May 12, 2016
May 12, Thursday of Thomas Week
Seventh Reading at the Vigil of Great and Holy Saturday – Zephaniah 3:8-15, especially vs. 8: 'On account of this, wait for Me,’ says the Lord, ‘until the day of My rising up as a testimony.'
The Prophet Zephaniah, a contemporary of Jeremiah, was descended from a king of Judah. Like his fellow prophet of the seventh century BC, he saw signs of divine judgment gathering against the kingdom. His prophetic declarations reveal the cause: “Her rulers are in her as roaring lions, and her judges are in her as wolves of Arabia that remain until morning. Her prophets borne by the wind, men who are scoffers, the bearers of the spirit, are men who are scorners. Her priests profane the holy things and live contrary to the law” (Zep 3:3-4).
The subsequent vision that the Lord gives Zephaniah reveals that one day God will correct the wrongs among His people. That future day of the Lord’s making is notable in four ways. It will be a gathering from all nations (vss. 8,10); God’s people will be purified (vs. 9) while only a remnant, “gentle and humble,” will be left (vs. 12); and finally God, the true “King of Israel” (vs. 15) will dwell in the midst of His renewed people. Here we have a portrait of the age ushered in by Christ, a day providing a foretaste of the great Judgment Day when our victorious Lord Jesus shall return to complete His work fully.
“My judgment shall be for the gatherings of the nations” (vs. 8). After two millennia, we see nations still being gathered by the Lord. In 1860, for example, the newly ordained Hieromonk Nikolai was assigned to serve the small Russian community in Hakodate, on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido. Fifteen years later, the first Japanese priests were ordained as a result of Father Nikolai’s work. By 1884, just sixteen years after the first catechumens were baptized, the number of faithful had grown to 10,000; twenty years later they numbered 29,000. Despite war between Japan and Russia, converts joined the Church at a rate of 1,000 per year. Archimandrite Nikolai was elevated to Archbishop of Japan in 1906. The Japanese Orthodox Church counted 40,000 members at the times of his repose in 1912 (Cooke, “The Spread of Orthodoxy in Japan”).
This story is being repeated today in Indonesia, India, Latin America, and Africa. All across the globe, the nations are being gathered. “For then I shall transform for the people a language for her generation, for all to call upon the name of the Lord, to serve Him under one yoke” (vs. 9). As converts enter the Church today, they hear prayers offered in their own languages. Despite many cultural divisions, they indeed serve “under one yoke.” People from many distant lands are gathering; they are “no longer haughty upon [God’s] holy mountain,” i.e., the Church (vs. 11).
“I will leave among you a gentle and humble people” (vs. 12). Sadly, ancient Israel did not accept Jesus as the Christ, although a few sought refuge in the name of the Lord. That “remnant of Israel [did] not commit unrighteousness nor speak vanities” (vs. 13), but was transformed into a band of apostolic men and women. No “deceitful tongue [was] found in their mouth,” for they fed many and removed terror from human hearts (vs. 13).
Let us recognize the vibrant Orthodox Church in the portrait that Zephaniah gave us 600 years before Jesus’ birth! “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Cry aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem” (vs. 14) at the coming of the King of Israel. Fear evil no longer (vs. 15)!
Thou didst come in to Thy disciples, O Christ our God, Resurrection of all, renewing in us through them an upright spirit, according to the greatness of Thy mercy. – Troparion of Thomas Sunday