As we contemplate once again the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ, we must not loose sight of the Wisdom that the Church has provided us with in teaching us about the meaning of these events.
It is sometimes missed by the theologians of the modern era that, when Our Lord was given a name in the apparition of an Angel to St. Joseph, the sacred name of Jesus was not a name that was new to the world of the Israelite and Jewish peoples at that time. Since the use of English bibles in the New World and the British Isles make no mention of the name of Jesus in the Old Testament, many peoples in these lands are given to interpret that an original name has been provided by the Angel in order to emphasize the uniqueness of the Divine Person of Our Lord made incarnate. However, in our Orthodox Faith, we are long used to the fact from our knowledge of the Septuagint that the name of the sixth Book of the Old Testament is the Book of Jesus, Son of Nun. It is significant then that we reflect on the message conveyed to us by St. Joseph’s dream, for there is no evidence given, especially in the genealogies of the Old and New Testaments that, following the customs of the people of Juda and the House of David, any relative of this name in the families of Joseph and Mary lived in proximate times to the birth of Our Lord.
Most people of English origin would of course have heard the name of the sixth book of the bible as the Book of Joshua, but they would not be inclined to understand that the Greek language would transliterate the original Hebrew name of Yehoshua or Joshua (which in Hebrew means “Yahweh saves”) with the Greek (and Latin) form of the name “Jesus.” Thus, it would be ordinary to understand for the peoples in our lands to recognize that the Joshua of the Old Testament was a military warrior who succeeded in bringing his people, the Israelites, out of their long course of wandering in the wilderness into the promised land of Israel. As Orthodox Christians, we should be able to understand that Jesus the son of Nun was commissioned by Moses specifically to end this wandering and thus to realize the fulfillment of the promise of the Covenant that was brought to completion by restoring the Israelite people to the land promised to their forefathers by Almighty God, and that thus Joshua would wage battle on the walls of Jericho to begin this earthly victory for his people that would lead then to the time of Solomon and David in establishing the Kingdom of Israel on the Earth. Also, precisely because we are Orthodox Christians, we should quickly comprehend the parallel meanings in the New Testament of the angelic mention of this name to St. Joseph, especially when the Angel adds: “For He shall save His people from their sins.” Thus, for us, we can immediately understand that Our Lord Jesus Christ is commissioned by His Heavenly Father, not to be an earthly warrior, but rather, to begin the spiritual warfare that will end the spiritual wanderings of the human race and bring His people into the land of the New Israel which is the Kingdom of Heaven.
It is precisely that spiritual warfare that we observe in these holy days leading up to and culminating in the Most Holy Day of Pascha. On Great Friday, we hear the words of Our Lord with his last breadths on the Cross, saying, “It is completed. Father, into Thy hands I commend My Spirit,” and thus we learn that the Law and the warfare of the Old Testament is completed, and that now we have come to the time where we must wage the spiritual warfare of the New Testament. In this spiritual warfare, the first victory we encounter after the sad day of Great and Holy Saturday, is
the Great and Awesome Resurrection of Our Lord from the dead on Pascha Sunday. It is this victory that we celebrate together on this Holy Day, and it must begin for us the struggle of warfare that allows us to continue the fight to bring Our Lord’s people, the Orthodox Church, to the Heavenly
Jerusalem of the New Israel. Just as Jesus the son of Nun had to battle in earthly warfare the assaults of the Canaanite peoples, so we today must battle in a spiritual way the assaults of the demons on the Orthodox Church. This includes not only the personal assaults that the demons make on each one of us in our day to day lives, but also the assaults of those who would want to destroy Orthodoxy among the Orthodox people. We experience today many attempts, even by those who would call themselves theologians, to change the meaning that the Church has long given to its understanding of Orthodoxy, and thus to reduce it in some way to be equivalent to the understandings of Christianity that are held by those among the hetorodox, or even worse, to render Orthodoxy as equal in the Sight of Almighty God to the many other religions of the Earth, be they labeled by their followers as Christian, Jewish, Islamic, or pagan. Although the motives of Masonry have long sought to accomplish this, it is sad to see that, even among those who would in their minds express the wish to remain numbered among the Orthodox, there would be some that would actually enroll their efforts to convince the Orthodox peoples of the Earth that they should abandon the most basic beliefs of Our Orthodox Faith. In my own life I have encountered Christian Clergymen, some of them of high reputation in the world, seeking to encourage the abandonment of such basic beliefs that we hold in the Orthodox Faith, such as the belief in the existence of angels, or the miracles of the New Testament, or even, astonishingly, the doctrine of the Resurrection or of the Holy Trinity. We must battle today these assaults on the very substance of our Orthodox Faith, and we begin this battle today when we respond to each other with the greeting of “Christ is Risen.” Yea, He is Risen indeed.
Thus to all our people, desiring to assist them in the preserving of Holy Orthodoxy, I greet them once again with the meaning of the struggle of spiritual battle: “Christ is Risen. He is truly Risen.”
(His Beatitude, Metropolitan) John
First Hierarch of the Holy Synod
Autonomous Orthodox Metropolia of
North and South America and
the British Isles