Stones Fit for His Altar

From “Homily 9 on Joshua,” 1-2 (ca. 253)

All of us who believe in Christ Jesus are said to be living stones, according to the words of Scripture: “Like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 2:5).

When we look at the construction of earthly buildings, we can see how the largest and strongest stones are always set in the foundations, so that the weight of the whole building can rest securely on them. In the same way you should understand how some of the living stones referred to by Scripture have become the foundations of a spiritual building. And who are those foundation stones? The apostles and the prophets. This is what Paul himself declares in his teaching, “You are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone” (Eph. 2:20).

You should learn that Christ himself is also the foundation of the building we are describing, so that you may more eagerly prepare yourselves for the construction, and be found to be one of those stones strong enough to be laid close to the foundation. For these are the words of Paul the Apostle, “No other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, namely, Christ Jesus” (1 Cor. 3:11). Blessed are those, therefore, who will be found to have constructed sacred and religious buildings upon such a glorious foundation!

But in this building of the Church there must also be an altar. From this I conclude that those of you who are ready and prepared to give up your time to prayer, to offer petitions and sacrifices of supplication to God day and night, such people I say will be the living stones out of which Jesus will build his altar.

Reflect upon the praise which is lavished upon these stones of the altar. “Moses the lawgiver,” Joshua said, “ordered that an altar be built out of unhewn stones, untouched by a chisel” (Exod. 20:25). Who now are these unhewn stones? Perhaps these unhewn, undefiled stones could be said to be the holy apostles, who together make one altar by reason of their harmony and unity. For Scripture tells that, as the apostles prayed together with one accord they opened their mouths and said, “You, Lord, know the hearts of all” (Acts 1:24).

These, then, who were able to pray with one mind, with one voice and in one spirit, are perhaps worthy of being employed together to form an altar upon which Jesus may offer his sacrifice to the Father.

But let us strive to be of one mind among ourselves, and to speak with one heart and voice. Let us never act out of anger or vainglory, but united in belief and purpose, let us hope that God may find us stones fit for his altar.

Origen (ca. 185-254) was an Egyptian scholar and theologian, who taught at the Catechetical Schools of Alexandria and Caesarea wrote extensive Biblical commentaries and theological treatises. He was the greatest of the Alexandrian theologians and his allegorical methods of interpretation deeply shaped subsequent Biblical study and ascetical practice. His Homilies on Joshua were among his last, preached before his martyrdom during the Decian Persecution.


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