[Consonant with both Anglicanism’s and monasticism’s love of patristic theology-spirituality, I occasionally post selections from Durham University’s two-year lectionary for the Divine Office that draws mostly from patristic writings. The lectionary was initially edited by Stephen Mark Holmes (University of Edinburgh School of Divinity) and subsequently re-edited and formatted by Michele Freyhauf (Durham University). Click here for the link to the lectionary.]
Patristic Lectionary—23 January, Ferial Day Following the Second Sunday After Epiphany.
A READING FROM THE BOOK OF GENESIS
GOD’S COVENANT WITH ABRAHAM WHO BELIEVED: GENESIS 15:1-21
After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” But Abram said, “O Lord GOD, what wilt thou give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “Behold, thou hast given me no offspring; and a slave born in my house will be my heir.” And behold, the word of the LORD came to him, “This man shall not be your heir; your own son shall be your heir.” And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” And he believed the LORD; and he reckoned it to him as righteousness.
And he said to him, “I am the LORD who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess.” But he said, “O Lord GOD, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” He said to him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a she-goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” And he brought him all these, cut them in two, and laid each half over against the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. And when birds of prey came down upon the carcasses, Abram drove them away.
As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram; and lo, a dread and great darkness fell upon him. Then the LORD said to Abram, “Know of a surety that your descendants will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs, and will be slaves there, and they will be oppressed for four hundred years; but I will bring judgment on the nation which they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. As for yourself, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. And they shall come back here in the fourth generation; for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”
When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites.”
A READING FROM THE COMMENTARY ON GENESIS OF DIDYMUS THE BLIND
IN GEN. 230, 233-4 (SC 244:188-90, 196-200); ACC 2 (2002) TR. SHERIDAN
As he contemplated the wonderful things of God, Abraham was struck with fear, the fear that belongs to the perfect. It will be noted that the ecstasy came upon him towards sunset. The text suggests by this a progression, because the present day has passed by for Abraham so that further progress might follow. Thus Abraham was given a blessing in the words, I will fill you with the length of days, a blessing that promised him not longevity but, as is quite clear, further advances in illumination.
An ecstasy then fell upon him, not the ecstasy that resembles a loss of reason but that of wonder, the thrill of passing from visible to invisible things. When Abraham then had been transported out of himself, a dark fear fell upon him, dark not by participation in darkness but in the sense of obscurity, of something whose meaning is not immediately evident. Being a great fear, it is not the kind that happens to average men. It is indeed true that the contemplation and grasp of supernatural truths produce, even among great people, a divine vertigo and fear, and it is with some trepidation that they apply themselves to such things.
What is clearly stated in the text can be expounded as follows. When the sun was already near setting, a flame emerged, and there appeared a smoking oven and fiery torches that passed between the two parts of the divided animals, burning and lighting up the place, to allow the Patriarch to see what was happening and to reveal in a more divine manner the mysteries to be searched out. It should be noted that fire did not appear only after the covenant had been made. The gift of the Law through Moses also took place itself in the midst of a fire. What is suggested here is perhaps something like that. As the Law contains rewards and punishments, it was given in the midst of fire to indicate that it brings burning to some and illumination to others. So too here, torches and smoke appeared; now smoke is the consequence of a fire that has been lit. Moreover, the flame had appeared first. We conclude, then, that one who is defining what is to be done and what is not to be done in a matter this difficult requires the light of God and also fear, symbolised by the furnace, so as to accomplish everything in accordance with right reason.
When the torches had passed over the divided animals, the covenant was made. God said to Abraham, To your descendants I will give this land, and he described in detail how far the land extended in each direction. But, through an anagogical transposition, we must understand that this land is given to the holy man’s spiritual posterity. The Saviour too promises it to those who practise gentleness. This is a promise that applies to the true children and not to all who descend from Abraham, for it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, for the children of the promise are reckoned as descendants. It is the one who does the works of Abraham who is in fact his child.