How Are We To Understand the Sun Standing Still for Joshua?

Originally appeared at: Bio-Orthodoxy

In the Book of Joshua 10:12-14 we read:

Then Joshua spoke to the Lord in the day when the Lord delivered up the Amorites before the children of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel:

“Sun, stand still over Gibeon;

And Moon, in the Valley of Aijalon.”

So the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, till the people had revenge upon their enemies.

Is this not written in the Book of Jasher? So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and did not hasten to go down for about a whole day. And there has been no day like that, before it or after it, that the Lord heeded the voice of a man; for the Lord fought for Israel.

This was not only an Old Testament event, but it took place in the New Testament era as well. It refers to a miracle where time is extended, using the perceptible image of the sun standing still, even though what actually is taking place has nothing to do with the sun standing still or even with the earth ceasing in its rotation around the sun. This is a miracle of divine intervention incomprehensible to human understanding.

For example, in The Paradise of the Holy Fathers, Vol. 2, under the section titled "Questions and Answers to the Ascetic Rule", we read the following about one of the Desert Fathers in the fourth century:

The old men who were in Egypt told Abba Elijah that Abba Agathon was a great man. And the old man said unto them, “Considering his youth he was a great man in his generation, but he was very far removed from the men of old. I saw in Scete an old man who was able to hold back the sun in its course in the heavens like Joshua, the son of Nun;" and when they heard this they marveled and praised God.

We read of another example in The Paradise of the Holy Fathers, Vol. 2, under the section titled "Of Love, Charity and the Welcoming of Strangers", where it says:

On one occasion three brethren went to harvest, and the three of them undertook to reap the harvest in certain fields together for a certain sum of money; but one of them fell sick on the first day, and was unable to work, and he went back and lay down in his cell. Then one of the two brethren who remained said unto his companion, “Behold, O my brother, you see that our brother has fallen sick, let us exert ourselves a little, you and I, and let us believe that by his prayers we shall be sufficiently strong to do his share of the work of harvest for him.” Then when the harvest was ended, and they came to receive their hire, they called the sick brother, and said unto him, “Come, brother, and take also the hire of your harvesting”; and he said, “What hire can there be for me since I have not been harvesting?” And they said unto him, “Through your prayers the harvest has been reaped; come now, and take your hire.” Then the contention between them waxed strong, for the sick brother contended that he ought not to receive any wages, and they said, “We will not leave until you do.” So they went, that they might be heard by a certain great old man, and that brother answered and said, “O father, three of us went to harvest, but I fell sick on the first day, and went and lay down in my cell, and although I did not work even one day these brethren urge me, saying, ‘Come and take the hire for which you did not work.’ Then the two brethren said, “Three of us went to the harvest, and we took certain fields to reap together, and if we had been thirty we should have succeeded in reaping them with great labor; but through the prayers of this our brother the two of us reaped them quickly, and we said to him, ‘Come, take your hire, because, through your prayers, God helped us, and we reaped quickly,’ but he would not take it.” Then the old man said unto the brethren who were with him, “Beat the board, and let all the brethren be gathered together,” and when they were assembled he said unto them, “Come, O ye brethren, and hear this day a righteous judgement,” and he related before them the whole matter, and they decided that the brother was to receive his hire, and that he might do whatsoever he wished therewith. And the brother went away weeping and distressed.

In the ascetic literature of the Church, we are informed that God can expand time and shrink space or distance for people as He sees fit. This is recorded numerous times in the history of the Church. Linear time can slow down to a great and varying degree, through divine intervention, but people still move about as usual, in their same manner and speed. Thus earthly time seems to stand still.

We even have an example of this in the late 20th century with Saint Porphyrios of Kavsokalyva (+ 1991). We are informed how one day a group of nuns led by the Abbess Macrina visited Saint Porphyrios at his Hesychasterion in Milesi, but because he delayed them they worried they would not return to their monastery before the gates closed. But the Saint was having a good time and didn't want them to leave. The nuns told him that they had to leave, but he told them: "Stay a little longer; leave it to God." Eventually they were obedient to the Saint and after much time passed they left by taxi late for the Monastery of Saint John Makrinou in Megara. Not only were they delayed in leaving, but the taxi driver was going very slow because there was traffic on the road. The nuns fell into despair over the delay as they were going to the monastery and became anxious, because by the time they would arrive much time would have passed when the entrance to the monastery would have closed. To their great surprise they found that they arrived to their monastery on time, having departed at 8:00PM and arriving at 8:45PM, leaving them fifteen minutes before the gates closed. Amazed by this miracle, Abbess Macrina testified:

We went from Milesi to Makrino in three-quarters of an hour, and traveling so slowly! Our wonder and enthusiasm, when we realized what a miracle had taken place, cannot be described. The prayer of Elder Porphyrios had again overcome place and time. God is wondrous in His saints! (Note that all the nuns and the taxi driver experienced the passing of time as normal during this occurrence).

The experience of "the sun standing still" is an often recorded occurrence on Mount Athos. One example comes to us from the biography of Elder Haralambos Dionysiatis (+ 2000), a disciple of Saint Joseph the Hesychast (+ 1959). Elder Haralambos had left the Skete of Little Saint Anna for Karyes because he was suffering from a severe toothache and needed to be treated. Saint Joseph expected him to return by the evening. Elder Haralambos came across some difficulties and was forced to walk back. Elder Haralambos goes on to explain what he experienced:

But to get there [Little Saint Anna's] so quickly [by evening] and cover such a distance, you can only do it by boat or if you fly. Those who have gone along those narrow and steep pathways know what I mean. Nevertheless, I started walking and, without stopping anywhere, I got to our huts just as it started to get dark. I knocked on the Elder's door. [Elder Joseph] opened the door, hugged me, and said with uncontrollable tears: "That which you did, my child, is perfect obedience. Have courage and the Lord will richly reward you."

Hence, a miracle of divine intervention which shocks physicists is when God contracts time, not for a few milliseconds, as physicists today struggle to do when dealing with the theory of relativity and the physics of high energy, but even for over an hour. Such a contraction of time can be carried out today with the theory of relativity for an object moving at a speed greater than the speed of light, but even then it does not occur until some particles have mass. The above miracles are puzzling because they are among the few miraculous interventions in spacetime recorded in our Orthodox tradition and cannot be justified by conventional modern scientific knowledge, even though we have sure testimony that it does take place. 

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