Thursday, December 29, 2011

Revisiting 'A Christmas Carol'

Dear Parish Faithful,

Christ is Born!

I briefly mentioned Dickens’ A Christmas Carol the other day, and the inner goodness of the Cratchet family in contrast to our self-indulgent and narcissistic culture. Here is an interesting piece that again brings up A Christmas Carol from another perspective that one of our parishioners shared with me, and which you may find of interest during this Nativity Season.

Fr. Steven

+ + +

Last weekend, my family, some friends and I attended a performance of A Christmas Carol at the American Shakespeare Center in Staunton, VA.

It was superb. The kids particularly enjoyed it and were surprised to learn that the author - Charles Dickens - is the man most responsible for the modern celebration of the season. This is a story that deserves to be more widely known...

Dickens is one of the greatest writers in the English language. He published twenty novels in his lifetime. None has ever gone out of print.

Yet in 1843, Dickens' popularity was at a low, his critical reputation in tatters, his bank account overdrawn. Facing bankruptcy, he considered giving up writing fiction altogether.

In a feverish six-week period before Christmas, however, he wrote a small book he hoped would keep his creditors at bay. His publishers turned it down. So using his meager savings, Dickens put it out himself. It was an exercise in vanity publishing - and the author told friends it might be the end of his career as a novelist.

Yet the publication of A Christmas Carol caused an immediate sensation, selling out the first printing - several thousand copies -in four days. A second printing sold out before the New Year, and then a third. Widespread theatrical adaptations spread the story to an exponentially larger audience still.

And it wasn't just a commercial success. Even Dickens' chief rival and foremost critic, William Makepeace Thackery, bowed his head before the power of the book: "The last two people I heard speak of it were women; neither knew the other, or the author, and both said, by way of criticism, 'God bless him!' What a feeling this is for a writer to be able to inspire, and what a reward to reap!"

Today we all know the tale of tight-fisted Scrooge - "Bah! Humbug!" - and his dramatic change of heart after being visited by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future.

But A Christmas Carol didn't just restore Dickens' reputation and financial health. It also breathed new life into what was then a second-tier holiday that had fallen into disfavor.

As Les Standiford notes, in early 19th century England, the Christmas holiday "was a relatively minor affair that ranked far below Easter, causing little more stir than Memorial Day or St. George's Day today. In the eyes of the relatively enlightened Anglican Church, moreover, the entire enterprise smacked vaguely of paganism, and were there Puritans still around, acknowledging the holiday might have landed one in the stocks."

The date of Christmas itself is an arbitrary one, of course. There is no reference in the gospels to the birth of Jesus taking place on December 25th, or in any specific month. When Luke says, "For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior," there isn't the slightest indication when that was.

And while the day was marked on Christian calendars, celebrations were muted. That changed when A Christmas Carol became an instant smash, stirring English men and women to both celebrate the holiday and remember the plight of the less fortunate. This was exactly the author's intent.

Dickens grew up in poverty and was forced into child labor. (His father, a naval pay clerk who struggled to meet his obligations, was thrown into debtor's prison.) Yet despite these handicaps, Dickens educated himself, worked diligently, and rose to international prominence as a master writer and storyteller.

He was a great believer in self-determination and, in particular, the transformative power of education. With learning, he said, a man "acquires for himself that property of soul which has in all times upheld struggling men of every degree."

Yet in the London of Dickens' day, only one child in three attended school. Some worked in shops, others in factories. Still others resorted to theft or prostitution to live. Dickens was determined to expose their plight. A Christmas Carol, in particular, is a bald-faced parable, something few novelists attempt... and even fewer successfully execute.

Dickens said his novels were for the edification of his audience. His goal was not just to entertain but to enlighten. And A Christmas Carol was designed to deliver "a sledge-hammer blow" on behalf of the poor and less fortunate.

It worked. Scrooge - a character as well known as any in fiction - is now synonymous with "miser." Yet through his remarkable transformation, the author reminds us that it is never too late to change, to free ourselves from selfish preoccupations.

Dickens' biographer Peter Ackyroyd and other commentators have credited the novelist with single-handedly creating the modern Christmas holiday. No, not the contemporary orgy of shopping, spending and ostentatious display. In A Christmas Carol, there are no Christmas trees, gaudy decorations or - apart from "the big, prize turkey" at the end - any presents at all. The only gifts exchanged are love, friendship and goodwill.

In one small book, Dickens changed the culture, inspired his contemporaries, and helped restore a holiday they were eager to revive.

More than a century and half later, A Christmas Carol is still a tonic for our spirits - and an annual reminder of the benefits of friendship, charity and celebration.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Church or the Mall?, and other Brief Meditations

Dear Parish Faithful,

The Church or the Mall?

We begin our final movement toward the Feast of the Lord’s Nativity with the first of four consecutive prefestal Vespers that begin each evening – Monday-Thursday – at 7:00 p.m. These are “low-key” services, basically daily Vespers with the prefestal Nativity hymnography, together with the hymnography for the saint of the day. In addition to hearing the various themes surrounding the Advent of the Lord in the flesh, these services embrace us with the warm, quiet, calm, and prayerful atmosphere of the church. The setting, thus, is peaceful, and perhaps a much-needed contrast to the hectic, loud and brazenly commercial atmosphere of the shopping malls. Instead of a generic version of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” as background noise to a sea of humanity flowing aimlessly from store to store, one can listen to “O,Gladsome Light” in the stillness of a candle-lit church. Instead of “Deck the Halls” mingled with the sound of computerized cash registers feasting on plastic or real money as the biblically-condemned pagan deity Moloch feasted on his sacrificial victims; one can listen to the soulful and plaintive cry of “Lord, I Call Upon Thee” wafting toward the heavens as fragrant incense rises to carry our prayers. It makes life much simpler when some choices are easy and obvious. So, if we have paid our tribute to mammon for one more Christmas, now is the time to be mindful of the Lord with the opportunity to do so.

Monday – Thursday: Prefestal daily Vespers at 7:00 p.m.

Readers are Needed

We need four readers for the Royal Hours this coming Friday. The First Hour is at 9:00 a.m.; the Third Hour is at 10:00 a.m.; the Sixth Hour is at 11:00 a.m.; and the Ninth Hour is at Noon. The reading includes psalmody, an Old Testament prophecy and an Epistle. Each service is about twenty-five minutes long and thus there is about a half-hour between each Royal Hour. You can come for the entire set of Royal Hours or “drop in” for one that most suits your schedule. As I said yesterday in the homily, it is unfortunate that these biblically-rich services are chanted in a near-empty church. Our parish is too large for that now. Please contact me if you would like to read.

A Brief Meditation: Why Did He Come?

Christmas means that there are two births of Christ: one into the world at Bethlehem; the other into the soul when it is spiritually reborn. Through the Holy Mysteries of Baptism and the Eucharist, Christ is born in the second Bethlehem, i.e. or hearts and minds, our souls and bodies. He that is the pre-eternal God becomes a newborn babe that we might be converted and become babes in Christ. The Only-begotten Word of God, One of the Trinity becomes man, that man might become a “communicant of the Divine Nature” through theosis. The dark cave of dumb beasts in Bethlehem becomes heaven and is filled with the unwaning, uncreated light of Divinity. Christ is born that our dark souls may be filled with light; for do we not invite the Divine Son of God to come and dwell in us when we pray in the Pre-Communion prayers: “And even as Thou didst deign to lie in a cave and in a manger of irrational beasts, so also deign to lie in the manger of my irrational soul and to enter my defiled body.” If He was born in the first Bethlehem, it was only that He might come and be born in the second Bethlehem – your soul and mine!
- Anonymous (sent to me by Mother Paula)

Bumper Sticker Existentialism

A recently-read bumper sticker said the following: “I used up all of my sick days, so I called in dead.”

And another: “Of the things I have lost, the one I miss the most is my mind.”

Questionable Theology

On her final, one of my students wrote: “The resurrection of Christ occurred from the ground up.”

I am still working on that one … Feel perfectly free to enlighten me if you are so moved.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Special Guest Meditation by Fr Thomas Hopko: 'The Blessed Exchange'

The Blessed Exchange
Protopresbyter Thomas Hopko
Christmas & Epiphany, 2011-2012

Orthodox Christian Scriptures proclaim -- and the Liturgy celebrates, the Sacraments realize, the Icons depict, the Canons protect, the Martyrs witness, the Fathers explain, and the Saints live --the Blessed Exchange that God accomplished in the incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection and glorification of His Son Jesus Christ, by the Holy Spirit’s power, for the salvation of humanity and the whole of creation:

God became human to make humans divine.
God became visible to allow humans to see Him.
God became touchable to allow humans to touch Him.
God spoke in human words to allow humans to hear Him.
God entered earthly time to make humans eternal.
God took flesh to make human bodies His dwelling.
God lived as a creature on earth to recreate the whole of creation.

He was a human being so that by His humanity we could become gods by grace.
He was small so that by His smallness we could become divinely great.
He was poor that so by His poverty we could become divinely rich.
He was weak so that by His weakness we could attain God’s power.
He was a fool in this world so that we could attain God’s wisdom.
He emptied Himself so that by His emptiness we could be filled with all the fullness of God.
He became the servant of all so that by his servitude we could all reign with Him.
He became nothing so that through His nothingness we could become everything.

He was homeless that by being a stranger He could take us home with himself to God.
He was naked that by His nakedness He could clothe us with himself.
He was wounded that by His wounds we could be healed.
He was without comeliness or form that we could be splendidly beautiful.
He was arrested that by being imprisoned we could be liberated.
He hungered that by his hunger He could be the Bread of Life for all who eat Him.
He thirsted that He could give us the Living Water that we would never thirst again.
His Body was broken that we who eat Him could be made whole.
His Blood was shed that we who drink Him could never die.

He became Sin that in Him we might become the Righteousness of God.
He became a Curse that in Him we might become the Blessedness of God .
He became a Corpse that in Him we might be forever Alive.

He suffered to free us from our sufferings.
He endured the Passion to free us from our passions.
He was tempted, tested and tried, just as we are, so that we could be victorious in Him.
He died the most vile death that a man, especially a Jew, could possibly die that we could live as God intended us to live, both now in this world and in the age to come.

To Him be glory, honor, worship, dominion, praise and thanksgiving, with God His Father and His all holy, good and life-creating Spirit, now and forever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.


In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through Him, and without Him nothing came to be that came to be; in Him was life and the life was the light of men… and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld His glory, glory of the only-begotten Son from the Father…and from His fullness have we all received, grace upon grace. (Jn 1:1-16)

In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days He has spoken to us by a Son, whom He appointed the heir of all things, through whom also He created the ages. He is the radiance of the Father’s glory, the exact image of the Father’s person, upholding the universe by the word of His power….who for a little while was made lower than the angels, crowned in glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone….since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself partook of the same nature, that through death he might destroy Him who has the power of death, and deliver all those who through the fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage…therefore He had to become like His brethren in every respect.…for because He Himself has suffered and been tempted, He is able to help those who are tempted…. (Heb 1:1-3. 2:9, 14-18)

Though He was in the form of God (He) did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but He emptied Himself, taking the form of a bonded slave, being born in the likeness of man, and being found in human form, He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. (Phil 2:5-11)

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have touched with our hands, concerning the Word of life – the life was made manifest, and we saw it, and bear witness to it, and proclaim to you the eternal life which was with the Father and was made manifest to us – that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you may have communion with us, and our communion is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing this to you that our joy may be full. (1Jn 1:1-4)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Great Banquet

Dear Parish Faithful & Friends in Christ,

The Parable of the Great Banquet (LK. 14:16-24) is always read on the Second Sunday Before Nativity, also designated as Sunday of the Holy Ancestors of Christ. Thus, at last Sunday’s Liturgy, we heard this parable as we continue to draw closer to the Feast of the Nativity of Christ. In this parable, Christ employs the biblical image of a great banquet as an image of the Kingdom of God. This is a very biblical image that the Lord draws on. To give just two examples: this image can be found in the Prophet Isaiah (25:6-9) and the Book of Revelation (19:9). This is the eschatological messianic banquet that God will bless His people with, signifying fellowship, joy and communion with God and in God’s presence. The Eucharistic banquet that we celebrate within the life of the Church is the foretaste and anticipation of this “banquet” without end in the Kingdom of God. Yet, in the parable as told by the Lord, we discover that the very people invited find excuses for their unwillingness to accept the master’s invitation to attend. (In fact, in the Orthodox Study Bible, this parable is given the subtitle “Wordly Entanglements, Poor Excuses”). These are, of course, very 1st c. Palestinian excuses: “I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them; please have me excused.” These excuses sound legitimate enough in their practicality. However, these very practical excuses do not impress the master, for the parable tells us that they “angered” him. This was not an invitation to treat lightly. The master then sent his servant out on a further mission as we hear in the parable: to invite those who are on the margins of society – “the poor, and maimed and blind and lame;” and those basically outside of that society – “Go out to the highways and hedges, and compel people to come in.”

In its original setting and intention, the parable is a clear rebuke to the Lord’s fellow Jews for rejecting His invitation to enter the messianic banquet that the “master” (His heavenly Father) has prepared through His own ministry as the (Suffering) Servant of God. To replace those whose lame excuses prevent them from entering into this great banquet, both those marginalized by restrictions of the Law and the Gentile unbelievers will be invited in to the feast. And this may come as a shock to those initially invited. Those who were initially invited must suffer the consequences of the master’s final pronouncement: “For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste of my banquet.” We, in turn, must look beyond the original intention of the parable so that we do not succumb to that moralizing complacency that allows us to judge others of the very sin we may be committing. We must leave to God whatever judgments that God may determine for unbelief and the rejection of the messianic ministry of Jesus; a ministry fulfilled in the Death and Resurrection of God’s Messiah and the establishment of the messianic banquet in the Age to Come and anticipated today in the Eucharistic Liturgy.

Perhaps there are some contemporary members of the Church who excuse themselves for rejecting the “invitation” to the Liturgy celebrated on the Lord’s Day – perhaps only from “time to time,” or perhaps with some regularity. As said above, since the Liturgy is the foretaste of the great and heavenly banquet of the Age to Come, we also may incur the displeasure of the Master by our own excuses, though they may sound as legitimate and practical as those recorded in the parable. In our contemporary society there are many seemingly innocuous reasons (excuses?) for not participating in the Liturgy on the Lord’s Day with faithful regularity. And these reasons are only going to multiply over time. Sunday mornings are no longer that nice wide-open space on our pocket planners or refrigerator calendars that are unquestioningly left open for God and the Liturgy. The society we live in continues to encroach upon that empty space and is threatening to squeeze it out of existence. The parable of the Great Banquet has something to say about that. Thus, we have the opportunity to think long and hard over our choices.

Yet beyond that issue, we must seriously listen to this parable and discover how it is actualized in our many decisions on a daily basis. We may have the “Liturgy issue” under perfect control in that we are unfailingly faithful to our commitment to be present at the messianic banquet table of the Lord from which we partake of the Bread from Heaven. (Hopefully that is reason for rejoicing and not simply an act of obligation). However, we may have our own litany of excuses as to why we fail to work on our ongoing relationship with God, thus extending the application of this parable to embrace all aspects of that relationship. If we fail to pray with regularity, or read the Scriptures, or confess our sins, we have an excuse. If we fail to fast, or to be charitable, we have an excuse. If we fail to support the Church – and its local manifestation in the parish - with our time, talent or treasure beyond the minimal, we have an excuse. If we are less than a neighbor to those in need, or neglect the marginalized of society, we have an excuse. The human mind is a veritable factory of creative excuse-making when we need to rationalize or justify a certain behavior or lack of behavior. (see GEN. 3) Perhaps a sign of Christian maturity is when we no longer come up with excuses, but simply admit to our shortcomings and lack of focus.

To offer a generalization, it seems that the excuses given in the parable seem to fall under the rubric of “being busy.” Or, rather, that we are simply “too busy” to do what is needed, and/or even to concentrate on the “one thing needful.” Perhaps we can avoid sin, but we cannot avoid our busy schedules. We are too busy to even sin – at least “big time!” This is the human condition as lived by contemporary human beings. And there is no easy solution.

Perhaps it is only our vision of life that can begin to help us move beyond this impasse: “Seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (COL. 3:1). A vision of life nourished by an abiding faith that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, and that believing we have life in His Name (JN. 20:31). Yet, also further nourished by the Great Banquet of the Eucharistic Liturgy that we are invited to every Sunday, which is therefore the Day that first and foremost belongs to the Lord before and beyond anything else. This vision of life would also be future-oriented so as to embrace the “life of the world to come” – described for us as a Great Banquet in which we will experience the indescribable joy of fellowship and communion with the Holy Trinity, the saints and with each other. By participating in the Liturgy we prepare ourselves for that life with God, because the Liturgy is probably the most perfect expression of what we anticipate and look forward to in God’s heavenly Kingdom – fellowship, joy, communion and love inexpressible. If we can only hold that vision of life up to our gaze, then we can “make time” so as to hold God at the center of our lives. I suggest that a modest start is stop making excuses, and make an honest assessment of what we need to repent of and confess to. Then, we have always at least the potential for a new beginning.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Exploring the Incarnation IV - The Radicalness of the Incarnation

Dear Parish Faithful,

Today, December 6, we celebrate St. Nicholas of Myra in Lycia, the Wonderworker. Considering the deluge that we endured yesterday, we had a larged-sized body of the faithful at the Vesperal Liturgy yesterday evening. It was a wonderful service, and it was good to witness the enduring veneration of the real St. Nicholas as it continues down the centuries, regardless of the geographical or cultural setting. Together with the many texts praising St. Nicholas in the service, were included those that continue to prepare us for the Feast of the Nativity of Christ, and the mystery of the Incarnation.

To remain focused on the Incarnation, here is the third and final passage from Archbishop Ware’s book The Orthodox Way, under the section heading “Salvation as Sharing.” Archbishop Ware goes far in reflecting on the utter radicalness of the Incarnation: here we encounter the suffering God who entered into the fallen conditions of our world and voluntarily embraced them in order to save us from these very conditions that undermine our very humanity and our relationship with God:

Secondly, this notion of salvation as sharing implies – although many have been reluctant to say this openly – that Christ assumed not just unfallen but fallen human nature. As the Epistle to the Hebrews insists (and in the New Testament there is no Christological text more important than this): “We do not have a high priest who cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but he was in all points tempted exactly as we are, yet without sinning” (4:15). Christ lives out his life on earth under the conditions of the fall. He is not himself a sinful person, but in his solidarity with fallen man he accepts to the full the consequences of Adam’s sin. He accepts to the full not only the physical consequences, such as weariness, bodily pain, and eventually the separation of body and soul in death. He accepts also the moral consequences, the loneliness, the alienation, the inward conflict. It may seem a bold thing to ascribe all this to the living God, but a consistent doctrine of the Incarnation requires nothing less. If Christ has merely assumed unfallen human nature, living out his earthly life in the situation of Adam in Paradise, then he would not have been touched with the feeling of our infirmities, nor would he have been tempted in everything exactly as we are. And in that case he would not be our Savior.

St. Paul goes so far as to write, “God has made him who knew no sin to be sin for our sake” (II COR. 5:21). We are not to think here solely in terms of some juridical transaction, whereby Christ, himself, guiltless, somehow has our guilt “imputed” to him in an exterior manner. Much more is involved than that. Christ saves us by experiencing from within, as one of us, all that we suffer inwardly through living in a sinful world.

The Orthodox Way, p. 75-76.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Exploring the Incarnation III - The Full Humanity of Christ

Dear Parish Faithful and Friends in Christ,

Today’s addition to our selection of key passages illuminating the Incarnation for our spiritual enlightenment is a continuation of yesterday’s passage from The Orthodox Way by Archbishop Kallistos Ware. If you recall, the section of his book from which these passages are taken is entitled “Salvation as Sharing.” The very possibility of God “sharing” His life with us, is already a profoundly moving concept. How much more overwhelming is the very reality of this sharing! For we firmly believe that this is precisely what God has done in Christ – given to us a share in His divine uncreated grace and glory through the Incarnation of the eternal Word become man as Jesus of Nazareth. In this passage, you will be impressed by how strongly Archbishop Kallistos stresses the point of the full humanity of Christ. Christ did not only seem to be human, He was and is, in fact, fully human, because the Word became flesh! The sharing and exchange in the Incarnation between God and humankind is thus fully reciprocal and total. Archbishop Kallistos writes the following:

This notion of salvation as sharing implies two things in particular about the Incarnation. First, it implies that Christ took not only a human body like ours but also a human spirit, mind and soul like ours. Sin, as we saw has its source not from below but from above; it is not physical in its origin but spiritual. The aspect of man, then, that requires to be redeemed is not primarily his body but his will and his centre of moral choice. If Christ did not have a human mind, then this would fatally undermine the second principle of salvation, that divine salvation must reach the point of human need.

The importance of this principle was re-emphasized during the second half of the fourth century, when Appolinarius advanced the theory – for which he was quickly condemned as a heretic – that at the Incarnation Christ took only a human body, but no human intellect or rational soul. To this St. Gregory the Theologian replied, “The unassumed is unhealed.” Christ, that is to say, saves us by becoming what we are; he heals us by taking our broken humanity into himself, by “assuming” it as his own, by entering into our human experience and by knowing it from the inside, as being himself one of us. But had his sharing of our humanity been in some way incomplete, then man’s salvation would be likewise incomplete. If we believe that Christ has brought us a total salvation, then it follows that he has assumed everything.

The Orthodox Way, p. 74-75

To be continued …

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Exploring the Incarnation II - Salvation as Sharing

Dear Parish Faithful & Friends in Christ,

I am sure that many of you have read – and perhaps reread - Archbishop Kallistos Ware’s The Orthodox Way. Since its original publication in 1979, this book has gone through a revision any many reprintings. In just a relatively short time, this book has become a “classic” of contemporary Orthodox theology and spirituality. I believe that The Orthodox Way is one of those “top ten” books that belong in the library of every literate, interested and engaged Orthodox Christian (with the intention that it will eventually be read!).

Be that as it may, to continue our series of passages that open up the Incarnation for us to deeper levels of understanding, I would like to draw from this wonderful book. Those who have already read these passages will have their memories refreshed; and those reading these passages for the first time will experience the joy of encountering a living response to the age-old mystery of the Incarnation and some of its profound implications for our understanding of Christ and of our own lives in Christ. There will undoubtedly be some new insights here that may strike you for the first time. In the chapter entitled “God as Man,” there is a sub-section further that bears the heading “Salvation as Sharing.” The first part of this section develops this theme in the following manner:

The Christian message of salvation can best be summed up in terms of sharing, of solidarity and identification. The notion of sharing is a key alike to the doctrine of God in Trinity and to the doctrine of God made man. The doctrine of the Trinity affirms that, just as man is authentically personal only when he shares with others, so God is not a single person dwelling alone, but three persons who share each other’s life in perfect love. The Incarnation equally is a doctrine of sharing or participation. Christ shares to the full in what we are, and so he makes it possible for us to share in what he is, in his divine life and glory. He became what we are, so as to make us what he is.

St. Paul expresses this metaphorically in terms of wealth and poverty: “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ: he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that through his poverty you might become rich” (II COR. 8:9). Christ’s riches are his eternal glory; Christ’s poverty is his complete self-identification with our fallen human condition . In the words of an Orthodox Christmas hymn, “Sharing wholly in our poverty, thou hast made divine our earthly nature through thy union with it and participation in it.” Christ shares in our death, and we share in his life; he “empties himself” and we are “exalted” (PHIL. 2:5-9). God’s descent makes possible man’s ascent. St. Maximus the Confessor writes: “Ineffably the infinite limits itself, while the finite is expanded to the measure of the infinite.”

As Christ said at the Last Supper: “The glory which thou hast given to me I have given to them, that they may be one, as we are one: I in them and thou in me, may they be perfectly united in one” (JN. 17:22-23). Christ enables us to share in the Father’s divine glory. He is the bond and meeting-point: because he is man, he is one with us; because he is God, he is one with the Father. So, through and in him we are one with God, and the Father’s glory becomes our glory. God’s Incarnation opens the way to man’s deification. To be deified is, more specifically, to be “christified”: the divine likeness that we are called to attain is the likeness of Christ. It is through Jesus the God-man that we men are “ingodded,” “divinized,” made “sharers of the divine nature” (II PET. 1:4). By assuming our humanity, Christ who is Son of God by nature has made us sons of God by grace. In him we are “adopted” by God the Father, becoming sons-in-the-Son.

The Orthodox Way, p. 73-74

To be continued …

Exploring the Incarnation - The Jesus Prayer as Perfect Profession of Faith

Dear Parish Faithful & Friends in Christ,

It is less than four weeks until the glorious Feast of our Lord’s Nativity in the flesh. Christmas is actually the feast of the Incarnation of Christ – the enfleshment of the Son of God as Jesus of Nazareth. It is always “meet and right” that we reflect and meditate upon this awesome mystery of the advent of the pre-eternal God into our midst as a little Child. We would never want to approach the Incarnation in a casual manner, reducing it to an abstract doctrine that only demands our intellectual assent. Rather, I would hope that we always approach the Incarnation prayerfully and with a sense of gratitude, joy and awe before this sublime mystery that occurred within “the fullness of time” and “for our salvation.”

The Incarnation of Christ is a dogma of the Church. This does not mean that it is an arid concept that demands blind adherence. That would be true of a totalitarian ideology. A dogma is the revelation of divine Truth; a description of reality at its most deepest level; and an invitation to assimilate that Truth to our own lives in a transformative manner. Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. This implies and combines orthodoxy (right belief) and orthopraxis (right practice/living). A dogma is meant to “count” in our lives, so that our lives reflect a living faith in the truth of what a particular dogma expresses. Our faith in the Incarnation should have a daily impact on our lives: God became man so that man could become like God! (Or God was humanized so that humans could be divinized). The New Adam has come to restore our fellowship with God.

Perhaps a good way to maintain such a focus during this Advent season is to be supplied with a series of well-written passages from Orthodox theologians – both ancient and contemporary - that uncover for us some of the depth and profundity of the Incarnation. From now and until Nativity, I will hopefully send out a fair amount of such wonderful texts that show the consistency of Orthodox belief in the Incarnation “from generation to generation,” together with the endlessly creative and insightful ways that the truth of the Incarnation can be expressed. What does it actually mean to say that God became man? Can God actually be born? If so, what does that say of His mother? If Jesus is God how can He also be human? How do we understand the union of the divine and the human natures in the Person of Jesus Christ? Reading some of these texts carefully, and then meditating on what we read will help us with dealing with such perplexing questions and in our search to further understand the mystery of the Incarnation “in an Orthodox manner.”

We will begin with a passage from Metropolitan Anthony Bloom that our Fall Adult Education class read and discussed together the other evening. This passage is taken from Met. Anthony’s discussion of the practice of the Jesus Prayer. What are we saying when we address Christ in prayer as the Lord Jesus Christ? The metropolitan writes the following as a kind of profession of faith:

To see in the man of Galilee, in the prophet of truth, the incarnate Word of God, God become man, we must be guided by the Spirit, because it is the Spirit of God who reveals to us both the Incarnation and the lordship of Christ. We call him Christ, and we affirm thereby that in him were fulfilled the prophecies of the Old Testament. To affirm that Jesus is the Christ implies that the whole history of the Old Testament is ours, that we accept it as the truth of God. We call him Son of God, because we know that the Messiah expected by the Jews, the man who was called “son of David” by Bartimaeus, is the incarnate Son of God. These words sum up all we know, all we believe about Jesus Christ, from the Old Testament through the ages. In these few words we make a complete and perfect profession of faith.

Metropolitan Anthony of Sorouzh – Selected Writings, p. 135