Renewed Israel

In the previous post, the brief history of Israel as God’s people in the Old Testament was outlined, from its creation to its ultimate dissolution.  Despite that dissolution, the prophets promised that God would one day restore and redeem not only the remnant of Judea, but the entirety of Israel.  This had been made seemingly impossible by the fact that the ten northern tribes had been ‘lost’.  They had not been lost to history.  There is clear historical record of the cities and regions in Assyria to which the Israelites had been deported.  Rather, over generations of intermarriage and assimilation, the people of the northern tribes became indistinguishable as a particular people.  Their identity as a people had been dissolved…

God’s People Israel

Though it is the name used for the people of God in both Old and New Testaments, ‘Israel’ as the name for God’s people had only a limited historical span.  As a united people freed from Egypt, depending on one’s dating of the Exodus, Israel existed for between 300 and 500 years.  Only the last century of this period represented an actual kingdom under a human king.  Following the fracturing of the tribes at the end of Solomon’s reign, it was the northern ten tribes that existed under the name ‘Israel’ for very roughly 200 years before its complete destruction at the hands of the Assyrian Empire.  Even during those two centuries, the northern kingdom was better known as ‘Ephraimite’…

The Prophet, Forerunner, and Baptist John

The figure of St. John the Forerunner looms large in the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles, even long after his death had been recorded.  This reflects his great historical importance in 1st century Judea, as reflected in the writings of Josephus amongst other places.  His coming as the forerunner of the Messiah was prophesied within the Hebrew scriptures and the return of the Prophet Elijah, St. Elias, was one of the markers of the coming of the expected Christ well-known to Jewish communities of the era.  This prominence is reflected in the Orthodox iconographic tradition in which he stands at the left hand of Christ enthroned.  He serves as the link between the Old Testament prophets and the…

Psalm 68 and the Gospel of Jesus Christ

The scripture readings assigned to the Sunday after Theophany in the Orthodoxy Church, Ephesians 4:7-13 and Matthew 4:12-17 are bound together thematically by Psalm 68 (67 in the Greek numbering).  This Psalm is quoted, and slightly adapted, by St. Paul who gives to the Psalm the interpretation which would later enshrine it in Paschal liturgics.  It also, however, connects to the geographical themes set out by St. Matthew as Christ’s public ministry begins following his baptism by St. John the Forerunner.  Understanding the way in which Ss. Matthew and Paul use this Psalm to characterize the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ is important to understanding the very meaning of the term ‘gospel’ as it is applied to our…

Theophany and River Gods

The Orthodox Church has always taught that the background against which the scriptures and scriptural events are rightly understood is preserved within Holy Tradition.  Holy Tradition is the life of the Holy Spirit within the church, but how precisely this functions is often misunderstood.  Sometimes it is thought to be some sort of secret additional knowledge, beyond the scriptures or the public proclamation of the church passed down orally.  This sort of idea, however, is roundly condemned by the Fathers in their contest against Gnosticism.  What separates Christianity from Gnosticism, they argue, is that Christianity has always publicly proclaimed the same faith delivered once and for all to the saints.  A prime example of how tradition ‘works’ can be seen…

Stephen, Rabbi and Saint

St. Stephen is remembered in the church as one of the first deacons chosen by the apostles (Acts 6:5) and the first Christian martyr following the resurrection and ascension of Christ (7:58-60).  The church has also, however, maintained and handed down a great deal more information about this important saint.  Like St. Paul, St. Stephen had been a student of the rabbi Gamaliel, a figure who appears briefly in the New Testament (5:34; 22:3), but becomes a massively important figure of authority in later Talmudic Judaism.  The Mishnah, in particular, is composed primarily of the statements and opinions of famed rabbis on particular topics of the Torah, and Gamaliel’s opinions are featured prominently.  While St. Paul’s level of rabbinical, as…

Who is the Satan?

In the post which began the current series, the figure of the Devil and his fall from membership in God’s divine council was discussed.  Having served as a cherub or seraph, a guardian of God’s throne, he sought to supplant God in the lives of newly created human beings out of envy, resulting in his being cast down to Sheol to reign over the dead in a kingdom of dust and ashes in Genesis 3.  This figure, though clearly seen in the understanding of death and Christ’s victory over it in the New Testament and the liturgical tradition of the Orthodox Church, lacks many of the common features and characteristics of Satan.  He was not, per se, an archangel, certainly…

Who are Demons?

In the previous posts of the present series, the Devil and a group of fallen angels were discussed.  The former was cast down into Sheol, or Hades, to devour and rule over the dead.  The latter were confined in chains in the Abyss for their crimes until the end of the world.  In another previous post, the angelic beings to whom the nations were assigned at the tower of Babel, who later became corrupt and sought the worship of the nations they were to govern were described.  These beings did not fall as the others and remain in the heavenly places according to St. Paul (Eph 6:12), though they are judged at the resurrection of Christ (Ps 82) and their…

The Angels Who Left Their Former Estate

In a previous post, the giants of the Old Testament, who came into being through demonic sexual immorality, were discussed.  Only brief comments were made at that time about their angelic “parents”.  These angelic beings, however, play an important role in the unfolding of the Old Testament and in New Testament theology.  In another post, the three events of Genesis 1-11 which might be termed a ‘fall’ of humanity were discussed.  It was commonplace in the Fathers and other early Christian writers to speak about the sinful state of humanity remedied by Christ in terms of one of these three events, with the other two subordinated, but which event varied.  St. Irenaeus sees all three in terms of the sinful…

Who is the Devil?

The figure of the Devil or Satan as a personal spiritual being appears at a few distinct points in the scriptures in which his origin and identity are described.  The Biblical picture of this entity, however, is very often distorted by later popular Christian literature and modern popular culture.  There is far more of Milton than of scripture in the average Christian of today’s understanding of who the Devil is, what his goals and purposes are, and how he came to be who he is today.  The various demons and devils of scripture, the subject of the next several posts, are often merged together or arranged into some kind of hierarchy, or more recently bureaucracy, in a way that is…