Monday, December 27, 2010

Both Nativity and Theophany

Dear Parish Faithful,


This festal greeting and response, clearly modeled on that of Pascha's, is inspired by the magnificent Oration 38, "On the Nativity of Christ," by St. Gregory the Theologian (+395). That oration begins with the following memorable opening:

Christ is born, glorify Him; Christ is from heaven, go to meet him; Christ is on earth, be lifted up. "Sing to the Lord, all the earth," and, to say both together, "Let the heavens be glad and let the earth rejoice," for the heavenly one is now earthly. Christ is in the flesh, exult with trembling and joy; trembling because of sin, joy because of hope.... Who would not worship the one "from the beginning"? Who would not glorify "the Last?'

If you know the Scriptures, you will immediately recognize how this brief but rhetorically-rich passage combines so many scriptural texts: PS. 96:1; PS. 96:11; I COR. 15:47; PS. 2:11; I JN. 1:1; REV. 1:17,2:8.

St. Gregory also captures the 4th c. Church's interplay of referring to the coming of Christ into the world, "born of a Virgin," as both Nativity and Theophany. In this same OR. 38, 3, he brilliantly explains this as follows:

Now is the feast of the Theophany, and so also of the Nativity: for it is called both, since two names are ascribed to one reality. For God appeared to human beings through birth. On the one hand he is and is eternally from the eternal Being, above cause and principle, for there was no principle higher than the Principle. On the other hand for us he later comes into being, that the one who has given us being might also grant us well-being; or rather that, as we fell from well-being through evil, he might bring us back again to himself through incarnation. The name is Theophany since he appeared, and Nativity, since he has been born.

This is an opening "taste" of this "banquet of theology." I will try and share more of this nourishing fare during this next week of feasting.

Fr. Steven

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