My beloved brothers and sisters in Christ God,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE.
HOLY AND GREAT LENT: OUR FORTY-DAY JOURNEY
THROUGH THE WILDERNESS
The forty days journey of Holy and Great Lent recalls, in particular, the FORTY YEARS in which the Chosen People journeyed through the wilderness. For us, as for the children of Israel, Lent is a time, crucial time, when our faith in God is tested. It is a time for our liberation from the bondage from slavery, from the domination of sinful passions; a time for progress by faith through a barren and waterless desert. It is a time when God speaks to us out of the desert of Sinai.
Let us turn briefly to the Old Testament, Exodus 17:1-7. The whole Israelite community set out from the Desert of Sin, traveling from place to place as the Lord commended. "Now all the congregation of the children of Israel departed from the Wilderness of Sin.. by the word of the Lord…the people contended with Moses, saying ‘Give us water, that we may drink.’ Moses, then said to them, ‘Why do you contend with me? Why do you tempt the Lord?’ … Why is it you brought us up out of Egypt to kill us, our children, and our cattle with thirst?’ So Moses cried out to the Lord, saying, ‘What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.’ …Then the Lord said to Moses… Behold I will stand before you there ON THE ROCK in Horeb and you shall strike the rock, AND WATER WILL COME OUT OF IT SO THE PEOPLE MAY DRINK..".
The word ‘Sin’ in "the wilderness of Sin" might be related to the Hebrew word for Sinai, but is not related to our word "sin." However, for the Christian who has fallen into sin, it truly becomes "a wilderness of sin" when there is no sign of repentance and reconciliation with our Lord Christ.
The ‘ROCK’ was a type of the Son of God. He stood on the rock in Horeb and caused it TO POUR FORTH WATER. Rocks do not pour out water by nature, but in a mystery this rock did. It remained a rock but simultaneously BECAME A FOUNTAIN. This provides us the context for the Lord’s words, "He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow RIVERS OF LIVING WATER" (St. John 7:38). Also, "…all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank of that spiritual drink. For they drank of that SPIRITUAL Rock that followed them and that Rock was Christ" (1 Corinthians 10:3-4). Israel’s liberation from Egypt by Moses prefigures our freedom from sin by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The ‘Rock’ is the body of Christ, His humanity; and the ‘spiritual drink’, of our Lord’s Blood, the Holy Eucharist, or Holy Communion.
There are many similarities with the Christian believers today and how at times when faced with serious turmoil and problems they lose their faith in God and grumble and murmur complaining that God has not come to their aid. The story of the Israelites going through this hardship and danger, present us opportunities to give voice to our deepest fears ("is God among us or not?") and of wondering on the ways our God responds to us when we are thirsty in the wilderness of life. Moses, the Prophet of God, acting as God’s representative, has brought the people of God out of slavery to their liberation and salvation, however, when they face any danger or deprivation, they lose their faith.
Prophet Moses as the obedient servant of God when faced with a crisis, turns always to the Almighty God for His help. Obediently he follows God’s instruction and takes the elders with him, both to confirm his leadership and to act as witnesses of God’s miracle that is about to occur. He is to take the staff which God has enabled Moses and Aaron to use in miraculous ways. But because the people questioned and doubted whether God was with them or not, this is called their "tempting God," which signifies distrust of Him even after they had received such proof of His Divine power and goodness.
How marvelous is the patience and forbearance of God toward provoking sinners? He gave them water out of a rock. The Lord can open fountains for us where we least expect them. Those who, in their wilderness, keep God’s ways and are obedient to Him, may trust and be confident that He will provide for them. Also, let this direct us to DEPEND on Christ’s grace. The holy Apostle Paul says, that Rock was Christ, it was a type of Him. While the curse of God might justly have been executed upon our sinful souls, behold the Son of God is smitten for us. Let us supplicate Him and let us receive this Living Water and trust that Our Loving and Merciful God will supply it abundantly.
The Life-Giving Water that God provides for us all is water that will quench our thirst and we will never thirst again. This Water flows from Christ our Savior and God, through His ordinance, in our spiritually barren and parched heart, until we come to His glory.
As we continue our journey through the desert we will experience all kinds of temptations and may even be conflicted or perplexed as to why we are doing this. We may become disoriented as we travel through it but we must believe that we are not alone in our quest for the promised land, A time in which we draw near the Promised Land, to our true home in Paradise whose door the crucified Christ has reopened for us. As Orthodox Christians, while traveling through this wasteland we need to turn to Him when we hunger, and just as the Israelites, He will feed us with manna from heaven.
During the forty-day fast Our Creator and Great Benefactor and Heavenly Father always provides the Divine Food, the Holy Eucharist, which we receive for "the remission of sins and Life Eternal." No believer leaves the church hungry and starved of God’s Life-giving Gifts. The Israelites who ate of the manna in the desert soon hungered again while those who receive the Precious Body and Blood of Our Savior Jesus Christ never hunger again.
"By a strange miracle the Lord of old…
O ye faithful, with joy, let us enter upon the beginning of the Fast.
Let us not be of sad countenance but let us wash our face in the
WATER OF DISPASSION; AND LET US BLESS AND EXALT CHRIST ABOVE
ABOVE ALL FOREVER. (Second Canon)
"Glory Be To GOD
– Saint John Chrysostomos
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With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia (Ministry),
The sinner and unworthy servant of God
+ Father George