Friday, January 24
Hebrews 11:8-16: Among the numerous and varied characters of the Old Testament, Abraham is perhaps the one most mentioned as a model for the Christian life. This theme is prominent in the Epistle to the Romans, where Abraham, described as “the father of us all” (4:16) is presented as the outstanding example of the life of faith (chapter 4 passim). For St. Paul, Abraham’s faith was manifest in his adherence to God’s promises against all contrary evidence: “contrary to hope, in hope he believed, so that he became the father of many nations” (4:18).
The Epistle to the Hebrews, though not neglecting that aspect of the Abraham story (11:11-12), emphasizes two other aspects of Abraham’s faith: his wandering and his response to the summons he received to offer Isaac in sacrifice.
The former theme is considered in the present verses: “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country.” This aspect of Abraham’s faith is consistent with the theme of pilgrimage in the Epistle to the Hebrews: “For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come” (13:14). Indeed, with respect to all the Old Testament saints, we are told, “they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth” (11:13).
This was preeminently the situation of Abraham, who obeyed the Lord’s command, “Get out of your country, / From your family / And from your father’s house, / To a land that I will show you” (Genesis 12:1). In other words, Abraham will see that land only if he obeys the command of the Lord. “I will show you” is in the future tense.
In addition to the author of Hebrews, St. Stephen also emphasized this aspect of Abraham’s faith: “The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Haran, and said to him, ‘Get out of your country and from your relatives, and come to a land that I will show you’” (Acts 7:3).
This feature of Abraham’s faith—his obedient wandering to pursue the future—corresponded very much to the experience of the early Christians. They, too, had no clear idea where they were going—at least in respect to their future in this world. Like Abraham, they were content to follow God’s leadership wherever He would guide them. From a human perspective, they were just as vulnerable as any pilgrims in this world. This was especially the case, one suspects, as the social ties between the Church and the Jews began to be severed. What did the future hold? Those early Christians really had no idea, so Abraham became their model, “dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise; for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.”
Abraham trusted the Lord, placing his life and destiny in the hands of the God who will not lie nor deceive. He did not try to work out his life for himself. He made no endeavor to base his future on his own theories. He trusted in God in the face of insuperable obstacles. He gave up every pursuit or goal not compatible with trust in God.
Such trust renders a person pleasing to God. Such faith is the only thing that justifies a man in God’s sight. Faith is not some benign component that enables a man to live a humanly “normal life.” On the contrary, faith compels a man to live a life that those without faith will say is foolish.
When Abraham left Ur, it was a great city—one of the greatest in history. This great commercial center on the Persian Gulf was the place where writing had been invented. Abraham’s departure from there represented the move that every man of faith must make. Faith means giving up and moving on. It is the very opposite of an established and secure life. It always means “living in tents with Isaac and Jacob.”
Our author has nothing but good to say about Sarah, stressing the importance of her faith: “By faith Sarah herself also received strength to conceive seed, when she was past the age, because she judged Him faithful who had promised.”
We should be glad that Hebrews makes this point, because if we had only the Old Testament by which to reflect on the matter, we might doubt that Sarah had much faith. After all, she laughed when she heard God’s promise of a child.
Saturday, January 25
Hebrews 11:17-22: There are so many points of resemblance between the stories of Joseph and Jesus: the beloved of his father, sold for a price by his brethren, unjustly accused and imprisoned on false testimony, suffering all with patience, and finally showing mercy towards his oppressors. Joseph’s life thus outlined those dramatic days culminating on Calvary. Such is the contemplative vision enshrined forever in the Matins Bridegroom Service of Holy Week in the Orthodox Church: “Joseph is an image of the Master: he was thrown into a pit and sold by his brethren, but he suffered all these things with patience, as a true figure of Christ.”
That liturgical perspective on Joseph is found also in the writings of the Fathers, where Joseph is perceived, not only as prophet, but also as a prophecy. As early as Tertullian, Joseph was regarded as a figure (figuravit . . . figuratus) of Christ himself, and Cyprian called him a “type of Christ.” This view was shared by Fathers in both the East (such as Cyril of Alexandria) and the West (such as Ambrose).
This text from Hebrews is especially pertinent to the theme of the Resurrection, which is introduced by Holy Week. Joseph told his brethren,
“I am dying, but God will certainly visit you and bring you up out of this land to the land which he promised by oath to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob.” And Joseph exacted an oath of the sons of Israel, saying: “God will certainly visit you, and you shall bring up my bones from here.” So Joseph died, having lived one hundred and ten years, and they embalmed him, and he was placed in a coffin in Egypt (Genesis 50:23–26).
This declaration was, of course, a prophecy of the Exodus. Moreover, because of the steps that Joseph took to ensure that his very bones would be part of that salvific event, the hurried actions of Passover night included the opening of Joseph’s grave: “And Moses took the bones of Joseph, because he had exacted an oath of the sons of Israel, saying: ‘God will certainly visit you, and you shall bring up my bones from here’” (Exodus 13:19).
It is curious that, with so many examples of faith to choose from in the history of Joseph, the author of Hebrews should content himself with this one instance. Hebrews 11:22 seems to tell the whole story of Joseph’s bones from a specifically Christian perspective: death and the Exodus. It was in the very act of dying, teleuton, that Joseph spoke of the Exodus. To the author of Hebrews, Joseph offered the ideal model of how a Christian should die—clinging in hope to the promise of the Exodus.
Joseph died in the very act of expressing his faith in the coming Exodus. The reference to the Exodus here in verse 22 is completely consonant with its subsequent context. Verses 23–29 speak of the Passover and the Red Sea, and verse 28 specifically refers to the blood of the paschal lamb. The author is here touching on an ancient Christian catechetical pattern that linked the Exodus and Passover to the events surrounding the death and resurrection of Jesus by interpretive paradigm and type.
For the author of Hebrews this participation of Joseph’s body in Israel’s deliverance points to a particular dimension of the Christian faith. It indicates the hope that our very bodies are destined for passage through the real Red Sea and a final rest in the real Promised Land. The real Exodus is the Resurrection. The God who can raise the dead (11:19) has already “raised from the dead . . . our Lord Jesus Christ” (13:20).
Sunday, January 26
Hebrews 11:23-29: Arguably one of the most puzzling verses in Holy Scripture is that which tells why Moses’ mother did not drown him at birth. For the purpose of introducing this subject as a matter of inquiry, but without recommending the accuracy of the translation, I quote the relevant verse in the New King James Version: “And when she saw he was a beautiful child, she hid him three months” (Exodus 2:2).
This verse is puzzling in two ways. First, taken as a plain assertion—“he was beautiful, so she hid him”—the verse just won’t do. Are we to imagine that all the other little Hebrew boys were ugly? Since the beauty in Moses’ case is given as the reason for his parents’ refusal to obey Pharaoh’s command, we suspect that a deeper, subtler significance is intended.
Second, ancient interpreters, though differing among themselves somewhat about details, agree that its meaning is more mysterious than at first appears.
We may begin with the New Testament witnesses, Stephen and the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews. In their reading of this verse, both these early Christians maintained the adjective asteios, which the Septuagint used to describe Moses. Although this word is most often translated as “well formed” or “beautiful,” each of these sources recognized that the appearance of the newborn Moses was of a quality different from merely human beauty.
Thus, after the adjective asteios, Stephen added the qualifying expression to Theo, “to God,” which effectively changes the sense of the verse to “well pleasing to God” (Acts 7:20). Moreover, Stephen was describing Moses himself and his relationship to the Lord, not his mother’s assessment of the child. In fact, Stephen does not even mention Moses’ mother.
In the Epistle to the Hebrews, where the appearance of the newborn Moses is given as the reason why his parents “were not afraid of the king’s command,” the entire context is that of faith: “By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden three months by his parents, because they saw that he was a beautiful child” (11:23). Here the point is very subtle indeed. When the parents looked upon little Moses, they were able to discern “by faith” some aspect of the child’s appearance that was not otherwise obvious. We recall that this section of Hebrews began by defining faith as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (11:1). In Hebrews 11, faith invariably has to do with an adherence to the unseen future. The infant Moses, then, gave evidence of something hoped for but not yet seen, and faith granted his parents a special discernment in his regard.
These early Christian interpretations of Exodus 2:2 are not unlike those found among ancient Jewish readers of the text. For example, Philo wrote that the newborn Moses “had a beauty more than human” (de Vita Moysi 1.9), and Josephus apparently agreed (Antiquities 2.9.6 §224). Rashi, in his commentary on Exodus, went even further, speculating that the house was filled with light at Moses’ birth. Indeed, he wrote, when Pharaoh’s daughter opened the little basket floating on the Nile, she beheld the Shekinah, the luminous cloud of the divine glory.
All of these readings, differing among themselves in detail, are in accord in their search for a deeper, subtler meaning in the Bible’s description of the newborn Moses. They all agree that his beautiful appearance was revelatory of God’s purpose.
Most of the authors I have cited (Rashi the exception) based their interpretations of Exodus 2:2 on the Septuagint. I suggest that we look more closely at the underlying Hebrew text, which asserts of Moses’ mother, wattere’ ’oto ki tov hu’, literally, “and she saw that he was good.”
The most obvious parallels to this passage, I submit, are the several places where the Book of Genesis says of Creation, “And God saw that it was good,” wayyar’ ’Elohim ki tov (Genesis 1:10,12,18,21,25,31). It is remarkable that both passages employ the identical predicate (ra’ah) and exactly the same objective clause (ki tov). That is to say, each of these books begins with the selfsame assertion, ra’ah ki tov—“. . . saw that . . . was good.”
Moreover, this verbal correspondence between Genesis and Exodus is certainly deliberate on the author’s part. Thus, God’s salvific deed in Exodus is here set in intentional parallel with his creative work in Genesis. This harmony pertains to the deeper, subtler significance of the text.
Monday, January 27
Hebrews 11:30-40: This summary of the “great cloud of witnesses” may be described as centered on the author’s reference to what he calls “a better resurrection.” In the context, the comparative adjective, “better,” distinguishes this resurrection from the dead from earlier biblical stories in which, as he says, “women received their dead raised to life again.” Those earlier stories include those accounts in which Elijah and Elisha raised to life the deceased sons of the widow of Zarephath and the Shunammite woman.
These true resurrections from the dead may be compared with Jesus’ resurrections of Lazarus, the son of the widow of Nain, and the daughter of Jairus. These were true resurrections, genuine victories of life over death, and Holy Scripture uses the same word—anastasis—to describe them.
For all that, however, those resurrections were not complete, because those who were raised were still obliged to face death once again. When our author speaks, therefore, of a “better resurrection,” he has in mind that definitive victory over death, which was Israel’s most precious hope. “Others were tortured,” he tells us, “not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection.”
There are three points to be made about this better resurrection:
First, it represents the final and completed stage of Old Testament hope. The author of Hebrews refers here to those late Old Testament martyrs, who confessed the resurrection from the dead even as they were being tortured to death. For instance, it was this hope of the final resurrection that sustained the people of the Old Covenant in their hour of peril, during the persecution by Antiochus IV Epiphanes.
Second, this “better resurrection,” the final and highest hope of the Old Covenant, is the major and defining thesis of the New. St. Paul made this claim before the Sanhedrin itself: “I worship the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the Law and in the Prophets. I have hope in God, which they themselves also accept, that there will be a resurrection” (Acts 24:14-15). Paul finished his defense by declaring, “Concerning the resurrection of the dead I am being judged by you this day.”
The Apostle Paul, in his sermon at the synagogue at Antioch in Pisidia, proclaimed the same Gospel of the Resurrection: “And we declare to you glad tidings (evangelion)–that promise which was made to the fathers. God has fulfilled this for us their children, in that He has raised up Jesus” (Acts 13:31-32). Paul proclaimed this message in a synagogue, where he spoke of a “promise which was made to the fathers.” This promise made to the saints of the Old Testament, he announced, “God has fulfilled this for us their children, in that He has raised up Jesus.”
Third, the better resurrection—the raising of Jesus—accomplished what the Old Testament Law could not: man’s justification. In fact, the first time the noun “justification” appears in the New Testament, Paul proclaims that Jesus “was raised for our justification” (Romans 4:25). He had earlier written, “For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!” (1 Corinthians 15:17) No Resurrection, no justification.
It is through Jesus’ resurrection, then, that we are begotten as children of God. St. Peter wrote, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3).
“If you confess with your mouth,” wrote Paul, “that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). These two salvific assertions are identical in meaning. ” God has raised him ” is just another way of saying, “Jesus is Lord.” His lordship and His resurrection are synonymous, forming the fundamental thesis of the faith, through the confession of which we come to salvation. Christ’s resurrection from the dead fulfills the Old Testament’s hope for a better resurrection.
Tuesday, January 28
Hebrews 12:1-11: Even in advance of the darkness of the Passion, the celebration of Palm Sunday gives Christians a vision of the glory that will follow the Cross. They are not expected to step into the dark corridor without knowing where that corridor will lead.
Jesus Himself knew exactly where He was going when He began Holy Week and the Way of the Cross. Indeed, it was his vision that strengthened Him to walk that path. He, “for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame.” He did not suffer the Cross for the sake of the Cross, but because of that final joy.
Christians, likewise, are not called to endure for the sake of endurance, but for the sake of glory. In this, they are to be modeled on Jesus: “let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus.” Several translations (Phillips, NIV, NEB, NAB) render this last expression as “our eyes fixed on Jesus,” which perhaps better catches the sense of aphorontes. We are, in fact, dealing with a fixation.
In the Christian life, very much depends of where we look, where we direct our attention. Recall Peter’s attempt to walk on water: “And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus. But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid” (Matthew 14:29-30).
This fixation is a function of concentration: “Consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls.” The opening verb here (the only place in the New Testament) is the imperative form of analogizomai, which refers to critical, discursive thought—the labor of the mind.
In fact, one sees in this verb the same root found in the English “analogy.” This is all the more curious inasmuch as our author proceeds immediately to provide an analogy: “It is for discipline that you endure. God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not discipline?”
These reflections touch the very purpose of the Epistle to the Hebrews: to encourage Christians who had become despondent because of the difficulties attendant on the life of faith. The author endeavors to fix their attention on those considerations that provide strength for the struggle. His model, in this respect, is Jesus Himself, who “endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Wednesday, January 29
Hebrews 12:12-29: The author of Hebrews outlines a contrast between two mountains: Sinai and Zion—the mountain of the Law and the mountain of the Temple, or the covenant with Moses and the covenant with David.
A similar contrast between these two mountains—Sinai and Zion—was made by St. Paul, much to the same effect: “For these are two covenants: the one from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage, which is Hagar—for this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children—but the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all” (Galatians 4:24-26).
In both texts—Galatians and Hebrews—there is a contrast between the bondage of the Law and the boldness of the Christian. With respect to this contrast, St. Paul writes, “you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God” (Galatians 4:7). In both cases, we observe, Mount Zion is called the heavenly Jerusalem: According to Galatians, “the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all.” According to Hebrews, “you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem.”
One suspects that this contrast between Mount Sinai and Mount Zion may have been a rhetorical trope in early Christian preaching. This suggestion would explain why we find it in both Galatians and Hebrews, in spite of the great differences between these two works. This contrast is used in both places and adapted to the theme of each work.
Here in Hebrews, the two mountains are contrasted with respect to what we may call “comfort”: Mount Sinai provokes fear and trembling, whereas Mount Zion inspires boldness, or parresia. In Hebrews, this word describes the spirit in which believers have access to God.
Thus, we read earlier of Christ as “as a Son over His own house, whose house we are if we hold fast the parresia and the rejoicing of a firm hope” (3:6). Or again, “Let us therefore come with parresia to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (4:16). There is an irony in this verse: We might imagine that the way to obtain mercy is not to demonstrate too much boldness. On the contrary, says Hebrews, boldness is the path to mercy!
Mount Sinai inspired a sense of awe and fear, even to the point of cringing. The author of Hebrews will have no cringing Christians. They are to approach God’s presence in a bold and confident spirit. He wrote earlier, “Therefore, brethren, having parresia to enter the Holy of Holies by the blood of Jesus . . . let us draw near with a true heart in the full certainty of faith” (10:19,22). In this text we observe that Christian boldness comes from Christian “certainty”—plerophoria.
Indeed, for the author of Hebrew, this Christian boldness is a thing to be protected. We must labor not to lose it: “Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward” (10:35).
This boldness of Christians pertains especially to worship, as we see in the present text. Indeed, this consideration points to a major difference between Mount Sinai and Mount Zion: the former was as remembered the place where the Torah was given—where the “law was laid down”—whereas Mount Zion was the place of Israel’s worship.
In the present text, therefore, the author of Hebrews describes the components of Christian worship: “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks more eloquently than that of Abel” (verses 22-24).
This is a description of Christian prayer. It is an account of what takes place when a believer comes to God with confidence in the blood of Christ: Heaven and earth are joined, we are in the presence of the angels and the perfected righteous figures of history, and we have this approach by reason of the eloquent blood of Jesus. It is not the old covenant mediated through Moses, but the new covenant mediated by Jesus. In this final contrast, the author of Hebrews repeats what he has made the major theme of this entire work.
Thursday, January 30
Hebrews 13:1-9: Because “Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today, and forever,” a certain stability should be expected in the lives and conduct of Christians. For example, they should “not be carried away with various and strange teachings [didachai].” That is to say, they must avoid ideas alien (xsenai) to the doctrines handed down from the Apostles. The example given here concerns dietary restrictions based on the kosher rules in the Torah: “foods which have not profited those who have been preoccupied with them.” We recognize this admonition as reflecting the concern of St. Paul.
For the rest, the outline given here for Christian conduct is basic. There is, for starts, the primacy of fraternal love: “Let brotherly love abide”—he philadelphia meneto. This expression suggests that such love should be a constant habit of mind and a sustained pattern of response. Fraternal love, in other words, is the Christian’s “default” preference, the programmatic disposition of his mind and sentiments.
This fraternal love is expressed in hospitality (philoxsenia), described here as the entertainment of strangers. Besides its obvious sense of receiving others into our homes, it also suggests a certain open-mindedness to those who are different from ourselves, the ones designated as xsenisantes. Perhaps we may think of it as a willingness not to impose on others our own cultural and sympathetic preferences. This would mean that Christians, while avoiding “strange doctrines,” should not be necessarily avoid “strange people.”
Our author appeals to the Old Testament examples of those who “unwittingly entertained angels.” The obvious cases are those of Abraham and Tobit, who showed hospitality to angels.
A similar kindness must be shown to prisoners, “as if chained with them”—hos syndedemenoi. This surely refers, in the first place, to those Christians who suffer persecution for righteousness’ sake, but it will include also a compassion and concern for anyone incarcerated (Matthew 25:36). Indeed, it seems especially within our prison population that we may find the largest assortment of “strangers.” It is arguable that there is no more hopeless class of people on the face of the earth.
After speaking of charity toward one another, toward strangers, and toward prisoners, our author speaks of the marriage bond. He does this without elaboration, contenting himself with a simple and stern warning: “Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge.” No discussion, no alternate viewpoint. Just, don’t.
After lust, our author reminds us of the danger of covetousness, the antidote to which is a constant trust in God to take care of our needs. He cites the simple message of Deuteronomy and the Psalter: “I will never leave you nor forsake you,” and “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear what man can do to me.”
As symbols of the stability characteristic of the Christian life, our author reminds his readers of their “leaders,” those who went before them and from whom they have received the inherited faith. This modeled faith is to be their guide, as they avoid novel and strange teachings.
Friday, January 31
Hebrews 13:10-25: The author of Hebrews speaks of four duties: the constant praise of God, deeds of charity, cooperative docility to the pastoral authority of the Church, and intercessory prayer. We may take these in order:
First, there is the continuous sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving to God (verse 15). This is specifically Christian prayer, because it is offered through (dia) Christ. We recall, in this regard, this work’s teaching on the unique mediation of Christ (8:6; 9:15; 12:24). Prayer in the name of Jesus pertains, of course, to the common teaching of both Paul and John.
In the present context it is clear that this “Jesus focus” pertains, not only to the prayer of intercession, but also to that of praise and thanksgiving. God is to be praised and thanked especially for the gift of His Son, in whom alone we have access to God.
Hebrews thinks of this prayer as audible—the fruit of our lips. His exhortation here resembles one in St. Paul: “be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:18-20).
Hebrews describes this thankful prayer as a sacrifice: “the sacrifice of praise to God.”
This image of sacrificial prayer takes our author immediately to a second expression of sacrifice: Deeds of sharing and charity. “But do not forget,” he writes, “to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased” (verse 16). The same word for sacrifice, thysia, is used in both verses.
St. Paul also wrote of such sharing as a form of sacrifice: “I am full, having received from Epaphroditus the things from you, a sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God” (Philippians 4:18).
Praise and the charitable sharing of one’s resources are the two forms of daily sacrifice expected of the Christian. To speak of praise and almsgiving in this way was a custom the early Christians inherited from late Judaism, and it probably assumed a special emphasis during the Babylonian Captivity. Deprived of their temple worship during much of the 6th century before Christ, devout Jews endeavored to pray and give alms as forms of replacing the daily sacrifices. We see this effort exemplified in the Book of Tobit, for instance.
A third responsibility of the Christian moral life pertains to the believer’s relationship to the pastoral authority of the Church: “Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you” (verse 17). This exhortation is based on a component of common sense—namely, since those who govern the Church are obliged to render to God an account of the souls entrusted to their care, it is hardly sensible to make the task more difficult for them. That is to say, it is better for that task to be done with joy rather than grief. A joyful pastor is far more likely to be spiritually effective than a pastor suffering from anxiety and spiritual disquiet.
The pastors envisioned by the Epistle to the Hebrews were those whose ministry and witness was derived from the Apostles. Our author indicated this apostolic transmission when he wrote of “so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him” (2:3). By their manner of life, these pastors had “confirmed” the salvation spoken by the Lord. The living “confirmation” of these pastors, some of whom had already died, was recalled in the present chapter, where the author wrote: “Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct” (verse 7).
Fourth, our author speaks of intercessory prayer as another component of Christian moral responsibility. Concretely, he requests a remembrance in their prayers: “Pray for us; for we are confident that we have a good conscience, in all things desiring to live honorably. But I especially urge you to do this, that I may be restored to you the sooner” (verses 18-19).
This common responsibility to remember one another in prayer is a sustained motif in Christian hagiography and epistolary literature. We find it already in the first extant writing in the Church: “Brethren, pray for us” (1 Thessalonians 5:25). Paul especially requests intercessions for his work of ministry; he writes in the second earliest work of Christian literature: “Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may run and be glorified” (2 Thessalonians 3:1). In both of these cases, we observe, this request for intercessory prayer is found in the final chapter of the epistles, just as it is here in Hebrews.
The Church is a communion in prayer. Mutual intercession for one another gives an essential quality to the structure of the Christian soul.