Commentary on Matthew Chapter 2

Holiness Happens. They departed into their own country another way

Excerpts from a letter to prisoners.

 

[Note: The prisoners (in the Texas state prison system) that I see weekly are reading the Gospels together. I have asked them to comment upon what they read, or ask questions, and  I promised to send them simple commentaries. These small offerings, which are usually part of a letter sent to them, are not meant to be a scholarly exegesis, or comprehensive.  We must read the Gospels daily, and simply, and be like Mary, sitting at the feet of Jesus, desiring to be taught something edifying for our soul. If a person does not feel something stirring in their soul when they read the Gospels, they are missing the illumination God desires to give them. Everyone is invited to send their feelings about the Gospels to me. Perhaps we can educate each other in some way.

Priest Seraphim Holland seraphim@orthodox.net]

 

Sept 9/22 2014 Synaxis of Saints Joachim and Anna, the day after the Nativity of the Theotokos

 

I note with regret that the last time I wrote to you about the Gospel (Matthew chapter 1 )[1] was over a month ago. Truly, it is hard to redeem the time. Some of you have written to me about chapter 1, but most have not. Get on the stick!

 

This is not a complete exegesis. I am writing just about the stuff that touches me right now.

 

Every time I read the account of the adoration of the Magi, I am struck by two things, and my soul feels great consolation.

 

Holiness Happens

 

This is a story of how the secular and the sacred encounter God. Society is filled with believers and unbelievers. Those who believe and love God see things and have understanding that the evil and unbelievers have no idea about, no matter what their intelligence, education or position in life is.

 

The Akathist to the Theotokos[2] has within it a line that describes Herod and all unbelievers, evil men, narcissists and all secular people in general (including many who darken the doors of the church, but do not live with intensity and Godly desire):

 

"Turned God-bearing heralds, the Wise Men returned to Babylon. They fulfilled Thy prophecy and to all preached Thee as the Christ, and they left Herod as a babbler who could not sing: Alleluia!" (Akathist, Kontakion 6)

 

Herod was a Jew in name only. He was a usurper to the throne, and an evil and wicked man. He eventually killed his own son, and went mad, and died a horrible death, his flesh eaten away as he lived and ruled in despotic paranoia.

 

The Magi were not Jews. They were wise man, astrologers, from Persia, who had kept close the prophet Balaam's prophesy for many years and had searched the heavens for a sign of the birth of the Messiah.

 

"Balaam the son of Beor hath said ... there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Scepter shall rise out of Israel" (Num 24:15,17, partial)

 

These Magi were noblemen of  Persia, but they were pious and looked for the Messiah, even though they were not Jews. Their simple piety and ardent love, expressed by their searching the heavens for many hundreds of years, and their undertaking a long and arduous journey, caused them to see something that the profane peoples of the world could not see - a star in the heavens. God only let them see the "star", which was clearly an angel, sent to illuminate them and help them find the Messiah.

 

There is not enough time to talk about this star in great detail, but it  was truly one of the wonders that only believers can see, according to the providence of God.  We can deduce that it was an angel because of its movements. This "star" moved from the East to the West, which is contrary of the movements of stars. It also disappeared when the wise men reached Jerusalem, and reappeared later, and moved very purposely so that it "stood over the house" where our Lord was . Stars do not move from the East to the West, not do they disappear and reappear a day or so later, and they do not descend from the heavens to point out a small house! This great miracle was invisible to the world. They were not interested in holy things.

 

I am encouraged by the appearance of this  star (angel), because it pointed out a holy thing that was occurring  that was invisible to the world. Most people in the world do not care about holy things. They occur invisibly to them, although they are very real. I have sometimes felt holiness in my presence, and know it to be always present. I do not always see it or understand it because of my passions which cloud my vision, but I know that it is there, and I long to experience all if it! God sees all, including my feeble struggles, and yours also. He never forgets, and even the cup of water[3] that we give to a little one in His name He remembers.  The world forgets, but God always remembers. I think that the saints who endured all kinds of privations for the sake of God, including prison and torture and martyrdom, understood this well.

 

There is a profane bumper sticker that is around, that I, because I have an ironic sense of humor, like to "paraphrase":

 

HOLINESS HAPPENS.

 

All around us, there are holy things, and God acting in our lives and the lives of others. Her shows these things to the simple, the humble and the holy, with no "respect to persons"[4]. May God give us eyes to see and ears to hear.

 

They departed into their own country another way.

 

The second thing that I always feel when I read this chapter is the remark by Matthew, which is of eternal significance for all true believers:

 

"And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way."  (Mat 2:12)

 

A Christian cannot live the same way as he did even yesterday, because encountering Christ MUST change us if we are true Christians. The old way of living is dead, and Christianity is the constant putting off of this old way. The New wine of Christ will destroy the old wine skins of human passions[5]. If we do not attempt to live for God, and change our way, we will be destroyed, as those old wineskins, even as we profess our belief in Christ. We must change how we live - how we think, what we value, the things we see, our priorities - and find ANOTHER WAY.

 

This is a fundamental DOGMA of Christianity, as fundamental as God being Trinity, God becoming man, and the nature of the church. Without changing to another way our Christianity is a sham. Encountering Christ MUST change us EVERY DAY.

 

The great heresy of our age is that a person can be a Christian and not strive with all his heart and his soul and his mind to change to living *another way*, according to God and not man.  This is why we have pseudo Christianity all around us - a Christianity without dogma, or morality or effort.

 

I try to be transformed in some way every day. I remain a sinner, but God knows that I do not want to be one; I want to change, at least a little bit every day. This is the great mystery contained in the words: "They departed into their own country another way".

 

There is much more to learn from the end of the chapter; Joseph's dream, the flight into Egypt, and all the rest, but we will leave that for another day.

 

Slava Bogy! (Glory be to God!)

 

The incarnation gives us the ability to go another way, and not live as slaves of sin, according to mundane fallen human customs and experience. There is a luminous and holy spiritual reality, but it is not visible to those Herods who cannot sing Alleluia,  but we will discover it if we care because God abides within us. It does not matter if we are sinners, as long as we long not to be, and desire to find this "other way". May God help us to find this narrow path!

 

 

Matthew 2:1-23  Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem,  (2)  Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.  (3)  When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.  (4)  And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born.  (5)  And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet,  (6)  And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.  (7)  Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared.  (8)  And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also.  (9)  When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.  (10)  When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.  (11)  And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.  (12)  And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.  (13)  And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him.  (14)  When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt:  (15)  And was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son.  (16)  Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently enquired of the wise men.  (17)  Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying,  (18)  In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.  (19)  But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeareth in a dream to Joseph in Egypt,  (20)  Saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel: for they are dead which sought the young child's life.  (21)  And he arose, and took the young child and his mother, and came into the land of Israel.  (22)  But when he heard that Archelaus did reign in Judaea in the room of his father Herod, he was afraid to go thither: notwithstanding, being warned of God in a dream, he turned aside into the parts of Galilee:  (23)  And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene.

 

 

Priest Seraphim Holland 2014     St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas

 

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[2] This was the first Akathist written. St Romanos the Melodist is the author. It is in most complete prayer books. You should learn to sing it as read  it often.

[3] For whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in my name, because ye belong to Christ, verily I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward.  (Mark 9:41)

[4] Act 10:34-35  Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons:  (35)  But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.

[5] Mat 9:16-17  No man putteth a piece of new cloth unto an old garment, for that which is put in to fill it up taketh from the garment, and the rent is made worse.  (17)  Neither do men put new wine into old bottles: else the bottles break, and the wine runneth out, and the bottles perish: but they put new wine into new bottles, and both are preserved.