The Ethos of Orthodox Catechesis: The Mind of the Orthodox Church (Part 6)


By Fr. George Morelli

The New Covenant

Prophet JeremiahProphet JeremiahThe New Covenant was actually foretold by the Prophet Jeremiah (31: 30-34) in the Old Testament:

Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant which they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each man teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, `Know the Lord,' for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.

In the book of Psalms, David writing of the priesthood of the New  and Eternal Covenant tells us:

The Lord says to my lord: "Sit at my right hand,  till I make your enemies your footstool." The Lord sends forth from Zion your mighty scepter. Rule in the midst of your foes! Your people will offer themselves freely on the day you lead your host upon the holy mountains. From the womb of the morning like dew your youth will come to you. The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, "You are a priest for ever after the order of Melchiz'edek." The Lord is at your right hand... (Ps 109: 1-5)

St. Paul tells us of Christ: "So also Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him, "Thou art my Son, today I have begotten thee"; as he says also in another place, "Thou art a priest forever, after the order of Melchiz'edek  . . .  being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchiz'edek."  (Heb 5: 5-6, 10). The priesthood of the New Covenant is special, supplanting the old order of Aaron, for as we pray in the Prayer of the Cherubimic Hymn during the Liturgy of St. John Chrysosotom: " . . .for Thou Thyself are He that offers and is offered, that accepts and is distributed, O Christ our God . . . ." St. Paul explains this to the Hebrews (7: 1, 10-11, 15,17) at length:

For this Melchiz'edek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him; for he was still in the loins of his ancestor when Melchiz'edek met him. Now if perfection had been attainable through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need would there have been for another priest to arise after the order of Melchiz'edek, rather than one named after the order of Aaron? This becomes even more evident when another priest arises in the likeness of Melchiz'edek, For it is witnessed of him, "Thou art a priest for ever, after the order of Melchiz'edek."

Christ the High Priest of the New CovenantChrist the High Priest of the New Covenant

The encounter of Christ with the Roman Centurion, a Gentile who asks Christ to cure his sick servant,  is very revealing of Christ's Mind, as to who He considers are the people of the Old and New Covenants. By His actions Christ informs us one  of  the new criterion of the Chosen People of God in His New Covenant. "Truly, I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and sit at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth." And to the centurion Jesus said, "Go; be it done for you as you have believed." (Mt. 8: 10-13).

Christ and the CenturionChrist and the Centurion

Now the people of the New Covenant are not just the nation of Israel, but all mankind are eligible. The criterion of being numbered among the people of the New Covenant is to be among those who have "believed." Thus the ultimate criterion is faithful commitment to Christ, and His Church.   St. Paul makes this explicit  when he writes: "...for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek..."(Gal 3: 26-28). 

What constitutes the New Covenant?

Annunciation IconAnnunciation IconWhat the New Covenant was to be was first announced by the Angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary who would become the God-bearer, the Theotokos: a Savior would be sent by God: "And the angel said to them, "Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord." (Lk 2: 10-11).

What would this Savior do? He would give us His own Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity which He calls the food of life. First He connects Himself, as the food of life, to the manna given to the wandering Jews led by Moses as they were leaving captivity in Egypt for the Promised Land.  "As the Lord commanded Moses, . . . . And the people of Israel ate the manna forty years, till they came to a habitable land; they ate the manna, till they came to the border of the land of Canaan." (Ex 16: 34-35). But while the food given by God to the Chosen People of the First Covenant was temporary and would have an ending, the food of life would sustain the Chosen People of the New Covenant to eternal life. St. John (6: 47-51)  tells us:

Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.

St. Matthew records Jesus instituting the Eucharist at the Last Supper with the Apostles:

Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, "Take, eat; this is my body." And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, "Drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. (Mt 26: 26-28)

Mystical Supper Icon: KenyaMystical Supper Icon: KenyaSt. Luke (22:23) records Jesus ordaining the Apostles to the Holy Priesthood so that they and their successors [the bishops and priests of today] could continue the Passover meal: "Do this in remembrance of me." We know this today as the Holy Mystery of the Eucharist.

St. John tells us: "But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become sons of God . . . " (Jn 1: 12). St. John, (17: 17-24) recording Jesus priestly prayer, informs us what Our Lord Himself means to be among His people, the union of His people with Him and among themselves:

Sanctify them in the truth; thy word is truth. As thou didst send me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be consecrated in truth. "I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. The glory which thou hast given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and thou in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that thou hast sent me and hast loved them even as thou hast loved me. Father, I desire that they also, whom thou hast given me, may be with me where I am, to behold my glory which thou hast given me in thy love for me before the foundation of the world. (Jn 17: 17-24).

This would be accomplished by Christ's sacrifice on the cross

and in His conquering sin and death by His Holy Resurrection.

Thus the fruit of being the people of God of His New Covenant is to be united to Him. Only after the Holy Spirit enlightened the 'assembly' at Pentecost, as Jesus had promised his Apostles, did they more fully understand that this meant that they would become "partakers of the Divine Nature." (2 Pt 1: 4).

Pentecost: The Holy Spirit Descends on His ChurchPentecost: The Holy Spirit Descends on His Church

And thus from these apostolic times to the present the great, Holy Spirit-inspired  Spiritual Fathers and Mothers of the Church have shown us how to climb the Ladder to Heaven.

The New Chosen People

A contemporary Holy BaptismA contemporary Holy BaptismIt is essential that all Orthodox Christians heed the words of St. Paul to the Galatians (3:29):  “And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise." His Epistle goes on to explain. "For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. Peace and mercy be upon all who walk by this rule, upon the Israel of God. . . . .The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brethren. Amen.” (Gal 6: 15-16,18). What is this new creation? Not circumcision, but a new creation, being baptized into Christ and thus becoming the new Chosen People, the new People of God. This is confirmed by the Baptismal prayer itself in which the baptismal water is called the "laver of regeneration" and by the acknowledging that in baptism, there is "Bestowed upon us from on high a new birth through water and the spirit."

Learning a Lesson from the First Chosen People

Orthodox Christians have a very important lesson to learn from the Hebrew people: that our identity is that we are "Chosen-Distinctive' in Christ.  As I mentioned above, even contemporary Jewish people have a sense of their "distinctiveness," Of course, this would be expected among religious Jews, but it extends even to those who have become 'secularized.'  If a Jew is asked who they are, it has been my experience that they will describe themselves as Jews early in their disclosure. One study (Herman, 1989) reported remarkable stability in Jewish self-identification over a number of years. To emphasize the point I made above, our sense of and identification of our self- concept as Christians must be done with "extreme humility."

Our chosen-ness must be seen as a gift from God, imposing on us great responsibility and never as seeing ourselves in the spiritual pride of "not being "like other men." Our model should be the Publican not the Pharisee, as told to us by Jesus in His parable: "Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, `God, I thank Thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, `God, be merciful to me a sinner!'" (Lk 18: 10-11, 13).

To interiorize our baptism, numbering ourselves as God's Chosen People, being a member of the People of God, His 'assembly,' we must live fully and take on the words of St. Isaac of Syria:

Humility is the robe of Divinity: for when God the Word became incarnate He put on humility and thereby communicated with us by means of our human body. Accordingly, everyone who is truly clothed in humility will resemble Him who descended from the height, hiding the radiance of His greatness and covering up His glory my means of His low estate. (Brock, 1997)

A true Christian should never say, 'I thank Thee that I am not like other men, a Jew, or a Moslem, or a Hindu, or a Buddhist, or a Pagan or even a sinner.' God forbid! Rather, a true Christian should say: "Thank you Lord, for this special gift you have bestowed on me your unworthy servant. Let me live my life, by your grace, united to your Church fully, in Her Holy Mysteries, in prayer and in heart, thought and action. Let me conform my mind and will to thee, O Christ, and to thy Church!"

The Publican and the PhariseeThe Publican and the Pharisee

"I do not pray that thou shouldst take them out of the world, but that thou shouldst keep them from the evil one." (Jn 17: 15)

 


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ENDNOTES

i (http://hilarion.ru)

ii http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/archive/morelli

iii http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Connections_(TV_series)

iv Illustrations: http://www.goarch.org/ourfaith/ourfaith9561

v http://ldysinger.stjohnsem.edu/@texts/0650_max-con/02_max-txt1.htm