Strangers to the Past
by Fr. James C. Meena
Gideon, Barak, Sampson, Jefta, David, Samuel, Isaac, Jacob, Zerah, Tamar, Amminadab, Boaz, Obed, Jessica -Who are all these people? I am sure that when we read the 1st chapter of the Gospel of St. Matthew, which begins with the genealogy of Christ, most of us skip over it and don't bother to read it. That is so sad. That's like a person who looks at the leaves on a tree but doesn't appreciate its roots and trunk. And so it is with us. Our lives in Christ are not just now, today, but have been in the past and shall be for all eternity and unless we understand that we are rooted in the past, our present and our future cannot have the fullness of meaning that God intends for them to have. Who are you? Where do you come from? Where are you going?
Each of us has an identity that extends itself to all those around us, our father, our mother, brothers, sisters, wife, husband, sons, daughters, our past, our present and our future. And those who have no such extension of themselves suffer from such a depth of loneliness that their lives are difficult for them. I am who I am, because I can identify with people who love me and who shared with me the highest values of life that they understood, my father and mother, our parents, our grandparents. All of those with whom we had the good fortune to come into contact from our past tried to contribute to us those good things of life which they knew were essential to our understanding of how to live and get along with God and with our neighbors. Those people of our present, our brothers and our sisters, strive to relate to us lovingly and with compassion in order that our lives might be enriched as well, and we strive to relate to them in the same way. Our children symbolize for us our future and we strive to pass on to them those ennobling characteristics which were preserved also for us as members of the Body of Christ, that we understand that our present and our future are somehow dependent upon our past.
Yes, it is important that we understand who Abraham and Isaac and Jacob were, not merely because they were great Patriarchs of the Old Testament, not merely because God touched them and endowed them with a special covenant which they passed on to us throughout all the generations, but because they are our spiritual ancestors, they relate to us just as truly and as vividly as those members of our immediate past generations with the exception that we cannot touch them or hear them speak. But, we can touch them and hear them speak in the depth and the spiritual richness of scriptures.
When I was a young man I used to do the same thing as most of you do, skip over the genealogy, get past it real fast, not waste time on it. But as I began to recognize the people that they were talking about, the genealogies began to make sense. I know now who Barak is and when St. Paul talks about Sampson and Jeptha and David and Samuel I know who he is talking about because I have a familiar knowledge of the books of scripture that teach us about these great heroes and ancestors. And so must it be with every faithful person.
We no longer have the excuse of illiteracy that our forefathers had. Had they had ten Bibles in their houses it would have done them no good because they could not read, they could not understand the written word of God. And here we are in a country with one of the highest rates of literacy in the world and we don't read. Not only do we not read the scripture but we don't read much of anything, and the gift of the written word is being tragically lost to us.
Therefore, during this advent before Christmas, I can only admonish you not to be strangers to your past. There are some people who have a family tree going back several generations, and they have a sense of being rooted in the past. Those of us who desire to have a family tree but can't make one up beyond one or two or three generations feel as though we have lost something very important to us and yet our genealogy is here in scripture. Where we come from, who we are and where we are going is all here written as Matthew opens his Gospel saying: "The book of the generation of Jesus Christ," and begins to list from the first to the last those people who were the ancestors of Christ and who are our ancestors as well.
As we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, let us prepare to celebrate a re-birth of our own awareness, of our identity so that our present and our future may have greater meaning because of our understanding of our past.
Publication of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America