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The Mountain of the Lord.


"Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways" (Isaiah 2:3).

Being the children of the grace-filled Kingdom of God, we have been taught since childhood to believe in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. However, few of us probably know that these precious properties of the Church had been revealed and explained by the Old Testament prophets long before the Christian era. During a divine service, when we hear, "Do good in thy good pleasure unto Zion: build thou the walls of Jerusalem" ... "A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel" ... "Let them all be confounded and turned back that hate Zion" and other similar words, we know that they are not about the exaltation of the Jewish nation, but about the glory of the Church to which we belong. Still, some are bewildered: why 'Zion', 'Jerusalem', 'Israel' and other such names cannot be replaced with the word 'Church'? The reason to retain these archaic names in our divine services is that for people from the most ancient times they have become sacred and dear symbols of the Kingdom of God. As we will see, these symbols do reveal the mysterious nature of the Church of Christ to us, and at the same time offer images of Her forthcoming glory.

Long before Christianity, the Old Testament prophets prepared spiritual soil, and made a religious foundation for the Kingdom of God among people. In those far-away times when other nations deified various objects and elements of nature, the Jewish people worshipped the true God. After the Kings David and Solomon, the city of Jerusalem and the Temple of God built on Mount Zion, became the only places in the world to glorify the Name of the Maker of Heaven and Earth. At times reality could be different, but the Old Testament temple, the city of Jerusalem and Mount Zion had to be the holy sites. It had been predicted that the Messiah, the Savior of mankind would manifest Himself here; it was here that atonement of people and descent of the Holy Ghost would take place, and the Kingdom of God would also start from here. The Israelites were called to be the first nation to join the Kingdom of God, and indeed, many of them became the first Christians and saints.

It was nothing but natural that prophets, speaking about the forthcoming Kingdom of God, made use of names familiar and dear to their contemporaries Zion, Jerusalem and others as symbols of God's Kingdom-to-come. The King David was first of all prophets to call the Kingdom of God "the holy mount," "Zion" or "Jerusalem." Predicting enthronement of the Messiah and the defeat of His enemies in Psalm 2, David wrote: "Yet [says God the Father] have I set my king [God the Son] upon my holy hill of Zion" (Psalms 2:6). After David, prophets often likened the Kingdom of God to a MOUNT. Majesty of mount represents the grandeur of the Church, Her unity and oneness. King David was first to write about the holiness of the Church. After David, the prophet Isaiah often wrote about the Kingdom of God, calling it the Mount of Zion or the Mountain of the House of God. For example, in the following prophecies he spoke about the future glory of the Messianic Kingdom.

"And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the LORD's house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem" (Isaiah 2:2-3).

It is noteworthy that this prophecy clearly foretold that many nations would join the Church. This truth was then often repeated and reconfirmed by other prophets (see Psalm 22:28 and 72:10-17, Isaiah 42:1-12, 49:6, 54:12-14, Daniel 7:13-14, Haggai 2:6-7). A little later, the prophet Isaiah described the moral revival, which would occur to the members of grace-filled Messianic Kingdom, making people even brutal and cruel as though wild beasts turn meek and kind:

"The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb ... And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice' den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea. And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek" (Isaiah 11:6-10, see also Romans 15:12).

In today's Church, inner renovation of man takes place, but complete security, tangible peace and welfare will occur only after the Last Judgment and renewal of entire nature. Chapters 25 through 27 of the Book of Isaiah further develop the leitmotif of the previous prophecy, and describe glory and bliss that will triumph on the mountain of God by the end of time.

"And in this mountain shall the LORD of hosts make unto all people a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined. And he will destroy in this mountain the face of the covering cast over all people, and the vail that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from off all faces; and the rebuke of his people shall he take away from off all the earth ... For in this mountain shall the hand of the LORD rest ... Open ye the gates, that the righteous nation which keepeth the truth may enter in. Come, my people, enter thou into thy chambers, and shut thy doors about thee ... And it shall come to pass in that day, that the great trumpet shall be blown, and they shall come which were ready to perish in the land of Assyria, and the outcasts in the land of Egypt, and shall worship the LORD in the holy mount at Jerusalem" (Isaiah 25:6-8, 10; 26:2, 20; 27:13).

Egypt and Assyria here are symbols of the kingdom of evil, as is Babylon in other prophecies. The prophet Daniel, who lived about 300 years after Isaiah, returned to the symbol of mountain in one of the visions he described. Below are the key features of that vision:

"A stone was cut out without hands, which smote the image upon his feet that were of iron and clay, and brake them to pieces. Then was the iron, the clay, the brass, the silver, and the gold, broken to pieces together, and became like the chaff of the summer threshingfloors; and the wind carried them away, that no place was found for them: and the stone that smote the image became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth..." The prophet Daniel gave the following explanation to this vision: "In the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever" (Daniel 2:34-35, 44).

In this vision, as well as in other places in the Scriptures, stone is a symbol of the Messiah. The image, broken by the Stone, implies heathen kingdoms. The mountain, i.e. the Church, will spread through the whole earth. She will outlive all kingdoms of earth, and will exist forever. This vision is very close to the prediction Jesus Christ made to the Apostle Peter, "Upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (Matthew 16:18). It is noteworthy in the Old Testament prophecies about the Kingdom of God that despite the extensive usage of names like Zion and Jerusalem in them there is absolutely no narrow-minded nationalism, which became a common disease of the Jews at the time of the Roman rule. The Old Testament prophecies about the Kingdom of God constantly emphasized universality and all-inclusiveness of the Church.

After the Messiah, our Lord Jesus Christ, had come on the earth and the Kingdom of God had spread among the various nations of the Roman Empire, the Old Testament's symbols of the Church did not lose their meaning. On the contrary, the Apostles, and then saints and compilers of prayers for divine services, broadly used them when speaking about the Kingdom of God. For example, in his Epistle to the Hebrews the Holy Apostle Paul used the image of a mountain, well known to Christians, to speak about majesty and universality of the Church:

"Ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant" (Hebrews 12:22-24).

In the Book of Revelation, the Apostle John described the vision of the Church Triumphant, again with the image of the Holy Mountain: "And, lo, a Lamb stood on the mount Sion, and with him an hundred forty and four thousand, having his Father's name written in their foreheads" (Revelation 14:1; 144 thousand is, of course, a symbolic number, that is 12 by 12 by 1000, signifying a great multitude of the saved). The ancient image of Church as the Holy Mount Sion left so deep an imprint that it is reproduced in the Paschal hymn, "Shine, shine, new Jerusalem, for the glory of the Lord has shone upon thee. Rejoice now and merry, Sion." (Cf. Isaiah 60:1). Thus, we see the symbols of the Holy Mount Sion and Jerusalem thread throughout almost all of the Old and New Testaments. They speak for unity, holiness and catholicity of the Church. Yet in the Holy Scripture there are other images of the Kingdom of God: vine yard, tree, field, sheep yard, and so on. However, the symbol of a mountain rather than any other symbol emphasizes the main purpose of the Church, which is to lead people upward, toward God. As a mountain has its base on the ground but touches sky with its top, so the Church exists and operates in the world to guide people and draw them to God.

The world does, in a way, lie at the foot of the mountain of God. Individual people and entire nations come up to this mountain and, having adopted the Christian faith, start climbing or grow spiritually. As people come nearer to God, they become closer to each other at the same time: their cultural and national differences pull back to secondary positions, while their faith and grace come to the foreground. That is why, as the Apostle says, in the Church "there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all" (Colossians 3:11).

Putting it bluntly, only the Orthodox faith does indeed lead man upward. Only this faith possesses the great treasure of spiritual experience of saints. Only this faith can revitalize man through Her grace-filled sacraments, transforming one into a 'new creature'. The heterodox world rejected sacraments and spiritual experience of saints, and by doing so it closed the road of its own spiritual revival. Despite the acclaim of heterodox preaching and sometimes-broad humanitarian activity, there is no real ascension to God, as though heterodox Christians just roam in circles at the foot of the holy mountain.

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