A Brief Analysis of the Typological Significance of Old Testament Readings for Immovable Feasts of the Byzantine Lectionary
1) Ezekiel 43:27-44:4
27And when these days are over, from the eighth day on, the priests shall offer your holocausts and peace offerings on the altar. Then I will accept you, says the Lord GOD. 1 Then he brought me back to the outer gate of the sanctuary, facing the east; but it was closed. 2 He said to me: This gate is to remain closed; it is not to be opened for anyone to enter by it; since the LORD, the God of Israel, has entered by it, it shall remain closed. 3 Only the prince may sit down in it to eat his meal in the presence of the LORD. He must enter by way of the vestibule of the gate, and leave by the same way. 4 Then he brought me by way of the north gate to the facade of the temple, and when I looked I saw the glory of the LORD filling the LORD'S temple, and I fell prone.
Feasts when read: Nativity of Theotokos, Protection of the Theotokos, Annunciation, Entry into the Temple, Dormition
Ezekiel’s prophecy of a new and holy temple is a message to Israel during a period of oppression and a lack of prominence, where hope is needed. His image that takes place on the 8th day evokes the thought of a new accounting of time on a new week. This new beginning brings an era which tells a story that ends with the glory of the LORD filling the temple, causing the Holy Prophet to fall prostrate. But what of the verses that come before the arrival of glory? We read of a restriction to this new and holy temple. Its gates are closed to all because God Himself has entered it.
Where can we find the key to understanding this prophecy in our Tradition?
This passage is fittingly read during Marian feasts. The bricks and gold of the original Temple rite, though beautiful and the home of the glory of God during the Old Testament era, are overshadowed by the Mother of Our Lord. She, the inviolate One, is the closed gate that gave birth to God the Word. She as the temple of God Himself, brought the Invisible God to our Visible fleshly existence through the “gate” of her birth giving. As such, the manifestation of God’s glory as described in Ezekiel’s words is fully seen through the life of the Theotokos.
2) Isaiah 60:11-16
11 Your gates shall stand open constantly; day and night they shall not be closed But shall admit to you the wealth of nations, and their kings, in the vanguard. 12 For the people or kingdom shall perish that does not serve you; those nations shall be utterly destroyed. 13 The glory of Lebanon shall come to you: the cypress, the plane and the pine, To bring beauty to my sanctuary, and glory to the place where I set my feet. 14 The children of your oppressors shall come, bowing low before you; All those who despised you shall fall prostrate at your feet. They shall call you "City of the LORD," "Zion of the Holy One of Israel." 15 Once you were forsaken, hated and unvisited, Now I will make you the pride of the ages, a joy to generation after generation. 16 You shall suck the milk of nations, and be nursed at royal breasts; You shall know that I, the LORD, am your savior, your redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob.
Feasts when read: Exaltation of the Cross, Great and Holy Saturday includes 1-16
In Isaiah’s vision, we read of glory and safety coming to God’s people through the unlikely medium of wood. The image of gates standing open throughout day of night produces a powerful image of security. No locks are mentioned, as God’s people dwell in safety and their enemies face destruction. While the cedars of Lebanon receive acclaim in the Psalms, wood tends to be less glorious in our thinking than jewels and precious metals, but here we see that cypress, the plane, and pine bring beauty and glory to God’s sanctuary. The allusion of enemies bowing before God’s formerly forsaken people fits with our liturgical chant, “We Bow to Your Cross Oh Christ Our God, and we glorify Your Holy Resurrection”. It also matches the fulfillment in Church History where the Holy Cross protected the people of Constantinople. That great event of the Protection of the Cross, combined with the period between the Crucifixion and Resurrection where the significance of the wood is found in Our Lord’s Sufferings for our sake (Holy Saturday), takes this typological imagery and gives it a fuller meaning and existence.
3) Isaiah 11:1-10
1 But a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom. 2 The spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him: a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, A spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the LORD, 3 and his delight shall be the fear of the LORD. Not by appearance shall he judge, nor by hearsay shall he decide, 4 But he shall judge the poor with justice, and decide aright for the land's afflicted. He shall strike the ruthless with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked. 5 Justice shall be the band around his waist, and faithfulness a belt upon his hips. 6 Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; The calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them. 7 The cow and the bear shall be neighbors, together their young shall rest; the lion shall eat hay like the ox. 8 The baby shall play by the cobra's den, and the child lay his hand on the adder's lair. 9 There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the LORD, as water covers the sea. 10 On that day, The root of Jesse, set up as a signal for the nations, The Gentiles shall seek out, for his dwelling shall be glorious.
Feasts when read: Eve of the Nativity
Typological Significance/Reflections: The springing forth of a new plant from the lineage of Jesse heralds the entry of a Just Judge who is filled with the fear of the Lord and His Spirit. His coming is not one of mere moral instruction-it leads to a change of the entire world, where images of dangerous animals like lions and cobras are seen to be pacified and peace and salvation spread from the mountain of the Lord to the whole land. This spread is connected with the earth being filled with the knowledge of the Lord. In a time when the Jews and their neighbors were not at peace, Isaiah’s prophecy ends by saying that this root of Jesse will be a signal to the nations, such that even the Gentiles will seek and find this Blessed One. Clearly this passage is a Messianic prophecy that only finds clarity in understanding what Our Lord’s Incarnation means, and thus it is fitting to read on the Eve of His Holy Nativity.
4) Isaiah 12:3-6
3 With joy you will draw water at the fountain of salvation, 4 and say on that day: Give thanks to the LORD, acclaim his name; among the nations make known his deeds, proclaim how exalted is his name. 5 Sing praise to the LORD for his glorious achievement; let this be known throughout all the earth. 6 Shout with exultation, O city of Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel!
Feasts when read: Theophany
Typological Significance/Reflections: Water plays a relatively secondary role in the liturgical rituals of the Old Testament. The Pentateuch places a great emphasis upon the offerings that are to be sacrificed, prepared, burned, and the like. Salvation through fountains points to a transition in salvation history that, while prefigured through events such as the Flood and the Crossing of the River Jordan, one could not have predicted without a typological description such as this. St. Paul writes to the Colossians that baptism corresponds to Circumcision of the Old Covenant People of God (Colossians 2:11-12). At the Theophany, the appearance of God to His people through the cleansing waters of the Jordan brings us a vision of who God is and how we can approach His Holiness through Baptism into Christ-that vision is typologically shown by the writings of Isaiah in chapter 12.
5) Isaiah 40:1-3
1 Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God. 2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her service is at an end, her guilt is expiated; Indeed, she has received from the hand of the LORD double for all her sins. 3 A voice cries out: In the desert prepare the way of the LORD! Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!
Feasts when read: St. John the Baptist-conception and the third finding of the head
Comfort, expiation, a voice from the desert proclaiming that God is coming to His people-these words tell of a time of preparation. The final Old Testament prophet would be coming, and Isaiah’s words here prepare us for this advent. The Holy Forerunner, Prophet, and Baptist John would come hundreds of years later to prepare the way of the Lord, and this great preparation made the way for forgiveness to stream to God’s people. In one sense, as verse two states, the service of Jerusalem would be an end-the Temple cult would end as its true significance would be manifested in the Paschal Lamb of God who, as the Baptist stated, takes away the sins of the world.
6) Exodus 24:12-18
12 The LORD said to Moses, "Come up to me on the mountain and, while you are there, I will give you the stone tablets on which I have written the commandments intended for their instruction." 13 So Moses set out with Joshua, his aide, and went up to the mountain of God. 14 The elders, however, had been told by him, "Wait here for us until we return to you. Aaron and Hur are staying with you. If anyone has a complaint, let him refer the matter to them."15 After Moses had gone up, a cloud covered the mountain. 16 The glory of the LORD settled upon Mount Sinai. The cloud covered it for six days, and on the seventh day he called to Moses from the midst of the cloud. 17 To the Israelites the glory of the LORD was seen as a consuming fire on the mountaintop. 18 But Moses passed into the midst of the cloud as he went up on the mountain; and there he stayed for forty days and forty nights.
Feast when read: Transfiguration
Moses received the great gift of God’s Presence and Laws for His People to follow Him rightly. As St. Paul reflects in 2 Corinthians, this glory was overwhelming but transitory (2 Cor 3:13). The Law and the Shekinah glory as seen in the cloud and fire were awe-inspiring but did not last beyond those moments. With the coming of Jesus Christ, an abiding presence was established and manifested at His Transfiguration. As Christ Himself said, he would be with us “to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). That God came to His representative (Moses) on a mountain was a message that He is near us, but this magnificent manifestation came and left. At the Incarnation of Christ, God walked among His people, but many times this was something that even His disciples could not grasp. At the Transfiguration, that confusion changed as the glorious event entered the pages of history. Christ showed that the glory of God was not seen most clearly in an inhuman cloud or pillar of fire. Instead, God was manifested to be present as a man-He is someone, instead of an abstract something. Our God became man, and that manifestation of His presence via His blinding glory was fulfilled in His countenance which shone with even greater (and unfading) glory that dwelled in God the Word.