What is the significance of the phrase “not made with hands?” We see this in our lesson today and we even see an Orthodox icon of the same name. You know the ikon I’m talking about. It is the ikon of the Lord’s Face that the Lord sent to Abgar, the leader of the city of Edessa who had been afflicted with leprosy. The tradition says that the Lord commanded a bowl of water to be brought and a towel, and when the Lord washed His face He placed the towel against His face and His image was on the towel. This holy relic was sent to Abgar in Edessa and he began to be healed.
So, the image was placed there, not by a painter or an artist but by grace and love.
But there’s more. Look at our Lesson today in Hebrews 9:11-14:
BRETHREN, when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the Holy Place, taking not the blood of goats and calves but his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the sprinkling of defiled persons with the blood of goats and bulls and with the ashes of a heifer sanctifies for the purification of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify your conscience from dead works to serve the living God.
St. Paul is attempting to help these Hebrew Christians realize that they are exactly where they need to be. He mentions the “greater and more perfect tent” which is a reference to the Tabernacle the Jews traveled within the desert and it was also called the “tent of meeting.” But the greater tent refers to Christ Himself Who is, as we say in the liturgy, he Who is “the Offerer and the Offered, the One who receives and is distributed.” Paul tells these Christians that the image of sacrifice and the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer makes a person ceremonially clean for Temple worship, how much more will the sacrifice of Christ Himself clean the very soul of a man! In other words, what we have in Christ is better than the outward sacrificial that was meant to train us how to understand the ultimate and final sacrifice of Christ Himself in the fight to defeat sin, death, and Satan.
Paul goes on to tell us that this purification of the whole person by the grace of God is to “purify” our conscience “from dead works to serve the living God.” By this, he does not mean the works of righteousness, love, and kindness. He does not mean to suggest that works of obedience or the spiritual and even physical labor of the liturgical life are “dead works.” Not at all. Paul means the old way of sacrifice in the Temple is “dead” or it has served its purpose. Now we are purified by grace through faith so that our works are motivated not by a fear we are “unclean” but by a motivation of gratitude for the grace given to us by Christ!
In other words, all the old law was meant to do was to tutor us in our spiritual infancy so that when Christ came, we could then graduate to having our lives lived in grateful labors motivated by love instead of fear or obligation or mere rule-keeping. A person who has graduated to the “not made with hands” faith is shaped by his love for God and not driven by some fear of God or a narcissistic motivation to get God to “give me something.” This eternal liberty to love and be grateful is why the central act of worship in the Orthodox Church is the Holy Eucharist; the ultimate sacrifice of praise and gratitude!
Today, are you still trying to get God to love you by doing religious stuff? Are you motivated by your desire to get God to give you something because you’ve been a “good boy?” That’s the old religion. The Faith of Christ now offers you a path based on gratitude and true love for God and a “not made with hands” faith that makes you Orthodox on Purpose!
P.S. O Lord, Great and Mighty, and beyond both knowing and unknowing, You, alone, are the Author and Finisher of our faith. You complete all the shadows of all the rituals of our past and fill all our worship with the singular call to fix our eyes on You, the Lord and Savior Who is both fully God and fully man. You make the way for us to be reunited with the Father and have His life flow through us for our eternal life. Keep me from a frivolous life that ignores my desperate need to stay connected to You! Amen