Tuesday, December 23, 2014

There would be no Cross without the Nativity

"Nativity of Christ" Russian Icon Triptych

Dear Parish Faithful & Friends in Christ,

It was St. Gregory of Nyssa (4th c.) who said (somewhere) that the Son of God did not die because He was born; but rather that He was born in order to die.  The Incarnation finds its fulfillment in the Death and Resurrection of the Savior.  This is signified by the fact that the newborn child is wrapped in swaddling cloths (LK. 2;12), and this "wrapping, " in turn, strongly resembles his burial wrapping in "linen cloths" (JN. 20:6) following his crucifixion.  The cave of the Lord's birth resembles and prefigures the tomb in which he was buried.  This is why myrrh was one of the gifts of the wise men, for myrrh was used specifically for burial.  These similarities and connections are depicted in the iconography that accompanies the biblical texts.

This is simply a short introduction to a fine passage being presented today from Archimandrite Vassilios Papavassiliou, who nicely establishes the theological link between the Nativity of the Lord and Great and Holy Friday.  The Feast Days that we celebrate are not just a loose collection of fragments from the life of Christ; but deeply and organically related in their essential unity that reveals the Mystery of Christ in its various aspects:

    Why is there such a similarity between these two apparently very different feasts - the one a joyful celebration of life, the other a sorrowful commemoration of death?    Because in both feasts the Church is inviting us to consider the same paradox.  On Great Friday, the paradox is how can God, who is eternal - who has no end - be  killed?  On Christmas Eve, the paradox is how can God, who is eternal - who has no beginning - be born?

        How is He contained in a womb, whom nothing can contain?  How held in His Mother's arms, He who is in the bosom of the Father?
        This is according to His good pleasure, as He knows and wishes.  For being without flesh, willingly He was made flesh; and He Who
        Is, for our sake has become what He was not.  Without departing from His own nature he has shared in our substance.  Wishing to
        fill the world on high, Christ was born with two natures.  ( Matins of the Nativity, Kathisma after the Polyeleos)

    God entered the world in order to take on the fullness of human existence, which means not only the fullness of human life, but also the fullness of human death.  He  was made in our "image and likeness" in order to die like us and raise our humanity with Him to God the Father, to restore and complete in us His image and Likeness  in which we were made.  Thus we cannot remember the Lord's birth without also considering His death and Resurrection.   There would be no salvation for humanity  without the Cross, but there would be no Cross without the Nativity.
(Meditations for Advent by Archimandrite Vassilios Papavassiliou)

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