[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—Thursday, 27 February, Thursday After Ash Wednesday
[The icon of St. Leo can be found at Orthodox Monastery Icons]
The Oppression of Israel
THESE are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob, each with his household: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, and Benjamin, Dan and Naphtali, Gad and Asher. All the offspring of Jacob were seventy persons; Joseph was already in Egypt. Then Joseph died, and all his brothers, and all that generation. But the descendants of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong; so that the land was filled with them.
Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. And he said to his people, “Behold, the people of Israel are too many and too mighty for us. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply, and, if war befall us, they join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.” Therefore they set taskmasters over them to afflict them with heavy burdens; and they built for Pharaoh store-cities, Pithom and Rameses. But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad. And the Egyptians were in dread of the people of Israel. So they made the people of Israel serve with rigor, and made their lives bitter with hard service, in mortar and brick, and in all kinds of work in the field; in all their work they made them serve with rigor.
Then the king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, “When you serve as midwife to the Hebrew women, and see them upon the birthstool, if it is a son, you shall kill him; but if it is a daughter, she shall live.” But the midwives feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live. So the king of Egypt called the midwives, and said to them, “Why have you done this, and let the male children live?” The midwives said to Pharaoh, “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and are delivered before the midwife comes to them.” So God dealt well with the midwives; and the people multiplied and grew very strong. And because the midwives feared God he gave them families. Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, “Every son that is born to the Hebrews you shall cast into the Nile, but you shall let every daughter live.”
St. Leo the Great
Sermon 48.1 (CCL 138A: 279-280)
Among all the days which Christian devotion holds honourable in many ways, there is none more excellent than the Paschal Feast, through which the dignity of all the solemnities in the Church of God is consecrated. Even the very birth of our Lord from a human mother is credited to this mystery, for there was no other reason for the Son of God to be born than that he could be fixed to a cross. Our mortal flesh was taken up in the womb of a Virgin, and in this mortal flesh the unfolding of his Passion was accomplished. Thus the mercy of God fulfilled a plan too deep for words: Christ’s humanity became for us a sacrifice of redemption, the destruction of sin, and the firstfruits of resurrection to eternal life.
When we consider what the entire world owes to our Lord’s Cross, we realize our need to prepare for the celebration of Easter by a fast of forty days if we are to take part worthily in these sacred mysteries. It is not only the highest bishops or the priests of the second order, nor the ministers who administer the sacraments alone, but the whole body of the Church and the entire company of the faithful who must be purified, so that in the Temple of God, whose foundation is its Founder himself, every stone may be beautiful and all parts radiant.
If it is reasonable to embellish a king’s palace or governor’s residence with every ornamental art, so that the greater a person’s importance the more splendid his dwelling, what zeal ought to be expended in building the House of God himself, and how distinguished should be its furnishing! No doubt such a task can be neither undertaken nor completed without the architect; nevertheless the builder of the house has given it the power to grow in stature through its own efforts. In the building of this Temple living and intelligent materials are being used, which of their own free will assemble themselves into a single structure at the prompting of the Spirit of grace. There was a time when they neither loved God nor sought him; but he loved and sought them so that they might begin to love and seek him in return. This is what the blessed apostle John speaks of when he says: Let us love God, for he first loved us.
Since therefore the entire company of the faithful and each believer in particular form one and the same Temple of God, there must be the same perfection in each individual as there is in the whole; for even if all are not alike in beauty nor is there equal merit in such a diversity of membership, yet the bond of love ensures communion of beauty among them all. While those who are united in holy love may not all have received the same gifts of grace, they rejoice nonetheless in their mutual blessings. Nothing that they love can be wanting to them, for they become rich in their own increase when they rejoice in another’s progress.