[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—Saturday, 29 February, Saturday After Ash Wednesday
Moses and the Revelation of the Name of God
Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian; and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. And the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush; and he looked, and lo, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. And Moses said, “I will turn aside and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt.” When the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here am I.” Then he said, “Do not come near; put off your shoes from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” And he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.
Then the LORD said, “I have seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters; I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. And now, behold, the cry of the people of Israel has come to me, and I have seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them. Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring forth my people, the sons of Israel, out of Egypt.” But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the sons of Israel out of Egypt?” He said, “But I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought forth the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God upon this mountain.”
Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you’, and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO AM.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you: this is my name for ever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations. Go and gather the elders of Israel together, and say to them, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, has appeared to me, saying, “I have observed you and what has been done to you in Egypt; and I promise that I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt, to the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, a land flowing with milk and honey.”’ And they will hearken to your voice; and you and the elders of Israel shall go to the king of Egypt and say to him, ‘The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us; and now, we pray you, let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to the LORD our God.’ I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless compelled by a mighty hand. So I will stretch out my hand and smite Egypt with all the wonders which I will do in it; after that he will let you go.”
St. Gregory of Nyssa
The Life of Moses 2.17-26 (SC 1:36-39)
Let us, like Moses, live a solitary life, no longer entangled with adversaries or mediating between them. Let us live among those of like mind who are fed by us, while all the movements of our soul are led by reason like sheep by their shepherd. Then, as we are living at peace, the truth will shine upon us and its radiance will illuminate the eyes of our soul.
Now this truth is God. Once in an ineffable and mysterious vision it manifested itself to Moses, and it is not without significance for us that the flame from which the soul of the Prophet was illuminated was kindled from a thorn-bush.
If truth is God and if it is also light – two of the sublime and sacred epithets by which the Gospel describes the God who manifested himself to us in the flesh – it follows that a virtuous life will lead us to a knowledge of that light which descended to the level of our human nature. It is not from some luminary set among the stars that it sheds its radiance, which might then be thought to have a material origin, but from a bush on the earth, although it outshines the stars of heaven.
This also symbolizes the mystery of the Virgin, from whom came the divine light that shone upon the world without damaging the bush from which it emanated or allowing the virgin shoot to wither.
This light teaches us what we must do to stand in the rays of the true light, and that it is impossible with our feet in shackles to run toward the mountain where the light of truth appears. We have first to free the feet of our soul from the covering of dead skins in which our nature was clad in the beginning when it disobeyed God’s will and was left naked.
To know that which is, we must purify our minds of assumptions regarding things which are not. In my opinion the definition of truth is an unerring comprehension of that which is. He who is immutable, who does not increase or diminish, who is subject to no change for better or worse, but is perfectly self-sufficient; he who alone is desirable, in whom all else participates without causing in him any diminution, he indeed is that which truly is, and to comprehend him is to know the truth.
It is he whom Moses approached and whom today all approach who like Moses free themselves from their earthly coverings and look toward the light coming from the bramble bush, at the ray shining on us from the thorns, which stand for the flesh, for as the Gospel says, that ray is the real light and the truth. Then such people will also be able to help others find salvation. They will be capable of destroying the forces of evil and of restoring those enslaved by them to liberty.