How the Resurrection Changes Everything

For the living know they will die, but the dead know nothing; and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten. Also their love, hatred, and envy have now perished; And they have no portion forever in all that is done under the sun (Eccl 9:5–6 OSB).

image1Growing up Seventh-day Adventist (SDA), I knew this passage well as a proof text demonstrating the “state of the dead.” I believed that when I died, even if I died “in Christ,” I would in essence cease to exist until the general resurrection of the dead on the “last” day. Only my “breath” would return to God. For an extreme biblicist, it is challenging to read the above passage from Ecclesiastes and come to any other conclusion but that the dead are in stasis, lacking all sensibility. In essence they are no more than the molecules remaining from the decomposition of their bodies; cosmic dust. What Seventh-day Adventists and a handful of other protestant denominations fail to understand is the magnitude and immediacy of the resurrection. The resurrection for them and for many other protestants is some distant event that will happen in the future. Yet even many people from denominations that believe that the spirits of the just take up their abode in heaven after death, believe that they have “no portion forever in all that is done under the sun.” I have listened to at least one sermon by a Southern Baptist preacher who assured us that those who have passed from this life cannot see what goes on upon the earth, because, of course, “it’s not in the Bible.”

I posit that at the resurrection, there was a very clear and drastic change in how the people of God understood what the SDAs call “the state of the dead.” The pre-resurrection Jewish understanding of the state of the dead is drastically different than the post-resurrection Christian understanding. This is not to say that one is correct and the other is incorrect, but that this change in understanding was brought about by an ontological change in the state of the dead.

In this brief series, I would like to depict a very basic picture of the Jewish understanding of the state of the dead. I would then like to provide a brief sketch of the Christian teaching on the resurrection, and finally to discuss how this drastic change brought about by the resurrection is testified to by Orthodox and Catholic veneration of the saints. In this first post I will address the Old Testament (and SDA) understanding.

Judaic Teaching on the State of the Dead

In a sense, ancestors were attributed with great honor and a form of veneration. For instance, God is often referred to as the “God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,” honoring these three patriarchs. But this veneration is very different from The Church’s living veneration of our saints. The patriarchs are remembered, but never directly invoked. In fact, throughout the Old Testament, there are very few references to communication with the dead. Furthermore, communication with the dead is condemned by the Law of Moses:

There shall not be found among you anyone who … conjures spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. For all who do these things are an abomination to the Lord your God, and because of these abominations the Lord your God will destroy them before you (Dt 18:10–12).

Near the time of Christ, the common understanding of life after death resembled the views held by the Greeks (notwithstanding SDA teaching). The Old Testament Sheol is analogous to the Greek Hades, and Hades was considered to be a place where the souls of the dead were collected.

The following is an example of how the two concepts are similar. Between the Biblical concept of Sheol and the Greek concept of Hades, there is a similar division of the souls of those who were evil during earthly life from those who were good. In Greek mythology, Hades contains a place called the Elysian Fields, where the souls of those who were heroic and virtuous abode. Likewise, in the Judaic view held near the time of Christ, the righteous dead abode in The Bosom of Abraham (cf. Luke 16:23), which was separate from the place where the unrighteous stayed.1 This view is upheld by Christ’s parable of “The Rich Man and Lazarus,” in which the rich man, who lived a very sinful life, was separated by a vast chasm from the righteous Lazarus, who abode in the bosom of Abraham.

This concept has been understood, and translated in accordance with this understanding, since ancient times. The Septuagint, the primary version of the Bible used by the Orthodox Church, translates the word sheol as hades. The Septuagint has been demonstrated to be the text of the Scriptures that Christ and his Apostles quoted from in the New Testament Scriptures. It predates the New Testament. Likewise, the Vulgate, the primary version of the Bible used by the Catholic Church up until recently, translates sheol into various forms of the word inferno. The Vulgate was compiled only a few hundred years after Christ. It was not until the 1500s and the protestant reformation that Bible translators began replacing the word hades or sheol with grave or death.2

In the next post in this series, we will discuss the post-resurrection Christian view on the state of the dead.

1 F. Gigot, The Bosom of Abraham, In The Catholic Encyclopedia. (New York: Robert Appleton Company 1907).

2 Gary Amirault, The Hell Words of the Bible.

The Hospitality of Abraham: Cyril and Maximus


So far in this short series, we have followed the development of the Church’s understanding of the story of the Hospitality of Abraham. In this post we will wrap up our discussion of the patristic dialog with Saints Cyril and Maximus.

Saint Cyril of Alexandria seems to have presented the most definitive and enduring interpretation regarding Genesis 18. The understanding expressed by Cyril seems to have prevailed and for this reason I deemed it worth the effort to translate an extended passage of his argument from an available Latin translation of the original Greek. Commenting on Genesis 18:1-3, 9-10a (LXX), Cyril writes:

Behold, clearly it says God appeared unto him, truly being three men in appearance, the Holy Abraham approaching from afar speaking not as if to three: “Lords, if indeed I have found grace in your (pl.) sight, pass not by your (pl.) son,” but calling upon the threefold Lord singularly, as if to one, so that they might turn aside unto him, he asked “when,” and as one appearing in three, even as from one persona, they said, “Where is Sarra thy wife?” and responded, “I will come when the time is ripe.”

Discern therefore, discern indeed three appearing, and each identified by its respective hypostasis,1 in word subject to the consubstantial three comprehended in one, and thus intermingling the given work of conversation among themselves. But the likenesses of this mode are obscured in a certain way and are inferior to the truth, unless in some way they are to be used as a hand leading us into knowledge of their properties, which surpass the intellect and speech (obviously the light of the divine vision will penetrate only the most pure intellects), and as from these things which fall to the senses we fly unto that which to our senses and strength of reasoning are very far.

Singular, therefore, by the unanimity of all persons, is the nature of divinity, which is over all, through all and in all: through intellectual means, verily, this is extrapolated to the holy, venerable, and consubstantial Trinity, into the Father, I say, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit… Our progenitor Abraham, therefore, was not ignorant of the worship of the Holy Trinity…2

Cyril’s portrayal of the three speaking in unison is remarkable. He describes the three who appear to Abraham as likenesses that, while not the fullness of the truth, lead us, as if by the hand, into knowledge of God. He asserts that an understanding of the Holy Trinity can be discerned from this type through the application of the intellect. With Cyril we have completed the transition from a Christological to a Trinitarian interpretation.

maximus_the_confessorSaint Maximus, in his Third Dialog on the Holy Trinity, affirms Saint Cyril’s view, arguing likewise that Abraham spoke to three as to one.3 At one point in the dialog, the dialogist known as ‘Orthodox’ literally states that “the three men were God,”4 while his challenger ‘Macedonius’ insists that only one of the three was God and the others were angels. Saint John Damascene agrees with the imagery, yet makes certain to clarify that, “Abraham saw not the nature of God, for no man ever saw God, but the image of God, and falling down he adored.”5

It is interesting to observe that many, if not most, of the arguments made by the Fathers pivot on a precise interpretation of the literal words in Genesis 18. For instance, the Fathers carefully point out an address made in the singular, or an act done in the plural (e.g. the three measures of flour). Each word of Scripture is deemed significant.

In summary, the writings of the Holy Fathers reveal a progression in understanding of the story of The Hospitality of Abraham. In the earliest times all three persons are seen to be angels. In the second century a Christological interpretation is introduced. As we progress through the later fathers, the three men come to be seen as a type of the Holy Trinity, and even as a true theophany, not only of the Son, but of the entire Trinity. Ouspensky and Lossky clarify that the differences present in the latter two views do not change the understanding of the event because all the fullness of the Godhead is present in each Person. Consequently the earlier interpretation does not preclude a Trinitarian understanding.6

In our next post in this series, we will take a brief look at the liturgical witness to this story.

1 The latin word is subsistentia, which has a very similar meaning to the Greek hypostasis.

Saint Cyril of Alexandria, ‘Pro Sancta Christianorum Religione, Adversos Libros Athei Iuliani,’ in Cyrillii Alexandriae Archiepiscopi Operum, ed. Joannis Auberti, v. 6, b. 1, p. 20.

3 Saint Maximus the Confessor, ‘Opera Omnia,’ ed. Francisci Combefis, v. 2, p. 442.

4 Tres viri fuerunt Deus.

5 Saint John Damascene, ‘On Holy Images,’ trans. Mary H. Allies, (London:Thomas Baker 1898), Christian Classics Ethereal Library, Calvin College.

6 Leonid Ouspensky and Vladimir Lossky, ‘The Meaning of Icons,’ (Yonkers:Saint Vladimir’s Seminary Press 1982), p. 201.

The Hospitality of Abraham: From Christ to Trinity

Mosaic from the Papal basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome, c. 5th century

In our previous post, we found that the earliest understanding of the story of the Hospitality of Abraham was that the three visitors were angels. It didn’t take long for interpretation of this story to develop.

Saint Justin expresses an alternative view in his Dialog with Trypho. Trypho believes, as do his contemporary Jewish brethren, that God spoke to Abraham immediately prior to the appearance of the three visitors and that the visitors were merely angels. Justin argues directly from the Scriptures “that one of the three, who is both God and Lord, and ministers to Him who is in the heavens, is Lord of the two angels.”1 Justin understands the central figure of the triad to be the Son of God and those accompanying him to be angels. Saint Irenaeus corroborates Justin’s position, asserting that “two of the three were angels; but one was the Son of God…”2

Though Novatian apostatized, he provides witness to the fact that Justin’s view on Abraham’s visitation persisted in the third century. In his Treatise on the Trinity he writes, “It was not the Father, then, who was a guest with Abraham, but Christ. Nor was it the Father who was seen then, but the Son; and Christ was seen.”3

Saint Ephraim the Syrian provides fourth century confirmation of the Christological understanding of the three persons. In his commentary on Genesis he explains, “Therefore, the Lord, who had just appeared to him at the door of the tent, now appeared to Abraham clearly in one of the three.”4

While the earliest view may have been purely angelological, the bulk of the patristic witness up to this point seems to have been consistently Christological. The Church’s understanding of this theophany seems to begin evolving later in the fourth century as both Saints Ambrose and Augustine begin to see this triad as a type of the Holy Trinity.

Saint Ambrose explicitly recognizes that the appearance of the three is a type. He also perceives Trinitarian significance in the cardinalities of both the sacrifice and the gifts offered to the three.

Abraham… saw the Trinity in a type… beholding Three he worshipped One, and preserving the distinction of the Persons, yet addressed one Lord, he offered to Three the honour of his gift, while acknowledging one Power… and so he sees Three, but worships the Unity. He brings forth three measures of fine meal, and slays one victim, considering that one sacrifice is sufficient, but a triple gift; one victim, an offering of three.5

Saint Augustine followed his mentor in a similar vein, asserting more resolutely that the presence of God in the three visitors was typological. Justin had earlier argued that one of the three was Christ as evidenced by the fact that Abraham addressed the three as one. Augustine argues, specifically countering Justin’s argument, that no particular person of the three was Christ, but all three were angels. He observes that the same phenomenon occurred when Lot addressed only two as one while the third remained with Abraham. Augustine supports an iconic presence, arguing that:

This makes it much more credible that both Abraham in the three men and Lot in the two recognized the Lord, addressing Him in the singular number, even when they were addressing men… Yet there was about them something so excellent, that those who showed them hospitality as men could not doubt that God was in them as He was wont to be in the prophets…6

In our next post, we will examine a more refined expression of this understanding in the writings of Saints Cyril and Maximus.

1 Justin Martyr, ‘Dialog with Trypho’, trans. Messrs. Dods and Reith, in The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus ( , ed. Philip Schaff, Christian Classics Ethereal Library, Calvin College, ch. 56.

2 Peter Kirby. “A Discourse in Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching,” in Early Christian Writings ( .

3 Novatian, ‘A Treatise of Novatian Concerning the Trinity,’ trans. Rev. Robert Ernest Wallis, in Ante-Nicene Fathers, ( , ed. Philip Schaff, Christian Classics Ethereal Library, Calvin College, ch. 18.

4 Saint Ephraim the Syrian, ‘Selected Prose Works,’ trans. Edward G. Matthews, Jr. and Joseph P. Amar, in The Fathers of the Church, ed. Kathleen McVey (Catholic Univ of Amer Pr 1994), v. 91, s. 15, pars. 1, p. 158.

5 Saint Ambrose of Milan, ‘Selected Works and Letters,’ trans. The Rev. H. De Romestin, in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series 2, volume 10, ( , ed. Philip Schaff, Christian Classics Ethereal Library, Calvin College,  pars. 96.

6 Saint Augustine, ‘The City of God,’ trans. Rev. Marcus Dods, D.D., in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series 1, Volume 2 ( , ed. Philip Schaff, Christian Classics Ethereal Library, Calvin College, Book 16, ch. 29.

The Ark: Conclusions

This is our final post in the series about how the Church views the Ark of the Covenant. In our previous post, we did some analysis on how the typology developed over time. Here I will share some thoughts on the implications of the fully developed typology. What does it mean?

As Robert Pirsig notes in the popular treatment of philosophy, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,

all you’ve got to work with is what you know. So your definition is made up of what you know. It’s an analogue to what you already know. It has to be. It can’t be anything else. And the mythos grows this way. By analogies to what is known before. The mythos is a building of analogues upon analogues upon analogues. These fill the collective consciousness of all communicating mankind. Every last bit of it.1

This mythos underlies the fabric of human consciousness. In the case of the nation of Israel, the relics and stories of the Old Testament formed a large component of the mythos that was woven into the collective consciousness. God, as the author of history, often writes history in such a way that it develops within the mythos the things that will be necessary to help understand and articulate what is to come. This mythos, as the collection of what early Jewish Christians knew, formed the basis of new definitions and a deepening articulation of the gospel in the patristic age.

But typology is more than just a method of definition. I suggest that typology is akin to what C. S. Lewis calls myth. Lewis believed that myth is somewhere between the intellectual and the purely experiential. In traditional usage, memory and imagination are aspects of abstract intellectual thought. Unseen Warfare explains that “imagination is a power of the soul such that, by its very nature, it has no capacity for entering the realm of union with God.”2 It follows that purely intellectual endeavors have no capacity for entrance into a direct experience of God. On the other hand, pure experience does not bring understanding. Lewis advocated myth as a partial solution to this problem. He posited that, “In the enjoyment of a great myth we come nearest to experiencing as a concrete what can otherwise be understood only as an abstraction.”3 In a sense myth, and perhaps typology, can be seen to bridge the spiritual and the intellectual.

This way of defining what the Holy Virgin is is a tool to help us understand, not only on an intellectual level, but on a spiritual level as well. Likewise, though the Church emphasizes it less, talking about the Ark as a type of Christ teaches us certain things about Christ on both a spiritual and intellectual level. Neither typology is wrong per se, but the Church, in her wisdom, has chosen to emphasize the Ark as a type of the Theotokos.

The understanding conveyed by typology cannot be obtained through an intellectual discourse such is this. We can certainly discuss aspects of its meaning, but it must be experienced. Perhaps the best place to begin an experience of this typology is participation in the feasts of the Church. As Saint Jerome extended the metaphor of the Ark to the monastic life, the late Protopresbyter Thomas Hopko extended the metaphor to everyone.  In his discussion of the feasts he explains:

Thus, the feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple is the feast which celebrates the end of the physical temple in Jerusalem as the dwelling place of God. When the child Mary enters the temple, the time of the temple comes to an end and the “preview of the good will of God” is shown forth. On this feast we celebrate-in the person of Christ’s mother-that we too are the house and tabernacle of the Lord.4

1 Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, (New York, NY: HarperTorch, 2006), Ch. 28.

2Lorenzo Scupoli, ‘Unseen Warfare,’ trans. E. Kadloubovsky & G. E. H. Palmer (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press 1987), p. 148.

3 S. Lewis, ‘Myth Became Fact’.

4 Protopresbyter Thomas Hopko, The Orthodox Faith, volume 2, (

Blessing the Waters

20170116_113258Given my general focus on typology on this blog, I thought it apropos to say something about the typology evident in the Orthodox feast of Holy Theophany (our parish’s patronal feast), or Christ’s baptism. Today our family made the trek with many others from our parish to the continental divide at Monarch Pass to participate in the blessing of the waters that traditionally follows the feast. It was rather cold and blustery, but a blessing that extends to both sides of the continent. The water blessing typically takes place on the day of the feast, but we delayed this particular event to make it easier for more to attend.

A glimpse of the magnitude interdependence between the two Testaments can be experienced through even a cursory examination of the feast of Holy Theophany, since so many Old Testament types foreshadow baptism. Saint Mark’s account of Christ’s baptism sets the stage for the blessing of the waters following the Divine Liturgy. Leading up to the blessing, prophecies from the book of Isaiah proclaim the coming of the Messianic age, repeatedly employing the imagery of water satiating the thirst of that which is dry, transforming deserts into oases.

Immediately before the enactment of the blessing, we encounter four Old Testament types prefiguring the baptism of our Lord.

You are our God, who drowned sin in the waters at the time of Noah.

You are our God, who in the sea, and at the hands of Moses, delivered the Hebrews from the bondage of Pharaoh.

You are our God who cleaved the rock in the wilderness, so that the waters gushed out, and the streams overflowed, and your thirsty people were satisfied.

You are our God who, with fire and water and at the hands of Elijah, delivered Israel from the errors of Baal.1

These verses awaken the memory of the previous night’s services (usually) incorporating Old Testament passages that illustrate some of these and other types in detail. For instance, excerpts from Exodus 14 portray the miraculous Israelite crossing of the sea and the devastating destruction of their Egyptian pursuers in the waters of the sea, clearly in agreement with Saint Gregory’s typology in The Life of Moses. The story of the Prophet Elias defeating the prophets of Baal is conveyed through the reading of 1 Kings 18:30-39.2

screen-shot-2017-01-16-at-3-00-54-pmDuring these evening services, the reality of Theophany is explicitly connected with the events described in these ancient Scriptures by the Apostle Paul:

Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; And did all eat the same spiritual meat; And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ (1 Corinthians 10:14).

Recalling the day’s Liturgical Epistle reading of Titus 2:11-14, we learn of the consequences of Theophany. God came to earth so “that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.” It seems that the Old Testament foretells the event, the Gospel narrates the event itself, while the Epistle exposes the outcome.3

Finally, when the celebrant enacts the blessing upon the water, he immerses the Cross into the water three times (ok, ours was snow), evoking the reading of Exodus 15 from the previous evening telling the story of the waters of Marah. The wood that sweetened the waters of Marah clearly foreshadows the wood of the cross and the cleansing of the water in Christ’s baptism. But the act also typifies Christ’s baptism and unites the types and their antetype into a single physical action, immersing the participants in a direct experiential encounter with the reality.

The Church, in the troparion of the feast and in the icon of the feast, elucidates the ultimate revelation of Theophany. The Trinity, which we saw foreshadowed in Elijah’s threefold baptism of his sacrifice, is fully apprehended in both the icon and the Troparion, clearly portraying the Gospel event. The icon depicts the glory of the Father sending down the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove to Christ who stands in the Jordan, the river parted so many times by Christ himself. The troparion makes the understanding explicit:

When Thou, O Lord, wast baptized in the Jordan the worship of the Trinity was made manifest! For the voice of the Father bare witness to Thee, calling Thee his Beloved Son. And the Spirit, in the form of a dove, confirmed the truthfulness of his Word. O Christ our God, who hast revealed Thyself and hast enlightened the world, glory to Thee.4

In this feast Old Testament passages are used in multiple ways. We experience prophecy or promise, as in the Prophecies of Isaiah, pointing to the fulfillment in the Baptism of Christ and in our own baptisms in Christ. We also experience the antetype through a rich portrayal of Old Testament types, partly in the words of the blessing itself, but more fully in the prior evening’s services. Gospel passages portray the antetype itself and Epistle readings explicitly connect the types with their antetype in order to provide clarity. The Epistle readings also help to explain the consequences of Theophany. Finally, all are united experientially in the liturgical action of the blessing of the waters and in the depiction of the event in the Holy Icon.

The Gospel seems to be the vortex around which all other scriptures swirl. The event of Theophany impacts both the past and the future, sending ripples in all directions through the fabric of space-time. The experience of the feast itself is outside of time and we experience it through direct participation.

1 John Sanidopoulos, “The Theophany Sanctification Prayer of St. Sophronios of Jerusalem”, Mystagogy: The Weblog of John Sanidopoulos ( .

2 “Readings for Theophany – January 6”, Byzantine Catholic Church in America ( .

3 Fr. Thomas Hopko, “Epiphany”, in The Orthodox Faith: Volume II – Worship ( .

4 Ibid.

The Ark: Typological Development

Iconography in the Apse of Holy Theophany Church in Colorado Springs.

We are beginning to wrap up our ongoing discussion of how the Church views the Ark of the Covenant. We have covered many concrete examples and are now embarking on some analysis of what we have learned.

We have traced how the people of God have understood the ark from its very beginning to its contemporary expression within the Church. We have examined how the Ark was built and we followed its life in Israel up until its disappearance. Subsequently, we examined possible midrashic traditions latent in Scripture that typologically identify the Ark with the Holy Virgin. We examined so-called apocryphal literature that provides useful clues. We traced the great conversation of the Holy Fathers on this topic through the first seven centuries. And finally, we examined the expression of the Ark’s typology in the life of the Church: its iconography, services, and hymnology.

In this particular case study, and perhaps others, we find a distinct pattern. First, the subject of typological interest comes into existence. In our case, the Ark is explicitly “spec’d out” by God himself and is then constructed under the guidance of the Prophet Moses. The Ark gains a certain mystique throughout its developing life among the people of Israel, becoming a key emblem or meme in the mythos of the nation of Israel. Whether we are talking about a physical artifact such as the Ark or a story such as Abraham’s hospitality to his three visitors (a topic for an upcoming series of posts), the type follows this same path.

The next step is the Gospel. Saint Paul alludes to the application of forward looking typology to the Old Testament, saying, “For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect” (Hebrews 10:1). In our specific case, it is affirmed by Saint John Damascene as noted earlier. The Gospel becomes the lens that we use to interpret the ancient types, but the interpretation does not necessarily become clear immediately, as in our case.

Clearly, given the fact that accounts of the Gospel and other contemporaneous events were recorded significantly later, either an oral tradition or long lost documents carry the stories forward in time until they are written down. Interpretations may grow organically within this mix, as hypothesized by Laurentin and others, influencing the recording of Scripture and other writings.

We begin to truly see the application of typology surface in the writings of the Holy Fathers, where it develops through the centuries. As the present author might observe from a similar study of the typology attached to the story of the Hospitality of Abraham, a turning point in the application of the typology seems to sometimes occur during the third or fourth centuries. It is probably not coincidental that this was a time of great upheaval and development within the church, owing to the occurrence of many heresies and the refining of doctrinal articulation that was carried out by the great ecumenical councils. In our case we see a transition from a clearly Christocentric typology of the Ark to its identification with the Holy Virgin Mary (the shift seems to happen somewhere between Saint Dionysius and Saint Athanasius). While both typological traditions may have coexisted from very early times, the Church shifted emphasis from one to the other as its understanding deepened.

The title Theotokos is not truly rooted in Mariology, but in Christology. It does honor to the Theotokos by recognizing her role in the incarnation, but she is called the God Bearer not due to her own nature, but because of the nature of her son. The ecumenical councils sought to clarify the nature of Jesus Christ and this clarification shone light also upon the role of Mary, which may have influenced how the Church viewed the typology of Mary and of the Ark.

After the conciliar age, the typology seems to stabilize and we see it becoming part of Orthodox praxis in the services of the Church as described above. Iconography finally incorporates the typology and we not only hear it in the hymnology, but see it on the walls of the church. In the end, lex orandi, lex credendi: the law of praying is the law of believing.

Here we have discussed the implications of theological/typological development within the church. In our next post in this series, we will discussion the implications of the fully developed typology.

The Ark: Great Feasts

In our ongoing discussion of how the Church views the Ark of the Covenant, we have examined the Scriptures, apocryphal literature, and the writings of the Holy Fathers. In this post we begin to examine how this rich heritage directly impacts an Orthodox Christian in the ongoing life of the Church, starting with the annual cycle of services.

Entrance of the Theotokos

entrance-theotokosThe feast of the entrance recalls our previous short review of the Infancy Gospel of James. This feast celebrates the events recorded in this gospel and recognizes a connection between Old Testament temple worship and the Holy Mother of God. However, it does not directly connect the Ark with the Theotokos. This feast seems to foreshadow the climactic events depicted during the Feast of the Dormition, which explicitly relates the Ark to the Theotokos. The kontakion below connects the Theotokos to the Tabernacle generally rather than to the Ark specifically.

The all-pure Temple of the Saviour, the precious Bridal Chamber and Virgin, the sacred Treasury of the glory of God, is being brought today into the house of the Lord; and with her she brings the grace of the divine Spirit; of her God’s Angels sing in praise: She is indeed the heavenly Tabernacle.1

Dormition of the Theotokos

Screen Shot 2016-08-24 at 2.02.57 PMThe Dormition of the Theotokos is perhaps the most explicit of the feasts of the Church when articulating the typology of the Ark of the Covenant. In one set of troparia, the story of the Dormition as related by The Falling Asleep of the Holy Mother of God, including the cutting off of the hands of Jephonias, is directly referenced and so affirmed. In these troparia, the Mother of God is explicitly called “the living Ark.”

Knowing you, All-blameless, to be a mortal woman, but beyond nature Mother of God, with fearful hands the illustrious Apostles touched you, as you blazed with glory, gazing on you as the Tabernacle that had received God.

Just punishment intervened to cut off the sacrilegious hands of the presumptuous, for God guarded with the glory of the godhead the reverence due to the living Ark, in which the Word had become flesh.2

The Virgin Mary is referred to as the Ark of Sanctification or Holiness at least four times and likened to the Ark in different ways several other times. In addition, the Theotokos is also identified with several other emblems of temple worship. In the above quote we see that she is likened to the Tabernacle and in the later troparia below, she is related to the pillar of cloud (Exodus 13:21), the table of the bread of life (Exodus 25:30), the lampstand (Exodus 25:31-40), the censer, Aaron’s rod, and the tablets of stone (Hebrews 9:4).

The Suzerain and God of all apportions to you the things above nature; for just as he kept you a Virgin in your giving birth, so he preserved your body incorrupt in the tomb, and he glorified you with him by a divine Translation, gracing you with honours, as a Son his Mother.

Your Offspring, O Virgin, has truly made you dwell in the Holy of Holies as shining Lampstand of the immaterial fire, golden Censer of the divine coal, Jar and Rod and Tablet written by God, holy Ark and Table of the bread of life.3

This latter set of troparia clearly draw your mind from the falling asleep of the Mother of God to her translation into the presence of the Most High God in the Most Holy Place in heaven, where aspects of her role there are typologically represented by each of these ancient artifacts of worship, not the least of which is the Ark. The entrance of the Theotokos into the earthly Temple is clearly a foreshadowing of her entrance into the heavenly Temple.

Other Hymns and Services

The Ark is frequently connected typologically to the Theotokos in various theotokia, as in the following example from Saturday evening Vespers (tone 1).

When Gabriel addressed you, O Virgin, with his ‘Hail’, as he spoke the Master of all things became incarnate in you the holy Ark, as righteous David sang. You were proclaimed wider than the heavens, for you carried your Creator. Glory to him who dwelt in you, glory to him who came forth from you, glory to him who has set us free through your bearing child.4

Theotokia of a similar nature are found often in the regular cycle of services, including Vespers and Matins. We find additional examples in other services such as the Akathist. The following excerpt from the Akathist emphasizes the Temple typology we found above in the feast of the Dormition.

Hail, tabernacle of God the Word
Hail, greater Holy of Holies.
Hail, Ark — gilded by the Spirit,
Hail, inexhaustible — treasure of life.5

Quite frequently in the services of the Church, the Ark is typologically connected to the Theotokos. What is important to note is that, while it is not consistently the central theme of these services, Orthodox Christians are nonetheless very frequently exposed to this typology. It is part of the warp and woof of Orthodox life.

In our next post in this series, we will examine how the iconography of the Church treats the Ark of the Covenant.

1 Archimandrite Ephrem, The Month of November, in Anastasis.

2 Archimandrite Ephrem, The Fifteenth of August, in Anastasis.

3 Ibid.

4 Archimandrite Ephrem, Paraklitiki Period of Tone 1 On Saturday Evening at Small Vespers, in Anastasis.

5 Archimandrite Ephrem, The Akathist, in Anastasis.

Judith: Moral Metaphor (Ch 4)

Potential cover with art by Trophime Bigot, ca. 1640

I’m pleased to announce that I have completed a draft of chapter 4 of Abp. Rabanus Maurus’ commentary on the book of Judith.

Up until now we’ve been following the activities of Nebuchodonosor (Nebuchadnezzar) and Holofernes in their campaign to take over the world. In chapter 4 we begin to learn about how the people of God react to this campaign through prayer and fasting.

While the Blessed Rabanus has been drawing allegorical parallels throughout the book, the parallels tend to become more tropological in chapter 4. As we learned in our ongoing discussion on The Ark of the Covenant, Saint Jerome takes this tropological approach with the Ark. The tropological approach is characterized primarily by the use of moral metaphor.

A good example of this approach is found in the following paragraph:

In fact, these very ones are the altar of God, who, upon the altar of their hearts, continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God. Truly the haircloth, which is woven from the hair of goats, bears well the figure of sins, for which repenting is entirely necessary, because without it the sinners themselves do not find cures of true wholeness.

Rabanus finds a parallel between the altar of God and our hearts, upon which we offer a sacrifice of praise. He also find a parallel between a garment made of goat hair and sin. It is interesting to recall that the Israelite sacrificial system included a “scape-goat,” upon which the sins of the nation were place. In the subsequent paragraph, Rabanus takes this metaphor one step further and ties it to the “altar of the Cross:”

This also needs to be known, that in pious prayers it becomes important and the principal aid if a remembrance of the Lord’s passion is employed, which was completed on the altar of the cross for our sins, because not only for our offenses, but also for those of the whole world, was the blood of our redeemer shed in expiation for all sins. About which John says, “we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the just: And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world” (1 John 2:1-2).

Rabanus here follows the orthodox approach to the Old Testament Scriptures, reading them through the lens of the risen Christ. The risen Christ is the key that unlocks the Old Testament.

But I think it’s important not to miss the message of this chapter. The Israelites beseech God fervently in fasting and prayer when they come to the realization that they are going to have to contend with Holofernes. Rabanus likens Holofernes to the antichrist and Nabuchodonosor to the devil himself. The clear message is that when we ourselves contend with the wiles of the devil, our only hope of deliverance is repentance, fasting, and prayer.

For further information about this translation project, please see my series of posts on Judith.

A Commentary on The Book of Judith

raban-maur_alcuin_otgarI’d like to tell you about a project that I am working on. This particular project arose from a forum-based assignment I submitted in my studies under The Saints Cyril and Athanasius of Alexandria Institute for Orthodox Studies. The project involved using the Orthodox hermeneutic of reading the Old Testament through the lens of Christ. I chose to do the assignment on the Book of Judith because the story intrigued me and because, having come from a protestant tradition, it was relatively new to me. Alas, the only ecclesial commentary I could find on the book was a work by the Archbishop Rabanus Maurus (leftmost person in the picture above), which had no English translation available. At that point I put the project in the back of my mind as something to begin after I completed my studies with the institute.

As an amateur Latinist I am interested in improving my Latin skills, but also I am interested in making this commentary available to the non-Latin-reading public.  I took up the study of Latin for the purpose of teaching my children in a homeschooling context, but enjoyed it so much I have continued applying it for my own purposes. In making this project public, I hope to find others who are interested in contributing. I welcome most types of assistance including (but not limited to) corrections to my English, corrections on my translation work, or even assistance translating.

The majority of the Holy Fathers who bear witness to Judith offer remarks that generally seem tangential to the substance of the primary works. Judith is sometimes held up as an example of chastity or courage, or even as an exemplar of fasting, but there is only one ecclesial author who might be considered Orthodox, who authored a thorough commentary on her story, and he is a relatively obscure (for the Orthodox) Frankish archbishop from the eighth century. It is disappointing that Judith seems to be a book almost universally neglected by the Christian East, even though we include it in our Bibles.

I’ll be writing more on this subject: sharing more details of my work and approach, talking about Rabanus Maurus, about Judith and her history, thoughts on allegory, and sharing the actual translation. I’ve presently completed drafts of two full chapters (out of sixteen) and will share them over time.

At present I am retaining copyright of my work, but will be providing a Creative Commons license that will allow for relatively liberal use of the book.

For further information about this translation project, please see my series of posts on Judith.

Typology and Mythology

In our ongoing discussion (see also the previous post), we have been exploring the Church’s approach to understanding the Ark of the Covenant, or rather of understanding through the Ark of the Covenant. I’ve been talking about typology without explaining myself more fully. This post is a divergence from the main topic to help us come to grips with the whys and whats of typology.

A type is, in a sense, a kind of metaphor. For instance, Jonah is often considered a type of Christ in that he went down into the deepest parts of the earth for three days in the belly of a whale, only to rise again from the depths just as Christ rose from the dead.

A fundamental principle of an Orthodox hermeneutic is to read all scriptures, including the Old Testament, Christologically. An objection is often raised that this approach may violate the spirit of the text by reading something into it that is not there.

Modern readings of the Scriptures tend to focus on chronology, however, the authors of the Holy Scriptures were not simply recording history, but conveying a personal experience of God for posterity. Saint John Chrysostom explains that the Biblical authors “perceive with the eyes of the spirit things due to happen after a great number of years.”1 This perception implies something that goes beyond any intellectual endeavor, demonstrating a deep and direct experience of God.

Jesus Christ is the Lord of history. The Latin word vestigium means ‘footprint’. Our English derivative ‘vestiges’ has lost this hidden meaning, but it helps to paint a picture of God’s activity in history. God does not simply send written messages to his prophets to be delivered to His people. He actively leaves vestiges of himself throughout history. As the architect of history, Christ is able to leave his ‘footprints’ directly in the human timeline where the Biblical authors are able to perceive and experience them.

This experience of God is beyond an intellectual abstraction. In keeping with the ancient understanding of memory and imagination as foundational aspects of abstract thought, Unseen Warfare explains that “imagination is a power of the soul such that, by its very nature, it has no capacity for entering the realm of union with God.”2 Because this direct experience of God is not a rational abstraction, it cannot be conveyed by rational means such as direct exposition, but is established through the use of types.

I suggest that typology is akin to what C. S. Lewis calls myth. Lewis’s notion of myth did not coincide with the colloquial usage implying falsehood. Lewis believed that myth is somewhere between the intellectual and the purely experiential. As we noted earlier, purely intellectual endeavors have no capacity for entrance into a direct experience of God. On the other hand, pure experience does not bring understanding. Lewis advocated myth as a partial solution to this problem. He posited that, “In the enjoyment of a great myth we come nearest to experiencing as a concrete what can otherwise be understood only as an abstraction.”3 In a sense, myth can be seen to bridge the spiritual and the intellectual.

Typology thus provides the best and most natural approach through which to ‘tradition’, or pass on, the experience of the divine to following generations. Christ’s extensive and direct use of parables in his teaching affirms this mythological approach. Additionally, typology enables God to pedagogically ‘sneak’ up on truth. The Holy Spirit reveals Christ—truth—to mankind only inasmuch as mankind has the capacity to understand Him in its present state. A case in point is the Law of Moses, which Saint Paul likens to a tutor to bring us unto Christ (Galatians 3:24). Mankind was not yet ready to see Christ and so received a shadow of Christ as a step in its growth.

Saint John Chrysostom affirms that the Holy Spirit “explained everything to us by moving the author’s tongue in such a way as to take account of the limitations of the listeners.”4 Saint John demonstrates his point by drawing a potent parallel between the creation saga in the first chapter of Genesis and the first chapter of the Gospel of John, comparing the creation of light in Genesis with the enlightenment brought to the world through the true light, Jesus Christ the Word. In the time of Moses the world was not yet ready to receive the message delivered by John, but was able to catch a glimpse of the truth through the type present in Genesis.

The Scriptures and the ‘mythology’ portrayed therein pervaded the culture of Israel at the time of Christ and created an ethos of messianic anticipation. Saint John the Forerunner sent disciples to Jesus to confirm that in fact He was the Messiah whom all were anticipating (Luke 7:18-23). Jesus confirmed this truth by allowing John’s disciples to directly experience the fulfillment of prophecy (Isaiah 61:1). This event clearly demonstrates that the Jews of Christ’s time were anxiously awaiting a Messiah and Christ was actively fulfilling the promises set forth in Scripture.

To further reveal his intervention in history, Christ took unto himself certain names and titles (e.g. ‘Son of Man’) which He had planted in the Hebrew Scriptures so that He might connect Old Testament concepts and teachings with his earthly ministry.5 Frank Herbert’s missionaria protectiva would have been impressed. (You’ll get this reference if you’ve read Dune).

Before he ascended, Christ explicitly outlined to His disciples the things in the Scriptures that pertained to him. According to Saint Luke, “…beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27 KJV). The disciples later observed that as He spoke to them, their hearts burned within them, again demonstrating an experience beyond rational thought.

The eastern approach to theology focuses less on a rational understanding of God and more on a direct mystical experience of God. The types present throughout the Old Testament pointing to a fulfillment in Christ help to bring about this near mystical understanding of our Lord Jesus Christ in a way that formal discourse is powerless to evoke. The apostolic and patristic fathers followed the tradition of Christ in their reading of Scripture, finding the footprints of God throughout.

In our next post, we’ll return to the Ark of the Covenant and begin to explore some lesser known ancient documents that help to shine some light on the Ark.

1 Saint John Chrysostom, Homily 10, in The Fathers of the Church, trans. Robert C. Hill, (Washington: Catholic University of America Press, 1986), vol. 74, pp. 132-133.

2 Lorenzo Scupoli, Unseen Warfare, trans. E. Kadloubovsky & G. E. H. Palmer (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press 1987), p. 148.

3 C. S. Lewis, Myth Became Fact.

4 Saint John Chrysostom, Homily 3, in The Fathers of the Church, vol. 73, p. 42.

5 Father John Breck, Scripture in Tradition, (Crestwood, New York: Saint Vladimir’s Seminary Press 2001), p. 34.