Jesus - The Sun of Righteousness
Fr. Thomas Hopko · October 11, 2009
In our Troparia for Nativity, we sing "Your Nativity, O Christ our God, has shone to the world the Light of wisdom! For by it, those who worshipped the stars, were taught by a star to adore You, the Sun of Righteousness, and to know You, the Orient from on High. O Lord, glory to You!" In today's episode, Fr. Tom reflects on these terms for Christ.
We have reflected on Jesus as the Light of the World, and we saw how Jesus, three times, in St. John’s Gospel, says, “I am the light of the world.” We saw how, in that very same Gospel, it begins patterning the beginning of Genesis, where the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God, the Word was God, was in the beginning with God, all things came to be through him, and in him was light, and the light was the life of men.
He is called the true light that is coming into the world. Jesus is the light of God, and we said that he is the uncreated light of God. As the Nicene Creed puts it, he is “light from light, true God from true God.” We saw in the Holy Scripture, in St. John’s first letter, that it said God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.
In the Church’s Liturgy, very often we have hymns, for example, on Pentecost and Theophany and other feasts, that say the Father is light, and the Son is light, and the Holy Spirit is light, this light that belongs to divinity itself. We saw in Scripture how it is written that the Lord God who is the King of kings and the Lord of lords dwells in unapproachable light, and no one has ever seen him or can see him. We saw also that St. John says of this light that was coming into the world that no one has seen God at any time, but the only begotten Son, the only begotten God, the light from light, has revealed him. He has made him known, he has exegeted him.
We reflected on God as light, and when we were doing that we also mentioned and we considered how this symbolism of light, using the imagery of light, is connected also to God’s glory, the doxa theou or the kabod Yahweh, the glory of the Lord that shone round about with the angelic hosts when Christ was born, with the shepherds on the mountain. The glory of the Lord shone round about, and this glory is what shone from the face of Jesus on the Mount of the Transfiguration.
We saw how St. Paul said that this glory shines from the face of Christ who is the icon of God, that it is the glory of the Gospel of the knowledge of God, and that this glory is connected with splendor, with light, with magnificence.
We mentioned also—and this is, in fact, a title of Jesus; we could have a talk on this title alone—where in the letter to the Hebrews it says that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the one who holds together all creation. Then it says that he is “the exact image of the Father’s person”—the hypostasis, the haraktir tis hypostaseos aftou—and then it says, “and the apavgasma tis doxis aftou, the radiance, or the splendor, or the brightness, of the Father’s glory.”
In St. John, again, in the prologue, it says, “We beheld his glory, glory as the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” With this imagery of light you have it connected to glory. You have it connected to radiance and splendor. You have it connected to the light in which God dwells. You have it connected to the light which God is. And then, of course, Jesus, himself, is saying, “I am this light”: “I am the light of the world.”
What we want to meditate on now a little bit are two other images found in Scripture, actually, titles for Christ found in Scripture, and they are deeply connected. That is why we are going to meditate on them together. One of them is the expression “the Sun of Righteousness.” The helios tis dikaiosynis. In Slavonic that would be Solntse pravdy. This is not s-o-n, but s-u-n—the Sun of Righteousness.
That expression is found in the Holy Scripture, in virtually the last lines of the canonized Scripture in the prophecy of Malachi, where he speaks about: “The Sun of Righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings.” What we are going to see now is how, so often, in the hymnology of the Church, Jesus is identified with this Sun of Justice, or the Sun of Righteousness.
But what we want to see before we get there, is that this Sun of Righteousness is connected to other images. One is simply the image of the day, the yom, the day of the Lord, the yom Yahweh, or in Greek, the Kyriaki imera, the Lord’s day. This shining forth of the Sun of Righteousness is connected with the day, because when the sun shines, then we are in the day. We will see how this sun imagery is connected with the day imagery, but then it is also connected with the imagery of the dawn, or as it is translated in the King James version, “the dayspring from on high.”
That is in the song of Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, when John the Baptist was born. In the story of John the Baptist being born, his father, Zechariah, was in the temple, and it was revealed to him when he was offering the incense that his wife, Elizabeth, would conceive and have a child. He kind of doubted it because she was very old and beyond child-bearing age, so he was struck dumb. Then he came out from the temple, his wife gave birth to this son, they were going to name him Zechariah, but they are told, “No, no, you have to name him ‘John,’ ” Ioannou, which means the grace of God, the grace of Yahweh, Yahweh’s gift.
Then Zechariah is able to speak after he writes on the tablet, “His name is John,” and he sings the song that is called the Benedictus: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people.” It is in St. Luke’s Gospel, in the [first] chapter. “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people. He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of David.”
It says that this is not only the fulfillment to David, but the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham, that all the people of the world would be blessed through the seed of Abraham, and that it is given to us to worship God in holiness and righteousness before this child all the days of our life. And then in the song there is a reference to John the Baptist. “A new child”—meaning John—“will be called the Prophet of the Most High, and you will go before the Lord to prepare his way, to give knowledge of salvation to his people, in the forgiveness of their sins, through the tender mercy of God.”
Then here is what we want to hear today. It says, in the RSV, “when the day shall dawn upon us from on high, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.” That is the way the hymn ends.
In the King James version it says, “to give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins, through the tender mercy of God, whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us”—it is past—“to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
In Greek, what it says is, “whereby the anatoli ex ypsous,” and that literally means, “the East.” “Anatoli” means “east.” It also means “rising.” In [the] Greek language and [the] Slavonic language, the word for “east” means “the rising, the dawn,” and the word for “west” means “the setting.” In Slavonic it is the same. The setting of the sun is “zapad,” which means “to go down.” It’s “dysin iliou.” We sing that in the hymn “Gladsome Light” at vespers, Phos Hilaron: “Now we have come to the setting of the sun.” That could also be translated, “we have come to the point where the sun is in the west,” in the western sky.
In Greek and Slavonic, east and west are connected with the rising of the sun and the setting of the sun. The literal reading of this text in Zechariah’s Hymn would be: “whereby will visit us the rising of the sun,” or simply, “the East from on high.” The East that comes from above. The rising of the sun comes from below the horizon, but this is the rising that comes ex ipsus, from on high.
In Latin, it is oriens ex alto. “Oriens,” of course, means “orient.” “Orient from on high.” In Slavonic it simply is “Vostok svyshe.” “Vostok,” literally, means “east.” Vostok, oriens, anatoli. In some of the early translations into English of this word when it is used in hymnology, particularly by Isabel Florence Hapgood, who was one of the first translators into English, who simply translated this word as “Orient.” The Orient from on high. In the hymns it will say of him, “the Orient is his name.”
We have Jesus not only being called the Sun of Righteousness, the one who is the s-u-n, the sun, but he is also the dawn, or the dayspring, or the orient, the beginning of the day, and therefore he is connected to the day, because he is the dawn of the new day in which the light shines. You have dawn, day, and sun, all connected together in a kind of a package of images, and all of this refers to Jesus Christ. In the New Testament, and in the church hymnology, all of this is understood to be Jesus Christ himself.
In Malachi, “the Sun of Righteousness shall rise with healing in his wings,” we have the image of sun, and the image of rising, coming up, but we have to read a little bit before that to get the whole picture. It is actually the last chapter of Malachi, which, in some sense, is the last chapter of the Bible, itself, whereas in the third chapter, before we get to the fourth, it is written, “Behold, I send my messenger to prepare the way before me.”
That reminds us of Isaiah, because we have the line in Isaiah about John the Baptist, when he refers to himself in the Gospels. He said, “I am not the Christ; I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness,” the messenger, the angelos. That is why he is sometimes depicted on icons with wings—the messenger, or the angel, who is sent to prepare the way for Christ, who is the Sun of Righteousness.
In the third chapter of Malachi, it says, “Behold I send my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple, the messenger”—angelos—“of the covenant, in whom you delight; behold, he is coming.” We see here, by the way, that the term “angelos,” or messenger, angel, is actually applied to Jesus himself. He himself is God’s messenger. He is not an angel as a bodiless power. He is the Son of God, but, functionally, he is an angel. He is a messenger, like John the Baptist.
It says, “ ‘The messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold, he is coming,’ says the Lord of Hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming?” We have the imagery of day coming in now, yom, imera. “Who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears?”
Then it goes on: “For he is like a refiner’s fire, and like fuller’s soap.” Here we have the imagery, in Scripture, of fire. It is interesting that the term “fire” is never applied to Jesus. I do not think it is; I have never found it, though maybe it is, maybe I missed it. But God is called a fire. In the letter to the Hebrews, it says, “For our God is a consuming fire.”
We know that the image of fire is used in the burning bush, where Moses encounters God and speaks with him face to face. Fire is on the mountaintop, where you have the clouds and the thunder and the lightning and the fire. You have fire in Pentecost, where the Holy Spirit is connected with fire. He comes as tongues of fire.
Jesus does say in the Gospel of Luke, “I have come to cast fire on the earth, and I wish it were already burning.” We should remember that the sun in the sky is a ball of fire. That is what makes it light and warm and heat and burning. It is a fire.
It says that this one who is coming, “whose day is coming, and no one will stand when he appears,” comes like a refiner’s fire. A refiner’s fire, also an image of Scripture, where the fire burns, and it burns out impurities. It burns out what is corrupted. For example, you have the imagery in the Corinthian letter of St. Paul, the first one, about how the day of judgment is like a burning with fire. We endure a fire of the presence of God, and it burns out all our sins and iniquities and purges us and cleanses us, so that we could enter into God’s kingdom totally purified. It says, “Who can endure the day of his coming?”
Malachi continues in the fourth chapter: “ ‘They will be mine,’ says the Lord of Hosts, ‘My special possession, on that day when I act, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him.’ ” There will be a judgment between the righteous and the wicked, between the one who serves God and the one who does not serve God.
Then it says, “For behold, the day comes, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant, and all the evil-doers will be stubble.” That is very reminiscent of the third chapter in the letter to the Corinthians of St. Paul. Read it. Stubble, hay, wood, gold, are all going to be burned and show what they are. The work of a person will be revealed, St. Paul said. He gets it from here: “ ‘The day comes, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all the evil-doers will be stubble. The day that comes shall burn them up,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘so that I will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who fear my name’ ”—and remember in Mary’s song, the Magnificat, she says, “God’s mercy is on those who fear his name.” Those who fear him. Malachi says: “ ‘But for you who hold me in awe, who hold my name as holy,’ ”—who make God’s name holy, like we say in the Lord’s prayer, “hallowed be thy name,” who keep God’s name hallowed, and who fear the Lord, but for those people, for you who fear my name—” ‘the Sun of Righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings, and you shall go forth leaping like calves from the stall, and you shall tread down the wicked, and they will be like ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day’ ”—the day again—” ‘when I act,’ says the Lord of Hosts.’ ” The day when I act.
Very interestingly, we should mention, it continues, “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet, before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes, and he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children, and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the land with a curse.”
It was said that Elijah would come before that day, and he would somehow be the one who prepares it. We know that John the Baptist is identified with Elijah in the New Testament. He was not Elijah himself; he was not a reincarnation of Elijah, but he was the man of God, that is what Elijah means—the man of God. God is Yahweh, God is the Lord.
It says, “I will send you Elijah the prophet.” Jesus says in the synoptic Gospels when they ask him about Elijah, he says, “He has come.” Then it says, “They realized he spoke to them about John the Baptist.”
When this sun is going to rise and bring the day of the Lord, with healing in his wings, for those who fear him, and judgment and burning for those who do not, this is all applied to Jesus. It is all applied, in the New Testament, to Jesus Christ.
Let us just take the time now to look at how this term “Sun of Righteousness” is used in the Liturgy. It is very interesting; the major feasts of the Church have a main hymn called a troparion, or an apolytikion. Generally speaking, the songs are often called troparia, as in the canon, the hymns that go between the odes, the eirmoi, are called troparia. But there is a central hymn, or usually two central hymns, a troparion and a kontakion.
It is interesting to note, certainly right now when we are thinking about Jesus as the Sun of Righteousness, that in these great feasts, that expression is used very often. It occurs in the main hymn for Christmas, the Nativity of Christ; for the Nativity of the Theotokos; and for the Meeting of the Lord in the Temple. In the very central, main hymns, it is there. It also occurs on the Dormition of the Theotokos in the canon, it occurs in the Synaxis of John the Baptist on the day after Epiphany. Very often, you have this expression used.
Let’s begin looking at it on Christmas, on the Feast of Christ’s Nativity. This is how the main hymn of the Nativity of Christ goes: “Your nativity, O Christ our God, has shone to the world the light of wisdom. For by it, those who worshipped the stars were taught by a star to adore you, the Sun of Righteousness, and to know you, the Orient from on high.”
When we reflected on the Nativity of Christ before, we pointed out how the liturgical celebration of the birth of Christ in the Christian Church was put on the very day of the Birth of the Invincible Sun, the dies natali solus invictus, the physical sun in the sky that those whom we call pagans were worshipping, the coming of the new sun in the springtime when things are going to start getting lighter. The twenty-fifth of December was called the birthday of the Invincible Sun, the sun in the sky. The Christians made a polemic against that.
In general, this troparion of Christmas is a polemic against paganism. That is why the song was put on the very day of that particular pagan festival that the Christians were now co-opting, and saying what is really to be celebrated today, what is really to be acknowledged and confessed and proclaimed is the Gospel of Christ. That the nativity is not of the physical sun in the sky being born in the springtime, as the days get longer, but it is the nativity of Christ, our God.
The song begins, “Your nativity, O Christ, our God, has shone to the world the light of wisdom.” It is the light of knowledge, actually. “Wisdom” is an incorrect translation here. It is the light of knowledge, meaning that it is Christ’s birth that brings the real light, the spiritual light, to the world—not the physical light, but the real light, the light of God, which is the light of knowledge, the light of wisdom.
Then it says, “For by it”—the nativity—“those who worshipped the stars”—the stars are also suns, they are also shining lights in the sky—“were taught by a star.” In St. Matthew’s Gospel, the magi from the East are brought to where Jesus is born by a star. There is a special star in the sky that proclaims the birth of the Messiah, the nativity of the Messiah. Those who were stargazers, astrologists, who were worshipping stars, adoring stars, trying to find out the truth about creation in stars, are now taught by a star.
And what are they taught to do? They are taught “to adore you, to worship you, the Sun of Righteousness,” helios dikaiosynis, the Sun of Righteousness. That is from Malachi, as we read previously. “And to know you,” and now we have this other expression, “the Orient from on high.” That is from St. Luke, from the Benedictus, from Zechariah’s hymn when John the Baptist is born.
The orient from high will visit us, it says, the dayspring on high, the oriens ex alto, as it says in Latin, the anatoli ex ipsus. This sun will come visiting us, “to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.” That is a quotation of Isaiah, and that is also found in St. Matthew’s Gospel.
When Jesus begins preaching, this is how it begins: “Land of Zebulon, land of Naphtali, Galilee of the gentiles, the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and those who dwelt in the shadow”—the darkness, the obscurity—“of death, on them the light has shone.”
Christ is referring the Isaiah text to himself. He is the Sun of Righteousness, and he is the Orient from on high: “to adore you, the Sun of Righteousness, and to know you, the Orient from on high. O Lord, glory to you.” We have the quotations of Malachi, and the quotation of St. Luke’s Gospel, the hymn of Zechariah, in that main song of the Nativity of Christ.
Interestingly, the main hymn for the nativity of Christ’s mother, Mary, is understandably patterned after the nativity of Jesus himself. This is now the main hymn for the nativity of the most Holy Theotokos goes in the Orthodox Church: “Your nativity, O Virgin, has proclaimed joy to the whole universe. The Sun of Righteousness”—there it is again—“Christ our God, has shone from you, O Theotokos.”
The claim is that the Sun of Righteousness being born is going to shine forth from the Theotokos. The sun is going to come forth from his mother’s womb. The services also use the line of the psalm, “Out of the womb, before the morning star, have I begotten thee,” and sometimes even in the hymnology, the morning star is compared to John the Baptist, who prepares for the coming of the birth of the sun, the coming of the sun, the morning star, when it is still dark, before the sun comes up.
Then it says, “By annulling the curse, he bestowed a blessing. By destroying death, he granted us eternal life.” It says, “Your nativity, O Virgin, has proclaimed joy to the whole universe. The Sun of Righteousness, Christ our God, has shined forth from you, O Theotokos. By annulling the curse”—that means the curse of Joachim and Anna, because they had no baby, especially for Anna, as a woman was considered cursed when she was barren—“he bestowed a blessing. By destroying death, he has granted us eternal life.”
Interestingly, also, on the Festival of the Meeting of the Lord in the Temple, we have the same imagery being used in church. The main hymn for the Meeting of the Lord in the Temple also mentions the Sun of Righteousness. This is what it says, “Rejoice, O Virgin, Theotokos, full of grace.” Those are the words of the angel to Mary. Haire—rejoice, hail—keharitomeni—full of grace, O gracious one. Virgin: Theotokos. Then it says, “From you shone the Sun of Righteousness, Christ our God.”
On the Meeting of the Lord in the Temple, which is the purification of Mary for having given birth to Jesus, even though it is as a virgin, and her womb is sealed as a virgin, she had never known a man, but she gave birth to the Word of God in human flesh, we sing to her on that day when she comes to the temple with her newborn baby, “Rejoice, O Virgin, Theotokos, full of grace. From you shone the Sun of Righteousness, Christ our God.”
Then it continues, “enlightening those who sat in darkness”—the Isaiah line—“Rejoice and be glad, O righteous elder”—meaning Simeon, the one who held the baby Jesus in his arms—“you accepted in your arms the redeemer of our souls”—which could be translated also “the redeemer of our lives”—“who grants us the resurrection.”
Mary is asked to rejoice, and Simeon is asked to rejoice, because the Sun of Righteousness, who shone from Mary, is enlightening those who sat in darkness. We know that Simeon, when he held Jesus in his arms, made a song, too. He made a canticle: “Lord, now let your servant depart in peace, according to your word, for mine eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared before the face of all people”—and then you have the imagery again, a light of revelation—“a light to enlighten the gentiles”—the nations—“and to be the”—kabod—“the glory”—the splendor—“of your people, Israel.” At the Meeting in the Temple, we have the same imagery being used of the Sun of Righteousness.
It is used in other festivals also. For example, on the Exaltation of the Cross, we have a reference to Joshua, the son of Nun, who was foreshadowing the victory of Christ in his triumph over Jericho and his entering into the city after crossing the Jordan River, when the sun stood still. Very often, in Orthodox Liturgy it will say things like, “When Joshua was victorious, the sun in the heavens stood still, but when the Sun of Righteousness was crucified on earth, then it was the earth that stood still.” It kind of makes a poetic play on the sun standing still, and the earth standing still. Of course, that is connected, actually, in the Cross, and it is connected in the passion of Christ, where, when Jesus is crucified, the sun is darkened, it is eclipsed.
In the Orthodox Church we sing, “When Christ is put into the tomb,” the imagery of the praises over the tomb of Christ, it says that the sun not only was darkened in the sky, but the Sun of Righteousness was darkened in the tomb, the light was eclipsed by the darkness of the tomb. Then the tomb becomes filled with light, more splendid than paradise, and then from the darkness of the tomb, emerges again, the Sun of Righteousness, bursting forth from the tomb as he shone forth from the womb of Mary.
By the way, I cannot resist saying here that, in my opinion, that is why in our poetic theology we contemplate Mary’s womb as being sealed, even after she gave birth, because Jesus’ tomb was sealed when he was buried, and he rose from the dead with the tomb being sealed. So we contemplate Mary, as he is being born, with her womb being sealed, as a virgin. I believe that is liturgical poetry. The Scripture says, also, that her womb was opened. Maybe it was resealed.
But it is interesting that the gate facing the East is connected to Mary, also, and the East is Orient. The East is where the sun comes from. Orient is his name. She is the gate facing the East, and that gate is opened, and the glory of God goes into the temple (Ezekiel 44). Then that door is sealed, it is closed up again, and no one ever enters it anymore by that way. This is taken as a kind of symbol of the birth of Christ, that God’s word went into Mary’s womb, and she gave birth to him, and her womb was sealed, and no one else ever went in or out by that way anymore. But it is the glory that comes. It is the glory that enters in, that very shining, splendid light.
We have this understanding, a kind of poetic opposition between the sun standing still when Joshua is there, and the Sun of Righteousness being eclipsed and darkened when Jesus comes, only to burst forth again with healing in his wings in order to save the world, as the Sun of Righteousness.
On the Theophany, when the water is blessed, there is a long prayer reading by Sophronius of Jerusalem, the bishop, who some think, by the way, is also the author of the hymn Phos Hilaron at vespers, “O Gladsome Light of the holy glory of the immortal Father, heavenly, holy, blessed Father, Jesus Christ.”
Jesus Christ is the light. It says that having come to the light of evening, when the sun sets, we glorify Jesus Christ, the light that never sets. On Theophany, Sophronius has a long prayer at the blessing of the water. This is done in monasteries. We do it here in Elwood City, at the monastery. It is not always done in parish churches. In that prayer, this is what it says: “Today the Sun that never sets has risen, and the world is filled with splendor by the light of the Lord. Today the moon shines upon the world with the brightness of its rays. Today the glittering stars make the inhabited earth fair with the radiance of their shining.”
We have the Sun that never sets, with a capital S, in the prayer. It means Jesus. The Sun that never sets has risen. Christ has come. Then: “The splendor of creation is showing on high.” He is called “the Sun of Righteousness” in the same prayer. It says, “Today, Paradise has opened to men, and the Sun of Righteousness”—again, helios dikaiosynis, the Sun of Righteousness—“shines down upon us.” We have the same imagery used in this prayer, which then ends with a doxology to Jesus, as “Light of Light, true God of true God,” as we find in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed.
In the Theophany, also on the eikos of matins, you have the same imagery being used. The kontakion for Theophany goes like this: “Today you have appeared in the universe, and your light, O Lord, has shone upon us, who with knowledge sing your praises. You have come. You are manifested. You are the Light that no human being can approach.”
Then the eikos, which is a longer verse that always goes with the kontakion, goes like this: “Upon Galilee of the Galilees, upon the land of Zebulon and the land of Naphthalim, as the prophet said”—that means Isaiah, quoted in Matthew’s Gospel—“a great light has shone, even Christ our God. To those that sat in darkness, a bright dawn”—that is Orient, again: a bright dayspring, a bright East—“has appeared as lightning from Bethlehem. The Lord, born from Mary”—and now you have the word again—“the Sun of Righteousness, sheds his rays upon the whole inhabited world. Come then, naked children of Adam, let us clothe ourselves in him”—because “as many as are baptized in Christ have clothed themselves with Christ”—“that we may warm ourselves. Thou who are a protection and veil to the naked, a light to those in darkness, you have come. You have shined forth. You are the Light that no human being can approach.” Here again, he is called, simply, the Sun of Righteousness.
The same thing takes place on the Synaxis of John the Baptist on the next day. I will just give you one or two examples. In the canon of matins it says, “O John, you have come as the voice of the Word, and as the morning star, you have arisen, O Forerunner, plainly announcing the coming of the Sun of Righteousness.” Malachi’s expression, again.
Then in the eikos it says, “Unto him that was in black darkness”—meaning Adam, who had fallen—“a Light has risen that shall never be put out. There is no more night for him. All is day. For his sake the hour has now come round to the break of day”—to the dawn, to the East—“for it is written, it was the cool of evening when he was hidden in the earth, he who fell at evening”—meaning he died at the end of the day on Friday—“has found the brightness that raises him up. He is released from gloom, and has come to the dawn that is made manifest and gives light to all.”
John the Baptist is said to have gone into the tomb, but the brightness who is shining comes into the darkness, like the dawn of the new day, and manifests and raises up the day, and there is no night ever again, because he is all day, and when we contemplated the light, we read from the Apocalypse, the Book of Revelation, that in the coming Kingdom of God, there is no sun. God himself is the light, and the Lamb is the light, the radiance, Christ, the lamp. They enlighten all human beings, the whole of creation, in the coming Kingdom that we Christians are expecting.
Just one more example, the Dormition of the Virgin Mary. In the canon, again at matins, this is what is said: “The apostles assembled from the ends of the earth to minister to you, O Virgin”—because in the contemplation of the Church, all the apostles gathered around the dead body of Mary—“you are the swift cloud from whom the most high God, the Sun of Righteousness, shined forth upon those who were in the darkness, and the shadow of death.” It is, again, the very same imagery. Mary is now dying, and the apostles are assembling, and they are assembling to minister to her, from whom the Sun of Righteousness has shone forth, and to those who were in darkness, and in the shadow of death.
There is one more song that is very well known in the Orthodox Church. Almost all really committed Church people know this song, because it is sung at various services. It is sung at vespers sometimes, matins sometimes, but the way it really became known among the people is that this song is sung at marriages and at ordinations.
At the ordination of a deacon or a priest, or at a marriage, where a man and a woman are getting married in Church, there is a part, in both services, where a circular procession is made that symbolizes the unending life of the Kingdom of God. In the marriage, the procession is made around the stand with the Gospel book on it, usually in the middle of the church.
In the Carpatho-Russian tradition, sometimes the Gospel is left right on the altar table, and the married couple actually go into the sanctuary and walk around the actual altar table, including the new bride, with her husband, going into the altar area and walking around the altar table.
More normally now, in fact, almost exclusively, that procession is made around another altar, another table that is placed in the middle of the church, on which is sitting the Gospel book, and sometimes the Gospel book is carried, and the newly married couple make a procession around that table, just as would happen when someone is baptized, when there is a procession around the baptismal font.
In the ordination, there is the procession around the altar table. The man to be ordained a deacon comes through the royal doors and is led by other deacons around the altar table, kissing the corners, and a hymn is sung when that happens. When a deacon is being ordained a priest, he is led into the altar area through the royal doors, and presbyters, who will be his fellow presbyters, lead him around the altar table, and he kisses each of the corners of the altar and this hymn is sung.
What is this hymn? This is the hymn: “Rejoice, O Isaiah, a virgin is with child, and shall bear a son, Emmanuel, both God and man. And Orient is his name”—Orient, Vostok, Anatoli, Oriens, East—“whom, magnifying, we call the virgin blessed.”
I will say it again: “Rejoice, O Isaiah”—Isaiah, the prophet, is called to rejoice—“for a virgin is with child”—Isaiah prophesied that the young woman, the virgin, would be with child, and she is having a son—“and shall call his name ‘Emmanuel.’ ” That is also in Isaiah. “Emmanuel” means “God with us,” and that is in Matthew’s Gospel. That is one of the names of Jesus—Emmanuel, God with us.
Then it says, “And Orient is his name.” I cannot help but think it in Slavonic, I heard it so many times in my life. I vostoke imya yemu. Anatoli is his onoma. His name is East. His name is the Dawn. His name is the Dayspring. That comes, again, from Zechariah’s hymn at the birth of John the Baptist, The Orient shall arise: “Orient is his name, whom, magnifying”—whom, proclaiming his greatness—“we called the virgin blessed.”
We sing in church that his name is the Orient. His name is the East. He is the Sun of Righteousness. Therefore, as the East, and as the Sun, he brings the yom Yahweh, he brings the Kyriaki imera, the Day of the Lord.
Just one last little comment about the imagery of day, when the sun is shining and the dawn has come, and the dayspring has arisen, and the Sun of Righteousness has arisen with healing in his wings, as Malachi said. In the Holy Scripture, day, the yom, the day of the Lord, has a double meaning, as often is the case in the Bible. It is a day of darkness, it is a day of judgment. Amos says it. Isaiah says it. It is a dark day. It is not a day filled with light, but it is a dark day for sinners. It is a dark day. That Sun kind of plunges the evil into darkness, and it is not pretty. It is not peaceful, it is not joyful, at all, for the unrighteous. For example, we have in Isaiah 13:
Wail, for the day of the Lord is near, as destruction from the Almighty will come. Therefore all hands will be feeble, every man’s heart will melt and they will be dismayed. Pangs and agony will seize them. They will be in anguish like a woman in travail. They will look aghast at one another. Their faces will be all aflame. Behold the day of the Lord comes, cruel, with wrath and fierce anger, to make the earth a desolation and to destroy its sinners from it, and the stars from the heaven and their constellations will not give their light. The sun will be dark at its rising, the moon will not shed its light, and I will punish the world for its evil and the wicked for their iniquities. I will put an end to human pride of the arrogant, and lay low the haughtiness of the ruthless.
We have the same thing in Amos:
Woe to you who desire the day of the Lord. Why would you have the day of the Lord? It is darkness, and not light, as if a man fled from a lion, and a bear met him, or went into the house and leaned with his hand against the wall and a serpent bit him. Is not the day of the Lord darkness, and not light? Is it not gloom, with no brightness in it?
These are statements that are made to the unrighteous, to the wicked. That bright, shining day of the Lord will come upon them like a judgment. Amos also says, and we spoke about this when we spoke about Jesus as the light, on Great Friday in Church, “The sun will go down in the middle of the day and darken the earth in broad daylight. I will turn your Feast”—the Feast of Passover—“into mourning, and all your songs into lamentation”—Christ was crucified on that day.
However, we have to also affirm the exact opposite, like we almost always do. It is paradoxical, because that day of the Lord is a day of light, it is a day of splendor, it is a day of glory, it is a day of victory. It is a day of life, for those who want God, for those who adore God, for those who worship God.
That day of the Lord, when the Sun of Righteousness comes shining, as we have already said, is like a judgment, even a torment, even a kind of a punishment, on those who hold fast to their sins and refuse to repent, to adore the Sun, to adore the Light, to love the Light. For those who prefer darkness and death, the day of the Lord is torment.
For those who love the day, who are children of the day, and children of the Light, who love Light, who love God, who love Christ, that day, when the Sun of Righteousness shines, and the dayspring from on high visits us, is a day of healing. It is a day of forgiveness, it is a day of cleansing, it is a day of illumination and enlightenment. It is a day when creatures—human beings—can enter in to the very light of God, and become, themselves, light.
In fact, according to the holy Fathers, you enter into the fire of God and become all fire. There is a famous story of the desert Fathers, Joseph and Lot, where the one said to the other, “What should I do, Father?”
The other said, “What do you do?”
“Well, I say my prayer, I read my psalms, I keep my fast, I try to love the brethren.”
The other man—I think it was Lot—said to him, “Oh, you do very well, that is good, keep it up.” Then he looked at him and he lifted up his hands and his fingers became like ten flames, and he said, “If you will, you can become all fire.”
When the Sun of Righteousness, that spiritual ball of fire, enters into the world and casts fire on the earth, that fire is a torment to those who do not love it, but it is all joy for those who love it. And those who love it become, themselves, all fire. They become, themselves, all light. They are filled with the light and the fire of God himself, the Sun of Righteousness, and then they live in that day without evening that has no darkness and no death—the day when the Sun is shining and will never set, as we heard in the liturgical hymns that we just read.
It is our teaching, it is Orthodox Christianity, that Jesus Christ is the Sun of Righteousness that Malachi proclaimed. He is the Orient from on high, the dayspring from on high, about which Zechariah sang in his canticle when John the Baptist, the Forerunner of the Lord, was born. So we give glory to God, and we sing to him: “Rejoice, rejoice, O God. Your nativity has shown to the world the light of wisdom, for you are the Sun of Righteousness.”
We can even sing to the prophets: “Rejoice, Isaiah, a virgin is with child, and shall bear a son, Emmanuel, both God and man, and Orient is his name, whom magnifying, we call you, the virgin”—the mother who gave birth to the Sun of Righteousness—“blessed.”
Our Lord, Jesus, is the Sun of Righteousness, and he is the Orient from on high.