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Saints and Feasts of November 22

Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Flight of Jonah (St. Gregory the Theologian)


By St. Gregory the Theologian

(Excerpt from Oration 2: In Defense of his Flight to Pontus)

Jonah was fleeing from the face of God, or rather, thought that he was fleeing, but ‎he was overtaken by the sea, and the storm, and the lot, and the whale’s belly, and the ‎three days’ entombment, the type of a greater mystery. He fled from having to announce ‎the dread and awful message to the Ninevites, and from being subsequently, if the city ‎was saved by repentance, convicted of falsehood. Not that he was displeased at the ‎salvation of the wicked, but he was ashamed of being made an instrument of falsehood, ‎and exceedingly zealous for the credit of prophecy, which was in danger of being ‎destroyed in his person, since most men are unable to penetrate the depth of the Divine ‎dispensation in such cases.‎

But, as I have learned from a man skilled in these subjects, and able to grasp the ‎depth of the prophet, by means of a reasonable explanation of what seems unreasonable ‎in the history, it was not this which caused Jonah to flee, and carried him to Joppa and ‎again from Joppa to Tarshish, when he entrusted his stolen self to the sea. For it was not ‎likely that such a prophet should be ignorant of the design of God, viz., to bring about, by ‎means of the threat, the escape of the Ninevites from the threatened doom, according to ‎His great wisdom, and unsearchable judgments, and according to His ways which are ‎beyond our tracing and finding out; nor that, if he knew this he would refuse to co-‎operate with God in the use of the means which He designed for their salvation. Besides, ‎to imagine that Jonah hoped to hide himself at sea, and escape by his flight the great eye ‎of God, is surely utterly absurd and stupid, and unworthy of credit, not only in the case of ‎a prophet, but even in the case of any sensible man, who has only a slight perception of ‎God, Whose power is over all.

On the contrary, as my instructor said, and as I am myself convinced, Jonah ‎knew better than anyone the purpose of his message to the Ninevites, and that, in ‎planning his flight, although he changed his place, he did not escape from God. Nor is ‎this possible for any one else, either by concealing himself in the bosom of the earth, or ‎in the depths of the sea, or by soaring on wings, if there be any means of doing so, and ‎rising into the air, or by abiding in the lowest depths of hell, or by enveloping himself in a ‎thick cloud, or by any other of the many devices for ensuring escape. For God alone of all ‎things cannot be escaped from or contended with; if He wills to seize and bring them ‎under His hand, He outstrips the swift, He outwits the wise, He overthrows the strong, He ‎abases the lofty, He subdues rashness, He represses power

Jonah then was not ignorant of the mighty hand of God, with which he threatened ‎other men, nor did he imagine that he could utterly escape the Divine power; this we are ‎not to believe. But when he saw the falling away of Israel, and perceived the passing over ‎of the grace of prophecy to the Gentiles — this was the cause of his retirement from ‎preaching and of his delay in fulfilling the command; accordingly he left the watchtower ‎of joy, for this is the meaning of Joppa in Hebrew, I mean his former dignity and ‎reputation, and flung himself into the deep of sorrow, and hence he is tempest-tossed, and ‎falls asleep, and is wrecked, and aroused from sleep, and taken by lot, and confesses his ‎flight, and is cast into sea, and swallowed, but not destroyed, by the whale; but there he ‎calls upon God, and, marvelous as it is, on the third day he, like Christ, is delivered. But ‎my treatment of this topic must stand over, and shall shortly, if God permit, be more ‎deliberately worked out.

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