Friday, March 24, 2017

Why the Old Testament?

I was asked why the Church is reading from the Old Testament during Great Lent so today’s Daily Lenten Journey will be a quick Bible study lesson. First we should know the Orthodox Church does not ignore the Old Testament as some may think. While it is true that during the “regular” year we read daily from the New Testament, it is not true that the Church ignores the Old Testament. Using what the Church calls the Lectionary, the entire New Testament is read each year with the exception of Revelation. Originally this was also the case with the Old Testament. This practice has fallen out of use centuries ago and we are not quite sure as to the complete structure of the Old Testament Lectionary, but the Old Testament is in fact read quite a bit in the Church. In today’s usage the Old Testament is used primarily through the Psalm which have been called the hymnal of the Church. The Psalms are used as glue throughout the worship and prayers of the Church. In addition to the Psalms, the Church turns to the Old Testament at certain major Feasts such as Christmas and Theophany.

During Great Lent however there is a noticeable shift in the daily readings. Rather than a Gospel and Epistle reading during the week, the Church instead turns to Isaiah, Genesis, and Proverbs. There are two things to consider about the increased presence of the Old Testament during Great Lent. First is the Old Testament prepares our heart for the coming of Christ. Since Great Lent itself is a preparation for the coming of Christ in Holy Week and Pascha, it would seem quite appropriate that the readings would support such a journey. I pray this has been noticeable in our Daily Lenten Journey as I have been attempting to connect the readings to our specific preparation for Pascha.

The second reason we find Old Testament readings is a bit more eclectic. If we embrace the traditional nature of the Church, we can appreciate that the “more holy” a season or day might be, the more the Church would turn to her older traditions. In this context we could consider every time we find the Old Testament readings on the Church calendar we can presume that particular day or season is consider an older tradition which the Church desires us to pay closer attention. So....Great Lent is a more spiritually intense and holy season. Therefore the Church returns to an older practice of reading from the Old Testament.

Here are today’s Old Testament Readings:
Isaiah 29:13-23 (RSV) -  And the Lord said: "Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment of men learned by rote; therefore, behold, I will again do marvelous things with this people, wonderful and marvelous; and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hid."  Woe to those who hide deep from the LORD their counsel, whose deeds are in the dark, and who say, "Who sees us? Who knows us?"  You turn things upside down! Shall the potter be regarded as the clay; that the thing made should say of its maker, "He did not make me"; or the thing formed say of him who formed it, "He has no understanding"?  Is it not yet a very little while until Lebanon shall be turned into a fruitful field, and the fruitful field shall be regarded as a forest?  In that day the deaf shall hear the words of a book, and out of their gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind shall see.  The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the LORD, and the poor among men shall exult in the Holy One of Israel.  For the ruthless shall come to nought and the scoffer cease, and all who watch to do evil shall be cut off, who by a word make a man out to be an offender, and lay a snare for him who reproves in the gate, and with an empty plea turn aside him who is in the right.  Therefore thus says the LORD, who redeemed Abraham, concerning the house of Jacob: "Jacob shall no more be ashamed, no more shall his face grow pale.  For when he sees his children, the work of my hands, in his midst, they will sanctify my name; they will sanctify the Holy One of Jacob, and will stand in awe of the God of Israel.

Genesis 12:1-7 (RSV) -  Now the LORD said to Abram, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you.  And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and him who curses you I will curse; and by you all the families of the earth shall bless themselves."  So Abram went, as the LORD had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.  And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother's son, and all their possessions which they had gathered, and the persons that they had gotten in Haran; and they set forth to go to the land of Canaan. When they had come to the land of Canaan, Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land.  Then the LORD appeared to Abram, and said, "To your descendants I will give this land." So he built there an altar to the LORD, who had appeared to him.

Proverbs 14:15-26 (RSV) - The simple believes everything, but the prudent looks where he is going.  A wise man is cautious and turns away from evil, but a fool throws off restraint and is careless.  A man of quick temper acts foolishly, but a man of discretion is patient.  The simple acquire folly, but the prudent are crowned with knowledge.  The evil bow down before the good, the wicked at the gates of the righteous.  The poor is disliked even by his neighbor, but the rich has many friends.  He who despises his neighbor is a sinner, but happy is he who is kind to the poor.  Do they not err that devise evil? Those who devise good meet loyalty and faithfulness.  In all toil there is profit, but mere talk tends only to want.  The crown of the wise is their wisdom, but folly is the garland of fools.  A truthful witness saves lives, but one who utters lies is a betrayer.  In the fear of the LORD one has strong confidence, and his children will have a refuge.

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