Christ’s Mercy without Measure

“In the sacrament of the Eucharist, Christ gave Himself, His God-man’s Body, to the world, or rather, He united the world with Himself in the communion with his God-man’s Body. He made it into Godmanhood. And it would sound almost blasphemous if He had wanted to isolate some inner, deep Christ who remained alien to this God-man’s sacrifice. Christ’s love does not know how to measure and divide, does not know how to spare itself. Neither did Christ teach the apostles to be sparing and cautious in love – and He could not have taught them that, because He included them into the Body of Christ – and thereby gave them up to be immolated for the world. Here we need only learn and draw conclusions. It might be said paradoxically that in the sense of giving Himself to the world, Christ was the most worldly of all the sons of Adam. But we already know that what is of the world does not give itself to the world.” (Mother Maria Skobtsova, Essential Writings, pgs. 78-79)

Constantinianism and the Martyrs

This is the 12th blog in this series which began with Two Versions of Constantine the Great.   The previous blog is The Myth of Constantinianism?  This blog series is considering Constantine the Great as presented in two books:  Paul Stephenson’s  CONSTANTINE: ROMAN EMPEROR, CHRISTIAN VICTOR  and Peter Leithart’s DEFENDING CONSTANTINE.

Two ways in which Constantine demonstrated the influence of Christianity on his thinking and piety are associated with animal sacrifice and the gladiatorial games of Rome.  Constantine first refused to participate in animal sacrifice and then began forbidding it in areas of the empire which were under his direct control – in the military and in civic ceremony.  As both historians Leithart and Stephenson note, animal sacrifice was a normative part of Roman civil society, and in some ways marked the very nature of religion in Rome.  Constantine’s personal choice to refuse to participate in such sacrifice and then his forbidding it in civic and military ceremonies in which he took part do reflect the growing influence of Christianity on his religious understanding.   Christians did believe that Christ’s sacrifice once and for all replaced the need for animal sacrifice in the temple in Jerusalem, and now Constantine recognized that same truth for the empire: animal sacrifice was not needed to please the great God.

Constantine also came to see the gladiatorial games as dehumanizing and not a good part of the Roman Empire.  This thinking is a radical change for the gladiatorial games were recognized as almost synonymous with Roman self understanding and self glorification.   For example in an early time, Pliny the Younger praised Emperor Trajan for his gladiatorial games as

“a spectacle that inspired the audience to noble wounds and to despise death, since even in the bodies of slaves and criminals the love of praise and desire for victory could be seen.”    (Leithart, DEFENDING CONSTANTINE, p 194)

40 Martrys of Sebaste

What happened in the Empire after Constantine’s conversion is that the games were given an entirely new understanding through Christian eyes.  The Christians, who were sometimes the murdered victims in events associated with the games, turned their deaths into witness (martyria) to the Kingdom of Jesus and His power over death.  The glories of Rome, namely the gladitorial games, were defeated by the blood of the martyrs who turned their deaths into a triumph over Roman power.   The pagan Gladiators despised death to show their bravery and love of praise, but Christianity triumphed over this worldly understanding saying the martyr’s death too despised death because Christ had triumphed over death and now they too shared in this triumph and eternal life.  The Christians embraced martyrdom that came to them in the arena and in embracing it as a means to triumph over death and even over the ultimate power of Rome, converted the entire understanding of the gladiatorial games.   Dying for glory in this world became despised, just as death had been despised, because the power of this world had been conquered by Christ, and the power of this world – namely the Roman empire and its emperor –  had also been conquered by Christ’s death and resurrection at the hands of Rome.   As the martyrs imitated Christ in accepting death and proclaiming the resurrection, so Rome’s power was exposed as having no eternal value.   Rome under Christian Constantine now gave its claim to glory to Christ Himself, the unconquerable God.   Rome had not conquered Christ through crucifying Him, rather the Crucified one had conquered the Roman empire not by slaying anyone but by giving life to all.

Martyr Tarachus (304AD)

“Martyrs endured flame and sword because in that anguish they shared in the sufferings of Christ.  But they also knew that the sufferings of Christ were not perpetual.  Jesus suffered, died, was buried and then rose again, vindicated by his Father over against all the condemnations of the world and the devil.  Martyrs went to their deaths expecting vindication, and expecting that vindication not only in heaven and at the last day but on earth and in time.  That is what Lactantius’s treatise on the death of persecutors is all about.  ‘Behold,’ he writes to one Donatus, ‘all the adversaries are destroyed, and tranquility having been re-established throughout the Roman empire, the late oppressed Church arises again, and the temple of God, overthrown by the hands of the wicked, is built with more glory than before.’  Just like Jesus.”  (Leithart, DEFENDING CONSTANTINE, pp 308-309)

Next:  Constantinople, Constantine’s Legacy

God Questions His Creation: Genesis 8:20-22 (b)

See:   Questions His Creation:  Genesis 8:20-22 (a)

Genesis 8:20 Then Noah built an altar to the LORD, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird, and offered burnt offerings on the altar. 21 And when the LORD smelled the pleasing odor, the LORD said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; neither will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done. 22 While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.” 

 “when the LORD smelled the pleasing odor….”     Though generally it is thought God was pleased by the scent of the roasting meat (as the mention of Noah in the in St. Basil’s Liturgy assumes), the story may have some ambiguity to it.  For though God decides never to destroy humans again, it is precisely when He smells the burning sacrifice that He also remembers  the human heart always inclines towards evil (8:21).  The sacrifice has somehow reminded him of this awful truth.   The fact that a rite is needed to bring about reconciliation between God and human, also reminds God of the reality of the separation caused by human sin between Himself and His human creatures.

“when the LORD smelled the pleasing odor…”    The offering is a barbeque of each clean animal, and God appreciates the smell. The story suggests that the reconciliation between humans and God is accomplished.  God is pleased once again with His human creatures. In what sense God can smell is unknown, but this is the first time in Genesis that this capacity is attributed to God.  Orthodox to this day hope to please God and invoke His favor by burning incense in worship.  Aaron was commanded to perpetually offer incense to the Lord (Exodus 30:8).  In Orthodox services the censer and incense are blessed with the words, “Incense we offer to You, O Christ our God, as an odor of spiritual fragrance.  Receive it upon Your heavenly altar, and send down upon us in return the grace of Your all-holy Spirit.”    As we sing during the Lenten Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, “Let my prayer arise in Your sight as incense, and the lifting up of my hands as an evening sacrifice!”   (Psalm 141:2)     Noah’s offering incense is similar to the description of Aaron in Wisdom 18:21, “For a blameless man was quick to act as their champion; he brought forward the shield of his ministry, prayer and propitiation by incense; he withstood the anger and put an end to the disaster, showing that he was your servant.”

“…the LORD said in his heart, ‘I will never again curse the ground because of man…”   The last words about God’s heart in 6:6 were that God was totally grieved by humanity.   Here God is at peace and makes a new resolve – He is convinced that He must learn to live at peace with the creatures whom He knowingly endowed with free will – His stubborn, troublesome and evil-doing humans.   He promises not to let the humans provoke Him ever again to such wrath and destruction.   The author of Genesis has God speaking to Himself not to Noah in making this promise.  However, read Ezekiel 20 in which God describes at least 3 other occasions on which He wanted to pour His fury upon the house of Israel because of their sins and totally destroy them, yet decided against it. The notion of the faithful remnant whom God saves from the midst of an otherwise sinful humanity becomes a common theme in the Old Testament.

“the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth”     When all is said and done and flood waters have cleansed the earth of violence and wickedness, God expresses a realistic if depressing assessment of human beings –  the human heart is still the source of evil in the world.  Neither God nor the inspired scribes who wrote Genesis attributed the evil of the world to Satan.  No amount of effort on God’s part to change the world can apparently bring about the change needed in the human heart.   Humans did, do and will at times turn their hearts to the greatest of evils.    For those who ask, “Why doesn’t God intervene in our world and change everything?  Why does God let evil exist?”   The answer from Genesis 6-9 is first because He continues to allow humans whose hearts constantly imagine evil to exist.  Second, God did intervene once and it was an abysmal failure – for He wiped out all the wicked, but wickedness remains in the human heart.  As long as there are humans, evil has a source and a home – our hearts. God wants humans to exist, and so He knows this means evil will exist as well.  As long as humans have free will, the potential toward evil must be real and possible or humans are not free.  God created humans not automatons.  He created beings that He wanted to CHOSE the good.  But to do this, He had to give them real and meaningful and dangerous choice.   To have the power to choose the good, we must have the power to choose the evil.  This also is the only way in which human love is possible.  God is love.  He created us in His image and likeness.  We are capable of love, which means we must be able to choose in order to really love (otherwise it isn’t love it is reactive instinct).   The flood story reaffirms what we learned in Genesis 3 about human beings and the reality and risks of free will and love.  Even the flood which cleanses the world of wickedness cannot take away free will, love, choice and the potential for evil from human beings.  And God comes to accept that love also means for Him unconditionally loving humans as they are – faults and sin and all.  God’s love is not a reaction to us (and our God-likeness and our God-given goodness); God’s love is how He chooses to act towards us before we even existed and despite how we behave.  God experiences that true love means pain and risk and rejection.   And despite all the sinful, wicked and evil faults of humans, God so loves the world that He will send His only Son to save the world.  This is true love.   When in the Gospel Jesus teaches us to love our enemies, to love beyond those who love us, He is asking us to love as God realized love demanded Him to love – even those who reject Him and do not love Him back.  God doesn’t ask more of us than He is willing to do.   But He does ask us to do what He does.  Jesus taught, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,  so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.  For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?  You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:44-48).

Next:  God Questions His Creation:  Genesis 8:20-22 (c)

God Questions His Creation: Genesis 8:20-22 (a)

See:   God Questions His Creation:  Genesis 8:13-19 (b)

Genesis 8:20 Then Noah built an altar to the LORD, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird, and offered burnt offerings on the altar. 21 And when the LORD smelled the pleasing odor, the LORD said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; neither will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done. 22 While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.” 

Though in the previous verse, 8:19, the animals follow Noah out of the ark in something like a Paschal Procession, the solemn assembly does not end in an agape celebration for the animals who survived the flood.  Rather Noah will slaughter a great number of the animals which so calmly followed his lead and accepted his dominion throughout the flood.   The new world onto which the ark’s former inhabitants step apparently also has a new set of relationships.  The humans are going to exercise their dominion over all other creatures and use the animals as a means to approach and worship God.  Humans, who were created by God to be an intermediary between God and the rest of creation in Genesis 1, now will use animals in sacrifice as an intermediary between themselves and the Lord God.   This situation of animal sacrifice for the people chosen by God to be His light to the nations will continue until the sacrificial death of God’s Son on the cross brings an end to such practice as a way to please or appease God.  God will choose death, the sacrifice of His own Son, as the means to end humans using the blood of animals as their intermediary with God.  “But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the Holy Place, taking not the blood of goats and calves but his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.  Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred which redeems them from the transgressions under the first covenant. … But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Hebrews 9:15-26).  The coming of the Son of God into the world brings an end to animal sacrifice and restores humanity’s relationship to God.  Humans originally were to be mediators between God and the rest of creation.  The human dominion over animals was to be demonstrated by the humans standing before God as the mediators for the entire created order.  Animal sacrifice overturned the original order established by God and unnaturally placed the animals between God and humans!  The animals in some fashion became the intermediary to appease God.  In the incarnate Christ, once again humanity has the role of mediator between God and creation; human life and action now are what put us right with God. At the proskomedia (when the priest prepares the bread to be offered and sanctified in the Liturgy which follows), the Christian understanding of the Eucharist is presented in prayer by the celebrant: “Sacrificed in the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world for the life of the world and for its salvation.”  No longer does a flood cleanse the world of sin; no longer will animal sacrifice purify the flesh or the soul.  Now the sin and wickedness of the world is taken away by Jesus Christ, who is the first fully human person, and thus can serve as microcosm and mediator and priest.

Noah builds an altar and offers worship to God “for the whole world” as we pray in the Anaphora.   In St. Basil’s Liturgy the priest in the Offertory Prayer says, “Look down on us, O God, and behold this our service.  Receive it as You did the gifts of Abel, the sacrifices of Noah, the priestly offices of Moses and Aaron, and the peace-offerings of Samuel.”  We ask God to look down on our feeble efforts to worship Him, and to remember the worship of His chosen servants that pleased Him.   Not only do we remember all that God has done for us (anamnesis), we want God to remember, when viewing our worship, those humans who pleased Him!

We are not told whether Noah is making a thanksgiving or peace offering or making propitiation for the sins of the world.  Any one of those offerings might be appropriate.  God has not commanded any sacrifice be offered, but perhaps Noah is taking no chances and wants either to thank God for saving him or to appease God so that there will be no more devastation.   Noah doesn’t say a word, remaining as silent as he has for his entire life. 

“took of every clean animal and … bird… and offered burnt offerings…”   God had not commanded animal sacrifice, so what possesses Noah to offer it?   He preserved the life of all these animals for a year in the ark only to kill them now.  The image of Noah living in some paradisiacal peace with the animals as companions in the ark is suddenly shattered by Noah slaughtering them.  Some have argued that humans by nature are to be priests and kings, so that sacrificial worship is natural to humans.  At worship is when we are most human in this line of thinking.   However so far in the text there was only one other instance of animal sacrificial worship and that was immediately followed by the murder of Abel!  Nevertheless most commentators feel God was pleased and appeased by the sacrifice whether it had been commanded by God or initiated by Noah.   Throughout the Temple period of Judaism the main form of worship for Israel involved animal sacrifice.   Somewhere near 70AD the Romans completely destroy the temple in Jerusalem and the city itself, and then Jewish animal sacrifice and the sacrificial priesthood came to an end.   Judaism survived the destruction of the temple as rabbinic Judaism with its emphasis on the Torah was on the ascendancy at the very time Jerusalem was destroyed.   Christianity is actually one form of rabbinic Judaism that comes from this time period.  Christ Himself downplayed the Temple, but unlike Pharisaical Judaism with its emphasis on the Torah, Christ the Teacher asserts Himself – the incarnate Word of God and Messiah – as more important than the Torah and the Temple.  Jesus claims His interpretation of the Torah is the revelation of God.   Christianity for its part never practiced animal sacrifice always seeing Christ as the once and for all sacrifice that ended the need for any blood sacrifice.

Next:    God Questions His Creation:  Genesis 8:20-22 (b)

God Questions His Creation: Genesis 4:3-5 (a)

See:  God Questions His Creation: Genesis 4:2

4:3 In the course of time Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground, 4 and Abel brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, 5 but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell.

“An offering…”  In the Septuagint, Cain brings an offering or sacrifice to God.  God sees Cain’s offering and has no regard for it, but He regards Abel’s as a “gift.”   Perhaps because we cannot fathom how God views our actions, we are left puzzled as to why the LORD viewed the two offerings differently.  The text offers us little in terms of a justification

St. Basil the Great

for God’s varied response.  We are the ones who don’t like being left with uncertainty and mystery when it comes to God.  We want God to be effable, comprehensible, conceivable and obvious, even though we claim at the Cherubic Hymn to believe in a God who is none of these things (the priest’s prayer says we worship the God who is ineffable, inconceivable, invisible and incomprehensible).   St. Basil the Great said that a God who is comprehensible is no God at all.   God surpasses our understanding, and is not limited by human reasoning nor human imagination – otherwise he would simply be a figment of our rationality and creativity.    We are forced rather to deal with the sovereign God as He reveals Himself, not God as we want or need Him to be.  The story is about God revealing Himself, not God justifying Himself or justifying His behavior.  God’s decision is revealed to us but not the rationale for the decision.  We are the ones who are not satisfied with God revealing His judgment.  We want to know “why?”  We want to subject God to human reason and demand that God’s revelation be consistent with our logic.   To our dismay, God however sometimes leaves us with “My ways are not your ways.”   Believers through history have tended to take theology seriously; God is love and that must be part of the rationale for His judgments and actions however mysterious or inexplicable they seem to us.

In all of Genesis so far, God has never commanded the humans to make an offering to Him of any kind.  From where did they learn this practice?  Why did they begin making sacrifices?  Both Cain and Abel make an offering to God without any Law demanding this of them:   “For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. When Gentiles who have not the law do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or perhaps excuse them…”  (Romans 2:13-15). Perhaps Cain and Abel discerned that it is good and right to worship God without ever being commanded to do so.  Genesis assumes the naturalness of the sacrificial offering – probably reflecting an anachronism – the text was written later in time when sacrifice was the normal way of approaching God to seek his favor.   Otherwise the text offers no command or clue as to why sacrifice was begun as a way to seek God’s favor.   Since the humans have not yet been given permission to eat animal flesh and since no mention of carnivorous animals has yet been made, the sacrificial slaughtering of animals seems out of place.  The notion that this text comes from a much later time period in Judaism seems justified.  The earlier chapters in Genesis have few anachronisms, but this does seem to be one.  Orthodoxy does assume that humans are by nature worshipping beings.   In the Divine Liturgy the priest recites the following prayer at the anaphora: “It is meet and right to hymn You, to bless You, to praise You, to give thanks to You, and to worship You in every place of Your dominion: for You are God ineffable, inconceivable, invisible, incomprehensible, ever-existing and eternally the same, You and Your only-begotten Son and Your Holy Spirit.”  The prayer asserts it is proper for us to worship God.  However in Genesis 4, God had yet to command any type of worship.   What is surprising is that nowhere in these early chapters of Genesis do the humans ever offer thanksgiving to God. 

“In the course of time….”    Did Cain have to wait a season or two, or perhaps even years of farming before his plants and trees could produce fruit?   Obviously the story is now dealing with our world as we know it.  Time has to pass for things to happen, no more instant and spontaneous creations.  But this is as true for Abel who would have had to wait until the right time for him to have a flock and to have firstlings.  While Genesis generally is concerned with time and ages, the murder story lacks such precision.   Nowhere in Genesis are we told the ages of Cain or Abel.  Were they teenagers or adults?  We do not know the age of Cain at his death, nor the ages of his descendants.  All the other men in the story have their age at death recorded.  Obituaries seem fairly important to the author(s) of Genesis, unusual that Abel and Cain’s age at death are missing.   This is perhaps a hint that the Cain and Abel story comes from a hand other than the one who so carefully recorded the ages at death of the story’s other personages.

Next: God Questions His Creation: Genesis 4:3-5 (b)

The Sacrifice of Abraham

One of the most heart wrenching stories in the Old Testament is the story of Abraham, in obedience to God setting out on the journey to offer his own son, Isaac, in sacrifice (Genesis 22). 

The story is set up by the description of how Abraham and his wife Sarah struggled to have a child at all.  It was the source of bitter grief between them.   And then when he was 100 years old, Abraham is finally given a son through Sarah.  But then, after enduring all these years of Sarah’s childless grief, Abraham is put to the test – will he obey God and sacrifice his own son, the son which God had specifically promised to give him and through whom God promised to fulfill His plans for the world.

Abraham is incredibly silent through the ordeal.  What can he say, but perhaps “the Lord gives and the Lord takes away”?  Who can understand this God?   Why was he given a son, just for a fleeting moment of joy and peace with his wife?   He is lost in thought, unable to speak, probably in shock and in denial about what is happening to him, to his son, to his world, to his faith.  And he is given three days to think about the death of his son, for that is how long it takes Abraham to traverse to where the sacrifice will take place.  How many times does his son die through those days of sojourning as he turns over in his heart and mind and stomach what must happen?  And each time Abraham dies with him.

We read in Genesis 22: 6-8 (NRSV):

Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together.  Isaac said to his father Abraham, “Father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?”  Abraham said, “God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So the two of them walked on together.

At least from the Christian point of view, we see a prefiguring of Christ, God’s only son.  Isaac, Sarah’s only child – a promised and much awaited child –  must bear the wood for the sacrifice, as Christ himself will carry the wood of his cross, the means of his sacrifice. 

Abraham carries the fire and the knife – he is not allowed to not think about what is to happen.  He has to carry the instrument of his son’s death.  And he apparently says nothing to anyone about what God has told him to do.  Abraham alone carries God’s word in his heart, and it is weighing him down.  For how will he explain to Sarah what he has to do?  How will he explain murdering his own son, the son they waited so long for, suffered for, and then received through a promise and blessing from God?  The son who had taken away Sarah’s bitterness and given peace to their marriage.

And they walk on.  Sojourners headed to a final destiny.  Only Abraham understands the finality of this destination – the place from which one will not come back and from which one will never leave.

And Abraham cannot bring himself to say anything.  But Isaac, the beloved son calls his father out of his reverie and misery.  “Father!”   He is wondering where his father is, lost in thought as he seems to be walking along in dreadful, mortal silence.  Isaac’s youthful mind is observant and curious.  The world is still a mystery though to the boy, there is so much to learn.

“Here I am, my son.”  Abraham is lost in this pilgrimage, present in body but not in soul or heart.  He feels the need to locate himself, to place himself in relationship to his son.  But where is Abraham?   Near his son, yet in spirit so far away from their situation.  No doubt he choked on these words, not wanting to speak, struggling to voice a reply through a constricted throat and conflicted mind.

He intends for his voice to be assuring to his beloved son. “I am here, do not be afraid.”  Yet it is only he who is afraid, for his son is totally trusting his father.  The son asks in all innocence about the future, but his question is as sharp as Abraham’s knife.

On the other hand, Abraham does not want to assure his son of his presence, for he carries the knife, and not without purpose.  The father whose job is to protect his son, is in this story the only threat to the child.   Is  Abraham tearful, bitter or trusting?  We do not know.  He has accepted his mission, but withdrawn within himself he does not reveal his heart.  He is on a mission and must lay emotion aside lest it overwhelm him and cause him to fail.  Cold logic is in control, mind over heart.  Abraham suppressing all feeling, has stopped thinking in the darkness of his heart.   He knows what must be done.  But what logic, what reason, what rationale is there in what he has been commanded to do?  His is not to reason why, but to do is to die, for his heart will burst with the death of his son.   There is to be no peace in his life, no peace with his wife.  How will he ever justify what he is to do?   The invisible God will not be there to explain why he murdered his son, whose promised birth had caused Sarah to laugh at God.   She would not be laughing when Abraham told her that God had commanded death.

“God will provide.”  He says emptily with profound sorry, as a father who realizes the loss of his son.  He mouths the words, but his heart is not in them.  It is factual, but perhaps not faithful.  God has already told him what He has provided.  The long hoped for son, the son that finally brought  joy and peace between his wife and himself, being the most prized possession in his life, is the very thing that he must offer in sacrifice.  He will hold nothing back from God.   He will be faithful in action even if his heart is not in the deed he must do.

He says nothing more, not a word, until called by the Angel of the Lord.  His son carries the load of wood.  Abraham carries the burden of what he must do, and he is weighed down far more.

God asks much from those willing to serve Him.  He does not ask more than what He Himself is willing to do.  For God too will offer His Son, and will contemplate His death for three days.  God provides as Abraham discovers, and does not require his son’s, or His Son’s,  life to end in sacrificial death.  Isaac is spared.  His Son is raised from the dead, revealing the prophetic and prototypical meaning of the story of Abraham sacrificing his son.   Abraham is spared the loss but not the agony of losing one’s son.  Through his story we come to know the full extent of the passion of Christ, God’s only begotten Son.