When Babbling Towered Over All 


These are the families of the sons of Noah, according to their genealogies, in their nations; and from these the nations spread abroad on the earth after the flood. (Genesis 10:32)

[Genesis 10 seems to imply that after the flood the descendants of Noah on their own migrated all over the earth and this separation of humanity led to the natural rise of other languages (see 10:5, 20, 31).  However, Genesis11:1-9 tells a different story (the tower of Babel) in which all the humans were living together and it is God who imposes the multitude of languages on humans as a punishment and then scatters the people across the globe.  The Bible never reconciles these two versions of the development of languages.  The two very different versions gives support to the Source Theory of the Bible in which it is thought that different people at different times wrote irreconcilable narratives that found their way into the bible, and the unknown editors of the bible simply placed the versions side by side with no comment.  It suggests that some of these narratives were not meant to be read as factual, historical accounts but rather offered different spiritual insights which were never intended to be harmonized.]


Now the whole earth had one language and few words. And as men migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.” 

And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the sons of men had built. And the LORD said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; and nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down, and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.” So the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth; and from there the LORD scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth. (Genesis 11:1-9)


Biblical scholar N.T. Wright comments on the Babel story by first having God comment:

“Oh, so you’ve built a tower, have you? Whatever will you think of next?” That’s the tone of voice we find in Genesis 11, when God comments, sardonically, on the pathetic little efforts of human beings to make themselves big and important. The story has gone from bad to worse: from rebellion in the Garden of Eden (chapter 3) to the first murder (chapter 4) to widespread violence (chapter 6), and now to the crazy idea of building a tower—what we now call the Tower of Babel—with its top reaching right up to heaven (chapter 11). Those who were supposed to be reflecting God’s image into the world—that is human beings—are instead looking into mirrors of their own; and they both like and are frightened by what they see. Arrogant and insecure, they have become self-important. God scatters them across the face of the earth, confusing their languages so that they can no longer pursue their grandiose projects.


The story of the Tower of Babel is an account of a world given to injustice, spurious types of spirituality (trying to stretch up to heaven by our own efforts), failed relationships, and the creation of buildings whose urban ugliness speaks of human pride rather than the nurturing of beauty. It all sounds worryingly familiar. (SIMPLY CHRISTIAN, p 73)


[In the Orthodox Church, Babel is a sign of the divisions in humanity, all that which separates us into opposing groups. The opposite and undoing of Babel is Pentecost in which a healing takes place between humans reuniting all into one family. In my opinion, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is related to the Old Testament’s Babel. Since Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill defends and supports the war and the killing of people, including Orthodox Christians (over whom he claims to be patriarch, so he is blessing the murder of his own family members), one has to think that his spirituality and that of the Russian Orthodox patriarchate belongs more  to Babel than to Pentecost.  His support of Putin’s war is a rejection of Pentecost and an embrace of the divisions of Babel. It is a spirituality that rejects Orthodoxy itself and should be condemned by Orthodox bishops around the world. After much delay, the Synod of the Orthodox Church in America finally spoke out against the war and the evil aggression of Russia because of the death and suffering it is inflicting on so many people.  You can read the Synod’s Statement on Ukraine.  To stand with Christ is to stand with the refugees and all those made homeless by the war, as well as all those injured and those who have lost loved ones. To stand with Christ is to see Russia’s war against Ukraine as evil and to reject those supporting the war, including the Patriarch Kirill. Not only is Kirill not helping the least of Christ’s brothers and sisters, he is supporting the effort to make them homeless, injured, imprisoned, and to take away their food, water and clothes.  It is ungodly and a sign of who has the spirit of the antichrist.]

Lenten Duties 


St Leo of Rome (d. 461AD) calls reconciliation between enemies and almsgiving Lenten duties. They are not optional behaviors to add to pious fasting discipline. Perhaps, they are the most important works a Christian can do to keep Great Lent.

Furthermore, as the Lord says, that the peacemakers are blessed, because they shall be called sons of God (Matthew 5.9), let all discords and enmities be laid aside, and let no one think to have a share in the Paschal feast that has neglected to restore brotherly peace. For with the Father on high, he that is not in charity with the brethren, will not be reckoned in the number of His sons.

See the source image

[I think his words are a powerful rebuke to the Russian Patriarchate Kirill and to the master he serves – Mr Putin.  I’ll repeat St Leo’s words: “… let no one think to have a share in the Paschal feast that has neglected to restore brotherly peace.”  No Pascha for those who failed to restore brotherly peace because God does not see such people as His children, including Orthodox Patriarchs and bishops. As Putin and Kirill’s war drags on, they are responsible for all the deaths that occur there and for all of the destruction and suffering.  The Orthodox love to sing, “O Lord, save your people… grant victory to the Orthodox Christians over their adversaries.”  But what is God to do when it is Orthodox slaughtering Orthodox and both sing the same hymn?]

Furthermore, in the distribution of alms and care of the poor, let our Christian fast-times be fat and abound; and let each bestow on the weak and destitute those dainties which he denies himself. Let pains be taken that all may bless God with one mouth, and let him that gives some portion of substance understand that he is a minister of the Divine mercy; for God has placed the cause of the poor in the hand of the liberal man; that the sins which are washed away either by the waters of baptism, or the tears of repentance, may be also blotted out by almsgiving; for the Scripture says, As water extinguishes fire, so alms extinguishes sin (Sirach 3.30).  (Homily 49, On Great Lent, 11)


In Lent, we are to give the ‘dainties’ we so love to the poor and needy.  It isn’t enough to just refrain from eating our favorite foods or gourmet meals.  We are to give these expensive foods to those in need, to provide them with the joys and blessings we receive from such meals and treats.  lf all we do in Lent is deny ourselves certain meats, dairy products, eggs and the like, but don’t give them to those in need, then we are in fact denying Christ’s brothers and sisters these foods.  Lent isn’t about denying the foods to others, but denying our selves in order to feed those in need who could never pay us back or return the favor.  Lent isn’t the time to make the grocery budget go down, but rather to divert our favorite foods to those in need.

Lips, Tongue and Mouth 


The wicked is ensnared by the transgression of his lips, but the righteous will come through trouble. A man will be satisfied with good by the fruit of his mouth, and the recompense of a man’s hands will be rendered to him.  . . .  There is one who speaks like the piercings of a sword, but the tongue of the wise promotes health. The truthful lip shall be established forever, but a lying tongue is but for a moment. Deceit is in the heart of those who devise evil, but counselors of peace have joy. No grave trouble will overtake the righteous, but the wicked shall be filled with evil. Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who deal truthfully are His delight. (Proverbs 12:13-14, 18-22; emphases added) 


The Lenten season has many calls to the faithful to control their tongues, lips, mouths. “If any one thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this man’s religion is vain” (James 1:26; emphasis added). St James reminds us that the tongue is an untamable thing that causes much destruction (James 3:5-12). Cursing, lying, gossip, outbursts of anger, belittling others, foul language, dirty jokes, deception, boasting, drawing attention to the self, condemning and judging others, threats, spreading false ideas, attacking and blaming others – all are among the things we do with our mouths, lips and tongues, and these days also with and through our cell phones, tablets and computers. Here are a few thoughts on sins committed through speech (but also through the printed word or through the internet): 

Abba Macarius the Great used to say to the brothers at Skete when he was dismissing the congregation: ‘Flee, brothers!’  One of the elders said to him: ‘Where can we flee to that is more remote than the desert?’ and he placed his finger on his mouth, saying: ‘Flee from this,’ and he went into his own cell, shut the door, and stayed there.   (GIVE ME A WORD, p 184a) 


Even in the remoteness of the desert, there are social sins to flee from. Macarius is warning his brethren that even in the desert, in a monastery, people can sin with what they say. He may also have in mind what they think. It was an important spiritual battle to gain control over one’s thoughts. 

“There is a person who seems to keep silent, while his heart is passing judgment on others: such a person is speaking all the time. There is another person who is speaking from dawn to dusk yet maintains silence: I mean, he says, nothing that is not beneficial.”  (PoemenGIVE ME A WORD, p 232) 

Abba Poemen said: ‘Teach your mouth to say what is in your heart.’   (GIVE ME A WORD, p 254) 


Even when one manages not to vocalize the evil that is in one’s heart, it still can gain mastery over the individual. Poemen recognizes there are some who have important and insightful things to say – they build up others through their words and so do not sin by speaking frequently. Others may appear to keep silent but by constantly in their hearts judging, criticizing, condemning and accusing others, they are guilty of great sin. A goal of the spiritual life is to bring a uniform peace to one’s heart, mind, soul and mouth. Christ taught: “The good man out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil man out of his evil treasure produces evil; for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks(Luke 6:45). The Lord also said, “What comes out of a man is what defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a man(Mark 7:20-23). This is why Christ places such emphases on what is going on in the heart. Lent is supposed to be more about controlling the heart than the stomach.  


So we pray daily during Great Lent: 

Set a guard over my mouth, O LORD, keep watch over the door of my lips! Incline not my heart to any evil, to busy myself with wicked deeds in company with men who work iniquity; and let me not eat of their dainties! (Psalms 141: 3-4; emphasese added) 


Remember that neither in biblical or patristic times did the printing press exist. That invention enabled us to spread our thoughts and ideas more than the ancients could ever imagine. The internet has enabled us to do it at the speed of light, and to broadcast it throughout the world instantaneously. More reason than ever for us to pause and think before we speak or hit send. If we are to fulfill the will of Christ, we have to think beyond the literal—mouth, lips, tongue, hands—and understand Christ is speaking about all our communications because they do reflect what is in our heart.  Computers and cell phones are just an extension of our mouth, lips and tongue.

Being Fruitful, Eating Fruit 


Then the Lord said in His heart, “I will never again curse the ground for man’s sake, although the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; nor will I again destroy every living thing as I have done. While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, and day and night shall not cease.” So God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth. And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be on every beast of the earth, on every bird of the air, on all that move on the earth, and on all the fish of the sea. They are given into your hand. Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. I have given you all things, even as the green herbs. (Genesis 8:21-9: 3) 

I find this text interesting. On the one hand, God acknowledges that “the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth” and on the other hand, God decides He will never again destroy every living thing as He did in the flood. [This also makes me wonder about those claims – which don’t occur in the Bible until much later in time—that God at the end of time will destroy the earth in a fiery conflagration or will consign things to an eternal burning hell, since here God says He will not do such a thing. Of course, God only says He won’t destroy all life again, He doesn’t say He won’t let humans do it].


God’s conclusion after drowning all living things and attempting to start again with creation is that humans with free will are always going to both imagine evil ideas and do evil actions. This apparently is the price paid for having free willed beings in creation –they can choose and only can be free willed if there are real choices between good and evil. God accepts this part of humanity and commands the humans to “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.” Humans indeed will do this as the 8 billion humans on the planet shows us. But humans also are multiplying and filling the earth with all manners of sin and wickedness. There apparently can’t be one without the other and God accepts this reality. It will be up to humans to decide to curtail or control their own wicked impulses. 


God tells us to be fruitful and multiply and says from now on all other creatures in the world will fear us.  And, no doubt, it is with good reason that animals fear the humans – they too know the wickedness humans can do towards them; additionally, the animals have become food for the humans – we are their predators. After the flood there is no return to paradise or even to the world of Adam and Eve before the flood in which humans and animals were to cohabit with each other.  It is indeed a new world, but not necessarily a better one. For humans will want not only to have dominion over other animals, they will want to dominate each other as well. 

Even though humans have not proven themselves good stewards of God’s blessings, God seems to add to human responsibility by putting all other creatures into our hands. The story reminds us that the eating of meat is not an eternal value but belongs only to the fallen world after the Flood. Fasting periods remind humans about this. Food does not have an eternal value. As St Paul notes: Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do (1 Corinthians 8:8). Our relationship to God is not completely defined by what we eat or don’t eat. Fasting reminds us that we do belong to ‘another world’ (a spiritual one in which we don’t eat other animals) and that we share in a spiritual existence which means we are not coterminous with our bodily life.  As the Lord Jesus Christ teaches us: For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing (Luke 12:23). ‘We are what we eat’ is only partially true, for we humans are far more than what we eat for we have a spiritual nature. Fasting is supposed to remind us that eating and food also belong to the spiritual nature of humans and the spiritual nature must be nourished as well. This is why cooking and eating should involve prayer just as much as fasting does. 


The further removed in history humans are from Paradise, the more foods they are permitted to eat, but all of these foods cannot bring us back to Paradise, nor make us any closer to our God. God gave us food as part of our relationship to Him, now we struggle to make food part of our relationship with God. Food is meant not only to nourish the body, but becomes part of our relationship to our Creator. When Jesus in Matthew 26:26 says, “Take, eat, this is my body”, He is telling us to totally rethink our relationship to food, eating, our bodies and God. As St Paul says, “’Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food’ —and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body(1 Corinthians 6:13). 


Medical doctor Peter Whybrow in his book., American Mania: When More Is Not Enough, offers a health warning to Americans: ‘In times of material affluence, when desire is no longer constrained by limited resources, the evidence from our contemporary American experiment suggests that we humans have trouble setting limits to our instinctual craving. … There is considerable evidence suggesting that unchecked consumption fosters our social malaise, eroding our self-constraint and pulling the cultural pendulum toward excessive indulgence and greed‘ (p 7-8). In other words, abundance does not seem to satisfy, it seems to increase the craving for more. We seem to need some external reminder that enough is enough and too much is too much.  Perhaps, fasting brings us more into a relationship with God than enjoying abundance. Although, St Paul reminds us that receiving food with thanksgiving is also properly spiritual when he speaks against those who “enjoin abstinence from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving; for then it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer” (1 Timothy 4:3-4).

Bearing Our Cross as a Witness to Christ 


And he called to him the multitude with his disciples, and said to them, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? For what can a man give in return for his life? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of man also be ashamed, when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:34-38) 


Fr John Behr, an Orthodox scholar comments: 

Let us take heed about this: what we are called to is not simply preaching in the sense of communicating some information, telling others about something that happened long ago. No, we are to become witnesses—that is, monuments, examples, martyrs—of what Christ has effected. We are to be consumed by the fire of the Spirit, so that we are incorporated into the life of God, to become the very body of Christ, so that each and every one of us becomes a partaker in Christ’s victory and his Kingdom, so that we also have the Spirit of God in our hearts, calling upon the heavenly God as Father, Abba.


As we come to realize where our true home lies—that we are not children of this world, but that our true home, our true happiness and our very life itself is found only with God in his Kingdom—as we come to realize this, we will also certainly, even if paradoxically, become ever more dissatisfied with ourselves, our bondage to sin, to our passions, to our desires, to all the innumerable ways in which our ego binds us to this world, to the vicious cycles that lead to death and destruction.


If we don’t perceive this dissatisfaction, we will never be prompted to leave such things behind, to ascend with Christ from earth to heaven, where he has gone to prepare a place for us. And, of course, the only means for this ascent is to follow Christ by ourselves taking up the Cross, something which we are now able to do by the power of the spirit granted to us. (THE CROSS STANDS WHILE THE WORLD TURNS, pp 99-100)

The Incarnation of God 

Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil,   and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. For indeed He does not give aid to angels, but He does give aid to the seed of Abraham.  (Hebrews 2:14-16)


In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Hail, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end.” And Mary said to the angel, “How shall this be, since I have no husband?” And the angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.  (Luke 1:26-35)


The book of Hebrews is clear that God became incarnate in Jesus Christ in order to save humanity. God did not favor angels over humans but rather it is us humans who are central to God’s plan for the universe, not the angels (see especially Hebrews 1-2).  St Gregory of Nyssa (d. 384AD) writes:

… the power of the Most High, through the Holy Spirit, overshadowed the human nature and was formed therein; that is to say, the portion of flesh was formed in the immaculate Virgin. For this reason, the Child born of her is called Son of the Most High. In truth, the divine power makes possible a certain affinity of human nature with God, while the flesh makes it possible for God to have a certain relationship with man.   (MARY AND THE FATHERS OF THE CHURCH, p 153)


God created humans to be able to bear God (be united with God) in our human bodies.  The Theotokos proves this when she becomes pregnant with the Word of God. It is our flesh which makes it possible for God to have a relationship with us.  Flesh is something angels don’t have and so they cannot share in the union with God and in communion with God as humans can.  Some Christians (including some saints) through history became enamored with angelology but the book of Hebrews is quite clear that God is concerned mostly with humans not angels and so God becomes human in the incarnation for our salvation.  The angels are not part of this and the angels cannot save us, only God incarnate as a human can.

God became human to reveal Himself to us.  The Virgin birth  reveals God’s love for humanity and how God favors humans over angels.  The Archangel Gabriel is merely God’s messenger to the Theotokos, he is not the main character in the narrative of the Annunciation, she is.  He delivers God’s message, she receives the Word of God and nourishes the Word become flesh.  He is a herald of salvation, she is directly involved in our salvation.


Consider that the virgin, by means of her body, brings to light the Word, not, of course conferring by this birth the principle of divinity (God forbid!), but so that he might make himself known to men, as God made man.  . . .  Therefore, God, the Word, made a birth proper to himself; he chose the Virgin as his Mother and came forth from a womb adorned with virginity.   (Theodotus of Ancyra (d. Ca 446AD), MARY AND THE FATHERS OF THE CHURCH, p 262)

[As sometimes happens in the lives of the saints through history, there is confusion about who Theodotus is as there are at least 2 saints who carry the same name but appear to have lived about 100 years apart. Luigi Gambero the author of MARY AND THE FATHERS OF THE CHURCH claims these words are from the 2nd Theodotus who died in the 5th Century.]

Annunciation (2022) 


Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian; and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. And the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush; and he looked, and lo, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. And Moses said, “I will turn aside and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt.” When the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here am I.” Then he said, “Do not come near; put off your shoes from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” And he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God. (Exodus 3:1-8)


The biblical narrative of Moses encountering God in the burning bush on Mt Sinai is read in the Orthodox Church as a prophecy and prefiguring of the Archangel Gabriel’s Annunciation to the Theotokos.  Just as the bush was not destroyed by the divine fire, so too Mary as the vessel of the Lord was not destroyed when God, the divine fire,  entered into her womb. Orthodox scholar Georges Barrois points out two distinctly different ways in which the scriptural lesson of the burning bush was used or interpreted by two church fathers:

The episode of the Burning Bush in Exodus 3:1-14 …The mysterious theophany at the foot of Mount Sinai is unusually rich in doctrinal aspects and heavy of consequences. The voice which Moses heard was the voice of God speaking the Word, ‘and the word was made flesh‘ (John 1: 14). St Clement of Alexandria, commenting on the Bush that burned and was not consumed, had before his eyes the vision of Christ, derided by soldiers and crowned with thorns. St Gregory of Nyssa saw in the Burning Bush a figure of the Theotokos in her virginal motherhood, and found by derivation the basis for his mystical theology.   (JESUS CHRIST AND THE TEMPLE, p 27)


St Gregory’s use of the burning bush as a figure of the Theotokos became a common way to read this biblical text in Orthodoxy. But we also see in Barrois’ quote that the fathers did not agree on absolutely everything in terms of interpreting scripture. St Clement, as Barrois notes, connected the burning bush with the crown of thorns placed on Christ’s head before His execution. Both were following a method of biblical interpretation which treats every word in the text as important and sometimes connects unrelated texts because a same word appears in both. In this case, Clement connects the thorns in the bramble bush with the thorns in Christ’s crown and so thinks the two narratives are related.


Clement writes:

When the almighty Lord of the universe began to legislate through the Word and decided to make his power visible to Moses, He sent Moses a divine vision with the appearance of light in the burning bush. Now, a bramble-bush is full of thorns. So, too, when the Word was concluding His legislation and his stay among men as their Lord, again He permitted Himself to be crowned with thorns as a mystic symbol; returning to the place from which He had descended, the Word renewed that by which He had first come, appearing first in the bush of thorns, and later being surrounded with thorns that He might show that all was the work of the same one power. He is one and His Father is one, the eternal beginning and end.  (CHRIST THE EDUCATOR, p 158)

The fathers are creative in their interpretations of scripture, but they don’t always agree as to the meaning of importance of a text. It tells us that some disagreement in biblical interpretation is well within the accepted limits of Orthodoxy.  Clement doesn’t see the fire and light in the burning bush as the key interpretive factor, rather it is the thorns that are the key to understanding the importance of the burning bush.  It is the thorns which connect the divine voice coming from the burning bush with Christ, showing it is the same God in both narratives.


Below a poetic meditation from a modern writer on the Theotokos and the burning bush – poet Scott Cairns is obviously influenced by the interpretation that St Gregory taught.

Deep within the clay, and O my people

very deep within the wholly earthen

compound of our kind arrives of one clear,

star-illumined evening a spark igniting

once again the tinder of our lately

banked noetic fire. She burns but she

is not consumed. The dew light gently,

suffusing the pure fleece. The wall comes down.

And—do you feel the pulse?—we all become

the kindled kindred of a king whose birth

thereafter bears to all a bright nativity.



[A final thought on the burning bush: It is given various interpretations by different church fathers through history.  Our Lord Jesus Christ also mentions the burning bush: “But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living; for all live to him.” (Luke 20:37).  Christ sees the lesson of Moses and the burning bush to be a lesson about the resurrection and life in the world to come.  Once again, He doesn’t look to the Scriptures to teach about the past, but to be a revelation of the future eschaton.  It is a hidden prophecy of the resurrection, so it is in fact about Him.]

Prefeast of the Annunciation 


Jacob left Beersheba, and went toward Haran. And he came to a certain place, and stayed there that night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep. And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! And behold, the LORD stood above it and said, “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, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and by you and your descendants shall all the families of the earth bless themselves. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done that of which I have spoken to you.”  Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the LORD is in this place; and I did not know it.” And he was afraid, and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”  (Genesis 28:10-17)


The above scripture reading is read on the Eve of Feast of the Annunciation.  It is one of the Old Testament readings which gives us a sense that heaven and earth are actually united together, though the points of interfacing seem rare and thus miraculous. God, however, from the beginning intended for all of heaven and earth to be one reality—it is ony sin which has separated them.


The Genesis reading above is pre-figuring the incarnation of God in Christ which establishes a permanent, eternal, union between Creator and creation, heaven and earth, the divine and the human. The ladder is the ‘symbol’ that brings them all together. This union is God’s plan from all eternity.  Earth was never meant to be separated from heaven but was to be the very place where we experience God in our daily life. At the Annunciation, God enters creation again re-establishing His union with all He created.  Paradise which turned out to be a temporary meeting place for God and humans, is superseded by the Theotokos in whom the permanent reunion of God and creation is re-established.  Jacob’s ladder prefigures and symbolizes a connection between heaven and earth while the Theotokos is the reality in whom this union occurs because God becomes incarnate in her. The human was created by God to be the interface or mediator between the Creator and all the rest of God’s creation.  When Eve and Adam chose to disobey God, humanity lost its mediating role.  The relationship between God and creation remained fractured until the time of the incarnation.


Metropolitan Kallistos Ware comments:

Being microcosm, man is also mediator. It is his God-given task to reconcile and harmonize the noetic and the material realms, to bring them to unity, to spiritualize the material, and to render manifest all the latent capacities of the created order. As the Jewish Hassidim expressed it, man is called ‘to advance from rung to rung until, through him, everything is united’. As microcosm, then, man is the one in whom the world is summed up; as mediator, he is the one through whom the world is offered back to God.


Man is able to exercise this mediating role only because his human nature is essentially and fundamentally a unity. If he were just a soul dwelling temporarily in a body, as many of the Greek and Indian philosophers have imagined—if his body were no part of his true self, but only a piece of clothing which he will eventually lay aside, or a prison from which he is seeking to escape—then man could not properly act as mediator. Man spiritualizes the creation first of all by spiritualizing his own body and offering it to God. ‘Do you not realize that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit that is in you?’ writes St Paul. ‘… Glorify God with your body… I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God’ (1 Corinthians 6:19-20; Romans 12:1). But in ‘spiritualizing’ the body, man does not thereby dematerialize it: on the contrary, it is the human vocation to manifest the spiritual in and through the material. Christians are in the sense the only true materialists. (THE ORTHODOX WAY, pp 63-64)


In the Feast of the Annunciation we give thanks to God for the material or empirical world which is created by God for our salvation. We are not trying to escape the empirical world or our physical bodies, rather we are endeavoring to transfigure them by being united to God.  A belief in the incarnation and resurrection means we Christians are materialists.

Forgiveness Requires that We Forgive


“Take heed to yourselves; if your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him; and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” (Luke 17:3-4)

There is no forgiveness for us without our willingness to forgive.  So St Leo of Rome (d. 461AD) reminds us: 

But because, as it is written, in many things we all stumble (James 3.2), let the feeling of mercy be first aroused and the faults of others against us be forgotten; that we may not violate by any love of revenge that most holy compact, to which we bind ourselves in the Lord’s prayer, and when we say forgive us our debts as we also forgive our debtors, let us not be hard in forgiving, because we must be possessed either with the desire for revenge, or with the leniency of gentleness, and for man, who is ever exposed to the dangers of temptations, it is more to be desired that his own faults should not need punishment than that he should get the faults of others punished.


And what is more suitable to the Christian faith than that not only in the Church, but also in all men’s homes, there should be forgiveness of sins? Let threats be laid aside; let bonds be loosed, for he who will not loose them will bind himself with them much more disastrously. For whatsoever one man resolves upon against another, he decrees against himself by his own terms. Whereas blessed are the merciful, for God shall have mercy on them: and He is just and kind in His judgments, allowing some to be in the power of others to this end, that under fair government may be preserved both the profitableness of discipline and the kindliness of clemency, and that no one should dare to refuse that pardon to another’s shortcomings, which he wishes to receive for his own.  (Homily 49, On Great Lent, 11)


 From the parable of the prodigal son and the forgiving father: “Now his elder son was in the field; and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what this meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has received him safe and sound.’ But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Lo, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command; yet you never gave me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your living with harlots, you killed for him the fatted calf!’ And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to make merry and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’” (Luke 15:25-32) 

Fervent Prayers

O Lord Almighty! O God of our fathers! We pray you. Hear us and have mercy. 


Again we pray: for growth in faith and hope and love,

in spiritual understanding and maturity,

in mutual trust and cooperation,

in personal honesty and humility,

in self-knowledge and understanding of others,

in courage and fortitude,

in patience and perseverance,

and in the willingness to do all things in a manner that is pleasing to you.

We pray you. Hear us and have mercy!


Again we pray: for deliverance from self-centeredness and self-deception,

from self-righteousness and self-pity,

from haughtiness and arrogance,

from insensitivity and callousness,

from selfishness and covetousness,

from jealousy and envy,

from disloyalty and unfaithfulness,

from indifference and apathy,

from overindulgence and

from every form of unreasonable and unchristian behavior.

We pray you. Hear us and have mercy!


Hear us, O God our Saviour,

the hope of the very ends of the earth

and of those who live beyond the seas.

Be good to us, O compassionate Lord.

Take pity on our sinfulness and have mercy on us.

For you are a merciful and loving God

and we give you glory, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit:

now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

(From Fr Paul Harrilchak’s Confession)


All the above prayers are appropriate Lenten prayers.  We also need to pray that God will bring peace to Ukraine and help and save all those who are being harmed by the Russian war.  Pray that Patriarch Kirill will be brought to his senses and will repent of his horrible failure as a Christian, so that he will not just be another blood-thirsty nationalist leader, but that he might bring the entire Russian Church to repentance for what it has supported and done to the people of Ukraine.