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O Lord God, I will glorify thee, I will sing to thy name; for thou hast done wonderful things, even an ancient and faithful counsel. So be it. 2 For thou hast made cities a heap, even cities made strong that their foundations should not fall: the city of ungodly men shall not be built for ever. 3 Therefore shall the poor people bless thee, and cities of injured men shall bless thee. 4 For thou hast been a helper to every lowly city, and a shelter to them that were disheartened by reason of poverty: thou shalt deliver them from wicked men: thou hast been a shelter of them that thirst, and a refreshing air to injured men. 5 We were as faint-hearted men thirsting in Sion, by reason of ungodly men to whom thou didst deliver us. 6 And the Lord of hosts shall make a feast for all the nations: on this mount they shall drink gladness, they shall drink wine: 7 they shall anoint themselves with ointment in this mountain. Impart thou all these things to the nations; for this is God’s counsel upon all the nations. 8 Death has prevailed and swallowed men up; but again the Lord God has taken away every tear from every face. He has taken away the reproach of his people from all the earth: for the mouth off the Lord has spoken it. 9 And in that day they shall say, behold our God in whom we have trusted, and he shall save us: this is the Lord; we have waited for him, and we have exulted, and will rejoice in our salvation.
Throughout the book of the Prophet Esaias, the long and gloomy passages of rebuke and warning are punctuated by brief passages full of light, ringing announcements of God’s Kingdom to come, short victory hymns bursting with consolation, thanksgiving, rejoicing, and praise. Today’s reading is one of the latter.
St. Cyril of Alexandria, who wrote a very complete commentary on Esaias, shows meticulous care in discerning which passages address only certain events contemporary with the prophet, which prophesy the New Testament fulfillment of the Old Testament, and which passages function on both levels. Today’s reading, he says, clearly prophesies the establishment of God’s Kingdom by the coming in the flesh of Our Lord Jesus Christ:
In this passage the prophet announces the kingdom of Christ. For he has said [in the previous chapter, verse 23], that “the Lord will rule on Sion and in Jerusalem, and he will manifest his glory before the elders.” Knowing that all these things would take place, the prophet is filled with great joy, and he pays tribute to the one who will accomplish these marvelous deeds in the words, “O Lord God, I will glorify thee, I will sing to thy name; for thou hast done wonderful things, even an ancient and faithful counsel. So be it.” He says “thou hast done,” although he is referring to things that had not yet happened. This was to show that what is promised in the future will certainly and surely take place. For that reason he adds, “So be it.” With the eyes of the mind the prophets saw the time of Christ’s sojourn as though it were present. They knew what was to take place. The phrase, “…wonderful things, even an ancient and faithful counsel…” refers to the mystery of the Incarnation of the only Son and of the things that would happen all over the earth because of it. The most wise Paul asserted, “We were saved in Christ, who was chosen before the foundation of the world and manifested at the end of the age (Ephesians 1:4).” Paul also said that the mystery of Christ is neither new nor recent; though he appeared only at the fitting time, God chose him before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4,9). This is the “faithful counsel,” the certain decrees of God who has power over all things. – St. Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on Esaias
Our reading today, then, prophesies the First Coming of Christ. St. John the Theologian shows us that this same passage also prophesies the Second Coming of Christ and the final establishment of the eternal Kingdom of God, by alluding to verse eight (“the Lord God has taken away every tear from every face”) twice in the Apocalypse, in chapter seven and then again in chapter 21:
And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they? And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple: and he that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat.
For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes. – Revelation 7: 13 -1 7
And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. – 21:4
Thus Esaias has seen in mystical vision God’s pre-eternal counsel from before the beginning of the world, he has seen the first coming of the Incarnate Word in lowliness to save us by His Passion, Death, and Resurrection, and he has seen the Lord’s final coming in glory to judge the living and the dead, to create a new heaven and a new earth, and to enthrone His faithful witnesses forever in the heavenly Jerusalem. This ability of the prophets to transcend time and to see things past, present, and future is perfectly consistent with what it means to be in theoria, which means to see things as God sees them, which is the way things really are. The prophet sees it all at once, in the light of eternity.
St. Irenaeus of Lyons, in his Proof of the Apostolic Preaching, says that a prophet is not, precisely speaking, only one who foretells the future; he is, rather, simply one who is commissioned by God to speak to man. St. Gregory the Great, the Dialogist, explains that whether the prophets speak of the past, the present, or the future, their statements in all three tenses are all equally prophetic:
Prophecy has three tenses: the past of course, the present, and the future…We shall speak more truly of the three tenses of prophecy if we quote the evidence of Holy Writ. Prophecy concerning the future: “Behold, the Virgin shall conceive in the womb, and shall bring forth a son (Esaias 7:14).” Prophecy concerning the past: “In the beginning God made the heaven and the earth (Genesis 1:1).” For [here] a man [the Prophet Moses] speaks of a time when man was not. A prophecy about the present is when Paul the Apostle says, “But if all keep prophesying, and some unbeliever or unlearned should come in, he is reproved by all, he is examined by all. And thus are the secrets of his heart become manifest; and so falling upon his face, he will make obeisance to God, reporting that God is verily among you (I Corinthians 14: 24, 25). Indeed, when it is said, “the secrets of his heart are made manifest,” it is truly shown that through this mode of prophecy the Spirit does not predict what the future will be, but reveals what is. How then may it be called the spirit of prophecy which lays bare no future event but reports the present? In this case, attention must be paid to what is rightly described as prophecy, not because it predicts future events, but because it uncovers hidden truths. – St. Gregory the Great, Homilies on Ezekiel, Book 1, Homily 1.
This ability of those with the prophetic gift to see the past, present, and future has been continued even into our own time, in the persons of the holy elders who have gone through the entire course of praxis, active struggle with the passions, and, having received the grace of purity of heart, have entered the state of theoria, in which God reveals to them the true nature of reality: the mysteries of His pre-eternal counsel, the noetic meaning of created essences, the hidden things in the hearts of their contemporaries, and the true meaning of events past, present, and future. We, who are still partially blinded by our unhealed passions and have only occasional glimpses of reality, rely on the prophetic writings of the Old and New Testaments, as well as the prophetic sayings of the Holy Fathers and the guidance of spirit-filled men of our time, to enlighten the steps of our journey, as pilgrims who travel to holy places of which they have only heard and never seen rely on the experienced traveler to guide them on the way.
God’s revelations through holy men, however, do not enlighten us against our wills or without our cooperation. We must freely pre-dispose ourselves to hear their words to our profit and not to our condemnation. One simple and excellent practice to help us do this, when we read the Scriptures and the Fathers, is to read or recite the prayer before sacred study composed by St. John Chrysostom:
Illumine my heart, O Master who lovest mankind, with the pure light of Thy divine knowledge. Open Thou the eyes of my mind to the understanding of Thy Gospel teachings. Implant also in me a love for Thy blessed commandments. Grant me the grace to overcome all my carnal desires, so that I may enter more completely into a spiritual manner of living, both thinking and doing such things as are well pleasing to Thee; For Thou art the illumination of our souls and bodies, O Christ our God, and unto Thee do we ascribe glory, together with Thine all-holy, good and life-creating Spirit; now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.
O Lord Jesus Christ, open Thou the eyes of my heart, that I may hear Thy word and understand and do Thy will, for I am a sojourner upon the earth. Hide not Thy commandments from me, but open mine eyes, that I may perceive the wonders of Thy law. Speak unto me the hidden and secret things of Thy wisdom. On Thee do I set my hope, O my God, that Thou shalt enlighten my mind and understanding with the light of Thy knowledge, not only to cherish those things which are written, but to do them, that in reading the lives and sayings of the Saints I may not sin, but that such may serve for my restoration, enlightenment and sanctification, for the salvation of my soul, and the inheritance of life everlasting; For Thou art the enlightenment of those who lie in darkness, and from Thee cometh every good deed and every gift. Amen.
Let us also cry out day by day, with tears, in the favorite words of St. Gregory Palamas: O Lord, enlighten my darkness! We will not be alone and unsupported when we make this humble cry, for the intercessions of the great Chrysostom, along with the prayers of Ss. Irenaeus, Cyril, and the two Gregories, as well as those of the inspired authors themselves – the exalted Theologian, the Apostle to the Gentiles, and trumpet voiced Esaias – are all with us. Empowered by their prayers, and coming to see all things in the light of eternity, may we be delivered from the paralysis of being imprisoned mentally by the passing and deceitful events of the present life, and thus come to rest secure in the knowledge of the One Who was, Who is, and Who is to come, the Faithful Witness who promises an eternal kingdom to those who persevere as His faithful witnesses to the end.
May we all receive the grace of that blessed perseverance.
“He that endureth to the end,” saith the Lord, “shall be saved.”