Approaching the Nativity of Christ, when the incarnation of the Son of God happened, the Holy Church commemorates the holy forefathers and fathers. Today, the patriarchs, prophets, righteous men and women of the Old Testament, who made up the links of a long chain, starting from our common forefather Adam and concluding with the Mother of God, from whom our Savior, Jesus Christ, was born, are festively remembered.
Today, the patriarchs, prophets, righteous men and women of the Old Testament, who became the links of the long chain, starting from our common forefather Adam and concluding with the Mother of God, from whom our Savior, Jesus Christ, was born, are festively remembered.
The sacred history of the human race, expounded in the Bible, tells us that man was removed from communion with God, expelled from Paradise for his intemperance and disobedience. Then no less sad events followed: human blood was shed for the first time – Cain killed his brother Abel out of envy.
Being out of communion with God, people began to multiply crimes more and more, they began to sink deeper into the abyss of sin, which contradicted the plan of the Creator. And God punished the human race. Here are the lines from the Bible: The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth… And the Lord was sorry that he had made man on the earth… So the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the ground… But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord (Gen. 6:5-8). Why did the Lord grant grace and salvation to Noah? Righteous Noah, at a time when depravity and concern only for bodily needs and pleasures reigned around, lived piously, fulfilled all the commandments of God, tried to turn his family and contemporaries to the path of truth. Noah’s God-pleasing life allowed him to live nine hundred and fifty years and have offspring, from which the promised Saviour would come.
The sacred history tells us that after the fall and condemnation of our forefather Adam, God made a promise that the Savior would come, who, having been born of a wife, would bruise the head of the serpent, that is, triumph over the devil and save the human race from his power. God does not say: I will bruise the head of the serpent, but says: this will happen from the Wife – it means that in the battle with the enemy of the salvation of the human race, in the matter of gaining Paradise by man, not only God will work, but also man by his personal effort.
In order to visibly reveal His plan of “economy”, that is, of the salvation of the human race, God chooses a man named Abraham and addresses him with an appeal and a promise to conclude an alliance with him, called the “Old Testament.” In this Covenant God promises Abraham numerous posterity and prosperity, and from him He requires faith and obedience. Abraham believes God, entering into an alliance with Him. The Lord tests the firmness of the faith of Abraham in a very stern way. He commands Abraham to sacrifice his young son Isaac, the only successor of his kin, who was born to the elderly parents according to God’s promise. The Lord says to Abraham: Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love … and offer him … as a burnt offering (Gen. 22:2). Abraham, out of obedience to God and in the hope that God is able to revive the deceased son, expresses his readiness to fulfill the terrible command and without hesitation elevates his son to the altar. When Abraham raises the knife to slaughter his son, the angel of the Lord stops his hand. It should be noted that Isaac, like his father, also showed humility and obedience here. He obeys the will of his father and resignedly allows to be tied up, although he sees that his father wants to kill him. This seventeen-year-old youth, who was strong, could throw off the bonds imposed on him by very old man Abraham, who was more than a hundred years old at that time. But Isaac is obedient to his father and to God’s decree.
For such a feat of selfless faith, God rewards Abraham with offspring, on whom God’s blessing rested. Abraham pleased the Lord, answered His Divine call and, having submitted, did the opposite of Adam’s act, and thus entered into communion with God. The first man broke his union with God, while Abraham restored that union, for which he was honoured with true greatness, becoming the father of all believers. Through Abraham, God establishes a covenant with all people, at the same time leaving them their freedom of will. Freedom as a Divine gift is possessed by all believers in God, but a person, participating in this union, must necessarily observe the main condition – obedience to the Creator, for which God gives people His blessing, support and help.
There is also a covenant between us and God being made in holy Baptism, when we promise Christ to follow his commandments. The story of Abraham is very instructive for us, it helps us to understand that our personal faith, our covenant with the Creator, can also be tested by difficulties, troubles, and sorrows. And our task in this union is, fulfilling the promise to God, not to grumble at Him in trials, but to carry our faith on in complete obedience to His will, to be able to understand that God is doing everything for our salvation!
After the death of Abraham, the Creator wanted to continue the union with man. The tribe of Abraham was chosen to keep that covenant, that is, faith in the true God and obedience to Him. God helps man to keep the faith, but people must also show firmness and courage in this covenant. Through the worship of the one and only true God, the chosen people of Israel prepared for the coming of the Messiah-Saviour, believing that by His coming into the world He would bruise the head of the serpent. Isaac’s son Jacob was meek and pleasing to God. Once he saw a dream of a staircase, on which angels descended and ascended to heaven, and the Lord addressed him: «I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your descendants; and your descendants shall be like the dust of the earth… I am with you and will keep you wherever you go» (Gen. 28:13-15). Waking up, Jacob made a promise to God: «the Lord shall be my God… and of all that thou givest me I will give the tenth to thee» (Gen. 28:21-22).
The holy forefathers chose good in their lives and lived in purity and faithfulness to the covenant of God with their forefather Abraham. Life of Joseph, one of the twelve sons of Jacob, can be called a very significant example of virtuous life. His brothers sold him into slavery out of envy, and Joseph found himself in Egypt. As a slave to an Egyptian nobleman, Joseph was put to the test. The nobleman’s wife, seduced by the beauty of Joseph, tried to persuade him to enter into a vicious carnal relationship with her, but Joseph kept his chastity. The enraged seductress achieved the imprisonment of Joseph in prison, from where he was released by the king of Egypt himself, who then exalted him. When Joseph met his brothers, he had a full opportunity to punish them for the harm done to him, but Joseph forgave his brothers everything and thereby won their hatred by humility and love. Innocent sufferer Joseph, through whom the salvation of the chosen people of Israel was accomplished, is sung in Christian hymns as a prototype of the Savior, Who through reproach, humiliation and betrayal from His brothers brought deliverance to the world.
The story of Joseph is instructive also by the fact that in our life there are examples of conflicts with relatives and friends or people of other faiths, and enmity on political and ethnic grounds. The Old Testament forefathers teach us to overcome by humility and love enmity and division in the world, in society, in the family, as forefather Joseph the Beautiful managed to do with God’s help.
The people of Abraham were chosen to keep faith in the true God and obedience to Him. God helps man to keep the faith, but people must also show firmness and courage in this covenant. Among the holy forefathers, I would like to draw your attention to the names of the prophet Daniel and three youths: Hananiah, Azariah and Mishael. We know about the prophet Daniel that he was thrown to be torn apart by wild beasts for praying to the true God despite the king’s prohibition. He found it impossible not to pray, even if it cost him his life. Let us think about this example: does it not happen that we refuse prayer out of laziness or lack of faith?
The three youths were thrown into a red-hot furnace because they refused to worship an idol, that is, to abandon the true God. The furnace into which the youths were thrown was terribly hot, so that it burned those who approached it. The king-tormentor decided to see how the youths were suffering, and saw four persons walking freely in the furnace, not being scorched by fire and singing praises to God. In the furnace, together with the youths was the Son of God – Christ (Dan. 3:92). In response to the faithfulness of these youths, the Saviour descended to them, as He later descended to us, to the earth, being born as a man, cooling down the sinful fire of passions, saving from destruction and glorifying all who manifest faith, greatness of spirit and loyalty to Him. The example of the holy fathers calls us to endure trials for faith as courageously as the prophet Daniel and the three youths, to love God and be faithful to Him to the end and obedient to Him in everything. Then God will be with us and lead us into His glory and eternal joy.
In a long line of people who are remembered in today’s Gospel reading, there are those in whose life there were mistakes and failures, but they had one thing in common – God occupied the first place in their life, they fought in the name of God not against others, but against themselves, against the sin and evil of their soul, so that God may win and triumph in it. In this struggle, from generation to generation, from century to century, they prepared the coming of the Saviour into the world – of thd One who laid the foundation for the overcoming of the division that existed between God and man since the fall of Adam.
The Old Testament prepared people to accept the Savior through cultivating of faith and obedience to God’s leadership in the chosen people. The faith and steadfastness of forefather Moses was great. Apostle Paul says: By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to share ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin … By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king (Heb. 11:24-25, 27).
By the protection of God, the sons of Israel were led out of the Egyptian captivity by Moses. During the long exodus to the promised land, the people of Israel were repeatedly convinced that for fulfilling the will of God and preserving the faith they would receive blessing, help and salvation from the Lord. The most important event in the life of Moses was his meeting with God on Mount Horeb. God gave Moses the stone tablets. On them the commandments were inscribed, according to which God ordered the God-chosen people to live and thus remain faithful to the Creator and the covenant with Him.
The subsequent story of the Old Testament again and again tells us that God saves people when they live according to His law, and forgives their sins if they sincerely repent of them. An example of God’s forgiveness of a person as a result of deep hearty repentance is the life story of Prophet King David. The king of the people of Israel, David, was an outstanding person. He rallied his people and founded the capital of his kingdom – the city of Ierosalim. David was distinguished by meekness and gentleness. His name became a common term for meekness: asking to save us from spite and enmity, we repeat: «Remember, O Lord , David and all his meekness» (Ps.132:1, as translated from the Septuagint). He was the creator of prayers and chants, which are called psalms and are collected in the Psalter.
David was a good king, but as a man he sometimes fell into temptations and sins. Falling in love with the beautiful wife of a military leader, he sent her husband to certain death; having learned about that, prophet Nathan denounced David’s crime. The fruit of the king’s sincere repentance was the penitential Psalm 51, which begins with the words: «Have mercy on me, O God, according to thy steadfast love; according to thy abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.» And now, in home prayer and in every church service, reciting the words of the penitential Psalm «Have mercy on me, O God», we must wholeheartedly repent of our sins before the Lord.
The true chiefs and spiritual leaders of the chosen people were the prophets, through whom God instructed the people of Israel and proclaimed His will to them. The prophets were the personification of truth, the voice of conscience, the predictors of the future, the guardians of faith and spirit. The best known Old Testament prophets are Samuel, Nathan, Elijah, Elisha, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel. They turned the people of Israel, who at times fell into idolatry and wickedness, to God.
The sequence of Old Testament prophets is completed by the glorious prophet and Forerunner, Baptist John, who called the people to repentance and then to baptism by the coming Messiah – our Lord Jesus Christ.
In the human genealogy of Christ chronologically the closest to Him are the names of the godfathers. Great patience, humility and trust in the good will of God were shown by the godfathers Joachim and Anne. Not having children until the old age and enduring reproach and humiliation from people for that, they did not anger God by complaining and unbelief. As a reward for their patience, the Lord gave them a child. The joy of the elderly parents was great, but the fidelity to the promise they made to God prompted them to give their child to Him. So three years later they brought the only consolation in their old age, the baby María, into the temple. This is the example of faithfulness to the word and to the promise to God, no matter how difficult it may be to fulfill. God values faithfulness and rewards for it with His bounties.
The row of forefathers and fathers is completed by the betrothed of Virgin María – the righteous elder Joseph. Faith and obedience to the will of God allowed him to witness the coming of the Saviour into this world. Then, at the behest of an angel, Joseph saves the Divine Infant from the hand of the child-killer – King Herod. But before that, Joseph is exposed to temptation due to his unbelief that the fruit of the womb of his betrothed María is from the Holy Spirit, and «not of the will of the flesh» (John 1:13). These doubts of Joseph are reflected in the icon of the Nativity of Christ, where he is depicted in difficult thoughts about the faithfulness and purity of María. A certain old man stands in front of him, leaning on a curved (sometimes depicted as a broken) staff. This old man with a staff symbolizes the demonic temptation, which Joseph, with God’s help, defeated by prayer and firm faith in the words about the purity and holiness of Virgin María proclaimed to him by an angel.
Before the Nativity of Christ, the Holy Church touchingly and thoughtfully recalls the holy fathers and forefathers, who for thousands of years lived only with the hope for the appearance of the Messiah-Christ. And we, brethren, have the great happiness of living after the appearance of the Saviour in the world. So let us imitate the holy forefathers, living according to the commandments of God, and not according to the whims of our passions. Apostle Paul calls on all Christians to be affirmed by the example of the lives of the saints, as he also called on the Jewish people to show the firmness of their faith: «Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us» (Heb. 12:1). Let us live worthy of the example of life, prayer and faith of the forefathers, so that at the end of the path of salvation we will be rewarded with heavenly bliss in the bosom of the forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Christ, having incarnated and manifested Himself to the world, became not only our Saviour, but also our Brother in humanity, as it is said: «He is not ashamed to call them brethren» (Heb. 2:11). In the Nativity the Son of God entered into kinship with human beings, this is evidenced by the initial words of the Gospel: «The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham» (Matt. 1: 1). The Son of God became the Son of man, like us in all, except for sin. When we commit sins, we alienate ourselves from God, but He again and again calls us to restore unity with Him, directing us to repentance, and accepts those who sincerely repent and reform back into the spiritual communion with Him. Out of His immeasurable love the Savior renews the alliance with repentant sinners, proclaiming with meekness and humility: «Take, eat; this is my body… Drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood of the new covenant» (Matt. 26:26, 28).
Every Christian is called to holiness, to which he must go all his life, repenting of sins and overcoming the weaknesses of the flesh. The holy forefathers and fathers walked along this path through struggle, defeats and victories and found light, truth and salvation. The holy forefathers lived with the hope of the coming of the Saviour into the world. And so He came to us, and all those who fulfill His commandments are united with Him by the grace of the Holy Spirit and the communion of His Body and Blood. Uniting with Christ, we become close and dear to Him, become sons of the Living God. And having united with the Lord, we no longer live for ourselves, but for God and for our neighbour, that is, for friends and even for enemies, for all people are called to salvation by the love of the great and wondrous God, who came into the world for us in the form of a humble Child. «Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, and good will toward men!» (Luke 2:14) Amen.