An Orthodox Christian Father's Letters to his Children

Thursday, December 7 / December 20

Nativity Fast, St. Ambrose of Milan

Melchisedec, and "Washing" and being made "Clean"

Christina, Tim and Natalie, my beloved children:

Today we remember St Ambrose of Milan. He was made a bishop after a suckling infant said "Ambrose for Bishop"!

The Epistle reading is about the mysterious Melchisedec, King of Salem. The typology concerning Melchisedec is complicated, and delicious. St John Chrysostom has wonderful homilies about this, and I have read them; they are hard to understand, but utterly engrossing.

You know that Melchisedec was a "type" of Christ. Nobody knew where he came from, hence, St Paul writes: (he was ) "Without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually." (Heb 7:2-3)

St John's homily 12 on Hebrews is very rich, too rich for me. I had in mind that I would read it and try to explain the scriptural passage, but I think most of it is beyond me. However, I will quote for you St John's explanation of "Melchisedec, king of Salem .... first being by interpretation King of righteousness, and after that also King of Salem, which is, King of peace; " (Heb 7:1-3)

"And first from the name. "First" (he says) "being by interpretation King of righteousness": for Sedec means "righteousness"; and Melchi, "King": Melchisedec, "King of righteousness." Seest thou his exactness even in the names? But who is "King of righteousness," save our Lord Jesus Christ? "King of righteousness. And after that also King of Salem," from his city, "that is, King of Peace," which again is [characteristic] of Christ. For He has made us righteous, and has "made peace" for "things in Heaven and things on earth." (Col. i. 20.) What man is "King of Righteousness and of Peace"? None, save only our Lord Jesus Christ." (St John Chrysostom, Homily 12 on Hebrews (Heb 7:1-3)

As I read further in St John's sermon, I realized what I wanted to communicate to you. I always struggle to communicate the truths of Christianity in a way that motivates us to do works of righteousness. No dogma can be understood without moral purity. St John's sermons powerfully illustrate this; he brings morality in to play in everything. At the end of his Sermon 12, I came across truly scintillating words. I will quote in full, begging you to make the effort to read the entire quotation with attention, then I will try to share you something from my heart.

"[7.] For better were it to be defiled with unclean mud than with sins; for he who is defiled with the one, washes it off in a little time, and becomes like one who had never from the first fallen into that slough; but he who has fallen into the deep pit of sin has contracted a defilement that is not cleansed by water, but needs long time, and strict repentance, and tears and lamentations, and more wailing, and that more fervent, than we show over the dearest friends.

For this defilement attaches to us from without, wherefore we also speedily put it away; but the other is generated from within, wherefore also we wash it off with difficulty, and cleanse ourselves from it. "For from the heart" (it is said) "proceed evil thoughts, fornications, adulteries, thefts, false witnesses." (Matt. xv. 19.) Wherefore also the Prophet said, "Create in me a clean heart, O God." (Ps. li. 10.) And another, "Wash thine heart from wickedness, O Jerusalem." (Jer. iv. 14.) (Thou seest that it is both our [work] and God's.) And again, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." (Matt. v. 8.)

Let us become clean to the utmost of our power. Let us wipe away our sins. And how to wipe them away, the prophet teaches, saying, "Wash you, make you clean, put away your wickedness from your souls, before Mine eyes." (Isa. i. 16.)

What is "before Mine eyes"? Because some seem to be free from wickedness, but only to men, while to God they are manifest as being "whited sepulchers." Therefore He says, so put them away as I see.

"Learn to do well, seek judgment, do justice for the poor and lowly." "Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: and though your sins be as scarlet, I will make you white as snow, and if they be as crimson, I will make you white as wool." (Isa. i. 17, Isa. i. 18.)

Thou seest that we must first cleanse ourselves, and then God cleanses us. For having said first, "Wash you, make you clean," He then added "I will make you white."

Let no one then, [even] of those who are come to the extremest wickedness, despair of himself. For (He says) even if thou hast passed into the habit, yea and almost into the nature of wickedness itself, be not afraid. Therefore taking [the instance of] colors that are not superficial but almost of the substance of the materials, He said that He would bring them into the opposite state. For He did not simply say that He would "wash" us, but that He would "make" us "white, as snow and as wool," in order to hold out good hopes before us. Great then is the power of repentance, at least if it makes us as snow, and whitens us as wool, even if sin have first got possession and dyed our souls.

Let us labor earnestly then to become clean; He has enjoined nothing burdensome. "Judge the fatherless, and do justice for the widow." (Isa. i. 17.) Thou seest everywhere how great account God makes of mercy, and of standing forward in behalf of those that are wronged. These good deeds let us pursue after, and we shall be able also, by the grace of God, to attain to the blessings to come: which may we all be counted worthy of, in Christ Jesus our Lord, with whom to the Father together with the Holy Ghost, be glory, power, honor, now and for ever and world without end. Amen. "

( St John Chrysostom, Homily XII.,Hebrews vii. 1-3 http://www.ccel.org/fathers2/NPNF1-14/npnf1-14-105.htm )

This is really exciting stuff! Anyone with a conscience feels often the pangs of regret, and shame. If we are truly Christians, we always have a remedy for our shame. We are called to perfection, and purity, and God requires of us effort. Without effort, we cannot be saved.

The truly good news of the Gospel is that we CAN be made completely clean. God requires us to wash, that is repent. We must force ourselves to change, at the full extent of our meager abilities, and if we do so, God will make us completely clean.

St John is perfectly describing "synergy" - the relationship between our efforts and grace.

The more we know about God's love for us, and His intentions for us, the more a firm desire to be clean should well up within our breast. With this firm desire should come CONFIDENCE. God requires us to wash, and if we do so HE will make us clean.

We supply the labor, and God supplies results. Jesus Christ has already done, as a man, all He requires of us. We are capable, not because of our feeble strength, intelligence and will, but because God will always help us when we make an effort.

I hope that you will pattern your life after the true meaning of "Wash you, make you clean, and I will make you white." We all have a desire for perfection, it is fundamental to our being. This desire is implanted by God, and can only be satisfied by Him, and accomplished by Him.

May God help you to always struggle, and be confident that God will make you clean.

I love you.

Dad





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