One of the joys of the feasts we celebrate in the Orthodox Church is the reading of the Old Testament. We rarely read the Old Testament in the Divine Liturgy and so these feasts are so necessary for us. The New Testament cannot be understood apart or stand alone from The Old Testament. The Scriptures, which Jesus and the apostles used in the proclamation of the Good News were the Old Testament.
The Old Testament depicts man as he really is. Man, made in the image and likeness of God, is in a tragic situation. Most stories whisk us away from our reality. But, the Old Testament rudely reminds us that we are now prey to sin and death. Death confronts us everywhere in the Old Testament. But, the Cross of Christ is also everywhere present. It is seen as we look back through the lens of the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Saint John of San Francisco said, “In many events in the Old Testament was the power of the Cross indicated. Moses, who held his arms raised in the form of a cross during the battle, gave victory to the Israelites over the Amalekites. He also, dividing the Red Sea by a blow of his rod and by a transverse blow uniting the waters again, saved Israel from Pharaoh, who drowned in the water, while Israel crossed over on the dry bottom (Exodus 14 & 17). Through the laying on of his hands in the form of a cross on his grandsons, Jacob gave a blessing to his descendants, foretelling at the same time their future until the coming of the “expectation of the nations” (Gen. 48).”
This feast day’s Old Testament readings are read during the service of Great Vespers. These Old Testament readings show that the shadow of the cross was cast over the history of God’s people long before the incarnation.
1st reading from Exodus 15:22-16:1 Moses led Israel onward from the Red Sea, and they went into the wilderness of Shur; they went three days in the wilderness and found no water. When they came to Marah, they could not drink the water of Marah because it was bitter; therefore it was named Marah. And the people murmured against Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?” And he cried to the Lord; and the Lord showed him a tree, and he threw it into the water, and the water became sweet. There the Lord made for them a statute and an ordinance and there He proved them, saying, “If you will diligently hearken to the voice of the Lord thy God, and do that which is right in His eyes, and give heed to His commandments and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases upon ye which I put upon the Egyptians; for I am the Lord, thy healer.”
Bitter waters – the Lord showed Moses to take a tree and put into the bitterness and turn it sweet. It is our belief that the cross plunged into any bitterness that has a place in our hearts can make it sweet. This plunging is not easy and takes a reflection and meditation on how we are acting and reacting today. The cross is the only weapon that can push out the foothold that Evil has made and claim that place for Our Sweetest Lord Jesus.
2nd reading from Proverbs 3:11-18 My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline or be weary of His reproof, for the Lord reproves him whom He loves, as a father the son in whom he delights. Blessed is the man who finds wisdom, and the man who gets understanding, for the gain from it is better than gain from silver and its profit better than gold. She is more precious than jewels, and nothing ye desire can compare with her. Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor. Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her; those who hold her fast are called blessed.
“My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline or be weary of His reproof…” These words shed light vividly on Jesus as he bears the cross for the sins of the world. St. John of San Francisco said, “By the Cross, the Son of God having become man, accomplished our salvation. He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the Cross (Phil. 2:8). Having stretched out His hands upon the Cross, the Savior with them, as it were, embraced the world, and by His blood shed on it, like a king with red ink, He signed the forgiveness of the human race. The Cross of the Lord was the instrument by which He saved the world after the fall into sin. Through the Cross, He descended with His soul into hell so as to raise up from it the souls who were awaiting Him. By the Cross, Christ opened the doors of paradise which had been closed after our first ancestors had been banished from it. The Cross was sanctified by the Body of Christ which was nailed to it when He gave Himself over to torments and death for the salvation of the world, and it itself was then filled with life-giving power. By the Cross the prince of this world was cast out (John 12:31). The weapon by which he was crushed became the sign of Christ’s victory.”
3rd reading from Isaiah 60:11-16 Thus saith the Lord: Thy gates shall be open continually; day and night they shall not be shut; that men may bring thee the wealth of the nations, with their kings led in procession. For the nation and kingdom that will not serve thee shall perish; those nations shall be utterly laid waste. The glory of Lebanon shall come to thee, the cypress, the plane, and the pine, to beautify the place of My sanctuary; and I will make the place of My feet glorious. The sons of those who oppressed thee shall come bending low to thee; and all who despised thee shall bow down at thy feet; they shall call thee the City of the Lord, the Zion of the Holy One of Israel. Whereas thou hast been forsaken and hated, with no one passing through, I will make thee majestic forever, a joy from age to age. Thou shalt suck the milk of nations, thou shalt be nursed by kings; and thou shalt know that I, the Lord, am thy Savior and Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob.
The wood of the cross of Jesus can change our hearts into the temple of the Holy Spirit. The whole human race, by the death of Christ on the Cross, received deliverance from the authority of the devil, and everyone who makes use of this saving weapon is inaccessible to the demons. For “The Cross is the preserver of the whole universe, the Cross is the beauty of the Church, the Cross is the might of kings, the Cross is the confirmation of the faithful, the Cross is the glory of angels and the scourge of demons.” (Monday Matins).