Regulating the Perishable

Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyev in his book, THE SPIRITUAL WORLD OF ISAAC THE SYRIAN, comments on the vast difference St. Isaac saw in how the people of God in the Old Testament and the people of God in the New Testament approach holy things.

“The Old Testament cult required a devout and fearful attitude towards sacred objects.  Whenever the priest entered the ark, ‘he did not dare raise his eyes and examine it, for the awesome Shekhina of the Divine was in it’.  But if the type was so fearful and honourable, how much more honourable should be ‘the very archetype to whom belong all symbols and types’.  At the same time, the veneration offered to sacred objects in the Old Testament was caused by fear of punishment to which everyone who showed disrespect to them was subject.  In the New Testament, on the contrary, ‘grace without measure has been poured out, and severity has been swallowed up by gentleness, and a familiarity of speech . . . has been born . . . And familiarity of speech is in the habit of chasing away fear, thanks to the abundant kindness of God which has come upon us at this time’. (St. Isaac)”   (p 168)

St. Isaac and Archbishop Hilarion’s words are very reflective of ideas expressed by St. Paul in the New Testament in his epistle to the Colossians:

“If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the universe, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world? Why do you submit to regulations, ‘Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch’?  All these regulations refer to things that perish with use; they are simply human commands and teachings.  These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-imposed piety, humility, and severe treatment of the body, but they are of no value in checking self-indulgence.”   (Colossians 2:20-23)

Jesus who is Lord of the Sabbath is also Lord over all holy things.  In Him and through Him we are able to touch holy things – the hem of His garment, as well as the consuming fire which is His incarnated Body and Blood.  Those who are baptized into Christ are made by Christ able to touch the holy things.

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