[Consonant with both Anglicanism’s and monasticism’s love of patristic theology-spirituality, I occasionally post selections from a 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. When there are lacunae in the Durham edition, I draw from R. M. Healey’s edition. Click here for the link to his formatting of the lectionary.]
Patristic Lectionary – 6 March 2021 – Saturday in the Second Week of Lent
[The image is Frederic Edwin Church’s “Moses Viewing the Promised Land” (1846)]
Deuteronomy 32:48-52; 34:1-12
On the Death of Moses
And the LORD said to Moses that very day, “Ascend this mountain of the Abarim, Mount Nebo, which is in the land of Moab, opposite Jericho; and view the land of Canaan, which I give to the people of Israel for a possession; and die on the mountain which you ascend, and be gathered to your people, as Aaron your brother died in Mount Hor and was gathered to his people; because you broke faith with me in the midst of the people of Israel at the waters of Meri-bath-adesh, in the wilderness of Zin; because you did not revere me as holy in the midst of the people of Israel. For you shall see the land before you; but you shall not go there, into the land which I give to the people of Israel.”
And Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho. And the LORD showed him all the land, Gilead as far as Dan, all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea, the Negeb, and the Plain, that is, the valley of Jericho the city of palm trees, as far as Zoar. And the LORD said to him, “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, I will give it to your descendants. I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not go over there.” So Moses the servant of the LORD died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the LORD, and he buried him in the valley in the land of Moab opposite Beth- peor; but no man knows the place of his burial to this day. Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died; his eye was not dim, nor his natural force abated. And the people of Israel wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days; then the days of weeping and mourning for Moses were ended.
And Joshua the son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, for Moses had laid his hands upon him; so the people of Israel obeyed him, and did as the LORD had commanded Moses. And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face, none like him for all the signs and the wonders which the LORD sent him to do in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, and for all the mighty power and all the great and terrible deeds which Moses wrought in the sight of all Israel.
St. Gregory of Nyssa
The Life of Moses, 2.313-14, 319-21 (Sources Chrétiennes 1:131-135)
Moses drew near the mountain of rest. He would never set foot on the valley spread out beneath him, toward which the people below looked for the fulfilment of the promise. Earthly food was no longer to his taste, for he had trained himself to live on the food that comes down from heaven.
History relates that Moses, the servant of God, died at the Lord’s command and no one knew his burial place. His sight was not dimmed nor his face touched by decay.
We learn from this that after his many labours Moses was judged worthy of the exalted title, ‘Servant of God’, which is the same as saying that he was above all earthly concerns. No one can serve God without rising above every worldly preoccupation. This was also for him the consummation of his life of virtue, brought about by the word of God. The history calls this death, but it was a death in which he still lives, for no burial followed it, no monument was built. It left his sight undimmed and his face untouched by corruption.
Moses had achieved the highest possible perfection. What more trustworthy witness of this could we find than the voice of God, which said to him: I have loved you more than all others. Moses was called the friend of God by God himself. Moreover, because he would rather have perished with all the people than have lived without them, he begged God by his favour toward himself to pardon those who had sinned.
He thus checked God’s anger against the Israelites, for God withdrew his condemnation so as not to grieve his friend. All these things are clear evidence and proof that the life of Moses reached the summit of the mountain of perfection.
And so we have learned from what has been said how a life of virtue is brought to perfection, which was what we set out to discover. It is time now for you, my generous friend, to study the model carefully. The lessons we have learned from our spiritual contemplation of historical happenings you must apply to your own life, so that you may be loved by God and become his friend.
True perfection does not consist in abandoning a life of sin as a slave might for fear of punishment; nor in doing good in the hope of receiving a reward. Expecting the virtuous life to yield a profit would be making it a matter of trade and commerce. No, it seems to me that to be perfect we must look beyond even the hoped-for blessings which we have been promised are stored up for us. Our only fear should be the loss of God’s friendship, and the only honour or pleasure we covet should be that of becoming God’s friend. You can attain such perfection – and I know that you will attain it abundantly – if you raise your mind to the majesty of God. The gain will surely be shared by all in Christ Jesus. Amen.