St. George
Serbian Orthodox Church
Carmichaels, PA

The Mountains of God

by Fr. Rodney Torbic

Mountains are integral to the plan of God as He is revealed in history. Early in the Book of Genesis we read about the ark coming to rest on the mountains of Ararat (Gen. 8:4) We are told with certainty that God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the cattle that were with him in the ark (Gen. 8:1)

Shortly after the ark rested on the mount, God established a covenant with Noah. He said: "I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth." (Gen. 9:11)

Later in the Book of Genesis we come to know about the experience of Abraham and Isaac on the mountain in the land of Moraih. God tested Abraham by telling him to take Isaac his only son and offer him as a burnt offering upon the mountain. When it became clear that Abraham was going forth with the sacrifice as directed by God, God intervened and provided a ram for a sacrifice, sparing Isaac (Gen. 22:1-14).

Furthermore, because of Abraham's faith, God said to him, "I will indeed bless you, and I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven and as the sand which is in the seashore. And your descendents shall possess the gate of their enemies, and by your descendents shall all the nations of the earth bless themselves, because you have obeyed my voice." (Gen. 22:17-18)

In the Book of Exodus we are introduced to the encounter of Moses with God at the mountain at Sinai. The Lord spoke to Moses regarding the house of Jacob, the people of Israel. The Lord said: "...if you will obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my own possession among all people; for all the earth is mine, and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation." (Ex. 19:1-6)

Mount Sinai was the scene of dramatic action by God. In Holy Scripture we read that: "...Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the Lord descended upon it in fire; and the smoke of it went up like smoke of a kiln and the whole mountain quaked gently." (Ex. 19:18). All Christians associate the Ten Commandments with Moses' experience on Mount Sinai. (Ex. 20:1-17)

It was on Mount Nebo that Moses was directed to go by God to view the land of Canaan which God was giving to the people of Israel. God told Moses that he would die on Mount Nebo because he broke faith with God at the waters of Meribath-Kadesh. From Mount Nebo, Moses was able to see the land, but did not enter it. (Deut. 32:48-52)

As Orthodox Christians, we need to include in our world view these historical occurrences of God's revelations on various mountains. These interventions by God with towering figures of salvation history were major turning points.

The Holy Prophet Elijah had a memorable encounter on Mount Carmel which demonstrated the power and presence of God with undeniable certainty. Elijah engaged in a contest with the prophets of Baal to establish who was God. The prophets of Baal called upon Baal to bring forth fire on a bull which was prepared for the contest. They were summarily unsuccessful in their plea.

Elijah too his turn and called upon the Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel. The fire of the Lord fell, and consumed the burnt offering. The people who witnessed proclaimed: "The Lord, he is God; the Lord, he is God." (I Kings 18:20-39)

Mount Horeb was the site of a second encounter with God for Elijah. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he went to a cave on the mountain and the Lord came to him. The Lord passed by. He spoke to Elijah, giving him directions to anoint Hazael king over Syria and Jehu king over Israel. Elijah was directed to anoint Elisha to be a prophet in his place. (I Kings 19:8-16)

We must ask ourselves why God has chosen mountains to play such important roles in history. As we search for the answer to the question, let us consider these very interesting words of the Holy Prophet Isaiah who said: "It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the hightest of the mountains and shall be raised above the hills." (Is. 2:2)

In our lives on earth, when we look forth across the landscape, mountains stand as towering figures of strength. They give shape to the terrain. Mountains are sources of protection against storms. Their heights offer views which are awe inspiring. High mountain peaks serve to challenge the daring and adventurous urges within us. Being at the top of the mountain carries with it a connotation of victory.

When we stand at the base of a mountain and look upward, we cannot help but feel how small we are. We must wonder about the Creator who placed the mountains where they are located and who shaped them. Mountains command our attention. They dominate the view.

Human beings are required to be very resourceful when they choose to climb a mountain or to inhabit it. Going over, around or through a mountain takes strength and commitment. God has placed mountains before us and calls from us something extra whenever we encounter a mountain.

The Old Testament figures who experienced God on a mountain take on extraordinary size themselves. These figures standout in the history of the teachings of the Church. Centuries have not diminished, but have added to the immensity of their presence.

Scriptural figures such as Noah, Abraham, Moses and Elijah are perceived in direct association with their experiences with God. Their encounters with God define their place in history.

The New Testament records actions of God being manifested on various mountains. Early in the Gospel of St. Matthew we know that Jesus faced the temptations set forth by the devil The devil took Jesus to an exceedingly high mountain, showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and said all things would be His if He fell down and worshipped the devil. From this mountain top, Jesus exclaimed the powerful words: "Away with you Satan! For it is written, 'You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve." (Mt. 4:8-10)

Jesus had a number of experiences on various mountains which command our consideration. His incomparable Sermon on the Mount recorded in the Gospel of St. Matthew is a constant source of inspiration for all who seek the Lord. Each Divine Liturgy we are nourished with the Beatitudes which are framed in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 5-7)

Mount Tabor is the site of Jesus' transfiguration. We know that Jesus went upon a high mountain with Peter, James and John. He was transfigured before them, his face being like the sun and his clothes as white as light. Moses and Elijah appeared and were talking with Christ

Out of a cloud came a voice exclaiming: "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." (Mt. 17:1-5) Each year on August 6/19 our churches celebrate the Transfiguration as a major feast and we enter into the mountain experience of Jesus, Moses, Elijah, Peter, James and John. Our hearts are lifted up. We raise our thoughts and consider the enormit of this divine occurrence.

The Mount of Olives was the site Jesus chose to prepare for His triumphal entry into Jerusalem IT was at the Mount of Olives that He instructed two disciples to go forward to locate the donkey and the colt and bring them to him. He made His entry into Jerusalem listening to the words we hear each Palm Sunday (Mt. 21:1-9)

If we are to fully appreciate the place of mountains in God's scheme of things, we must continue to examine their presence in the history of the world which we associate with Christianity.

We should not overlook the fact that Moses and Elijah, both of whom had experiences on mountains during their lives on earth, centuries later appeared with Jesus Christ on Mount Tabor at the Transfiguration. This must be viewed as more than a passing coincidence.

As Orthodox Christians, we are challenged to examine many aspects of the teachings and writings which have been preserved for us through the centuries. We are not to be stagnant in our beliefs and understanding of the world and in our view and relationship with God.

Many centuries ago, the Holy Prophet Isaiah proclaimed the measured words, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths." (Is. 2:3)

Each of us must make the trek to the mountain of God, that we may seek His understanding and learn of His presence. Each of us must climb the mountain, struggling with the terrain, gripping the slippery edges, and hold to the vision.

God has nourished and fed us in the fertile valleys of life. God has provided the waters to quench our thirst. His mountain is set before us, calling us to the place of rest it was for Noah, the place of direction and vision it ws for Moses, the place of certainty and mission it was for Elijah.

Let us draw from the Sermon on the Mount to feed our spiritual hunger. Let us look to Mount Tabor, to the glistening Christ and join with Peter in saying: "Lord it is good for us to be here..." (Mt. 17:4) Let us remember His triumphal entry into Jerusalem and say: "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest." (Mt. 21:9)

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