Lucia, from the Jerusalem community, writes about Saint Abraham, our father, on the occasion of his feast in the Catholic Church, on October 9.

abraham_bosomSaint Abraham is remembered on a feast day of his own – in the Orthodox Church on October 11 and in the Catholic Church the feast has been transferred to October 9. The fact that the date is shared in the Eastern and the Western Church proof of the antiquity of this feast that dates back before the schism between East and West in the eleventh century. However, this is not surprising when one considers the importance of Abraham our father – who is our father in body and spirit. And what does this mean? For a Jew or an Arab, Abraham is indeed father in body and spirit but what about those Christians who are neither Jews nor Arabs? The New Testament emphasizes from its very first verse that Jesus is "son of David, son of Abraham" (Matthew 1:1). The entire family genealogy of Jesus shows that he was born into the midst of the Jewish people that descends from the loins of Abraham. As for those of us Christians who are neither Jews nor Arabs, we were born again and we became members of the Body of Christ which is the Church. In Christ, we were brought into an inalienable relationship with his people, descendants of Abraham according to the promise of God: "in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles" (Galatians 3:14). Nevertheless, the true children of Abraham are those that do the works of Abraham (John 8:39), which means: the works of faith. Through our faith in the one God we have become children of Abraham according to the Spirit and so we must pass through the same degrees of faith through which Abraham also passed.

According to the Biblical chronology, twenty generations divide Adam from Abraham and ten generations divide Noah from Abraham. Since the days of Noah, when he built an altar to make his offering to God, humanity sank into idol worship. Suddenly, in the pagan environment of the 19th century B.C, in Ur of the Chaldeans, Abram discovers the one God, the Creator of heaven and earth and Lord of the universe. According to Jewish tradition (cf. Genesis Rabba, the Apocalypse of Abraham, etc.) he had already discovered God when he was young, not by a revelation but by his own reason. Contemplating the divine beauty of the night and its stars Abram saw something more powerful with the dawn – the sun – that chased away the darkness with its brilliance. However, even it did not remain and the moon came to replace it, hidden sometimes by the clouds. Yet, even the clouds were not gods because the wind expelled them from the skies. Finally, little Abram concluded that there was a Ruler who moved all the other natural elements. This Ruler is God and only he must be worshipped. Thus Abram initiates the way of faith for the pagan nations "for what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.  Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made" (Romans 1:19-20). The midrash (traditional Jewish narratives that explain and complete the Biblical story) tells us how the young boy presented what he had discovered to his father, who made a living from producing idols and after that to his father's clients, which put into danger not only Abram but also his entire family. The wisdom of the boy caused the emigration of the family, led by Terah the father from Ur to Haran. There Abram waited for many years and reached a venerable age, doing good deeds and showing hospitality with a generous heart while preaching the belief in one God. The first degree of Abraham is that he worships one God – Creator and Master of the world – a determined faith without compromise.

Abram was already 75 years old when God spoke to him and said: "Now the Lord said to Abram, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you.  I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed."  So Abram went, as the Lord had told him" (Genesis 12:1-4). From this moment, an intimate relationship is initiated between Abram and his God, a relationship that is expressed not only through obedience and submission but also through complete mutual trust. Abraham trusts (believes in) God completely to that he is willing to leave behind him the security and stability of his life in Haran and set off without knowing where he is going and without any guarantee aside from the promise of God. God too trusts the one is to become Abraham and shares with him his plans for the world as one can see in the story of Sodom and Gomorrah: "Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do" (Genesis 18:17). Abraham, knowing the plan of God, dares to challenge God and God listens to him as to a close friend and even calls Abraham: "you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, the offspring of Abraham, my friend" (Isaiah 41:8). This is the next degree of the faith of Abraham: the trust that is expressed in the submission of Abraham in palpable deeds of father and his friendship with God: "Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness, and he was called the friend of God" (James 2:23).

In going after the call of God, Abram arrived in the Land of Canaan and God made a covenant with him and promised Abraham an heir and many descendants. Since that time ten years had passed and "Sarai, Abram's wife, bore him no children" (Genesis 16:1). This was no surprise as the woman was barren and now she was 76 years old. It was her desire to see the fulfillment of the promise but she was desperate and so Sarai proposed a human solution and gave her handmaid to Abram as a substitute mother. So, at the age of 86, Abram fathered Ishmael. However, the ways of God are not our ways. When Abram was 99 years old (and his son Ishmael 13), God appears to him again and renames him and his wife, repeating the original promise:  that he will give to Abraham a son by Sarah and not through the handmaiden. One year later, Sarah gives birth to Isaac, she being 90 years old and Abraham being 100 because "is anything too wonderful for the Lord?" (Genesis 18:14). Thus Abraham discovers the all-powerful God who knows no limits, "who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine" (Ephesians 3:20).

abraham_rembrandtNow, the renewed faith of Abraham, even more determined than before, will enable him to meet the hardest and most unimaginable test of all when God demands of him (as far as he can understand) to sacrifice his son, the very son of the promise. According to the Epistle to the Hebrews, Abraham was able to follow God to the end because "he considered the fact that God is able even to raise someone from the dead"  (Hebrews 11:19). This is the peak of Abraham's faith: to believe in God when he himself understands nothing, when obedience seems absurd and contradicts common sense; to believe in God more than in himself, to rely on God more than to trust his own reason and thinking.

This is the path of faith of the true sons of Abraham: "for he is the father of all of us, as it is written, "I have made you the father of many nations" - in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist" (Romans 4:16-17).