Today – the Scriptures are Fulfilled

Standing in the synagogue in Nazareth, Christ reads from Isaiah (61) the passage:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.

And he says to the people:

Today, this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.

The phrase, “the Scripture is fulfilled,” is such a commonplace in Christian hearing that we fail to consider its meaning. Our tendency is to think of such references to Old Testament statements as references to prophecies, understood as predictions. Thus, we hear Christ saying, “What Isaiah predicted has now happened.” But this is a serious mistake. Prophecy is rarely a prediction, and even when it may be taken as such, it usually isn’t. Prophecy is something that can be fulfilled – mere events cannot fulfill.

There is a great deal of difference between something happening, and something happening because it was waiting to happen. There are many images that come to mind. The famous “Sword of Damocles” is one. Here, a sword is dangling by a single hair. That the hair will break and the sword fall is more than a possibility: it is an inevitability. The falling of the sword “fulfills” the sword’s hanging. Indeed the sword isn’t hanging, it is simply waiting to fall.

In prophetic speech, there is a sense that the very words of the prophecy establish (in some manner) the potential and inevitability of the event that will fulfill the words. The event is not simply predicted – it is somehow set in motion. It’s inevitability draws closer at all times. It must happen.

This is a different perspective on the nature of prophecy (and the nature of time, cause and effect). We cannot say that the prophecy causes the event, but its relationship is closer to cause than to prediction. In the same timeless manner, the event causes (there must be a better word) the prophecy, or that which we later deem to be prophetic. And so we are told that the “lamb was slain from the foundation of the world.” The fulfillment is later than the timeless sacrifice. We can even say in a manner that the event is before the prophecy – but only because in the mystery of Christ, the End of things somehow precedes them.

The Christian witness is of Christ’s Pascha (His death and resurrection). And the witness that we bear is that His Pascha is the meaning of all things – their fulfillment – their completion – and their redemption. In Christ’s Pascha we see the end of all things. The beginning of all things is equally revealed.

It is this foundational belief that drives the Christian reading of the Old Testament, and the Christian reading of the whole world – its history and its future. The understanding which Christ gave to His disciples after the resurrection was to see His Pascha in the Scriptures:

“These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.” And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures. Then He said to them, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day…”

It is useless to ask, “Why was it necessary?” It was necessary because it was written and it was written because it was necessary. God told Moses that Passover (Pascha) is an eternal festival (Ex. 12:14). Thus Adam’s Sleep was Christ’s Pascha. Noah in the Ark was Christ’s Pascha. Crossing the Red Sea was Christ’s Pascha. The victory over Amalek was Christ’s Pascha. The Young Men in the fiery furnace and Daniel in the Lion’s Den was Christ’s Pascha. Jonah in the Belly of the Whale was Christ’s Pascha. The same, with understanding, can be said repeatedly as the words that are written are made clear.

The heavens and the earth and all that they contain were created for Christ’s Pascha. Understanding this is the beginning of understanding the heavens and the earth and all that they contain, and without this understanding creation remains opaque.

The words, “Let there be light,” are also the words, “Lazarus, come forth!” and the sound of the trumpet as Christ descends. And so the Tradition that writes the gospels and abides within the Church hears the eternal Pascha of God sounding in the words of the Prophets, and even in obscure and random statements. For it is Christ’s Pascha that rescues everything from randomness and sets it in its right order and relationship.

C.S.Lewis’ friend, Charles Williams, wrote mystical fiction, works that Lewis enjoyed immensely. In one of them, The Place of the Lion, Platonic archetypes begin to appear in England, drawing their antitypes to themselves (and revealing the character – both good and bad – of people). It is a very rich image. In the same manner, the Pascha of Christ has entered our world as the true Archetype of Creation and its redemption. All things are drawn towards it and find their fulfillment within it (both things before it in time and subsequent – for Pascha is both the beginning and the end). The words of prophets, even their casual utterances, every “jot and tittle” will find its fulfillment in Christ’s Pascha. For it is necessary that it should be so.

Comments

  1. Dominic Albanese says

    I fear it fall on too many deaf ears. The culture is rampant with foolishness and dark ideas. I asked Fr M. Tate aboout the shooting in the school “Where was God” he replied “God was kicked out of school years ago” The current march twoards hedonisim and debauchary is a sure sign we need to redouble our prayers and keep our side of the street clean. O Lord help me to see my failing and not the failing of others, is just about all that is keeping me going these days

  2. says

    Thank you, Fr. Stephen:

    It is useless to ask, “Why was it necessary?” It was necessary because it was written and it was written because it was necessary. God told Moses that Passover (Pascha) is an eternal festival (Ex. 12:14). Thus Adam’s Sleep was Christ’s Pascha. Noah in the Ark was Christ’s Pascha. Crossing the Red Sea was Christ’s Pascha. The victory over Amalek was Christ’s Pascha. The Young Men in the fiery furnace and Daniel in the Lion’s Den was Christ’s Pascha. Jonah in the Belly of the Whale was Christ’s Pascha. The same, with understanding, can be said repeatedly as the words that are written are made clear.

    Since becoming Orthodox I have greatly enjoyed learning this. The OT writings truly take on new meaning & depth when seen through Christ.

    The heavens and the earth and all that they contain were created for Christ’s Pascha. Understanding this is the beginning of understanding the heavens and the earth and all that they contain, and without this understanding creation remains opaque.

    One of my hobbies is astrophotography, so I render a whole-hearted, “Amen!”

  3. PJ says

    A fitting post for New Year’s Day, on which Catholics everywhere pray the Veni Sancte Spiritus: Come, Holy Spirit / send forth the heavenly / radiance of your light.

  4. Brian says

    Wonderfully articulated! I especially appreciated the parenthetical statement…

    “(both things before it in time AND subsequent – for Pascha is both the beginning and the end)”

    To know Christ as the fulfillment of the past (OT, etc.)and the future is wonder-full in itself, but knowing Him as the fulfillment of the present is a glorious mystery in which to live.

  5. sergieyes says

    Father Stephen I encourage you to chasten and correct me, but is it not Kairos that you refer to: the appointed moment
    when the hair breaks and the sword falls in your example. Prophet Amos refers to this Kairos moment:
    “Amos 9:13 KJV: King James Version
    Behold, the days come , saith the LORD, that the plowman shall overtake the reaper , and the treader of grapes him that soweth seed; and the mountains shall drop sweet wine, and all the hills shall melt .”
    Here is the usage of Kairos in the Greek New Testament.
    <>

    BTW, if possible, I would dearly appreciate seeing how the Septuagint uses Kairos.
    Respectfully, Sergieyes

  6. sergieyes says

    Father Stephen I encourage you to chasten and correct me, but is it not Kairos that you refer to: the appointed moment
    when the hair breaks and the sword falls in your example? Prophet Amos refers to this Kairos moment:
    “Amos 9:13 KJV: King James Version
    Behold, the days come , saith the LORD, that the plowman shall overtake the reaper , and the treader of grapes him that soweth seed; and the mountains shall drop sweet wine, and all the hills shall melt .”
    Here is the usage of Kairos in the Greek New Testament.
    http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G2540&t=KJV

    BTW, if possible, I would dearly appreciate seeing how the Septuagint uses Kairos.
    Respectfully, Sergieyes

    • fatherstephen says

      Sergieyes,
      There is indeed something of a “kairos” in such a moment – the moment that is waiting to be fulfilled. Kairos could also be described as “the fullness of time,” as in Gal. 4:4.

      There are so many mysteries to be found in understanding the nature of time in the Scriptures (and in the theology of the Church). Perhaps the one thing that doesn’t fit with it is the typical understanding of time that most people work with.

      Kairos is spot on.

  7. sergieyes says

    Thanks for confirming this thought. I have worked for a very long time on the dialogue between “kairos”and “anomia” (lawlessness, iniquity). I pray to enter a deeper understanding of our age of iniquity and kairos, so that I am not destroyed by despair.

  8. David says

    My dear friend, Dominic. God was very
    much in that school. He was, in fact, shot there, even as He forgave the shooter.

  9. mary benton says

    Well said, David.

    This is a very profound article, Fr. Stephen. It helps clarify how so much of Christendom has not understood (or has forgotten) who the Christ truly is.

    Perhaps more frightening than the shooters in our world is the reality that so many people have become “bored” with Christianity because of very superficial understanding and teachings. (It frightens me how close to that edge I myself come at times.)

  10. Margaret says

    What David says is so very true! Thank you! God is everywhere present and filling all things. Thank you for this article, Fr. Stephen, and thank you for your book: “Everywhere Present, Christianity in a One Storey Universe”! Your recommendations in that book on how to practice the presence of God in everyday life have been a great encouragement to me and I look forward to this New Year in Christ.

  11. dinoship says

    Well said David! I would go so far as to say that God is not simply ‘also present’ where death and torment are taking place, due to his omnipresence; He is felt as far more intensely present in torment and death… (anyone who has tasted Hell and then looking back realized that Christ was holding his hand along the way KNOWS what the icon of Christ’s descent into Hades means). He is the Crucified and exalted Lord, known in true depth by those who find themselves in torment and death. Especially those pure souls who accept what befalls us in that trust, bestowed by the unwavering knowledge of His supra-logical providence.
    Yes, we can make the torment that befalls us into any of the three crosses on Golgotha: Christ’s, the right thief’s (Saint Desmas), or the left thief (Yiestus)- that is down to our volition-; but, no matter which cross we end up choosing, Christ is with us (the enduring the heaviest of all Crosses) whether we are on His right, on His left, or are honoured with the ultimate of honours, being part of His very Body on that very Cross. That would make one into a Saint whose prayer (as we sing in the Orthodox Church) “upholds the world”

  12. drewster2000 says

    Fr. Stephen said: “Thus Adam’s Sleep was Christ’s Pascha. Noah in the Ark was Christ’s Pascha. Crossing the Red Sea was Christ’s Pascha. The victory over Amalek was Christ’s Pascha. The Young Men in the fiery furnace and Daniel in the Lion’s Den was Christ’s Pascha. Jonah in the Belly of the Whale was Christ’s Pascha. The same, with understanding, can be said repeatedly as the words that are written are made clear.

    The heavens and the earth and all that they contain were created for Christ’s Pascha. Understanding this is the beginning of understanding the heavens and the earth and all that they contain, and without this understanding creation remains opaque.

    The words, “Let there be light,” are also the words, “Lazarus, come forth!” and the sound of the trumpet as Christ descends.”

    I’m just being honest here. This is the kind of language that makes me hear static in my brain. It is clanging cymbals and brassy trumpets. Though I know this is not the true message, what I hear is something like:

    “This is God, that is God, we’re all God. We breathe God in the air, the light, the water, the people…” and on and on.

    I understand it as far as I can. I agree with it in theory, but it feels like someone saying that you should pour honey on absolutely everything, that this will make it all better.

    But honey doesn’t; it just makes most things sticky – and soon becomes detestable. Hearing this kind of theology – and you don’t speak this way NEARLY as much as some theologians – makes me doubt either my ability to understand theology or to be Orthodox – or both.

    I know that it’s poetic and that some people love it. It just makes me feel lost and out of place. I could easily not comment and just let those people enjoy it, but I mention it as much to say that if I have to love or understand this kind of language in order to be Orthodox – or to be saved(?) – then I won’t make it.

  13. Karen says

    Drewster, if you have difficulty with this kind of language, it seems to me you should just focus on what you do find helpful and what in your experience does actually connect you with God, e.g., sacred music, prayers, reading the Psalms, almsgiving. It is only out of a real experiential connection with God that what Christ is revealing of Himself in the Scriptures at deeper levels begins to open up its meaningfulness to us. Otherwise it is indeed just words–and, many times, nonsensical ones at that! There is a place for eschewing what to us is spiritual “meat” and sticking with the “milk” of the Word we can digest and actually make good use of (and I think there is plenty of the latter on offer within the life and practices of Orthodox faith that you would find very beneficial as well). Our spiritual digestive systems do have to mature, and that is a process. The Apostle Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 2:13-16 seem pertinent here.

    I had a bit of the same experience as you did with this post when I was reading Elder Sophrony’s biography, We Shall See Him as He Is. I began to get frustrated that a lot of the Elder’s words just started to sound like some kind of repetitive ecstatic babbling to me and I was looking for more concrete discriminative substance that I could connect to my own experiences and processes of thought. I came to the conclusion that many times what we experience both in the profundity of the Spirit’s working in our own soul or the way the Spirit begins to speak to us through Scripture is inaccessible to those who have not attained to the same experience and that human language is inadequate to communicate at this level. It is difficult, if not impossible, to find language that will be meaningful to those who as of yet do not have a similar spiritual experience to which to anchor the language. Perhaps this is why Christ’s parables only opened their meaning for those who had “ears to hear.” It’s a process.

    • ernie says

      “It is difficult, if not impossible, to find language that will be meaningful to those who as of yet do not have a similar spiritual experience to which to anchor the language.”

      Amen, Karen. I have sometimes compared it to explaining color to someone who only sees in black and white.

  14. mary benton says

    I have also found that writings that seem profound to me at one point, seem senseless to me later; or first senseless and then profound. And some things that others think are great, I cannot relate to – and vice versa.

    We are blessed with many ways to learn and grow in faith. The greater problem for us is when we draw back from the learning/growing process because a particular tract or teaching is uncomfortable or incomprehensible to us. Sometimes it is best to just set such things aside for the time being…and allow ourselves to be taught by what we CAN understand and “digest”.

  15. Karen says

    Mary, I have had that experience, too, where something seemed so profound and later left me cold or vice versa. What you say is very true. I always so appreciate your thoughtful and insightful comments.

  16. drewster2000 says

    Karen,

    I appreciate your council. Fr. Stephen and the others here have often displayed the same sentiment and it has comforted me, but my experience with canonical Orthodox in person (in the past) has always left me with the feeling that I had to love this kind of gushing.

    Part of why I don’t is probably my damage from Protestant heart-throbbing the way some of them try to wring emotion out of people as a technique. Most Orthodox poetry sounds like this to me.

    Another part may be that my mind thinks a certain way and my soul will never be fed by this kind of imagery.

    However, the idea that what one person experiences may not be accessible by another, and the limitations of human language – makes a lot of sense. Thanks for your words.

    Fr. Stephen: Please gush as needed. It is your site. I respect you and you have given me much to digest; whether it is milk or meat, I do not know or care really.

  17. Karen says

    Drewster, glad to be of help! You know, each parish has its own character and sometimes it can be difficult when we run into one with a dynamic that triggers our fears and woundedness and forces us to confront stuff that just ties us up in knots. I have had that experience. If you can find an Orthodox parish or folks within a particular parish (there are many different kinds of Orthodox folks) who don’t tend to press those buttons, I encourage you to do so. In the meantime, maybe it would help to remind yourself inwardly next time you bump into that in your local situation, “Fr. Stephen and the community at his site give me permission to completely ignore that!”

    The bottom line is you don’t have to perform, Drewster. God doesn’t need your performance. He just wants you.