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November 21, 2021

Year 2 - Week 12 (November 21 - 27)

Day 1 (Monday)

Deuteronomy 32:1-14

Because this is the week of Thanksgiving, there is no Sunday School at the Church this coming Sunday. We are therefore selecting readings a little bit off the beaten path, for those families that are reading these things at home. Last time we saw the nations divided at the Tower of Babel, and how the different nations were scattered throughout the world. We also saw how the icon of the event shows each nation being entrusted to an angel, and talked about how all of these angels began to accept human worship, and thus fell into sin, and became the demon-gods of the pagan world, those who held humanity as slaves until the Lord came to deliver them.

That deliverance began when God called Abram out from his country and his father’s house, and promised to make him the father of many nations. Abram’s descendants, the Israelites, ended up slaves in the land of Egypt, and specifically slaves to the demon-gods of Egypt, until God sent Moses to deliver them out, and to make the Israelites His own special people. Despite this deliverance, they rebelled against God again and again. Today we will read a song that Moses sang to the Israelites just before he died, as a summary of their God’s purpose for them, as an indictment of their sins, as a warning of God’s judgment that was yet to come, and as a promise of God’s final deliverance in the end. This is actually the second of the nine Biblical Odes, and is found at the end of every Orthodox Psalter.

The Song of Moses

30 Then Moses recited the words of this song, to the very end, in the hearing of the whole assembly of Israel:

32 Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak;
let the earth hear the words of my mouth.
2 May my teaching drop like the rain,
my speech condense like the dew;
like gentle rain on grass,
like showers on new growth.

3 For I will proclaim the name of the Lord;
ascribe greatness to our God!
4 The Rock, his work is perfect,
and all his ways are just.
A faithful God, without deceit,
just and upright is he;
5 yet his degenerate children have dealt falsely with him,
a perverse and crooked generation.

6 Do you thus repay the Lord,
O foolish and senseless people?
Is not he your father, who created you,
who made you and established you?
7 Remember the days of old,
consider the years long past;
ask your father, and he will inform you;
your elders, and they will tell you.

8 When the Most High apportioned the nations,
when he divided humankind,
he fixed the boundaries of the peoples
according to the number of the gods;
9 the Lord’s own portion was his people,
Jacob his allotted share.

10 He sustained him in a desert land,
in a howling wilderness waste;
he shielded him, cared for him,
guarded him as the apple of his eye.
11 As an eagle stirs up its nest,
and hovers over its young;
as it spreads its wings, takes them up,
and bears them aloft on its pinions,
12 the Lord alone guided him;
no foreign god was with him.

13 He set him atop the heights of the land,
and fed him with produce of the field;
he nursed him with honey from the crags,
with oil from flinty rock;
14 curds from the herd, and milk from the flock,
with fat of lambs and rams;
Bashan bulls and goats,
together with the choicest wheat—
you drank fine wine from the blood of grapes.

15 Jacob ate his fill;
the nation God established in righteousness grew fat, and kicked.
You grew fat, bloated, and gorged!
He abandoned God who made him,
and scoffed at the Rock of his salvation.
16 They made him jealous with strange gods,
with abhorrent things they provoked him.

17 They sacrificed to demons, not God,
to deities they had never known,
to new ones recently arrived,
whom your ancestors had not feared.
18 You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you;
you forgot the God who gave you birth.

19 The Lord saw it, and was jealous;
he spurned his sons and daughters.
20 He said: I will hide my face from them,
I will see what their end will be;
for they are a perverse generation,
children in whom there is no faithfulness.
21 They made me jealous with what is no god,
provoked me with their idols.
So I will make them jealous with what is no people,
provoke them with a foolish nation.

… (the verses we are omitting, from verse 22 through verse 34, go into detail about how God will render judgment on His people)

35 Vengeance is mine, and recompense,
for the time when their foot shall slip;
because the day of their calamity is at hand,
their doom comes swiftly.
36 Indeed the Lord will vindicate his people,
have compassion on his servants,
when he sees that their power is gone,
neither bond nor free remaining.

37 Then he will say: Where are their gods,
the rock in which they took refuge,
38 who ate the fat of their sacrifices,
and drank the wine of their libations?
Let them rise up and help you,
let them be your protection!
39 See now that I, even I, am he;
there is no god besides me.
I kill and I make alive;
I wound and I heal;
and no one can deliver from my hand.

40 For I lift up my hand to heaven,
and swear: As I live forever,
41 when I whet my flashing sword,
and my hand takes hold on judgment;
I will take vengeance on my adversaries,
and will repay those who hate me.
42 I will make my arrows drunk with blood,
and my sword shall devour flesh—
with the blood of the slain and the captives,
from the long-haired enemy.

43 Praise, O heavens, his people,
worship him, all you gods!
For he will avenge the blood of his children,
and take vengeance on his adversaries;
he will repay those who hate him,
and cleanse the land for his people.

Discussion questions:

1) What did you notice in today’s reading? What surprised you or what was memorable to you? (The Leader should point out that God is framing the entire story of Israel, and of all humanity, in terms of those who have rebelled against Him, and of what He is doing to bring them back. For those who make themselves His enemies, and persist in that despite warnings and discipline and judgment, there will be utter failure and defeat, so that for those who repent, and turn back to the Lord, there will be blessings and compassion and communion. He might point out as well that human beings tend to do very poorly when we are strong and fat, that this is when we fall into sin, when we believe that we don’t need God. Conversely, it is when we are weak, and understand that we are weak, that we are able to turn to the Lord and begin again to be His children, the sheep of His pasture, the ones that He protects and sustains against every need and every threat.)

2) Where do we see Christ in this text; what is He saying or doing here?

3) Do we see ourselves and the Church in this text; what does it say about us?

4) What do you find difficult about this reading? Is there anything confusing about it, or anything that you dislike? (This is an open question, as always. )

5) Does this reading make you think that you need to change anything in your life?

Day 2 (Wednesday)

First Vespers Prayer at the Lighting of the Lamps

At sunset each day, the Church celebrates the service of Vespers, which simply means sunset, or evening. This is built around the very ancient custom of lighting the lamps inside the Church, while Psalms are read that reflect on the coming of the night, the rest that God gives to us, and our expectation of the new day that is to come, and of the enlightenment that we are given by the Lord as He illumines our hearts and our minds. As the service begins, there are seven prayers that are read by the Priest; this is the first of those seven.

First Prayer at the Lighting of the Lamps

O Lord, compassionate and merciful, long-suffering and very merciful, give ear to our prayer and attend to the voice of our petition; accomplish a sign for good with us; lead us in Your way, that we may walk in Your truth.

Gladden our hearts that we may fear Your holy Name; for You are great, and work wonders; You alone are God, and there is none like to You among the gods, O Lord; mighty in mercy, and good in power, unto helping, and comforting, and saving all those who hope in Your holy Name.
For to You is due all glory, honor and worship, to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

Discussion questions:

1) What did you notice in today’s reading? What surprised you or what was memorable to you? (The Leader should make note, as always when we read a prayer, of how we begin by confessing Who God is, that He is merciful and compassionate. It continues, very quickly in this, by asking Him to hear us and help us to be with Him. The basic idea of this prayer is that we are confessing that it is good to be in the presence of the Lord, and that all good things come from Him, so we are asking His help to transform our hearts and help us to desire the Communion with Him for which He created us. There is a particular significance to the fact that we do this at evening, that as the light fades and as we light lamps inside, we are ask for our desire for the things of this world to fade as well, and seek to stoke our desire for the light of the Lord.)

2) Where do we see Christ in this text; what is He saying or doing here?

3) Do we see ourselves and the Church in this text; what does it say about us?

4) What do you find difficult about this reading? Is there anything confusing about it, or anything that you dislike? (This is an open question, as always. )

5) Does this reading make you think that you need to change anything in your life?

Day 3 (Friday)

1 Peter 2:18-25

We had mentioned a number of weeks ago that St. Mark the Evangelist spent much of his time with St. Peter, and as a result it is presumed that the Gospel of Mark records basically St. Peter’s witness of the Lord’s Proclamation of salvation to the world. Since we are taking something of a week “off” for Thanksgiving, we are reading then some more from the 1st Epistle of St. Peter to the Church at large, to see some other aspects of how Peter teaches and preaches.

The Example of Christ’s Suffering

18 Slaves, accept the authority of your masters with all deference, not only those who are kind and gentle but also those who are harsh. 19 For it is a credit to you if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly. 20 If you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, what credit is that? But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval.

21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps.
22 “He committed no sin,
and no deceit was found in his mouth.”
23 When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly.

24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. 25 For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.

Discussion questions:

1) What did you notice in today’s reading? What surprised you or what was memorable to you? (The Leader should note that this is a challenging reading. St. Peter is talking to people who are actual slaves, and is telling them to submit to their masters. It is important to note that he does NOT say that slavery is a good thing, or that it is a good thing for masters to dominate their slaves. He is, however, telling the slaves themselves how THEY should act, how they should understand their servitude, that they should take it as an opportunity to follow the example of the Lord. What we should take from this, then, is not any particular lesson about slavery (which the Church is unequivocally opposed to, to be clear), but about how we ourselves should face whatever troubles and difficulties we face in life. Instead of resenting those troubles and complaining about them, St. Peter is saying that the Christian response is to “take up our Cross” and take the opportunity to imitate Christ when suffering comes to us.)

2) Where do we see Christ in this text; what is He saying or doing here?

3) Do we see ourselves and the Church in this text; what does it say about us?

4) What do you find difficult about this reading? Is there anything confusing about it, or anything that you dislike? (This is an open question, as always. )

5) Does this reading make you think that you need to change anything in your life?