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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

You are a chosen race,
a royal priesthood, a holy nation,
a people acquired by God
to proclaim his marvellous works.

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

1 Maccabees 6, 48-63

The royal army moved up to encounter them outside Jerusalem, and the king began to blockade Judaea and Mount Zion.

He granted peace terms to the people of Beth-Zur, who evacuated the town; it lacked store of provisions to withstand a siege, since the land was enjoying a sabbatical year.

Having occupied Beth-Zur, the king stationed a garrison there to hold it.

He besieged the sanctuary for a long time, erecting batteries and siege-engines, flame-throwers and ballistas, scorpions to discharge arrows, and catapults.

The defenders countered these by constructing their own engines and were thus able to prolong their resistance.

But they had no food in their stores since it was the seventh year, and because those who had taken refuge in Judaea from the gentiles had eaten up the last of their reserves.

Only a few men were left in the Holy Place, owing to the severity of the famine; the rest had dispersed and gone home.

Meanwhile Philip, whom King Antiochus before his death had appointed to train his son Antiochus for the throne,

had returned from Persia and Media with the forces that had accompanied the king, and was planning to seize control of affairs.

On hearing this, Lysias at once decided to leave, and said to the king, the generals of the army and the men, 'We are growing weaker every day, we are short of food, and the place we are besieging is well fortified; moreover the affairs of the kingdom demand our attention.

Let us offer the hand of friendship to these men and make peace with them and with their whole nation.

Let us grant them permission to follow their own customs as before, since it is our abolition of these customs that has provoked them into acting like this.'

The king and his commanders approved this argument, and he offered the Jews peace terms, which they accepted.

The king and the generals ratified the treaty by oath, and the besieged accordingly left the fortress.

The king then entered Mount Zion, but on seeing how impregnable the place was, he broke the oath he had sworn and gave orders for the encircling wall to be demolished.

He then hurriedly withdrew, making off for Antioch, where he found Philip already master of the city. Antiochus gave battle and captured the city by force of arms.


Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

You will be holy,
because I am holy, thus says the Lord.

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

Part of the Syrian army marched to Jerusalem and set up the siege. Another part had returned to lay siege to the city of Beth-zur, from which it had been distracted by the intervention of Judas. The Syrian king did not fail to carefully organize the siege, with appropriate apparatus and strategies. Likewise the inhabitants of Beth-zur worked to organize resistance to the enemy siege. But it was the sabbatical year for the land and therefore there were not sufficient food supplies. Moreover, the city had received many other Jews who had taken refuge within its walls to escape persecution. The text points out that the observation of the law of the sabbatical year for the land was the main reason that drove the Jews to make peace with the besieging king. According to the law (Ex 23:10-11), just as human being on the seventh day (the Sabbath) was to rest from manual labour, so also the land every seventh year was to be left uncultivated. The wild fruits that the land produced had to be collected freely only by the poor and the pilgrims. This year of rest, called sabbatical, ran from autumn to autumn. Not always, however, it appears to have been observed. In this case the compliance is clear, confirming the religious Maccabean revival marked precisely by the observance of the law of the fathers. Besides, it was the restoration of this Law that moved the Maccabean revolt. The lack of food weakened the Jews of Beth-zur so much so that some left the city to go elsewhere in search of some sustenance. But while they were on the brink of collapse, Lysias, the commander of the Syrian army, received the news that his rival, Philip, had returned to Persia leading the troops. He then decided to return to his homeland: the conquest of power at home was more important than the siege of Jerusalem. Not being able to say this openly, Lysias made an actual peace plan: “Daily we grow weaker, our food supply is scant, the place against which we are fighting is strong, and the affairs of the kingdom press urgently on us. Now then, let us come to terms with these people, and make peace with them and with all their nation. Let us agree to let them live by their laws as they did before; for it was on account of their laws that we abolished that they became angry and did all these things” (vv. 57-59). Besides the true intentions of Lysias, his plan was clever because it cleared away the real reason of the revolt by the Maccabees, that is, the freedom to profess their own faith freely. Thus ends the first period of the Maccabean revolt with full recognition of the special rights of the Jewish people and the automatic passage of the role of Judas: from that of an outlaw to the legal head of his nation.

Memory of the Saints and the Prophets