On Great and Holy Monday we commemorate Joseph the Patriarch, the beloved son of Jacob. A major figure of the Old Testament, Joseph’s story is told in the final section of the Book of Genesis (chs. 37-50). Because of his exceptional qualities and remarkable life, our patristic and liturgical tradition portrays Joseph as a prototype of Christ. The story of Joseph illustrates the mystery of God’s providence, promise and redemption. Innocent, chaste, and righteous, his life bears witness to the power of God’s love and promise. The lesson to be learned from Joseph’s life, as it bears upon the ultimate redemption wrought by the death and resurrection of Christ, is summed up in the words he addressed to his brothers who had previously betrayed him, “Fear not… as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, to bring about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he reassured them and comforted them (Gen 50:19-21). The commemoration of the noble, blessed and saintly Joseph reminds us that in the great events of the Old Testament, the Church recognizes the realities of the New Testament.Also, on Great and Holy Monday the Church commemorates the event of the cursing of the fig tree (Mt 21:18-20). In the Gospel narrative this event is said to have occured on the morrow of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem (Mt 21:18 and Mk 11:12). For this reason it found its way into the liturgy of Great Monday. The episode is also quite relevant to Great Week. Together with the event of the cleansing of the Temple this episode is another manifestation of Jesus’ divine power and authority and a revelation as well of God’s judgement upon the faithlessness of the Jewish religious classes. The fig tree is symbolic of Israel become barren by her failure to recognize and receive Christ and His teachings. The cursing of the fig tree is a parable in action, a symbolic gesture. Its meaning should not be lost on any one in any generation. Christ’s judgement on the faithless, unbelieving, unrepentant and unloving will be certain and decisive on the last day. This episode makes it clear that nominal Christianity is not only inadequate, it is also despicable and unworthy of God’s kingdom. Genuine Christian faith is dynamic and fruitful. It permeates one’s whole being and causes a change. Living, true and unadulterated faith makes the Christian conscious of the fact that he is already a citizen of heaven. Therefore, his way of thinking, feeling, acting and being must reflect this reality. Those who belong to Christ ought to live and walk in the Spirit; and the Spirit will bear fruit in them: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Gal 5:22-25).
From Great Week and Pascha in the Greek Orthodox Church
Alkiviadis C. Calivas