Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Prophet Moses & the Precious Cross

The Hebrews Pass Through the Red Sea.
"The Hebrews, after their departure from Egypt, set out for the Red Sea. The Egyptians however, after burying their dead firstborn, began to regret having let the Hebrews go. Pharaoh, gathering all his army with chariots and mounted men, set out to pursue the Hebrews. He overtook them at the edge of the sea.

Upon seeing the terrible hosts of Pharaoh behind them, the Hebrews were terrified. Instead of supplicating God for help, they began to complain to Moses for bringing them out of Egypt. While offering them encouragement, Moses prayed in his heart to God and the Lord heard his prayer. The pillar of cloud stood behind the Hebrews and hid them from the Egyptians. The Lord said to Moses, "Take thy staff and stretch thy hand over the sea and divide it." Moses stretched his hand and staff over the sea. Then the Lord sent a strong east wind which blew all night, and the water drew back. The Hebrews went along the dry bottom as the water became like a wall on their right and left sides. When they heard movement in the Hebrew camp, the Egyptians chased the Hebrews into the depth of the sea and came as far across as the middle of the sea. At that time the Hebrews came out on the other side. Moses, again at God’s command, stretched out his hand with his staff over the water. The water of the sea fell back into place and covered the entire army of Pharaoh and drowned the Egyptians.
Then the people of Israel, the Hebrews, with great joy sang a hymn of thanksgiving to the Lord God, their helper and protector.

Miriam the Prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a tambourine in her hands, and all the women went out with their tambourines rejoicing. Miriam sang before them, "Sing unto the Lord, for He hath been greatly exalted; horse and rider hath He cast into the sea."

The Hebrews’ passing through the Red Sea, whose waters separated and delivered the Hebrews from iniquity and bondage in Egypt, foreshadowed Baptism by which we are freed from the power of the Devil and slavery to sin.

At the time of the Hebrews’ journey out of Egypt into the Promised Land, the Lord worked many other miracles as well. Once the Hebrews came to a place where the water was bitter. They could not drink it and complained against Moses. The Lord showed Moses a tree. As soon as they had placed the tree in the water, the water became sweet.

This tree which took the bitterness from the water was a foreshadowing of the tree of the Cross of Christ, which took away the bitterness of life — sin.

When the Hebrews had used up all the bread they had taken from Egypt, the Lord sent them bread from Heaven — manna. It looked like little white crumbs or pieces of hail and had the taste of bread with honey. This bread was called manna, because when the Hebrews saw it for the first time, they asked each other, "man-na" or "What is this?" Moses answered, "This is the bread which the Lord has given you for food." Manna covered the earth in the morning around the camp of the Hebrews, for the entire time of their journeying, on every day except the Sabbath.

When the Hebrews came to the place in the desert called Rephidim, where there was no water at all, they again began to complain against Moses. At God’s command Moses struck a stone cliff with his staff and water flowed from it.

Manna in the desert and water from the stone cliff, which saved the Israelites from death, foreshadowed the true food and drink for us, which is the Body and Blood of Christ, which the Lord gives to us in Holy Communion, saving us from eternal death.

In Rephidim, desert dwellers, the Amalekites, attacked them. Moses sent out Joshua, the son of Nun, with an army. Moses then went up to the nearest mountain with his brother Aaron and with Hur and began to pray, lifting both arms to Heaven, forming a cross.

Aaron noticed that when Moses held his hands up, the Hebrews prevailed over their enemies, but when he let them fall out of weariness, the Amalekites overcame the Hebrews. To ensure victory Aaron and Hur placed Moses on a stone and held his arms stretched out. Thus the Hebrews conquered the Amalekites.

Moses, when he was praying with his hands stretched forth, foreshadowed the victorious Cross of Christ, by whose power faithful Christians now conquer visible and invisible enemies.
In Rephidim Moses visited his father-in-law, Jethro, and brought him his wife and sons.
Note: Exodus, chaps. 14-18." (taken from:
Prophet Moses striking the Red Sea cross-wise and parting it, leading the people to the Promised Land (source)
The Prophet Moses and the Precious Cross'—The 2nd Lecture of Fr Justin Sinaites
"In the Irmos of Ode 1 of the Canon from Matins for the 1st Sunday of Lent, we sang, ‘In ancient times Israel walked dry-shod across the Red Sea, and Moses, lifting his hands in the form of the Cross, put the power of Amalek to flight in the desert.’ We sang it again last night as the first Irmos for the Canon of the Service of Holy Unction, and when I saw those words on the page, I thought, ‘At last!’ The time has come for the long-awaited post on the second lecture I was able to attend by Fr Justin of Sinai, the librarian of St Catherine’s Monastery (see the post on the first lecture here, and my original announcement of the forthcoming second post here). I’m afraid this post won’t be as glorious as I had hoped, as I don’t have all of the materials I was hoping to have to work from, but hey, it is what it is.The title of the lecture was ‘The Hermit City of Pharan: The Biblical Rephidim’, a title which naturally suggested to me a lecture on biblical archæology. Well, my friends, there was indeed a bit of that, but there was much, much more as well. Fr Justin began by identifying the site of ‘Rephidim’, where the Israelites fought the Amalekites during their march from Egypt to Sinai (Ex. 17:1, 8), with an oasis called Wadi Feiran, a ‘broad valley’ some 25 miles from Mt Sinai. It seems that at some point during the Christian era, anchorites began to settle there, and by the end of the fourth century it had become a veritable city of monks (thus ‘Hermit City of Pharan’). Fr Justin spent no little time showing slides of various ruined cells and especially the churches there, complete with floorplans and even pieces of an altar.But then he pointed out that rather than having to rely on ruins to get an idea of where these monks were worshipping, we could look at St Catherine’s itself, which has been well preserved. Fr Justin indicated a number of similarities in layout and design between the ruins and the surviving katholikon at Sinai, right down to the altar fragment, which was very nearly identical to the holy table at St Catherine’s. Fr Justin further added that by exploring St Catherine’s we could learn more than just the sort of settings in which the monks at Pharan were worshipping, we could learn more about the meaning of their life there itself.It was at this point that Fr Justin introduced one of his specialties—manuscripts. In this case it was something called the ‘Sinai Greek 2’. This MS is a partial Pentateuch (covering Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus) once dated to the 11th or 12th centuries, but recently suggested as belonging to the 10th. The striking thing about it (for it is nowhere near as beautiful or lavish as the Sinai Codex Theodosianus), is the patristic commentary surrounding the main body of text. The comments are taken from a wide range of authors, with Eusebius of Emesa, St Cyril of Alexandria, and Theodoret of Cyrrhus predominating (I noted that it was interesting that the last author actually wrote against St Cyril at one point!). When one reaches the final portions of each book, however, they begin to be reduced to Theodoret only, leading Fr Justin to mention that this gradual diminution of scope is quite common and to suggest that the copyist of the commentary simply ran out of steam.From there, Fr Justin got more to the point, and began to refer to various specific comments from patristic authors, first on the Prophet Moses himself (e.g., his preservation in the ark and his flight to Midian, both seen as types of Christ), and then on the account in Exodus directly relevant to the events at Rephidim (Exodus 17:8-13). Of course, I would love to be able to cite all of the particular passages from the Fathers that Fr Justin used, but it seems to me that one rather representative commentary will do just as nicely. I shall quote St John Chrysostom’s comments—apparently among those given in the MS—concerning this passage in his Homily 14 on the Gospel of St John (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Old Testament III: Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, ed. Joseph T. Lienhard [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2001], p. 92; also available online here):

Detail of the above icon: the Prophet Moses with his arms raised with the help of Aaron and Hur, as a symbol of Christ's Cross (taken from:
See how the type was given through Moses but the truth came through Jesus Christ. And again, on Mt Sinai, when the Amalekites were waging war on the Hebrews, the hands of Moses were propped up, held by Aaron and Hur standing on either side. But Christ, when he came, himself held his hands extended on the cross by his own power. Do you see how the type ‘was given’ and ‘the truth came’?
Although I do not recall whether Fr Justin mentioned them, other very similar interpretations are given of this passage by various Fathers in the ACCS, OT III (pp. 91-3), and indeed, when he was still with ROCOR, Fr Michael Azkoul wrote, ‘Moses on the hillside with his hands outstretched is everywhere taught by the Fathers to be a type of the Cross’ (The Teachings of the Holy Orthodox Church, Vol. I: God, Creation, Old Israel, Christ [Buena Vista, CO: Dormition Skete, 1986], p. 133). He points out that such an interpretation goes back at least as far as St Barnabas, the companion of St Paul (Epistle of Barnabas 12:2; The Apostolic Fathers, 2nd ed., trans. J.B. Lightfoot and J.R. Harmer, ed. and rev. Michael W. Holmes [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1996], p. 178), and cites similar passages from St Justin Martyr and St Cyprian of Carthage (pp. 133-4).Having thus directed our attention from the Prophet Moses to the Precious Cross, Fr Justin showed a slide of a cross decorating the capitals of some of the columns in the katholikon at Sinai. Below each arm of the cross were the Greek letters Α and Ω (alpha and omega), which of course is how Christ refers to Himself in Revelation 1:8, 21:6, and 22:13 (I don’t have an image of the capital at Sinai, but it is a device that has been used elsewhere as well; see for example the coat of arms of the Principality of Asturias, Spain, here).But, said Fr Justin as he went to his next slide, Α and Ω are also the first letters of the names of the Prophets Aaron (Ἀαρὼν) and Hur (Ὢρ) in Greek, and he then showed a slide of a beautiful icon kept in a chapel near Pharan showing the Prophets Aaron and Hur supporting the Prophet Moses’s arms like the Α and Ω under the arms of the Cross. (At this point the audience at Dallas Theological Seminary gasped in surprise and started looking around at each other!) Fr Justin then referred to the hymnography for the Feast of the Exaltation of the Precious Cross. Consider, for example, the first stanza of Ode I of the Canon in Tone 8 for the Feast (The Festal Menaion, trans. Mother Mary and Archim. Kallistos [Ware] [South Canaan, PA: St Tikhon’s Seminary, 1998], p. 144):

In times past Moses, standing between the two men of God, prefigured in his person the undefiled Passion. Forming a cross with his outstretched hands, he raised a standard of victory and overthrew the power of all-destroying Amalek. Therefore let us sing to Christ our God, for He has been glorified.

If we then consider the words of a 6th-c. abbot of Sinai, St John Climacus, we shall better understand the full significance of the establishment of monastic life in the valley of Pharan (The Ladder of Divine Ascent, rev. ed. trans. Archim. Lazarus [Moore] [Boston: Holy Transfiguration Monastery, 1991], p. 5 [Ladder 1:7 in the HTM ed.; 1:14 in the Greek]):
Those of us who wish to go out of Egypt, and to fly from Pharaoh, certainly need some Moses as a mediator with God and from God, who, standing between action and divine vision, will raise hands of prayer for us to God, so that guided by him we may cross the sea of sin and rout the Amalek of the passions.

Thus, Fr Justin concluded, for the monks of Pharan, the Prophet Moses had a special significance, tied not only with the nearby Mt Sinai, but with Pharan itself. The God-seer was a type of our Lord Jesus Christ, and also of the spiritual life of the individual Christian. For what else are the fundamentals of the Christian life but the taking up of the Cross and the routing of the passions? For this struggle, proximity to the scene of the historical events that prefigured our salvation would have been a powerful aid to the monks of Pharan.Well there you have it. But I ask that if Fr Justin or anyone else who was present at the lecture and recalls the details better than I have reads this post, by all means supplement or correct me! Unfortunately, this is the best I can do from my scanty notes, and I know I have not done it justice. Thank you to Fr Justin for the image of the icon!" (taken from:
Christ Crucified (Icon courtesy of used with permission)
The Forty-year Wandering of the Hebrew People, the Bronze Serpent.
From Mt. Sinai the Israelites set out for the Promised Land, the land of Canaan. Along the way, time and again, they murmured in dissatisfaction and resentment against their journey. The Lord punished them for this, but on account of the prayers of Moses, pardoned them.
Even his own sister, Miriam, and Aaron reproached Moses for having married an Ethiopian and thus abusing his dignity as an envoy of God. Moses was the meekest of all the people and patiently bore their reproaches. The Lord punished Miriam with leprosy. Aaron, seeing that his sister had leprosy, said to Moses, "Because we have acted foolishly and sinned, do not deliver us into harm."

Then Moses ardently besought God to cure his sister, and the Lord healed her, but only after she had spent seven days in confinement outside the camp.

When the Israelites reached the border of the Promised Land, in the Paran desert, at God’s command, Moses sent observers to survey the Promised Land. Twelve men were chosen, one from each tribe. Among those chosen were Caleb, from the tribe of Judah, and Joshua, from the tribe of Ephraim.

When the observers had traversed the whole country and surveyed it, they returned in forty days. They brought with them a branch of a grapevine they had cut off there with a bunch of grapes. The branch was so big that two men had to carry it on a pole. They also brought pomegranates and figs. All of them praised the fruitful earth. But ten of the twelve men who had been sent, all except Caleb and Joshua, stirred up the people, saying, "The nation that dwells upon it is powerful. They have very great and strong-walled towns. We will not go, for we shall not by any means be able to stand up against the nation, for it is much stronger than us. There we saw such giants before whom we were like grasshoppers."

Then the Israelites started to wail and murmur against Aaron and Moses, saying, "Why does the Lord bring us into this land, to perish by the sword? Our wives and our children shall be plunder for the enemy. Now then, it is better to return to Egypt."

Joshua, son of Nun, and Caleb persuaded the people not to go against the Lord’s will, for the Lord Himself would help them to conquer the land which God had promised to their fathers. But the Israelites conspired to stone Moses, Aaron, Joshua and Caleb, appoint a new leader and turn back.

Then the glory of the Lord in the form of a cloud appeared in the tabernacle in front of all the people, and the Lord said unto Moses, "How long does this people provoke Me, and how long do they refuse to believe Me for all the signs which I have wrought among them? Say to them, ‘As I live saith the Lord, ‘surely as ye spoke into My ears so will I do to you. Your carcasses shall fall in this wilderness and all that murmured against Me shall not enter into the land for which I stretched out My hand to establish you upon it, except for Caleb and Joshua, the son of Nun. Tomorrow turn and get you into the wilderness by way of the Red Sea. And your little ones, whom ye said would become a prey shall inherit the land which you rejected. According to the number of the days during which you spied the land, forty days, you shall bear your sins for every day a year, unto forty years, that ye may know what it is to be abandoned by Me.’"
The ten spies, who by their unfavorable reports concerning the land had stirred up the people, were immediately stricken to death in front of the tabernacle. Having heard this condemnation of their sin, the Israelites did not wish to submit to the Lord’s command and to go where they had been bidden. They said, "Behold, we that are here will go up to the place of which the Lord has spoken. We have sinned." This was as if to say, "We will now go and take the land. We repent of our sin. Why should we be punished for forty years?" Moses said to them, "Why do you transgress the word of the Lord? You shall not prosper." And he remained with the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant in the encampment.

Against God’s will, the Israelites dared to ascend the mountain, to the top where the Amalekites and the Canaanites were living. They were defeated and fled. So for forty years they wandered in the deserts of Sinai. Even during this time, however, the merciful Lord did not abandon them but visited them with many miracles.

Soon after being condemned to wander for forty years, a new revolt arose among the Israelites. Certain of them, whose leader was Korah, an elder of one of the tribes, were unhappy that the priesthood was a privilege only of the house of Aaron. Therefore the Lord punished them: the earth opened up and swallowed the rebels.

In order to end the arguments among the Israelites as to whom the priesthood belonged, Moses, at God’s command, ordered that all the elders bring their staffs and place them for the night in the tabernacle. The next day everyone saw that the rod of Aaron had blossomed, shooting buds, flowering, and bearing almonds. Everyone then recognized Aaron as the high priest. At God’s command, the rod of Aaron was placed in front of the Ark of the Covenant.
On another occasion, because of their murmuring against God, the Israelites were punished by a plague of poisonous snakes which bit the people and caused many to die. The Israelites repented and asked Moses to intercede for them before God. The Lord commanded Moses to make a bronze serpent and to place it on a pole. Whoever had been bitten, and with faith looked on the bronze serpent, remained alive.

This bronze serpent served as a prefiguration of Christ the Saviour. Christ was crucified on the Cross for all our sins. Now we, looking upon Him with faith, are healed of our sins and saved from eternal death.

During the forty-year wandering, all the adult Israelites who had come out of Egypt died, except for Joshua and Caleb. A new generation grew up which was destined to enter the Promised Land. Moses died in the last year of their wandering. Before his death, he appointed Joshua, son of Nun, as leader to replace him.

Note: See Numbers, chaps. 11-14, 16-17, 21:4-9 and Deuteronomv chap. 1:19-46." (taken from:
The Precious and Life-giving Cross of Christ (Icon courtesy of used with permission)
Idiomelon (by Anatolios) from the Litya from the Feast of the Exaltation of the Precious and Life-giving Cross - Fourth Tone
Moses prefigured the power of Your precious Cross, O Christ, when he put to flight Amalek, his adversary, in the wilderness of Sinai; for when he stretched out his arms in the form of a cross, the people prevailed. Now the fulfillment of these deeds has come to pass for us. Today the Cross is exalted, and the demons are put to flight. Today all creation has been set free from corruption, for through the Cross all the gifts of grace have shone upon us. Therefore, rejoicing, we all fall before You and cry: “How marvelous are Your works, O Lord! Glory to You!”
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!


Unknown said...

I am posting on behalf of Carla Zell( She is requesting help in locating the iconographer of the Prophet Moses & the Precious Cross icon used on your blog post of September 13, 2009. Please contact her if you are able. Thank you.

Agioi_Anargyroi said...

Thank you for your inquiry.

Unfortunately I am unaware of who the iconographer of this beautiful icon is, but if I come across it, I will make sure to post it.