Today we read in the Gospel of the Holy Family's flight into Egypt. An angel appears to Joseph, rousing him from sleep and telling him,
“Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him.” (Matthew 2:13)
It is curious that the angel would say to Joseph to take them into Egypt. There were surely many other places that they could have fled to for safety that were out of Herod's reach. Why should they go all the way into Egypt?
The answer is found in the Old Testament with Hosea saying,
“When Israel was a child, I loved him, And out of Egypt I called My son." (Hosea 11:1)
In this enigmatic phrase, the word "son" is referring to Israel. Hosea is referring to Israel as a child that shall be brought out of Egypt. Israel is brought out of bondage and promised a land that flows with milk and honey. The chains are cast off and Israel is a slave no more. The child shall walk into freedom!
But what happens when Israel is led out from the bondage of the Egyptians? It soon enters, rather willingly into bondage of another sort. Israel soon falls into idolatry and burning incense unto graven images and such. Israel, the child ultimately fails and breaks it's covenant with the Lord time and time again.
But now, the angel sends the Holy Family into Egypt to escape the rage of Herod so that the prophecy may be fulfilled that the Son of Man shall come out of Egypt. But this "Son" shall be much different than the previous. This Son shall be Holy and Righteous. He shall be perfect in all that He is and shall be called the King of the Jews, the Lord of Lords, King of Kings and most importantly "Messiah". What was once broken, He shall mend. He shall overcome death and the grave to become the redeemer of all who would come and believe. To this we in the Orthodox Church exclaim, "Christ is Born! Christ is Born! Christ is Born! Let us Glorify Him!!!"
With such a glory to have beheld and to claim to believe, what is it that we find ourselves in bondage to? As Christians we are called to live in this world but to not be "of" it. The Church is to be set apart from the world and it's myriad ways. As the motto that was placed above the old Carthusian monastery in France once exclaimed, "The World Ever Turns but the Cross of Our Christ Remains Steadfast..." The Church exists in this world but it should never become of it. Those who complain that the Church must conform to society or die do not realize (*or perhaps they do...) that the Church that conforms to worldly ideals ceases to be the Church. The Church constantly engages in the affairs of this world as it's conscience and it's witness. It is not the Church that must conform to the world, but it is the world which should conform to what the Church has born witness to.
We are each called out to go against the grain. We are to be abrasive in the face of sinfulness. We are to be salt and light. As was once wisely opined by Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow,
"A fish that is alive swims against the flow of the water. One that is dead floats down with the water. A true Christian goes against the current of the sinful age. A false one is swept away by its swiftiness."
This is a truth worth bearing, dear ones! We live now in that sinful age. Being brought out of bondage and having walked in freedom, shall we willingly re-enter it and place the shackles of this world back upon our own wrists and feet?
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit...
Your Servant in Christ,
Monastery of the Glorious Ascension