Pastoral Letter September 15, 2019

What made him (Abraham) the father of a multitude of nations? Is it not his faith in promises which were incomprehensible at the time? He was holding down his only heir, ready to sacrifice him, and miraculously, still did not doubt that numerous progeny would be born of him! Would not he appear to be mad to those who look at reality through reason? But the final outcome of these events effected through the grace of God, showed that faith is not madness, but rather a knowledge surpassing all reason.

St. Gregory Palamas, Archbishop of Thessaloniki on The Book of Genesis

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

The Patriarch Abraham and his wife Sarah were gifted with a son in their old age. God promised that he would enjoy a multitude of descendants from his miraculously born son. We can only imagine the joy and pride they felt at this time. God had tested Abraham’s trust and fidelity before. And He would do it again, as we read in Genesis 22:1-14, but this time, He would involve Abraham and Sarah’s son, Isaac.

God said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering upon one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.”

So we’re perfectly clear: God is commanding Abraham to kill his beloved son and offer him as a sacrifice. And just like in his previous trials, Abraham does not hesitate. He does not question. He does not doubt God’s wisdom or purpose. He just does what is required of him. He prepared for his journey; saddling his beast, chopping wood for the sacrificial fire, collecting two servants and his son, and he sets out on his three-day journey to the place where God appointed these events to happen.

When they arrive, he commands the servants to wait with the donkey, he loads the wood upon Isaac’s back, takes the knife and then proceeds to the place. Curious, Isaac notices that his father has built an altar and started a fire, but has no lamb to offer as a sacrifice. When he asks about the noticeably-missing object, Abraham assures him that God will not neglect in providing a sacrificial lamb.

Abraham then binds up his willing son, lays him across the altar, and lifts his knife above Isaac’s throat. But before he strikes, an angel of the Lord commands him “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, seeing that you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.”

Immediately, Abraham sees a young ram with his horns caught in the bushes and offers it as a sacrifice in the place of his son.

I think this story is familiar to us. I also believe that the story of Abraham and Isaac is especially relevant to our spiritual well-being at this time, as this Saturday, September 14th, we will celebrate the Universal Exultation of our Lord’s Precious and Life-Giving Cross. You may not have realized it, but the account of Isaac’s near sacrifice, is the first time in Scripture, that the Cross of Christ is revealed.

Just as the Lord carried the wood of the Cross to Golgotha, Isaac carried the wood of his sacrifice upon his back. Isaac was obedient to the will of his father. He did not run or depart from him. He, as well as Abraham, accepted what God asked of them and were willing to carry out any task, even unto the loss of life, in order to act upon His divine will.

We’ve never known if the knife trembled in Abraham’s hand. Abraham does not understand why this sacrifice is demanded of him. Nevertheless, he obeys in an absolute gesture of faith. Just as Christ accepted the will of His Father, and allowed Himself to be placed on the Cross for the salvation of humankind.

On Saturday, we will contemplate the Wood of the Cross. We will celebrate life-everlasting which flows from the Cross, and we will lament the violence and heinousness of this callous devise.

The salvation of Isaac prefigures the Passion and Resurrection of Christ and all humankind. Abraham offered his son, and God provided a ram in his place. God gave His Son, so that we may not parish and die an eternity’s death.

Join us, Saturday, September 14th for the Orthros at 8:00 am and the Divine Liturgy at 9:00 am for the Feast of the Cross. Give thanks to God that as He revealed the Cross in the Old Testament. His plan all along, was to redeem us from the curse that we placed upon ourselves. Jesus paid the price for our sins upon the Cross. We tenderly love our Lord for the sacrifice of His Son. 

With Love in Christ,

Fr. Anthony