The king is here, the president of the games

THEREFORE, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Hebrews 12:1-2.

**

WE who stand as mystical images of the Cherubim,
and sing unto the Life-Giving Trinity the thrice-holy hymn,
let us now lay aside all earthly cares
that we may receive the King of all,
attended beyond our sight by angel hosts.
Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.

**

At Vespers for January 13. Source.

HOLY Fathers, who study day and night in the law of the Lord (Ps 1:2), ye were made worthy to be planted together with the tree of life, and your fruit hath blossomed with the laurels of contest. Having boldness towards God (Acts 4:29-31; Eph 3:12), the President of these games, ask also favour for us, and the great mercy.

TODAY creation is lightened, today all things are gladdened, things in heaven with things in earth (Col 1:20; Eph 1:10; Phil 2:10; Ps 112[113]:5-8). Angels and men mingle together, for where there is the presence (παρουσία) of the King, there his hosts are near at hand. Let us run now to the Jordan, let us all see John, how he baptised the head that is not made by hand, and is without sin. So let us cry out with one voice, swelling the Apostolic song: ‘The grace of God, which is saving health for all men is made visible, shining out (cf. Ps 67:2) upon the faithful and granting unto them the great mercy’.

**

Background Notes

Training for life’s athletics contest.

ONE of the chief metaphors for the Christian life used in the New Testament is an athletic metaphor, taken from 1st century Greco-Roman sports. These were a common sight. Although not part of Jewish culture, cities such as Sepphoris (Zippori) about five miles from Nazareth, and Tiberias, the capital of Galilee, were to a significant degree Hellenistic in culture and governed under Roman law, and they had sports arenas and open air theatres. Sports included various forms of running, jumping, throwing, and wrestling.

In Heb 12:1-2, the “cloud of witnesses” is a reference to a sports crowd. The image is of the saints of former ages cheering us on, while we (having shed the excess bodyweight of the passions, and clothed ourselves in something better than a ragged garment of skins) run for the line, our eyes fixed on Jesus and the joys of victory. The lesson drawn for us by St Paul is that Christianity, like athletics, requires years of hard training to maintain ideal weight and achieve competitive levels of skill and fitness, but that the rewards make it all worthwhile. The athletic metaphor occurs also in 1 Cor 9:24-27, Gal 2:2, Gal 5:7, and 2 Tim 4:7.

The President of the Games.

The reference to God as the President of the Games of life is a nice touch. In 12 BC the Olympic Games, held in Greece and dedicated to the god Zeus, and teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, were rescued by ‘generous’ – out of the public purse, naturally – benefactions from none other than King Herod the Great, who became a lifetime President. We can see God as President of the Games not in the sense of being an umpire with beetling brows, but in the sense of being the generous sponsor who saved human life from spiritual bankruptcy and useless decay, supplying at incalculable personal cost (cf. 2 Cor 8:9) a games in which we can still strive for the  laurel crown that never fades (1 Cor 9:25).

The visit of the Emperor.

THE word παρουσία (parousía) is often translated as ‘presence’, but it also has a technical meaning, someone’s personal, bodily presence (cf. ‘put in an appearance’), typically in a court of law to resolve a dispute. In particular, it was used of the arrival and subsequent visit of a Roman Emperor in person at a city of his Empire, commemorated on coins and statues with the Latin word Adventus and the Greek Epiphaneia. The Baptism of Christ is portrayed here as the heavenly Emperor personally visiting his people, surrounded by his impressive army. The liturgy’s emphasis on God being visible and physically present is central to the metaphor of an Imperial visit.

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