We’re almost to the end of the Nativity Fast now. Last week was the Sunday of the Forerunners, the Righteous of the Old Testament, and this week is the Sunday of the Ancestors from Adam to Joseph the Betrothed. I’m still trying to tell the two apart.
Holy Father Abraham is on both lists.
Holy Father Abraham was mentioned in our reading last night.
I used to have a problem with Holy Father Abraham. In fact, I was terrified of him.
Back on the Planet Charismatic, my mother used to explain the sacrifice of Isaac by saying that “Abraham loved God so much, he was willing to give God the best thing he had.”
This terrified me. I didn’t want to be a thing that my parents had, which they might be inclined to destroy for God’s sake; I wanted to be a person. I wanted to have rights, even though my mother told me point blank that children had none. I wanted to feel safe– even though I was in a particularly histrionic Charismatic community whom I fully believed would practice human sacrifice if that’s what popped into their heads during Sunday afternoon Praise and Worship. I had nightmares about it.
I resented Holy Father Abraham for that incident on what would one day be the Temple Mount, and I was scared of God for putting him up to it. It still makes me a little nervous, to be honest.
But I have a different idea of the story now.
Holy Father Abraham came from Ur of the Chaldeans, where people did occasionally sacrifice their children to idols. It was the sort of thing you might expect a deity to ask of you, if you lived in Ur. But Abraham didn’t stay in Ur. God called him out of the city and into the wilderness and he went, together with his wife and all of his household. And there, in the wilderness, God taught Abraham a new way.
God called Abraham up the mountain, to sacrifice his son. That was something Abraham expected a deity might do. And Abraham was willing to obey the God who had called to him, but he didn’t know what God wanted. So up he went. And there, the angel came to him.
Here I am.
Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him.
There, on what would one day be the Temple Mount, Abraham was willing to obey God. He only knew how to be obedient; he couldn’t imagine what God would do. God tested his obedience and then taught him a different way. God sent the ram to save the child. The covenant with Abraham is a promise that the God of Abraham is not the god of Ur of the Chaldeans. The God of Abraham does not demand the sacrifice of children. The covenant with Abraham is a covenant of peace.
It was fourteen generations from Abraham to David, who bought the plot of land that became the Temple Mount. It was fourteen generations from David to the Babylonian Exile, when the temple was razed to the ground. It was fourteen generations from the Exile to the birth of Jesus Christ, the descendant of Abraham and the only Son of Abraham’s God. When He was twelve years old, He was brought to the Temple Mount. There, he left His mother and foster-father in obedience to His Heavenly Father’s will. They looked for Him with great anxiety, and find Him at last among the scribes. There, eventually, the elders of the people turned away from Abraham’s God and turn to the idols; they would declare they had no king but Cesar, drag the Son of God out of the city and kill Him. But the God of Abraham took that sacrifice to the idols and make it instead a sacrifice of peace; and Christ rose from the dead on the third day.
We offer that sacrifice again and again in peace, when we attend the Divine Liturgy.
This is the sacrifice acceptable to the God of Abraham.
Before Abraham came to be, He Is, and next Sunday we will celebrate His birth. Today, we celebrate His ancestors, from Adam to Abraham to David to Joseph the Betrothed.
(image: a Russian icon of Abraham, via Wikimedia Commons)