Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Incarnation: A New Blessing to Both Male and Female

Dear Parish Faithful,

At the AAC in Pittsburg, I picked up the latest copy of St. Vladimir's Theological Quarterly. The first article proved to be quite fascinating and I am including an important excerpt below that I will explain. The article is entitled "Women and the Church in the New Millennium," by Catherine Brown Tkacz. Her intention is to review the Church's living Tradition and find clear examples of the equality between women and men. She begins with the following general affirmation:

"The authentic Eastern Christian doctrinal and liturgical heritage regarding women is rich and positive, and these Byzantince traditions include many exemplary teachings which highlight the importance of women. The full humanity and moral competence of women and their spiritual equality with men are implied in the Old Testament and given fresh emphasis by Jesus Christ. The early Church Fathers explicitly taught the spiritual equality of women and also demonstrated it practically through a balanced offering of male and female examples in their preaching. The Eastern Fathers are notable for this. The balance of the sexes is evident in Byzantine iconographic programs and hymns, even in the calender..." (p. 244-245)

My intention is not to review this very well-researched and well-written article here. But I would like to share a beautiful passage that clearly fits into our preparation for the Nativity Feast, dealing as it does with the events surrounding the coming of Christ as He is alive in the womb of His Mother. In other words, as the excerpt below will amply demonstrate, Christ was recognized by both women and men even before He was actually born! This balance seems to be most and best typified by the Gospel According to St. Luke, as the examples below will reveal. Catherine Tkacz writes as follows:

"In the New Testament, even before Jesus' ministry begins, a new emphasis on the spiritual equality of the sexes was arranged by Providence. As has been recently argued, the very manner of the Incarnation imparted a new blessing to both male and female. The balance of the sexes is seen in the responses to him while he was yet in his mother's womb and then again when as an infant he was presented in the Temple. Historically, the first persons to acknowledge him as Lord were Elizabeth and her son John, who was in his sixth month of gestation. This is not trivial: Elizabeth addressed Mary as "the mother of my Lord." (LK. 1:43) That is, the privilege of seeing, by the insight of the Holy Spirit, that Jesus is Lord was given to a pregnant woman. This historical fact conveys great respect for women and for life at every stage. Jesus himself was only a matter of days old. His incarnate body consisteed of only a few cells when Elizabeth and the pre-born John acknowledged his divinity. Later when Mary and Joseph took the infant Jesus to the Temple, both Simeon and Anna were inspired to recognize the Lord. Simeon's words were recorded by Luke and are famous as "The Song of Simeon." Luke identifies Anna as "prophetess" and records the fact that she, in effect, evangelized for the Messiah immediately, in the Temple. Again the Holy Spirit inspired both sexes to acknowledge Jesus. Further, the Spirit of God moved Luke to include these events in his Gospel, so that the Church would know of them." (p. 250-251)

Again, I chose this one example among many because it deals with the events surrounding our Lord's Nativity. Hopefully, this rich passage has something worthy of our "meditation" as it serves to bring the Scriptures to life for us. Her two concluding sentences to the whole article should also prove to be of interest and worthy of further reflection:

"With impressive detail, the Liturgy, the hymnody, the preaching, and the art of the Church commemorate the accomplishments of men as well as women. In the world today, perhaps more than ever before, it is necessary to go beyond letting the tradition speak for itself and to voice these truths overtly." (p. 274)

Fr. Steven

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