Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christ is Born, Glorify Him!

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

In a couple of days we celebrate the greatest event in all history: the Incarnation of Christ, God the Word becoming flesh, the Son of God becoming the Son of Man. It is simply an unbelievable event, even for the angels who worship Him unceasingly. It is truly a great, miraculous paradox, as the Psalmody of our Church describes it. In the Kathismata of Christmas day we hear: "Your (the Theotokos') timeless Son is born in time..." and again, "...Being without a man, how can I (the Theotokos) conceive a son?" "You Who are boundless, how are you bound in the Womb? You Who are in the bosom of the Father, how have You come into the embrace of Your mother? For being fleshless, You became flesh. And He Who Is came among us"(*).

We receive the answer in the 2nd Kathisma chanted on Christmas day: "Whenever God wills, He can overcome the natural order (nikatai physeos taxis), as it is written."

St Irenaeus writes something very interesting about the Incarnation: "Since He Who saves already existed, it was necessary that he who would be saved should come into existence, that the One Who saves should not exist in vain". This seems very odd, but its consequences are profound. Tertullian also writes, "As Adam was a figure of Christ, Adam's sleep shadowed out the death of Christ, who was to sleep a mortal slumber, that from the wound inflicted on his side might be figured the true Mother of the living, the Church".

What do we learn from these short phrases?

Firstly, Adam was made in the Image of Christ, not the other way round, which is mind-boggling but theologically significant. Secondly, the sleep of Adam foreshadows the death of Christ. Thirdly, Christ's speared side was foreshadowed by the creation of Eve. Fourthly, Eve is a symbol of the Church, from the 'side' of Christ, and who who foreshadows the Virgin Mary, the Theotokos. The Theotokos was and is always a symbol of the Church. In the Gospel according to St John (and significantly only in that Gospel) when Christ was on the cross He speaks to the Theotokos and the Beloved Disciple. Historically the Beloved Disciple is understood to be St John himself, but there is another interpretation. The Beloved Disciple is he who follows Christ, irrespective of when and where he lived or lives, it is each one of us who listens to Christ when he calls to us "Follow Me". And He puts His Beloved Disciple in the care of His Mother, the Theotokos, the Church.

Our Salvation didn't start at the Passion of Christ, it was effected at His birth. God's Divine Plan, His economy (oikonomia), slowly unravelled through the Prophets and when the right time had come (the 'fullness of time'), He sent His Son to save us. St Maximus writes, "Christ eternally wills to be born mystically, becoming incarnate through those who are saved and making the soul which begets him to be a virgin mother".

There is so much to say about this event, but I leave the last word for St John of Damascus about the Theotokos: "It is proper and true that we call the holy Mary the Theotokos ('God-bearer'), for this name expresses the entire mystery of the economy".

May you all have a blessed Nativity!

(*) All translations from the Greek are amateur.

(Any corrections in the interpretation of the above texts will be gratefully received)


Ρωμανός ~ Romanós said...

Χριστός γεννάται, δοξάσατε.

Thanks for posting these wonderful truths, brother! They have been the central truths of my witness for Christ ever since I first heard them at the beginning of my life as an Orthodox Christian, when my catechist, Fr Michael Courey, taught them to me, but until now I did not know that they are found in the writings of St Irinaios and in Tertullian. I have studied many of the writings of these and other Church fathers, but I don't remember encountering them there. (Maybe I've just forgotten.) But this is what makes Orthodoxy so astonishing, to me and to others who really do want more of Christ in their lives, that the full tradition and life of the Church is available here, not just a thinly disguised humanism or self-centered and contentious triumphalism. All truth, all beauty, are found in Christ and become available to us in our encounter with the single reality of His coming to us, a single event which we experience as several, though they are one: His conception, His birth, His life, teachings and miracles, His passion, His death, His resurrection, His ascension, His sending to us of the Holy Spirit—all these, to us several events, but one Reality, one Event, which we celebrate now and throughout the years of time.

Have a blessed Nativity, brother, you and yours, and the fullest blessings in the year to come.

Anonymous said...

Merry Christmas Pandeli!
Καλά Χριστούγεννα!