Ministers of What is Real
By Fr. Dimitri Grekoff
"Blow, blow, thou winter wind,
Thou art not so unkind
As man's ingratitude"
So sings Lord Amiens in Shakespeare's, As You Like It. And
while winter's winds have yet to harass most of otherwise sunny
California, examples of man's ingratitude are nowhere lacking. As
winter draws near, the final liturgical season of the year, the
Sanctification of the Church (or Hallowing of the Church, as it has
historically been known), begins this Sunday. A short four week
season, its readings highlight the corporate work of God's people in
both offering worship to Him and in forming an interdependent body
to care for their spiritual and physical needs.
Moses is told to build a Tabernacle
In our liturgical readings ( please see the November Calendar), this
interdependent body first takes form among the Israelites. Our
readings from Exodus tell us how Moses and the people God chose and
brought out of Egypt completed the "Dwelling Place" or Tabernacle,
in the wilderness. The Tabernacle was a movable "tent" filled with
special objects; the Ark, the Lamp, and the Table of the Bread of
Presence were kept in it. Wherever it was, there God was. There God
was to be encountered. There God was to be worshiped.
The Tabernacle was where the people were to gather around the
presence of God. His presence was made evident by a pillar of smoke
during the day and a pillar of fire, giving light, at night. When
God becomes present in a visible way to man it is called a "theophany."
There are many theophanies in the Old Testament. This is one of
them. "For the cloud of the LORD was on the Tabernacle by day, and
fire was in the cloud by night, before the eyes of all the house of
Israel at each stage of their journey." (Ex 40:38, 1st Week)
Regarding the cloud and the light form the fire, the Catechism
reminds us "These two images occur
together in the manifestations of the Holy Spirit. In the
theophanies of the Old Testament, the cloud, now obscure, now
luminous, reveals the living and saving God, while veiling the
transcendence of his glory. (Paragraph 697)
So here we find God, the Deity Supreme, choosing one humble group of
humanity, the Israelite slaves, to craft holy objects at his
direction and make a holy space to encounter God in worship. By
worship we mean the very many forms of offerings God required, as
well as the daily and weekly duties to him and in care of his
Tabernacle. That the LORD, creator of heaven and earth, chose to
dwell in some way among his people is in itself a wonder. That he
instructed them through Moses to build and furnish a dwelling place
for himself was a matter of establishing and maintaining a
relationship with him. God told Moses, "They shall make me a
Sanctuary, and I will dwell among them. You must make the Tabernacle
and all its furnishings following the plan that I am showing you."
(Exodus 25:8-9) In Weeks 2, 3 and 4 of this season, St Paul alludes
to this several times.
The Tabernacle and the Church
What this has to do with the Church is everything. St Paul shows us
from Hebrews how the building and furnishings of the Tabernacle was
a sign of something yet to come, a heavenly reality that will be
made manifest in the Church. He interprets the Exodus story in both
the literal sense and in a spiritual one. St Paul calls these a
"sketch" or "shadow" in English translation, "(they) offer worship
in a sanctuary that is a sketch and shadow of the heavenly one."
(Heb 8:5, Week 2) The term used in theology for such sign is "type"
and the thing it is a sign of, the reality, is called an
"anti-type." The anti-type is "What is Real," the type - a mere
shadow of it.
The distinction between "type" and "anti-type" is one of the
foremost ways the interpreters of the Church of the East heritage
understand Scripture. It is called "Typology." The Catechism has
this to say about it; "The Church, as
early as apostolic times, and then constantly in her Tradition, has
illuminated the unity of the divine plan in the two Testaments
through typology, which discerns in God's works of the Old Covenant
prefigurations of what he accomplished in the fullness of time in
the person of his incarnate Son." (Paragraph 128)
Speaking of ways of interpreting the Scriptures, the Catechism says
"Thanks to the unity of God's plan, not only the text of Scripture
but also the realities and events about which it speaks can be
1. The allegorical sense. We can acquire a more profound
understanding of events by recognizing their significance in Christ;
thus the crossing of the Red Sea is a sign or type of Christ's
victory and also of Christian Baptism.
2. The moral sense. The events reported in Scripture ought to lead
us to act justly. As St. Paul says, they were written "for our
3. The anagogical sense (Greek: anagoge, "leading"). We can view
realities and events in terms of their eternal significance, leading
us toward our true homeland: thus the Church on earth is a sign of
the heavenly Jerusalem."
Ah! Now we can see that the Tabernacle plan was a sign of the
heavenly dwelling of God. We shouldn't think that he somehow needed
comfortable and familiar settings for his visitation on Earth - that
is not appropriate. Instead, we should find that in the multitude of
his graces, he permitted humanity to have some understanding, a
glimpse, a foretaste, of the heavenly realm he dwells in and calls
us to. The seed of the concept of the Church is planted.
The Eucharist Prefigured
Tradition teaches that Moses saw a heavenly vision of how the
Tabernacle and its furnishings were to be during his forty day stay
on Mount Sinai. The Bread of the Presence has always been
interpreted as a sign of the Eucharist by the Church Fathers. It was
only to be consumed after being before the LORD for a week and only
by the priests, however David once compelled a priest to give him
some. In a similar manner, the prophet Isaiah was shown a vision of
heaven. In our reading from Isaiah 6 this week, Isaiah sees the LORD
sitting on a throne in the heavenly Temple, the anti-type of Moses'
Tabernacle. At one point an angelic being called a seraph flies over
to Isaiah with a burning, or "live" coal taken from "the Altar." He
dares not touch it, but brings it to Isaiah with "tongs." This coal
he touches to Isaiah lips, thus purifying him and preparing him for
his mission of prophesying.
This is a particularly important Scripture in our Church - so much
so that we read it three times a year! Why is it so important?
Again, the coal is a type, a sign, of the Eucharist. By it, debts
are pardon and sins are forgiven because it is the body of Christ.
Our sister Churches the Byzantines, the Coptic and the Jacobite
Syrian all share this same rich understanding, yet it is in our
Church that it is most emphasized. Here are examples from our
"The live coal which the prophet saw the angel held with tongs, and
now priests within the Sanctuary bear it upon their hands."
Anthem of the Mysteries for the Feast of
"To you, O my Lord, all flesh shall come, for you grant pardon for
the debts of all. May the bodies which sin has defiled be cleansed
with your hyssop. Come, O mortals, bearers of burdens, lay aside the
burden of your debts. Receive from the Altar the live coal which
absolved the Prophet, and be pardoned.
Anthem of the Chancel, Tuesday of the
Rogation of the Ninevites
"The nations longed to receive in faith the gift of the Mysteries
which are set before us: the Body which is broken for our salvation,
and the Blood of the Covenant which is shed for us. This is the
life-giving coal which touched the prophet, who was absolved of his
debts and sins by it."
Anthem of the Bema, Feast of Hosannas
"With purity of conscience and with clean thoughts let us approach
the live coal which was given in mercies for pardon and for a pledge
of new life."
Anthem of the Bema, Fifth Sunday of the
"Come, let us all draw near to the Body and Blood of Christ in fear
and trembling, and in love let us receive him and sing praise. For
the same was shown to Isaiah the Prophet mystically. A spiritual one
gave him a live coal and his debts were pardoned."
Anthem of the Bema, Third Sunday of the Apostles
So this Sunday as we receive live coal, the pardon of our debts, the
gift of immortality from the Altar, let us be mindful that the
Father prepared this remedy for our faults and portrayed his plan of
salvation long before the coming of the Son because of his love for
you and for me. And in gratitude, let us receive it.
In the three weeks to follow, we will look at the the priesthood,
the "Ministers of What is Real."
Father Dimitri Grekoff
St Barnabas the Apostle Parish