In this post we will wrap up our discussion of what the Fathers have to say about the Ark of the Covenant. I will reiterate here that the Church tends to see the Ark as a type of the Holy Virgin Mary.
Saint Cyril of Alexandria
Saint Cyril, the twenty-fourth patriarch of Alexandria, lived from 376-444. Saint Cyril seems to hearken back to the tradition exemplified by Saint Irenaeus, but with some additions. The pattern of his statement very closely mirrors that of St. Irenaeus quoted previously, but he inserts some additional commentary that allows us to see the Ark as a type of the Theotokos. He seems to be trying to harmonize the common view of his day with a more ancient tradition.
The Ark would be the type and image of Christ: for if we look back to the way of the Incarnation of the Only-begotten, we shall see that it is in the temple of the Virgin, as in an ark that the Word of God took up His abode. For in Him dwelt all the fulness of the Godhead bodily, as the Scripture saith. But the testimonies in the ark were the word of God, and the wood of it was imperishable, and with pure and choicest gold was it beautified within and without. For the Body of Christ is incorruptible, being by the power and brightness of the indwelling Word, and the nature of life-giving operation of the Holy Ghost, maintained in incorruption [emphasis mine].1
Saint Venantius Fortunatus
Commemorated on December 14, the Latin poet and bishop lived circa A.D. 530-610. His usage of this typology supports a belief in the consistency of its application through later times. The following verse in Latin clearly identifies the Ark with the Holy Virgin.
Beata Mater, munere
Cujus supernus Artifex,
Mundum pugillo continens,
Ventris sub arca clausus est.2
While unpoetic, the following rendering is a relatively literal approximation of the above verse translated by myself.
The Holy Mother, by whose offering
The supreme artificer,
containing in His hand the World,
In the womb, within the Ark, was enclosed.
Saint John of Damascus
Saint John, born in A.D. 676, wrote the famous Canon of Pascha that is sung during the Orthodox Pascha services. In the Canon, Saint John doesn’t seem to commit to a specific typological relationship for the Ark. His intention seems to be to expose the contrast between human experience of the types and human experience of the fulfillment.
God’s forebear David, dancing, leaped before the Ark, mere shadow, but seeing the fulfilment of the types, let us, God’s holy people, inspired, rejoice, for Christ has risen as omnipotent.3
In our next post in this series, we will examine how two of the great feasts of the Orthodox Church portray the Ark of the Covenant.
1 Qtd. in Thomas Livius, The Blessed Virgin in the Fathers of the First Six Centuries, (London: Burns and Oates, Limited 1893), pp. 76–77.
2 Ibid., p. 458.
3 Archimandrite Ephrem, Paschal Canon Noted, in Anastasis, p. 3.