Cynthia Long is a librarian, folklorist, and writer with a focus in Celtic folklore, mythology, and history. She earned her M.F.A. in Fiction from Rosemont College in Rosemont, Penn., in May 2016. In August 2017 she presented at Doxacon, the Orthodox Science Fiction and Fantasy convention, on the topic of fairy tales and the famous C.S. Lewis quotation that says, "Some day you will be old enough to read fairy tales again." Cynthia was Chrismated in September 2012 and attends St. George Church in the Philadelphia suburbs, where she tends the parish library.
We asked our Bloggers to write about Love…
Nestled in the midst of the so-called Apocrypha, the Septuagint Old Testament, is the book of Tobit. Tobit is a virtuous Jew living in the time of Israel’s exile by the Assyrians and taken captive to Nineveh. He is known for his almsgiving and his burial of the dead. This burial of his dead countryman without the permission of the King leads to his possessions being seized and near-poverty. When he becomes blind, he almost despairs.
Miles away, a woman named Sarah is also praying in despair. Seven times she was married, but on her wedding night a demon killed her husbands, and she is seven-times a widow. The Archangel Raphael hears their prayers and “was sent to heal the two of them” (Tobit 3:17). Raphael’s name means “God heals.”
Tobit sends his son Tobias on a trip to recover a loan; the man he hires to accompany him is really the Archangel Raphael in disguise. A dog goes with them too.
In their travels, Raphael leads Tobias to Sarah’s family. Tobias learns that Sarah’s father knew his father many years earlier. They feast together, and Tobias agrees to marry Sarah. Her father consents, even while admitting that seven men before him have died. Tobias persists and on their wedding night he follows the advice of Raphael, and burns a fish heart and liver with incense in the bedchamber, and the scent drives away the demon; Raphael binds it. That night Tobit prays:
“Blessed are You, O God of our fathers, and blessed is Your holy and glorious name unto the ages. The heavens and all your creatures bless You. You made Adam and gave him Eve as a helper, his wife as a support . . .” (Tobit 8: 5-6).
This text may be selected as one of the readings in some Catholic and Anglican weddings.
Outside the bedroom anticipating the worst, Sarah’s father surreptitiously digs a grave. When Tobias survives the night, he refills it. The wedding feast lasts twice as long as usual (two weeks!); Raphael reclaims the loaned silver on Tobias’s behalf; and they journey back home to Tobit. Again they follow Raphael’s advice, and Tobit’s blindness is healed.
Then Raphael reveals himself:
“. . .When you also buried the dead, I was likewise present with you. . .” also revealing himself to the Church as a Guardian Angel. He continues: “I am Raphael, one of the seven holy angels who report the prayers of the saints and who enter before the glory of the Holy One” (Tobit 12: 12-15).
This is the barest of summaries; I encourage you to read the book in its entirety. (It’s only fourteen chapters). A wealth of encouragement is contained in this book: nearly every prayer begins with “Blessed is God” and indeed the Liturgy begins with similar words, “Blessed is the Kingdom . . .” I haven’t mentioned Tobit’s dedication to prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. The book of Tobit demonstrates God’s compassion for people in sending His holy messengers (angels) as guardians and protectors.
But the biggest message of Tobit is revealed in the Introduction of the Orthodox Study Bible and expounded by the author of this article at On Behalf of All:
“The story of Tobit is the story of a father sending his only son out into the world to retrieve an inheritance. In this journey, the son redeems a bride from the curse of both death and the devil. There is a great wedding feast (with lamb) in honor of the bridegroom. A tomb is prepared for him, but they find it empty the next morning. The bridegroom brings the bride—now free from the clutches of both death and the evil one—back to the loving arms of his father.”
This is the greatest love story there is.
For Further Reading
Vincent M. “Tobit as Gospel and Christian Scripture.” On Behalf of All [blog]. January 27, 2014.
Fr. Patrick Reardon. “The Church’s Belief in Guardian Angels.” October 12, 2013.
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