Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov

Random Quotes from an Unpublished Paper: Part 4

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 21 August 2015

These are random quotes from an unpublished paper. I will post more quotes from the same paper every few days during the Dormition Fast (Old Calendar).

We already touched on the central idea of sacrifice in Liturgy. To illustrate this idea, one needs to look no further than the Eucharistic service of the Church. We can remove the singing, the commemorations, and even the reading of the Gospel, and the sacrifice of Christ offered to His people will still preserve the liturgical character of what remains. But if we preserve all of the singing and the commemorations, and read the entire Gospel, and yet remove the sacrifice, then what remains is no longer Liturgy.

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God did not establish His flock in order to take care of priests and bishops. Neither did He establish His flock just so priests and bishops would have someone for whom to care.

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Christ is the Lamb of God. To say this is not to say that Christ is a cute fluffy animal that God enjoys for a pet. To say ‘the Lamb of God’ is to say ‘the animal which has been chosen to be slaughtered as a sacrifice.’

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Imagine a modern Christian farmer who is raising sheep. He may want to have his flock sprinkled with holy water, and he may even offer a lamb or two for a parish potluck, but we have lost the sense that what we have is not actually ours, but God’s. We think that what we have is ours, and that from that which is ours we offer something to God. The ancients did not think exactly that way. They thought that everything was God’s, everything belonged to Him, everything was to be sacrificed (brought, set aside) to Him in the icon of “the first and the best,” and only after it was brought to Him, the people partook of the “leftovers.”

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When we look at our flock and think that Christ calls us to “feed His lambs” (John 21:15) or “tend His sheep” (16), a thought should cross our minds that there is a reason why Christ calls them ‘lambs.’ The real meaning of this word, the real purpose of a flock of lambs would not have been lost on Peter or any other disciple. Christ was not giving Peter a flock of pets or a retirement plan; He was giving him a flock to be raised for sacrifice to God.

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The idea of human sacrifice is not as un-Christian as may seem at first glance. Satan corrupted this idea–as he does every good thing–and it turned into something horrid in which life is lost: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy…” But in the original human sacrifice, Adam was to sacrifice his heart to God and gain participation in divine life: “….I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). Earlier we looked at Saint Ephrem’s thought that divinity was to be Adam’s in due season. But instead of sacrificing his heart to God in order to receive God’s divine Gift, Adam decided to gain rather than give, to steal rather than wait to receive in due time. Adam reached for the Divine, not as God’s priest in the Liturgy of self-sacrifice, but as a thief; he approached the Chalice not in order to die on the cross with Christ, but because he wanted a piece of fresh bread and a drink of good wine. The fruit, as Saint Ephrem says, was bitter indeed. Having rejected divine life, Adam became deathly ill with sin. Having rejected the garment of righteousness, Adam chose the cloak of death.

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In children’s books, the first couple is depicted dressed in neat “cave-man” costumes made of what we would now see as expensive furs of leopards or bears. The reality was probably very different. Expensive fur-coats tailored from masterfully-tanned and fluffed skins were not the first garments. If we imagine a literal interpretation of the text, then Adam and Eve stood before God in animal skins still dripping with blood and smelling of death. The sight would have been one of death, humiliation, and horror.

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When his sacrifice of material goods was not accepted, Cain had a shadow of the correct idea that he had to bring something greater–a human sacrifice. But corrupted by the devil, instead of offering his own heart to God, he slew his younger brother. And the story was repeated: Abel’s self-sacrifice was accepted by God, but Cain’s sacrifice was rejected and brought him condemnation. Just like his father earlier, Cain now stood before God covered in blood, death, and horror.

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While the idea that Cain offered Abel as a human sacrifice is not directly supported by the text of Genesis 4, it finds indirect support in the general theme of the Bible’s opposition to human sacrifice: Abel’s sacrifice of animals is pleasing to God while Cain is condemned as a murderer, Abraham’s human offering to God is replaced by a ram, and the practice of securing a city’s foundations through child sacrifice (1 Kings 16:34) is shown unacceptable to God as the walls of Jericho collapsed. In fact, Cain may have been not only the founder of human cities but also of the practice of human sacrifice. Some have suggested that Cain sacrificed his son Enoch at the foundation rite of the new city of Enoch which Cain had built (Gen. 4:17); see Fisch, Harold. “Byron’s Cain as Sacred Executioner,” in Hirst, Wolf Z., ed. Byron, the Bible, and Religion: Essays from the Twelfth International Byron Seminar. Cranbury: Associated University Press, 1991, p. 33). Compare this story with the killing of Remus at the founding of Rome, and also with the story about the sacrifices of Heil of Bethel at the founding of the city of Jericho. Lord Byron understood the story of Cain and Abel as that of a human sacrifice. Just before striking Abel in the head, Byron’s Cain exclaims: “Thy God loves blood! / Then look to it! / Give way, ere he hath more!” (Byron, George Gordon [Baron Byron]. “Cain,” act 3, scene 1, in The Works of Lord Byron Including the Suppressed Poems. Paris, 1828). Commenting on Byron’s work, Fisch notes: “In the sequel, the murder of Abel carries with it a suggestion of the greatest human sacrifice of all. As every reader or spectator will gather, Abel at the end is given the Christ-role.” (34) For more discussion of Cain’s story see Eissfeldt, Otto. The Old Testament: An Introduction. Trans. by Peter A. Achroyd. Oxford: Blackwell, 1965 and Maccoby, Hyam. The Sacred Executioner: Human Sacrifice and the Legacy of Guilt. London: Thames and Hudson, 1982.

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