Bear the Glory of God

From “Oration II” (362)

I hear from Moses himself, when God spoke to him, that, although many were bidden to come to the mount, one of whom was even Aaron, with his two sons who were priests, and seventy elders, the rest were ordered to worship afar off, and Moses alone to draw near, and the people were not to go up with him. For it is not everyone who may draw near to God, but only one who, like Moses, can bear the glory of God. Moreover, before this, when the law was first given, the trumpet-blasts, and lightnings, and thunders, and darkness, and the smoke of the whole mountain, and the terrible threats that if even a beast touched the mountain it should be stoned, and other like alarms, kept back the rest of the people, for whom it was a great privilege, after careful purification, merely to hear the voice of God. But Moses actually went up and entered into the cloud, and was charged with the law, and received the tables…

I hear again that Nadab and Abihu, for having merely offered incense with strange fire, were with strange fire destroyed, the instrument of their impiety being used for their punishment, and their destruction following at the very time and place of their sacrilege; and not even their father Aaron, who was next to Moses in the favor of God, could save them. I know also of Eli the priest, and a little later of Uzzah, the former made to pay the penalty for his sons’ transgression, in daring to violate the sacrifices by an untimely exaction of the first fruits of the cauldrons, although he did not condone their impiety, but frequently rebuked them; the other, because he only touched the ark, which was being thrown off the cart by the ox, and though he saved it, was himself destroyed, in God’s jealousy for the reverence due to the ark.

I know also that not even bodily blemishes in either priests or victims passed without notice, but that it was required by the law that perfect sacrifices must be offered by perfect men — a symbol, I take it, of integrity of soul. It was not lawful for everyone to touch the priestly vesture, or any of the holy vessels; nor might the sacrifices themselves be consumed except by the proper persons, and at the proper time and place; nor might the anointing oil nor the compounded incense be imitated; nor might anyone enter the temple who was not in the most minute particular pure in both soul and body; so far was the holy of holies removed from presumptuous access, that it might be entered by one man only once a year; so far were the veil, and the mercy-seat, and the ark, and the Cherubim, from the general gaze and touch.

Since then, I knew these things, and that no one is worthy of the mightiness of God, and the sacrifice, and priesthood, who has not first presented himself to God, a living, holy sacrifice, and set forth the reasonable, well-pleasing service, and sacrificed to God the sacrifice of praise and the contrite spirit, which is the only sacrifice required of us by the giver of all…. Who is the man, whose heart has never been made to burn, as the scriptures have been opened to him, with the pure words of God which have been tried in a furnace?

St. Gregory Nazianzus (329-390) was among the most influential theologians and orators of the early church, and is ranked among the four great doctors of the Eastern Church. An uncompromising champion of the Nicene Faith, he went to Constantinople in 379, aiming to reconvert the city to orthodoxy, and was made its archbishop. He led the Second Ecumenical Council in 381, which affirmed the full divinity of the Holy Spirit. Oration 2 is Gregory’s great treatise on the priesthood, his first sermon, intended as an apology for his initial decision to flee after his ordination, for fear of his incapacity to discharge the duties of his office. Gregory is commemorated on January 2 by most Anglican churches and the Roman Catholic Church, and on January 25 by the Orthodox churches.  

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