Κύριε ελέησον. Kyrie Eleison. Lord, have mercy.
It seems ironic to associate Noah's ark experience with mercy. After all, there was no mercy whatsoever for the multitude of people and wildlife that were destroyed in the flood. And yet Noah's story is where the powerful symbol of mercy originated.
The Greek word for mercy, ελέησον, is literally from the root word, ειλλια - olive, referring to the olive leaf. The symbol of the dove returning with an olive leaf in its beak meant to Noah's family that the end of their travail was near. Words can never adequately express the relief and gratitude the family felt when after living through the annihilation of everyone and everything they knew, followed by an extraordinarily difficult year at sea, this olive leaf was delivered to show them that their new life was finally about to begin. Oh joy! Thank you God for your kindness, your benevolence, for your forgiveness and the tremendous relief you bring us.
The dove, albeit this specific dove, had come to symbolize the Holy Spirit of God in art as a solution to the problem of how to depict an invisible Spirit-Being. For Noah's family the olive branch was delivered by God Himself via the dove, therefore the Dove is God. For God, the delivery was an opportunity to show this bedraggled family His kindness. From then on to this day, we humans all seek and are grateful for such generosity of heart from God. Mercy for some of us is relief from suffering, for others it means gladness for a new life. For Noah's family it was both.
I doubt that as we ask God for mercy, we are as desperate for it, or as grateful for it as Noah's family was that day. Yet, how beneficial to our souls would it be that when we say, 'Lord, have mercy.' if only for a split second, we could hearken back to think of the olive branch and realize in its fullness for what we are asking.
Because most of us ask for mercy, instead of an olive branch, (Lord give me an olive branch) let's realize that the word, mercy, evolved from the French word for thanks, merci. Thank you God for your benevolence, kindness, and forgiveness. We have already been given that for which we ask, and so by asking for mercy, we are thanking God already.
In William Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice when Portia asks Shylock to show mercy, he replies, "On what compulsion, must I?"
The quality of mercy is not strain'd.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
Which echoes the circular virtue of mercy as expressed by Jesus in the Beatitudes, "Blessed are the merciful: for they will be shown mercy." Matthew 5:7
By asking for mercy, you are given mercy. By giving mercy, you receive mercy.
The concept of mercy, either receiving or giving should never be divorced from our collective ancestral memory of the day the dove announced the end of days of bitterness and struggle and the advent of a new, holy life, and of our ancestor's gratitude to God for this second chance.
Yet, not gratitude but the olive best describes the significance of the dove with olive branch. Both East and West use the original Greek, Κύριε ελέησον. Kyrie Eleison. Lord give me olive branch. Thanks! May I suggest that in prayer, we use the Greek Κύριε ελέησον (Kyrie Eleison), more often than the English, Lord have mercy. The Greek has more meaning, and it will help us to hearken back to the powerful origin of the request.
Olive oil is sacred because it was the medium through which the Spirit of God delivered the good news of relief and the beginning of the new world to Noah's family. Olive oil simultaneously symbolizes the Spirit of God and the mercy of God. The dove and its olive branch merge as one symbol of God's kindness to Noah's family and by extension to all of us who are conscious of being in this Ark of Salvation (the Church) with all of its trials and tribulations and wanting finally to land in the new world that God is preparing for us.
The olive branch is the first of many significant references to the sacred olive and its oil. In Exodus 27:20 it is written: "You shall further command the Israelites to bring you pure oil of beaten olives for the light, so that a lamp may be set up to burn regularly. In the tent of meeting outside the curtain that is before the covenant, Aaron and his sons shall tend it from evening to morning before the Lord. It shall be a perpetual ordinance to be observed throughout their generations by the Israelites." The light that the olive oil gives off is by extension from the dove with its olive branch, the light of the Spirit of God.
To confirm this interpretation through Biblical text, it was olive oil that Samuel used to anoint King Saul and King David that they may be saturated by the Spirit of God through which they would lead God's people Israel.
Another significant reference is found in Zechariah 4 whose vision describes two olive trees continuously pouring oil into seven lamps which are described as, "...the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord of hosts."
So it is throughout the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, references to olive oil include the rich meaning of the Spirit of God and the kindness and relief, and the new world He offers us, the message God delivered by the dove to Noah and his family.
The concept of mercy and the Spirit of the Lord emanate from the Dove with the olive branch in its beak and infiltrate our world from ages to the coming age. Lord have olive branch, Lord merci for the olive branch.
Κύριε ελέησον. Kyrie Eleison. Lord, have mercy.
Be aware, stay ALIVE.