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The Forefathers of Christ

This upcoming Sunday is the Sunday of the Forefathers. It falls between the 11th and 17th of December. It commemorates all the ancestors of Christ before the Law, from Adam until Moses and those under the Law, up to Joseph the Betrothed. As we heard in yesterday’s Gospel reading: A man once gave a great banquet and invited many… (Lk 14:16). This man refers to God Himself who called all to inherit His Kingdom. Those initially invited were the Jews who were God’s chosen people.
 
However, as the rest of the reading says, they made excuses and did not want to come. God gave them the Law through Moses and sent them Judges, Kings and Prophets. He even sent them His Son who they rejected and crucified. Then the householder in anger said to the servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and maimed and blind and lame.’ And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and there is still room.’ And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges, and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet. For many are called and few are chosen' (ibid 21-24).
 
When the Jews rejected Christ, He ministered to the Gentiles. Before He ascended into Heaven, He gave the Great Commission to His Disciples: Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you (Mt 28:19-20). The Apostles then went out preaching the Good News throughout the entire world.
 
For many are called and few are chosen. Despite the Jews having been called to His banquet, yet, rejecting Him, there were a few chosen who were righteous. These were the Forefathers of Christ, starting from Adam until Joseph. They were righteous and holy people who in their lives prefigured the life of Christ. As we approach the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ, this Sunday serves as a prelude to His Incarnation. It summarizes the purpose for why He took on flesh and dwelt among us (Jn 1:14).
 
Starting with Adam, the first human being, we know that he along with his wife Eve disobeyed God and were expelled from the Garden of Eden. Mankind was initially immortal, living in Paradise but because of sin became mortal. Christ would come thousands of years later in the flesh to redeem all mankind starting from the first who sinned, Adam and Eve. This is why Christ is known as the Second Adam and in the Resurrection icon seen redeeming Adam and Eve from the peril of Hades.
 
Adam and Eve’s son Abel is also a prefiguration of Christ, since he was killed by his brother Cain who represents mankind. Abraham, who was asked by God to sacrifice his son Isaac, prefigures the sacrifice that God the Father made with His Son. The ladder that was revealed to Jacob in a dream is Christ.
 
His Cross, like Jacob’s Ladder, connects Heaven and Earth. In His Incarnation, God and man are united: Very truly I tell you, you will see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man (Jn 1:50). Joseph who was betrayed by his brothers prefigures Christ who was betrayed by His Disciples. This was the fulfillment of the Prophet Zechariah: Strike the Shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered (13:7).
 
The Apostle John, of course, was the only one who remained by Jesus’ side. The priesthood of Melchizedek typifies the High Priesthood of Christ who gives His precious Body and Blood to the faithful in the bread and wine of the Eucharist. Christ is Priest, King and Prophet. As Melchizedek was without earthly genealogy, Christ is without paternal genealogy, having only maternal genealogy from the Theotokos. The Old Testament does not cite when Melchizedek was born or died; thus, having no known genealogy. For this reason, he typifies the eternal priesthood of Christ.
 
Enoch and Elijah were taken up to Heaven without experiencing an earthly death. They, as the Second Forerunners of Christ, will experience death just before His Second Coming. They prefigure Christ who was also taken up to Heaven.
 
Noah and his family survived the Flood. This was a prefiguration of baptism which was given to us by Christ. For He was baptized in the River Jordan by John the Baptist. The Prophet Job with his longsuffering and obedience to the divine will of God is a prefiguration of Christ.
 
Moses was indeed a prefiguration of Christ with the giving of the Law and the raising of the serpent in the wilderness. Joshua shares the same name as Jesus (Ιησούς) and led the people into the Promised Land. This was a prefiguration of Jesus leading mankind into His Kingdom. David of course was of direct lineage with Christ and spoke about Him in the Psalms he wrote. The kingship of David is a prefiguration of Christ as King of Kings (1Tim 6:15). The Prophet Isaiah spoke about the Suffering Servant who is Christ. The Prophet Jonah in the belly of the whale, prefigures Christ in the Tomb for three days.
 
Especially remembered on this Sunday is the Prophet Daniel and the three holy youths, Hananiah (Shadrach), Mishael (Meshach) and Azariah (Abednego). Daniel saw the Holy Trinity through the three holy youths in the furnace. The angel of the Lord made the inside of the furnace as though a dew-laden breeze were blowing through it (Daniel 3:50). The youths remained unharmed by the furnace which parallels the Theotokos. She remained Ever-Virgin even after giving birth to Jesus. Her womb remained “untouched.” Other allegory of the Theotokos is the Burning Bush that Moses encountered. God spoke through the Burning Bush that was not consumed by the flames. The three youths are also mentioned in the 7th and 8th Odes of the Katavasias for Christmas and commemorated on their own feast along with the Prophet Daniel on December 17th.What all the Forefathers have in common is their true faith in God. They were all sinners, since only Christ is without sin, yet, are examples of repentance. They were only granted a foretaste, a glimpse of their Savior, Jesus Christ. We are similar to them in the sense that we have not physically seen Jesus Christ, but as He said to Thomas: Blessed are those who have not seen, and have believed (Jn 20:29). However, the difference is, Christ has revealed Himself to us and what we intimately experience at every Divine Liturgy that the Forefathers did not have, is His Body and Blood, thus, the Eucharist.
 
O believers, today let us extol all those Fathers who lived before the Law, namely Abraham who loved God, Isaac, who was born of a promise, and Jacob and the twelve Patriarchs; also David who was meek, and Prophet Daniel, that beloved man of desires. And let us also honor the three Servants, who changed the fire in the furnace into dew. And let us pray for forgiveness from Christ our God, who is glorified in His Saints (1st Doxastikon of Vespers).
 
-John Athanasatos 

 

A graduate of Long Island University, College of Pharmacy, and Saint Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary, John works to share the richness and beauty of the Orthodox Faith with the wider community.

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