“Stretching out Thine hands upon the cross, O Lord, Thou hast killed the invisible Amalek and rescued thy people: therefore we sing the praises of Thy power.” Great Lent, the Second Week, Friday Matins, Ode V of the Canon
How wonderful the matins canon is! Any canon, but especially, it seems, those during Great Lent, interprets the Old Testament in the light of the New. There is a profound mix of history, typology and theology in our services, and the soul is thrilled to hear divine truths expressed in varied ways, with examples from the Old and New testaments.
Only in the light of our Lord’s passion can we understand the actions of Moses when his people fought the king Amalek:
Then came Amalek, and fought with Israel in Rephidim. (9) And Moses said unto Joshua, Choose us out men, and go out, fight with Amalek: to-morrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the rod of God in my hand. (10) So Joshua did as Moses had said to him, and fought with Amalek: and Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. (11) And it came to pass, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed; and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed. (12) But Moses’ hands were heavy; and they took a stone, and put it under him, and he sat thereon; and Aaron and Hur stayed up his hands, the one on the one side, and the other on the other side; And his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. (13) And Joshua discomfited Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword. (Exodus 17:8-13 )
Amalek was a pagan king. He could not be defeated until Moses, foreshadowing our Lord’s passion, held up his arms in a cross.
In the canon, we have a mystical interpretation of Amalek. He represents sin, just as Babylon or Egypt. We all have an invisible Amalek within us, that is, the passions. Just as Moses held out his arms to defeat the king Amalek, our Lord held out his arms on the cross to defeat our Amalek.
Rise and make war against the passions of the flesh, as Joshua did against Amalek, and ever conquer the Gibeonites – illusive thoughts. (Great Canon of St Andrew of Crete, Ode 6, referencing Exodus 17:8; Joshua 8:21)
Now as we venerate thy cross, which Moses once prefigured with his outstretched arms, we put to flight the invisible Amalek, O Christ our master, and so we gain salvation! (Matins Canon Ode 6 for the 3rd Sunday of Great Lent)
Let us take note that if the Israelites had not fought bravely, it would not have mattered how Moses held his hands. In the same way, if we do not live according to the way of the cross, our Lord’s accomplishment is null and void for us.
Priest Seraphim Holland 2009. St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas
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