It’s an old word, but I like it. The word “covenant” is such a significant word for moderns precisely because we have seemed to have forgotten the power of “covenant.” Our society is gripped by hyper-individualism that seems to be intoxicated with the notion of “rights” “privilege” and “power.” This intoxication has created such chaos that even our very way of knowing our own identity has become confused. We think our identity is exhausted by our desires or even our delusions. We’ve abandoned a “covenantal” way of thinking about our relationship with ourselves, one another, and God Himself.
Of course, abandoning a covenant means that this broken relationship has consequences. And the consequences for us as persons and us as a society are huge. If you are wondering how society can become so chaotic, confused, and self-destructive, look no further than this broken covenant.
So, let’s explore the notion of “covenant” today.
Look at our lesson in Genesis 9:8-17:
Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, “Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the cattle, and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will look upon it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth.” God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant which I have established between me and all flesh that is upon the earth.”
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “covenant” as “a usually formal, solemn, and binding agreement.” And that is certainly the root meaning of the word. But, as usual, our Orthodox understanding of the word is going to insist on a bigger and wider, and fuller understanding to avoid the temptation of a minimalistic mistake! And make no mistake. A minimal understanding often causes misunderstanding. That’s why our goal must always be fullness, not bare necessities.
God is the first Covenant Maker. Here He makes a covenant with Noah that He will never again destroy the earth by water. In fact, God uses the physical beauty of the rainbow to create a reminder for humanity of His covenant. Every time we see a rainbow, we are called to remember God’s covenant with Noah. Of course, today’s society has co-opted the rainbow to mean “diversity” and, as usual, this materialistic identity crisis so clearly illustrates the drift of modern society from their true selves. What was meant to remind humanity of God now is used to “remind” “woke” society of itself. The narcissistic cancer of a society insane with ego can’t be confronted by God without shrieks of hatred and anger and rejection.
But God’s covenant was meant to remind humanity of his connection with the Creator and this mutual connection was then meant to transform our connectedness with each other. When we forget God and His Promise Keeping Covenant and insist that God is irrelevant to our lives, naturally, our lives descend into chaos and confusion.
And then we get confronted on just why covenants are so vital. A covenant insists we take each other seriously. A covenant means we dialogue and we speak to one another and we hear each other. But we won’t be able to be covenant keepers with each other if we leave God out of the conversation. Our FIRST obligation in this covenant is to hear God. He comes first.
God tells Noah that the rains will still come. Clouds will still darken, and storms will still happen. BUT they will never again signal complete destruction. And God will always prove His faithfulness to His covenant by putting a rainbow in the clouds, to remind humanity of His faithfulness.
That’s what covenants do, they remind us of our mutual connectedness to God and each other. Covenants require faithfulness, attentiveness, and discipline. Covenants call us to stay awake to that primary relationship we are all called to have with God!
We remember St. James the Confessor today as one who refused to compromise the Covenant with God. He was a monk at the Monastery of Studium in Constantinople where he became a spiritual son of St. Theodore the Studite. St. James faced imperial pressure to deny the veneration of icons during the iconoclast controversies in the Eastern Roman Empire, but he refused to break the covenant God had made with His people by becoming Flesh and becoming visible for our salvation. St. James succumbed to torture and died never having abandoned God’s covenant.
Today, are you attentive to the Faithfulness of God in your life. He has, and always will, keep His covenant with us. And He knows that we will struggle to keep our side of the covenant, so He gives us repentance as the way of salvation. Why not schedule confession soon and renew your covenant with God in His So, our Lord Jesus, and live a Normal Orthodox life!
P.S. Shining forth with purity, you rightly divided the inspired Word of truth as a Hierarch and a minister of God the Word. By your virtuous struggle, you revealed and confirmed the grace granted to you, O James, instructing all to venerate the Icon of the Savior, with Whom you intercede for us all. Beg Christ to save our souls.