Thursday, February 23, 2006

Hebrews 5 - Melchizedek

In our study last night we discussed Christ as the perfect High Priest according to the order of Melchizedek, and we also discussed the Christian ministerial priesthood. Here are some notes from the Brown University OCF on the subject.

Who is MELCHIZEDEK and what is his connection with Christ?

We first find Mechizedek in the Old Testament:

Genesis 14:18 Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was the priest of God Most High.

This, of course, was after Abraham had conquered several kings in battle. He gave a tithe to Melchizedek and broke bread with him.

Psalms 110:4 The LORD has sworn And will not relent, "You are a priest forever According to the order of Melchizedek."

This is considered Messianic, referring to Christ.

Hebrews 5:6 As He also says in another place: "You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek";

This is the reference to the above.

Hebrews 5:10 called by God as High Priest "according to the order of Melchizedek,"

From the Orthodox Study Bible Notes:

5:1-4 To qualify as priest one must (1) be taken from among men--be fully
human, (2) be appointed for men specifically for liturgical service, (3) offer
sacrifices, (4) have compassion, and (5) be called by God. In the Aaronic
priesthood a priest identified himself with humanity and had sympathy for his
fellow men because he sinned as other men sinned, and the sacrifices were
vicarious offerings of animals.

5:5-11 Christ assumes and fulfills the priesthood of the OT (see 5:1-4): Like Melchizedek He is both priest and king, He does not sin, and his sacrifice is the human sacrifice of Himself. This perfect priesthood is present in His Church. 5:7 Most likely a reference to our Lord's agonizing prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane (see Matt. 26:36-46; Mark 14:32-42;Luke 22:39-46). Jesus cries, and tears show the absolute reality of the Incarnation. Christ experiences all human emotions. Nevertheless, in the agony of injustice and in physical pain He submits to the will of the Father.

MELCHIZEDEK (v. 1) means "King of Righteousness." He is also KING OF SALEM (another name for Jerusalem), that is, of peace (shalom). In King Melchizedek, then, God's holiness and forgiving grace are reconciled. By contrast, Levi is only a priest, not a king, and he does not reconcile God's Law with His mercy. Melchizedek, however, is priest as well as king. He serves under the Lord God of Israel (Gen 14:22; Ps. 18:13) and serves over Abraham and all of Abraham's children (7:4-10). He serves according to an eternal covenant (v. 3). In his services of worship, the tithe is given to him (vv. 2, 6, 9) and he in turn offers bread and wine to the worshippers.

In Israel, THE SONS OFLEVI (v. 5) were the priestly tribe. They had no property
or inheritance but belonged wholly to God, receiving tithes from the 12 tribes for
their service in the temple. But since all Levites are sons of Abraham,
Melchizedek is superior to Levi (vv. 5-10).Who, then, is this Melchizedek, who
has no lineage, whose life (V. 8) and priesthood (V. 3) have no end, and who is
LIKE THE SON OF GOD (V. 5)? He is at least a type of Christ, if not an early
earthly appearance of Christ (see Ps. 110).7:11-28 Not only is the founder of
the New Covenant priesthood superior to that of the Old Covenant, the rules of
the New Covenant's priestly order are also superior. For a priesthood is so
intertwined with a covenant that if the priesthood is changed, so is the covenant
(vv. 11-15). The Levitical priesthood is imperfect (vv. 11, 19):(1) Its
Genealogical Requirement (vv. 11-17): It is for one family only (vv. 13, 14) and
deals with mortal and corrupthumanity (FLESHLY, vv. 16, 28): it consists of
sinful priests(V. 26).(2) The Power Given at Ordination (vv. 18, 19): In the
work that it effects, the Levitical priesthood is weak (its sacrifices needed to
be repeated, see also V. 27) and useless, incapable of perfecting (it could not
reconcile to God and could not give the inner power to obey).(3) The Ordination
Itself (vv. 20-22): It is without a direct confirmation from God.(4) Its Term of
Office (vv. 23-25): Since it deals with mortal humanity, its members are
temporary/impermanent and so it requires many members (V. 23).(5) Its Moral and
Spiritual Requirements (vv. 26-28): The Levitical priests all sin and all operate
out of this world, from the earth. They are mere creatures, mere men. In contrast,
the Melchizedek an priesthood is perfect:(a) Its Genealogical Requirement: While
Jesus Christ was necessarily a Jew of the tribe of Judah (V. 14), more
importantly He was of Melchizedek, without genealogy (V. 3)--effected by
the virgin birth--and immortal (vv. 16, 17) and sinless (V. 26): God incarnate, a
man for all men. (b) The Power Given at Ordination: The power of
Christ's priesthood is strong and effective: it perfects and draws us near to God
(V. 19).(c) The Ordination Itself: The Father Himself takes part in the Son's
ordination (V. 21).(d) Its Term of Office: Since Christ is immortal,
the Melchizedek an priesthood needs only one officeholder (vv. 24,25).(e) Its
Moral and Spiritual Requirements: Christ is sinless and in heaven. He is more
than a mere created human; He is also the Son of God.7:24

Schmemann, Eucharist: "Finally, if the 'assembly as theChurch' is the image of the body of Christ, then the image of thehead of the body is the priest. He presides over,
he heads the gathering, and his standing at their head is precisely what makes a
group of Christians the gathering of the Church in the fulnessof her gifts. If
according to his humanity the priest is only one -and perhaps the most sinful and
unworthy -- of those assembled, then by the gift of the Holy Spirit, which has
been preserved by the Church since Pentecost and handed down without interruption through the laying on of hands of the bishop, hemanifests the power of the priesthood of Christ, who consecratedhimself for us and who is the one priest of
the New Testament:'and he holds his priesthood permanently, because he
continuesforever' (Heb. 7:24).

Just as the holiness of the assembly is notthat of the people who constitute it but Christ's, so the priesthood of the priest is not his but Christ's, bestowed on theChurch because she is his body. Christ is not outside the Church,and neither his power nor his authority is delegated to anyone. He himself abides in the Church and, through the Holy Spirit, hefulfils her entire life. The priest is neither a'representative' nor a 'deputy' of Christ: in the sacrament he isChrist himself, just as the assembly is his body. Standing atthe head of the body, he manifests in himself the unity of theChurch, the oneness of the unity of all her members with himself. Thus, in this unity of the celebrant and the assembled ismanifested the divine-human unity of the Church -- in Christ andwith Christ." (Pages 24,25).

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Hebrews 1:4 - Jesus "becoming" better than the angels

"...who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they." (Heb 1:3-4)

In our discussion this evening, the question arose about the Son "becoming" better than the angels. As a further point of discussion, here are St. John Chrysostom's comments on the section:

See him, then, even here--by how many steps he led them up, and placed them near the very summit of religion, and then or ever they grow giddy, and are seized with dizziness, how he leads them again lower down, and allowing them to take breath, says, "He spake unto us by [His] Son," "whom He appointed Heir of all things." For the name of Son is so far common. For where a true [Son] it is understood of, He is above all: but however that may be, for the present he proves that He is from above. And see how he says it: "Whom He appointed," saith he, "heir of all things." The phrase, "He appointed Heir," is humble. Then he placed them on the higher step, adding, "by whom also He made the worlds." Then on a higher still, and after which there is no other, "who being the brightness of His glory, and the express image of His person." Truly he has led them to unapproachable light, to the very brightness itself.

And before they are blinded see how he gently leads them down again, saying, "and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of he Majesty." He does not simply say, "He sat down," but "after the purifying, He sat town," for he hath touched on the Incarnation, and his utterance is again lowly. Then again having said a little by the way (for he says, "on the right hand of the Majesty on high"), [he turns] again to what is lowly; "being made so much better than the angels, as He hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they." Henceforward then he treats here of that which is according to the flesh, since the phrase "being made better" doth not express His essence according to the Spirit, (for that was not "made" but "begotten,") but according to the flesh: for this was "made."

Nevertheless the discourse here is not about being called into existence. But just as John says, "He that cometh after me, is preferred before me" (John i. 15, 30), that is, higher in honor and esteem; so also here, "being made so much better than the angels"--that is, higher in esteem and better and more glorious, "by how much He hath obtained by inheritance a more excellent name than they." Seest thou that he is speaking of that which is according to the flesh? For this Name, God the Word ever had; He did not afterwards "obtain it by inheritance"; nor did He afterwards become "better than the Angels, when He had purged our sins"; but He was always "better," and better without all comparison. For this is spoken of Him according to the flesh. So truly it is our way also, when we talk of man, to speak things both high and low. Thus, when we say, "Man is nothing," "Man is earth," "Man is ashes," we call the whole by the worse part. But when we say, "Man is an immortal animal," and "Man is rational, and of kin to those on high," we call again the whole by the better part. So also, in the case of Christ, sometimes Paul discourseth from the less and sometimes from the better; wishing both to establish the economy, and also to teach about the incorruptible nature.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Epistle to the Hebrews - Introduction

This Wednesday we will begin a new study, the Epistle to the Hebrews. As usual, we will rely heavily on patristic commentaries. For those who are interested, Archbishop Dimitri of Dallas and the South has published an excellent work on the subject - The Epistle to the Hebrews: A Commentary.

In preparation, please read as much of the letter to the Hebrews as you are able, to get a feel for the general themes of the book. I'm quoting an excellent introduction by Johanna Manley, which to my knowledge is no longer available on the internet.

There has been a long-standing controversy regarding the authorship of this epistle, and the Orthodox Church tends to accept it as the work of St. Paul. Origen of Alexandria (185-254 A.D.) first suggested that this work derived from St. Paul, due to the many ideas in it related to the Epistles of St. Paul. The fact that the style of writing differs from that of his other writings, did not deter Origin, as he felt that the Epistle to the Hebrews was in the spirit and thought of St. Paul, if not in the letter. Someone writing in the purest Greek of the New Testament must have put it together. Indeed, Paul was known to have had an amanuensis for his other writings, as is clear from the endings of many of his epistles.

If we look at the history of the first century A.D. through the eyes of the Book of Acts, we see in Acts 6:1, 7 that, after Pentecost, the number of the disciples multiplied greatly. In Acts 6:8-15f, we see a Jewish council condemning St. Stephen, the first martyr, for blaspheming Moses and God and encouraging his stoning, with Saul "consenting to his death" in 8:1, and zealously encouraging the persecution of Christians in 9:1. Saul, then a Pharisee, had thoroughly studied the Jewish Scriptures under Gamaliel. In the commemoration of the first martyr, Bishop Nikolai in his Prologue writing for December 29, calls St. Stephen a kinsman of St. Paul. So Saul hears his kinsman's long and fervent speech in Acts 7, sees him martyred, and perhaps pricked in his conscience, becomes even more zealous against Christians, until he is stopped cold on the road to Damascus by Jesus Christ asking him "Why do you persecute Me? ... It is hard for you to kick against the pricks" (Acts
9:4-5). The resulting conversion and change of his name from Saul to Paul is well known. Bishop Nikolai further tells us that the stoning of St. Stephen took place "exactly one year after Pentecost."

Obviously, if the Epistle to the Hebrews derives from St. Paul, the thoughts in the Epistle to the Hebrews came after his conversion. After arriving in Damascus, we know he underwent a long period of deep thought. In Galatians 1:18, he tells us that he went to Jerusalem three years later. In Gal. 2:1, he says that he went to Jerusalem again fourteen years after that, and thereafter he went to Antioch and on his missionary journeys. To draw a further time line, St. Paul and St. Peter were both martyred in Rome, and, according to several sources, including St. John Chrysostom, they were condemned to death by the Emperor Nero. Nero reigned between 54 and 68 A.D. As a further sidelight to history, the period of the sixties in Jerusalem was distinguished by a revolt of Jewish revolutionaries against Rome, culminating in the catastrophic fall of Jerusalem under Titus, the successor to Nero, in 70 A.D. In this revolution, the Jews had sought the help of Jewish Christians in vain in their struggle against Rome, and considered them defectors. The struggles in Jerusalem were probably well known to the Jews in Rome, but in those early days it was hard to distinguish Jews from Christians. After the fall of Jerusalem, the differences hardened. The Christians increasingly renounced the strict observance of the Jewish law and emphasized Christ God as the Messiah. The Jews, in turn, established a Jewish school in Jabneh (also called Jamnia) under Rabbi Johanan ben Zakki. Here they worked to clarify what observing the law meant, and redefined their religious platform as obedience to the one God and to His Torah. These two developments, reacting against each other, led to a gradual but inevitable parting of the ways and probably much partisan pressure. St. Paul, during his lifetime, was still struggling with these questions, and in his epistles he quotes the Old Testament 89 times, 51 of these being in the Epistle to the Romans. For further details regarding this, see the Epilogue to Isaiah Through the Ages compiled by Johanna Manley.

In Romans 10:4 St. Paul sees Christ as "the end (telos) of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes", a view which is echoed by many of the Fathers of the Church. We find another echo in the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom in the Dismissal: "As the fulfilment of the Law and the Prophets, Christ our God, You have fulfilled the dispensation of the Father; fill our hearts with joy and gladness always now and forevermore. Amen." As for the loss of the temple in earthly Jerusalem, Hebrews 12:22 tells them that they have come to the "heavenly Jerusalem." St. John, in his vision near the end of the first century, says: "Then, I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem ... But I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple" (Rev. 21:2, 22). In the Epistle to the Hebrews we see Christ as the High Priest according to the order of Melchisedek and greater than the Aaronic priests. In Hebrews 3, we see Christ as infinitely greater than Moses, as opposed to the council condemning St. Stephen for "blaspheming Moses" to which Saul had subscribed at the time before his conversion.

It seems that out of this crucible comes the Epistle to the Hebrews.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

John 17 - The High Priestly Prayer

In our discussions last night, of necessity we had to hurry through the final part of the High Priestly prayer. I wanted to post St. John Chrysostom's commentary for further study and discussion.

As we said, the theme of sanctification (setting apart, being holy) through the word (or Word) of God is key. We discussed that Christ, as High Priest, is the "offerer and the offered, the receiver and the received" (Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom). Every priest prays for himself before offering a sacrifice, that he would be cleansed of any defilement. In John 17, Christ even says, "I sanctify myself." Although he was not in need of cleansing, he was showing that He was holy, being of one essence with His Father.

Ver. 17. "Sanctify them through Thy truth."

"Make them holy by the gift of the Spirit, and of right doctrines." As when He saith, "Ye are clean through the word which I spake unto you" (c. xv. 3), so now He saith the same thing, "Instruct them, teach them the truth." "And yet He saith that the Spirit doth this. How then doth He now ask it from the Father?" That thou mayest again learn their equality ofHonor. For right doctrines asserted concerning God sanctify the soul. And if He saith that they are sanctified by the word, marvel not. And to show that He speaketh of doctrines, He addeth, "Thy word is truth."

That is, "there is no falsehood in it, and all ยท that is said in it must needs come to pass"; and again, it signifieth nothing typical or bodily. As also Paul saith concerning the Church, that He hath sanctified it by the Word. For the Word of God is wont also to cleanse. (Eph. v. 26.)Moreover, the, "sanctify them," seems to me to signify something else, such as this, "Set them apart for the Word and for preaching." And this is made plain from what follows. For, He saith, Ver. 17. "As Thou hast sent Me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world."

As Paul also saith, "Having put in us the word of reconciliation." (2 Cor. v. 19.) For the same end for which Christ came, for the same did these take possession of the world. In this place again the "as" is not put to signify resemblance in the case of Himself and the Apostles; for how was it possible for men to be sent otherwise? But it was His custom to speak of the future as having come to pass.

Ver. 19. "And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also might be sanctified in the truth."

What is, "I sanctify Myself"? "I offer to Thee a sacrifice." Now all sacrifices are called "holy," and those are specially called "holy things," which are laid up for God. For whereas of old in type the sanctification was by the sheep, but now it is not in type, but by the truth itself, He therefore saith, "That they may be sanctified in Thy truth." "For I both dedicate them to Thee, and make them an offering"; this He saith, either because their Head was being made so, or because they also were sacrificed; for, "Present," it saith, "your bodies a living sacrifice, holy" (Rom. xii. 1); and, "We were counted as sheep for the slaughter." (Ps. xliv. 22.) And He maketh them; without death, a sacrifice and offering; for that He alluded to His own sacrifice, when He said, "I sanctify," is clear from what follows.

Ver. 20. "Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also who shall believe."

For since He was dying for them, and said, that "For their sakes I sanctify Myself," lest any one should think that He did this for the Apostles only, He added, "Neither pray I for these only, but for them also who believe on Me through their word." By this again He revived their souls, showing that the disciples should be many. For because He made common what they possessed peculiarly, He comforteth them by showing that they were being made the cause of the salvation of others.

Another important doctrine that we touched on was theosis, to be divinized. You can read more about theosis at the OrthodoxWiki site.

Notice that St. John Chrysostom speaks of God being "in them" and their being "welded together."

Ver. 22. "And the glory which Thou gavest Me, I have given them."

That by miracles, that by doctrines, and, that they should be of one soul; for this is glory, that they should be one, and greater even than miracles. As men admire God because there is no strife or discord in That Nature, and this is His greatest glory, "so too let these," He saith, "from this cause become glorious." "And how," saith some one, "doth He ask the Father to give this to them, when He sixth that He Himself giveth it?" Whether His discourse be concerning miracles, or unanimity, or peace, He is seen Himself to have given these things to them; whence it is clear that the petition is made for the sake of their comfort.

Ver. 23. "I in them, and Thou in Me." "How gave He the glory?" By being in them, and having the Father with Him, so as to weld them together.