Archive for January, 2010

The Blessing of Common Prayer

Thursday, January 7th, 2010

Brothers and sisters, what a blessing it is to pray to the Lord together! This past Saturday evening, we had a “reader’s vigil” – that is, a vigil service without a priest, since Father Seraphim was still out of town.

Often, reader’s services can seem to be lacking in some way, since there are no vestments, no litanies, no censing… But this time it was not that way. We had a fairly large group of people for a Saturday Vigil, most of whom stayed to the end and participated in the singing and reading, and there was a palpable sense that we were, as a group, praying together.

Brothers and sisters, the life of the Church is prayer. Individual prayer, to be sure, but also corporate prayer, prayer with one another and for one another. This is why the services are such an essential part of the life of the Church. Here we put aside our own individual feelings and come together as the Body of Christ. In the midst of our own joy, we acknowledge and pray for the sorrows of our brothers. In the midst of our own sorrows, we give thanks for our brothers’ joys.

The services teach us how to pray and they give us the opportunity to practice, to learn. They teach us thanksgiving, glorification of God, repentance for our sins, and prayer for salvation – our own individual salvation and that of all of our brothers in Christ.

I think it is very significant that nearly every other Christian confession has lost the cycle of Church services with the exception of a single service on Sunday morning. Truly, the Sunday Liturgy is the most important of the services. It is where we come together in one Body by partaking of the Holy Mysteries together. And truly, the Sunday Liturgy is sometimes all we can manage to fit in. But it cannot be the limit to our prayer together. Prayer is not a once-a-week thing. Prayer is our life, individually and corporately.

Share

Nativity Epistle of Archbishop Kyrill of San Francisco and Western America

Thursday, January 7th, 2010

 

Christ Is Born! Glorify Him!

Archbishop KyrillNo sooner was our Lord Jesus Christ born in Bethlehem, joining us under the most contradictory of circumstances, that His persecution began. Upon receiving the news of the Messiah’s Nativity from the three Wise Kings, the most wicked King Herod, in a fit of rage, sent his soldiers to slaughter all the boy babies who had been born then in those parts, from the infants to the two-year-olds. Herod’s crime is described in historical accounts. But the Evangelist St. Matthew reports that the Lord sent an angel to warn St. Joseph, in a dream, of the threat to the Holy Family, so that they might flee the vicious persecution.

So it was that the Nativity of the Son of God, amazing the shepherds and gloriously heralded by the heavenly hosts, had on the one hand inspired the Wise Kings to undertake a complex pilgrimage, that they might find God Incarnate, worship him and offer Him their gifts – while in the soul of the wicked, ignorant and idolatrous king (for Herod was not a righteous king at all, but prayed to idols), it only inspired a ferocious hatred and a stubborn obsession with asserting his ruthless personal agenda.

As we know, the hatred of Herod and others of his ilk succeeded in bringing about the crucifixion of our Saviour at Calvary. As in the earliest days of Christ’s earthly life, this hatred and cruelty proved futile: Christ rose from the dead. It is impossible for the evil powers of this world to vanquish Divine Providence, to subordinate Divine Reason to their own wicked ambitions.

Nonetheless, our Lord Jesus Christ’s entire earthly life unfolded against the backdrop of these two forces locked in struggle with each other: on one side, those who accepted Him, who searched for Him, like the Wise Kings, and came to worship Him, joyfully offering such gifts as they could, as an expression of their love and devotion to the Divine Child – and on the other side, those who searched for ways to slay Him, for the means to overcome and to destroy God Himself.

It is no secret that this struggle between good and evil continues on earth to this day. We should be neither troubled by it, nor despondent over it. No matter what ingenious tools theomachists devise to wage war against Divine Grace and Divine Love, Christ Himself or even our own weak Christian selves, theomachy – war against God – is always doomed to exposure and disgrace. God and Divine Truth are always triumphant over the tricks and the outright crimes of theomachists. It is precisely because of these trials and tribulations that we, the faithful, are given the chance to prove ourselves, and also to prove to ourselves, that we are on the side of the Wise Kings, to whom God even granted permission to understand the secrets of the stars & the cosmos, and not on the side of the ignorant Herod, a cruel idolater, a selfish egotist consumed with lust for power.

All of us who have come here this day to worship Christ the Divine Newborn Child proclaim our own choice before all the world. We are joined in this act of faith by some two billion people who, regardless of the degree of their own spiritual development, view Christmas Day (the Feast of the Nativity) whether it be on the Julian or Gregorian calendar, as a great, radiant and holy feast day. Regardless of the vices that afflict mankind, its best aspects do indeed honour, revere and worship our Lord, love the Divine Child and strive to bring Him joy, to serve and emulate Him at least in something. This is why, against all odds, life on earth continues and thus, there remains hope for our salvation.

Let us therefore, as we begin a new civil year, intensify our efforts, so that the light of Christ and the Faith of true Christians might inspire more people to come worship the Christ Child, in the year to come. Amen.

† KYRILL
Archbishop of San Francisco and Western America

Link:http://www.russianorthodoxchurch.ws/synod/eng2010/1enarbpkyrillepistle.html

Share

Nativity Epistle of Bishop John of Caracas and South America

Thursday, January 7th, 2010

 

Bishop John of Caracus and South AmericaBrothers and sisters, beloved children in Christ, my dear Christians, yet again we are able to celebrate the radiant feast of the Lord’s incarnation, to honour this divine event, when the pre-eternal Son of God descended upon this earth and became man, so as to lift up fallen humanity and raise it from the earthly to the heavenly.

When we celebrate the Nativity of Christ, we are not merely commemorating an historical event, the beginning of the earthly ministry of the Son of God, but above all we must bear witness by our lives of His real and continuing presence in our midst, in His holy Church, which is an eternal type of the cave of Bethlehem, in which Christ is ever born, lives, teaches, suffers, dies, rises and raises, and saves man. The incarnation of the Lord is not merely an historical fact, but an eternal truth, an eternal mystery,ever continuing, without end, within His holy Church.

The whole life of the Church is in fact a Nativity of Christ, His work of redemption, salvation – Christ on earth seeking to raise us to heaven. If we are truly living partakers of her life we will be blessed to stand as the shepherds of Bethlehem at the manger of the divine Infant, but if we do not partake in the life of Christ’s Church, if we remove ourselves from her, our lot will be with the wretched inhabitants of Bethlehem who closed their doors. They were right next to the Saviour, but never knew him.
Christ is born! Glorify Him!

+John, Bishop of Caracas and South America

Link: http://www.russianorthodoxchurch.ws/synod/eng2010/1enbpjohnepistle.html

Share

Ambvon Prayer on the Feast of the Nativity of the Savior

Thursday, January 7th, 2010

Nativity of the Savior - Novgorod. http://www.orthodox.net/ikons/nativity-novgorod-01.gif

O Master, Christ our God, Who from before all ages didst shine forth from the  Father [Greek: "from Thine unoriginate Father"] without  passion,

and in the latter days wast ineffably incarnate and born of the most  holy Virgin;

Who for our sakes wast made poor, that by Thy poverty we might be  enriched;

Who wast wrapped in swaddling clothes as an infant, and laid in a manger,

yet as God possessest all things: Thyself accept our humble prayers and  praises, as Thou didst the Shepherds’ songs of praise and the gifts and homage of  the Magi.

Make us to be like unto the heavenly Host praising Thee in hymns, Who art born  on earth;

Shew us to be heirs of the eternal joy prepared for those that worthily honor  Thy Nativity.

Grant victories to the Orthodox Christians, uphold Thy Churches, Thy priests  and all Thy people.

For Thou art God that lovest mankind, and art glorified, together with Thine  unoriginate Father, and Thine all-holy, and Good, and Life-creating Spirit, now  and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

From an ancient Ambon Prayer. This text appears in Greek and Slavonic in Orlov’s "Divine  Liturgy of St.Basil", as Prayer No. 73. Provided by Fr John Shaw, (Bishop Jerome) via email

 

From http://www.orthodox.net/trebnic/ambvon-nativity.html

Share

Nativity Epistle of Archbishop Mark of Berlin and Germany 2010

Thursday, January 7th, 2010

Christ is born, glorify Him!

And the Word was made flesh (John 1:14)

Archbishop Mark of BerlinThe Mystery of the Incarnation of the Word of God is beyond comprehension to the feeble intellect of mankind. Exactly how this was manifested is unknown even to the angels, archangels and other heavenly bodiless powers. The Holy Fathers say that for man, who has not yet finally healed himself of the sin of pride, it is risky to study the depths of the Divine, in which the Mystery of the pre-eternal Council of the Three-Sun Divinity is hidden. But at the same time, Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition clearly open for all of us the reason why the Son of God was born of the Most-Pure Virgin Mary in Bethlehem. The Divine Word, the Second hypostasis of the Most-Holy Trinity, the Divine Logos, was incarnated for no other reason that for our sake and for the sake of our salvation.  

The Lord Almighty, “upholding all things by the word of his power” (Hebrews 1:3), the all-creating Word, by Whom “were the heavens made” (Psalms 33:6), and by Whom “all things were made” and “the world was made” (John 1:3, 10), chose us, the fallen, weak, foolish, poor, in order to enrich us with Himself. He, upon Whom the many-eyed Cherubim and burning Seraphim dare not gaze, descended to our extreme poverty, in order to become father and brother and friend to us, the rejected. He became the Son of Man, assumed the flesh of mankind in order to make us communicants and heirs of His unutterable glory and His Kingdom. The Son of God entered our nature, which is infected and rotted with sin, in order to heal it from within. He, the all-wealthy, became poor, in order to enrich us, the impoverished.

Out of all of creation, mankind is closer and dearer to the All-Merciful Savior. Not other creature does the Lord nourish with His most-pure Flesh and His life-giving Blood. No other creature is created in the image and likeness of God.

Let us ponder, dear brothers and sisters, why of all the names in the tongue of man, did the Son of God choose the name “the Word.” Was in not so that we, His disciples and followers, would cherish the gift of speech which separates us from all the earthly creatures?

Since we are created in the image and likeness of God, our language itself must reflect the image of the word of God and its power. Used in accordance with its Divine purpose, it creates everything for the good, similarly to the Word of God. The word of God’s saints heals and teaches, it soothes the savage beasts and consoles the suffering, it lifts up the fallen and raises the dead. The word of man, given wings through prayer, passes unimpeded through the heavens and reaches the Divine throne. It has been thus in ancient and not-so-ancient days, and so, by the grace of God, should it be in our day.

Yet many today do not believe in the constructive power of the word, and carelessly dismiss this gift of God, using it for lowly, fleshly purposes. Sinful filth has rendered the word of mankind powerless. The world, as never before, is choking and dying from idle, empty and false words—those very words for which we will be obliged to answer for on the Day of Judgment. If the word is not sanctified by prayer, if, having been given to us to communicate with God, it becomes an instrument used to achieve purely temporal goals, it will become a destructive and soul-dooming instead of a positive force. There are more than enough examples of this in the contemporary world.

But we, as children of the Church of Christ, no longer belong to this world, which had rejected the Word of God at its peril. The Lord Himself has “chosen” us “out of the world” (John 15:19), as He once selected His first disciples. We, the chosen ones, Orthodox Christian, know that the Word of God did not only at one time become Flesh, but has remained with us forever in the Church, in His Body. It has remained with us, illuminating our word, our human word, and preserves its divine power when we use it for prayer, and, correspondingly, in our service: the pastor in his words of edification and denunciation; the teacher in his words of wisdom and reason; students and the flock—words of humility, meekness and obedience in the image of the our Lord Jesus, “meek and lowly in heart” (Matthew 11:29).

The world today needs the word of truth no less than in those times, when the “light of wisdom”  first shone from the Bethlehem cave. In the Church of Christ this light shines eternally from the Heavenly Bethlehem, in the Church, the Word of God resounds, illuminating and sanctifying the speaking flock of Christ. The Lord came to earth not to doom fallen mankind, but to save it. If our word is like the Word of God, our minds and hearts will be filled with His Spirit, the Spirit of truth, and we will be true children of God Almighty and lanterns unto the world, even if “the whole world lieth in wickedness” (1 John 5:19), yet seeking salvation. Amen.

Link: http://www.russianorthodoxchurch.ws/synod/eng2010/1enarbpmarkepistle.html

Share

Nativity Epistle of His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion First Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad

Thursday, January 7th, 2010

 

Archpastors and brethren, most honorable fathers,
and all Orthodox children of the Russian Diaspora,
beloved in the Lord! 

Metropolitan HilarionI congratulate you with all my heart on the all-glorious and divinely salvific feast of the Nativity of Christ and the impending New Year! 

Each year the feast of the Nativity of Christ enters into our hearts with ineffable spiritual joy—the joy that came to earth when the angel of the Lord announced the birth of Christ the Savior to the simple shepherds of Bethlehem. The feast of the Nativity also fills us with radiant joy through the profound content of its divine services, which illumine our souls: the deeply edifying and divinely inspired hymnody of the Nativity and the readings taken from the prophecies. 

 Hieromartyr Hilarion (Troitsky) wrote thus of the miracle of the birth of the divine Infant: "The heavens proclaimed the birth of God on earth, yet this proclamation was magnificent and silent, because the stars were the heavens’ mouth. This event, which the whole Christian world now celebrates, at the time passed almost completely unnoticed." And this was probably because everything that is great takes place in stillness and mystery. 

In the night of the Nativity, near the city of Bethlehem, in a humble cave which shepherds used for penning their flocks, was born Him Whose name has become close to millions of people in our land. For Jesus, the divine Infant, Who was born of the Virgin Mary, came to proclaim to us the glad tidings of our salvation—the Gospel of joy and light, the good news of new life." The Son of God became man so that man might become the son of God," the Holy Hieromartyr Irenaeus of Lyon wrote of Christ the Savior. In the divine Infant our salvation became visible. In God, Who for our sake became man, we all sense ourselves beloved and cherished in the eyes of the creator.  

Rejoicing with the angelic hosts that unceasingly glorify God in the heavens, with them we sing the wondrous hymn of the angels: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill among men!" This joy is transmitted to all men, from age to age, from generation to generation. During the difficult 20th century this joy gave to our people the strength to endure persecution at the hands of their neighbors and kin, wars, invasion by foreign foes, estrangements. 

And today, when things are still unsettled in the world, when we are threatened by the economic disorders to which the unrestrained striving for wealth and profits, and the abandonment of moral principles have brought us, let us not be daunted by the stormy waves of the sea of life, for we are not alone in this world. In the hymnody of the Nativity of Christ we sing: "God is with us! Understand, ye nations, and submit yourselves, for God is with us!" If with all our mind, all our heart, all our life we will strive to be with God, then no difficulty or trial will discourage us. And no one will be able to deprive us of the joy that comes to us from on high, and which the Gospel tells us no one can take from us (John. 16:22). 

This past year there took place in the life of the reunited Russian Orthodox Church an event long awaited by the faithful in the homeland: the all-pure Mother of God, in her miraculous image—the Kursk-Root Icon of the Sign—visited Russia and its native precincts in the Kursk-Root Hermitage. It was a joyful thing to behold the faith and zeal of the tens of thousands of believers who came to venerate the Directress of the Russian Diaspora. One may rightly say that this event brought them together spiritually and united them. All of this gives one hope that, with God’s help, in the year 2010 also the good traditions of that spiritual life of prayer, the beginnings of which were laid by the ever-memorable Patriarch Alexy and Metropolitan Laurus, will develop further and become the surety of the spiritual unity of our Holy Church. 

The year 2010 will mark the 90th anniversary of the formation of the Russian Church Abroad. Thus, we would like to thank the hierarchs and pastors who carry out their tasks with diligence and zeal, the staff members of the departments of the Synod, the Church-affiliated social organizations, the parish schools, the sisterhoods, and all who help strengthen the Church throughout the Russian Diaspora, and to call upon them to work toward the fulfillment of the goals which lie before our Church in the field of spiritual, educational and missionary service. 

With "Christ is born! Glorify Him!" the Holy Church addresses us during these radiant festal days. Let us follow this summons and glorify Him in our prayers, acts, words and thoughts. 

The day of the Nativity of Christ is a feast of peace, hope and the love of God. Let each of us strive to translate this day into deeds pleasing to God—let us give alms and help our neighbors, treat each person with goodness and love, become better and, most important, closer to God. With all my soul I wish that you will greet and celebrate the radiant feast of the Nativity of Christ in the joy of the Lord Who came into the world "for our sake and for our salvation." Let the joy of the radiant Nativity of Christ enter into each home, each family, and warm our hearts with the fervor of divine Love. 

May your souls be filled with splendor and joy, like the cave of Bethlehem, where the divine Infant, the Savior of the world, was born. May God bless our homes and families with peace, happiness and prosperity during the coming year and all the days of our life. May the star of Bethlehem guide you on the path to salvation. 

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who has now been born of the Ever-virgin Mary, remain with all of you. 

+Hilarion,
Metropolitan of New York and Eastern America,
First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad

Link:http://www.russianorthodoxchurch.ws/synod/eng2010/1enchristmasepistlemh.html

Share

NB:The Dayspring from on high – a little about the Nativity Troparion

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

Thy Nativity, O Christ our God, *

Hath shined upon the world the light of knowledge; *

for thereby, they that worshipped the stars *

were taught by a star *

to worship Thee, the Sun of Righteousness, *

and to know Thee, the Dayspring from on high. *

O Lord, glory be to Thee. (Nativity Troparion, Tone 4)

 

Adoration of the Magi, from http://www.iconsexplained.com/iec/lib/02892_adoration_of_the_magi_marice_sariola.jpg

“Dayspring” means a rising of light from the East.

 

The Persian wise men were astrologers. The star of Bethlehem (actually an angel) arose in the East and was seen by them in the West, in Persia (modern day Iran). They had been awaiting the fulfillment of Baalam’s prophesy:

 

“I will point to him, but not now; I bless him, but he draws not near: a star shall rise out of Jacob, a man shall spring out of Israel; and shall crush the princes of Moab, and shall spoil all the sons of Seth.” (Numbers 24:17 Brenton)

 

The East is associated with the Lord Jesus Christ, and in His second coming, He will appear from the East.

 Here “light” is referred to four  times, and refers to:

  1. Enlightenment              (“the light of knowledge”)
  2. The star of Bethlehem (“were taught by a star”)
  3. The Lord Jesus Christ  (“the Sun of Righteousness”)
  4. The Lord Jesus Christ  (“the Dayspring from on high”)

 

 

It would be entirely appropriate to sing or chant this troparion daily during the festal Nativity season (the Twelve days of Christmas).  If you cannot sing, just ask Jenny or Deacon Nicholas or even me to chant it for you. It is not so hard to learn! The Serbian melody for this troparion is particularly beautiful and easy to sing.

  

For a catechetical audio discussion on the Nativity Troparion and Kontakion, go here: http://www.orthodox.net/catechism/prayers-of-the-church_2008-01-08+nativity-of-the-savior,-troparion-and-kontakion.mp3

 

Share

Christ is born to raise up the image that fell of old!

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

Once Mary, pregnant with a seedless pregnancy, / was registered in Bethlehem with the elder Joseph, / as being of the seed of David. / And while they were there, / the days were accomplished that she should be delivered, / but there was no room for them in the inn. / But the cave showed itself to be a beauteous palace for the Queen, / and Christ is born //to raise up the image that fell of old!
Troparion of the Forefeast, sung in the Royal Hours for Nativity.

The beautiful troparion of the Forefeast of Nativity sums up succinctly the purpose of the incarnation of the God-Man, Jesus Christ. One may say, it contains in full our “theology of redemption”. Jesus Christ became man so that our image, which “fell of old” due to the sin of Adam and Eve, and the subsequent weakening of the human race might be “raised”.

He did not come to “purchase” our forgiveness by dying on the cross1 His primary mission was not just to obtain forgiveness for us!

If all Christ’s mission accomplished for us was that our sins are forgiven, we are truly to be lamented, because we will never be able to change. We would still be sinners, with our tempestuous passions, even if we be pardoned every day. What good is that?

We were made in the image of God – Who is perfectly holy, perfectly free, perfectly at peace. Our sins obscure this image, and make it less effectual in our lives, just as dirt makes pure water cloudy. The water retains all its properties, even though because of the pollution it is unfit to drink.

The “dirt” in our soul that obscures the image of God is our sins, our passions, and in general, our weakened human condition.

“Raising up the image that fell of old” is like filtering the water, and removing that which is foreign to it.

Can God’s grace raise up His image in us, obscured by sin and passions, merely by forgiveness? Absolutely not. Forgiveness does not remove sinfulness; it does not strengthen the human condition.

 Christ “raised up the image” (of God) in us precisely by showing us how to live, and enabling us to live in this way. His ministry was one of knowledge and power. His way of life and teachings shows us the only way to live, and by His power, upon resurrecting His human soul, he gave us the ability. The raising up of the image is performed by each of us, with struggle, always with the grace of God helping us.

If we truly understand what the “Image of God” is then the need to labor to raise up this image will be plainly apparent.

The image of God reflects His nature – God is love, and He is pure, holy, full of knowledge, free. How can these things be understood if they are not lived?

Purity cannot be given to the impure as one might give some sort of material gift. To understand purity, one must become pure – not just be forgiven sins, but by labor and God’s grace obliterate impurity in the soul. To understand love, one must love: not as the world loves, but as God loves. To know God, we must become like God. Only then will the image of God that fell of old within us be raised.

 

Because of the incarnation, teaching and resurrection of the God-man, Jesus Christ, we have been given everything we need to “raise up the image that fell of old”. Let us then, “get up from our bed and walk!”


1this is the so called “substitutionary atonement" taught by most Protestants ans Roman catholics, and alas, believed by some Orthodox who do not understand their own faith. This doctrine states that Jesus appeased His Father’s wrath by offering Himself as a perfect sacrifice. In essence, this doctrine states that God would NOT forgive us unless we killed His son!

 

Changed from a previous post, at http://orthodox.net/redeemingthetime/2008/01/06/to-raise-up-the-image-that-fell-of-old/

Share

NB: Interpreting the Nativity Icon.

Tuesday, January 5th, 2010


Nativity of the Savior from Iviron Monastery.  http://www.orthodox.net/ikons/nativity-savior-iviron-monastery-01.jpg

 

Ikons are not only “Windows to Heaven” – they also tell a story, if one understands the symbolism. A few things about the Nativity Ikon:

 


 

The Christ child is shown wrapped in a burial shroud from head to toe – NOT swaddling clothes! This reminds us that He was born in order to die for us.

 


In the lower left corner, Joseph is sometimes shown. He is being tempted by the Devil concerning Mary’s pregnancy:

 
“Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.  (19)  Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily.”   (Mat 1:18-19)

 

An entire homily recently given (audio) was based mostly on this event


 

 

 

“NB” is shorthand for “nota bene” ,which is Latin for “Note well”. These shorter posts are meant to be “noted well” more often because they are briefer than the usual blog posts. I have “noted well”  that many of my flock does do not read the longer posts. I have a lot of stuff to tell you, so there will still be longer posts, but I also plan to post shorter “snippets” which will have “NB:” in the title.

 

 

Share

Questions about the Genealogy of Christ (Mat 1:1-17) part 2

Tuesday, January 5th, 2010

On the Sunday before the Nativity of Christ, we remember the Holy Fathers (the ancestors of Christ) and read the genealogy of Christ, from the Gospel of Matthew. There are many lessons in this genealogy, which may be gleaned by looking at it as a whole, and also examining the individuals mentioned.  

Link: http://www.orthodox.net/questions/christs_geneology_1.html

 

 

QUESTION 6

"And Judas begat Phares and Zara of Thamar;" (Matthew 1:3)

What was Judas and Thamar’s relationship? Tell the circumstances of the conception. The even more important and marvelous circumstances of the birth of Phares and Zara are discussed in the next question.


ANSWER 6

Judas was the father in law of Thamar. He had a son, Er, who was Thamar’s first husband: "And Judah took a wife for Er his firstborn, whose name was Thamar." (Gen. 38:6)

There were no children out of this union, as: "…Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the LORD; and the LORD slew him." (Gen. 38:7)

Thamar was then married to Onan, whose sin of selfish self-gratification has much to teach us:

"And Judah said unto Onan, Go in unto thy brother’s wife, and marry her, and raise up seed to thy brother. {38:9} And Onan knew that the seed should not be his; and it came to pass, when he went in unto his brother’s wife, that he spilled it on the ground, lest that he should give seed to his brother. {38:10} And the thing which he did displeased the LORD: wherefore he slew him also." (Gen. 38:8-10)

Poor Thamar was now twice a widow, and had not "raised up seed for Israel". Judah told her to wait until his younger son Shelah was grown, and in the meantime, live in his house as a chaste widow:

"Then said Judah to Thamar his daughter in law, Remain a widow at thy father’s house, till Shelah my son be grown: for he said, Lest peradventure he die also, as his brethren did. And Thamar went and dwelt in her father’s house." (Gen. "38:11)

In time, Judah’s wife Shuah died. Judah, perhaps not thinking clearly, went away with his shepherds, and did not mate Thamar with his son Selah, even though he was grown. This arrangement sets the stage for Thamar’s deception, and sin with Judah. The scripture tells the tale very clearly:

"And it was told Thamar, saying, Behold thy father in law goeth up to Timnath to shear his sheep. {14} And she put her widow’s garments off from her, and covered her with a veil, and wrapped herself, and sat in an open place, which is by the way to Timnath; for she saw that Shelah was grown, and she was not given unto him to wife. {15} When Judah saw her, he thought her to be an harlot; because she had covered her face. {16} And he turned unto her by the way, and said, Go to, I pray thee, let me come in unto thee; (for he knew not that she was his daughter in law.) And she said, What wilt thou give me, that thou mayest come in unto me? {17} And he said, I will send thee a kid from the flock. And she said, Wilt thou give me a pledge, till thou send it? {18} And he said, What pledge shall I give thee? And she said, Thy signet, and thy bracelets, and thy staff that is in thine hand. And he gave it her, and came in unto her, and she conceived by him." (Gen. 38:13-18)

Later, Judah became aware that Thamar was pregnant, not knowing that he had lain with her. He hypocritically wanted to punish her, but her craftiness (when she asked for a pledge before her harlotry) saved her, and was very instructive to Judah.

"And it came to pass about three months after, that it was told Judah, saying, Thamar thy daughter in law hath played the harlot; and also, behold, she is with child by whoredom. And Judah said, Bring her forth, and let her be burnt. {25} When she was brought forth, she sent to her father in law, saying, By the man, whose these are, am I with child: and she said, Discern, I pray thee, whose are these, the signet, and bracelets, and staff. {26} And Judah acknowledged them, and said, She hath been more righteous than I; because that I gave her not to Shelah my son. And he knew her again no more." (Gen. 38:24-26)

Marvelous are the works of God. Out of a sinful, incestual union is raised up the Son of God. The blood of harlots and fornicators beats in his heart. He has truly taken on all of our sins, and made everything clean, as even his genealogy shows.


 

QUESTION 7

"And Judas begat Phares and Zara of Thamar;" (Matt 1:3)

Tell the story of Phares and Zara. How were they conceived? What is the theological significance of the way they were born?


  

ANSWER 7

Phares and Zara were born of harlotry, described in the question above. Their names are very significant, and are descriptive of the birth process, and the economy of God, and the salvation of man.

Zara, who was the first born, means "East", or "brightness". Phares, who was the second born, although he preceded his brother completely out of the womb, means "division" or "rupture" or "interruption", as Blessed Theofylact has it. Here is the story of the birth:

"And it came to pass in the time of her travail, that, behold, twins were in her womb. {28} And it came to pass, when she travailed, that the one put out his hand: and the midwife took and bound upon his hand a scarlet thread, saying, This came out first. {29} And it came to pass, as he drew back his hand, that, behold, his brother came out: and she said, How hast thou broken forth? This breach be upon thee: therefore his name was called Phares. {30} And afterward came out his brother, that had the scarlet thread upon his hand: and his name was called Zara." (Gen. 38:27-30)

This story has great theological significance. If we were to read the scriptures in isolation, and try to glean meaning with little understanding, we would miss much of the significant meaning in passages such as this. Fortunately, we, who are not holy, have the holy Fathers, who have expressed wondrously the mind of the church, and helped illuminate the sometimes dark sayings of holy writ.

Phares was aptly named, as he interfered with the natural order. The babe who put his hand out of the womb first should have been born first. Zara first showed his hand and then withdrew it, and so to did the life of Christ appear in the holy ones who lived before the circumcision (such men as Adam, and Seth, and Enoch, and Noah, Job, Melchisedec, and the rest). When the law came, this way of life receded. Later, with the coming of Christ, it blossomed forth again, through the blood of Christ, which was prophesied by the scarlet thread.


 

QUESTION 8

"And Salmon begat Boaz of Rachab; and Boaz begat Obed of Ruth; and Obed begat Jesse;" (Matthew 1:5)


What sort of woman was Rachab? Tell the important story associated with her.


 

ANSWER 8

Rachab was a harlot, who dwelt in the pagan land of Canaan, in the city of Jericho. When Joshua, the son of Nun wished to conquer Jericho, he sent spies into the city to gather military intelligence. These spies stayed with Rachab.

"And Joshua the son of Nun sent out of Shittim two men to spy secretly, saying, Go view the land, even Jericho. And they went, and came into an harlot’s house, named Rachab, and lodged there." (Josh 2:1)

The king of the city became aware of their incursion, and Rachab put herself at great risk by protecting the men:

"And the king of Jericho sent unto Rachab, saying, Bring forth the men that are come to thee, which are entered into thine house: for they be come to search out all the country. {4} And the woman took the two men, and hid them, and said thus, There came men unto me, but I wist not whence they were: {5} And it came to pass about the time of shutting of the gate, when it was dark, that the men went out: whither the men went I wot not: pursue after them quickly; for ye shall overtake them. {6} But she had brought them up to the roof of the house, and hid them with the stalks of flax, which she had laid in order upon the roof." (Josh 2:3-6)

Rachab was a wise woman, who knew of the exploits of the Jews; this knowledge found a fertile place in her heart, and she, a pagan, believed in the true God.

"And she said unto the men, I know that the LORD hath given you the land, and that your terror is fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land faint because of you. {10} For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red sea for you, when ye came out of Egypt; and what ye did unto the two kings of the Amorites, that were on the other side Jordan, Sihon and Og, whom ye utterly destroyed. {11} And as soon as we had heard these things, our hearts did melt, neither did there remain any more courage in any man, because of you: for the LORD your God, he is God in heaven above, and in earth beneath." (Josh 2:9-11)

She therefore begged mercy of the two men, and they covenanted with her to save she and her household:

"Now therefore, I pray you, swear unto me by the LORD, since I have showed you kindness, that ye will also show kindness unto my father’s house, and give me a true token: {13} And that ye will save alive my father, and my mother, and my brethren, and my sisters, and all that they have, and deliver our lives from death. {14} And the men answered her, Our life for yours, if ye utter not this our business. And it shall be, when the LORD hath given us the land, that we will deal kindly and truly with thee." (Josh 2:12-14)

They arranged a signal, using a scarlet thread:

"Behold, when we come into the land, thou shalt bind this line of scarlet thread in the window which thou didst let us down by: and thou shalt bring thy father, and thy mother, and thy brethren, and all thy father’s household, home unto thee. {19} And it shall be, that whosoever shall go out of the doors of thy house into the street, his blood shall be upon his head, and we will be guiltless: and whosoever shall be with thee in the house, his blood shall be on our head, if any hand be upon him. {20} And if thou utter this our business, then we will be quit of thine oath which thou hast made us to swear. {21} And she said, According unto your words, so be it. And she sent them away, and they departed: and she bound the scarlet line in the window." (Josh 2:18-21)

When the city was taken, only Rachab and her family were saved:

"And it came to pass at the seventh time, when the priests blew with the trumpets, Joshua said unto the people, Shout; for the LORD hath given you the city. {17} And the city shall be accursed, even it, and all that are therein, to the LORD: only Rachab the harlot shall live, she and all that are with her in the house, because she hid the messengers that we sent." (Josh 6:16-17)

The scarlet thread points to the blood of Christ, which saves us from all sin, and protects all households that cleave unto Him. Rachab was a harlot who was made clean. Boaz took her to wife, indicating in a mystical way how Christ makes all things clean, and renews human nature. Of course, the holy Chrysostom says it best:

"Seest thou that it was not for few nor small causes that he brought to our remembrance the whole history concerning Judah? For this end he hath mentioned Ruth also and Rachab, the one an alien, the other an harlot, that thou mayest learn that He came to do away with all our ills. For He hath come as a Physician, not as a Judge. Therefore in like manner as those of old took harlots for wives, even so God too espoused unto Himself the nature which had played the harlot…" (Chrysostom, Homilies on Matthew, Homily 5, section 5)


 

QUESTION 9

"And Salmon begat Boaz of Rachab; and Boaz begat Obed of Ruth; and Obed begat Jesse;" (Matthew 1:5)

Who was Ruth? Tell of her life previous to meeting Boaz. What might we glean from her marriage to Boaz?


 

ANSWER 9

Ruth was a foreigner, from land of Moab, a pagan land. She was the daughter in law of Naomi, whose son she had married, and was left a widow at a young age. Naomi and her two daughters in law, Ruth and Oprah, journeyed from Moab into the land of Judah. Naomi, who was an Israelite, asked her daughters in law to return back to their land:

"And Naomi said unto her two daughters in law, Go, return each to her mother’s house: the LORD deal kindly with you, as ye have dealt with the dead, and with me. {9} The LORD grant you that ye may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband. Then she kissed them; and they lifted up their voice, and wept." (Ruth 1:8-9)

They with one voice demurred, but Naomi persisted, and broke the resolve of Oprah, who went to return to her own people in Moab:

"And they said unto her, Surely we will return with thee unto thy people. {11} And Naomi said, Turn again, my daughters: why will ye go with me? Are there yet any more sons in my womb, that they may be your husbands? {12} Turn again, my daughters, go your way; for I am too old to have a husband. If I should say, I have hope, if I should have an husband also to night, and should also bear sons; {13} Would ye tarry for them till they were grown? Would ye stay for them from having husbands? nay, my daughters; for it grieveth me much for your sakes that the hand of the LORD is gone out against me. {14} And they lifted up their voice, and wept again: and Orpah kissed her mother in law; but Ruth clave unto her." (Ruth 1:10-14)

Ruth was steadfast in her resolve, amazing Naomi. Ruth passionately declared her belief in the true God, and her fidelity to him. Do not her words stir the blood, even now?

"And she said, Behold, thy sister in law is gone back unto her people, and unto her gods: return thou after thy sister in law. {16} And Ruth said, Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: {17} Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the LORD do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me." (Ruth 1:15-17)

Ruth and Naomi went to Jerusalem, where they were so poor they needed to glean the leftover wheat from the fields. God rewarded her steadfast faith, expressed not only in words, but also deeds, and found the stranger and pilgrim Ruth a husband.

"And Ruth the Moabitess said unto Naomi, Let me now go to the field, and glean ears of corn after him in whose sight I shall find grace. And she said unto her, Go, my daughter." (Ruth 2:2)

Boaz saw her, and was kind to her.

"Then said Boaz unto his servant that was set over the reapers, Whose damsel is this? {6} And the servant that was set over the reapers answered and said, It is the Moabitish damsel that came back with Naomi out of the country of Moab: {7} And she said, I pray you, let me glean and gather after the reapers among the sheaves: so she came, and hath continued even from the morning until now, that she tarried a little in the house. {8} Then said Boaz unto Ruth, Hearest thou not, my daughter? Go not to glean in another field, neither go from hence, but abide here fast by my maidens: {9} Let thine eyes be on the field that they do reap, and go thou after them: have I not charged the young men that they shall not touch thee? and when thou art athirst, go unto the vessels, and drink of that which the young men have drawn. {10} Then she fell on her face, and bowed herself to the ground, and said unto him, Why have I found grace in thine eyes, that thou shouldest take knowledge of me, seeing I am a stranger? {11} And Boaz answered and said unto her, It hath fully been showed me, all that thou hast done unto thy mother in law since the death of thine husband: and how thou hast left thy father and thy mother, and the land of thy nativity, and art come unto a people which thou knewest not heretofore. {12} The LORD recompense thy work, and a full reward be given thee of the LORD God of Israel, under whose wings thou art come to trust." (Ruth 2:5-12)

To make a long and compellingly beautiful story a little shorter, Boaz took Ruth to wife, and out of this union, born of fidelity and honor, and kindness, came forth Obed, who was the father of Jesse, who was the father of David the king:

"So Boaz took Ruth, and she was his wife: and when he went in unto her, the LORD gave her conception, and she bare a son. {14} And the women said unto Naomi, Blessed be the LORD, which hath not left thee this day without a kinsman, that his name may be famous in Israel. {15} And he shall be unto thee a restorer of thy life, and a nourisher of thine old age: for thy daughter in law, which loveth thee, which is better to thee than seven sons, hath borne him. {16} And Naomi took the child, and laid it in her bosom, and became nurse unto it. {17} And the women her neighbors gave it a name, saying, There is a son born to Naomi; and they called his name Obed: he is the father of Jesse, the father of David." (Ruth 4:13-17)

Although the answer is again become long, we cannot leave off the inspired words of the Holy Chrysostom, who aids us in marveling at the economy of God:

"See, for instance, what befell Ruth, how like it is to the things which belong to us. For she was both of a strange race, and reduced to the utmost poverty, yet Boaz when he saw her neither despised her poverty nor abhorred her mean birth, as Christ having received the Church, being both an alien and in much poverty, took her to be partaker of the great blessings. But even as Ruth, if she had not before left her father, and renounced household and race, country and kindred, would not have attained unto this alliance; so the Church too, having forsaken the customs which men had received from their fathers, then, and not before, became lovely to the Bridegroom. Of this therefore the prophet discourses unto her, and saith, "Forget thy people, and thy father’s house, so shall the king have pleasure in thy beauty." This Ruth did too, and because of this she became a mother of kings, even as the Church did likewise. For of her David himself sprung. So then to shame them by all these things, and to prevail on them not to be high-minded, he hath both composed the genealogy, and brought forward these women." (Homilies on Matthew, Homily 3, Section 5)


 

QUESTION 10

"And Jesse begat David the king; and David the king begat Solomon of her that had been the wife of Urias;" (Matthew 1:6)

Who was the former wife of Urias? Why did she conceive a son by David?


 

ANSWER 10

The former wife of Urias was Bathsheba. She was a beautiful women, whom David saw bathing, while he was reclining in idleness. He lusted for her, and committed adultery, and was so taken with her that he arranged for her husband Urias, who was in battle, to be put at the front, so that he was killed. Thus was David guilty of both adultery and murder. Eventually, out of their union came Solomon, who continued the line of Christ.

How inscrutable are God’s ways! How great is his condescension! The God-man counts as his ancestors harlots and strangers, and adulterers and murderers. Can there be any doubt that there is no sin too great for His mercy to cover?

 

Share