(Welcome to our Saint of the Day series! Each weekday, we present you with an excerpt from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints series, published by Holy Cross Orthodox Press. Today we commemorate St. Jeremiah, whose account is found in Volume 2 of the series.)
The Prophet Jeremiah
To exclude from among the saints of Christianity the prophets who served God before the coming of Christ is equivalent to neglecting the Old Testament, that Holy Scripture which serves the spiritual needs of all mankind and without which the Christian would stand on one leg in the presence of God. The Old and New Testaments of the Bible are not companion pieces under one cover. They are a cohesive expression of the will of God through the finest minds of all time, among which the prophets are a breed apart, chosen by God to guide man through spiritual straits and assuring his arrival at the feet of Jesus Christ. Among the four major prophets was the great Jeremiah, a great orator on the one hand who denounced evil, and on the other an assuring prophet, who foretold the salvation of mankind through the birth of the Messiah.
The son of Hilkiah, a priest of Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, Jeremiah was cast in the classic mold of prophet after Isaiah, who preceded him by more than a century. His own role as a prophet was a prophecy in itself, as indicated by the words, “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto all nations” (Jer 1:5). He came upon a scene of turmoil to put out the fires that were bringing the cauldrons of controversy to a boiling point and posing as much of a threat to the community as that of the Babylonian hordes that were poised to strike the city without warning.
Jeremiah foresaw the need for preparedness against the enemies of God and issued a clear warning that, should the people continue their sinful ways, they would seal their own fate. In forsaking God they would in turn be forsaken, he declared, but his warning went unheeded and he sought to bring about reform in the hope that the wayward would come to see the error of their ways and be prepared for the Lord’s judgment. He envisioned the coming of the Messiah, much as Isaiah had, when he predicted a virgin would bear a son who would save the world, and he labored to restore morality and complete obedience to the laws of God so that they might be worthy of salvation and not lose the precious heritage of their ancestors.
Jeremiah excoriated the most sinful, among whom there were even priests, and when he was ignored he then uttered the prophecy duly recorded in the Bible, that the city of Jerusalem would fall prey to its enemies. The Holy City was overrun by the hordes of Babylon and the innocent as well as the sinner had to flee for his life, scattered like the leaves of autumn, if they were lucky enough to escape at all. Even the prophet Jeremiah might have been captured had he not been saved by the Ethiopian Ebedmelech, with whom he reached the safety of the wilderness.
Even as Jeremiah prayed for the salvation of his people, as outlined in his “Lamentations,” he was declared a traitor for having predicted the fall of Jerusalem and was so unpopular that he was banished. He could have faded into obscurity, but his mission was far from over, for this prophet of God went to Egypt, where he found favor in the ancient land of the Pharaohs. It was there that Jeremiah revealed himself to be a true man of God. His lost popularity was regained and he reasserted himself as an instrument of God.
Jeremiah foretold the coming of Christ, even outlining the cruel fate of the children at the hands of the tyrant Herod some six centuries away, as indicated by the words, “Thus said the Lord, a voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping; Rachel, weeping for her children, refused to be comforted for her children, because they were not.” Prior to the fall of Jerusalem he had issued a call for reform, only to be rewarded with the abuse reserved for criminals. Even the New Testament contains a condemnation of the elements that plagued Jeremiah, as in the bitter passage from the Gospel of St. Matthew 23:27 which exclaims, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stoneth them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not.”
The feast day of Jeremiah is observed on May 1 in honor of the prophet who died in exile and at whose tomb Alexander the Great many years later knelt in prayer.
Text from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints. Image from Wikipedia.