III Tuesday – Esaias 9:9 – 10:4

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Thus saith the Lord: And all the people of Ephraim, and they that dwelt in Samaria shall know, who say in their pride and lofty heart, 10 The bricks are fallen down, but come, let us hew stones, and cut down sycamores and cedars, and let us build for ourselves a tower. 11 And God shall dash down them that rise up against him on mount Sion, and shall scatter his enemies; 12 even Syria from the rising of the sun, and the Greeks from the setting of the sun, who devour Israel with open mouth. For all this his anger is not turned away, but still his hand is exalted. 13 But the people turned not until they were smitten, and they sought not the Lord. 14 So the Lord took away from Israel the head and tail, great and small, in one day: 15 the old man, and them that respect persons, this is the head; and the prophet teaching unlawful things, he is the tail. 16 And they that pronounce this people blessed shall mislead them; and they mislead them that they may devour them. 17 Therefore the Lord shall not take pleasure in their young men, neither shall he have pity on their orphans or on their widows: for they are all transgressors and wicked, and every mouth speaks unjustly. For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is yet exalted. 18 And iniquity shall burn as fire, and shall be devoured by fire as dry grass: and it shall burn in the thickets of the wood, and shall devour all that is round about the hills. 19 The whole earth is set on fire because of the fierce anger of the Lord, and the people shall be as men burnt by fire: no man shall pity his brother. 20 But one shall turn aside to the right hand, for he shall be hungry; and shall eat on the left, and a man shall by no means be satisfied with eating the flesh of his own arm. 21 For Manasses shall eat the flesh of Ephraim, and Ephraim the flesh of Manasses; for they shall besiege Juda together. For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is yet exalted. 10:1 Woe to them that write wickedness; for when they write they do write wickedness, 2 perverting the cause of the poor, violently wresting the judgement of the needy ones of my people, that the widow may be a prey to them, and the orphan a spoil. 3 And what will they do in the day of visitation? for affliction shall come to you from afar: and to whom will ye flee for help? and where will ye leave your glory, 4 that ye may not fall into captivity? For all this his wrath is not turned away, and his hand is uplifted still. 

The northern kingdom of Israel has now involved itself in a fratricidal war against the southern kingdom of Judea, and for this the Lord promises to punish them severely, especially because they have not paid attention to the many chastisements He has already sent upon them but are persisting in their sinful ways. In verses fourteen and fifteen, Esaias calls the corrupt leadership of the kingdom the “head and the tail,” the head being the royal government and established priesthood (“the old man and them that respect persons”), and the tail being the false prophets (“the prophet teaching unlawful things”).   Both the institutional authority, then, and the charismatic authority have gone astray, and with no one to lead them, the people shall be destroyed.  

The New Testament Church, which fulfills the types and figures of the Old Testament Church, also has set over Her an institutional as well as a charismatic authority.  The institutional authority consists of the episcopal and clerical hierarchy, who govern the Church, teach the Faith, and administer the Holy Mysteries.  The charismatic authority consists of the holy ascetics who receive inspiration directly from God, and whose vocation is to inform and to correct not only their individual spiritual children but also, and especially, the Church’s institutional leadership as well.   The latter, in short, exercise the prophetic office.  But what happens when not only those who hold the outward authority go astray, which is predictable, given the perennial tendency  of men who wield power over others, but even those who should be known for their poverty and simplicity of life, for purity of soul, and for right judgment – that is, the ascetics, elders, and prophets – what happens when they also go astray?  Then we are really in for a bad time of it, because the ordinary mechanism of reproof and reform has been removed, and the people are left leaderless to face the wrath of God as the only remaining source of correction.   

St. Gregory the Dialogist says that by this double betrayal, “…the church is destroyed on every side”:   

Where the head and the tail are said through the prophet to be destroyed, it is clear that priests are designated by the head and prophets by the tail.  The crown, therefore, is removed from the head when those who are seen to preside over the body of the church abandon the rewears of heavenly compensation.  Once its leaders fall, normally the army that follows them also succumbs. Hence, soon after the condemnation of the leaders, Job comments on the manifold afflictions of the church: “He destroyed me on every side, and I perish; and he has removed my hope like uprooting a tree (Job 19:10).”  For the church is destroyed on every side and perishes in the person of its sick members when those who seem to be its strength are corrupted, that is, when the crown is removed from the head because its leaders have abandoned their pursuit of eternal rewards.  It is in reference to the sick who have fallen that Job then adds, fittingly: “…and he removed my hope like uprooting a tree.”  A tree is felled by a gust of wind.  And what is more similar to a person who falls into unrighteousness as a result of being terrorized with threats than a tree that loses its straightness because of the wind?  – The Moralia on Job 3.14.43-44

St. Gregory gives two reasons why the priests and the prophets go astray:   They abandon their pursuit of eternal rewards, and they allow themselves to be frightened by threats.    Worldliness leads to cowardice, because a weak worldly man will sacrifice his principles when threatened by a strong worldly man, in order to preserve his comfort.    When bishops, priests, and monks become worldly men, they also become weak men, for their only power was from the God Whom they have betrayed.  Being traitors, they receive the reward of all traitors, which is to be despised even by those to whom they have sold their souls.  They will always be toadies to the big worldly men who really know their business.  A pitiful spectacle, and it would be comic if only it did not yield the consequences of eternal damnation.  

Dear Christ, our true Shepherd Who laid down Thy life for the sheep, deliver us from the hirelings that have abandoned Thy flock, and save us. 

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