Title from: Psalms 45:7 (LXX) / 46:6 (MT)
Why do the nations rage, And the people plot a vain thing?
The kings of the earth set themselves, And the rulers take counsel together…
Once again this morning I awoke to the morning news media relating the next chapter of rioting in the Middle East with the deaths of yet more Americans. This time included a U.S. Ambassador with 3 other embassy workers in Libya. This has become common place over the past several years with riots & protests occurring under the title of the Arab Spring or Arab Revolution. The Middle East is not unique in this as reports of unrest & riots have become regular stories out of Europe due to the economic & financial circumstances of many countries there. Even here on the American continent riots have been common in the United States, Canada, Mexico & so on throughout Central & South America.
I had thought that this was an increasing trend over the past few years; however I quickly discovered that I was wrong when an internet search quickly revealed a long history of riots & protests dating back to 44 BC. I really should have known better as even the Holy Scriptures relate stories of riots & uprisings under Moses (13th c. BC) & the ancient Israelite kings (11th-6th c. BC). Also let us not forget the original “uprising” against God Himself by Adam & Eve in the Garden of Eden.
But does it have to be this way? Must rage & death dominate our existence as they seem to have throughout our history?
“…I have set before you life & death, blessing & cursing; therefore choose life, that both you & your descendants may live; that you may love the Lord your God, that you may obey His voice, & that you may cling to Him, for He is your life…” (Deuteronomy 30:19-20)
This & several passages of Holy Scripture posit that life & death are choices that we humans are free to choose (Deuteronomy 30:15 & 19; Jeremiah 21:8; Matthew 7:13-14). We are free to “choose life” thanks to the source of not only our own individual lives, but of all life—God the Father.
I really like this passage. What is striking to my mind is the repetition of the phrase “that you may”. “…that you may love the Lord your God…that you may obey His voice…that you may cling to Him. In a preceding verse (v. 16) love & obedience are commanded by God. Here God enables us to follow His commands when we choose life, or more properly choose God. In choosing life, we are enabled to love, we are enabled to obey, & we are enabled to cling (unite) to Him because He is our life.
This coming Friday, September 14, Orthodox Christians celebrate the feast of the Exaltation of the Precious & Life-giving Cross. On the cross our Lord destroyed our enemy death by His death; thus we are able to choose & celebrate life through the cross of Christ. This great feast has been celebrated since the early days of Christian history in the 4th century & in its current form since the 7th century. See this link www.orthodoxwiki.org/Elevation_of_the_Holy_Cross for more information. In typical fashion unique to the Orthodox, this feast, ironically, is also a strict fast day in honor of the great humility which our Lord showed when He was lifted up on the Cross for our salvation. Christ our God chose death (partook of our nature) in order that we might choose life (partake of His divine nature).
This feast day is actually started with a Great Vespers service the evening before in which many hymns & Old Testament readings are featured. One of the readings is Exodus 15:22-16:1. In this story Moses turned the bitter water of Marah into sweet water by throwing a tree, shown to him by God, into the bitter & undrinkable water. There are many antitypes in this story that are still relevant to our modern world.
The murmurings of the people are reminiscent of the anger & dissension so readily found in our times while the bitter, undrinkable water relates to the death & destruction also found in the riots, protests & uprisings. The sweet water is a type of our salvation. The bitterness of “…adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like…” (Galatians 5:19-21) are changed into the sweetness of “…love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…” (Galatians 5:22-23) The tree from our story is the antitype of the precious & life-giving cross the Orthodox will soon celebrate. It is the precious & life-giving cross that transforms the bitter water of our world into the sweet water of life in Christ.
Those that do not choose life by default choose death. This is what is so evident in the riots, uprisings, protests, destruction & deaths so predominant in our world which continues to follow the way of death. What an awesome & unfathomable “choice” God the Father, the Son & the Holy Spirit has provided for us!
Festal Scripture Readings:
- Exodus 15:22-16:1
- Proverbs 3:11-18
- Isaiah 60:11-16
- John 12:28-36
- Galatians 4:8-21
- Mark 6:45-53
- 1 Corinthians 1:18-24
- John 19:6-11, 13-20, 25-28, 30-35
Troparion: O Lord, save Your people, And bless You inheritance. Grant victories to the Orthodox Christians Over their adversaries. And by virtue of Your Cross, Preserve Your habitation.
Kontakion: As You were voluntarily raised upon the cross for our sake, Grant mercy to those who are called by Your Name, O Christ God; Make all Orthodox Christians glad by Your power, Granting them victories over their adversaries, By bestowing on them the Invincible trophy, Your weapon of Peace.
Instead of the Trisagion: Before Thy Cross we bow down in worship, O Master, & Thy holy Resurrection we glorify. (3x) Glory to the Father & to the Son & to the Holy Spirit, now & ever & unto ages of ages. Amen. And Thy holy Resurrection we glorify. Before Thy Cross we bow down in worship, O Master, & Thy holy Resurrection we glorify.
Forefeast hymn: Troparion: We offer in supplication The Life-Creating Cross of Your Goodness, O Lord, Which You have granted to us who are unworthy: Save the Orthodox Christians, O only Lover of Man, Through the Theotokos.
*Also called: The Lord’s Teaching Through The Twelve Apostles To The Nations