When it comes to the Old Testament, we Orthodox tend to be a little weak. This is largely due to the fact that our experience with Scripture is largely formed by the Divine Liturgy, which only has readings from the New Testament. This liturgical experience with Scripture unduly emphasizes the New Testament. Little do we realize that our services are replete with Old Testament quotes and references. This is because our dogmas and our understanding of who Jesus Christ is largely dependent upon the Old Testament.
When one reads the Fathers, their writings are full of Old Testament references. They come from all kinds of contexts. Many times, the places they take us are surprising. For example:
For God the almighty and merciful, Whose nature is goodness, Whose will is power, Whose work is mercy: as soon as the devil’s malignity killed us by the poison of his hatred, foretold at the very beginning of the world the remedy His piety had prepared for the restoration of mortals: proclaiming to the serpent that the seed of the woman should come to crush the lifting of his baneful head — St. Leo the Great, Sermon XXII on the Nativity
St. Leo is referring to Genesis 3:15 when God speaks to the serpent right after Adam and Eve have eaten of the fruit:
I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed. He shall bruise your head, and you shall be on guard for His heel.
In other words, in this most tragic moment, when Adam and Eve disobeyed God — turned their back on God — and are about to learn of the dire consequences of the Fall, St. Leo writes of mercy and restoration.
Genesis 3:15 is sometimes called the Protoevangelium, or the First Good News. St. Leo refers to this good news: Christ has come to crush the baneful head of the serpent — the devil. Christ, the seed of the Theotokos, willingly went to the Cross and through death destroyed death. Thus, St. Leo is perfectly correct to write about God’s mercy and restoration, even in context of the Fall. Already, before He even told Adam and Eve of the consequences of their sin, God had in place His plan for the Incarnation of Christ. In His mercy, He was even then preparing the way to Golgatha to not only restore what Adam and Eve had just lost, but to to give us His Son.
In interpreting Genesis 3:15 in terms of the Nativity of Christ, St. Leo gives us a Christmas gift. Not only are we given the Protoevangelium, but a means by which we can have a relationship with the Old Testament. St. Leo reads Genesis 3:15 from the perspective of the reality of Jesus Christ. It is this perspective that drives our understanding of the Old Testament. It allows us to ask that most important question “Who is Jesus Christ?” and find the answers among the many varied and wonderful tales found in the Old Testament. May we receive this gift and take full advantage of it. Amen.