“White for the harvest...”
+ John 4:35
“By day the sun will not burn thee...”
+ LXX Ps.120(121):6
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Reading the Gospel according to St. John, we may have wondered about this expression in John 4:35. But indeed, as the wheat ripens, the colour changes from green to yellowish. And gradually, especially in sunny climates, the ears become ever lighter in colour, till in the end the fields are indeed ‘white for the harvest’ -
One of the few plants that thrive in such hot summers is the deeply rooted vine. Earlier in the year, around the time the leaves started sprouting, people have pruned the vines and cleared the ground of weeds. And now the fruit is visibly growing.
When well watered, the grapes will grow large and juicy, suitable for the table, as well as for a variety of wines. Of such grapes, even individual bunches may be carefully pruned. Where there is little water, the vines will grow more slowly, putting much of their strength in the little grapes, which can become very sweet: excellent for drying and storing as raisins, currants or sultanas -
Between the main harvests of grain and grapes, the two major Feasts of the Summer season transport us to the perpective of the world to come:
On the 6th of August (NB: if we follow the old reckoning, then in our present civil calendar this date falls on 19/8) the Church celebrates the Transfiguration of our Lord -
On the 15th of August (old reckoning: on 28/8) we celebrate the Dormition of the Mother of God (see below), preceded by a Fast of two weeks and special services of supplication -
In the second half of August the vineyard is ready for harvest -
The high vines, which shade the patio’s of the houses (see above), will yield mainly eating grapes. The fruit of the low vines (on the right) will mostly go for wine. And the text of the blessing reminds us, that this also includes the wine for the Liturgy -
In temperate climates or in colder lands, it can be difficult to grasp the Biblical image of the burning sun, under which even a tiny bit of shade is a blessing -
In such countries, it is in winter and early spring, that people may rejoice in the sun. At the height of summer, the promise that “the sun will not fall on” us anymore (Rev.7:16), is a mighty promise indeed.
In a temperate climate, thistles may evoke the image of a green field, in which the careful farmer goes round with a small tool, ‘pricking out’ the tiny plants before they grow too large to be grazed off by sheep or goats -
In Biblical areas, thistles may be beautiful -
Till very recently, much of the eastern Mediterranean was still like centuries ago -
Once a priest’s family was given a large bag of potatoes in the middle of summer, way too much to eat, and impossible to store. So they decided to give half of it to the neighbours. Those, in turn, gave them half of an enormous watermelon. Again, unable to eat it all, they shared this with another neighbour -
In Athonite monasteries, August is, above all, the month of the Mother of God. In the Fast of the first two weeks we pray the Service of the ‘Paraclesis’, asking for her aid. And then follows the Feast of her ‘Falling Asleep’ -
Tradition tells how, in a miraculous way, all the Apostles were able to come and bid her farewell before her departure. While Thomas, being late, beheld her already risen from the dead, and received the promise of her lasting support for all the faithful.
Her Dormition, like the Feast of the Beheading of St. John the Baptist (29 Aug./11 Sep.) reminds us of our aim: to become worthy members of Christ’s Kingdom. But her presence does more: she shows us how a human child, even while yet here on earth, can become a vessel of God’s grace -