels as “thy”. We no longer use this word in modern English, but it is in the singular. This distinction exists in many languages between the singular you (thee) and the plural. So, we see here clearly that Abraham is addressing the three angels as “Thy” in the singular.  However, in the next verse Abraham addresses them as You in the plural.

Orthodox theology has always seen this alternation between singular and plural as a prefiguration of the Holy Trinity. Obviously when Jews read the passage they do not see a reference to the Trinity.  But when when the Christians read it, we read it in light of the New Testament. In other words, for us Christians, it is the theme in both Testaments.

This passage has also influenced iconography. We cannot draw an image of God the Father, because the Father is invisible and of course, the Holy Spirit cannot be depicted as a human being. Therefore, this icon often depicted in this passage has become the standard icon of the Trinity.  It has to be admitted that one sometimes sees icons which depict the Father as an old man. This kind of icon is not “heretical’ but it is a later development. Probably the greatest icon of the Trinity is Andre Rublev’s, made in the 15th century. It is now in the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow and has influenced the making of Trinity icons ever since.

Fr. John

The Orthodox Faith – Salvation History (2a)

We Christians are monotheists, meaning we believe in one God. This is a belief we share with Jews and Moslems, as well as some other religious systems. However, there is a big difference. We say God is one but also three. God is one, but the Son and the Spirit are also God. For Jews and Moslems this is either nonsense or blasphemy, and they often claim that we are polytheists. However, we are simply being faithful to God’s revelation to us as expressed in the Old and New testament.

Others, even some Christians, would say that this belief in the Trinity is a result of pagan religion or philosophy influencing the simple message of love of God and neighbor. In other words, the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man. Still other critics will say that this belief was imposed on the Church by power-hungry bishops or emperors, but once again we say that we are being faithful to the one God who as revealed Himself to us as Trinity.

It is true that we don’t find the word “Trinity” in the New Testament. However, we certainly see the lived reality of the Trinity in the New Testament. For example, in St. Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians he writes: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” (2 Cor 13:14) as a blessing at the end of the letter. We see quite clearly the persone of the Trinity here. Or at Christ’s baptism:

“And when Jesus was baptized, he went up immediately from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and alighting on him; and lo, a voice from heaven, saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Mt 3:16-17)

Here again we see the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit revealing themselves. Or at the Transfiguration:

“And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John his brother and led them up a high mountain apart. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his garments became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Eli’jah, talking with him. And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is well that we are here; if you wish, I will make three booths here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Eli’jah.” He was still speaking, when lo, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” (Mt 17:1-5)

The Father speaks, the Son is transfigured, and the Holy Spirit is there dazzling light surrounding Christ’s person and overshadowing the whole mountain. Finally, at the end of St. Matthew’s Gospel Christ says:

“And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” (Mt 28:18-20)

Here, after the resurrection, Christ is telling the disciples that the belief in the Holy Trinity is the basis of Christian faith. So, we Christians believe that the New Testament clearly teaches the doctrine of the Trinity.

But what about the Old Testament? Certainly, when the Jews read the Bible they could not find any mention of the Trinity here, and frankly the Jews consider this interpretation of the Bible to be totally wrong. Now it has to be said that the Trinity is not present in the Old Testament. However, from the earliest days of the Church the Christians found hints about the Trinity even in the Old Testament. And we must remember that when the Apostles went out to preach, the only Bible they had was the Old Testament and they found the Trinity in that book.

Fr. John