Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian. And he led the flock to the back of the desert, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 And the Angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire from the midst of a bush. So he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, but the bush was not consumed. 3 Then Moses said, “I will now turn aside and see this great sight, why the bush does not burn.”
4 So when the LORD saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, “Moses, Moses!”
And he said, “Here I am.”
5 Then He said, “Do not draw near this place. Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground.”
This is perhaps one of the greatest known events in history. The Fathers are quite unanimous in saying that this revelation of the ‘Angel of the Lord’ in the burning bush was in fact the pre-existent Word, the Son of God. This event points us to his incarnation, and that beautiful Scripture that our God is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29). Yet the Holiness of God’s presence was such that Moses was commanded by the Angel of the Lord to take off his shoes for even the ground where he stood was holy.
Later on in time after the repose of the great Arch-prophet Moses, Joshua entered the promised land…
JOSHUA 5:13 And it came to pass, when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, a Man stood opposite him with His sword drawn in His hand. And Joshua went to Him and said to Him, “Are You for us or for our adversaries?”
14 So He said, “No, but as Commander of the army of the LORD I have now come.”
And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped, and said to Him, “What does my Lord say to His servant?”
15 Then the Commander of the LORD’s army said to Joshua, “Take your sandal off your foot, for the place where you stand is holy.” And Joshua did so.
Amongst the Fathers of the Church there is difference on opinion of whether the Commander of the army of the LORD was an angel or Our blessed Lord Jesus Christ the Son of God. Origen taught that this was indeed the Lord Jesus Christ, ‘for who else is chief of the army of the powers of God except our Lord Jesus Christ?” Origen also went on to contemplate “And in what manner is Jericho holy ground since it is retained by the enemies? This indicates, and not by accident, that the chief of the army of the power of the Lord sanctifies every place to which he comes, for Jericho itself was not a holy place. But because the chief of the army of God came there, the place is said to be holy. I also dare something more and say that even the place where Moses stood was not holy through Moses himself but because the Lord stood with him. The presence of the Lord had sanctified the place; and on that account, it is said to him, ‘loosen the latchet of your sandal, for the place on which you stand is holy ground.” (From Origen’s homilies on Joshua).
Interesting that the presence of God sanctifies and hallows the physical location in where He is present. The enormity of these historical events is in a way incomprehensible by the human mind, for who can comprehend the depth and majesty of the Holy Trinity? Yet, we know what we have been taught and in Christ Jesus our Blessed Lord we have the exact image of God in whom the fulness of divinity dwelt bodily (Col 2:9). Further, these important historical events pointed to the coming of Christ who was truly Emmanuel – God with us – spoken of by Isaiah the prophet.
The holiness of God’s presence is revered in the exact same manner to this day throughout the Coptic Orthodox Churches of the world. When we come to worship at the foot of the altar where the Prescious Body and Blood of our Lord ARE, the sanctuary and Church is indeed sanctified by the presence of Divinity. So too, we take off our shoes in the Church, and importantly they are not to be worn into the altar under any circumstances. Finally, the Latin Father and exegete Jerome taught that likewise in the “Kingdom of Heaven we will have no place for sandals as protection against the world as we follow the Lamb who has been slain for us.” As people who live in expectation of our end in Christ we follow this ancient tradition as a sign of the coming Kingdom, and in reverence to the presence of God, as like Joshua the son of Nun, we bow down and worship our glorious Lord…
- Top of Mount Sinai