The Revised Standard version of Psalm 11:5-6 reads,
The Lord tests the righteous and the wicked, and his soul hates him that loves violence. On the wicked he will rain coals of fire and brimstone…
The Greek Septuagint translation (3rd c. BC) has a very different text:
The Lord examines the righteous man and the ungodly; but he that loves unrighteousness hates his own soul. He will rain down snares upon sinners…
This reflects a shift in interpretation over time that brought a spiritualized reading of the old words and a softening in the understanding of how enemies are to be treated. We’re all familiar with the New Testament approach to enemies:
Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:19-21)
Saint Paul takes this from a biblical text long before Jesus’ teaching on love of enemies. Proverbs 25:21-23 says, “If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink; for you will heap coals of fire on his head, and the Lord will reward you.”
The gradual reinterpretation of the biblical texts, even within Judaism, is especially important for Christians to remember. The Old Testament texts are not to be taken literally but are to be re-interpreted in the light of the new revelation and experience of the Church in Christ.
Metropolitan Council Meeting: “Our undertaking is everlasting”
In his report to the Metropolitan Council, Metropolitan Tikhon remarked that many have noticed a new era of calm descending upon the OCA, but he has observed something else as well. “There is violence, the violence of the gospel, seeking to take the kingdom of God by force.” He was referring to Matthew 11:12, “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and men of violence take it by force.” It was jarring to hear the word “violence” pronounced so sharply, especially because His Beatitude speaks softly and kindly. But he was emphasizing that in his travels across the OCA he is meeting people everywhere who have energy and are willing to work and make sacrifices to serve the Church. There is a pent up energy to be a band of brothers and sisters working zealously for the Master, without the distractions of internal squabbles. This recalls as well the Lord’s words, “I have come to cast fire upon the earth; and how I wish it were already kindled!” (Luke 12:49).
Later in the meeting Father John Parker of the Department of Evangelization noted that there are two approaches to church life, chaplaincy and mission. Chaplaincy focuses on taking care of our own people and churches. Mission looks at the world outside the parish as the flock we are called to serve. Both are good. But right now we need to recover the mission-driven zeal that will help spread the presence of Christ as He has come to be known in the Orthodox tradition.
We tend to become preoccupied with the troubles and labors of then present, but at vespers yesterday evening for the feast of Saint Sergius of Radonezh, patron of the Chancery Chapel, His Beatitude reminded us that “our undertaking is everlasting.”
Enduring with fortitude the things of the present,
rejoicing in the promise for the future,
holy Sergius, you said to all:
“If we now strive unrewarded, we still have hope for eternal life.
Our afflictions are grievous, but Paradise is sweet.
Our labors are painful, but our undertaking is everlasting.
Therefore do not be slothful, O people who fast!
Let us endure but a little that we may be crowned with incorruption//
by Christ our God, the Savior of our souls!”