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