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Events & Old Testaments Icons:
Christ and the Samaritan Woman
The Church has chosen the same passage of this Gospel to be read twice: on the 4th Sunday of Great Lent and the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost. This is in order to show how the same woman, who was sinful repented, then after her soul was converted, she can now live the resurrected life.
According to tradition, Christ Himself called her Photini (which means, “enlightened”) when she encountered Him at Jacob’s well (a symbol of the baptismal font) – just as all of us begin our life in Christ through Baptism. She was baptized by the Apostles, labored in the spread of the Gospel in various places, and finally received the crown of martyrdom in Rome.
A hymn was dedicated on behalf of this Gospel incident, saying: “Having come to the well in faith, the Samaritan woman beheld Thee, the water of Wisdom, whereof having drunk abundantly, she, the renowned one, inherited the Kingdom on high forever.”
In this icon, Christ asks St. Photini for a drink. She in return offers Him her jar which is all what she has (the earth can only offer what is earthly) so that He may offer her what is from above. The synaxis of Christ and the Samaritan woman detail the stages of Christian initiation. First, is purification in baptismal water, which is transformed into a gift of the Spirit. Second, is illumination through the recognition of the Messiah as the Son of God, for St. Photini recognizes Christ as the Messiah when He spoke about proper worship. Finally, there is the union with Christ – she becomes a witness to the Faith and confesses Christ before others.
Christ Washing the Apostles’ Feet
This event of Christ washing His disciples’ feet set an example of humility and love for the earliest members of the church as it is described in St. John’s Gospel (13:1-20) as well as a Prologue to Christ’s Passion. This prologue does not deal with the glory but rather the self-emptying of our Lord, Who humbled Himself to the point of performing the task of a slave.
During the Jewish ceremony of blessing the meal, the youngest member brought a bowl of water for the head of the family. Christ, however, reversing roles is He Who takes the place of the youngest family members and washes the disciples’ feet.
St. John Chrysostom says that Christ exhibits humility; not only by washing but that He waited till they all sat down before He arose. He does not merely wash their feet but does so by putting off His garments, girding Himself with a towel and filling the basin Himself. He did all these things showing that we must do such things not merely for form’s sake but with all zeal.
Therefore, Christ’s gesture is thus more than an example, more than the encouragement of a spirit of service and humility. It reminds us that no one on earth can call himself master and lord.
Feeding the Multitude
Multiplication of the Loaves and Fish
In St. Matthew’s gospel account of the multiplication of the loaves, our Lord preached to the multitude who followed after Him. Deeply touched by their fidelity, He blessed the loaves and fishes that satisfied all and caused 12 baskets to remain over.
This was not an isolated incident that occurred in history but a dynamic reality that is ever occurring until this day. At every Divine Liturgy, Christ Himself satisfies us with His Body and Blood in all places throughout the world.
St. John Chrysostom says: “Christ gave them nothing more than loaves and fishes, setting the same food before all and making it common to all. He afforded no one more than another in order to teach them temperance, charity and to be of like mind one towards another, and to account all things common.”
The disciples came to Christ, interceding on behalf of the crowd, lest they faint on the way due to lack of food – just as in the Church, the clergy supplicate on behalf of God’s people by offering their concerns on the altar. Our Lord then asks them to offer from the little they have in order that He may bless it – therefore, each believer offers to God the little they have that God may bless it in abundance.
St. John Chrysostom also explains that Christ gave thanks before multiplying the loaves and fishes in order to teach us to pray before meals.
Christ gave the bread to the disciples to distribute rather than the multitudes to help themselves in order to instruct these who were to be the teachers of the world.
Forgiving the Sinful Woman
The key to this biblical passage (Lk. 7:36-50) is the attitude of the one who judges. The judgment by the Pharisee of the sinful woman and of Christ was that of complaint and bitterness: towards the woman because she was a sinner, and our Lord because He showed compassion.
The Lord questions Simon’s judgment and shows him to be both arrogant (because he condemns the sins of a fellow human.) and foolish (because he does not understand that the deeds of the woman are signs of faith and love) by means of a parable comparing two debtors and thus suggesting to him that he too is a debtor, even if he appears to owe less than some others. Therefore, the Lord rebukes him for condemning her for doing what he himself had failed to do.
When both are forgiven, certainly the debtor who was forgiven more will love Him more. By saying these things, the Lord shuts the mouth of the arrogant man. As a result, Christ applying godly judgment full of love and mercy, two thousand years later, Simon and his fellow Pharisees are recorded and remembered sinners, and the repentant woman, having joyfully changed her life, is remembered as the one whose sins are forgiven and departed in peace.
In the woman’s voice, an early church hymn declares: “Though I have transgressed more than the harlot, O Good One, I have in no wise brought forth streams of tears for Thee; but in silence, I supplicate Thee and fall down before Thee, kissing Thine Immaculate feet with love, so that as Master that Thou art, Thou mayest grant me the forgiveness of debts, as I cry to Thee, O Savior: ‘From the mire of my deeds, do Thou deliver me’.”
Teaching in the Temple
This event took place in the midst of the Feast of Tabernacles (Jn. 7:14-29). The feast was half over by the time Jesus went into the temple and began to teach. The Jews were filled with amazement and said, “How did this man get His education when He had no teacher?” This was Christ’s answer: “My doctrine is not my own; it comes to me from Him Who sent me… The truth is, I have not come of Myself. I was sent by the One Who has the right to send, and Him you do not know. I know Him because it is from Him I came… He sent me.”
St. Cyril of Alexandria writes: “As the Word, He did not grow, for He is perfect as is the Father. Not as the Word did He become wiser, but that He unveiled His wisdom gradually. Therefore, the Divine nature revealed its own wisdom with the growth of the bodily stature.” (Treasury of the Holy Trinity)
The icon refers to His childhood experience when He was found by His parents (Lk. 2:41-49). It shows Christ standing in the center of the assembly against an architectural background which represents the temple. Two groups of elders to whom Christ speaks flank Him and are represented with expressions of astonishment. The question can be read in their faces, “How did this man get His education when He had no teacher?” (Jn. 7:15)
The Raising of Lazarus
Death obeys the command of the Lord of Life, releases Lazarus, and he too, obeys at the words of the Savior: “Lazarus come forth!” And so we have a preview of the Lord’s victory over death in His own resurrection, and we have a preview of the “resurrection on the last day,” when all that have believed and loved Him will be restored.
The raising of Lazarus preceded the glorious entry of our Lord into Jerusalem. And so, on the Church calendar, the day before the feast is known as Lazarus Saturday.
According to tradition, Lazarus was ordained bishop of Cypress by the apostles. He remained there for thirty years until his repose.
“As a man Thou didst weep over Lazarus and as God Thou didst raise him,” says an Orthodox hymn. Thus this event emphasizes the divinity and humanity of Christ. The Orthodox Church tells us that all of Christ’s actions are “theandric,” that is, both human and divine.
This vivid icon portrays the event in all its glory as told in the Gospel. The majestic figure of Christ is shown at the cave; depicted beyond the walls of Bethany are the Apostles; and at the feet of Christ are the sorrowful sisters of Lazarus, Mary and Martha. Near the cave are the people who had followed the sisters and who witnessed the miracle of restoration. The figure of Lazarus, bound with burial clothes, is depicted at the edge of the icon.
Trip on the Nile
Christ in Egypt
In his old age, Jeremiah the prophet lived in Egypt (Jer. 43:8-9). It is believed that he sojourned there for four years and prophesied to the Egyptian pagan priests that their idols would fall and all their graven images would be destroyed when a virgin mother with a child, born in a manger, would enter Egypt. In accordance to this prophecy, the Egyptians depicted a similar scene in their temples.
The Holy Family escaped Herod’s massacre by fleeing to Egypt. In fulfillment of the prophecy, the idols throughout Egypt fell down and shattered into pieces as they traveled from one city to the next. During their journey, they sailed on the Nile river.
According to oral tradition, they set out from the spot where the present Church of the Holy Virgin at Maadi lies towards Upper Egypt.
An ancient hymn remindes us:
“At the very time Christ arrived in Egypt, straightway, all of the statues fashioned by man were shaken down. For the One Who caused trembling in Herod also brought on the quaking of the idols. He was hidden in the arms of His Mother, but He acted as God. He proceeded into Egypt and an angel from on high ministered to His flight.”
Crossing of the Red Sea
Prefigurement of Baptism
After the tenth plague (the death of the firstborn), Pharoah finally let the Israelites leave Egypt. While on their way, Pharoah had a change of heart and fled to their pursuit. God set forth a pillar of light by night that guided the Israelites till they came to the Red Sea.
By God’s power, through Moses’ rod (symbol of the Cross), the Sea divided and the Israelites went safely ashore while the Pharoah (Satan) and his armies (devils) drowned therein. In their triumph over the enemy, the Israelites with Moses praised God, saying: “Let us sing to the Lord, for gloriously He is glorified; the horse and its rider He hath hurled into the sea” (Ex. 15: ).
According to St. Gregory of Nyssa, “In Pharoah’s chariot there are three drivers (the tripartite division of the soul: the rational, the appetitive, and the spirited).” Likewise according to him, “All those who pass through the mystical waters of baptism must kill in these waters the entire host of sins which make war on them.
Although water is the source of life, it can also become an instrument of devastation and death. Through Christ’s baptism, which inaugurates our own, He leads us into the Red Sea as if on dry land; the arrows from Pharoah’s (the Evil One’s) chariots cannot reach us as long as we follow after Him.
“Verily, the springs of the deep appeared dry and the foundations of the tumultuous sea were uncovered; for Thou didst rebuke the tempest with a sign, and Thou didst save Thy chosen people singing to Thee, O Lord, a triumphant song” (a hymn composed by a Hymnographer).
In this icon, Moses is leading the Israelites with his staff followed by Aaron and Miriam. They are all led by an angel of light and pillars of light also surround them as they cross the Red Sea. Pharoah and his hosts are depicted drowning in the raging sea.
David and Goliath
Prophet and King
He overcame Saul who wanted to kill him on several occasions. One of his greatest virtues was humility. God praised him by saying: “I have found David, the son of Jesse, a man after my own heart.” (Acts 13:22; Ps. 89:20; 1 Sam. 13:14)
When David found his brothers, being threatened by Goliath, he asked: “What shall be done for the man who kills this Philistine and takes away the reproach from Israel?” (1 Sam. 17:26) Eliab, his brother, became very indignant with him and scolded him for this remark. David did not argue with him because he realized that this was a time for action not words. In the same manner, the Jews belittled the Son of David, Who descended from heaven to battle Satan, and did not resist them, but instead carried His cross and trampled the might of Goliath (the devil).
As with Goliath’s own sword, David killed the enemy, likewise, with the devil’s same weapon (death), Christ conquered death. The icon portrays this exact biblical incident of (1 Sam. 17).
David lived seventy years on the earth. He wrote most of the psalms contained in book of Psalms in the Old Testament.
Elijah and Elisha
At a most critical period in the history of the Israelite people, God sent inspired leaders to call His people back to the worship of the One God. Two of these prophets were Elijah and Elisha. “Elijah” which means: “the Lord is my God” spent his entire youth in prayer, wandering often to the desert, and denouncing the unrighteous king Ahab.
He nourished the widow and her son during the famine; he also resurrected the widow’s son (who according to tradition was Jonah the prophet); he commanded that it not rain for 3 years and 1/2. He did not die but was carried away in a fiery chariot while yet alive. (2 Kings 2:11-13)
Elisha was given a double portion of the spirit of Elijah. He divided the waters of the Jordan; he raised the dead son of the Shunammite woman; he healed Naaman the Syrian of leprosy; he foretold many events both for the nation and for individuals, and went to his rest at a very old age.
Elijah was present at Christ’s transfiguration upon Mount Tabor.
The Church knows that both Enoch and Elijah will come back to the earth in the last days and preach Christ. They will be slain by the anti-Christ and lay in the street for three days, after which the Lord will come and usher in the new unwaning age.
The icon shows Elijah ascending to heaven in a fiery chariot. As he departs, he drops his mantle to his successor, Elisha.
Hospitality of Abraham
According to the Book of Genesis (18:1-5), when the Lord appeared to Abraham, he saw three men to whom he offered hospitality. In his spiritual insight, St. Paul, the Apostle, saw the reality of them being angels, saying: “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” (Heb. 13:2)
St. john Chrysostom, as well as many Church Fathers, understood the visitation of Abraham by three men to be the appearance of the Son accompanied by two angels.
Abraham likewise addresses one of the three as “Lord” sometimes conversing with them in the plural sense and at other times in the singular. St. Ambrose comments: “Abraham, beholding the Three, he worshipped One, and preserving the distinction of the Person, yet addressed One Lord, he offered to Three the honor of his gift, while acknowledging one Power. It was not learning but grace which spoke in him.” (On Belief in the Resurrection)
The icon does not depict what Abraham physically saw with his eyes but rather what St. Paul envisioned spiritually. The Angels are depicted sitting at table under the oak while Abraham is serving them and Sarah is peeking outside her tent.
A Type of the Theotokos
The book of Genesis 25-35 describes the life of Jacob, the forefather and ancestor of our Lord Jesus Christ. He was one of two sons of Isaac. Jacob usurped the firstborn status as well as the blessing from his brother. The latter’s deed caused him to flee. Essau represented the Jewish nation (the first-born knowing God) and Jacob symbolized the Church of the New Testament. Thus, Jacob received a blessing from his father, Isaac (i.e. from the Lord).
On his journey to his uncle’s house, he fell asleep on a stone where he had a vision of a ladder extending from earth to heaven.
The ladder represents the cross with which we can be elevated to heaven while unbelievers descend to hell. In this place, Jacob recognized the awesome nature of God’s house as the door to heaven, so he named it “Bethel.”
The earth represents mankind; heaven is God and the two are reunited. The angel who is sent by God descending to the Virgin Mary from heaven is the first manifestation of Jacob’s dream.
The Theotokos is called the “Ladder of Jacob” in our Church hymns, for she is the link between heaven and earth. She is the passage to heaven and the ladder perceived by Jacob.
The Burning Bush
A Symbol of the Theotokos
Moses was a great leader and lawgiver of Israel, who was born in Egypt. He spent forty years in Pharaoh’s court, forty years as a shepherd, and his last forty years leading the people through the wilderness to the Promised Land, which he saw but did not enter.
He reposed at a 120 years. He appeared with Elijah on Mt. Tabor at the Lord’s Transfiguration. His many accomplishments are recorded in his books: Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.
On the Mount of Horeb (Ex. 3), God appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. Moses saw that the bush burned without being consumed, as a type of the Virgin.
St. Gregory of Nyssa, says: “From the image of the burning bush seen by Moses, we learn the Mystery of the Virgin: the Light of Divinity, which through birth shone from her into human life, did not wither the flower of her virginity, just as the burning bush was not consumed.”
In this icon, Moses beholds the bush in awe, while his sandals lay beside him according to God’s command since the ground whereupon he is standing is Holy. In the burning bush we see an image of the Theotokos, for which the bush represents.
The Infant Moses in the Nile
His name means “one who draws forth” or is “drawn from” — that is from the water. He was of the tribe of Levi, the son of Amram and Jochabed (Numb. 26:59) and the brother of Aaron, the priest, and Miriam, the prophetess. He wrote the first five books of the Old Testament, called the Pentateuch
According to St. Gregory of Nyssa’s book “The Life of Moses”, “Moses was born at the time Pharoah issued the decree for male offspring to be distroyed… Scripture is seen to teach that the birth which distresses the tyrant is the beginning of the virtuous life… Yet in his outward grace, he anticipated the whole contribution in which he would make in time. Already appearing beautiful in swaddling clothes, he caused his parents to draw back from having such a child destroyed by death.”
“Thus, when the threat of the tyrant prevailed, he was not simply thrown into the Nile but was placed in a basket daubed along its joints with slime and pitch, and so was given to the current. Guided by some divine power, the basket moved to a certain place along the sloping bank where it was washed up naturally by the lapping of the waves… I am speaking of the life as a stream made turbulent by the successive waves of passion, which plunge what is in the stream under the water and drown it… The ark, constructed out of various boards, would be education in the different disciplines, which holds what it carries above the waves of life.”
In the icon, Miriam is seen placing the infant Moses in the bulrushes along the waters of the Nile River.
The Sacrifice of Isaac
Isaac’s walking with wood on his shoulders up to the place of sacrifice reminds us of the Lord carrying His cross to Golgotha.
As Abraham offered his son and God providing a ram in his place, likewise, He gave His own Son, the Lamb of God, to save all mankind. The salvation of Isaac mysteriously prefigures the Passion and Resurrection of our Lord and also of all mankind.
St. Ambrose states that “although Abraham offered indeed his son, God is appeased not by blood but by dutiful obedience. He showed the ram in the thicket instead of the lad, that He might restore the son to his father. Thus, Abraham saw this and recognized the Mystery, that salvation should be to us from the Tree.” (On Belief in the Resurrection)
According to tradition, the place whereupon Abraham offered his son was Golgotha.
Therefore, as Abraham loved God and offered his son to Him, “God so loved the world that He gave His Only-begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (Jn. 3:16)
In the icon, Isaac is seen willingly lying on the altar of sacrifice while Abraham, standing above him, lifts up the knife in his hand ready to offer his son. The angel of God restrains Abraham by holding his arm. On the lower corner of the icon, a ram is caught against the tree.