BREAD AND BLOSSOMS

In the previous posting we took a look at the apocryphal source of a scroll text of  the “Forefather” Melchizedek.  Here he is in a 14th century fresco from Grachanitsa, Serbia:

His name inscription reads:

ПРВЕДНИ МЕЛЬХИС[Е]ДЕК
PRAVEDNI MEL’KHISEDEK
“RIGHTEOUS MELKHISEDEK

The writer has used a phonetic spelling of Pravednuiyраведный), and has omitted one “e,” and has written the Д (d) above and smaller than the other letters.

Melchizedek looks much the same here as in most depictions, with his grey hair, long beard, a crown on his head and in his hands a tray with loaves of bread in it.  He is most frequently shown — as here — without a scroll, though occasionally he holds one, as we saw in the previous posting.

The bread is taken from Genesis 14:17, in which Melchizedek brings out to Abraham bread and wine before he blesses him.  In Eastern Orthodox doctrine, this is thought to be a prefiguration of the bread and wine of the Eucharist, which supposedly becomes the body and blood of Jesus.

There is a rather similar image from the same place and date of another Old Testament figure, Aaron.  He is titled here:
ПРОРОКЬ ААРОНЬ
PROROK’ AARON’
“PROPHET AARON”

This is the Old Testament Aaron, brother of Moses, and first Levite priest.  In Numbers 17 it is said that a controversy over which tribe was to become priestly was settled when — unlike the rods of other tribes — that of Aaron miraculously sprouted overnight:

8 And it came to pass, that in the morning Moses went into the tabernacle of witness; and, behold, the rod of Aaron for the house of Levi was budded, and brought forth buds, and bloomed blossoms, and yielded almonds.

The obvious distinctions between the two fresco images above — aside from name titles of course — are that while Melchizedek holds a container with loaves of bread, Aaron holds a blossoming rod and a golden vessel in which a rolled scroll is seen.

All three, oddly enough, are Marian symbols found in the Akathist hymn, which says of Mary:

Rejoice, O mystical rod that blossomed — the flower that will never fade.

Rejoice, … golden jar containing the manna which sweetens the senses of the devout.

Rejoice, scroll on which, O pure one, the Word was inscribed by the Father’s finger.

If you look closely at the golden vessel Aaron carries, you will see the image of Mary on the side of it.

A comparison is often made in Eastern Orthodox theology between the priesthood of Aaron — as the first Levite priest — and that of Melchizedek — who was not a Levite.  The New Testament book of Hebrews declares Jesus to be a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek — not of the temporal Levitical priesthood:

For he testifies, You are a priest forever after the order of Melkhisedek.  (Hebrews 7:17)

Now you can go to your friends and ask, “Do you know how to tell the difference between Melchizedek and Aaron?”  And they will look at you strangely and say, “Tell who from who?  What are you talking about?  Get a life!”

 

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