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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