Thursday, December 1, 2011

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

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