September 4, 2015

The Holy Prophet and Lawgiver Moses the God-seer

Holy Prophet Moses (Feast Day - September 4)


Neither from a rock, nor the hinder parts,
Do you now see Moses, but you behold God in His entirety.

Moses was born in Egypt of the tribe of Levi at the time the Hebrews were still in bondage, and when Pharaoh had given orders to kill all their male children because he feared the increase and growing prosperity of the Jews, whom his predecessor, out of gratitude to Joseph, had welcomed into Egypt. The mother of Moses could not bring herself to give him over to death, and put him in a basket beside the River Nile, trusting that God would take care of him. Pharaoh's daughter found him and called his name Moses, which means "saved from the waters". She brought him up as her own son, so that he soon came to possess all the knowledge and wisdom of the Egyptians.

When he was forty years old, Moses slew an Egyptian whom he found beating a Hebrew and had to flee to Midian. There he married Zipporah, the daughter of Jethro, the priest of Midian. She bore him a son whom he called Gershom, which means "I am a stranger in a strange land." Such was Moses in exile, far from his own people, leading the flocks of his father-in-law through the wilderness of desert and mountain, and so preparing to become the shepherd of the spiritual flock of the Lord, as he purified his heart and nous by prayer and constant contemplation upon the marvelous works of God.

One day God appeared to Moses, in so far as it is possible for a man to look upon Him. Moses had brought his flocks to the Mountain of Sinai (Horeb) when he saw a bush burning with a light brighter than the sun, and yet the bush was not consumed. In this Moses saw foreshadowed the great mystery of our Savior's virginal conception and of His coming in the flesh, which has overturned the laws of nature at the same time as preserving them.

After he had spent forty years in Midian, God sent Moses back to Egypt to deliver the children of Israel from the oppression of Pharaoh, and appointed Aaron his brother to be his helper and spokesman, since Moses was slow of speech and feared that the people would not listen to him. But Pharaoh had hardened his heart against the Jews, who were used as slaves in his building works, and he refused to let them go.

God therefore smote Egypt by the hand of Moses with ten dreadful plagues. He changed all the waters of Egypt into blood, overran the whole land with frogs even unto Pharaoh's bedchamber, and turned the dust of the earth into lice. Then, since Pharaoh would still not let the people go, He sent swarms of flies, a disease that killed the cattle, and swellings that broke out and festered on the skin of man and beast. He rained a heavy hail upon the land mixed with fire such as has never been seen before or since, sent a vast host of locusts that devoured every green thing, and covered Egypt with thick darkness for three days. Finally, one midnight, the Lord destroyed all the first-born of the land, from the first-born of Pharaoh to the first-born of his servants and the first-born of the cattle (cf. Ex. 12:29). Thus did the power of God overcome the evil will of Pharaoh: he let the Hebrews go, and they took with them great wealth from the Egyptians.

At the word of Moses the Lord divided the Red Sea, so that people could pass over it as on dry ground, and then caused the waters to return and cover Pharaoh and his army when they followed in pursuit.

For forty years after that, Moses led his people through the wilderness, where they were taught and tested in order to prepare them for their inheritance in the Promised Land. God never withdrew His benevolence from them but bore with their innumerable transgressions and infidelities, thanks to the fervent prayers of his servant Moses who, foreshadowing the Messiah, the one Mediator, cried unto God, "Forgive their sin; and if not, blot me out of Your book which You have written" (Ex. 32:32).

The Lord showed His loving-kindness by many miracles in the wilderness. When the people complained of hunger, He rained down as much manna from heaven as they desired (Ex. 16). He sweetened the bitter waters of Marah (Ex. 15). He went before them by day in the form of a cloud, and by night as a glimmering fire (Ex. 15:21), and gave them victory over Amalek and the other desert tribes.

When they arrived at Sinai, God summoned Moses to the top of the Mountain and revealed Himself amid a fiery cloud and the loud voice of the trumpet. The whole Mountain smoked and quaked greatly. There Moses spoke to God as a man speaks to his friend (Ex. 33:11), and the Lord answered in the thunder. During this fearsome revelation of His glory, God taught His servant all the commandments and statutes of His holy law. Moses remained on the Mountain with God for forty days and forty nights, being instructed in everything necessary for righteousness and divine knowledge and receiving detailed orders for the construction of the earthly sanctuary, and for the worship to be rendered to the Maker of all, until the time He would be manifest in the flesh (1 Tim. 3:16).

When he had received these heavenly revelations within a darkness brighter than the light of this world, Moses went down the Mountain with the Law graven by God on two tablets of stone. The divine light had streamed into his heart to overflowing, making his countenance shine with a brightness that the people, uninitiated into the mysteries of God, could not bear to look upon, so that Moses had to veil his face when he spoke to them.

But, in spite of all these signs and wonders, the Jews continually fell away from God into idolatry, while Moses never wearied of interceding for them. His compassion on their behalf was so great that at Meribah, where they lacked water, even he seems to have doubted of Divine assistance and "spoke unadvisedly" (Ps. 105:33) when, at God's command, he struck the rock from which the living water flowed (Ex. 17:6; Deut. 32:50, 51). Because the people had so often doubted the divine promises, God informed Moses that neither he nor any of the generation that had gone out of Egypt would enter the Promised Land flowing with milk and honey.

And so, when Moses was 120 years old, and the Hebrews were preparing to enter the land of Canaan, the Lord told him to go up to Mount Abarim, and behold from afar that Land to which he had brought the children of Israel after so many tribulations. Moses died and was buried there, but no one has ever known exactly where he was laid to rest.

From The Synaxarion: The Lives of the Saints of the Orthodox Church, Vol. 1, compiled by Hieromonk Makarios of Simonos Petra and translated from the French by Christopher Hookway (Chalkidike, Greece: Holy Convent of the Annunciation of Our Lady, 2001) pp. 28-31.

Apolytikion in the Second Tone
Thou didst ascend to the summit of virtues, O holy Prophet Moses. Thou wast granted to see the glory of God, to receive the tablets of the Law, and to bear grace within thee. Thou wast the joy of the Prophets and a guide to piety.

Kontakion in the Fourth Tone
With the divine and righteous Moses and Aaron, the Prophets' choir today rejoiceth with gladness, seeing their prophecy fulfilled now in our midst; for Thy Cross, O Christ our God, whereby Thou hast redeemed us, shineth in the sight of all as the end and fulfillment of that which they foretold in ancient times. By their entreaties, have mercy upon us all.