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Fr. David's Lent Reflections Day 20

Day 20:

Today is the third Saturday of this year’s Lenten journey, brothers and sisters, the day before the Elevation of the Holy Cross which marks the half-way point of Lent. I hope that the fast has been spiritually treasure-filled for you so far, and pray that for all of us the remaining days of Lent will be joyful, strong, and saturated with prayer. It has genuinely been a help for me to have you join me as we’ve reflected on the readings from the prophet Isaiah.

During this past week, the readings were from chapters 8 -13 of Isaiah, and I used an English translation from the LXX version of the Old Testament. This is the version used by the Orthodox Church since the beginning (even though some churches use Protestant versions on their websites today). The LXX, which is the Greek translation of the Old Testament, comprised the scriptures used by Jesus and by the disciples. This is why, when you compare any New Testament quotation from the Old Testament with the actual Old Testament text, the words are often different. Why? Because most Protestant Bibles use Hebrew sources to translate the Old Testament rather than the Greek sources used by the apostles and the Church fathers.

I use the Brenton translation, which is rather old (you may have noticed that he translates in a King Jamesy style), but is still a kind of standard for non-scholars.

At the beginning of the week we read a passage which stands out as very different between the two versions of Isaiah, I’m referring to chapter 9 verse 1, which in the LXX begins Τούτο πρῶτον πίε, that is, “drink this first.” It says nothing like this in the Protestant Bibles, and indeed, in the Hebrew versions of Isaiah this verse is entirely absent.

But what does that mean, “drink this first?” In the passage just before, Isaiah told the people about God’s wrath, that those who had turned their backs on God would experience “severe distress, and darkness, affliction, and anguish, and darkness so that one cannot see.” Two kinds of darkness, apparently. But chapter 9 tells about the restoration: “O people walking in darkness, behold a great light: ye that dwell in the region and shadow of death, a light shall shine upon you.” Isaiah gives this prophesy to the “Galilee of the Gentiles,” and Eusebius interprets this as prophesying that Jesus would proclaim the gospel in Galilee first before He went to Judea, which He did. But as I look at the rest of this week’s readings, I see a pattern that might shed a different light on these unusual words, “drink this first.” God sends His warnings to the people through Isaiah, telling them that they will experience great affliction and turmoil - but that this will not be the end of the matter. After affliction comes comfort. After punishment comes restoration. This is something we always need to remember during times of affliction - they do not last forever. Those who love God look beyond the affliction to the promise.

As we come to this mid-point of Lent, brothers and sisters, we may feel the burden of affliction, I refer to the fast, an affliction that we place on ourselves because of our love for God and our desire to follow the precepts of the Church. This affliction is a lesson to us, each moment of each day of the fast. What lesson? That affliction has an end. Drink this first - before you experience the distress, look toward the reward. The cross of Great and Holy Friday is coming soon, brothers and sisters, but following quickly upon it is the empty tomb of Pascha.

(a quotation from the Triodion I didn’t use: “O all-destroying death, expect now thine own dissolution. Let thy doorkeepers look to the bolts and bars: for Christ shall raise up Lazarus and shatter thy gates by His word. With us the Prophet cries to thee, 'O hell, drink this first.’" Canon 2 from the Triodion. Ode ix. Mode pl. 2. Thursday before Palm Sunday)

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