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Orthodox icon of the Righteous Melchizedek. Copy of a contemporary icon.
Commemorated May 22.
The Righteous Melchizedek was the King of Salem (Jerusalem). He was both a king and a priest, laying the foundations of the city where the Messiah would appear. According to Mar Jacob of Serugh, Melchizedek was a Canaanite, asserting that the very site of his kingdom bears witness to this. Therefore, his genealogy is not recorded. He must have been born, and he must have died, but the Scriptures deliberately conceal both events, assigning him neither beginning nor end, so that he might be called a priest forever. Melchizedek (who appears in the Scriptures suddenly, and then disappears) is regarded as a type of Christ (Hebrews 5:6, 10; Hebrews 6:20; Hebrews 7:2).
He did not receive his priesthood from any other priest, nor did he pass on his priesthood to anyone else. In his homily "On Melchizedek, Priest of the Most High God," Mar Jacob of Serugh states that the priests of the past shed the blood of animals when offering sacrifices to God. By contrast, Melchizedek was made a priest "by the sacrifices of his soul," and did not sacrifice animals, nor did he offer anything but himself to God. Melchizedek did not adorn himself with splendid robes as Aaron did; and instead of offering bulls and rams, Melchizedek offered his holy prayers from a pure heart. The Son of God also resembles Melchizedek, because there is no beginning or end to His priesthood, and He offered Himself to the Father as a perfect sacrifice. As Priest, Christ brought Himself to the place of sacrifice, placing His body on the altar of the Cross, and shedding His blood for us.
In chapter 7 of the Epistle to the Hebrews, the Righteous Melchizedek is called the King of Salem, and also a "priest of the Most High God." By the interpretation of his name, he is called the King of righteousness and the King of Salem, in other words, "the King of peace" (Hebrews 7:2).
Melchizedek met the Patriarch Abraham as he was returning from his victory over the kings (Genesis 14:18-24). He brought bread and wine to Abraham and blessed him, saying: "Blessed be Abram of the Most High God, Who made heaven and earth, and blessed be the Most High God, Who delivered thine enemies into thy power." By offering Abraham bread and wine, Melchizedek foreshadows the Church's Liturgy.
Thus, the Righteous Melchizedek was shown to be greater than Abraham, because he blessed Abraham. Abraham, the lesser of the two, did not presume to bless one who was greater than himself (line 299). Abraham accepted the blessing and offered him a tithe of his spoils, and he also showed him reverence (line 310).
The priesthood of Melchizedek is superior to the priesthood of Aaron, because Melchizedek blessed Abraham. By giving Melchizedek a tithe, Abraham, the ancestor of Aaron, showed that he recognized him as a priest. Through Abraham, Levi's tribe offered first fruits to the image of the Son of God which was seen in Melchizedek. Nevertheless, the Lord did not choose to come forth from the tribe of Levi, but from the family of Kings.
Melchizedek did not serve "according to the priesthood that was to be dissolved, but according to that which unto the ages abides spiritually; and since his priesthood was never annulled, with respect to service; behold how he is spoken of as living, through his priesthood." (lines 361-364).
The Holy Prophet-King David speaks of him as a priest who would never die (Psalm 109/110:4). When he thought about the Messiah, in order to compare Him to someone whom He ought to resemble, he did not think of anyone from the priesthood of Aaron. Instead, he selected Melchizedek, who provided for his liturgy without any sacrificial victims. The spiritual ministry of this man, who was in the likeness of the Son, is incomprehensible. He wore two crowns, one hidden, and the other manifest. He had authority in two different realms. He was an earthly King who never engaged in battles with those on his borders, because of his peacefulness (line 538). He desired nothing but peace and righteousness (line 542).
The Church recalls Melchizedek at the beginning of Great Lent: "Imitate that Priest of God and solitary King (Hebrews 7:3), who was an image of the life of Christ in the world among men." (Thursday of the first week of Great Lent, the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete, Ode 3).
The Righteous Melchizedek is also commemorated on the Sunday of the Forefathers.