A Celestial Rain of Mercy

Genesis 7:11-8:3

Having seen all the preparations for the flood, today we see how the deluge finally occurs, wiping out all those who had rejected the offer of salvation. But we also see God’s tender care for Noah and his family: He ensures that they are safely shut into the ark and, when the flood is over, He remembers Noah and causes the waters to subside.

This passage is again full of symbolism. As we have seen, the flood prefigures the cleansing waters of baptism and we see here how this period of forty days prefigures the forty days of Great Lent. In the early Church Lent developed as a period of preparation for baptism, during which candidates for baptism received instruction and prepared themselves by fasting for the baptism they would receive at Pascha. Saint Maximus of Turin writes that,

In a kind of mysterious image of Quadragesima [Lent], this inundation of the earth refers not so much to a flood as to baptism. This was clearly a baptism in which the wickedness of sinners was removed and Noah’s righteousness preserved. For this reason, then, the Lord has given us forty days now as well in imitation of that time, so that this number of days, while the heavens are opened, a celestial rain of mercy might pour upon us and, with the flood, the water of the saving washing might enlighten us in baptism and – as was the case then – the wickedness of our sins might be quenched in us by the streams of water and the righteousness of our virtues preserved. For the very same thing is at issue with regard to Noah and in our own day: Baptism is a flood to the sinner and a consecration to the faithful; by the Lord’s washing, righteousness is preserved and unrighteousness is destroyed.

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A Reading from the Book of Genesis 7:11-8:3:
In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened. And rain fell upon the earth forty days and forty nights. On the very same day Noah and his sons, Shem and Ham and Japheth, and Noah’s wife and the three wives of his sons with them entered the ark, they and every beast according to its kind, and all the cattle according to their kinds, and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth according to its kind, and every bird according to its kind, every bird of every sort. They went into the ark with Noah, two and two of all flesh in which there was the breath of life. And they that entered, male and female of all flesh, went in as God had commanded him; and the LORD shut him in.

The flood continued forty days upon the earth; and the waters increased, and bore up the ark, and it rose high above the earth. The waters prevailed and increased greatly upon the earth; and the ark floated on the face of the waters. And the waters prevailed so mightily upon the earth that all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered; the waters prevailed above the mountains, covering them fifteen cubits deep. And all flesh died that moved upon the earth, birds, cattle, beasts, all swarming creatures that swarm upon the earth, and every man; everything on the dry land in whose nostrils was the breath of life died. He blotted out every living thing that was upon the face of the ground, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the air; they were blotted out from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those that were with him in the ark. And the waters prevailed upon the earth a hundred and fifty days. But God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the cattle that were with him in the ark. And God made a wind blow over the earth, and the waters subsided; the fountains of the deep and the windows of the heavens were closed, the rain from the heavens was restrained, and the waters receded from the earth continually. At the end of a hundred and fifty days the waters had abated.