Sunday, December 20, 2009

Faithfulness in God Points to Christ

by John Vernoski
Webmaster of

(NLM Guest Article)

Shawn Tribe’s commentary a few weeks back (see here) spoke about the Byzantine Calendar and our celebration of the memory of Old Testament Prophets Nahum, Habbakuk and Zephaniah (December 1, 2 and 3). It reminded me that in these latter weeks of our forty day Nativity Fast the Church places before us a number of the prophets. On December 9th – the same day Byzantines celebrate the Conception of Mary, the Mother of God by Saints Joachim and Anna, we also find on the calendar the Holy Prophetess Hannah. Hannah was childless and prayed daily that if she could conceive a child she would dedicate that child to the Lord’s service. Her prayers – together with a blessing from the Priest Heli – obtained the Lord’s favor and she conceived a child: the future Prophet Samuel (Samuel means “Asked from God” – see 1 Kings/1 Samuel 2: 1-21 for the whole story).

And there are others – Haggai on December 16th encouraged the building of the Second Temple of Jerusalem and proclaimed that in the end times the Messiah would appear and preach there (He did!). On December 17th and the two Sundays before Christmas we celebrate the Prophet Daniel and the Three Holy Youths: Hannaniah, Azariah and Mishael (known in the Latin Church as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed'nego). I love those stories. Daniel in the lion’s den prefigures Christ in the tomb. He was not devoured by the lions (death) but rather he shepherded them (the good shepherd) and rose from the tomb alive. And the Three Youths in the Flaming Furnace where one like the ‘son of man’ appeared and walked with them in the midst of the flames. They, too, rose from the flames (death) alive. What faith in God! They trusted the Lord in everything: “O Nebuchadnez'zar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace; and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image which you have set up." (Daniel 3:16-18 RSV-CE2) No matter what God did he was still their God and they would follow him and trust in Him. No compromises!

O Thrice-blessed Youths you did not worship the image made by man but, armed with the invisible power of God, were glorified by a trial of fire. From the midst of the unbearable flames you called upon God: “Hasten, O Compassionate One! Hurry to help us for You are merciful, and are able to accomplish all that You will!”

-- Kontakion of the Three Youths, sung on both Sundays before Christmas

We continue to remember the prophets and their message. On the Second Sunday before Christmas we celebrate the Holy Forefathers (everyone of the old dispensation from Adam to the Baptist), and on the Sunday before Christmas the Holy Fathers (the progenitors - from the reading of the genealogy of the first chapter of the Gospel of Matthew). They foretold the coming of the Christ:

Lift up your voice, O Zion, holy city of God!
Proclaim the divine memory of the Fathers.
With Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob
Honor one whose memory is eternal
for, behold, with Judah and Levi we magnify Moses the Great,
and with him the wonder-working Aaron.
With David we celebrate the memory of Joshua and Samuel,
calling all men with divine songs and praise
to the pre-festive celebration of Christ’s Nativity.
We pray that we may receive His goodness,
for it is He who grants great mercy to the world.

-- From Vespers on the Sunday before Christmas

The testimony of the Holy Fathers continues. On the Sunday before Christmas we read from the Letter to the Hebrews:

And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets -- who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, received promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and scourging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, ill-treated -- of whom the world was not worthy -- wandering over deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And all these, though well attested by their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had foreseen something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.

-- Hebrews 11:32-40, RSV-CE2

The Church continues with “the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham” giving us a listing of those generations from Abraham to David, to the Bablyonian captivity to the birth of Christ (Matthew 1:1-25). Among other things it affirms the promise to Abraham – which is the coming of the Christ (Galatians 3:16).

What a testimony of faithfulness in God! They endured incredible sufferings. And yet their faith was steadfast in the God Who is true God, revealed to us through the Son of God, Christ Jesus, born in a cave in Bethlehem. The author of the Letter to the Hebrews says that the world was not worthy of them. Can the same be said of us and of our witness of Christ?

Skip, O hills and mountains!
Dance, O prophets who spoke of God!
Clap your hands, O peoples and nations!
The salvation and enlightenment of all men draws near.
He comes to be born in city of Bethlehem.

-- From the Matins of the Sunday of the Fathers, the Sunday before Christmas

John Vernoski is a Byzantine Catholic layman and the webmaster of

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