May 1, 2015

Holy Prophet Jeremiah as a Model for our Lives

Holy Prophet Jeremiah (Feast Day - May 1)

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

The Prophet Jeremiah was born around 650 B.C. in the village of Anathoth, about ten kilometers northeast of Jerusalem. His father's name was Hilkiah and came from a wealthy priestly family. He was called by God to the prophetic office at around the age of twenty-four, and so his first reaction to this calling was telling God that he did not know how to speak, being young in age. Obviously, he had no intention of disobeying God's will, but like the Prophet Moses who objected to God's call due to his inability to speak, being weak-voiced and slow of tongue, he was humble. Eventually he accepted God's call after he was assured that God would always be with him to guide him, and that he would go to those that He sends him to, in order to tell them that which God commands for them.

Indeed, the Prophets go to the people as being sent from God and they speak in His name. When God speaks to them, they respond saying: "Speak Lord, for Your servant is listening." And when they address the people, they always begin with the phrase: "Thus says the Lord," which means they are not speaking on their own behalf nor speaking their own opinions or personal thoughts and reflections, but they are transmitting the words of the Lord. The Prophets were also gifted by the Lord with the gift of foresight, and thus they had the ability to see and predict the future. Primarily, however, they were Theologians, namely God-seers. "Usually with the word 'prophet' we mean one who foretells the future. The intention of 'pro' here, however, is meant 'anti' or 'instead of'. I speak 'instead of' or on behalf of someone else. A prophet is thus named because they speak 'instead of' or on behalf of God. They are the mouth of God to human society (Jer. 15:19). But there is also the meaning of the word 'prophet' as one who foretells the future, which is why the prophets of old were called 'seers'" (Archimandrite Jeremiah Fountas, The Prophets of the Old Testament and their Teachings, pp. 4-5.).

Prophets communicate with God and transmit His will to the people, urging them to repent and return to the God of their Fathers. They truly love the people, they hurt over their situation, and they often break down in tears, like the Prophet Jeremiah, who is known as the most "weeping Prophet".

Examining the life and especially the prophetic texts of the Prophet Jeremiah, we will highlight two serious issues within that are timeless, since they deal with people of all ages.

The first relevant topic deals with the behavior of the shepherds, to whom God has entrusted the protection of His reasonable sheep. Many shepherds, even in the time of the Prophet Jeremiah, were shown, unfortunately, to be unworthy of their mission, and this is why God rebukes them, through the mouth of His Prophet, and He calls them to repentance. In a shocking text, which is read annually in Orthodox Christian churches in the evening of Holy Wednesday, it says among other things the following: "Many shepherds will ruin My vineyard and trample down My field; they will turn My pleasant field into a desolate wasteland. It has been made a desolation..." (Jer. 12:10-11). Truly sad and mournful are they who were called to keep the vineyard yet damage it, and instead of comforting the people of God they scandalize them and divide them. The Prophet does not ignore the fact that there are chosen shepherds who are worthy of their mission, but here he addresses the wicked and corrupt shepherds in order to awaken them and call them to repentance.

What was happening then, unfortunately happens today also, as in every age, and this causes pain and sorrow, but as we stressed in a previous article, the Church is not responsible for this, but there are sick members who are responsible, which the Church tries to heal by the way of life it offers.

The second relevant topic is the so-called problem of theodicy, or evil, which occupies and concerns people of all ages, and the Prophet Jeremiah puts in the form of a question to God, even though he knew God is just. He asked: "Why has the way of the wicked prospered? Why are all those who deal in treachery at ease?" (Jer. 12:1). But Jeremiah answers his own question: "In the events of our personal lives and in history in general, when God's justice does not seem to shine, the energy of God's justice is still in those situations" (Archimandrite Jeremiah Fountas, The Prophets of the Old Testament and their Teachings, p. 23.).

Besides, true joy is an internal matter and it can nest within us even during the saddest situations, as long as people are in communion with the living God. Because "sorrows and afflictions, given by God through various temptations, are curative medicines. They who resist temptations and tribulations, do not understand the purpose of the spiritual life, nor the supplies they receive in this life for the future life" (St. Maximus the Confessor, 400 Chapters on Love).

Then, the spiritual law will be in accord with what a person finds before them for all they did, whether good or evil, but certainly there is repentance.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "Προφήτης Ἱερεμίας", May 2005. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.