18 March OS 2017: Friday of the Fifth Week of Lent; S. Cyril of Jerusalem
The first reading at Vespers today is Genesis 22: 1-18, the sacrifice of Isaac.
God’s 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 sinful 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 (“The Lord hath given, and the Lord hath taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord!”) 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 that which he thought he could not 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, when 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!