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The Story of St Barnabas

Ministers of What is Real
Blow, blow, thou winter wind,
Thou art not so unkind
As man's ingratitude

So sings Lord Amiens in Shakespeare's As You Like It. And while winter's winds have yet to harass most of otherwise sunny California, examples of man's ingratitude are nowhere lacking. As winter draws near, the final liturgical season of the year, the Sanctification of the Church (or Hallowing of the Church, as it has historically been known), begins this Sunday. A short four week season, its readings highlight the corporate work of God's people in both offering worship to Him and in forming an interdependent body to care for their spiritual and physical needs.

Moses is told to build a Tabernacle

In our liturgical readings ( please see the November Calendar), this interdependent body first takes form among the Israelites. Our readings from Exodus tell us how Moses and the people God chose and brought out of Egypt completed the "Dwelling Place" or Tabernacle, in the wilderness. The Tabernacle was a movable "tent" filled with special objects; the Ark, the Lamp, and the Table of the Bread of Presence were kept in it. Wherever it was, there God was. There God was to be encountered. There God was to be worshiped.

The Tabernacle was where the people were to gather around the presence of God. His presence was made evident by a pillar of smoke during the day and a pillar of fire, giving light, at night. When God becomes present in a visible way to man it is called a "theophany." There are many theophanies in the Old Testament. This is one of them. "For the cloud of the Lord was on the Tabernacle by day, and fire was in the cloud by night, before the eyes of all the house of Israel at each stage of their journey." (Ex 40:38, 1st Week) Regarding the cloud and the light form the fire, the Catechism reminds us "These two images occur together in the manifestations of the Holy Spirit. In the theophanies of the Old Testament, the cloud, now obscure, now luminous, reveals the living and saving God, while veiling the transcendence of his glory. (Paragraph 697)

So here we find God, the Deity Supreme, choosing one humble group of humanity, the Israelite slaves, to craft holy objects at his direction and make a holy space to encounter God in worship. By worship we mean the very many forms of offerings God required, as well as the daily and weekly duties to him and in care of his Tabernacle. That the LORD, creator of heaven and earth, chose to dwell in some way among his people is in itself a wonder. That he instructed them through Moses to build and furnish a dwelling place for himself was a matter of establishing and maintaining a relationship with him. God told Moses, "They shall make me a Sanctuary, and I will dwell among them. You must make the Tabernacle and all its furnishings following the plan that I am showing you." (Exodus 25:8-9) In Weeks 2, 3 and 4 of this season, St Paul alludes to this several times.

The Tabernacle and the Church

What this has to do with the Church is everything. St Paul shows us from Hebrews how the building and furnishings of the Tabernacle was a sign of something yet to come, a heavenly reality that will be made manifest in the Church. He interprets the Exodus story in both the literal sense and in a spiritual one. St Paul calls these a "sketch" or "shadow" in English translation, "(they) offer worship in a sanctuary that is a sketch and shadow of the heavenly one." (Heb 8:5, Week 2) The term used in theology for such sign is "type" and the thing it is a sign of, the reality, is called an "antitype." The antitype is "What is Real," the type - a mere shadow of it.

The distinction between "type" and "antitype" is one of the foremost ways the interpreters of the Church of the East heritage understand Scripture. It is called "Typology." The Catechism has this to say about it; "The Church, as early as apostolic times, and then constantly in her Tradition, has illuminated the unity of the divine plan in the two Testaments through typology, which discerns in God's works of the Old Covenant prefigurations of what he accomplished in the fullness of time in the person of his incarnate Son." (Paragraph 128)

Speaking of ways of interpreting the Scriptures, the Catechism says "Thanks to the unity of God's plan, not only the text of Scripture but also the realities and events about which it speaks can be signs.

1. The allegorical sense. We can acquire a more profound understanding of events by recognizing their significance in Christ; thus the crossing of the Red Sea is a sign or type of Christ's victory and also of Christian Baptism.

2. The moral sense. The events reported in Scripture ought to lead us to act justly. As St. Paul says, they were written "for our instruction".

3. The anagogical sense (Greek: anagoge, "leading"). We can view realities and events in terms of their eternal significance, leading us toward our true homeland: thus the Church on earth is a sign of the heavenly Jerusalem." (Paragraph 117)

Ah! Now we can see that the Tabernacle plan was a sign of the heavenly dwelling of God. We shouldn't think that he somehow needed comfortable and familiar settings for his visitation on Earth - that is not appropriate. Instead, we should find that in the multitude of his graces, he permitted humanity to have some understanding, a glimpse, a foretaste, of the heavenly realm he dwells in and calls us to. The seed of the concept of the Church is planted.

The Eucharist Prefigured

Tradition teaches that Moses saw a heavenly vision of how the Tabernacle and its furnishings were to be during his forty day stay on Mount Sinai. The Bread of the Presence has always been interpreted as a sign of the Eucharist by the Church Fathers. It was only to be consumed after being before the LORD for a week and only by the priests, however David once compelled a priest to give him some. In a similar manner, the prophet Isaiah was shown a vision of heaven. In our reading from Isaiah 6 this week, Isaiah sees the LORD sitting on a throne in the heavenly Temple, the antitype of Moses' Tabernacle. At one point an angelic being called a seraph flies over to Isaiah with a burning, or "live" coal taken from "the Altar." He dares not touch it, but brings it to Isaiah with "tongs." This coal he touches to Isaiah lips, thus purifying him and preparing him for his mission of prophesying.

This is a particularly important Scripture in our Church - so much so that we read it three times a year! Why is it so important? Again, the coal is a type, a sign, of the Eucharist. By it, debts are pardon and sins are forgiven because it is the body of Christ. Our sister Churches the Byzantines, the Coptic and the Jacobite Syrian all share this same rich understanding, yet it is in our Church that it is most emphasized. Here are examples from our liturgy:

"The live coal which the prophet saw the angel held with tongs, and now priests within the Sanctuary bear it upon their hands."
Anthem of the Mysteries for the Feast of Nativity

"To you, O my Lord, all flesh shall come, for you grant pardon for the debts of all. May the bodies which sin has defiled be cleansed with your hyssop. Come, O mortals, bearers of burdens, lay aside the burden of your debts. Receive from the Altar the live coal which absolved the Prophet, and be pardoned."
Anthem of the Chancel, Tuesday of the Rogation of the Ninevites

"The nations longed to receive in faith the gift of the Mysteries which are set before us: the Body which is broken for our salvation, and the Blood of the Covenant which is shed for us. This is the life-giving coal which touched the prophet, who was absolved of his debts and sins by it."
Anthem of the Bema, Feast of Hosannas

"With purity of conscience and with clean thoughts let us approach the live coal which was given in mercies for pardon and for a pledge of new life."
Anthem of the Bema, Fifth Sunday of the Resurrection

"Come, let us all draw near to the Body and Blood of Christ in fear and trembling, and in love let us receive him and sing praise. For the same was shown to Isaiah the Prophet mystically. A spiritual one gave him a live coal and his debts were pardoned."
Anthem of the Bema, Third Sunday of the Apostles

So this Sunday as we receive live coal, the pardon of our debts, the gift of immortality from the Altar, let us be mindful that the Father prepared this remedy for our faults and portrayed his plan of salvation long before the coming of the Son because of his love for you and for me. And in gratitude, let us receive it.

Ministers of What is Real
Part 2

The title of this series is taken from the Holy Synod of Mar Ishu'yab held in the year 587. Lets begin with this reading from the Synod of the Fifth Canon, translated by Chorbishop Michael Birnie of Seattle.

It is permitted to speak with confidence, through the faculty we have received from the symbols and types of the ecclesiastical ministry. From them it is possible to say confidently, for example, that the priests, the ministers of the Altar, bear the likeness and image of our Lord and that the deacons, the ministers of the Church, bear the likeness and image of the angels on high as servants of the true High Priest. For priests are appointed in the service of their priesthood as propitiators of God, absolvers of the people and obedient teachers, and by these three perfect things they fulfill the law of their priesthood, as was said by the mediator of the Old Covenant concerning the priests who were ministers of shadowy things - but is especially appropriate for the priests who are ministers of what is sure - "They shall offer incense according to your wrath and satisfaction upon your Altar. They shall teach your judgments to Jacob and Your laws to Israel." In these three ways of ministry the Law-Giver revealed how great the priestly rank is. When wrath is stirred up, it is abated by the fragrance of their prayers. When the people sin, the people are absolved by the satisfaction of their sacrifices. When teaching is required, their mind overflows and and their tongues conveys the wisdom of the Giver of laws.

Perhaps the first thing we notice about this canon is the contrast of the Old Covenant with the New Covenant. The Old Covenant priests "were ministers of shadowy things" while those of the New Covenant in Christ are "the priests who are ministers of what is sure" or "real." Again, we find the type in the Old Covenant and its fulfillment, the antitype, in the New.

"Symbols and Types of the Ecclesiastical Ministry"

The canon also contrasts the ministry of deacons and the priesthood, which in this usage includes bishops as well. The canon call deacons "the ministers of the Church," who " bear the likeness and image of the angels on high as servants of the true High Priest." The awesome image that is invoked is that of a heavenly scene with angels ministering to the Messiah as he offers himself to the Father for the totality of humanity! This is expressed by Mar Narsai, who said the deacons bear the image "of the angels who ministered to the Passion of the Son. He was served by angels at the time of his Passion and the deacons are honoring his body, which is suffering mystically." (Commentary on the Offices, Chap. 25)

How is it that deacons can be said to bear the likeness and image of the angels? It is in their assistance at the Altar in the celebration of the the divine Mysteries. Through their ordination they receive a special grace and a "talent" to perform this ministry. The Catechism tells us " Deacons share in Christ's mission and grace in a special way. The sacrament of Holy Orders marks them with an imprint ("character") which cannot be removed and which configures them to Christ, who made himself the "deacon" or servant of all. Among other tasks, it is the task of deacons to assist the bishop and priests in the celebration of the divine mysteries, above all the Eucharist, in the distribution of Holy Communion, in assisting at and blessing marriages, in the proclamation of the Gospel and preaching, in presiding over funerals, and in dedicating themselves to the various ministries of charity." (Paragraph 1570)

With this in mind, let be supportive of those considering the vocation of being a deacon. The office of the diaconate, as it is known, is a great blessing to the Church and those so called are worthy of honor and respect.

"Servants of the true High Priest"

There is a great truth hidden in the few words, "servants of the true High Priest." Although there are many priests in every Church, several hundreds of thousands alive today, in truth there is only one priest and that is Jesus himself. All churches' priesthoods, our bishops' priesthoods. the Pope's priesthood - these are only a sharing and participation in the priesthood of Christ. The Catechism address Jesus as "the one priest of the new and eternal Covenant, "entered, not into a sanctuary made by human hands . . . but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf" (Heb 9:24). There Christ permanently exercises his priesthood, for he "always lives to make intercession" for "those who draw near to God through him" (Heb 7:25). As "high priest of the good things to come" he is the center and the principal actor of the liturgy that honors the Father in heaven (Heb 9:11; cf. Rev 4:6-11)." (Paragraph 662) From Melchizadek the priest king-priest of Salem to the Temple priests of Jesus' day the priesthood was a type of Christ's true priesthood. Once his priesthood is established there is no need for further "symbols and types." Instead, his priesthood is carried on through those men ordained in the sacrament of Holy Orders, as we previously spoke of the deacons. "The redemptive sacrifice of Christ is unique, accomplished once for all; yet it is made present in the Eucharistic sacrifice of the Church. The same is true of the one priesthood of Christ; it is made present through the ministerial priesthood without diminishing the uniqueness of Christ's priesthood: "Only Christ is the true priest, the others being only his ministers." (The Catechism, Paragraph 1554)

"Propitiators of God"

Propitiation is a difficult word, but not as difficult as the act. It means to appease, to placate, to make amends and to satisfy someone, usually God. Priests are called "Propitiators of God" not because of their works or offerings, but because of the one true priest, Jesus the Messiah, who alone could appease God and in whose priesthood they share, as we said above.

Being "Propitiators of God" is one of the three aspects of service priests perform in the Church. It is proper to consider it first, because without it the other two, absolution and teaching, would not come about.

The Cause of Christ

Understanding the priestly service of propitiation is understanding the the cause of the coming of Christ into his own creation, the world. The Third Consecration prayer of the Church of the East, attributed to Nestorius, says, "You brought us into being from nothing, and fashioned us, but when we had stumbled, fallen and wasted away, you renewed us again, raised us up and redeemed us." God, who created humanity to love and cherish, was rightly angry with humanity, namely Adam and Eve, for bringing into his perfect creation sin, disobedience and death. By their sins, Adam and Eve tainted all creation.

We all know the story of Adam and Eve. We read it in our First Thursday of the Great Fast liturgy - most appropriate, as it is the reason for the crucifixion of Christ we will soon observe. It is found in the third chapter of Genesis. But it is to the effects of the disobedience we need to draw our attention. The effects were that "The harmony in which they had found themselves, thanks to original justice, is now destroyed: the control of the soul's spiritual faculties over the body is shattered; the union of man and woman becomes subject to tensions, their relations henceforth marked by lust and domination. Harmony with creation is broken: visible creation has become alien and hostile to man. Because of man, creation is now subject "to its bondage to decay." Finally, the consequence explicitly foretold for this disobedience will come true: man will "return to the ground," for out of it he was taken. Death makes its entrance into human history." (The Catechism, Paragraph 400)

While man's disobedience and sin have separated him from God, still God reaches out to man, ever wishing to reconcile with him. The Catechism recalls the rest of the story... "After his fall, man was not abandoned by God. On the contrary, God calls him and in a mysterious way heralds the coming victory over evil and his restoration from his fall. This passage in Genesis is called the Protoevangelium ("first gospel"): the first announcement of the Messiah and Redeemer, of a battle between the serpent and the Woman, and of the final victory of a descendant of hers." (Paragraph 410)

The Faith teaches us that God is all-knowing, so this disobedience of Adam and Eve, resulting in tainting of all creation, must not have surprised God. Here in the beginning of the first book of the Bible God announces a way to restore mankind, the coming of the Messiah. The Cause of Christ's coming was to reconcile not just man to God, but all of creation to the Creator.

A Matter of Means
How Propitiation was Attained

Interesting, that this same thought, the coming of the Messiah to restore and reconcile man to God, is echoed in the last book of the Bible, Revelation. In his vision of heaven St John sees "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world." All the countless sacrifices of doves, sheep, goats, calves and bulls in the Old testament were mere "shadows, symbols and types" of the one sacrifice planned from the beginning and made present in time and space with the death of the Messiah. "For if the blood of goats and bulls, with the sprinkling of the ashes of a heifer, sanctifies those who have been defiled so that their flesh is purified, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to worship the living God!" (Hebrews 9, week 2)

"Thus it was necessary," writes St Paul in our reading from Hebrews for Week 3, "for the sketches of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves need better sacrifices than these. For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made by human hands, a mere copy of the true one, but he entered into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself again and again, as the high priest enters the Holy Place year after year with blood that is not his own; for then he would have had to suffer again and again since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself."

So, Christ is both the priest who offers the sacrifice and the sacrifice himself! Only one so perfect and pure, one without sin, could be a sacrifice that would appease and satisfy God. "Behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world" as John the Forerunner said of Jesus and we recite in our second Consecration prayer attributed to Theodore.

The Holy Offering, the Act of Propitiation

The Holy Offering, also know as "The Divine Liturgy" by most Eastern Catholics and Orthodox and as "The Mass" in the Western Church, is so much more than simply the Catholic way of worship. Although the various churches have different liturgies, there is only one Offering being made by each, that of Christ on the Cross. All that is left is the duty of the Church on earth to continue re-presenting to the Father this "Memorial of the Body and Blood of your Messiah, which we offer to you on your pure and holy Altar, as you taught us." (Addai and Mari)

Again, the Catechism teaches us that the Holy Offering is also called "The Holy Sacrifice, because it makes present the one sacrifice of Christ the Savior and includes the Church's offering. The terms holy sacrifice of the Mass, "sacrifice of praise," spiritual sacrifice, pure and holy sacrifice are also used, since it completes and surpasses all the sacrifices of the Old Covenant."

It is also called "The Holy and Divine Liturgy, because the Church's whole liturgy finds its center and most intense expression in the celebration of this sacrament; in the same sense we also call its celebration the Sacred Mysteries. We speak of the Most Blessed Sacrament because it is the Sacrament of sacraments. The Eucharistic species reserved in the tabernacle are designated by this same name. " (Paragraph 1330)

At this point, it's good for us to look at why we "worship" the way we do. In a world in which even religion has become consumer oriented, the Catholic and Orthodox style liturgical worship service has found itself in sharp contrast to many modern denominations and fellowships. What is popular today is a religious service that really doesn't wish to be thought of as a "church service." These service vary considerably, but the main emphasis is on the individual's experience. Seats, not pews, bands, not altars and praise leaders, not priests lead the people in beautiful inspiring songs concluding in a euphoria not unlike the end of a concert.

In contrast, our worship is a reflective and contrite re-presentation of the Lord Jesus' offering of his own body at Calvary where we humbly stand at the foot of the Cross with Mother Mary and blessed John. What makes our worship "perfect" is not our music nor how we "feel" during the service, but rather our perfection is this; only Jesus was the perfect man, only Jesus was the perfect offering for our sins and only Jesus offered perfect worship. The Catechism reminds us "The cross is the unique sacrifice of Christ, the "one mediator between God and men". But because in his incarnate divine person he has in some way united himself to every man, "the possibility of being made partners, in a way known to God, in the paschal mystery" is offered to all men. He calls his disciples to "take up [their] cross and follow [him]," for "Christ also suffered for [us], leaving [us] an example so that [we] should follow in his steps." In fact Jesus desires to associate with his redeeming sacrifice those who were to be its first beneficiaries. This is achieved supremely in the case of his mother, who was associated more intimately than any other person in the mystery of his redemptive suffering. " (Paragraph 618)

Father Dimitri Grekoff
St Barnabas the Apostle Parish

Copyright © 2006 Father Dimitri Grekoff

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