VI Lent Friday – Going Home

You can listen to a podcast of this blog post at https://www.spreaker.com/user/youngfaithradio/vilentfri

And Jacob ceased giving charges to his sons; and having lifted up his feet on the bed, he died, and was gathered to his people. And Joseph fell upon his father’s face, and wept on him, and kissed him. And Joseph commanded his servants the embalmers to embalm his father; and the embalmers embalmed Israel. And they fulfilled forty days for him, for so are the days of embalming numbered; and Egypt mourned for him seventy days. And when the days of mourning were past, Joseph spoke to the princes of Pharao, saying, If I have found favour in your sight, speak concerning me in the ears of Pharao, saying, My father adjured me, saying, In the sepulchre which I dug for myself in the land of Chanaan, there thou shalt bury me; now then I will go up and bury my father, and return again. And Pharao said to Joseph, Go up, bury thy father, as he constrained thee to swear. So Joseph went up to bury his father; and all the servants of Pharao went up with him, and the elders of his house, and all the elders of the land of Egypt. And all the household of Joseph, and his brethren, and all the house of his father, and his kindred; and they left behind the sheep and the oxen in the land of Gesem. And there went up with him also chariots and horsemen; and there was a very great company. And they came to the threshing-floor of Atad, which is beyond Jordan; and they bewailed him with a great and very sore lamentation; and he made a mourning for his father seven days. And the inhabitants of the land of Chanaan saw the mourning at the floor of Atad, and said, This is a great mourning to the Egyptians; therefore he called its name, The mourning of Egypt, which is beyond Jordan. And thus his sons did to him. So his sons carried him up into the land of Chanaan, and buried him in the double cave, which cave Abraam bought for possession of a burying place, of Ephrom the Chettite, before Mambre. And Joseph returned to Egypt, he and his brethren, and those that had gone up with him to bury his father. And when the brethren of Joseph saw that their father was dead, they said, Let us take heed, lest at any time Joseph remember evil against us, and recompense to us all the evils which we have done against him. And they came to Joseph, and said, Thy father adjured us before his death, saying, Thus say ye to Joseph, Forgive them their injustice and their sin, forasmuch as they have done thee evil; and now pardon the injustice of the servants of the God of thy father. And Joseph wept while they spoke to him. And they came to him and said, We, these persons, are thy servants. And Joseph said to them, Fear not, for I am God’s. Ye took counsel against me for evil, but God took counsel for me for good, that the matter might be as it is today, and much people might be fed. And he said to them, Fear not, I will maintain you, and your families: and he comforted them, and spoke kindly to them. And Joseph dwelt in Egypt, he and his brethren, and all the family of his father; and Joseph lived a hundred and ten years. And Joseph saw the children of Ephraim to the third generation; and the sons of Machir the son of Manasse were borne on the sides of Joseph. And Joseph spoke to his brethren, saying, I die, and God will surely visit you, and will bring you out of this land to the land concerning which God sware to our fathers, Abraam, Isaac, and Jacob. And Joseph adjured the sons of Israel, saying, At the visitation with which God shall visit you, then ye shall carry up my bones hence with you. And Joseph died, aged an hundred and ten years; and they prepared his corpse, and put him in a coffin in Egypt. – Genesis 49:33-50:26

Joseph keeps faith with his father and buries him on his own land, not foreign soil. In his old age, he adjures the sons of Israel to do the same for his bones when at length the Lord, the God of their fathers, delivers them from Egyptian bondage and leads them back home. This return provides an image of man’s return to Paradise, his true home.

Each human heart longs for home. To the extent the heart does not, to that extent it is become inhuman. “Cosmopolitan man” is a contradiction in terms. Say rather “cosmopolitan monster.” To love one’s own – one’s flesh and blood kith and kin, native soil, native language, native culture – is bedrock for psychological health, a pre-condition for the sane life. That our planetary rulers have decreed this love a crime shows plainly that they intend to drive us mad.

Exile, says S. John of the Ladder, is the mother of mourning, and mourning the mother of repentance. God wants us to love home, family, and people intensely, insatiably, to the point at which losing them hurts so much that we feel we will die without them, for only at this point does one realize that one actually needs God and that ultimately God is all one needs. Just as forgiveness does not exist unless sin exists, so exile does not exist unless home exists. Christians are not universalists, not cosmopolitans: when they lose that which is native to them, they mourn and weep. The Apostles were not sent out to baptize the atomistic individuals of a postmodern dystopia. They baptized the nations.

Today we stand on the brink. We are about to lose everything visible that makes life worthwhile. Nation, family, native place, native tongue, native loves – all are being swept away by the demon-chiefs of this age and their lickspittle lackeys, the global elite. Let us rejoice then, and be glad, for exile is thereby abundantly available to us, having become the common setting for human existence. In the divine Providence, as Joseph explains today to his worried brothers, all is arranged perfectly for our salvation. Today only the life of the Church remains, and that most often not in the splendid cathedrals and ancient sees, but in nooks and crannies, in the dens and caves of the earth. But ultimately the Church is all we need, because, ultimately, God is all we need. When a man dies, there is only his soul standing before God, and he realizes, finally, that this was in fact the case all along.

At the end of our Genesis journey through Great Lent, then, we have come back to where we started, back to Paradise, back to our true home, which no one can take away from us. In the next life, this will take place openly; in this life it takes place mystically, every day, in an Orthodox heart prepared by sorrows and pierced by compunction. When we know with all the powers of our soul, with our whole being, without a doubt, that our heart is larger than all this world, because it holds the Holy Trinity, then, at last, we have come home.

This commentary was taken from The Eternal Sacrifice: The Genesis Readings for Great Lent by Fr. Steven Allen. You can order a copy from Lulu at http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/FrStevenAllen

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VI Thursday – Let Us Die With Him That We May Rise With Him

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And Israel departed, he and all that he had, and came to the well of the oath; and he offered sacrifice to the God of his father Isaac. And God spoke to Israel in a night vision, saying, Jacob, Jacob; and he said, What is it? And he says to him, I am the God of thy fathers; fear not to go down into Egypt, for I will make thee there a great nation. And I will go down with thee into Egypt, and I will bring thee up at the end; and Joseph shall put his hands on thine eyes. And Jacob rose up from the well of the oath; and the sons of Israel took up their father, and the baggage, and their wives on the wagons, which Joseph sent to take them. And they took up their goods, and all their property, which they had gotten in the land of Chanaan; they came into the land of Egypt, Jacob, and all his seed with him. The sons, and the sons of his sons with him; his daughters, and the daughters of his daughters; and he brought all his seed into Egypt. – Genesis 46:1-7

In this brief passage, we read how Jacob went down into Egypt with all his family and possessions, in obedience to God’s command. What guarantee did Jacob have that all would be well? Only God’s promise: “And I will go down with thee into Egypt, and I will bring thee up again at the end, and Joseph shall put his hands upon thine eyes.” As always, God fulfilled His promise, first to Jacob personally, and four hundred years later, when He delivered all of Jacob’s posterity from slavery in Egypt and returned them to the Land of the Promise.

In the typology of the Fathers, Egypt represents the territory of the demons and the flesh, fallen society with all of its temptations. Pharaoh represents Satan, and just as Pharaoh enslaved the Hebrews, so in our lives Satan strives to enslave us to the passions and to sins. The New Moses, our Lord Jesus Christ, leads us out of Egyptian slavery to the Promised Land of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Just as God sent Jacob down into Egypt, knowing that his descendants would undergo so great a trial, so He allows us to confront manifold temptations, both in the sense of physical trials of various kinds and in the sense of the combat with sin, not so that we will be lost, but rather that we will learn to trust in God and to fight sin.

The greatest descent of all is the voluntary descent of the God-Man to the very depths of death and hell, in order to raise up Adam who had fallen. Surely He Who willed to descend to the uttermost abyss for our salvation will raise us up, too, from our trials and our temptations, when we call upon His name.

As we prepare to celebrate the God-Man’s suffering, death, descent into Hades, and glorious Resurrection, let us ask Him for the grace to trust Him to take us by the hand and lead us on the path of this life, as did the patriarchs of old, the course of whose lives we have pondered this Lent. They put absolute trust in the Lord in the midst of their trials, though they could only look forward to a future deliverance. The Lord in Whom they trusted has now come to us in the flesh and has saved us. We have no excuse not to trust in Him.

This commentary was taken from The Eternal Sacrifice: The Genesis Readings for Great Lent by Fr. Steven Allen. You can order a copy from Lulu at http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/FrStevenAllen

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VI Lent Wednesday – Go to Joseph

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And Joseph entered into the house, and they brought him the gifts which they had in their hands, into the house; and they did him reverence with their face to the ground. And he asked them, How are ye? and he said to them, Is your father, the old man of whom ye spoke, well? Does he yet live? And they said, Thy servant our father is well; he is yet alive. And he said, Blessed be that man by God; —and they bowed, and did him reverence. And Joseph lifted up his eyes, and saw his brother Benjamin, born of the same mother; and he said, Is this your younger brother, whom ye spoke of bringing to me? and he said, God have mercy on thee, my son. And Joseph was troubled, for his bowels yearned over his brother, and he sought to weep; and he went into his chamber, and wept there. And he washed his face and came out, and refrained himself, and said, Set on bread. And Joseph could not refrain himself when all were standing by him, but said, Dismiss all from me; and no one stood near Joseph, when he made himself known to his brethren. And he uttered his voice with weeping; and all the Egyptians heard, and it was reported to the house of Pharao. And Joseph said to his brethren, I am Joseph; doth my father yet live? And his brethren could not answer him, for they were troubled. And Joseph said to his brethren, Draw nigh to me; and they drew nigh; and he said, I am your brother Joseph, whom ye sold into Egypt. Now then be not grieved, and let it not seem hard to you that ye sold me hither, for God sent me before you for life. For this second year there is famine on the earth, and there are yet five years remaining, in which there is to be neither ploughing, nor mowing. For God sent me before you, that there might be left to you a remnant upon the earth, even to nourish a great remnant of you. Now then ye did not send me hither, but God; and he hath made me as a father of Pharao, and lord of all his house, and ruler of all the land of Egypt. Hasten, therefore, and go up to my father, and say to him, These things saith thy son Joseph; God has made me lord of all the land of Egypt; come down therefore to me, and tarry not. And thou shalt dwell in the land of Gesem of Arabia; and thou shalt be near me, thou and thy sons, and thy sons’ sons, thy sheep and thine oxen, and whatsoever things are thine. And I will nourish thee there: for the famine is yet for five years; lest thou be consumed, and thy sons, and all thy possessions. Behold, your eyes see, and the eyes of my brother Benjamin, that it is my mouth that speaks to you. Report, therefore, to my father all my glory in Egypt, and all things that ye have seen, and make haste and bring down my father hither. And he fell on his brother Benjamin’s neck, and wept on him; and Benjamin wept on his neck. And he kissed all his brethren, and wept on them; and after these things his brethren spoke to him. And the report was carried into the house of Pharao, saying, Joseph’s brethren are come; and Pharao was glad, and his household. Genesis 43:26-31, 45:1-16

Righteous Joseph the All-Comely, now governor of all Egypt, makes himself known to his brothers and demonstrates his greatness of soul in forgiving them and providing for them. As Joseph explains matters to his brothers, who are cowering in fear lest he should take revenge on them, he is at peace, because he sees that all that has happened to him, including their betrayal, was part of God’s plan to save their family from the great famine. From childhood, when he dreamed that his father and brothers bowed down to him, until now, when his brothers are actually prostrate at his feet, he has pursued a tranquil course of doing the will of God amid the storms of personal disaster – betrayal by his brothers and being cast into a pit, being sold into slavery, and being thrown into prison because he would not sin with another man’s wife, who then falsely accused him of the very thing he refused to do with her. The God Who chose him from his youth and guided his every step has not disappointed him in his hope.

On Great Monday, we will remember Joseph as a typos, a prophetic prefiguration, of Christ Himself, both in His humiliation and in His glory. As Joseph was betrayed by his brothers, so Our Lord was betrayed by His disciple. As Joseph was falsely accused when innocent, so with Christ. As Joseph was exalted to the right hand of Pharaoh, so Christ is exalted to the right hand of God.

We can imitate Joseph in his likeness to the Savior by imitating his patience and his hope, and by a firm determination to accept the will of God for ourselves. When life throws us into a pit, let us realize that it is God Himself Who has allowed us to be helpless, so that we might accept deliverance from Him and Him alone. When falsely accused, let us face it calmly, knowing that our vindication is from Him. When He delivers us, let us show greatness of soul in forgiving our enemies, seeing His profound wisdom in all that has happened to us.

The Patriarch Joseph the All-Comely is also a typos of Righteous Joseph the Betrothed, the guardian of the Most Pure Virgin and the Infant Christ. Like the Old Testament Joseph, the New Testament Joseph is a man of action. He proves himself obedient not by words – of which not a single one is recorded in the Gospel – but by deeds. When the famished Egyptians come to Pharaoh crying out for bread, he says, “Go to Joseph,” for has made Joseph the steward over all the grain of Egypt. As we languish in Egyptian slavery to the passions and sensual pleasures, and we cry to God for deliverance, He says to us, “Go to Joseph,” whom He made steward of the True Bread Who was born in Bethlehem, the town whose name means “House of Bread,” for our salvation.

May we prepare with humility and love to receive this True Bread in Our Lord’s Precious Body and Blood, at this Passiontide and Radiant Resurrection. May we, like the two Josephs, always do the will of God with undoubting serenity and unwavering firmness, and so be found worthy to receive the reward of the good steward:

“Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord (Matthew 25:21).”

This commentary was taken from The Eternal Sacrifice: The Genesis Readings for Great Lent by Fr. Steven Allen. You can order a copy from Lulu at http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/FrStevenAllen

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VI Lent Tuesday – True Riches

You can listen to a podcast of this blog post at http://orthodoxtruth.org/uncategorized/vi-lent-tuesday-true-riches/

And the Lord said to Jacob, Return to the land of thy father, and to thy family, and I will be with thee. And Jacob sent and called Lea and Rachel to the plain where the flocks were. And he said to them, I see the face of your father, that it is not toward me as before, but the God of my father was with me. And ye too know that with all my might I have served your father. But your father deceived me, and changed my wages for the ten lambs, yet God gave him not power to hurt me. If he should say thus, The speckled shall be thy reward, then all the cattle would bear speckled; and if he should say, The white shall be thy reward, then would all the cattle bear white. So God has taken away all the cattle of your father, and given them to me. And it came to pass when the cattle conceived and were with young, that I beheld with mine eyes in sleep, and behold the he-goats and the rams leaping on the sheep and the she-goats, speckled and variegated and spotted with ash-coloured spots. And the angel of God said to me in a dream, Jacob; and I said, What is it? And he said, Look up with thine eyes, and behold the he-goats and the rams leaping on the sheep and the she-goats, speckled and variegated and spotted with ash-coloured spots; for I have seen all things that Laban does to thee. I am God that appeared to thee in the place of God where thou anointedst a pillar to me, and vowedst to me there a vow; now then arise and depart out of this land, depart into the land of thy nativity, and I will be with thee. And Rachel and Lea answered and said to him, Have we yet a part or inheritance in the house of our father? Are we not considered strangers by him? for he has sold us, and quite devoured our money. All the wealth and the glory which God has taken from our father, it shall be ours and our children’s; now then do whatsoever God has said to thee. – Genesis 31:3-16

In fourteen years, God has given Jacob both domestic happiness and material success, despite all the efforts of Laban, his crafty father-in-law, to cheat him. The Lord has demonstrated, once again, that man’s cleverness is powerless against His wisdom and His will. God willed to make Jacob a great patriarch in His plan of salvation for mankind, and He has acted according to His will.

Jacob’s new status as a great householder gives him what today we call “financial freedom”: he is his own master, not beholden to an employer or creditor who can take the bread out of his mouth at any moment. God alone, the Master of wind, weather, the tides of warring nations, and the health of man and beast, can now give or take away his prosperity. He has obtained his freedom, however, not by going around or against God’s will, but by fulfilling it. He has done his part in the plan of salvation; he has conformed his will to the will of God.

Jacob’s earthly wealth provides a typos,a prophetic image, of the true wealth the Lord wants to give us, new and permanent properties of soul and body, gifts of His uncreated grace: pure prayer, harmony with God’s creation, lasting peace of heart – all the joys of friendship with God. Jacob’s earthly freedom provides a prophetic image of the eternal freedom God intends for us, the freedom of the sons of God: freedom from sin, the devil, death, and hell. We must conform our wills to the will of God, and we will become free.

A fatally mistaken idea about freedom grips the minds of men, who equate freedom with the permission to disobey God and get away with it. They want to make their own rules and create their own reality. It does not seem to occur to them that the further they go in this direction, the more miserable they become. This present misery only faintly presages what is in store for them. What is doubtless going to happen to them after they die, apart from an unrevealed miracle of God’s mercy upon which no one can rely, is something we cannot – and would prefer not – to imagine.

Mentored by Satan, men mistakenly imagine that the permission to do evil is inherent in having a will, in being free and rational creatures, but it is not. Our natural will is most free when conformed completely to God’s will; we are most ourselves, most free, most rational, and possessed of will in its ultimate degree, when we do God’s will at every moment. What men mistakenly call “free will” is what St. Maximus the Confessor identifies as the “gnomic” will – a diseased condition of the will based on ignorance, conflicting opinions, and moral weakness, the result of the Fall. It is this condition of the will that we experience every day when our choice wavers between good and evil, between God’s Law and the law of sin and death.

We overcome the stress and misery of this wavering, uncertain state by unrelenting work on ourselves. Yes, we obtain the glorious freedom of the sons of God by God’s gift, but also we must labor. We find an example in Jacob, who did indeed receive all as gift from God but also was not idle. Last week we recalled his labors while chanting the Great Canon:

In privation Jacob the Patriarch endured the burning heat by day and the frost by night, making daily gains of sheep and cattle, shepherding, wrestling, and serving, to win his two wives. By the two wives, understand action and knowledge in contemplation. Leah is action, for she had many children; and Rachel is knowledge, for she endured great toil. And without toil, O my soul, neither action nor contemplation will succeed. from Ode Four of the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete

May the sweetness of Holy Pascha that we will soon enjoy give us a taste of the eternal wealth and freedom that cannot be taken away. May it encourage us to serve the Lord in active virtue and find rest in Him through prayer. Let us conform our wills to His holy, peaceful, and perfect will, and we will find glorious rest, the freedom of the sons of God.

This commentary was taken from The Eternal Sacrifice: The Genesis Readings for Great Lent by Fr. Steven Allen. You can order a copy from Lulu at http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/FrStevenAllen

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VI Lent Monday – Man of Divine Desires

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And it came to pass after Isaac was old, that his eyes were dimmed so that he could not see; and he called Esau, his elder son, and said to him, My son; and he said, Behold, I am here. And he said, Behold, I am grown old, and know not the day of my death. Now then take the weapons, both thy quiver and thy bow, and go into the plain, and get me venison, and make me meats, as I like them, and bring them to me that I may eat, that my soul may bless thee, before I die. And Rebecca heard Isaac speaking to Esau his son; and Esau went to the plain to procure venison for his father. And Rebecca said to Jacob her younger son, Behold, I heard thy father speaking to Esau thy brother, saying, Bring me venison, and prepare me meats, that I may eat and bless thee before the Lord before I die. Now then, my son, hearken to me, as I command thee. And go to the cattle and take for me thence two kids, tender and good, and I will make them meats for thy father, as he likes. And thou shalt bring them in to thy father, and he shall eat, that thy father may bless thee before he dies. And Jacob said to his mother Rebecca, Esau my brother is a hairy man, and I a smooth man. Peradventure my father may feel me, and I shall be before him as one ill-intentioned, and I shall bring upon me a curse, and not a blessing. And his mother said to him, On me be thy curse, son; only hearken to my voice, and go and bring them me. So he went and took and brought them to his mother; and his mother made meats, as his father liked them. And Rebecca having taken the fine raiment of her elder son Esau which was with her in the house, put it on Jacob her younger son. And she put on his arms the skins of the kids, and on the bare parts of his neck. And she gave the meats, and the loaves which she had prepared, into the hands of Jacob her son. And he brought them to his father, and said, Father; and he said, Behold I am here; who art thou, son? And Jacob said to his father, I, Esau thy first-born, have done as thou toldest me; rise, sit, and eat of my venison, that thy soul may bless me. And Isaac said to his son, What is this which thou hast quickly found? And he said, That which the Lord thy God presented before me. And Isaac said to Jacob, Draw night to me, and I will feel thee, son, if thou art my son Esau or not. And Jacob drew nigh to his father Isaac, and he felt him, and said, The voice Jacob’s voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau. And he knew him not, for his hands were as the hands of his brother Esau, hairy; and he blessed him, and he said, Art thou my son Esau? and he said, I am. And he said, Bring hither, and I will eat of thy venison, son, that my soul may bless thee; and he brought it near to him, and he ate, and he brought him wine, and he drank. And Isaac his father said to him, Draw nigh to me, and kiss me, son. And he drew nigh and kissed him, and smelled the smell of his garments, and blessed him, and said, Behold, the smell of my son is as the smell of an abundant field, which the Lord has blessed. And may God give thee of the dew of heaven, and of the fatness of the earth, and abundance of corn and wine. And let nations serve thee, and princes bow down to thee, and be thou lord of thy brother, and the sons of thy father shall do thee reverence; accursed is he that curses thee, and blessed is he that blesses thee. And it came to pass after Isaac had ceased blessing his son Jacob, it even came to pass, just when Jacob had gone out from the presence of Isaac his father, that Esau his brother came in from his hunting. And he also had made meats and brought them to his father; and he said to his father, Let my father arise and eat of his son’s venison, that thy soul may bless me. And Isaac his father said to him, Who art thou? And he said, I am thy first-born son Esau. And Isaac was amazed with very great amazement, and said, Who then is it that has procured venison for me and brought it to me? and I have eaten of all before thou camest, and I have blessed him, and he shall be blessed. And it came to pass when Esau heard the words of his father Isaac, he cried out with a great and very bitter cry, and said, Bless, I pray thee, me also, father. And he said to him, Thy brother has come with subtlety, and taken thy blessing. And he said, Rightly was his name called Jacob, for lo! this second time has he supplanted me; he has both taken my birthright, and now he has taken my blessing; and Esau said to his father, Hast thou not left a blessing for me, father? And Isaac answered and said to Esau, If I have made him thy lord, and have made all his brethren his servants, and have strengthened him with corn and wine, what then shall I do for thee, son? And Esau said to his father, Hast thou only one blessing, father? Bless, I pray thee, me also, father. And Isaac being troubled, Esau cried aloud and wept. And Isaac his father answered and said to him, Behold, thy dwelling shall be of the fatness of the earth, and of the dew of heaven from above. And thou shalt live by thy sword, and shalt serve thy brother; and there shall be a time when thou shalt break and loosen his yoke from off thy neck. And Esau was angry with Jacob because of the blessing, with which his father blessed him; and Esau said in his mind, Let the days of my father’s mourning draw nigh, that I may slay my brother Jacob. – Genesis 27:1-41

Jacob’s deception offends our sense of fairness. Yet by this deception Jacob becomes the ancestor of the God-Man. He burns with desire to receive God’s blessing, by whatever means, and thereby he becomes the instrument of God’s will to save us.

Jacob’s unfairness does not have to meet our approval before inspiring us to emulate his zeal. He demonstrates absolute faith that his father’s blessing will convey irresistible divine power. He believes without doubting that Isaac’s words convey a permanent grace: once Isaac speaks them, he cannot take them back. He burns with desire, with a divine eros, to have this blessing, and God rewards his fervor with His grace.

Esau, by contrast, in an earlier incident, has already demonstrated his lack of zeal for divine things and greater desire for earthly pleasure, when he sold his birthright to Jacob for one hot meal. He has also demonstrated his love of pleasure and disregard of God’s Law by running after loose women. By preferring the things of earth to the things of heaven, he has lost both his birthright – the right to be and to be called a son of God – and has lost his blessing, lost the grace of God.

Each of us must ask himself whether he is a Jacob or an Esau, whether he prefers heaven or earth. Of course, the answer is that we are both: we waver and undulate; we are hot one day and cold the next. But we should take heart from Jacob’s example: If we want divine blessings, we have only to ask for them. When is the last time we asked for such gifts as

– the love of prayer?

– zeal for heavenly things?

– constant remembrance of death and God’s judgment?

– the grace to see and remember all of our sins and to make a good confession?

– the grace of perseverance in the Faith and repentance until death?

Let us entreat the Lord to ignite our hearts with the divine eros that sets apart the saints. He waits for us to ask, and, desiring with His own divine desire, He desires to give.

“…this one thing I do: forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:13-14).”

This commentary was taken from The Eternal Sacrifice: The Genesis Readings for Great Lent by Fr. Steven Allen. You can order a copy from Lulu at http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/FrStevenAllen

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V Lent Friday – Thy Will Be Done

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And it came to pass after these things that God tempted Abraham, and said to him, Abraham, Abraham; and he said, Lo! I am here. And he said, Take thy son, the beloved one, whom thou hast loved—Isaac, and go into the high land, and offer him there for a whole-burnt-offering on one of the mountains which I will tell thee of. And Abraham rose up in the morning and saddled his ass, and he took with him two servants, and Isaac his son, and having split wood for a whole-burnt-offering, he arose and departed, and came to the place of which God spoke to him, on the third day; and Abraham having lifted up his eyes, saw the place afar off. And Abraham said to his servants, Sit ye here with the ass, and I and the lad will proceed thus far, and having worshipped we will return to you. And Abraham took the wood of the whole-burnt-offering, and laid it on Isaac his son, and he took into his hands both the fire and the knife, and the two went together. And Isaac said to Abraham his father, Father. And he said, What is it, son? And he said, Behold the fire and the wood, where is the sheep for a whole-burnt-offering? And Abraham said, God will provide himself a sheep for a whole-burnt-offering, my son. And both having gone together, they came to the place which God spoke of to him; and there Abraham built the altar, and laid the wood on it, and having bound the feet of Isaac his son together, he laid him on the altar upon the wood. And Abraham stretched forth his hand to take the knife to slay his son. And an angel of the Lord called him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham. And he said, Behold, I am here. And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the child, neither do anything to him, for now I know that thou fearest God, and for my sake thou hast not spared thy beloved son. And Abraham lifted up his eyes and beheld, and lo! a ram caught by his horns in a plant of Sabec; and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a whole-burnt-offering in the place of Isaac his son. And Abraham called the name of that place, The Lord hath seen; that they might say to-day, In the mount the Lord hath seen. And an angel of the Lord called Abraham the second time out of heaven, saying, I have sworn by myself, says the Lord, because thou hast done this thing, and on my account hast not spared thy beloved son, surely blessing I will bless thee, and multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of heaven, and as the sand which is by the shore of the sea, and thy seed shall inherit the cities of their enemies. And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because thou hast hearkened to my voice. And Abraham returned to his servants, and they arose and went together to the well of the oath; and Abraham dwelt at the well of the oath. – Genesis 22:1-18

God commands Abraham to sacrifice Isaac as the ultimate test of his faith and obedience. Beyond all hope, He had given Abraham a son in his old age, the son who furthermore was the living pledge of God’s promise that Abraham would be the father of nations. Now He says, “Give him back to me, but go on believing that I will do what I promised.”

Abraham does it. Of course, the Angel stays his hand, and he receives his son back beyond all hope, as from the dead. But morally Abraham has sacrificed him. In his will and in his heart he has given him back to God. After he receives him yet a second time from God, as from the dead, neither his relationship with God nor with his son will ever be the same again. Both will be incomparably higher, holier, and more permanent.

Everything Abraham is, everything he hopes for, everything he believes in, is wrapped up with Isaac. To give him up means to give up everything, everything except God. By his obedience, he is saying in action, “You, Lord, are everything, and I am nothing. Do with me as You will.”

Thus one could say that there are three types, three pre-figurations, of Christ in His Passion in this history of Abraham’s sacrifice: Isaac prefigures the Only Son of the Father, carrying the wood of the sacrifice on his back, as Christ carried the Cross. The ram caught in the bush and sacrificed in Isaac’s stead prefigures the Lamb of God, Who suffered in place of guilty man. Usually in the typology Abraham is seen as a type of God the Father, Who offers His Son for our salvation. Yet, if I may be so bold, I shall venture to offer that Abraham in his crushing, utter abasement before God, in his Job-like submission to the will of God, is also a type of the Paschal Christ in His Extreme Humility, His emptying Himself to the uttermost for us.

Each and every saint, each and every Orthodox Christian who goes to Paradise, will have one or perhaps several crises when he has to give up his “Isaac,” i.e., someone or something he thinks he cannot live without. There is no getting around it. The door of Extreme Humility is the door to Paradise.

During these closing days of Great Lent, as we prepare to glorify the Lord in His Passion, let us quietly pray for true humility, to realize very deeply within ourselves that God is God, and that He is holding us in the palm of His hand. Let us pray for the grace of an unchanging firmness to make an act of absolute faith and hope in Him, so that when the crisis comes, and we must sacrifice our particular Isaac, there will be no doubt of the outcome.

O Lord Jesus, Who emptied Thyself for us to the uttermost, glory be to Thee!

This commentary was taken from The Eternal Sacrifice: The Genesis Readings for Great Lent by Fr. Steven Allen. You can order a copy from Lulu at http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/FrStevenAllen

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V Lent, Thursday of the Great Canon – The Consuming Fire

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And the Lord said, The cry of Sodom and Gomorrha has been increased towards me, and their sins are very great. I will therefore go down and see, if they completely correspond with the cry which comes to me, and if not, that I may know. And the men having departed thence, came to Sodom; and Abraham was still standing before the Lord. And Abraham drew nigh and said, Wouldest thou destroy the righteous with the wicked, and shall the righteous be as the wicked? Should there be fifty righteous in the city, wilt thou destroy them? Wilt thou not spare the whole place for the sake of the fifty righteous, if they be in it? By no means shalt thou do this so as to destroy the righteous with the wicked, so the righteous shall be as the wicked: by no means. Thou that judgest the whole earth, shalt thou not do right? And the Lord said, If there should be in Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will spare the whole city, and the whole place for their sakes. And Abraham answered and said, Now I have begun to speak to my Lord, and I am earth and ashes. But if the fifty righteous should be diminished to forty-five, wilt thou destroy the whole city because of the five wanting? And he said, I will not destroy it, if I should find there forty-five. And he continued to speak to him still, and said, But if there should be found there forty? And he said, I will not destroy it for the forty’s sake. And he said, Will there be anything against me, Lord, if I shall speak? but if there be found there thirty? And he said, I will not destroy it for the thirty’s sake. And he said, Since I am able to speak to the Lord, what if there should be found there twenty? And he said, I will not destroy it, if I should find there twenty. And he said, Will there be anything against me, Lord, if I speak yet once? but if there should be found there ten? And he said, I will not destroy it for the ten’s sake. And the Lord departed, when he left off speaking to Abraham, and Abraham returned to his place. – Genesis 18: 20-33

Abraham pleads with the Lord not to destroy Sodom if only ten righteous men can be found there. The two angels sent by God will not find ten, but only one, the righteous Lot, and only he and his daughters will survive.

Living, as we are today, in the midst of Sodom, we must be absolutely determined not only to remain moral ourselves, but also to speak and to act against the lies of Sodom with absolute and consistent clarity and intransigence, not giving one inch. The lies of Sodom are that white is black, good is evil, the abnormal is normal, and the perverted is sacred. These thoughts, constantly repeated and shoved down the throats of everyone who will listen, corrode the mind and will, and only a militant state of soul burning with righteous indignation will resist.

The biggest lie is that the Christian virtue of non-condemnation means calling evil good, that “forgiveness” means saying that sin is not a sin. This is absurd, of course: if it is not a sin, then there is nothing to forgive. The reality is that the sins of Sodom are explicitly among those that cry out to God for vengeance, that God will indeed avenge them, and that it will be terrible to behold. Our God is a consuming fire, and nothing impure can stand in His presence.

We need to wake up and beg God to renew in us manly and righteous wrath against the sodomites, both those who practice these abominations and those who sanction them and propagandize them. If we are not indignant against such insults to God’s holiness and honor, if we are not wrathful against the present destruction of innocence and purity on a catastrophic scale, we will have neither hope of turning the tide nor of escaping God’s wrath ourselves, as aiders and abettors of these most satanic sins.

If we are destined to play the part of Lot, and destruction is inevitable, let us stand firm, and the Lord will send His angels to rescue us in time.

This commentary was taken from The Eternal Sacrifice: The Genesis Readings for Great Lent by Fr. Steven Allen. You can order a copy from Lulu at http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/FrStevenAllen

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V Lent Wednesday – Father of Nations

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And Abram was ninety-nine years old, and the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, I am thy God, be well-pleasing before me, and be blameless. And I will establish my covenant between me and thee, and I will multiply thee exceedingly. And Abram fell upon his face, and God spoke to him, saying, And I, behold! my covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be a father of a multitude of nations. And thy name shall no more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham, for I have made thee a father of many nations. And I will increase thee very exceedingly, and I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee. And I will establish my covenant between Me and thee, and thy seed after thee, to their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be thy God, and the God of thy seed after thee. And I will give to thee and to thy seed after thee the land wherein thou sojournest, even all the land of Chanaan for an everlasting possession, and I will be to them a God. And God said to Abraham, Thou also shalt fully keep my covenant, thou and thy seed after thee for their generations. – Genesis 17:1-9

Again God repeats His promise and renews His covenant with Abram. The reading begins by stating that Abram was ninety-nine years old at the time. The Lord waits until it is humanly impossible for him and Sarah to have children, in order to make it clear that Isaac’s birth, the fulfillment of the promise, is God’s work and not man’s. He is inaugurating the covenant of faith and of grace. All is from God.

At this particular repetition of the promise and renewal of the covenant, God makes a further revelation. He gives Abram a new name: Abraham, Father of Nations. Note that he is not the father of “the nation” or “a nation” but of “nations.” This title looks forward to the mission of the Holy Apostles, who converted the nations – the Gentiles – to the Faith of Abraham, after Pentecost. Abraham is the father of all the nations who come into the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.

God promises Abraham that His covenant will be “everlasting.” One day the same Lord Who makes this promise to Abraham will stand as a man before Pontius Pilate and reveal to him that “My kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36).”

Let us trust in God and believe that all comes from Him, abandoning our trust in ourselves. Let us love the Church. And let us look forward to the Kingdom which is to come. Through our confession of the Faith and Holy Baptism, the God of Abraham has made an everlasting covenant with us. We have only to be faithful and to hope in His promise.

This commentary was taken from The Eternal Sacrifice: The Genesis Readings for Great Lent by Fr. Steven Allen. You can order a copy from Lulu at http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/FrStevenAllen

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V Lent Tuesday – And It Was Accounted to Him for Righteousness

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And after these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram, I shield thee, thy reward shall be very great. And Abram said, Master and Lord, what wilt thou give me? whereas I am departing without a child, but the son of Masek my home-born female slave, this Eliezer of Damascus is mine heir. And Abram said, I am grieved since thou hast given me no seed, but my home-born servant shall succeed me. And immediately there was a voice of the Lord to him, saying, This shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come out of thee shall be thine heir. And he brought him out and said to him, Look up now to heaven, and count the stars, if thou shalt be able to number them fully, and he said, Thus shall thy seed be. And Abram believed God, and it was counted to him for righteousness. And he said to him, I am God that brought thee out of the land of the Chaldeans, so as to give thee this land to inherit. And he said, Master and Lord, how shall I know that I shall inherit it? And he said to him, Take for me an heifer in her third year, and a she-goat in her third year, and a ram in his third year, and a dove and a pigeon. So he took to him all these, and divided them in the midst, and set them opposite to each other, but the birds he did not divide. And birds came down upon the bodies, upon the divided parts of them, and Abram sat down by them. And about sunset a trance fell upon Abram, and lo! a great gloomy terror falls upon him. And it was said to Abram, Thou shalt surely know that thy seed shall be a sojourner in a land not their won, and they shall enslave them, and afflict them, and humble them four hundred years. And the nation whomsoever they shall serve I will judge; and after this, they shall come forth hither with much property. But thou shalt depart to thy fathers in peace, nourished in a good old age. – Genesis 15:1-15

This account, of Abram’s worries and insistence that God would confirm His promise, should console us greatly, since it shows that even a very great and holy man, who is in the state of divine vision, can still need to grow in faith and hope in God. This is something that goes on to the end of his life, and to the end of our lives. It shows that God does not chastise us when we question Him with childlike trust, “What wilt Thou give me?” Rather, He reassures us and increases the measure of our faith. Then, if we believe His promise and put our hope in Him, He accounts this to us as righteousness. Not great acts of asceticism or charity, but simply this: an act of faith and hope in Him.

God and Abram do not stop, however, at this noetic and verbal agreement. They make a physical covenant based upon sacrifice. Once again, Abram goes into ecstasy, into the state of divine vision, and he mystically beholds and speaks with God Who comes to make covenant with him upon the blood of sacrificed beasts of his flock. This is serious business: the cutting of the animals in two signifies, “You may do this to me and more if I break faith with you.”

The same Lord God who made this sacrificial covenant in blood with Abram has made an everlasting covenant with us, by the blood of the Lamb of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, whose Precious Blood purchased us for God. All that we are and all that we have come from Him; all that we are and all that we have belong to Him. “For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s (I Corinthians 6:20).” The entire Orthodox way of life – the fasting, the Church services, prayer, correction of our outward habits and inner thoughts, and every aspect of active Christian life – is designed to help us glorify God in body and spirit. He has accounted our faith as righteousness; we must show our thanks for His gift by struggling for holiness.

This commentary was taken from The Eternal Sacrifice: The Genesis Readings for Great Lent by Fr. Steven Allen. You can order a copy from Lulu at http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/FrStevenAllen

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V Lent Monday – Children of the Promise

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And Lot dwelt in a city of the neighbouring people, and pitched his tent in Sodom. But the men of Sodom were evil, and exceedingly sinful before God. And God said to Abram after Lot was separated from him, Look up with thine eyes, and behold from the place where thou now art northward and southward, and eastward and seaward; for all the land which thou seest, I will give it to thee and to thy seed for ever. And I will make thy seed like the dust of the earth; if any one is able to number the dust of the earth, then shall thy seed be numbered. Arise and traverse the land, both in the length of it and in the breadth; for to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever. And Abram having removed his tent, came and dwelt by the oak of Mambre, which was in Chebrom, and he there built an altar to the Lord. – Genesis 13:12-18

Here God makes Abram a stupendous promise, that his seed would number as the dust of the earth, i.e., that his descendants would be countless, a promise repeated several times in Genesis. Abram’s physical descendants through Isaac and Ishmael have indeed attained large numbers in the course of history, the far greater in number being the sons of Ishmael. God’s covenant with Abraham had nothing to do with Ishmael, however, but only with Isaac, the son of the promise. The point here is not demographic numbers or the spread of a biological group sharing similar DNA. Abraham is father in the Faith to all who believe in the Savior Whom Isaac prefigures. The true children of Abraham are the children of the Church.

During Great Lent, we children of the Church read Genesis to remind us that we are part of one great, single story, the story of all the true believers in the true God from Adam until now. We read how the lonely, righteous patriarchs, each in his turn, made the critical choice to believe God when He promised him invincible help if only he would trust in Him, and this choice, the choice of one lonely man, led to eternal life for countless souls. Now it is our turn: What choice will we make? Our feeling lonely is no excuse to say No to God. We have too much precedent against that. Each of us, in this life, will make the choice. Each of us, in the next life, will stand before God’s Judgment.

Some say that man’s repentance is now impossible and the end is near. Since they go right on enjoying their daily cup of coffee and posting cute videos on Facebook, it is not easy to take them seriously. They forget that, living by Faith, one of them could beget or bear or teach or inspire one child who, like Abraham, could become “the father of many nations,” whose life and labor could bring to repentance many souls and thus stave off the end, possibly unto the salvation of countless souls. They forget the duty of all Orthodox Christians: to implore God with tears to make them into the parents or godparents or priests or elders or teachers…of a saint.

The duty is ours. The consequences are God’s. Let us cast off fear and live this day in Faith.

This commentary was taken from The Eternal Sacrifice: The Genesis Readings for Great Lent by Fr. Steven Allen. You can order a copy from Lulu at http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/FrStevenAllen

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