Into the Desert of Lent

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And a voice came from the heavens, saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”  Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.  He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was hungry.  The tempter approached and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread.”  — Matthew 3:17-4:3

If you are the Son of God…

In his great commentaries, Cornelius Lapide remarks:

The devil had heard the Father’s Voice at the Baptism of Christ — Thou art my beloved Son; yet forasmuch as he saw Him in some respects like a poor, weak, ordinary mortal, and being for that reason in doubt whether He were the very Son of God by nature, the WORD itself of the Father, or only a very eminent Son of God by adoption, he tempts Christ, and asks Him to turn stones into bread, that by His performance of the miracle, or inability to perform it, he might determine what kind of Son of God he was.

As the end of the Epiphany season approaches, our church sings in the Basilica Hymn:

The three Qnome of Existence were shown to us in the baptism of the Headship who is from us: the Mystery that had been hidden, in the Lord who was baptized, the Holy Spirit like the flesh of a dove which descended and rested upon the head of the Image from the house of David, and the Father who cried out and was shown to the onlookers: the amazing and wonderful approval.  — Basilica Hymn, Epiphany Week 7:

So, as we see with C. Lapide, our church affirms that the divinity of Christ that was hidden was made manifest to the world at the baptism.  The revelation of this mystery confounded the Deceiver also, who approached Christ to test Him.

Temptation, then devil defeated…

… At this, Jesus said to him, “Get away, Satan! It is written: ‘The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.’”  Then the devil left him and, behold, angels came and ministered to him.  — Matthew 4:10-11

At the last temptation in the desert, Christ tells Satan to leave, which he does, and then the angels come and minister to him.  By minister, it is understood to also imply worship.  St. Augustine clarifies “By service is to be understood the honor due to God; as our version renders the Greek words, ‘latria,’ wherever it occurs in Scripture, by ‘service’” {City of God, book 10, ch. 1}.  The word in the Syriac is “ܡܫܡܫܝܢ”, mshamshin, which also carries the same connotation, a deacon being called “mshamshana”.  The fathers believed that as the Spirit led Christ into the desert, at the same time the angels departed to leave Christ vulnerable.

He says not ‘Angels descended from heaven,’ that it may be known that they were ever on the earth to minister to Him, but had now by the Lord’s command departed from Him, to give opportunity for the Devil to approach, who perhaps when he saw Him surrounded by Angels would not have come near Him.  — Pseudo-Chrysostom

Just as our first parents were tested in the garden but succumbed to the temptations of the Accuser, so Christ went to the desert to be tested.  In the case of Adam, the cherubs were sent to bar the way to the Tree of Life.  In the case of Christ, Himself the Tree of Life, the angels came and ministered to man, the True Man.  But Satan, and those that fell with him, were put to shame by Him, who in His humanity withstood the deceptions of the Accuser.

At heart, the Fall of Satan, and the disposition of Spiritual powers

In his commentary, Cornelius Lapide expresses an opinion that is common among the church fathers.  He states:

It is a probable opinion of many theologians that the sin and pride of Lucifer in heaven were, that when God revealed to him that the Son of God would assume man’s nature, and bade him submit himself to Christ as man, he became envious of Christ, that a man forsooth should be preferred to himself, who was the most glorious angel, and that a man should be taken up into hypostatic union with the WORD. Of this honor he was himself ambitious, and so rebelled against Christ and God. When therefore he saw this man called the Son of God by John the Baptist and the Father, he wished to find out if He were really God’s Son, that he might pour out upon Him his pristine envy, fury, and indignation.

Irony.  Satan ultimately proven wrong

Satan starts by testing to see if Christ thought He was God: He would have to be to turn the rocks to bread automatically.  Christ did not give him any satisfaction.  He then tested to see if he was a righteous man: fall of the high place and angels will save Him.  Christ again did not give him any satisfaction.  Then Satan tested to see if Christ was any kind of normal man, tempted by power and wealth, and was again denied any satisfaction.  Christ was not going to play Satan’s game to defeat him.  When Satan was testing Jesus, he quoted from the Scriptures, and specifically he quoted from Psalm 91 when tempted Christ to test God and fall of the high place.  Ironically the same Scriptures quoted were to prove Christ’s Sonship.

Because you have the LORD for your refuge and have made the Most High your stronghold, No evil shall befall you, no affliction come near your tent. For he commands his angels with regard to you, to guard you wherever you go.  With their hands they shall support you, lest you strike your foot against a stone.  — Psalm 91:9-12

Douay-Rheims: For he hath given his angels charge over thee.

With Satan rebuked and turned away, the angels ministered to the righteous one, the Son of God.  Pope Benedict XVI states this beautifully in his book:

Ps. 91:11 now comes to fulfillment: the angels serve him, he has proven himself to be the Son, and heaven therefore stands open above him, the new Jacob, the Patriarch of the universalized Israel. — Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth, From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration, p45.

And for us?

Fr. Andrew Younan makes a great observation on our Lenten spirituality on Kaldu when discussing the Basilica Hymn of the first week of Lent:

It is remarkable that the spiritual imagery for many of the hymns sung on this first Sunday of Lent has little or nothing to do with the act of fasting or even the idea of repentance. To a great extent, the discussion is one of Ecclesiology – the identity of the Church. It is as if the Lord, led by the Spirit into the wilderness, is accompanied by the whole Church: she is to follow him into the desert; she is to imitate his fasting and austerity; she, and all of us, her children, are to be with Christ in every step of his life.

We must follow Christ into the desert.  It is there that we fight the spiritual battle, and face the devil, with our Lord as our savior.  This is something that we as Christians, as the Church need to do for our beatification.  St. Ambrose warns us:

“When thou art tempted, recognize that a crown is being prepared for thee. Take away the contests of the martyrs, you take away their crowns. Take away their torments, you take away their beatitudes.”

It is in the silence that we then converse with God.  St. Ambrose implores us:

“Let us, too, follow Christ, far from luxury, far from lasciviousness, living as it were in the arid soil of His life of fasting. Not in the marketplace, not in the broad streets is Christ found. So let us not seek for Christ where He cannot be found.” — Ambrose, de Virgin, book 3

Of course, we do not need to go to the Mojave desert to be in this silence, but we will definitely need to turn off our TVs, and our rock music.

St. Isaac of Nineveh, like St. Ambrose, points out:

God has never perceptibly shown his action except in a region of stillness, in the desert, and in places bereft of the chance encounters with men and of the turbulence of their habitations. — St. Isaac, 1:72 {This quote is taken from Metropolitan Hilarion’s book: The Spiritual World of Isaac the Syrian.}

And like the angels, our final destination, is ministry onto Him, and glorification and exultation in the Lord.  As the church is ending Lent and preparing for Easter, welcoming the Lord who will enter humbly, it sings out:

O Lord, behold your Church, saved by your Cross, and your flock bought with your precious Blood, offers a crown of thanksgiving in faith to you, O High Priest of justice who has exalted her by your abasement. And, like a glorious Bride, she rejoices and exults in you. — Basilica Hymn, Hossana Sunday

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7 Responses to “Into the Desert of Lent”

  1. Ian Climacus Says:

    Oh dear…I’ve gone and bought another book after reading this; Pope Benedict’s second book on Jesus, about Holy Week; your quoting from the first book, which I have, reminded me I wanted to get the others. I will wait until Advent to buy #3. 🙂

    A beautiful reflection, and timely for me who is still in Lent; thank you. And Fr. Andrew’s reflections, and your quoting of the Hosanna Sunday Basilica Hymn remind me of the beautiful image of Christ the Bridegroom which plays a large part at the beginning of our Holy Week services and throughout Holy Week and Pascha in particular.

    • antgaria Says:

      A couple of years ago, we had a reading group that started reading Pope Benedict’s first book in the series. Halfway through the book, the numbers had dropped from 10 people to me and one other person, so she dropped out too, and I had to go through about half of it on my own. 🙂

      So this time around, I texted a bunch of people, and started with whoever wanted without trying to convince them. My sister-in-law and I have started reading the book in the book club. 🙂 Only two peeps, but it’s going well.

      The problem is that the series {I have all three but currently just going through #2} really is an intense read. One can read it without analyzing it and ingesting it, but then nothing comes of it but confusion and a vague feeling that something was supposed to be read. The books need to be studied, and his thoughts in each chapter analyzed to see where he wanted to go, and how he wanted to take us there.

      Also, more often than not, he assumes you have a Bible right next to you so that when he makes references to things, he expects you to go and read it and in context so that you can see what he is saying. I think most people did not understand that part especially. They are used to a book including the readings and breaking it down within the text, but there’s too much to discuss so that just isn’t feasible in these books.

      So what happened was that people would show up lost and not much to say about the book, and we would break it down and analyze things for an hour, in what would be in my estimation for them a very intense Bible study, and most of the people who joined the book club were looking for an easy but good read on their faith.

      Anyways… highly recommended. Anything by Pope Benedict/Cardinal Ratzinger is a good edifying and spiritual read.

      • Ian Climacus Says:

        I hope you and your sister (please say “Hi” to her and your brother from me) are enjoying your exclusive bookclub! 🙂

        I agree they are intense reads; edifying and spiritual as you wrote, but they are not books I can read at 11pm when weariness comes over me. And, yes, lots of cross-references too.

  2. antgaria Says:

    I’m glad that it was timely with Lent for you. I almost didn’t post it because I was completely past Lent for us, but I remembered my Orthodox friends who are in Lent.

    I just posted something on the resurrection… I had started it before Palm Sunday, but with things being busy during Holy Week, and at work, it took longer… plus it took a while to make sure I didn’t just invent words in my translation effort. 🙂

  3. Giliana Says:

    Beautiful article. Now you’ve given me a guilt trip to go back and study the first Jesus of Nazareth.

  4. antgaria Says:

    Ian & Giliana, I know if we lived near each other, we’d enjoy being in exclusive book clubs together. Time for you guys to move here. 🙂

  5. Ian Climacus Says:

    With work as it currently is, I’m tempted to move on over. 🙂

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