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Thus saith the Lord: For, behold, the Lord is bringing wrath from his holy place upon the dwellers on the earth: the earth also shall disclose her blood, and shall not cover her slain. 27:1 In that day God shall bring his holy and great and strong sword upon the dragon, even the serpent that flees, upon the dragon, the crooked serpent: he shall destroy the dragon. 2 In that day there shall be a fair vineyard, and a desire to commence a song concerning it. 3 I am a strong city, a city in a siege: in vain shall I water it; for it shall be taken by night, and by day the wall shall fall. 4 There is no woman that has not taken hold of it; who will set me to watch stubble in the field? because of this enemy I have set her aside; therefore on this account the Lord has done all that he appointed. 5 I am burnt up; they that dwell in her shall cry, Let us make peace with him, let us make peace, 6 they that are coming are the children of Jacob. Israel shall bud and blossom, and the world shall be filled with his fruit. 7 Shall he himself be thus smitten, even as he smote? and as he slew, shall he be thus slain? 8 Fighting and reproaching he will dismiss them; didst thou not meditate with a harsh spirit, to slay them with a wrathful spirit? 9 Therefore shall the iniquity of Jacob be taken away; and this is his blessing, when I shall have taken away his sin; when they shall have broken to pieces all the stones of the altars as fine dust, and their trees shall not remain, and their idols shall be cut off, as a thicket afar off.
The majority of today’s reading, chapter 27, verses two through nine, returns to the theme of Israel as a vineyard the Lord has planted, or as a city that He has built, which will suffer tribulation on account of the apostasy of the husbandmen or inhabitants thereof, but will be blessed, will “bud and blossom” when “their idols shall be cut off,” that is, when, having been chastised, they repent of their idolatry and return to the Lord. In his commentary on this passage, St. Cyril of Alexandria states that the punishment described here is a prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 A.D., the just chastisement for the rejection of their Savior by the majority of the Old Testament Church, and he goes on to say that the restoration which the prophet predicts is the New Testament Church and the coming of the Gentiles into the Church when they, the formerly pagan nations, cast aside their idolatry and turn to the Lord.
Prior to this passage, in verse one of the same chapter, the prophet foretells the final destruction of the power of Satan, the “dragon, the crooked serpent.” St. Cyril writes the following:
…the Father will bring his holy and great and strong sword – that is, the only begotten Word – upon the dragon, the crooked serpent; he shall destroy the dragon. By “dragon” and “snake” he refers to Satan, who is bitter and venomous, not to mention timid; his invariable tendency is to flee. But he is terrifying and malicious; he twists and turns like a wild beast, but will be wiped out. Eventually, in fact, he will be ineffectual, he will pay for his sacrilegious words, subject to the ultimate penalty, becoming imprisoned in the gates of Hell, food for the everlasting fire and subject to extended and unending retribution. – St. Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on Esaias, chapter 27.
This final destruction of Satan is a mystery that has Christological, eschatological, and ascetic aspects. It is a Christological mystery, because Our Lord Jesus Christ has already made certain the final destruction of Satan, when on the Cross He destroyed the power of Satan over us and, descending to Hades, freed all of Satan’s captives from ages past. It is an eschatological mystery, because, though already defeated, Satan is allowed to come forth and wage war against the Church until the end of time, in order that the virtue of the saints might be made manifest, but when the trials of the present age are ended, he will be imprisoned in Hell forever. The final destruction of Satan in the particular lives of men is a moral and ascetic victory that occurs at the end of each soul’s unseen warfare in the temporal life, which culminates in the holy death of the righteous man and his vindication at the Particular Judgment.
Though our enemy is indeed bitter and venomous, as St. Cyril says, he is also timid: When we wield the sword of the Word of God against him, he flees, because the Lord has already made him powerless over us. Satan’s warfare against us is not our problem; it is a circumstance, and, moreover, a circumstance allowed by God for our salvation Our only real problems are our own freely chosen sins and unhealed passions. Our sins, however, are not greater than God, Whose will for our salvation is infinitely greater than our own, and whose power to save us is also infinite. We have abundant reason for hope.
Try this: The next time you are present at Vespers, Matins, or the Divine Liturgy, you will hear these petitions –
That we may complete the rest of our life in peace and repentance, let us ask of the Lord.
A Christian ending to our life, painless, blameless, peaceful, and a good defense at the dread judgment seat of Christ, let us ask.
For the rest of that day or evening, and throughout the week, you could keep repeating these petitions mentally, and think, “This life is so short, and I have only to complete it in peace and repentance. God is good, and the prayers of the Church are all-powerful: surely He will grant me the Christian death for which the Church petitions Him on my behalf so often in the divine services. I will be brave and keep repenting no matter how often I fall, and soon it shall all be over, and I will be happy with the Lord forever in heaven.” Our efforts at this exercise in repentant mindfulness will not go unheeded by the Giver of all good gifts, for He is a munificent Master who graciously receives our feeble efforts and makes them irresistibly mighty by uniting to them His own irresistible might.
O our Savior, invincible Victor over sin, death, the devil, and hell, glory be to Thee!