Orthodox Daily Devotional for December 30 – January 5
3 Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5 to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.l
6 I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, 7 which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert[a] the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be [b]accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.
10 For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ.
In the Book of Leviticus and detailed further in Deuteronomy 12– 26, the Lord commands Moses to institute a comprehensive system of ritual sacrifices to be offered by the priests on behalf of the people of God, thus giving the Hebrews a means to be reconciled with God and to restore harmony amongst themselves, relationships disrupted by sin. The word “sacrifice” means to make holy or sacred. These sacrifices and offerings— offered first at the tabernacle and later in the temple— were basically of two types: animal (cattle, sheep, goats, doves) and vegetable (wheat, barley, olive oil, wine, cereal, frankincense). The offerings were types prefiguring a greater reality to be fulfilled in the coming Incarnation of Christ. The Old Covenant In the Old Testament animal sacrifices, the blood shed and poured out represented the life-force of the animal offered to God (Gn 9: 4; Lv 17: 11; Dt 12: 23). The animal was more than simply a substitute for the worshiper. There was also identification between the animal sacrificed and the one on whose behalf it was offered, explaining the emphasis in the Old Testament on the blood of the sacrifice (Ex 12: 13; 24: 4– 8; 29: 15– 21; 30: 1– 10; Lv 14: 24, 25; Nm 19: 1– 4). These sacrifices point to the blood of Christ in the New Testament: “My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” On the Day of Atonement, the preeminent Old Testament sacrifice was made. It was to atone for all the sins the nation of Israel had committed that year (Lv 16: 2– 34). The ceremony included (1) animal sacrifices as offerings for sins, and (2) the placing of “all the transgressions of the children of Israel . . . on the head of the living kid”— the scapegoat— which was then driven off into the wilderness (Lv 16: 21). This event prefigures the once-for-all self-sacrifice of Christ, our great High Priest (Heb 4: 14– 5: 10; 10: 19– 22), who takes upon Himself all the sins of all humanity (Is 53: 11, 12; Jn 1: 29; 2Co 5: 21; 1Pt 2: 24), tramples down death by His voluntary Death on the cross, and thereby reconciles us to God (Is 53: 5; Gal 3: 13, 14; Col 1: 13, 14; Tts 2: 13, 14; 1Pt 3: 18).
Christ’s once-for-all offering of Himself is for all people for all time, and supersedes the Mosaic sacrificial system. Accordingly, the mystery of the eucharistic service, accomplished within the Divine Liturgy of the Church, is done “in remembrance” of Christ’s sacrifice (Lk 22: 19) and is a “reasonable and bloodless sacrifice” to be understood as our sacrifice-offering to God—“ a mercy of peace, a sacrifice of praise.” In the Divine Liturgy, instead of an animal or grain offering, we offer the Body and Blood of Christ to God. In a mystery known only to God, we thereby participate in the very Body and Blood of Christ offered once for all. And in this substantial union between Christ— the One sacrificed— and the worshiper, we come to more fully understand how we are united to Christ in our baptism and nurtured in our union with Christ by the eucharistic offering. The Church prays, “Thine own of Thine own we offer unto Thee, on behalf of all and for all.” Offering sacrifices never exempted the Hebrews from the duty to live prayerfully and morally (Pr 15: 8, 9). Moreover, Old Testament prophets stood against empty ritual and vain sacrifice (1Kg 15: 22; Pss 49: 7– 15; 50: 15– 17; Is 1: 1– 20; Hos 6: 6; Am 5: 9– 27; Mic 6: 1– 8). Hence, the Mosaic sacrificial system not only prefigures Christ’s own sacrifice, but also points to the pouring out of ourselves in self-sacrificial service as detailed in Romans 12: 1 and 1 Peter 2: 5.
Offerings were gifts in order to gain the grace of the one to whom the gift was offered (Gn 32: 13– 21). So it was imperative that the offering be acceptable to the one receiving it. Likewise in Leviticus, gifts acceptable to God were carefully prescribed to Israel. The grain offering of cultivated wheat milled into fine flour was offered as the fruit of the people’s labor. As the animals offered were not wild but domestic, so wild grains were not offered. The grain offering pictures Christ as the totally acceptable grain offering to God— He who offers all His works as an acceptable offering to the Father. In Jn 12: 24, He says of Himself, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain.” Jesus Himself is the grain of wheat that died and rose again as man’s true spiritual food— the living bread that came down out of heaven to give life to the world (Jn 6: 41– 51). The grain offering also pictures the faithful of the Church who offer to God for His blessing the works of their hands as co-laborers with Him. As St. Paul wrote, “We are God’s fellow workers” (1Co 3: 9). Oil added to the flour typifies the work of the Holy Spirit. Christ offered Himself to the Father through the Holy Spirit (Heb 9: 14). The Holy Spirit also helps us co-labor with God that our labors might be acceptable to Him (Acts 1: 8; Eph 5: 18). Frankincense was also added to the various grain offerings. It typified the prayers of the Church. In Vespers, the Church sings, “Let my prayer arise in Your sight as incense.” Co-laboring with God must be accompanied by prayer.
In the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5– 7), Jesus introduces the kind of life those who seek the Kingdom of God must lead. His homily could properly be called, “The Righteousness of the Kingdom.” It can be divided into several sections. 1. The Beatitudes (5: 1– 16). The sermon begins with the Beatitudes (the “blessings”), which describe the joys of true discipleship, the blessed way of life. The people of God await the rewards Jesus promises in this section. 2. The new covenant (5: 17– 48). Then, as the Son of God whose authority is greater than that of Moses, Christ proclaims the new law, the righteousness leading toward perfection, to which the Mosaic Law and the prophets pointed. Jesus reveals the deeper meaning of several Old Testament laws, broadening their implications. (a) “You shall not murder” is expanded beyond the command against physically killing another (5: 21– 26). Murder now includes anger, calling someone a fool, and failure to be reconciled with a friend or adversary. (b) “You shall not commit adultery” (5: 27) no longer refers only to the unlawful act of sex outside marriage. It now includes lust. (c) Divorce was allowable under the Old Testament law. But under the new covenant, divorce is permissible only because of sexual immorality, and remarriage to a divorced person is not permitted
“Perform your oaths to the Lord” is the Old Testament law. Jesus instructs us to say “yes” or “no” without taking an oath, and to keep our word (5: 33– 37). (e) “An eye for an eye”— a graphic way of seeing justice from a human perspective— becomes “turn the other [cheek]” and “love your enemies.” Not only must we forsake vengeance, even when it is just retribution; we must treat others as God treats us, with mercy and grace (5: 38– 45). 3. Spiritual disciplines (6: 1– 7: 12). Jesus assumes we will follow three disciplines that help us attain true righteousness (6: 1– 18) and true wisdom (6: 19– 7: 12). These disciplines are a vital part of Christian tradition. (a) Giving alms, or doing charitable deeds for the poor, should be done secretly, before God and not before men (6: 1– 4). (b) Prayer should follow the model of the Lord’s Prayer, which Jesus here reveals to His Church (6: 5– 15). (c) Fasting should likewise be done to please God, not men (6: 16– 18). These disciplines help us find true wisdom, which consists of (1) the love of God and pursuit of His righteousness by bringing our treasure (6: 19– 26) as alms to God, and our worries (6: 22– 7: 34) in prayer and fasting to Him; and (2) the love of human beings and pursuit of righteous reconciliation with them by submitting our judgments of them (7: 1– 6) to God’s severe mercy. For these difficult tasks we need divine discernment and guidance, which God provides to those who follow Jesus’ spiritual rule (7: 7– 12). Thus, our natural impulses are redirected toward their proper goal: the righteousness of God in His Kingdom (6: 33). 4. Exhortations to righteousness (7: 13– 29). Jesus concludes with exhortations to true righteousness, warnings about hypocritical and deceitful professions of righteousness, and instructions to build on the rock of His teachings.
The word “theophany” derives from the Greek words theos (“ God”), and phainesthai (“ to show forth, appear”). Hence, a theophany is an appearance or manifestation of God. While types of Christ in the Old Testament prefigure His coming in the flesh, theophanies are recognized by the Church as being actual appearances of the pre-incarnate Son and Word of God. How this happens remains a mystery. But because the Son of God took on human nature in the fullness of time, each theophany directly prefigures Christ’s Incarnation. St. John of Damascus wrote, “No one saw the divine nature, but rather the image and figure of what was yet to come. For the invisible Son and Word of God was to become truly Man.” An often cited theophany of Christ occurs in the visit of the “three men” to Abraham and Sarah in Genesis 18: 1– 16: “Then God appeared to him at the oak of Mamre” (v. 1). Though three men are there, Abraham addresses them in the singular, “Lord.” He responds in the singular (vv. 9– 15). As St. Ephraim the Syrian says, “Therefore the Lord . . . now appeared to Abraham clearly in one of the three.” The three are generally considered to be Christ the Lord, along with two attending angels. At Genesis 32: 25– 31, Christ is the “man” who wrestles with Jacob, after which Jacob says, “I saw God face to face” (v. 30). St. Cyril of Jerusalem asks the Jews concerning these theophanies to Abraham and Jacob, “What strange thing do we announce in saying that God was made Man, when you yourselves say that Abraham received the Lord as a guest? What strange thing do we announce, when Jacob says, ‘For I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved’? The Lord, who ate with Abraham, also ate with us.” In the Book of Daniel, a heathen king bears witness to another theophany of Christ. When King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon peers into the fiery furnace, upon seeing a “fourth man” he exclaims, “The vision of the fourth is like the Son of God” (Dan 3: 92).