“I want you to know, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same supernatural food and all drank the same supernatural drink. For they drank from the supernatural Rock which followed them, and the Rock was Christ.” (St. Paul in his Epistle, 1 Corinthians 10:1-4)
We are at Mid-Pentecost, the middle point between the two Great Feasts of Pascha and Pentecost. The two main hymns of Mid-Pentecost (the Troparion and the Kontakion) give us the theme of this Christian Feast:
In the middle of the Feast, O Savior, fill my thirsting soul with the waters of godliness, as You cried out to all: “If anyone thirst let him come to me and drink! O Christ God, fountain of our life, glory to You!”
Christ God, the Creator and Master of all cried to all in the midst of the Feast of the Law: “Come and draw the water of immortality!” We fall before You and faithfully cry: Grant us Your bounties, for You are the Fountain of our life.
The theme is related to thirsting and receiving a drink from the Fountain of Life. It actually is making reference to a Gospel verse that we will read on Pentecost, John 7:37-38: “On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and proclaimed, ‘If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, “Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.”'” John in his Gospel is proclaiming the same basic idea that St. Paul claimed in his First Epistle to the Corinthians.
I am going to explore this theme of the flowing living waters flowing from the Messiah by especially drawing from the work of James Aageson, “Written for our Sake: Paul’s Use of Scripture in the Four Major Epistles, with a Study of 1 Corinthians 10”, found in HEARING THE OLD TESTAMENT IN THE NEW TESTAMENT, edited by Stanley Porter. It is worth noting, as most biblical commentaries and biblical footnotes mention, the verse which Jesus proclaims as coming from scripture, “Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water”, is not found in the Old Testament. So we have Christ attributing an idea to the Scriptures that is not a literal quote from the Scriptures. The Evangelist John has Christ taking us beyond the literal word of the Old Testament to consider a theme which we can find there.
In Exodus 17:1-7 and then again in Numbers 20:1-13, we encounter two stories the Israelites having escaped from Egypt finding themselves in a desert wasteland, totally thirsty and with no source of water to drink. In both cases Moses is told to take his staff and strike a rock, and miraculously a fountain of water pours forth from the rock to satisfy a thirsty people. The two different stories both call the waters which came forth “Meribah” which caused ancient Jewish interpreters of Scripture to assume that it was the same rock in both places that Moses struck. In Jewish tradition (the Targum), the rock which was a well of life-giving water was following the Israelites on their desert sojourn. The Jewish Midrash (ancient commentary) on Numbers 21:16-18, specifically connects the rock with a well that was moving and following the Israelites. The Targum allegorically interprets these same verses to claim that the digging of the well means digging into the Torah. Additionally because of the similarity in the Hebrew words for “well” (as a place to get water) and expound (as in explaining) – in Hebrew the words are cognates – Jewish tradition connected well with Torah and with the expounding (explaining) of Torah.
“It is interesting to note that in bar. Avot 6:1 (note: ancient Jewish commentary on Scripture) the person who concerns himself with Torah is likened to a flowing well: ‘And they reveal to him the secret meanings of the Torah, and he is made as a well that ever gathers force, and like a stream that never ceases.’” (p 167)
Philo (d. ca 41AD), writing about the same time as St. Paul (d. ca 67AD), and accepting the Jewish tradition which equated Torah with Wisdom, writes about the rock which followed the Israelites in the desert exodus: “Again Moses leads the song at the well, and this time his theme is not only the rout of the passions, but the strength invincible which can win the most beautiful of possessions, wisdom, which he likens to a well. For wisdom lies deep below the surface and gives forth a sweet stream of true nobility for thirsty souls.” (p 167)
“We have now established that early in the development of this tradition a number of symbols have come together: the rock, well, Torah, digging the well, and wisdom. In virtually all cases, the implication is clear: something life-giving – water, wisdom, Torah – flows to the people who need to be nourished and sustained. … Torah, often identified with wisdom, signifies the means by which God gives life to the people, just as water from the rock gave them life in the wilderness. Torah stands between God and the people, and it flows with life-giving nourishment.” (p 168)
“The association of the rock with the well and the rock with Torah, the identification of wisdom with Torah, and the concept of spiritual drink all combine to form a symbolic constellation that makes possible Paul’s connection of the rock and Christ. In the symbolic transformation of the tradition, he has simply substituted Christ for the rock, which as he already knew represented Torah. … Christ as the source of spiritual drink has assumed in a figurative sense the role of Torah. For Paul, the messianic Jew, Christ is the means by which God’s life-sustaining drink is given to the people. … As the wandering Hebrews drank from the rock that followed them in the wilderness, and as the Jews were nourished by the life-giving waters of Torah, so now, claims Paul, the people partake of the Eucharistic drink of Christ who is identified as the rock of the biblical story.” (pp 168-169)
So in Orthodoxy the feasts of Mid-Pentecost and of Pentecost tie in theologically the Law/Torah with Christ who is the fulfillment and thus replacement of Torah. Moses gave the Law, but with Christ comes the Holy Spirit. And the Scripture readings of the Orthodox Church for these two Great Feasts have at their root and basis an interpretation of Scriptures rooted deeply in ancient Judaism. Orthodoxy continues in an unbroken line proclaiming and liturgically celebrating the truth which God first made known through Torah, and which is fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
“The link between the rock and Christ – as it was between the rock, well, Torah, and wisdom – appears to be grounded in the notion of the wellspring through which God brings forth life to his people. … we see the interplay between the biblical images (rock, well, water) and the shifting religious symbols that come to be identified with God’s sustaining power (Torah and Torah interpretation, wisdom, and Christ). … This is what occurred in 1 Cor 10:4, as Paul has come to perceive Christ as the wellspring of heavenly nourishment. In the Eucharist, the people of God drink from the wellspring, and they share in the life-sustaining power of God, which was also poured out upon the people in the wilderness of ancient Sinai.” (pp 169-170)