Prophet Isaiah, today. The Coal from the altar, what he did, and what we should do, and other things.


This is from our "10things" section. I wanted to write more, but the day is way too busy, and I covered the most important thing, I think The Holy Prophet Isaiah is commemoreated today. May 9/22.



Prophet Isaiah 10 Things[1]

Commemorated May 9/22


1. Holy Prophet Isaiah lived 700 years before the Birth of Christ, and was descended of royal lineage.[2]


He is considered to be one of the four “major” prophets, so called because their books are much longer than the Minor Prophets (they are not “more important” than the minor prophets). The Major Prophets are: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel and Ezekiel.


2. The life of Isaiah is quite interesting and instructive, and historical information about Isaiah can be found in the latter “points”. The important information to know is what Isaiah said, and what we should do about what he said.


The prophet was called into the prophetic ministry in the following event:


Isa 6:1-8 Brenton  And it came to pass in the year in which king Ozias died, that I saw the Lord sitting on a high and exalted throne, and the house was full of his glory.  (2)  And seraphs stood round about him: each one had six wings: and with two they covered their face, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew.  (3)  And one cried to the other, and they said, Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory(4)  And the lintel shook at the voice they uttered, and the house was filled with smoke.  (5)  And I said, Woe is me, for I am pricked to the heart; for being a man, and having unclean lips, I dwell in the midst of a people having unclean lips; and I have seen with mine eyes the King, the Lord of hosts.  (6)  And there was sent to me one of the seraphs, and he had in his hand a coal, which he had taken off the altar with the tongs:  (7)  and he touched my mouth, and said, Behold, this has touched thy lips, and will take away thine iniquities, and will purge off thy sins.  (8)  And I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go to this people? And I said, behold, I am here, send me.


There are many extraordinary things about this passage.


The “Lord” sitting on His throne is non other than the pre-incarnate Jesus Christ. The Messiah’s ministry did not begin with the birth of the God-man from the womb of the virgin; Jesus Christ was active with his people in many occurrences in the OT.


Other examples of pre-incarnate visitations of Jesus Christ are:  Moses seeing the “back parts” of God on Mount Sinai[3], the “Son of God” in the furnace with the three holy children[4], the visitation of the three angels  with Abraham[5], and many others.


The coal is a “type” or foreshadowing of Holy Communion.  We say the words of Isaiah after we commune:


Behold, this has touched thy lips, and will take away thine iniquities, and will purge off thy sins


The priest always says this after he gives communion to each communicant, or when he himself communes.


It is a pious tradition for everyone to say this after they have communed. 


How many of you Orthodox Christians know of this tradition, and have memorized this important verse, and say it with awe and expectation after communing? If you have not until this point, it would be good to start now. If we can remember the theme to “Green Acres[6]”, we should certainly be able to remember important words of Holy Scripture which directly pertain to our salvation!


We should take special note of Isaiah’s reaction to the visitation of the angel and reception of “communion”. He was filled with compunction and awareness of his own sins. We MUST notice also how he reacted to this awareness.


Awareness of our impurity and sin is a hallmark of true, soul saving Christian piety. In our day, it is especially hard to cultivate this feeling, as our society values above all ease and the pursuit of pleasure. Contemporary supposedly “Christian” culture is far removed from the feelings of unworthiness that all the saints have; this feeling has been slandered to be “problems with self-esteem”.


Do not be fooled, dear Christian! You, like Isaiah , are a man of unclean lips. This is a manifest fact in your life; to recognize it is to have “eyes to see, and ears to hear”.  Almost ALL of society including supposed Christians is deaf to this feeling; but you must not be, if you are to save your soul.


Note what Isaiah did immediately after being stricken by this feeling. He did not wallow in feelings of poor self worth, but like all the great men and women of faith, his awareness of his personal unworthiness made him bold, and he said what all people should say when God speaks to them:


Behold, I am here, send me.


If you feel unworthy and sinful and remain rooted in inactivity and “stony insensibility”[7], then you can be sure that your feelings are not from God, but from temptations of the Devil and your own passions and weaknesses.


The strong feel unworthy, and therefore give themselves over  completely to God’s will , and end up doing great things! The weak feel unworthy, and do nothing, or very little.


The important question for us poor, egotistical and passionate Christians is how do we transition our soul to the PROPER feelings of unworthiness?


There are no shortcuts. Pray, fast, struggle. Consider the holy services to be your lifeline, and not just only a Sunday or feast day obligation. Commune frequently, with frequent confession. Humble yourself.


Do not believe what the world tells you about self-worth, and pleasure and meaning. The world lies to you.  Look to the church, and the scriptures and the Saints for your role models and instructions for living. Remember that the vast majority of so-called Christians are actually the tares in the wheat field, and will be burned as useless on Judgment day[8].


3. Like many of the prophets, whose words of truth angered those in power, Isaiah was martyred. St Paul mentions him when telling of the exploits of the Jewish Saints before the incarnation who performed amazing exploits because of their faith:


“They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented;  (38)  (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.” (Heb 11:37-38)


Jewish tradition, which continued into the Christian era, holds that Isaiah was sawed in half with a wood saw.


In Yevamoth, fol. 49, 2, it is thus written: “Manasseh slew Isaiah; for he commanded that he should be slain with a wooden saw. They then brought the saw, and cut him in two; and when the saw reached his mouth, his soul fled forth.” St. Jerome and others mention the same thing; and among the Jews the tradition is indubitable.[9]


4. The holy Prophet Isaiah had also a gift of wonderworking. And thus so, when during the time of a siege of Jerusalem by enemies the besieged had become exhausted with thirst, he by his prayer drew out from beneath Mount Sion a spring of water, which was called Siloam, i.e. "sent from God". It was to this spring afterwards that the Savior sent the man blind from birth to wash, and for whom was restored sight by Him. By the prayer of the Prophet Isaiah, the Lord prolonged the life of Hezekiah for 15 years.[10]


5. About the times and the events which occurred during the life of the Prophet Isaiah, the 4th Book of Kings [alt. 2 Kings] speaks (Ch. 16, 17, 19, 20, 23, etc.), and likewise 2 Chronicles (Ch. 26-32).[11]


6. More points will be added when I have time. The story of the coal is so important I wanted to at least get something written about it on this busy day, May 9/22 2009.



From St Nicholas Orthodox Church, McKinney


This document is at &


New10 things” entries, sermons, journal entries , scripture commentary & more are posted on our BLOG: http://www/

Archive of “10 things”:

Use this for any edifying reason, but please give credit, and include the URL were the text was found. We would love to hear from you with comments!

[1] This document is a list of ten (more or less) things about a particular topic. More “Ten Things” topics may be found at They are also posted to the blog of St Nicholas Orthodox Church, McKinney Texas, called  “Redeeming the Time” – Look under the category “10things”. Use anything you wish, but please indicate authorship, with the URL.

[2]Menologion”, Synaxarion entry for Isaiah, May 19/22. ©  1999  by translator Fr. S Janos

[3] Exodus 33:18-23

[4] Daniel Chapter 3, especially: “And Nabuchodonosor heard them singing praises; and he wondered, and rose up in haste, and said to his nobles, Did we not cast three men bound into the midst of the fire? and they said to the king, Yes, O king.  (25)  And the king said, But I see four men loose, and walking in the midst of the fire, and there has no harm happened to them; and the appearance of the fourth is like the Son of God.” (Daniel 3:24-25 Brenton  )

[5] Genesis Chapter 18

[6] “Green Acres” was an inane television comedy I saw as a child. To the best of my knowledge, I escaped rain damage from it, but just barely. Sometimes I amazed  at all the useless things I know, and yet I have not memorized the Psalms!

[7] This comes from the Prayer of the 24 hours of the day, by St John Chrysostom, which is in the evening prayers. The “4th” prayer says “O Lord, deliver me from all ignorance, forgetfulness, faintheartedness, and stony insensibility.”

[8] Matthew 13:24-30. The parable of the wheat and the tares.

[9] This is a Jewish commentary, referenced in the “Menologion”, Synaxarion entry for Isaiah, May 19/22. ©  1999  by translator Fr. S Janos

[10]Menologion”, ibid.

[11]Menologion”, ibid.

1 comment

  1. “?hristian culture”…At times this word combination makes me shiver. It’s because the “culture” is very widely spread. People like to declare they are Christians, meaning they belong to Orthodox church. “Awareness of impurity” spreads to others, not to ourselves. I realise, analysing myself, not only reading the Holy Fathers, that the more spiritual a person is, the more indulgent he is towards others, the more sins he sees in himself. And the more I try to justify myself, the more strict God’s attitude to me will be. “Impurity” is reflected not only in sinful life, but merely in impossibility & reluctance to notice our own sins. Many of us take up radical measures sometimes, trying to obtain spirituality, but we forget that fasts, prayers, deeds are the means for our improvement, but not an end in itself. The revelation of righteousness is humility & love towards others.
    When we live with “dirty lips”, we look at the mirror & see others, we see them in a dim light, we see their imperfections, but we don’t see our own reflection.
    And we rarely think of – what the Church means for us…One of our priests once told us during our Sunday school class, that people turned the Church into the ritual service center. Occasional religios rites, candles, consecrations…Is there anything behind them? Do we feel the sacredness of the place & its real meaning for us as God’s house & the place we come to to purify & save our souls? When I catch myself on teh fact that I start wondering about something, when the service is going on, or get irritated at peoples improper behaviour or cell phones souds, or notice when the reader or singer made a mistake…what am I doing there? When I linger on at the empty piece of paper trying to jot down my sins & find out I have very little to mention, or it occurs to me that I write down one & the same thing with “enviable” permanency…is it not a mockery over repentance?
    May our merciful Lord purify our dirty lips & sould with the Coal of His divine love!

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *