This is the season for the High Holidays of Judaism. Schools are closed as well as many small businesses in their observance. So what do the Jewish Holidays have to do with Orthodoxy? Although we don't observe them, we can appreciate the link they have with Orthodox Feasts.
This week on Thursday is Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish Calendar. It is known as the Day of Atonement, a strict day of fasting and prayer. It [Yom Kippur] shall be a Sabbath of Sabbaths for you
, 32). Biblical reference to this Feast is found mostly in Leviticus, one of the five books of the Pentateuch. Hebrews 9:1-7 is read on certain feasts dedicated to the Theotokos. It is a description of the Mosaic tabernacle and the Feast of Yom Kippur:
Then indeed, even the first covenant had ordinances of divine service and the earthly sanctuary. For a tabernacle was prepared: the first part, in which was the lampstand, the table, and the showbread which is called the sanctuary, and behind the second veil, the part of the tabernacle which is called the Holiest of All which had the golden censer and the ark of the covenant overlaid on all sides with gold, in which were the golden pot that had the manna, Aaron's rod that budded and the tablets of the covenant; and above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail. Now when these things had been thus prepared, the priests always went into the first part of the tabernacle, performing the services. But into the second part the high priest went alone once a year, not without blood, which we offered for himself and for the people's sins committed in ignorance.
This reading from Hebrews is a prefiguration of the Theotokos, since She was a special tabernacle hosting in Her womb the Word of God, Jesus Christ. The Theotokos provided the means for Christ’s Incarnation on Earth. Inside the Holy of Holies contained Aaron’s Rod which budded and produced blossoms (Numbers 17:8). This is a prefiguration of the Theotokos since She brought forth fruit, the Infant Christ.
It is from the Theotokos that Christ takes on flesh, becoming full human while still being fully God (divine). The Theotokos was permitted to enter the Holy of Holies. We celebrate Her entry into the Temple at age 3 on November 21. Her entry into the Holy of Holies is a privilege only for the high priest who enters once a year. Yet, the Theotokos is more honorable than the Cherubim and beyond compare more glorious than the Seraphim.
The sacrifices of the Mosaic tabernacle were later made in Solomon’s Temple which no longer stands. Today, Jews do not perform animal sacrifices on Yom Kippur, instead in the synagogues they read from the Torah.
Then he shall take from the congregation of the children of Israel two kids of the goats as a sin offering and one ram as a whole burnt offering. Then Aaron shall cast lots for the two kids; one for the Lord and the other lot for the scapegoat. But the kid on which the lot fell to be the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the Lord to make atonement upon it, to let it go as the scapegoat into the desert (Lev 16: 5,8,10). Is not Christ our Scapegoat? He is the one who takes upon Himself all the sins of mankind.
He shall kill the kid of the sin offering, before the Lord on behalf of the people, and bring some of its blood inside the veil, do with that blood as he did with the blood of the young bull, and sprinkle it upon the east side of the mercy seat seven times (ibid, 15). It was seven parts of Christ’s Body that were bloodied. His Hands and feet from the nails, His back from the flogging, His head from the crown of thorns and His side which was speared, pouring out Blood and Water.
The reference to the east side of the mercy seat is significant in that even today the altar of a Church should always face East where the sacrifice, the Divine Liturgy, is celebrated. The kid [scapegoat] shall bear in itself all their wrongdoings to an uninhabited land. Thus, he shall send away the kid into the desert (ibid 22).
As we hear in one of the readings on Good Friday: then the Sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was torn in two (Lk 23:45). I am the door. If anyone enters by Me he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture (Jn 10:9). There is no longer the need for the temporary sacrifice on Yom Kippur for the remission of sins. Christ is both the Offerer and the Offered.
At every Divine Liturgy, the celebrant goes in and out of the Royal Doors freely. There is no longer the limitation of entering the Holy of Holies once a year. Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come… not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption (Hebrews 9:11-12).
A final, complete and perfect sacrifice has been made on the Cross and the veil has been opened permanently. It is by Christ that the veil opens and access to His Kingdom is granted. His sacrifice on the Cross is the final bloody sacrifice, for Christ is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets.
The Eucharist is a sacrifice made without the shedding of blood. At the Epiclesis, we hear: Take eat, this is My Body which is broken for you, for the remission of sins…Drink of it all of you, this is My Blood of the New Covenant which is shed for you and for many for the remission of sins. Christ is the One being offered. He gives us a New Covenant to abide by. The Old Covenant was temporary and incomplete, the New Covenant is a fulfillment of the Old and is eternal.
Although we do not observe Yom Kippur or fast on that day, the Feast is indeed a prefiguration of the Incarnation of Christ and His redemptive sacrifice for the life of the world.
What is important for us as Orthodox Christians is to know that our Faith is not a new or created one. Rather it is the continuation, the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. Thus, Orthodox Christianity is the fulfillment of Judaism. We chant form the Paschal Canon: Shine, Shine, New Jerusalem. We are the New Jerusalem, the True Jerusalem, the True Faith.
Glory be to Jesus Christ who has revealed Himself to us!
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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