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The Everyday Prayer


 
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Icon of the Holy Face
Church of Sant'Egidio, Rome


Reading of the Word of God

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

The Spirit of the Lord is upon you.
The child you shall bear will be holy.

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

1 Maccabees 6, 18-47

The people in the Citadel at the time were blockading Israel round the sanctuary and were taking every opportunity to harm them and to support the gentiles.

Judas decided that they must be destroyed, and he mobilised the whole people to besiege them.

They assembled and laid siege to the Citadel in the year 150, building batteries and siege-engines.

But some of the besieged broke through the blockade, and to these a number of renegades from Israel attached themselves.

They made their way to the king and said, 'How much longer are you going to wait before you see justice done and avenge our fellows?

We were content to serve your father, to comply with his orders, and to obey his edicts.

As a result our own people will have nothing to do with us; what is more, they have killed all those of us they could catch, and looted our family property.

Nor is it on us alone that their blows have fallen, but on all your territories.

At this moment, they are laying siege to the Citadel of Jerusalem, to capture it, and they have fortified the sanctuary and Beth-Zur.

Unless you forestall them at once, they will go on to even bigger things, and then you will never be able to control them.'

The king was furious when he heard this and summoned all his Friends, the generals of his forces and the marshals of horse.

He recruited mercenaries from other kingdoms and the Mediterranean islands.

His forces numbered a hundred thousand foot soldiers, twenty thousand cavalry and thirty-two elephants with experience of battle conditions.

They advanced through Idumaea and besieged Beth-Zur, pressing the attack for days on end; they also constructed siege-engines, but the defenders made a sortie and set these on fire, putting up a brave resistance.

At this, Judas left the Citadel and pitched camp at Beth-Zechariah opposite the royal encampment.

The king rose at daybreak and marched his army at top speed down the road to Beth-Zechariah, where his forces took up their battle formations and sounded the trumpets.

The elephants were given a syrup of grapes and mulberries to prepare them for the battle.

These animals were distributed among the phalanxes, to each elephant being allocated a thousand men dressed in coats of mail with bronze helmets on their heads; five hundred picked horsemen were also assigned to each beast.

The horsemen anticipated every move their elephant made; wherever it went they went with it, never quitting it.

On each elephant, to protect it, was a stout wooden tower, kept in position by girths, each with its three combatants, as well as its mahout.

The remainder of the cavalry was stationed on one or other of the two flanks of the army, to harass the enemy and cover the phalanxes.

When the sun glinted on the bronze and golden shields, the mountains caught the glint and gleamed like fiery torches.

One part of the royal army was deployed on the upper slopes of the mountain and the other in the valley below; they advanced in solid, well-disciplined formation.

Everyone trembled at the noise made by this vast multitude, the thunder of the troops on the march and the clanking of their armour, for it was an immense and mighty army.

Judas and his army advanced to give battle, and six hundred of the king's army were killed.

Eleazar, called Avaran, noticing that one of the elephants was royally caparisoned and was also taller than all the others, and supposing that the king was mounted on it,

sacrificed himself to save his people and win an imperishable name.

Boldly charging towards the creature through the thick of the phalanx, dealing death to right and left, so that the enemy scattered on either side at his onslaught,

he darted in under the elephant, thrust at it from underneath, and killed it. The beast collapsed on top of him, and he died on the spot.

The Jews however realising how strong the king was and how ferocious his army, retreated ahead of them.

 

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

Look down, O Lord, on your servants.
Be it unto us according to your word.

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

The passage opens with the story of the siege of the Akra [citadel] of Jerusalem by Judas. He could no longer stand the presence of Syrian soldiers and of those Jews who had joined the enemy denying the covenant with God. Furthermore, from the citadel, the enemy spied on the movements that took place inside the temple. The text states, “Meanwhile the garrison in the citadel kept hemming Israel in around the sanctuary. They were trying in every way to harm them and strengthen the Gentiles” (v. 18). Judas decided to start the siege by surrounding it with “siege-towers and other engines of war.” Some of the besieged were able, however, to break the encirclement, they reached Antioch and asked the king for reinforcements. The Jewish traitors were those who insisted on the king to intervene. Reporting the words of these Jewish traitors against their brethren, the author emphasizes the bitterness and cruelty that involves every betrayal. They turned to the king and said, “How long will you fail to do justice and to avenge our kindred? We were happy to serve your father, to live by what he said, and to follow his commands. For this reason the sons of our people besieged the citadel and became hostile to us; moreover, they have put to death as many of us as they have caught, and they have seized our inheritances... Unless you quickly prevent them, they will do still greater things, and you will not be able to stop them” (vv. 22-27). The king was persuaded by their words and prepared a new expedition, more numerous and better equipped than before; he enlisted troops from all regions that were not subjugated to Rome, in accordance with the peace treaty after Magnesia. The army reached the number of 100,000 infantry, 20,000 cavalry and 32 elephants. These numbers are very high and probably exaggerated. The intent is to emphasize the grandeur of the mission. The two armies, very unbalanced in their composition, faced each other at Beth-zechariah, a village on the border of Idumea. The author describes in great detail the large deployment of Syrian troops, insisting on the equipment of elephants that the Jews found themselves facing for the first time. The Jews were shocked: “All who heard the noise made by their multitude, by the marching of the multitude and the clanking of their arms, trembled, for the army was very large and strong” (v. 41). However, they fought with courage. An extraordinary example of this was the deed of Eleazar, one of the brothers of Judas, who leaped onto an elephant that he thought was carrying the king. He did not hesitate a moment to sacrifice himself to save his people. The text states, “So he gave his life to save his people and to win for himself an everlasting name” (v. 44). The same expression will be used by Paul to express the sacrifice of Jesus: “who gave himself for our sins” (Gal 1:4). St. Ambrose commenting on the act of Eleazar praises him for his bravery, defiance of death and love for his people. The Jews, however, had to retreat to Jerusalem.


10/29/2013
Memory of the Mother of the Lord


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