Homily at the Service for the Week of Christian Unity
18th January 2018
by Metropolitan Nektarios of Hong Kong and South East Asia
It is a great joy for me to take part in this event, which has been organised within the framework of the Week of prayer for the Unity of Christian Churches and Denominations.
I would like to thank you inviting me to be the speaker at this event this morning, and indeed it is a great honour.
The main theme of this year’s Week for Christian Unity is taken from the Old Testament, from the Book of Exodus.
“Your right hand, O Lord, glorious in power” (Exodus 15:6).
This is word of praise and thanks towards the Lord. This phrase is found in the First Ode of Moses. It is the song of praise that the people of Israel sang to the Lord after the wondrous crossing of the Red Sea and their salvation from the slavery of Pharaoh.
Moses conveys to the people of Israel the message of hope and deliverance. The sufferings and trials of the people are a type of catharsis and repentance. God, through miraculous signs, brings about the liberation of the Israelites. He crushes those who love war. He scatters those who do not respect others’ freedom and dignity.
It should be noted that God is not warlike. He does not want wars. God is the prince and source of peace. He calls people to repent and to be delivered from their evil passions. Sometimes, as with Pharaoh, he allows unfortunate things to happen, so that people may realise the magnitude of their evil and wickedness. When evil people refuse to understand god’s love for man, and continue to tyrannise the humble and righteous, God intervenes in order to protect and save those being treated unjustly. The unjust are punished by their own wickedness.
The people of Israel thanked God for their deliverance. Later they made the mistake of believing that God is the God of Israel only and that he cares only for the nation of Israel and is indifferent to the other nations. But in the Old Testament God is presented as a universal God, who cares for the whole world without showing any particular favour towards the people of Israel. The Prophet Amos does not let Israel think that it has some special privilege from God. That is why Amos makes a parallel between the Exodus from Egypt and the exodus of the Philistines from Caphtor and the Arameans from Kir.
“Are you not as the sons of Ethiopia to Me, O sons of Israel?” declares the Lord. “Have I not brought up Israel from the land of Egypt, and the Philistines from Caphtor and the Arameans from Kir?” (Amos 9:7).
The Prophet Amos stresses to the Israelites that the privilege of being the chosen people does not mean that they have special rights in comparison with the other nations, but that it is under a special obligation to do good. If they do not do good, then they will be punished by God.
God’s interest in every person is rooted in God’s love for man, whom he has created and in the wondrous gifts with which he has endowed man.
Man was created according to the image and likeness of God, and represents the culmination and consummation of divine creation. Man’s disobedience to the will of God and the misuse of the divine gifts led to the Fall, that is to man’s alienation from the life-giving God.
Man was created to enjoy freedom, love, peace and joy. He was created to thrive in good deeds. But he rejected the freedom offered to him by God. He chose autonomy. He made himself a slave to corruption and death.
In the history of mankind after the Fall the terrible consequences of corruption are evident. Wickedness and evil dominate people’s lives. We see violence, racial hatred, intolerance, war, social inequality, and disrespect for human dignity.
God wanted to heal this wretchedness of man through his incarnation. Our Lord Jesus Christ came into the world in order to restore man to his original glory and to abolish the world of disobedience, corruption and death.
We see God’s plan for man’s salvation put into action immediately after man’s Fall into sin. The whole of the Old Testament is essentially the narration of God’s plan for the deliverance of man and the whole of creation from the tyranny of corruption, death and the devil.
There are some people who think that the Old Testament is the history of the nation of Israel. This is to fall into the same trap as the Israelites, who declared God the God of their own nation. As I have already mentioned, God cares for all people, without distinction. In the Old Testament we see how God prepares man for the coming of the Saviour. This is why the types of Christ and prophecies found in the Old Testament are useful to us. The knowledge of these types of Christ helps us to understand the New Testament. The writers of the New Testament were convinced that God, in the person of Jesus Christ, fulfilled all the prophecies and hopes of the long history of Israel. A new and definitive exodus was fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ.
Let us take as an example the Gospel of Luke. The tradition of the exodus is met in the Magnificat of the Mother of God, Virgin Mary (Luke 1: 46-55). This is a hymn that is strongly reminiscent of the First Ode of Moses (Exodus 15:1-18).
“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour! For He has looked with favour on the humble state of His servant. … He has performed mighty deeds with His arm; He has scattered those who are proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones, but has exalted the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things, but has sent the rich away empty. He has helped His servant Israel, remembering to be merciful, as He promised to our fathers, to Abraham and his descendants forever.” (Luke 1:46-55)
Through the divine infant the promises to the coming generations will be fulfilled, as was the case with Israel.
The old Israel thanked God for the Exodus from Egypt and the crossing of the Red Sea. The new Israel must come out of Egypt, to cross the sea and reveal a new life marked above all by obedience. Christ expresses absolute obedience to God the Father through his Passion and Resurrection. Christ, the first who was resurrected from the dead, revealed the light to the Judeans and the nations. His own exodus, in comparison to that of Moses, has a universal character. It is not limited by space or time. Moses was chosen by God to lead the Israelites out of Egypt into the Promised Land. Christ was chosen by God the Father to lead the new exodus, which is a common exodus for both the Judeans and the nations.
The events of Exodus, the Ode of Moses after the crossing of the Red Sea, and the sacrifice of the Paschal Lamb, are also central to the Book of Revelation.
“I saw in heaven another great and marvelous sign: seven angels with the seven last plagues—last, because with them God’s wrath is completed. And I saw what looked like a sea of glass glowing with fire and, standing beside the sea, those who had been victorious over the beast and its image and over the number of its name. They held harps given them by God and sang the song of God’s servant Moses and of the Lamb:
“Great and marvelous are your deeds, Lord God Almighty.
Just and true are your ways, King of the nations.
Who will not fear you, Lord, and bring glory to your name?
For you alone are holy.
All nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous acts have been revealed.” (Revelation 15: 1-4)
On this strange, heavenly sea glowing with fire (references to the Red Sea and the Divine manifestation) the prophet saw the martyrs singing and rejoicing in their victory. This victory is the escape from the danger of the beast, just as Moses’ Ode (Exodus 15:1) was a victorious ode for the deliverance of Israel from the slavery of Egypt. One recognises Pharaoh in the beast, who was destroyed by the water of judgment, while the servants of God, the victors, pass to the other shore, having overcome death. The Paschal lamb during the Exodus was linked only to the deliverance of the Israelites. The ‘slaughtered lamb’, on the contrary, gives salvation to all people (Revelation 7:10-14). By using the Christological title of Lamb, in which humility, the passion and the sacrifice on the cross are concentrated, the supremacy of Christ in comparison to Moses is underlined, and Moses is characterised as a ‘servant of God’ (Revelation 15:3). The parallel made between Moses and Christ is made within the framework of the two periods of divine providence, and the corresponding Testaments, so that Moses becomes a ‘type’ of Christ, while Christ fulfils the ‘type’ of Moses.
The connection of the Ode of Moses with the Magnificat in Luke and the Ode of the Martyrs in Revelation is useful for all of us.
We Christians are the new Israel. We experience the wondrous things that God does. We ought to give thanks to our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. He grants us salvation, freedom and forgiveness.
But St Paul stresses that the Christian calling contains the element of service, which is similar to the service of Moses in the Old Testament. Moses is the slave of God, the ‘servant’ of the Old Testament. We Christians, who have the great blessing to have tasted the glory of our Saviour Jesus Christ, are the ‘servants’ of the New Testament. We are those who must reveal to the world the glory of God, the gospel of Christ.
Our Lord Jesus Christ came to restore man to his original glory, and to abolish the world of division, alienation, racial distinctions, and hatred.
We are called to overcome our imperfections and weaknesses, to work for our unity. Along with our personal spiritual struggle we are called to remain faithful to God’s calling and the witness of the gospel of Christ.
Having received mercy through Christ’s grace, we are called to unite our voice, and to fight against anything that deprives man of his God-given gifts of freedom, peace, and equality.
May every day be an opportunity to thank the Lord for all the wondrous things that he does for our salvation and for the salvation and renewal of all people and all creation.
“To our Savior and God who led the people of old across the Red Sea with unwetted feet, and who submerged thereunder Pharaoh and his forces all, to Him only let us sing, for He is glorified.”
(Hymn of the Feast of Ascension)