December 21, 2014

Honoring the Old Testament Athletes of our Faith

By Archimandrite Dionysios Anthopoulos

Today, my beloved, is the Sunday before the Nativity of Christ, and our holy Orthodox Church prepares us for the great feast by setting before us sacred figures "who throughout the ages have pleased God, from Adam until Joseph, the betrothed of the Most Holy Theotokos."

Let us proceed by listening to the content of the Apostolic reading of today which the Apostle Paul addressed to the Hebrew Christians:

Brethren, by faith Abraham made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with firm foundations, whose architect and builder is God.

And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated — the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.

These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.
(Heb. 11:9-10, 32-40)

This sacred text is dedicated - as we understand it - to the holy figures our Church honors today, and as I said before, they pleased God with their faith, their life and their struggles. They were men, women and children who maintained the flame of faith and hope in God's promise lit within their hearts. The promise that has been assured to mankind, troubled by sins and death as we are, of the coming of He who is the Messiah, who will restore with His salvific words and redeemable works human nature to its high position and paradisiacal state as it was before our disobedience and fall.

A promise given by our compassionate Creator to the first-formed when they were still overwhelmed by the revelation of the cunning trap to which they had fallen, by speaking to them of a "seed of a woman" who will crush the head of the sinister foe (Gen. 3:15). A promise of restoration made sure throughout the ages, until the human race - like a spiritual tree - matured properly and offered that splendid fruit, the Most Holy Theotokos, who would be made worthy to be the Mother of His Son.

But among those early people and the "blessed among women" Mariam, a holy army of people intervened, who like a spiritual "relay race" received from those who came before them and handed off to those who came after, the divine promise of the coming Messiah, who would shatter like a spider web the veil of corruption and death that overshadowed human nature throughout the years and would restore it again to the height and value of our pre-fallen position and honor. But this spiritual "relay race" was neither easy nor without cost. It took hard work, pain, tears and sacrifices to maintain lit and bright the candle of faith, hope and love for God, in a world deceived by the falsehood of polytheism and the darkness of selfishness and the passions.

These spiritual "relay racers" are presented before us today by our Mother the Church, these athletes of our faith, the porters of the divine promise, the foremessengers of the incarnation of the Son and Word of God. It is they whom we contemporary Christians are called to imitate: their benevolent intent, their virtuous life, and their zeal to pass on to those who will come after us the faith, the hope and love for the one and only true Triune God. Amen.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.