Friday, April 17, 2009

Passing Over with Christ

The typological connection between Christ and Moses is absolutely central to any understanding of the liturgical celebration of Holy Week and Pascha: passages from Exodus are read throughout Holy Week, including two central passages (on the Passover and Exodus and the passing through the Red Sea) at Holy Saturday Vespers, which in turn is a sort of catechetical crash course in the Old Testament. Recall also that Holy Saturday was the day on which Baptisms were traditionally performed, of which the crossing of the Red Sea is a traditional antetype. (That may also explain why there are so many "lessons" on Holy Saturday.) The very word "Pascha," of course, in the interpretation of the Fathers, means "Passover" (death and sin have "passed over" us). Here is a passage from a catechesis of St John Chrystostom (Cat. 3, 24-27) in which he offers a succint summary of the parallels between Christ and Moses:
The Israelites witnessed marvels; you also will witness marvels, greater and more splendid than those which accompanied them on their departure from Egypt. You did not see Pharaoh drowned with his armies, but you have seen the devil with his weapons overcome by the waters of baptism. The Israelites passed through the sea; you have passed from death to life. They were delivered from the Egyptians; you have been delivered from the powers of darkness. The Israelites were freed from slavery to a pagan people; you have been freed from the much greater slavery to sin.

Do you need another argument to show that the gifts you have received are greater than theirs? The Israelites could not look on the face of Moses in glory, though he was their fellow servant and kinsman. But you have seen the face of Christ in his glory. Paul cried out: We see the glory of the Lord with faces unveiled.

In those days Christ was present to the Israelites as he followed them, but he is present to us in a much deeper sense. The Lord was with them because of the favor he showed to Moses; now he is with us not simply because of your obedience. After Egypt they dwelt in desert places; after your departure you will dwell in heaven. Their great leader and commander was Moses; we have a new Moses, God himself, as our leader and commander.

What distinguished the first Moses? Moses, Scripture tells us, was more gentle than all who dwelt upon the earth. We can rightly say the same of the new Moses, for there was with him the very Spirit of gentleness, united to him in his inmost being. In those days Moses raised his hands to heaven and brought down manna, the bread of angels; the new Moses raises his hands to heaven and gives us the food of eternal life. Moses struck the rock and brought forth streams of water; Christ touches his table, strikes the spiritual rock of the new covenant and draws forth the living water of the Spirit. This rock is like a fountain in the midst of Christ’s table. so that on all sides the flocks may draw near to this living spring and refresh themselves in the waters of salvation.

Since this fountain, this source of life, this table surrounds us with untold blessings and fills us with the gifts of the Spirit, let us approach it with sincerity of heart and purity of conscience to receive grace and mercy in our time of need. Grace and mercy be yours from the only-begotten Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; through him and with him be glory, honor and power to the Father and the life-giving Spirit, now and always and for ever. Amen.
Another classic example (which I've quoted once before) comes from St Augustine in Contra Faustum (12:29-30):
Of the departure of Israel from Egypt, let us hear what the apostle himself says: "I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and did all eat the same spiritual meat, and did all drink of the same spiritual drink. For they drank of the spiritual rock which followed them, and that rock was Christ."

The explanation of one thing is a key to the rest. For if the rock is Christ from its stability, is not the manna Christ, the living bread which came down from heaven, which gives spiritual life to those who truly feed on it? The Israelites died because they received the figure only in its carnal sense. The apostle, by calling it spiritual food, shows its reference to Christ, as the spiritual drink is explained by the words, "That rock was Christ," which explain the whole. Then is not the cloud and the pillar Christ, who by His uprightness and strength supports our feebleness; who shines by night and not by day, that they who see not may see, and that they who see may be made blind? In the clouds and the Red Sea there is the baptism consecrated by the blood of Christ. The enemies following behind perish, as past sins are put away.

The Israelites are led through the wilderness, as those who are baptized are in the wilderness while on the way to the promised land, hoping and patiently waiting for that which they see not. In the wilderness are severe trials, lest they should in heart return to Egypt. Still Christ does not leave them the pillar does not go away. The bitter waters are sweetened by wood, as hostile people become friendly by learning to honor the cross of Christ. The twelve fountains watering the seventy palm trees are a figure of apostolic grace watering the nations. As seven is multiplied by ten, so the Decalogue is fulfilled in the sevenfold operation of the Spirit. The enemy attempting to stop them in their way is overcome by Moses stretching out his hands in the figure of the cross. The deadly bites of serpents are healed by the brazen serpent, which was lifted up that they might look at it. The Lord Himself gives the explanation of this: "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whosoever believeth in Him may not perish, but have everlasting life.''

So in many other things we may find a protest against the obstinacy of unbelieving hearts. In the passover a lamb is killed, representing Christ, of whom it is said in the Gospel, "Behold the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sin of the world!" In the passover the bones of the lamb were not to be broken; and on the cross the bones of the Lord were not broken. The evangelist, in reference to this, quotes the words, "A bone of Him shall not be broken." The posts were marked with blood to keep away destruction, as people are marked on their foreheads with the sign of the Lord's passion for their salvation. The law was given on the fiftieth day after the passover; so the Holy Spirit came on the fiftieth day after the passion of the Lord. The law is said to have been written with the finger of God; and the Lord says of the Holy Spirit, "With the finger of God I cast out devils."

Such are the Scriptures in which Faustus, after shutting his eyes, declares that he can see no prediction of Christ. But we need not wonder that he should have eyes to read and yet no heart to understand, since, instead of knocking in devout faith at the door of the heavenly secret, he dares to act in profane hostility. So let it be, for so it ought to be. Let the gate of salvation be shut to the proud. The meek, to whom God teaches His ways, will find all these things in the Scriptures, and those things which he does not see he will believe from what he sees.
Examples, of course, could be multiplied endlessly. Another classic example is Melito of Sardis' On the Passover (Peri Pascha), which may well have been delivered as a homily on Holy Saturday.

Bearing all this in mind will help us – if we are found worthy to meet the Lord's Resurrection – to sing the Paschal canon with understanding, beginning with these words:
The day of Resurrection, let us be radiant, O peoples! Pascha, the Lord’s Pascha; for Christ God has brought us over from death to life, and from earth to heaven, as we sing the triumphal song.
May the Lord indeed deem us worthy!

Illustration: An illustration depicitng the crossing of the Red Sea from a Psalter, fourteenth or fifteenth century, Great Lavra, Mount Athos.

2 comments:

aaronandbrighid said...

On this topic, you might take a look at my post on the 2nd lecture I attended by Fr Justin from Sinai. If nothing else, there's a great icon there!

Death Bredon said...

Catch the meaning, but I would have said that, in the Old Testament, the divide of death passed over Israel; but in the New Covenant, in Christ, the New Jerusalem passovers the divide of death (and therefore sin).

Great Blog!