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The Found Ark
by Archpriest Andrew Harrison

After the movie, The Raiders of the Lost Ark, there have been several documentaries about the present location of the Ark. One documentary suggested it rested on a small island in the middle of Lake Victoria in Africa or it may have been placed in a monastery somewhere in Ethiopia.

The Ark in this case is not a boat like Noah's Ark. It is a box or chest. The Ark of the Covenant as described in Exodus 25 was 45" long, 27" wide and 27" deep and made of acacia wood. It was covered in gold leaf with a lid made of solid gold. Two carved angels with outstretched wings were poised on the top. On the corners, four rings were attached. Poles were passed through these rings so that the Ark could be carried. Built by the craftsman Bezalel, the Ark was to contain the tablets of the Law of Moses, a pot containing divine manna and the staff of Aaron. It was used in sacrificial rituals with the sprinkling of blood for the forgiveness of sins. God spoke to Moses from it. It was considered so holy that no one was worthy to touch it. The tribe of Levi carried it over the Jordan River into the Promised Land.

The Ark led the procession of the Israelites as they encircled Jericho when " the walls came tumbling down". Because of this the Israelites thought it possessed magic power, so they attempted to defeat the Philistines with it. During the battle it was captured by the Philistines but returned because of the disorder that resulted. It was placed in the temple built by Solomon. It disappeared from history when Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem in 586 BC. Nothing more definite is known about its whereabouts. Legend states God took it to heaven. If you visit a synagogue today, you will see a place where the sacred scrolls are kept. This place is symbolic of the Ark. In the Orthodox Church the altar table is symbolic of the Ark. On it are placed the Gospel which is the New Covenant Law, a container for the reserved Sacrament which is our Divine Manna, and the Cross of Christ which is a type of Aaron's Rod. It is the place where the bloodless sacrifice of the Divine Liturgy is celebrated.

The altar table is a symbol of the Ark, but the true Ark of the New Covenant is the Virgin Mary. Just as God made his presence known in the Old Covenant Ark, His presence was made known in the New Covenant through Mary. Her womb contained that which is uncontainable…God! This is why we sing the praise to her; "Your womb is more spacious than the heavens." And this is why her icon is placed on the wall behind the altar.

During the month of August wecelebrate the falling asleep of the Virgin Mary. There are parallels between this event and the history of Ark of the Covenant. According to Apostle John and St. Joseph of Arimathea, Mary was 70 years old when she began to feel the effects of old age. She longed to see her Son. While praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, angels appeared to her and told her she was going to die. This appearance of two angels in her life parallels the two angels on the mercy seat of the Ark. When she died in her home near Mt. Zion (another parallel), the room was filled with perfume and the gathered apostles heard angels singing. Mary's body was carried in procession past the temple to a cave tomb next to the Garden of Gethsemane at the foot of the Mount of Olives. (You can visit the tomb in Jerusalem today.) During the procession a Pharisee named Jephonias tried to touch the funeral bier. He was stopped by a guardian angel. This again parallels another event related to the Ark. (2 Sam.6: 1-11) Shortly after the burial Apostle Thomas arrived. Since he was not present for the funeral, he asked to see her pure body. He desired to pay his respects and to confirm a vision he had seen that her body had been taken to heaven. When the tomb was opened, it was empty. Just as the Holy Ark disappeared and was taken to heaven, so was Mary's pure body.

Around the world today we hear about the appearances of Mary. It is the belief of the Church that Mary has a special love and concern for the Church because it is the body of Jesus Christ. The reason her icon is placed behind the altar is because she gave birth to that body and because she is the Ark of the new Covenant. She has a special role as a motherly intercessor to her Son for His Church and for us. As it says in the prayer of Compline "at the hour of my death she cares diligently for my soul." Because she experienced death, she can care for us at the hour of our death. She is honored and called blessed as the highest of all Saints. Her cousin Elizabeth gave her the title Mother of God (Theotokos) when Mary visited her. "Then Elizabeth spoke with a loud voice and said, 'Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the Fruit of your womb. But why is this granted to me that the Mother of my Lord should come to me. '" (Luke 1:43,44)

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