IV Lent Friday – The Chosen and the Promise

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

And the Lord said to Abram, Go forth out of thy land and out of thy kindred, and out of the house of thy father, and come into the land which I will shew thee. And I will make thee a great nation, and I will bless thee and magnify thy name, and thou shalt be blessed. And I will bless those that bless thee, and curse those that curse thee, and in thee shall all the tribes of the earth be blessed. And Abram went as the Lord spoke to him, and Lot departed with him, and Abram was seventy-five years old, when he went out of Charrhan. And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot the son of his brother, and all their possessions, as many as they had got, and every soul which they had got in Charrhan, and they went forth to go into the land of Chanaan. And Abram traversed the land lengthwise as far as the place Sychem, to the high oak, and the Chananites then inhabited the land. And the Lord appeared to Abram, and said to him, I will give this land to thy seed. And Abram built an altar there to the Lord who appeared to him. – Genesis 12:1-7

After the scattering of the peoples from Babel, the true knowledge of God remains intact among one family only, and their lineage produces Abraham, who will become the Father in the Faith for all true worshippers of God until the end of the world.

As with Noah, the Lord chooses a particular person to carry out His plan, and the choice of this one man to have faith and to obey God affects the salvation of uncounted souls. As with Noah, the Lord gives him a difficult task that he cannot fulfill without great faith and obedience. As does Noah, Abram offers sacrifice unto the Lord.

So too our lives, if we are indeed heirs of the Promise, will bear these marks of particularity, faith coupled with obedience, and sacrifice.

Particularity – When we see that few share our convictions, we must not be shaken. There have been many and critical times in history when almost everyone had fallen away, and God called the few – sometimes just one person and his family – to carry on the true knowledge of Him and the true worship of Him. These few were never distinguished by superior wealth or power or cleverness, but only by this sheer fact, that God had called them.

Faith and obedience – Faith is a free gift, a grace from God: He reveals Himself, giving us the true knowledge of Who He is, and He infuses the grace of Faith coupled with this revelation. It is also our assent to this knowledge, but even the ability to assent is God’s gracious gift to us. In return for this gift, God demands obedience: “All right, Noah, I have given you the gift of Faith. Now build the Ark.” “All right, Abram, I have given you the gift of Faith. Now risk everyone and everything dear to you, and go off with them to a place you have never been before and know nothing about, trusting Me to take care of you.” When God gives us our appointed task, it is clear that we have to do it or we will perish, spiritually if not physically. It is also clear that without Him we cannot do it, but with Him success is never in doubt. We must step out in Faith and not look back.

Sacrifice – Abram, upon arriving in the Promised Land, immediately built an altar to the Lord. The true worship of God always accompanies the true faith in God, and true worship, from the beginning of our race, has always centered on sacrifice, culminating in the One True Sacrifice that takes away the sins of the world, that of Our Lord Jesus Christ on the Cross. Therefore, in our particular and humanly impossible adventure of faith and obedience, we struggle in every way possible to ensure that we and ours will have access to the True Sacrifice that takes place only on Orthodox altars at the Divine Liturgy, at which the One Paschal Sacrifice of the Lamb of God is made present again and again until the end of the world, “for the remission of sins and life everlasting.” Even if it turns out that we have to live in a cave somewhere, let us make sure that the cave has a true altar and a true priest. With God helping us, it can be done.

A simple program, really, if you think about it.

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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Lent IV Thursday – Small Is Beautiful

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These are the tribes of the sons of Noe, according to their generations, according to their nations: of them were the islands of the Gentiles scattered over the earth after the flood. And all the earth was one lip, and there was one language to all. And it came to pass as they moved from the east, they found a plain in the land of Senaar, and they dwelt there. And a man said to his neighbour, Come, let us make bricks and bake them with fire. And the brick was to them for stone, and their mortar was bitumen. And they said, Come, let us build to ourselves a city and tower, whose top shall be to heaven, and let us make to ourselves a name, before we are scattered abroad upon the face of all the earth. And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the sons of men built. And the Lord said, Behold, there is one race, and one lip of all, and they have begun to do this, and now nothing shall fail from them of all that they may have undertaken to do. Come, and having gone down let us there confound their tongue, that they may not understand each the voice of his neighbour. And the Lord scattered them thence over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city and the tower. On this account its name was called Confusion, because there the Lord confounded the languages of all the earth, and thence the Lord scattered them upon the face of all the earth. – Genesis 10:32-11:9

Men, delivered from extinction in the Flood by God’s mercy to Noah, did not learn their lesson, and they determined to play God by building a tower to scale the heavens. One would have thought that the not-distant memory of worldwide catastrophe brought on by human pride and corruption would have daunted them, but they demonstrated the endless capacity of men to delude themselves, and they attempted, once again, to make life into a project to thwart God. The surprise was on them: God cannot be thwarted.

God solved the problem by creating many different languages and nations, scattering man across the face of the earth. He knew, in His infinite wisdom, that people do better in small groups, that small is beautiful. Man is by nature social: without family and community, without love, he withers and dies. And precisely because of this, he needs to be in little groups: families, Church parishes, communities. He needs life on a human scale, life with a human face. Being just an atom floating in a vast sea of faceless individuals – which is the plan for humanity of the Babel-Tower-Builders of all ages – has the same effect as having no society at all. It encloses one in his ego, which is hell on earth.

The Church is the ultimate answer to the Tower project. She gathers all the nations under Her care without destroying them. Each nation, and each local community and family, attains its true greatness mothered and instructed by Her. Where the Church is the Mother and Teacher of the nation, family life blossoms, and this becomes the basis of that true national greatness which cannot be measured by GDP or number of dollars spent on social programs or military adventures, but by the piety, learning, and virtue of the nation’s people.

Each of us needs to abjure the mass mentality and mass culture, and rekindle the love of one’s own: One’s own family, ancestry, tongue, culture, and place. Let us make our houses into homes, where family life flourishes in piety, learning, and virtuous labor. Let us love the land beneath our feet and the sky over our heads. It will be a great day when we are more concerned about our children’s Latin lesson or a raccoon getting into the chicken coop than about what some crooks are doing in Washington D.C., New York, or Hollywood.

For this to happen, we have to un-do the illusion that things that happen on video screens are more real and more important than things that happen in front of us in real life. Here is a short list of exercises that may help:

1. Buy stationery and postage stamps, and write someone you know a real letter once a week.

2. Plant a garden and keep after it.

3. Spend at least one evening per week with your family and just talk, or sing, or tell stories, or take a walk. Or simply do nothing – you’ll learn more just looking at each other than at the Internet.

4. Learn the names of the trees and plants where you live, and be able to identify them.

Pick one and try it. You have nothing to lose!

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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IV Lent Wednesday – Recovering Piety

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Now the sons of Noe which came out of the ark, were Sem, Cham, Japheth. And Cham was father of Chanaan. These three are the sons of Noe, of these were men scattered over all the earth. And Noe began to be a husbandman, and he planted a vineyard. And he drank of the wine, and was drunk, and was naked in his house. And Cham the father of Chanaan saw the nakedness of his father, and he went out and told his two brothers without. And Sem and Japheth having taken a garment, put it on both their backs and went backwards, and covered the nakedness of their father; and their face wasbackward, and they saw not the nakedness of their father. And Noe recovered from the wine, and knew all that his younger son had done to him. And he said, Cursed be the servant Chanaan, a slave shall he be to his brethren. And he said, Blessed be the Lord God of Sem, and Chanaan shall be his bond-servant. May God make room for Japheth, and let him dwell in the habitations of Sem, and let Chanaan be his servant. And Noe lived after the flood three hundred and fifty years. And all the days of Noe were nine hundred and fifty years, and he died. Now these are the generations of the sons of Noe, Sem, Cham, Japheth; and sons were born to them after the flood. – Genesis 9:18-10:1

Noah curses Ham for insulting his father, and all of Ham’s posterity are cursed as well. There are three realities here that today many wish to deny:

Divinely-established hierarchy: God places some men over others, the most primordial example being that of placing the father over his family. The deluded slogan of the French Revolution, the catastrophe that inaugurated the current reign of demonic insanity, combines “equality” with “fraternity,” but this is self-contradictory, because without hierarchy there is no love, only the competition of “equals.” No one is responsible for anyone else, and no one has to obey anyone else. In practice of course, this results in the evil anti-hierarchy of “might makes right, the “law of the jungle,” and “survival of the fittest.” Another word for such a condition is “hell.”

The duty of filial piety: This comprises not only the affection but also the reverence of children toward parents, a reverence the children owe even to bad parents. The commandment God will later give to Moses does not create a new obligation but rather enshrines what was known from the beginning: “Honour thy father and thy mother, that it may be well with thee, and that thou mayest live long on the good land, which the Lord thy God gives to thee. (Exodus 20:12).” Filial piety brings a blessing upon one’s life; filial impiety brings a curse. In his last and greatest novel, Brothers Karamazov, Dostoevsky uses the image of a parricide, one who murders his father, to illustrate the essence of nihilism, which is the worship of self-will that leads to eternal death.

The duty to shield one’s eyes from evil: Ham’s duty was not only to cover his father’s nakedness out of filial piety but also to cover his own eyes and to be silent regarding what he had inadvertently witnessed. There are times when our duty requires the accusation of evil and to be silent is a sin. A great deal of the time, however, we indulge in looking upon and speaking about evil that is none of our business and about which we can do nothing, the result being that we both coarsen ourselves and spread the effect of the evil we profess to abhor. Contemporary man has completely lost the very concept of the obscene – that there are some things that should not be seen or heard by others. The word obscene comes from the Latin o-, ob-, which means, in this context, “away from,” and scena, “stage,” i.e., the stage in a theater. There are many things, due either to their especial sacredness or especial evil, that should not – must not – be heard, seen, portrayed, or spoken of in public. They must remain “offstage.” A society that forgets this is doomed to degradation and dissolution.

How do we recover the pietas of our fathers in the Faith? As a first step, we must turn off the input of filth from the world around us and immerse ourselves in that which is good: good reading, good art, and good music. We find this first of all in the Church and Her sacred writings, art, and chant. We find it secondly in the healthiest and best non-liturgical writing, art, and music of Christian civilization. It is all there for us to partake of it. We simply have to make the choice.

As a second step, let us refuse to speak of evil things except when called upon to do so by our station in life and our duties, and even then only to say what is truly required to those who truly need to know.

As a third step, let us pray with tears for the Lord to show us the way out of the sacrilegious burlesque that constitutes postmodern life, and for the wisdom and strength to build an ark in which we can ride the waves unsullied over the sea of sewage which passes for contemporary culture.

Holy Patriarch Noah, pray to God for us.

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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IV Lent Tuesday – Real Life

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

And God spoke to Noe, and to his sons with him, saying, And behold I establish my covenant with you, and with your seed after you, and with every living creature with you, of birds and of beasts, and with all the wild beasts of the earth, as many as are with you, of all that come out of the ark. And I will establish my covenant with you and all flesh shall not any more die by the water of the flood, and there shall no more be a flood of water to destroy all the earth. And the Lord God said to Noe, This is the sign of the covenant which I set between me and you, and between every living creature which is with you for perpetual generations. I set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a sign of covenant between me and the earth. And it shall be when I gather clouds upon the earth, that my bow shall be seen in the cloud. And I will remember my covenant, which is between me and you, and between every living soul in all flesh, and there shall no longer be water for a deluge, so as to blot out all flesh. And my bow shall be in the cloud, and I will look to remember the everlasting covenant between me and the earth, and between every living soul in all flesh, which is upon the earth. And God said to Noe, This is the sign of the covenant, which I have made between me and all flesh, which is upon the earth. – Genesis 9:8-17

God makes His after-Flood covenant with a single household: “…behold I establish my covenant with you, and with your seed after you, and with every living creature with you, of birds and of beasts, and with all the wild beasts of the earth, as many as are with you, of all that come out of the ark.”

Noah is the paterfamilias, the patriarch, of a farming family, of wife and sons and sons’ wives, of the domestic and wild beasts in their care and under their authority. God chose a family of animal husbandmen, along with their “critters” – not a government or an army or a political party or a business corporation or a city – to be the foundation of all the future of the earth. Governments, cities, and all the rest are part of God’s plan for society, too, but they are not the foundation. The foundation is the family, and, to be more precise, husband and wife and their posterity, caring for animals and tending the soil.

All the Scriptures, all the Fathers, and all the best philosophers of all history testify that the natural family – man and wife with their offspring, living on their own land and caring for their own needs – is the setting most conducive to a moral and pious life. Life in the city, detached from nature, inevitably tied to commerce, and, worse, to moneylending, naturally tends to the breakup of the family and to every vice, which must be fought at every step, as any bishop of any great metropolis in Christian history can testify.

“Economics” in today’s parlance means some kind of abstract system or mathematical game pretending to explain the best way of dealing with the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services. The Greek original of “economy,” oikonomia, however, does not mean something so removed from reality. It means, literally, the “law of the household,” the understanding of how families govern themselves and their material substance. All true understanding of economics for larger groups – communities, nations, mankind – must be built on this. Edmund Burke said that the true purpose of politics is that a man be happy at home. The same is true of economics.

Great Lent is a great time to get back to basics. How does our family life conform to the law given by Scripture, to the example of our pious ancestors, to the God-given, natural reality of what a family is? Given our circumstances, what can we do to recover the law of the household, the life of the family? Most of us cannot “go back to the land”; we have inherited the highly artificial system of things that dominates us, and only a mighty revolution in the current life of man will change that. But we can resolve to do a few things:

1. Always say family prayers, every day.

2. Always have a family meal, every day.

3. Grow some of our own food and care for some dumb creatures, together.

4. Curb our appetites, pay our own way, and avoid debt.

Let’s start there. If we manage this short list, it will make for a very profitable Lent!

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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IV Lent Monday – Ora et Labora

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And the Lord God smelled a savour of sweetness, and the Lord God having considered, said, I will not any more curse the earth, because of the works of men, because the imagination of man is intently bent upon evil things from his youth, I will not therefore any more smite all living flesh as I have done. All the days of the earth, seed and harvest, cold and heat, summer and spring, shall not cease by day or night. And God blessed Noe and his sons, and said to them, Increase and multiply, and fill the earth and have dominion over it. And the dread and the fear of you shall be upon all the wild beasts of the earth, on all the birds of the sky, and on all things moving upon the earth, and upon all the fishes of the sea, I have placed them under your power. And every reptile which is living shall be to you for meat, I have given all things to you as the green herbs. But flesh with blood of life ye shall not eat. For your blood of your lives will I require at the hand of all wild beasts, and I will require the life of man at the hand of his brother man. He that sheds man’s blood, instead of that blood shall his own be shed, for in the image of God I made man. But do ye increase and multiply, and fill the earth, and have dominion over it. – Genesis 8:21-9:7

The Lord God commands Noah and his sons, as He had commanded Adam and Eve, to “…increase and multiply, and fill the earth, and have dominion over it.” We do not get back to Paradise by sitting around and dreaming about it. We have to work.

Two opposite extremes distort the meaning of our work on earth. Utopians say that this life is all there is, and our duty is to make heaven on earth. Their scheme distorts the meaning of work by exalting it too greatly, casting it as a pseudo-salvation. Quietists says that what we do on earth does not matter, that we need simply to crawl into a hole, pray, and be “holy,” by which, I suppose, they mean sitting in that hole and certainly not practicing active love like the saints. Their scheme distorts the meaning of work by detaching it from our eternal destiny. They could very well summarize their philosophy in the words of Peter Pan – “Think happy thoughts” – and their “heaven” bears close resemblance to Never-Never Land. They lose Paradise through avoiding life in this world, as do the Utopians by worshipping it.

This world is temporary, not eternal as the materialists teach. God expects us to love it without being attached to it, for we look forward to a New Heaven and a New Earth, in which all the labors of man shall cease, and where we hope to spend eternity in contemplation of the beloved God. But this world is also quite real, not an illusion as the Hindus and Buddhists teach. God made it, and He pronounced it good. He loves His creation, and He expects man, His steward, to love it too.

We practice this love by marrying and giving life to children with the courage born of faith and other-centeredness, eschewing the cowardice born of faithlessness and self-centeredness.

We practice this love through honest labor that supports our families and responsible stewardship over the good things God has given us.

We practice this love by laboring for souls, for God’s Church.

In all this, however, we do not aim to create heaven on earth, but rather to acquire heaven by making good use of our time on earth. Contrary to what the Utopians think, life on earth is not all there is – it is the arena in which we work out our eternal destiny. Contrary to what the Quietists think, life on earth requires effort – it is the arena in which we work out our eternal destiny.

Let us resolve to spend the second half of Great Lent in active labor, sacrifice, and deeds of love. At the end of this Lent, and at the end of our lives, may we hear the desired Voice:

“Well done, 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: 23).”

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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III Lent Friday – A Savor of Sweetness

You can listen to an audio podcast of this blog post at https://www.spreaker.com/user/youngfaithradio/lentiiifri

And the water continued to decrease until the tenth month. And in the tenth month, on the first day of the month, the heads of the mountains were seen. And it came to pass after forty days Noe opened the window of the ark which he had made. And he sent forth a raven; and it went forth and returned not until the water was dried from off the earth. And he sent a dove after it to see if the water had ceased from off the earth. And the dove not having found rest for her feet, returned to him into the ark, because the water was on all the face of the earth, and he stretched out his hand and took her, and brought her to himself into the ark. And having waited yet seven other days, he again sent forth the dove from the ark. And the dove returned to him in the evening, and had a leaf of olive, a sprig in her mouth; and Noe knew that the water had ceased from off the earth. And having waited yet seven other days, he again sent forth the dove, and she did not return to him again any more. And it came to pass in the six hundred and first year of the life of Noe, in the first month, on the first day of the month, the water subsided from off the earth, and Noe opened the covering of the ark which he had made, and he saw that the water had subsided from the face of the earth. And in the second month the earth was dried, on the twenty-seventh day of the month. And the Lord God spoke to Noe, saying, Come out from the ark, thou and thy wife and thy sons, and thy sons’ wives with thee. And all the wild beasts as many as are with thee, and all flesh both of birds and beasts, and every reptile moving upon the earth, bring forth with thee: and increase ye and multiply upon the earth. And Noe came forth, and his wife and his sons, and his sons’ wives with him. And all the wild beasts and all the cattle and every bird, and every reptile creeping upon the earth after their kind, came forth out of the ark. And Noe built an altar to the Lord, and took of all clean beasts, and of all clean birds, and offered a whole burnt-offering upon the altar. And the Lord God smelled a savour of sweetness, and the Lord God having considered, said, I will not any more curse the earth, because of the works of men, because the imagination of man is intently bent upon evil things from his youth, I will not therefore any more smite all living flesh as I have done. – Genesis 8:4-21

The first thing Noah does after he comes out of the Ark is to build an altar and offer sacrifice to the Lord. We, too, when we emerge from some danger, great or small – the first thing we must do is to offer sacrifice in prayer, worship, fasting, and good deeds. For our little sacrifices to be pleasing to God, however, they must be joined to the only Sacrifice that saves, the Sacrifice of Christ on the Cross.

Because the Lord is pleased with Noah’s sacrifice, He decides never to destroy man again from the face of the earth as long as the earth shall last. He promises this, while at the same time He states clearly what is man’s condition, that “…the imagination of man is intently bent upon evil things from his youth.” He knows that man’s fallen nature is such that his heart spontaneously gives rise to evil thoughts night and day, endlessly and every minute. Yet He has “smelled a savor of sweetness,” and after some consideration upon the matter, He decides that He will give man a chance.

Noah’s sacrifice, and indeed all the Old Testament sacrifices, prefigure the one, unique, and only saving Sacrifice – the Sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. These little sacrifices pleased God because they obtained grace through hope in the great Sacrifice that was to come. The power of the Cross, reaching back in time to the beginning of the world, and forward in time to the end of the world, alone destroys the power of sin over man. Only by dying and rising with Christ, partaking of His sacrificed Flesh and Blood, and calling upon the name of the Crucified continually, can we change the thoughts of our hearts from evil continually to good continually.

We have now drawn near to the middle of Great Lent, and this Sunday we shall once again, God willing, be made worthy to venerate the Cross of Christ with fear and love. Let our kissing of the Cross be not an empty gesture but rather a vow to follow Him to Golgotha, to call upon His holy Name continually, and to make our lives a sacrifice to His glory.

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

Noah’s Rainbow
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III Lent Thursday – Unto Thee Shall All Flesh Come

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In the six hundredth year of the life of Noe, in the second month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month, on this day all the fountains of the abyss were broken up, and the flood-gates of heaven were opened. And the rain was upon the earth forty days and forty nights. On that very day entered Noe, Sem, Cham, Japheth, the sons of Noe, and the wife of Noe, and the three wives of his sons with him into the ark. And all the wild beasts after their kind, and all cattle after their kind, and every reptile moving itself on the earth after its kind, and every flying bird after its kind, went in to Noe into the ark, pairs, male and female of all flesh in which is the breath of life. And they that entered went in male and female of all flesh, as God commanded Noe, and the Lord God shut the ark from without upon him. And the flood was upon the earth forty days and forty nights, and the water abounded greatly and bore up the ark, and it was lifted on high from off the earth. And the water prevailed and abounded exceedingly upon the earth, and the ark was borne upon the water. And the water prevailed exceedingly upon the earth, and covered all the high mountains which were under heaven. Fifteen cubits upwards was the water raised, and it covered all the high mountains. And there died all flesh that moved upon the earth, of flying creatures and cattle, and of wild beasts, and every reptile moving upon the earth, and every man. And all things which have the breath of life, and whatever was on the dry land, died. And God blotted out every offspring which was upon the face of the earth, both man and beast, and reptiles, and birds of the sky, and they were blotted out from the earth, and Noe was left alone, and those with him in the ark. And the water was raised over the earth an hundred and fifty days. And God remembered Noe, and all the wild beasts, and all the cattle, and all the birds, and all the reptiles that creep, as many as were with him in the ark, and God brought a wind upon the earth, and the water stayed. And the fountains of the deep were closed up, and the flood-gates of heaven, and the rain from heaven was withheld. And the water subsided, and went off the earth, and after an hundred and fifty days the water was diminished, and the ark rested in the seventh month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month, on the mountains of Ararat. – Genesis 7:11-8:3

In few and simple words, today’s reading recounts an unimaginable catastrophe, the catastrophe of all earth history, the flood of Noah. God lifts His mighty hand and destroys all that has breath, save those in the Ark. We have grown used to the story, and we do not think about it much. If we did, we would feel our real size, our nothingness before God. He is the Almighty, and none can withstand His will.

At the same time, He is unexpectedly close to us, closer than we are to ourselves. Note the end of verse 7:16: “And the Lord God shut the ark from without upon him.” Amid this terrifying display of His total and irresistible might to make and destroy all things, the Lord walks up to the hatch and shuts His friends safe inside. Thus He makes clear to them: “Do not fear: It is I who take care of you.”

In verse 8:1, we read that God “remembered” Noah and all the beasts. God also remembers us, with His remembrance that never alternates with forgetfulness. He is thinking about us at every moment. If He did not, we would cease to exist, for in Him only “…do we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28).” His Word (Logos with a big “L”) is the blueprint of our existence, and the Breath of His mouth, His Spirit, gives us life. In the infinite Mind of the Father there is a logos (with a little “l”) corresponding to each of us, a little blueprint of each unique existence. From Him did we come, and to Him will we return, for “…unto Thee shall all flesh come (Ps. 64:2).” This should make us feel so very small, when we think on how little justice we do to a beginning and to an end that are so very grand.

Let us, this Great Lent, remember Him Who remembers us, and realize who we are.

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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III Lent Wednesday – The Ark of Salvation

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And Noe was six hundred years old when the flood of water was upon the earth. And then went in Noe and his sons and his wife, and his sons’ wives with him into the ark, because of the water of the flood. And of clean flying creatures and of unclean flying creatures, and of clean cattle and of unclean cattle, and of all things that creep upon the earth, pairs went in to Noe into the ark, male and female, as God commanded Noe. – Genesis 7: 6-9

Today’s reading is short. It states that Noah was 600 years old at the time of the Flood, and it records one event: Noah takes his family and all the beasts, and they go into the Ark. What spiritual lesson can we take from such brief words?

It is often the case that the simple starkness of Holy Scripture puts us off. Like Naaman the leper, who wanted the Prophet Elisseus to perform complicated rituals for his cure rather than order him simply to wash in the Jordan (see IV Kings 5), we would often like something not-quite-so-plain from the Church and from the Bible. We read such a simple thing as “Noah was 600 years old,” and “he and his family and all the animals went into the Ark,” and we say, “Is that all there is?” But we need to go back and read it again with fresh eyes. It is actually something quite amazing, and it reveals extremely profound wisdom on God’s part, that He would save the race of man by such a simple yet extraordinary plan. And delightful! …every major human culture remembers Noah and the Flood, every child delights in the hearing of it, the images of this amazing thing are countless in the history of art. God made sure that we would remember how He destroyed us and how He saved us.

This simple, amazing thing really happened, of course. And it also provides an image for something else. The Ark is an image of the Church; the Flood is an image of this life of upheaval, sorrows, and sin, which rages like a flood and threatens always to drown us; and Noah is doing what we have to do: get into the Ark and stay there while the Flood rages around us. You are either in or out, alive or dead. There is no in-between.

We Orthodox are not a raving, apocalyptic sect, of course: We do not rant against everyone out there while we smugly sit in a bunker waiting to shoot the agents of Antichrist with AK-47s in order to “survive.” The Church is catholic – Her care is for all of God’s creation, for entire nations that have believed in the Gospel, for millions of souls. But She is also enclosed and exclusive, like the Ark: You are either in or out, and you have to decide which it is to be.

We make this choice not once only, when we are baptized, but daily and throughout our lives. When St. Paul says, “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves (II Corinthians 13:5 [KJV]),” he is speaking to those already in the Church. We have not only to get into the Ark, we have to stay there, and the temptation to jump overboard is always present. Some people do this formally: They renounce the Faith consciously and join some heresy or pagan religion or anti-Orthodox “fraternal society” or a cult or something like that. But most do not bother with this. They merely jump into the sea of life with both feet and do not even notice that they are drowning; they may even imagine that they are having a great time. Yet they go on saying, “I am a Christian, I am Orthodox.” They are in for a bad surprise.

God gave us this Great Lent this year, this very spring of the year, to examine ourselves, whether we be in the Faith. It is the time for confession in both meanings of the word: to confess our sins and to confess our Faith. If we have perhaps left the Ark – even if only in our lifestyle and priorities though not formally – let us hasten to get back in before the door of life shuts on us. If we are firmly planted within, let us nonetheless remain vigilant: the raging flood exerts a curious suicidal attraction upon souls that has destroyed the best of them in a single moment.

Holy Patriarch Noah, pray to God for us!

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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III Lent Tuesday – What Shall I Render Unto the Lord for All That He Hath Rendered Unto Me?

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And the Lord God said to Noe, Enter thou and all thy family into the ark, for thee have I seen righteous before me in this generation. And of the clean cattle take in to thee sevens, male and female, and of the unclean cattle pairs male and female. And of clean flying creatures of the sky sevens, male and female, and of all unclean flying creatures pairs, male and female, to maintain seed on all the earth. For yet seven days having passed I bring rain upon the earth forty days and forty nights, and I will blot out every offspring which I have made from the face of all the earth. And Noe did all things whatever the Lord God commanded him. – Genesis 7:1-5

God amplifies His command to Noah to bring the animals into the Ark by adding the command to bring not one but seven pairs of the clean animals, those fit for sacrifice to God. Thus again, as with Abel, He reveals that the true worshippers of the true God have from the beginning practiced sacrifice.

God commands man to sacrifice in order to confess that He is Creator and Lord of all things. God does not need our offering, but rather we need to make it, in order to demonstrate our faith that He is the Creator: as this good thing we are giving up came from His hand, so it returns to Him.

God commands man to sacrifice in order to give thanks to Him. God does not need our offering, but rather we need to make it, in order to demonstrate our gratitude to the One who gave us all that we need, all that we have.

God commands man to sacrifice in order to demonstrate our hope in His providence. God does not need our offering, but we need to make it, in order to acquire the virtue of hope. A true sacrifice comes from our substance, not our surplus. When we sacrifice that which, humanly speaking, we need to survive, we are demonstrating in action our hope in God, our absolute trust that He is true to His promise to care for us. We are asking Him to take care of us, because we cannot take care of ourselves.

God commands man to sacrifice in order to cleanse us of our sins. God does not need our sacrifice, but we need to make it, in order to express true sorrow for our sins in action and not words only. The pain of loss, of letting go that which we value, if this pain is accepted consciously in repentance, cleanses the heart of sin.

God commands man to sacrifice in order to make our lives holy. Sacrifice transforms the stuff of our daily lives, so that our simple human life becomes a priestly liturgy of glory to God, an ongoing sanctification of all that we are. A sacrificial human life is a happy and noble life that reveals what God made us to be.

Unlike our fathers in the Faith, the Old Testament Church, we no longer sacrifice animals to God. But we must sacrifice, because this is inherent in being right with God.

We must sacrifice our time in prayer and good works.

We must sacrifice our pleasures in limiting ourselves by ascetic practice.

We must sacrifice our material substance in tithing for the support of the Church and almsgiving to the less fortunate.

But above all, we must join ourselves to the One Unique Sacrifice which takes away our sins, the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross, by participating in the Divine Liturgy and receiving Holy Communion.

The Divine Liturgy is not merely an empty memorial, as the Protestants teach. It is not only a miraculous transformation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ that is somehow not a sacrifice, as some modernist Orthodox teach. It is a real Sacrifice, the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross, which took place once in history, in a bloody manner, when Our Lord was crucified for us, but in which we participate mystically every time the bloodless sacrifice of the Divine Liturgy is accomplished. At the Anaphora, the Eucharistic Prayer of Consecration, the priest is not simply offering bread and wine to God; this has already been accomplished at the Proskomedia and the Great Entrance (what in the Western Church is called the Offertory). He is offering the ever-slain and risen Jesus, the Lamb of God, to the Holy Trinity, for the forgiveness of our sins and the re-creation of the entire cosmos. Our Lord transforms the bread and wine into His Body and Blood precisely that we sinful men may really offer Him once more, day by day, to God, until the end of the world, for the forgiveness of our sins and the sins of all who believe in Him, and that we may really partake of Him as our Food, until our last breath on earth, for the attainment of eternal life.

How great is this mystery! How great God’s goodness to us!

Who would not want to be an Orthodox Christian?

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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III Lent Monday – The Obedience of Faith

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

And these are the generations of Noe. Noe was a just man; being perfect in his generation, Noe was well-pleasing to God. And Noe begot three sons, Sem, Cham, Japheth. But the earth was corrupted before God, and the earth was filled with iniquity. And the Lord God saw the earth, and it was corrupted; because all flesh had corrupted its way upon the earth. And the Lord God said to Noe, A period of all men is come before me; because the earth has been filled with iniquity by them, and, behold, I destroy them and the earth. Make therefore for thyself an ark of square timber; thou shalt make the ark in compartments, and thou shalt pitch it within and without with pitch. And thus shalt thou make the ark; three hundred cubits the length of the ark, and fifty cubits the breadth, and thirty cubits the height of it. Thou shalt narrow the ark in making it, and in a cubit above thou shalt finish it, and the door of the ark thou shalt make on the side; with lower, second, and third stories thou shalt make it. And behold I bring a flood of water upon the earth, to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life under heaven, and whatsoever things are upon the earth shall die. And I will establish my covenant with thee, and thou shalt enter into the ark, and thy sons and thy wife, and thy sons’ wives with thee. And of all cattle and of all reptiles and of all wild beasts, even of all flesh, thou shalt bring by pairs of all, into the ark, that thou mayest feed them with thyself: male and female they shall be. Of all winged birds after their kind, and of all cattle after their kind, and of all reptiles creeping upon the earth after their kind, pairs of all shall come in to thee, male and female to be fed with thee. And thou shalt take to thyself of all kinds of food which ye eat, and thou shalt gather them to thyself, and it shall be for thee and them to eat. And Noe did all things whatever the Lord God commanded him, so did he. – Genesis 6:9-22

“…Noe was well pleasing to God (6:9).” Why? Because “…Noe did all things whatever the Lord God commanded him, so did he (6:22).”

Noah and his family survived the Great Flood and laid the foundation for the whole future of the human race, because one person did “…whatsoever the Lord God commanded him…” Noah, by obeying God, preserved an earthly future for the entire race of man. His obedience foreshadows the perfect obedience of the New Adam, our Lord Jesus Christ, Who bestowed an eternal future upon our race by His obedience unto death upon the Cross.

It is fashionable today to say that Orthodoxy is only about a kind of “cool” mysticism and visions and “hesychasm” and miracles and so forth, and that insisting on obedience to the Ten Commandments and the moral precepts of the Church is some kind of a “fundamentalist” hang-up. People can believe this if they want (and people do tend to believe whatever offers the path of least resistance to their passions), but this approach will certainly lead them into both delusion and immorality. Without struggling first to practice the ABC’s of a moral life based on the plainly revealed requirements of the Faith, a Christian never attains genuine higher spiritual experience. Whatever exalted experiences the deluded person does enjoy are impermanent, illusory, and elusive. He refuses the boring obedience to plain commandments, the hard-won security of building his house on the rock of Christ’s words, and prefers to wander about a spiritual Disneyland hall of mirrors until a certain monster from the labyrinth comes out and devours him.

It is fashionable today to say that Orthodoxy is just one (maybe the best, but still just one) among many “traditional religions,” and that “many ways lead to God.” To believe in the exclusive claims of the Church is just more “fundamentalism.” “I just cannot believe,” says the “tolerant” nominal Orthodox, “that Orthodoxy is the only way to salvation.”

This is your problem, my friend: you cannot believe.You refuse the obedience of Faith. Noah, by contrast, obeyed God. This one person, exercising the obedience of Faith, saved the human race. He believed that everyone except his family was going to drown, because God told him so.

Be like 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

The Construction of Noah’s Ark
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