December 2011


“It is natural to look for beauty and to love it, even though the idea of what is beautiful varies between one person and another. Now, what is more marvellous than the divine beauty?  What can you think of that is more likely to give pleasure than the magnificence of God?  What desire could be more ardent, more irresistible than the thirst which God inspires in the soul when once it has been purified of every vice and cries out: I am sick with love. (Song of Songs 2:5) The divine beauty is beyond description in words. We could compare its brilliance to the light of the morning star or the moon or the sun. But we should be as far from a true description as midday is from the dead of night. This beauty is invisible to the eyes of the body; only the soul and the nous can perceive it.  Every time it illumines the saints, it leaves in them a sting, a nostalgia so strong as to wring from them the cry: Woe is me, that I am in exile still. (Psalm 120:5)

By our nature we human beings aspire to what is beautiful and love it.  But what is beautiful is also good.  God is good.  Everyone looks for the good, therefore everyone looks for God.”

– St. Basil the Great

There is a story of the Divine Christ-child in the Egyptian Tradition:

An angel of God appeared to Joseph in a dream and commanded him to take the young Child and His Mother and flee to Egypt. Taking the Divine Child and His Most-holy Mother, Righteous Joseph traveled first to Nazareth (Luke 2:39), where he arranged his household matters, and then, taking his son James with them, went off to Egypt (Matthew 2:14). Thus the words of the prophet were fulfilled: Behold, the Lord rideth upon a swift cloud, and shall come into Egypt (Isaiah 19:1). In old Cairo today, the cave where the holy family lived can be seen. Likewise, in the village of Matarea near Cairo, the tree under which the Most-holy Theotokos rested with the Lord Jesus, as well as a miraculous spring of water under this tree, are visible.

At one time, as the holy family fled before Herod’s sword to Egypt, robbers leapt out on the road with the intention of stealing something. The righteous Joseph was leading the donkey, on which were some belongings and on which the Most-holy Theotokos was riding with her Son at her breast, and Joseph’s son James, who was to be called “the Just” followed behind. The robbers seized the donkey to lead it away. At that moment, one of the robbers approached the Mother of God to see what she was holding next to her breast.

The robber, seeing the Christ-child, was astonished at His unusual beauty and said in his astonishment: ‘If God were to take upon Himself the flesh of man, He would not be more beautiful than this Child!’ This robber then ordered his companions to take nothing from these travelers. Filled with gratitude toward this generous robber, the Most-holy Virgin said to him: ‘Know that this Child will repay you with a good reward because you protected Him today.’

Thirty-three years later, this same thief hung on the Cross for his crimes, crucified on the right side of Christ’s Cross. His name was Dismas, and the name of the thief on the left side was Gestas. Beholding Christ the Lord innocently crucified, Dismas repented for all the evil of his life. While Gestas reviled the Lord, Dismas defended Him, saying: ‘This man hath done nothing amiss.’ (Luke 23:41). Dismas, therefore, was the wise thief to whom our Lord said: ‘Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with Me in Paradise’ (Luke 23:43). Thus the Lord granted Paradise to him who spared Him in childhood.

 

Jean-Léon Gérôme, "The Christian Martyrs' Last Prayer"

“The world – it is such a monster, that if you turn around, it will tear you to pieces.”

– St. Barsanuphius of Optina

 

Christ is Born! Glorify Him!

May God grant each one of you a blessed Feast of the Nativity!

“… it was on account of this reason that He became as we are, that He might make us brothers and free men. ‘To all who received Him,’ Scripture says, ‘He gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God’ (Jn. 1:12, 13). For the Word of God the Father was born according to the flesh in the same way as ourselves, so that we too might be enriched with a birth which is from God through the Spirit, no longer being called children of flesh but rather, having been transformed into something that transcends nature, being called sons of God by grace. For the Word, by nature and in reality the only-begotten and true Son, became like one of us.”

– St. Cyril of Alexandria

“For though He appeared as man yet He was not in all things subject to the laws of humanity; that He was born of woman, savored of lowliness; the virginity however that attended His birth shows that He transcended mankind. His carrying in the womb was joyful. His birth immaculate, His coming forth without pain, His nativity free of blemish, neither taking rise from the will of the flesh, nor brought forth in sorrow; for since she who by her fault had brought death to our nature was condemned to bring forth in sorrow, it was fitting that the Mother of Life should bring forth in joy. And in that hour, in which the shadows begin to retire, and the immense gloom of night was forced back by the splendour of this Light, Christ, through this virginal incorruption, comes to share the life of mortal men. For death had reached the boundary of the domination of sin, and now it moves towards nothingness, because of the presence of the True Light, which by its evangelical rays has given light to the whole world.”

– St. Gregory of Nyssa

“There is another necessary reason as far as those on earth are concerned why the Word of God took flesh or became man. If He had not been born like us according to the flesh, if He had not partaken of the same elements as we do, He would not have delivered human nature from the fault we incurred in Adam, nor would He have warded off the decay from our bodies, nor would He have brought to an end the power of the curse which we say came upon the first woman. For it was said to her, ‘in pain you shall bring forth children”. But human nature, which fell sick through the disobedience of Adam, now became glorious in Christ through His utter obedience. For it is written that as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous. In Adam it suffered the penalty: ‘You are earth and to earth you shall return’. In Christ it was enriched by being able to overcome the snares of death and, as it were, exult in triumph over decay, repeating the prophetic text, ‘O death, where is your victory? O Hades, where is your sting’? It came under a curse, as I have said, but this too was abolished in Christ. And indeed it has been said somewhere to the Holy Virgin, when Elizabeth prophesied in the Spirit, ‘Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb’. Sin has reigned over us and the inventor and father of sin has lorded it over all who dwell under the sky, provoking the transgression of the divine laws. But in Christ we see human nature, as if experiencing a new beginning of the human race, enjoying freedom of access to God. For He said clearly, ‘the ruler of this world is coming and he has no power over Me’.”

– St. Cyril of Alexandria

Here is a second Hymn on the Nativity, by St. Ephrem the Syrian. As we prepare ourselves to again welcome our Lord into the manger of our hearts, let us allow these words to form words of worship in our soul.

Blessed be that Child, Who gladdened Bethlehem to-day! Blessed be the Babe Who made manhood young again to-day! Blessed be the Fruit, Who lowered Himself to our famished state! Blessed be the Good One, Who suddenly enriched our necessitousness and supplied our needs! Blessed He Whose tender mercies made Him condescend to visit our infirmities!

Praise to the Fountain that was sent for our propitiation. Praise be to Him Who made void the Sabbath by fulfilling it! Praise too to Him Who rebuked the leprosy and it remained not, Whom the fever saw and fled! Praise to the Merciful, Who bore our toil! Glory to Thy coming, which quickened the sons of men!

Glory to Him, Who came to us by His first-born! Glory to the Silence, that spake by His Voice. Glory to the One on high, Who was seen by His Day-spring! Glory to the Spiritual, Who was pleased to have a Body, that in it His virtue might be felt, and He might by that Body show mercy on His household’s bodies!

Glory to that Hidden One, Whose Son was made manifest! Glory to that Living One, Whose Son was made to die! Glory to that Great One, Whose Son descended and was small! Glory to the Power Who did straiten His greatness by a form, His unseen nature by a shape! With eye and mind we have beheld Him, yea with both of them.

Glory to that Hidden One, Who even with the mind cannot be felt at all by them that pry into Him; but by His graciousness was felt by the hand of man! The Nature that could not be touched, by His hands was bound and tied, by His feet was pierced and lifted up. Himself of His own will He embodied for them that took Him.

Blessed be He Whom free will crucified, because He let it: blessed be He Whom the wood also did bear, because He allowed it. Blessed be He Whom the grave bound, that had [thereby] a limit set it. Blessed be He Whose own will brought Him to the Womb and Birth, to arms and to increase [in stature]. Blessed He whose changes purchased life for human nature.

Blessed He Who sealed our soul, and adorned it and espoused it to Himself. Blessed He Who made our Body a tabernacle for His unseen Nature. Blessed He Who by our tongue interpreted His secret things. Let us praise that Voice whose glory is hymned with our lute, and His virtue with our harp. The Gentiles have assembled and have come to hear His strains.

Glory to the Son of the Good One, Whom the sons of the evil one rejected! Glory to the Son of the Just One, Whom the sons of wickedness crucified! Glory to Him Who loosed us, and was bound for us all! Glory to Him Who gave the pledge, and redeemed it too! Glory to the Beautiful, Who conformed us to His image! Glory to that Fair One, Who looked not to our foulnesses!

Glory to Him Who sowed His Light in the darkness, and was reproached in His hidden state, and covered His secret things. He also stripped and took off from us the clothing of our filthiness. Glory be to Him on high, Who mixed His salt in our minds, His leaven in our souls. His Body became Bread, to quicken our deadness.

Praise to the Rich, Who paid for us all, that which He borrowed not; and wrote [His bill], and also became our debtor! By His yoke He brake from us the chains of him that led us captive. Glory to the Judge Who was judged, and made His Twelve to sit in judgment on the tribes, and by ignorant men condemned the scribes of that nation!

Glory to Him Who could never be measured by us! Our heart is too small for Him, yea our mind is too feeble. He makes foolish our littleness by the riches of His Wisdom. Glory to Him, Who lowered Himself, and asked; that He might hear and learn that which He knew; that He might by His questions reveal the treasure of His helpful graces!

Let us adore Him Who enlightened with His doctrine our mind, and in our hearing sought a pathway for His words. Praise we Him Who grafted into our tree His fruit. Thanks to Him Who sent His Heir, that by Him He might draw us to Himself, yea make us heirs with Him! Thanks to that Good One, the cause of all goods!

Blessed He Who did not chide, because that He was good! Blessed He Who did not spurn, because that He was just also! Blessed He Who was silent, and rebuked; that He might quicken us with both! Severe His silence and reproachful. Mild His severity even When He was accusing; for He rebuked the traitor, and kissed the thief.

Glory to the hidden Husbandman of our intellects! His seed fell on to our ground, and made our mind rich. His increase came an hundredfold into the treasury of our souls! Let us adore Him Who sat down and took rest; and walked in the way, so that the Way was in the way, and the Door also for them that go in, by which they go in to the kingdom.

Blessed the Shepherd Who became a Lamb for our reconcilement! Blessed the Branch Who became the Cup of our Redemption! Blessed also be the Cluster, Fount of medicine of life! Blessed also be the Tiller, Who became Wheat, that He might be sown; and a Sheaf, that He might be cut! [Blessed be] the Architect Who became a Tower for our place of safety! Blessed He Who so tempered the feelings of our mind, that we with our harp should sing that which the winged creatures’ mouth knows not with its strains to sing! Glory to Him, Who beheld how we had pleased to be like to brutes in our rage and our greediness; and came down and was one of us, that we might become heavenly!

Glory be to Him, Who never felt the need of our praising Him; yet felt the need as being kind to us, and thirsted as loving us, and asks us to give to Him, and longs to give to us. His fruit was mingled with us men, that in Him we might come nigh to Him, Who condescended to us. By the Fruit of His stem He grafted us into His Tree.

Let us praise Him, Who prevailed and quickened us by His stripes! Praise we Him, Who took away the curse by His thorns! Praise we Him Who put death to death by His dying! Praise we Him, Who held His peace and justified us! Praise we Him, Who rebuked death that had overcome us! Blessed He, Whose helpful graces cleansed out the left side!

Praise we Him Who watched and put to sleep him that led us captive. Praise we Him Who went to sleep, and chased our deep sleep away. Glory be to God Who cured weak manhood! Glory be to Him Who was baptized, and drowned our iniquity in the deep, and choked him that choked us! Let us glorify with all our mouths the Lord of all creatures!

Blessed be the Physician Who came down and amputated without pain, and healed wounds with a medicine that was not harsh. His Son became a Medicine, that showed sinners mercy. Blessed be He Who dwelt in the womb, and wrought therein a perfect Temple, that He might dwell in it, a Throne that He might be in it, a Garment that He might be arrayed in it, and a Weapon that He might conquer in it.

Blessed be He Whom our mouth cannot adequately praise, because His Gift is too great for skill of orators [to tell]; neither can the faculties adequately praise His goodness. For praise Him as we may, it is too little.

And since it is useless to be silent and to constrain ourselves, may our feebleness excuse such praise as we can sing.

How gracious He, Who demands not more than our strength can give! How would Thy servant be condemned in capital and interest, did he not give such as he could, and did he refuse that which He owed! Ocean of glory Who needest not to have Thy glory sung, take in Thy goodness this drop of praise; since by Thy Gift Thou hast supplied my tongue a sense for glorifying Thee.

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