My beloved brothers and sisters in Christ the incarnate Logos,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE.
THE CELEBRATION OF THE BIRTH OF OUR LORD, GOD, AND
SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST – CHRISTOUGENNA (Part II)
The Journey to Bethlehem
Christ comes to be born of a maiden who knew not wedlock. Saint Ephraim chants of the humble Maiden and city of Christ’s birth: "Blessed art thou, Bethlehem, that the towns envy thee–and the fortified cities! As they envy thee, so the women and the virginal daughters of princes envy Mary. Blessed be the Maiden in whom He deigned to abide, and the city wherein He deigned to sojourn. A poor maiden and a small city are where He chose to humble Himself."
Travel was slow, for both men and animals walked. The length of the day’s march depended upon the urgency of the trip. The average travel rate for people would be about fifteen miles a day. Donkey caravans tried to make twenty miles a day.
In the holy icon at the Monastery in Chora, Joseph is depicted with a slight stoop and the mincing gait characteristic of elderly men. His gaze is toward Mary, who turns her head toward him. One of Joseph’s sons is seen with a billowing mantle and a bundle of provisions for the journey slung from the end of a staff across his shoulder.
Saint Joseph the Hymnographer marvels at how the Great God will enter a small cave as a small child. "How shall Ia small cave receive Thee, for Whom the world cannot find room, O Thou Whom none can comprehend! O Thou, Who with the Father art without beginning, how shalt Thou appear as a small child?" And, "The Great King comes in haste to enter a small cave, the He may make me great who had grown small. And, so that by His poverty without measure, He, the Transcended God, may enrich me who had grown poor" (2 Corinthians 8:9).
In holy icons, the dark background in the cave can be explained by a homily attributed to Saint Gregory of Nyssa, where he compares the birth of Christ in a cave and the spiritual light shining forth in the shadow of death that encompasses mankind. Thus, the black mouth of the cave symbolically means the world, stricken with sin through man’s fault, in which the "Sun of righteousness" shone forth.
The place of Mary brought forth virginally and PAINLESSLY was an empty and uninhabited place. It could be compared to the wilderness, as depicted in the Nativity icon. The world did not accept Him, but the wilderness offered refuge. This, too, is a fulfillment of the Old Testament prefigured when the Hebrew nation departed Egypt for the wilderness of Sinai. It was there, in Bethlehem, the "House of Bread," that the symbol of the Eucharist was given–MANNA. Now He Who rained manna upon His people Israel would Himself BECOME THE BREAD OF THE EUCHARIST. The wilderness will also offer the Manger where He chose to lie, thereby symbolizing the Lamb upon the altar. The cave, the Manger, the swaddling clothes are indications of the emptying or kenosis of the Godhead (Divinity), His utter abasement and humility. Also we see foreshadowed here His future death, burial, sepulcher, and burial clothes.
In some holy icons, we see the virgin Mother half-sitting, or we may see her looking away from her Child, as though pondering His miraculous appearance. Her gesture and attitude also bespeak her perplexity at the virgin birth, yet she kept these things in her heart. Later depictions, of western origin, show her kneeling over her Son; thus also indicating A PAINLESS DELIVERY and THE UNNEEDED SERICE OF A MIDWIFE TO EFFECT DELIVERY.
The protoevangelium speaks of Joseph lacking perfect knowledge with regard t the virginal birth of Mary. However, his actions confirm the reality of the God-Man’s appearing in the flesh and not as some phantom.
Where God Wills, the Order of Nature is Overruled
"And it came to pass, while they were there, the days were fulfilled for her to bring forth" (Luke 2:6). "Concerning His birth, the Prophet Isaiah spoke thus: "Before she that travailed brought fort a male" (Isaiah 66:7). Saint John of Damascus adds to this saying that "after the normal nine-month gestational period, Christ was born at the beginning of the tenth, in accordance with the law of gestation. It was a birth that surpassed the established order of birthgiving, as it was without pain; for, where pleasure had not preceded, pain did not follow. And just as at His conception He had kept her who conceived Him virgin, so also at His birth did He MAINTAIN HER VIRGINITY INTACT, BECAUSE HE ALONE PASSED THROUGH HER AND KEPT HER SHUT. Hence, the Ever-virgin remained virgin even after giving birth and never had conversed with a husband as long as she lived.
Where God so wills, the order of nature is overcome. Is anything too hard for Him Who called heaven, earth, and the sea into being by His word alone? Nature and the elements are creations of the Creator. Their laws and properties are immediately subject to their Lord Fashioner. Adam and Eve were given dominion over the fish of the sea, the flying creatures of heaven, and the reptiles and cattle and all the earth [Genesis 1:26]; all were subject to them before the fall. Saint Gregory Palamas comments that when the Logos/Word of God took on human nature,He bestowed on it the fullness of grace and delivered it from the bonds of corruption and death. The consequence of the hypostatic union in Christ of the two natures was the divinization of the human nature He assumed." The regeneration of man in Christ was the restoration of Adam and Eve.
Concerning the mystery of the incarnation, Saint Gregory of Nyssa wrote the following: "When God became known to us in the flesh, He DID NOT RECEIVE THE PASSIONS OF HUMAN NATURE; the Virgin Mary DID NOT SUFFER BIRTH PANGS, the Holy Spirit WAS NOT DIMINISHED IN ANY WAY; the power of the Most High was NOT SET ASIDE IN ANY MANNER. Indeed, ALL THIS WAS BECAUSE ALL WAS ACCOMPLISHED BY THE Holy Spirit. Thus, THE POWER OF THE MOST HIGH WAS NOT ABASED, AND THE Child WAS BORN WITH NO DAMAGE WHATSOEVER TO THE MOTHER’S VIRGINITY."
God Made Man
We chant: "He Who is equal in honor with the Father and the Spirit, out of compassion, has clothed Himself in our substance; …and He Who before the Morning Star was begotten without mother of the Father, is today without father made flesh upon earth of thee." Saint Paul confirms His manhood, saying, "But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order that He might redeem those under the law, that we might receive what is our due, THE ADOPTION AS SONS" (Galatians 4:4).
Saint Athanasios the Great comments, "Therefore what came forth from Mary, according to the Divine Scripture, was human, and the Lord’s body was real; real, I say, since it was the same as ours. For Mary is our sister, in that we are all sprung from Adam." The TWO NATURES would be united without confusion or loss of identity as God or man. The humanity of Jesus WAS THE SAME AS OUR OWN; AND, ACCORDING TO His Divinity, He was OF ONE ESSENCE WITH THE FATHER AND THE HOLY SPIRIT. (Source: The Great Synaxaristes of the Orthodox Church)
(To be continued)
"Glory Be To GOD