The Sunday Next Before Advent | Notes from Subdeacon Joseph | Orthodox Advent
Notes from the Subdeacon
Sunday Next Before Advent
The Introit. Jeremiah xxix. (Dicit Dominus) Thus saith the Lord: I think thoughts of peace and not of affliction: ye shall call upon me and I will hearken unto you: and will bring again your captivity from all places. Ps. lxxxv. Lord, thou art become gracious unto thy land: thou hast turned away the captivity of Jacob.
In this Introit Jeremiah proclaims hope and salvation to the Jews who were driven into exile in Babylon. Decades earlier, in 740 – 720 BC, the 10 tribes of the northern kingdom – Israel – had been destroyed by the Assyrians and most of the survivors deported into exile in Assyria. Then in 598-597 BC the Babylonians invaded Judah (including Jerusalem and the Temple), conquered it and deported much of the population to Babylon. The reason for both of these tragic events is the same: the Jews had deviated from their obligation to follow the law which had been given to them through Moses and which they had solemnly promised both individually and as a people to abide by. 2 Kings 23 which has provided the Old Testament lesson at Matins and Deuteronomy Chapter 4, which provides the Old Testament lesson at Vespers during this past week, set out clearly these obligations and the penalties which they would incur if they did not keep God’s Law.
In the chapters preceding today’s Introit, Jeremiah vigorously and repeatedly told the citizens of Judah and their leaders how seriously their idolatry and other evil deeds offended God. He repeatedly told them that this continual betrayal of God and their covenant with Him would bring disaster upon them and, in 598 BC, it did. However, Jeremiah’s prophetic mission was not over. God is always faithful, even to those who have abandoned Him. His mercy is beyond telling and Jeremiah was commanded to preach comfort to the exiles. He was told to write to the exiles and to assure them that their exile was at an end. Following the command of God, Jeremiah told them that a new Exodus – the return from Babylon – would take place, and the Temple and its worship would be restored. The verses of the Introit are from this letter of hope.
In these last few Sundays of the Church year there has been emphasis on the depth of iniquity and sin in which mankind has found itself. We are rightly reminded of judgment which we face at the end of our lives and in our prayers we call upon Him for mercy. In the verse from Psalm lxxxv we rejoice that the Lord has heard us and has brought us out of captivity and slavery to death and hell by the life-giving Incarnation, Passion, Death and Resurrection of His Son.
Gradual & Alleluia. Ps. xliv. It is thou, Lord, that savest us from our enemies, and puttest them to confusion that hate us. We make our boast of God all day long, and will praise thy Name forever. Alleluia, alleluia. Ps cxxx. Out of the deep have I called unto thee, O Lord: Lord, hear my voice. Alleluia.
In commenting on the verse above, St. Augustine reminds us that God uses the past event of the rescue from captivity of the Babylonian exiles as a prediction “of the future under the figure of the past. This is the reason that it is spoken of as if it were past, that it is as certain as if it were past. … Because to God things to come also are as certain as if they were past. It is for this reason … that those things which are yet future, are spoken of as if past. This it is then that we hope for.[i]” Burden though we are with sin and death, we are sure that the Lord will forgive us, He will heal us through His Sacraments. This it is which leads us to praise Him. We continue this praise in the Alleluia verse, which is the same verse from Ps. cxxx which was the Introit last Sunday and which is the Offertory verse today.
Offertory. Ps cxxx. Out of the deep have I called unto thee, O Lord: Lord, hear my voice. Out of the deep have I called unto thee, O Lord.
Recall from last Sunday that the deep is this mortal life in which we are burdened by sin and iniquity. However, in this Psalm we are to rejoice because God has indeed heard our voice, calling from the deep. At this point in the liturgy, the sacred gifts are being prepared; they will shortly be transformed into the very Body and Blood of Christ. This Body and Blood will strengthen us, will heal us and is the Father’s definitive answer to us, crying out to Him from the deep. He says “I love you so much that I send you My very own Son to redeem you.”
Communion. St. Mark xi. Verily, I say unto you: What things soever you desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them and it shall be done unto you.
The Introit, Gradual & Alleluia, and Offertory generally look forward to the great Mystery of the Eucharist and prepare us to partake of Christ’s Body and Blood. The Communion verse generally is more of a thanksgiving for the Holy Communion. However, there are times, such as in today’s Communion verse that something additional is added to it. Here we have the very words of Christ in which He tells us that He will indeed answer our prayers. The particular verse chosen is verse 24 in Chapter 11. In the immediately preceding verse ( Mark 11:23). Jesus tells Peter to have faith in God and that with such firm faith, God will answer any request. The Communion verse above then follows.
What does this mean for us? Much can be said and, indeed, much has been said. The one thing that I am sure that we are to take away from this verse is that it is absolutely necessary that welay before God in prayer all our needs and desires and humbly trust that in His mercy He will give us what we really want.
[i] St. Augustine, Expositions on the Psalms, volume I, p 130.