He acquired us for Himself, as His chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation.
(Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great, p. 27)
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. Once you were no people but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy but now you have received mercy.
I Peter 2: 9-10
Most of us are familiar with the Old Testament figure Moses. He is the one who led the Israelites out of Egypt, who went to Mount Sinai and received the Ten Commandments and the Law (also called the Mosaic Law, since it was given to Moses by God) and who led them to the edge of the Promised Land of Canaan before passing on and leaving Joshua to lead the people into the Land of Canaan. Moses had an older brother named Aaron. Moses and Aaron were from the tribe of Levi. Levi was one of the sons of Jacob, and Levi’s descendants comprised one of the twelve tribes of Israel.
In the Old Testament book of Numbers, God institutes the priesthood by appointing Aaron and his sons to be the priests of God. God also says that the priests will all be from the tribe of Levi—it would be the responsibility of the Levitical priests (this is where the name of the book Leviticus come from) to maintain the sacred things that accompanied the Ark of the Covenant (tents, utensils, vessels and other things that are the precursor to the sacred space we now know as the church building), to conduct any rituals and sacrifices, and to safeguard and enforce the Law.
We also know that around the Ark of the Covenant was an area called the Holy of Holies, where only the priests could enter, and even they had strict parameters on when they could enter. They would present sacrifices to God on behalf of the people.
In I Peter 2:9, St. Peter refers to God’s people, the new Christians, as “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation.” This is a radical change in several concepts. First, the Jews referred to themselves as the “Chosen people,” based on a covenant God made with them to be His people and He would be their God. The “chosen people” would no longer refer to a certain race or country. All the people are God’s chosen people. He wants all of us. He doesn’t separate us by race or country. He wants all of us.
The “royal priesthood” (I Peter 2:9) means that we all have the opportunity to participate in Christ’s priesthood. After all, Christ is the “high priest.” The Levitical priests were offering sacrifices on behalf of the people. Christ, as high priest, IS the sacrifice, offered for all the people. We are all called to share in that sacrifice, meaning that we partake of Him because He has offered Himself to us. We are invited to participate in Christ’s priesthood through prayer and the sacraments. We each have a priestly role which is to serve God, and to spread His word to others. This does not mean that the sacramental priesthood is not important. It most certainly is. However, unlike the Old Testament, where the high priest went into the Holy of Holies, and only once a year, where his work was hidden from view of the people, Christ invites us to partake of Him continually. And worship done in the open—the door of the sanctuary is opened to reveal the Holy Table on which our bloodless sacrifice is offered. There is still a sacramental priesthood, where one appointed to stand at the head of the community and lead the worship, essentially leading people to Christ, but we are all invited to partake of Christ in the Eucharist.
The Pledge of Allegiance states that we are “One nation under God.” In other words, we are called to be a holy nation, a nation set apart when it comes to minimizing conflicts with other nations, and set apart in the expectations of its behavior. We are supposed to see ourselves as children of God and as servants of God, and to have the love of children for a parent and the obedience of servants to a master. We are a divided nation, engaged in secular (one might even say hedonistic) practices and have by and large lost our sense of holiness, the idea of being set apart from God.
This reflection examines only one sentence of prayer from the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil, but it is an important one. The most important part of this sentence is not the honor of sharing in Christ’s priesthood or even living under His banner in our country. It is the fact that He has chosen us, all of us, and that He wants us, all of us. In I Peter 2:10, we read “Once you were no people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy but now you have received mercy.” This sentence is aimed at the Gentiles, who were once not included in the ranks of the “chosen people” as the Jews were God’s chosen people. Once the Gentiles were excluded from God’s love and mercy. Now, through the saving work of Christ which was done for all people (Remember the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19, which instructs us to baptize ALL nations), we are all God’s chosen people. We can all receive His love and mercy.
Going back to I Peter 2:9, the second half of the verse reminds us that because we are God’s chosen people, a royal priesthood and a holy nation, that there are some important duties in which we are to all share in, not just the ordained priests. And these are declaring the wonderful deeds of God, and remembering that it is Christ Himself who called us “out of darkness and into His marvelous light.” The end reward for the Christian is steeping into the marvelous and heavenly light of God, and remaining there forever.