“Many are called but few are chosen”. So says Christ in today’s Gospel. If we think of the knowledge of God conserved among different peoples in the world before Christ, these words have a special significance.
Some peoples conserved a dim memory of events of the human past. In Australia the Aborigenes kept a vague memory of how God created the world perfect, which they call the ‘Dreamtime’. All over the world, from Asia to South America, some 120 different peoples and cultures have kept the memory of a great, universal flood, which is known to us in detail through Noah. In India the Hindus long ago kept an intuition of a Trinitarian God, but among them their knowledge of God became so twisted that their trinity is a trinity of destructive gods. Other peoples fell even further and began worshipping stones and trees, rivers and mountains, mistaking creation for the Creator.
For instance, in this country, thousands of years before Christ, the ‘cleverest’ people, not unlike some today, worshipped the stars, as we can see from the great astronomical monument that they built and called Stonehenge. At that time in Egypt too the cleverest people built huge Pyramids to worship the Sun, and through which they believed that their leaders, the Pharoahs, would become stars. Other peoples altogether gave up on ever knowing God and declared that the way ahead consisted in following the wisest men of their cultures, Buddha in India, or Confucius in China. In Ancient Greece, the wisest men declared that men could never know God unless God first revealed Himself to man and in Athens they set up an altar to “the Unknown God”.
“Many were called but few were chosen,” for among all these peoples and cultures, there were representatives of one people who conserved the true history of mankind. This people were the Jews, the ancient Hebrews, the chosen people, and today we commemorate all the righteous among them, our forefathers and foremothers in the Faith. From Adam and Eve on, there were among that people righteous and holy men and women. In their lives they prefigured the life of Christ and foresaw Christ.
Abel, who was murdered by his brother Cain, is a prefiguration of Christ, who was also murdered by men. Melchizedek the priest is the prefiguration of Christ the High Priest. Enoch and Elijah, who were taken up to heaven, prefigure Christ Who was also taken up to heaven. Noah, whose family alone survived the Flood, is a prefiguration of the baptism of purification given to us by Christ. Job the long-suffering prefigures the longsuffering of Christ. Abraham, who was asked to sacrifice his son Isaac, prefigures the sacrifice that God the Father made with His Son.
Jacob prefigures Christ, for he saw the ladder that connects earth to heaven, enabling heaven to come down to earth and earth to rise up to heaven. Joseph, who was betrayed by his twelve brothers, prefigures Christ who was betrayed by His disciples. Moses, the leader of his people, who was given the great revelation of the Ten Commandments, unsurpassed until Christ gave us the Beatitudes, prefigures Christ, for Moses saw the burning bush unconsumed, which is the Virgin’s womb, which was unconsumed by the fire of Christ.
Joshua, whose name is the same as Christ’s, that is Jesus, the Saviour, prefigures Jesus the Deliverer of His people. David, related by blood to Christ, saw Christ in the Psalms which he wrote down. Solomon expressed the Wisdom of God in his Books of Wisdom. The Prophet Daniel saw the Holy Trinity through the Three Holy Youths in the furnace of Babylon. The Prophet Isaiah saw Christ the suffering Servant. The Prophet Jonah prefigures the three-day burial of Christ through his three-day stay in the belly of the whale.
All these holy forefathers together with our holy foremothers, Sarah, Rebecca, Ruth, Deborah and many, many more, whose icons are all on the back wall of our church, which is devoted to the righteous of the Old Testament, all these we commemorate today. All these are in fact our spiritual family, for they saw, long before we were born, the One Whom we confess, Christ our true God Who is Risen from the dead.
Let us in these last few days before the celebration of the Birth of the Saviour on earth, read one, or at least one part, of their writings, for example, in the Book of Genesis, the Book of Exodus, the Book of Proverbs, or simply the Psalms, and let us renew our links with our ancestors in the Orthodox Faith.
Holy Forefathers and Foremothers of Christ, pray to God for us! Amen.
— Fr. Andrew Phillips