Monday, December 22, 2008

The 'Enfleshment of God'



Dear Parish Faithful,


One final reminder of the Nativity schedule:

Monday - Vespers of the Prefeast at 7 pm
Tuesday - Vespers of the Prefeast at 7 pm
Wednesday Morning - Royal Hours at 9 am, 10 am, 11 am, Noon
Wednesday Evening - Festal Matins at 7 pm
Thursday - Divine Liturgy at 9:30 am
Saturday - Divine Liturgy at 9:30 am


I very much look forward to our festal Liturgy on Christmas Day. It is "meet and right" to "lay aside all earthly cares" and rejoice in this most awesome Feast of our Lord's Nativity in the flesh. Nothing complicated - just a child-like simplicity that we all need to periodically experience. As the "people of God," we first assemble together as the Body of Christ to proclaim, praise and participate in the coming of the Incarnate Son of God who is born as a "little child" for our salvation. I hope that this is the primary focus of the day for one and all. Regardless of how we plan the remainder of the day, our presence in church for the Liturgy is essential, for the Feast would be less than festal and "something" would be missing without worshiping the newborn Christ within the context of the Liturgy. It has been at least five years now - perhaps more - since we moved the initial midnight Liturgy to Christmas morning, so that our growing number of young families and children would be more willing and able to participate. The "reward" for this change has been a full and lively church with a deep sense of a "parish family" coming together to embrace the Gift of God in the person of the Incarnate Lord. A strange and awesome mystery that compels us to be thankful to God. And which impels us toward the church for the festal Liturgy. I am sure that everyone joins me in preparing for this Feast with a growing sense of anticipation.

_____


The full title of the upcoming celebration of Christ's birth in the Church is: The Nativity in the Flesh of our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ. This is also referred to as the Incarnation, literally the "enfleshment of God," based upon the classical text" "And the Word became flesh" of JN. 1:14. In the Incarnation, the Son of God becomes the Son of Man. The incarnation is the real "birth" of theology, of seeking for words "adequate to God," that express something of the power and majesty of the Word of God who has revealed Himself to the world. We should never feel intimidated or "inadequate" when approaching Orthodox theology. A living theology is not a dry, arid, and jargoned petrification of God in a lifeless series of concepts. Rather, genuine Orthodox theology is life-giving and life-affirming. As it transforms the mind, it will lead to a transformation of life. Orthodoxy is a way of life, not simply a doctrine. Therefore, a "daily dose" of good Orthodox theology can serve to lift up our drooping spirits, reminding us of our high calling in Christ Jesus as well as refresh our minds and hearts with the Truth that is incarnate in Christ. When the great Church Fathers speak of our Lord's Nativity, always remember that they are addressing the mystery of the little Child being the pre-eternal God: From a Nativity homily from St. Gregory Palamas (+1359) we hear of the Incarnation in very eloquent words.

Please strive, brothers and sisters, to lift up your minds as well, that they may better perceive the light of divine knowledge, as though brightly illumined by a holy star. For today I see equality of honor between heaven and earth, and a way up for all those below to things above, matching the condescension of those on high. However great the heavens of heavens may be, or ... the celestial regions, or any heavenly place, state or order, they are no more marvellous or honorable than the cave, the manger, the water sprinkled on the infant and His swaddling clothes. For nothing done by God from the beginning of time was more beneficial to all or more divine than Christ's nativity, which we celebrate today.

The pre-eternal and uncircumscribed and almighty Word is now born according to the flesh, without home, without shelter, without dwelling, and placed as a babe in the manger, seen by men's eyes, touched by their hands, and wrapped in layers of swaddling bands.

The very Word of God from God emptied Himself in an indescribable way, came down from on high to the lowest state of man's nature, and indissolubly linked it with Himself, and in humbling Himself and becoming poor like us, He raised on high the things below, or rather, He gathered both things into one, mingling humanity with divinity, and by so doing He taught everyone that humility is the road which leads upwards, setting forth today Himself as an example before men and holy angels alike.

Next: An exhortation from St. Gregory of the impact of the Incarnation on our way of life.


Fr. Steven

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