On the Western Rite calendar, November 8 – the “octave” of All Saints Day – is set aside for honoring the Patriarchs and Prophets of the Old Law. This is not an ancient feast day in the West, but one which was adapted from Eastern practice by Fr. Alexander Turner, the first Vicar General of the Western Rite in our Archdiocese, and blessed by Metropolitan ANTHONY Bashir.
This feast provides an opportunity for restoring the veneration of those holy ones who, living under the old covenant, prepared the way for the coming of our Lord. From earliest times God has been at work making His people holy. From among his chosen people, God called forth those who would prophecy the coming of the Messiah, those whose actions would “foreshadow” (or be “types” for) the major events in our salvation history.
We pay homage to these saints in our liturgical celebrations: In every Liturgy, we hear “…accept them as thou wert graciously pleased to accept the gifts of thy just servant Abel, and the sacrifice of our patriarch Abraham, and that which thy high priest Melchisedech offered unto thee, a holy sacrifice, a spotless victim.” At the Paschal Vigil, we review the Old Testament stories of the flood (which prefigures the washing away of sin and salvation of the faithful at Baptism) and the Exodus from Egypt (also prefiguring baptism and the Resurrection of our Lord). We hear the genealogy of our Lord on the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (September 8), showing how God worked through holy (and not-so holy) men and women to prepare for the birth of the Messiah.
On November 8, we honor all those who were part of God’s revelation, working out his purpose in particular times and places:
St. Abraham, who was born around 1700 B.C. — The story of this patriarch is told in Genesis, chapters 11 to 18. We hear of God’s call to Abraham to leave his homeland and his promise to make Abraham the father of a great nation. We hear of the unlikely birth of Isaac as a gift to the elderly couple and of Abraham’s obedience to God – even to the point of being willing to sacrifice his son as an offering to God. This act has always been interpreted by the fathers of the Church to be a “type” of God’s sacrifice of his Son for our salvation.
St. Moses, who was born in Egypt around 1550 B.C. — Spared from execution and rescued by Pharoah’s daughter, Moses grew up to lead his people out of Egypt, crossing the Red Sea (a miracle which serves as a fore-shadowing of our Lord’s death and Resurrection and of our own baptisms), to wander in the wilderness for 40 years looking for the land promised by God to Abraham and his people. God revealed himself to Moses first in the burning bush and then on the mountain where he gave him the Law. At our Lord’s Transfiguration, Moses appeared on Mt. Tabor as the representative of the Old Law.
St. David, born around the year 970 B.C. — He led one of the most illustrious lives described in the Old Testament (in I Samuel, I Kings, and I Chronicles). From his youth as a sheep-herder and harp player, David rose to prominence when, against all odds, he killed the Phillistine giant with a child’s sling-shot. He became friends with Jonathan, King Saul’s son and married Michal, the king’s daughter. After numerous conflicts, David eventually became king of Israel and established Jerusalem as his capital. King David’s 33-year reign was characterized by the prosperity of a “golden age”, a return to which would be ushered in by the advent of the Messiah, according to later prophets. David’s heartfelt repentance (Psalm 51) following his great sin of adultery serves as a model for Christian repentance. His beautiful psalms provide the basis for much of our liturgical celebrations.
St. Elijah (Elias), who lived in the 9th century B.C. — This great prophet, whose story is told in the book of I Kings, held fast to the worship of the one True God against the Hebrews who followed the pagan gods of their foreign neighbors. Elijah did not die, but was received bodily into Heaven, and it was believed by the Jews that he would return to this earth before the Messiah would come. We Christians count St. John the Baptist as having the spirit of Elijah and of paving the way for the Messiah.
St. Isaiah, who was born in Jerusalem about 700 B.C. — He received visions of God on his heavenly throne, with the Seraphim crying “Holy, holy, holy” (Isaiah 6). A worker of miracles, this prophet foretold many things about Christ, his conception and birth and about St. John the Baptist. His prophecies appear in many of our liturgical services, especially during the Advent season.
And so, we give thanks to God for that great company of saints whose lives and works were a preparation for the greatest events in human history.
O God, who didst show forth thy Divine Wisdom in ancient times through thy patriarchs and prophets, grant that we may imitate their example on earth and enjoy their intercession in heaven. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with thee and the Holy Spirit, liveth and reigneth one God, world without end. Amen.
(Collect for the Feast of the Patriarchs and Prophets of the Old Law)