Category Archives: Holy Scripture

the Faith of the Ancients…

Sir.50

[1] The leader of his brethren and the pride of his people
was Simon the high priest, son of Onias,
who in his life repaired the house,
and in his time fortified the temple.
[2] He laid the foundations for the high double walls,
the high retaining walls for the temple enclosure.
[3] In his days a cistern for water was quarried out,
a reservoir like the sea in circumference.
[4] He considered how to save his people from ruin,
and fortified the city to withstand a seige.
[5] How glorious he was when the people gathered round him
as he came out of the inner sanctuary!
[6] Like the morning star among the clouds,
like the moon when it is full;
[7] like the sun shining upon the temple of the Most High,
and like the rainbow gleaming in glorious clouds;
[8] like roses in the days of the first fruits,
like lilies by a spring of water,
like a green shoot on Lebanon on a summer day;
[9] like fire and incense in the censer,
like a vessel of hammered gold
adorned with all kinds of precious stones;
[10] like an olive tree putting forth its fruit,
and like a cypress towering in the clouds.
[11] When he put on his glorious robe
and clothed himself with superb perfection
and went up to the holy altar,
he made the court of the sanctuary glorious.
[12] And when he received the portions from the
hands of the priests,
as he stood by the hearth of the altar
with a garland of brethren around him,
he was like a young cedar on Lebanon;
and they surrounded him like the trunks of palm trees,
[13] all the sons of Aaron in their splendor
with the Lord’s offering in their hands,
before the whole congregation of Israel.
[14] Finishing the service at the altars,
and arranging the offering to the Most High, the Almighty,
[15] he reached out his hand to the cup
and poured a libation of the blood of the grape;
he poured it out at the foot of the altar,
a pleasing odor to the Most High, the King of all.
[16] Then the sons of Aaron shouted,
they sounded the trumpets of hammered work,
they made a great noise to be heard
for remembrance before the Most High.
[17] Then all the people together made haste
and fell to the ground upon their faces
to worship their Lord,
the Almighty, God Most High.
[18] And the singers praised him with their voices
in sweet and full-toned melody.
[19] And the people besought the Lord Most High
in prayer before him who is merciful,
till the order of worship of the Lord was ended;
so they completed his service.
[20] Then Simon came down, and lifted up his hands
over the whole congregation of the sons of Israel,
to pronounce the blessing of the Lord with his lips,
and to glory in his name;
[21] and they bowed down in worship a second time,
to receive the blessing from the Most High.

This quote from LXX Sirach, describes the celebration of the ancient liturgies in the temple of Ancient Israel.  For anyone who has attended Orthodox liturgy, the parrallels are clear – the interaction between the congregation, deacons and priest reflect the worship lead by Simon the High Priest in former times.  The Divine Liturgies of the Orthodox Church are clearly inheritors of the traditions of ancient Israel as indeed the Church is Israel and as the true Israel is not disjointed from the life and prayer of the fathers dating back to our father Adam.

The Authority of the Septuagint in the Ancient Church as Recorded by St Augustine

septuagintThe Septuagint was first translation from the Hebrew Old Testament to the Greek language, the Bible used by the first Christians and proves the existence of all the Old books before 300 BC.  Some 1200 + years later some of the books were rejected by protestants as not divinely inspired.  This is in contradiction to the words of St Augustine of Hippo who expounds the sacred nature of the translation.  (See psite of council of carthageicture of original fragment to right)

In the Orthodox Church we accept the complete canon of Scripture affirmed at The African Synod of Hippo, in 393, approved the New Testament, as it stands today, together with the Septuagint books, a decision that was repeated by Councils of Carthage in 397 and 419. These councils were under the authority of St Augustine, who considered the Canon a closed issue as handed down from the Fathers of the Early Church…(Site of the council of Carthage seen left)                                                                                                                                            

 

                St-Takla-org_Coptic-Saints_Saint-Augustine-01                   

ST AUGUSTINE – THE CITY OF GOD

By What Dispensation of God’s Providence the Sacred Scriptures of the Old Testament Were Translated Out of Hebrew into Greek, that They Might Be Made Known to All the Nations.

One of the Ptolemies, kings of Egypt, desired to know and have these sacred books.  For after Alexander of Macedon, who is also styled the Great, had by his most wonderful, but by no means enduring power, subdued the whole of Asia, yea, almost the whole world, partly by force of arms, partly by terror, and, among other kingdoms of the East, had entered and obtained Judea also, on his death his generals did not peaceably divide that most ample kingdom among them for a possession, but rather dissipated it, wasting all things by wars. 

Then Egypt began to have the Ptolemies as her kings.  The first of them, the son of Lagus, carried many captive out of Judea into Egypt.  But another Ptolemy, called Philadelphus, who succeeded him, permitted all whom he had brought under the yoke to return free; and more than that, sent kingly gifts to the temple of God, and begged Eleazar, who was the high priest, to give him the Scriptures, which he had heard by report were truly divine, and therefore greatly desired to have in that most noble library he had made. 

When the high priest had sent them to him in Hebrew, he afterwards demanded interpreters of him, and there were given him seventy-two, out of each of the twelve tribes six men, most learned in both languages, to wit, the Hebrew and Greek and their translation is now by custom called the Septuagint.  It is reported, indeed, that there was an agreement in their words so wonderful, stupendous, and plainly divine, that when they had sat at this work, each one apart (for so it pleased Ptolemy to test their fidelity), they differed from each other in no word which had the same meaning and force, or, in the order of the words; but, as if the translators had been one, so what all had translated was one, because in very deed the one Spirit had been in them all. 

And they received so wonderful a gift of God, in order that the authority of these Scriptures might be commended not as human but divine, as indeed it was, for the benefit of the nations who should at some time believe, as we now see them doing.

 LXX-V747-6r the group of elders with Andreas and Aristeas of Alexandria giving a letter to Eleazar, the High Priest

Above - 11th Century depiction of the group of elders with Andreas and Aristeas 
of Alexandria giving a letter to Eleazar, 
the High Priest (seated right on a cushioned throne). 
In the lower pane an attendant stands by Ptolemy with shield and lance. 
Ptolemy receives the letter from Andreas and Aristeas, 
who are accompanied by Jewish envoys.

 

Of the Authority of the Septuagint Translation, Which, Saving the Honor of the Hebrew Original, is to Be Preferred to All Translations.

For while there were other interpreters who translated these sacred oracles out of the Hebrew tongue into Greek, as Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion, and also that translation which, as the name of the author is unknown, is quoted as the fifth edition, yet the Church has received this Septuagint translation just as if it were the only one; and it has been used by the Greek Christian people, most of whom are not aware that there is any other.  From this translation there has also been made a translation in the Latin tongue, which the Latin churches use. 

Our times, however, have enjoyed the advantage of the presbyter Jerome, a man most learned, and skilled in all three languages, who translated these same Scriptures into the Latin speech, not from the Greek, but from the Hebrew.   But although the Jews acknowledge this very learned labor of his to be faithful, while they contend that the Septuagint translators have erred in many places, still the churches of Christ judge that no one should be preferred to the authority of so many men, chosen for this very great work by Eleazar, who was then high priest; for even if there had not appeared in them one spirit, without doubt divine, and the seventy learned men had, after the manner of men, compared together the words of their translation, that what pleased them all might stand, no single translator ought to be preferred to them; but since so great a sign of divinity has appeared in them, certainly, if any other translator of their Scriptures from the Hebrew into any other tongue is faithful, in that case he agrees with these seventy translators, and if he is not found to agree with them, then we ought to believe that the prophetic gift is with them. 

For the same Spirit who was in the prophets when they spoke these things was also in the seventy men when they translated them, so that assuredly they could also say something else, just as if the prophet himself had said both, because it would be the same Spirit who said both; and could say the same thing differently, so that, although the words were not the same, yet the same meaning should shine forth to those of good understanding; and could omit or add something, so that even by this it might be shown that there was in that work not human bondage, which the translator owed to the words, but rather divine power, which filled and ruled the mind of the translator.  Some, however, have thought that the Greek copies of the Septuagint version should be emended from the Hebrew copies; yet they did not dare to take away what the Hebrew lacked and the Septuagint had, but only added what was found in the Hebrew copies and was lacking in the Septuagint, and noted them by placing at the beginning of the verses certain marks in the form of stars which they call asterisks. 

And those things which the Hebrew copies have not, but the Septuagint have, they have in like manner marked at the beginning of the verses by horizontal spit-shaped marks like those by which we denote ounces; and many copies having these marks  are circulated even in Latin.  But we cannot, without inspecting both kinds of copies, find out those things which are neither omitted nor added, but expressed differently, whether they yield another meaning not in itself unsuitable, or can be shown to explain the same meaning in another way.  If, then, as it behoves us, we behold nothing else in these Scriptures than what the Spirit of God has spoken through men, if anything is in the Hebrew copies and is not in the version of the Seventy, the Spirit of God did not choose to say it through them, but only through the prophets. 

But whatever is in the Septuagint and not in the Hebrew copies, the same Spirit chose rather to say through the latter, thus showing that both were prophets.  For in that manner He spoke as He chose, some things through Isaiah, some through Jeremiah, some through several prophets, or else the same thing through this prophet and through that.  Further, whatever is found in both editions, that one and the same Spirit willed to say through both, but so as that the former preceded in prophesying, and the latter followed in prophetically interpreting them; because, as the one Spirit of peace was in the former when they spoke true and concordant words, so the selfsame one Spirit hath appeared in the latter, when, without mutual conference they yet interpreted all things as if with one mouth.

Six out of each of the twelve tribes of Israel before Ptolemy to 
translate the Scriptures into Greek - 11th Century manuscript

LXX-translators of the LXX

Take off your SHOES!!!

                                                                             Icon.MosesAndTheBurningBushEXODUS 3:1

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 smallJOSHUA 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 Top of Mount Sinai

                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

 
     

Coptic_Crucifixion_IconNumbers 21:5

And the people spoke against God and against Moses: “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and our soul loathes this worthless bread.” 6 So the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and many of the people of Israel died.
7 Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD and against you; pray to the LORD that He take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.
8 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and it shall be that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live.” 9 So Moses made a bronze serpent, and put it on a pole; and so it was, if a serpent had bitten anyone, when he looked at the bronze serpent, he lived.”

Truly the ancient Scriptures of the Old Testament offer an amazing testimony towards Orthodox Christianity.  This particular event in the history of the ancient Hebrews bears witness to the coming of Christ as our Great High Priest.  Lets examine this a little deeper. 

The people spoke against God and against Moses and committed a great sin, which resulted in the LORD sending serpents among the people to bite them.  This brings to mind in reminiscience the ‘bite’ of that serpent of old, Satan, the great deceiver, whose venemous ‘bite’ lead to the fall of Adam and Eve from paradise.  Again now in the wilderness, the people spoke against God committing great sin in doing so, which lead to them suffering again from the bite of the serpent, this time leading to physical as well as spiritual death. 

Although many of the people died, a number repented and had enough wisdom to realise their poison from the bite of the serpent was a direct result of the blasphemous words spoken against God and His prophet Moses, so in repentance they approached Moses looking for mercy.  Note the people did not run off to the hills to seek forgiveness from God by themselves (as modern so called Christian sects would have us do because they believe we don’t need mediators), but they approached Moses whom God had appointed over the people, just as we approach the priests of Christ appointed by God through His Church when we seek forgiveness from sin today. 

His-Holiness-Moran-Mor-IgnaThen God commanded Moses to make an IMAGE of a serpent and set it upon a pole that all those bitten who look upon it shall live.  It is interesting to note that GOD COMMANDED MOSES TO MAKE AN IMAGE!  The same God who commanded the people not to make false idols to worship commands Moses to make an image of a bronze serpent.  There is an interesting disctinction here.  An idol is the image of a false god that is worshipped by people, who call the image god.  Yet as God commanded the image of cherubs to be placed on the ark of the covenant, so too He ordered Moses to make an image. 

In the Orthodox tradition we use icons or images in our worship.  Some icons are of the Lord Jesus Christ.  We venerate them as holy because of what they signify.  They lift our mind and hearts towards the One true living God of Israel, the Holy Trinity whom we worship and glorify.  We do not worship the images themselves, just as the ancient Hebrews did not worship the bronze serpent Moses lifted up before them, but yet by looking on the serpent hanging on the pole the people received healing.  (NB The picture shown of HH Mar Ignatius Zakka I Patriarch of Antioch and the Syrian Orthodox Church clearly shows the form of a serpent hung on a pole below the cross, a clear modern link to the sign of the crucifixion of Christ pointed to in the wilderness when Moses held aloft the staff with the bronze serpent.  The priesthood of the New Testament era in the Orthodox Church is clearly then not disjointed from the ancient faith of the Hebrews as its rightful successor through Christ our Lord – Furthermore, like the ancient Hebrews we too use signs and symbols in our Divinely ordained faith without forsaking the purity of our Monotheism as the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, the exact image of the One Triune God {Hebrews 1:3}.) 

There is another who was hung on a tree, and as the bronze serpent is a symbol of sin and its punishment so too the Holy Cross of Christ Our Blessed Lord is a sign of healing and life; for truly He bore the weight of the sins of the world for those who would seek Him in repentance to receive healing and the cling to the hope of following Him to the promised land of paradise, as the Hebrews of the desert hoped for the promised land…

An Early Apostolic Hymn about the Lord Jesus Christ…circa 61AD…

ST PAULSt Paul’s letter to the Colossians was written approximately 61AD and scholars believe it was written in Rome during his captivity before his martyrdom.  It contains one of the most wonderful affirmations of Orthodox doctrine on the person of Christ – Christology – and may have been part of an early liturgical prayer – perhaps at baptism.  It is a wonderful picture of the Lordship of Jesus Christ over creation, and the mystical union between the Church and our incarnate Saviour, eternally begotten of the Father…

Colossians 1:15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature.

   
 16For by Him were all things created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones or dominions or principalities or powers: all things were created by Him and for Him.

   
 17And He is before all things, and by Him all things consist.

   
 18And He is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He might have the preeminence.

   
 19For it pleased the Father that in Him should all fullness dwell,

   
 20and having made peace through the blood of His cross, by Him to reconcile all things unto Himself — by Him, I say, whether they be things on earth or things in heaven.