FEAST OF THE CHOSEN
Homily for the Nativity of our Lord
I greet you, dear brethren, with this greatest of holidays, the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ. Recently we have heard the Sunday Gospel reading about the sumptuous feast to which many were summoned, but few were chosen. Today we are celebrating this very feast, with the only difference being that it is no longer His servants whom the Master has sent to invite us to the feast, but today He Himself has come, He has come down to earth and has taken upon Himself the form of man, in order to invite us to His feast of eternal joy, His feast of heavenly bliss.
And how will we respond to this invitation, dear brethren? Let us first look at the response of those who were invited 2,000 years ago. At that time there were many who were invited. Invited were the Jewish scribes and Pharisees, the so-called keepers of the church law; they had received their invitation from God’s servants – the prophets, and they knew very well the time when the Messiah was due to appear on earth, but they, being filled with pride, lust for power, and evil intentions, rejected their invitation and for this were rejected themselves. Invited also was King Herod, who learned of the feast from the magi; but he did not discard his earthly concerns, like the scribes and the Pharisees he did not discard his pride and lust for power, and because of it he was filled with evil, intending to kill Christ, and so he became the murderer of a multitude of innocent babes; for this he lost his invitation and was rejected.
Invited were the simple shepherds, who were told of the feast by the angels; they left their earthly concerns and came to kneel before the Infant Christ, and so they found themselves among the chosen. Invited were the magi, who were informed of the feast by the divine star; they came from far-away countries, they suffered the hardship of a long journey, in order to come and worship the newborn King and God, and so they, too, were among the chosen.
And what about us, dear brethren? What will we do? All of you who are now here have obviously responded to the invitation which you received through the Church, and have come today to worship the Infant Christ, our Saviour. For this you are now among the chosen. But you must work hard to safeguard this chosenness, for it is very easy to lose – be it through sin, or simply by scattering it among daily busyness and attachment to worldly things.
Let us apply all our efforts to remain at the eternal feast of our Lord Jesus Christ. And to do so more easily, let us be guided by the words of the first ode of the Christmas canon: “Christ is born – glorify Him! Christ comes from the heavens – meet ye Him! Christ in on earth – be ye exalted!” This means: Christ is born as man – let us glorify Him, let us worship Him, let us try to emulate Him, let us follow His teaching, let us keep His commandments.
Christ has come down to us from the heavens – let us meet Him with prayer, meet Him in His house, i.e. the church, let us faithfully attend all church services.
Christ remains on earth with us through His Church – let us be exalted, let us rise upwards in our thoughts, thinking more about heavenly things rather than earthly ones. Let us concern ourselves less with worldly affairs and more with our eternal life.
Thus, by glorifying the Infant Christ, Who was born for our salvation, with church services and home prayers, by meeting Him with our souls and our lives, by lifting up our thoughts and our actions towards the heavenly, the divine, – we will emulate the shepherds and the magi, and together with them and all the saints we will be the chosen ones at the joyous feast of eternal bliss. Amen.
CHRIST IS BORN – GLORIFY HIM!
THOUGHTS FOR THE NEW YEAR
The “other-worldliness” of Orthodoxy
It is often said of Holy Orthodoxy that it is “other-worldly.” This is true, and it is its strength; but the full significance of this fact is often forgotten or neglected even by Orthodox Christians themselves.
It means that we believe in and govern our lives by invisible realities, that “we walk by faith, not by sight” (II Cor. 5:7).
It means that our daily lives are an unseen warfare, “not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Eph. 6:12).
It means that we daily pray to and receive help, in the battle against the invisible enemy of our salvation, from supernatural beings of whom the world does not even recognize the existence: from the Most Holy Trinity, from the Mother of God, and from numerous angels and saints.
It means that we live by standards that are often not merely beyond the comprehension of the world, but are directly opposed to the wisdom of the world; that we do not find the end of life in success, prosperity, and earthly happiness, but rather welcome – if these be God’s will for us – affliction, sickness, pain, humiliation; that we do not indulge the passions of the natural man but, with the aid of the disciplines provided by the Church, crucify them, knowing that “if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die, but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live” (Romans 8:13).
It means that we do not lay up treasures for ourselves on this earth that will be destroyed, but that we keep always in mind the final destination of the soul; that we try to live in such a way that we may escape the dreadful flames of Hell that await those who reject our Lord or are careless in serving Him, and strive with all our might to be among those to whom our Lord will say, “Come, ye blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matt. 25:34).
FROM THE APOCALYPSE
Homily for the feast of the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia
Today is a festive day for us, dear brethren; today we commemorate the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia.
How is this day significant for us — not only those of us who are Russian, but all Orthodox Christians, — and what concrete meaning does it have in our contemporary life?
Almost 2,000 years ago, when our Lord Jesus Christ founded His Church on earth, and the holy apostles carried the teaching of Christianity to all corners of the then-known world, for the first three centuries Christianity was subjected to a most cruel persecution, which resulted in a great assembly of confessors and martyrs for Christ. The Lord allowed such a situation to occur expressly. With their blood the holy martyrs irrigated the earth, and became the good seed from which grew the mighty Church of Christ, which the powers of evil are unable to overcome despite all their best efforts throughout the course of 2,000 years. From the blood of the martyrs sprang the other categories of saints: the Holy Fathers, the hierarchs, the righteous ones, the venerable ascetics, the unmercenaries, the fools-for-Christ, and all holy men, women and children.
The Church of Christ was supported by the spiritual feat of the first martyrs for 19 centuries. But then came the 20th century — the century in which, according to the Revelation, the world was to be given into Satan’s power, in order to prepare this world for the coming of the Antichrist. This period of time became the time of apostasy, which means — renunciation or abandonment of faith. From the very beginning of the 20th century, as a result of deliberately engineered political upheavals, such as: the Russian revolution, the First World War, the abolition of monarchies, the seizure of many countries by the godless Communist rule, — the entire world was turned upside down and all human values were distorted. Apostasy rushed like a mighty stream along all aspects of human life: there occurred an abandonment of God, an abandonment of morality, an abandonment of beauty, a complete disfigurement not only of man’s external appearance, but of all the manifestations of the human spirit. Satan truly took power over mankind.
But in these terrible times the Lord did not abandon His Church and His faithful followers. Having meted out to mankind what it deserved for abandoning God, the Lord simultaneously sent us a wondrous support: a new and extraordinary assembly of confessors and martyrs for Christ. These new martyrs appeared in all Orthodox and simply Christian nations. Their number was so great that, as the Revelation says, the angels could barely cope with taking care of the souls of the martyrs as they passed into the other world.
We venerate the New Martyrs of Russia because they were the first to be martyred, and thus they showed a wonderful example to all other nations, and also to us. In the beginning of last century, the Russian Empire was the bastion of Orthodoxy in the entire world, and for this reason it became the primary object upon which Satan vent his rage through his earthly servants. The Russian Church, however, did not shame our Lord Jesus Christ, but exhibited its loyalty to Him and answered Him with a great multitude of new martyrs. Martyrdom is the greatest of all forms of holiness, because it consists of a most difficult feat: the giving up of one’s body to cruel tortures and the giving up of one’s life for God and one’s neighbors.
The time of apostasy continues up to this very day. Gazing around us, we can see how the world truly lies in iniquity, and how sin has spread over the world more than in Sodom and Gomorrah, more than before the deluge. Everything in the world is ready for the coming of the Antichrist. But the Lord still shows great patience with us, still shows His mercy to us, still refrains from sending us that “man of iniquity,” because with his appearance in the world time will be shortened and there will be no more salvation. We still have the opportunity to come to church, we still have the opportunity to receive the grace of the Holy Spirit through the sacraments, we still have the opportunity to live a Christian life and try to attain salvation.
But will we have this opportunity for long? No one knows when the end of time will come, but right now, being already on the threshold of the coming of the Antichrist, we must turn to our great mentors — the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia, who are a concrete and quite contemporary example of what Orthodox Christians must do and how they should live within the terrible framework of apostasy.
O, holy New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia, pray to God for us, that we, too, when the hour of trial comes upon us, remain faithful to our Lord Jesus Christ! Amen.
Threshold of the Great Lent
The church begins the preparatory period which constitutes the threshold of the Great Lent with the “Sunday of Zaccheus” — the Sunday on which we hear the Gospel reading about a publican named Zaccheus.
There is a certain characteristic which runs like a golden thread through the entire festive cycle from the Nativity to the Baptism of our Lord, and which connects it with the Gospel reading about Zaccheus and with the Great Lent. This characteristic is the virtue of humility.
Just consider, dear brethren, how the momentous event of God’s coming down to earth and becoming incarnate — occurred with the greatest modesty. There were no pomp and circumstance, no fanfare, only the angels sang the glory and the majesty of the One Who was born in a humble cave, and this singing was heard only by humble shepherds.
Afterwards, the early years of our Saviour’s life also passed in anonymity. And then came the moment when He appeared publicly to begin His service to mankind. This momentous event, too, took place without pomp or circumstance, without fanfare: the Lord quietly came to the river Jordan, in order to be baptized by John just like all the other repentant sinners. And it was only John the Baptist, and the others who were there, — who had repented and were cleansed, — who saw the majesty of this moment in the first open appearance on earth of the Holy Trinity: God the Father speaking from heaven, God the Son being baptized in Jordan, and God the Holy Spirit descending as a dove and bearing witness to God’s imminent reconciliation with mankind.
It is this virtue of humility, which the Lord Jesus Christ Himself teaches us by the example of His entire life on earth, which the Church offers to us — in the Gospel reading about Zaccheus — as the beginning and the foundation of our purification, our spiritual regeneration, our unification with Christ.
In terms of human judgment, Zaccheus was a great sinner. First of all, in his capacity as head of the publicans, i.e. tax collectors, he was a thief and extortionist. By keeping back part of the money which he collected, he robbed both the people and the government, became rich at the expense of his neighbors, and cast widows and orphans into poverty. Moreover, by working for the occupying Roman forces, he was a traitor to his own people and showed himself as being unscrupulous. However, from the description of his meeting with the Saviour we see that Zaccheus was not a hopeless sinner, because he was not filled with that certain pride which would have forever barred him from salvation.
The Gospel tells us of how the Lord passed through Jericho, where this Zaccheus lived. Zaccheus, who had obviously heard of this new and extraordinary Teacher, showed a lively interest in Him. Zaccheus did not haughtily remain at home, disdaining to run after the crowd, nor did he try to push his way forward or demand to be let through before everyone else. He humbly waited to see Christ along the way, and he showed his ardent desire to see the Lord by climbing up into a sycamore tree, because he was short in stature.
Consider this moment, dear brethren: Zaccheus ardently desires to see the Lord, humbly waits to see Him and then overcomes all barriers to his desire: by climbing up into a tree he overcomes the physical impediment of his stature, and also overcomes the psychological impediment of his important position, the possibility of being mocked and ridiculed by others, etc.
And what do we see? What does humility lead to, even of such a great sinner as Zaccheus? “Zaccheus!” — the Lord says to him, — “make haste and come down, for today I must abide at thy house.” With these words the Lord says to Zaccheus: I must abide with you, because you have opened up your heart to Me, you have come to meet Me; I must abide at your house, that is, in your heart, because your humility has merited My grace; I must abide with you, because you have now become totally transformed spiritually, and I must strengthen this within you; I must abide within your heart, because it is now ready to accept Me.
Thus we see how humility brought Zaccheus to his meeting with the Saviour; how humility attracted God’s grace to him; how humility transformed his entire being, made him cry out: “Lord! half of my goods I will give to the poor, and if I have taken anything from any man falsely, I will restore it fourfold.”
Such is the effect of humility, dear brethren! Let us follow the example of Zaccheus’ humility, let us burn with his ardor to see Christ, let us overcome all impediments to meeting with Christ, in order for the Lord to say to us: today I must abide at thy house, the house of thy heart. Amen.
Thoughts on the Nativity of Christ
Down to earth came the One Who in the beginning had created us out of dust and had filled us with His divine spirit; the One Who with a single word caused all visible and invisible things to appear out of nothingness, Whose word brought into existence all the birds, fish, four-legged animals, insects, all the creatures who live under His almighty providence and guardianship; the One Whom the mighty host of angels serves everlastingly with awe and joy. And with what humbleness He came! He was born from a poor Maiden, in a cave, was swaddled in simple cloths and placed in a manger! O wealth, celebrity, fame of this world! – bow down, kneel with humility, tender tears, and deep gratitude to the Saviour of mankind, share your wealth with the poor and the destitute, and put aside your pride in your ephemeral and quickly-passing celebrity: only virtue possesses true nobility. Fame of this world! here, at this manger, recognize your vanity. And so let us all be humble, let us all prostrate ourselves before the immeasurable humility and self-diminishment of the Master of all, the Lord God, Who has come to heal our weaknesses, to save us from pride, vanity, decay, and from all sinful iniquity.
O Thou infinitely great Benefactor, My Saviour! When I ponder the endless corruption of my nature by numerous sins and passions, and when at such a thought my spirit becomes depressed, then as soon as I remember Thee, that Thou hast come to renew my nature corrupted by sin and to grant to my iniquity the dignity of angels, and even higher than the angels – the dignity of the Son of God, through faith in Thee, through my rebirth in water and the Spirit, and through communion of Thy Holy Mysteries, – my spirit revives instantaneously and sheds its depression, sheds the iniquity of passion, and becomes all filled with gratitude to Thee. Glory to Thee, O infinite Goodness and Power, Son of God!
Before becoming incarnate, the Lord allowed mankind to experience all the bitterness of sin, all its powerlessness to eradicate it, and when everyone began to wish for a Deliverer, then He appeared, the wise and omnipotent Healer and Helper. When everyone began hungering and thirsting for truth, due to its scarcity, then the Eternal Truth appeared in the world.
(From the spiritual diary of St. John of Kronstadt, “My Life in Christ”)
In the history of mankind there have been many great thinkers, scientists, philosophers, orators, writers, but none of them have ever possessed such sublime intelligence, such deep knowledge, such ability to clearly and eloquently express their thoughts as the Holy Fathers of the Church. With their great minds the Holy Fathers not only encompassed all the corners of our visible universe, but penetrated into the heavens, and thus explained to us everything that man’s limited mind is able to understand about God and His creation. The Orthodox Church, with all its teachings and all its services, rests on the writings of the Holy Fathers. For the Church they represent a spiritual compass, by which the Church checks the correctness of the course along which it leads its faithful.
Among these great pillars of the Church there are three who are commemorated especially: they are the holy hierarchs Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian and John Chrysostome. Throughout the year, each one of them has his individual feast day, even several a year, but the Church has specifically decreed another special day — February 12th (January 30th, old style) — for their joint commemoration. Why is that?
The reason is as follows: at the end of the 11th century, in the city of Constantinople, there was great dissension among the learned theologians of those times, as they argued over which one of the three saints was highest.
Some proposed St. Basil the Great, believing him to possess the greatest wisdom in understanding lofty truths and church dogmas, leading the most righteous life and being the strongest fighter against sin and human weakness.
Others preferred St. John Chrysostome for his charity, his understanding of human frailty, his compassion, and for his bringing many people to repentance through his eloquent sermons.
Still others stood up for St. Gregory the Theologian, considering him to have surpassed all other leading philosophers and orators in the world with his ability to speak so convincingly and to explain the Holy Scriptures so clearly and skillfully.
Such arguments and quarrels were highly unprofitable, because in putting forth the merits of their favorite, the adherents of each saint unwittingly denigrated the other two, and caused disruption in church life.
In the midst of these arguments, the three hierarchs appeared together to a certain learned cleric, the righteous bishop John, and said to him: “We are equal before God, as you can see; there is no dissension or contradiction among us. Each one of us, in his own time, with the help of the Holy Spirit, wrote homilies for people’s salvation. None among us is first or second, because whatever one of us says, the other two are in agreement. Therefore, bid the people to stop quarreling over us, because our great concern is that there should be peace among everyone. For this reason commemorate us jointly on the same day, and write a festive service for us, and tell everyone that we have equal merit in the eyes of God.”
The righteous bishop John did everything in accordance with the saints’ wishes, and to this day the Church celebrates the service he composed in honor of the three hierarchs.
Let us appeal to these three great saints, and ask them to help us find our way through all the contemporary temptations and heresies, and to live a Christian life amid the iniquity which surrounds us. We now live in a world of increasingly new discoveries in the soulless field of science and technology; we live in a society which tramples upon all that is divine and beautiful, upon all moral values, a society which extols only mankind’s limited achievements, extols evil, ugliness and debauchery. We are bombarded with all kinds of new teachings: the New Agers, ESP healers, charismatics, various “Christian” preachers. How do we find our way through this maze of false Christianity, through all this deviltry?
It is here that the three hierarchs can help us, can guide us to salvation with their teachings. Let us appeal to them: to Basil the Great, sage and philosopher, teacher of Christian virtues, writer of the Divine liturgy that is served in the Church ten times a year; to Gregory the Theologian, who attained the most sublime understanding of divine truths, and was the best expounder of Christian dogmas; and to John Chrysostome, whose wondrous liturgy spiritually nourishes us throughout the entire year, who is an example to us of Christian love and charity towards people, and who surpassed all others in the wisdom and eloquence of his sermons: it is for this reason that of all the beautiful and poetic writings in Church literature, it is his unforgettable paschal homily which the Church decreed for all times to be read in the glorious night of the Christ’s Resurrection.
BASIC PRECEPTS OF THE ORTHODOX FAITH
XI. The Human Nature of the Son of God
Jesus Christ, being perfect God, is at the same time perfect man. One-in-essence with the Father in Divinity, He is one-in-essence with us in humanity, as the son of the Most-holy Virgin Mary.
In the Old Testament, Messiah the Saviour is called the “seed of woman,” a descendant of Abraham, Isaac, and David, due to be born of a Virgin; even his place of birth is indicated as Bethlehem.
In the New Testament, the Evangelists Matthew and Luke provide a detailed genealogy of Jesus Christ. The Evangelists also attest to the supernatural, grace-filled conception and nativity of Jesus Christ, Who was incarnated from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and became man. They describe in great detail how the Holy Virgin Mary swaddled the Divine Infant and placed Him in the manger, and how the shepherds found the Infant in the manger. The same Evangelist Luke bears witness to how Jesus Christ was circumcised (which presaged the sacrament of baptism in the New Testament), and how the Child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon Him.
The Evangelist Mark attests to how Jesus Christ came to Nazareth and was baptized by John in the river Jordan; how Christ attended a marriage in Cana of Galilee and worked His first miracle of turning water into wine; how after the resurrection of Lazarus a supper was prepared for Him, and Martha served Him, while Lazarus was one of those attending the supper with Jesus Christ.
One can only be surprised at how Christ’s human nature could be denied by heretics, who already in the time of the apostles began to assert that Christ was only God, while His body was imaginary, spectral, seeming, because, they said, it was unworthy for God to have human flesh. These heretics were called Docetians, from the Greek word “to seem.” Some of these types of heretics – Valentinians and Manicheans – asserted that the reason Christ passed through the Virgin’s womb without changing anything was because His body was special, transparent, more spectral than real…
The holy Evangelist John the Theologian, who wrote his Gospel against heretics who denied Christ’s Divinity, also wrote two general Epistles against heretics who denied Christ’s humanity. In his first Epistle, the Evangelist John gives the following advice to true Christian believers: “Hereby know ye the Spirit of God and the spirit of delusion thus: every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, is of God, and every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, is not of God, but this is that spirit of Antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come, and even now already is it in the world” (1 John 4:2-3). In his second general Epistle the holy Evangelist John the Theologian once more expressly stresses the same idea: “For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. Such a one is a deceiver and an antichrist” (John 1:7).
The Holy Scriptures describe the suffering of the Saviour in great detail, which would not be realistic, were He not genuinely human.
Although Christ, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God in Divinity, nevertheless, as perfect man, equal to us in all but sin, Jesus Christ “made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men, and being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:6-8). Jesus Christ Himself called Himself a man and the Son of man. The holy Apostle Paul says: “For there is One God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5).
Christ’s genuine body was anointed for burial with myrrh. Joseph of Arimathea asked for the body of Jesus for burial, and Pilate ordered our Saviour’s body to be given to him. The risen Saviour, appearing to His apostles and seeing their confusion, urges them: “Handle Me and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see Me have. And having asked them for food, He took a piece of broiled fish and ate before them” (Luke 24:34-43). During His life on earth, the Saviour’s body was in need of food. After His 40-day fasting, Christ afterwards hungered. The Saviour was subject to fatigue: “Being tired from the journey, He sat down at the well.” He slept on the stern of the ship before subduing the tempest at the request of the frightened Apostles. He felt pain and prayed, saying: “Father! If Thou be willing, remove this cup from Me! Nevertheless, not My will, but Thine, be done. And being in an agony He prayed more earnestly, and His sweat was as great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:41-44). The Saviour’s body suffered, tasted of death, was buried, and arose.
There was a human soul in Him, our Saviour: “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death; tarry ye here, and watch with Me” (Matt. 26:38). On the cross, crying out with a loud voice, the Saviour gave up His spirit. According to the holy Evangelist Luke, the Saviour cried with a loud voice, saying: Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit. And having said thus, He gave up the ghost (Luke 23:46).
Having a genuine human soul, the Saviour also had genuine human qualities, to wit: (1) a human mind. While living in Nazareth, the Saviour increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man; (2) a will: “O My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as Thou wilt” (Matt. 26:39); (3) emotions: When the seventy disciples returned from their preaching and joyfully said: “Lord! Even the demons obey us in Thy name” – in that hour Jesus rejoiced in spirit. Before the resurrection of Lazarus, seeing the weeping Mary and the weeping Jews, Christ Himself groaned in the spirit and was troubled (wept).
The holy Church Fathers, basing themselves upon the Word of God, presented reasoned considerations in defense of the Saviour’s genuinely-human nature. Since Christ is our Intercessor before God – an Intermediary, – this Intermediary must be in kinship with God and with men. If Christ were in kinship only with God, or only with men, then He could not have been a true Intermediary. But by being a God-man, the Saviour equally became an Intermediary in regard to God and to man, according to St. Irenaeus and Blessed Theodorite. “We could not have known God other than through the incarnate Word. No one could have proclaimed the Father to us other than His hypostatic Word,” – says St. Irenaeus, referring to the words of Apostle Paul.
In his oeuvre “Against Heresies” St. Irenaeus discourses thus: “We would not have received incorruptibility and immortality, had we not become united with someone who is incorrupt and immortal. But how could we have become united with someone incorrupt and immortal, had not the incorrupt and immortal one first become as one of us, in order for our corruptibility to be absorbed by incorruptibility, and our mortality to be absorbed by immortality.” The following Holy Fathers thought just as did St. Irenaeus: Gregory the Theologian, John Chrysostome, and others.
In the first part of the “Orthodox Confession” we read that although Christ was a genuine man, i.e. He issued in flesh from humanity and took on the same essence of human nature that we have, yet He appeared supernaturally, became incarnate from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary. His Most-incorruptible Mother remained an Ever-Virgin even after His birth. A virgin, “alma” in Hebrew, means a pure and chaste virgin. To the Virgin Mary’s question of how that would come about, since She knew no man, the angel replied to Her: “The Holy Spirit shall come upon Thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow Thee; therefore, also that Holy One which shall be born of Thee shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:34-35).
The unshakable conviction of the entire Ecumenical Church that the Saviour born of the Virgin Mary “is of the Holy Spirit” has been preserved in all the most ancient creeds. This teaching and belief was finalized at the Second Ecumenical Council in Constantinople in 381. At the Third Ecumenical Council in Ephesus in 431, the Holy Fathers, having condemned the heresy of Nestorius, who taught that a regular man was born from the Virgin Mary, while God the Word became united with him only mentally and not physically, and that God the Word inhabited man spiritually as a temple, and for this reason Christ was not a God-man but a God-bearer, while the Most-holy Virgin was not Birth-giver to God but Birth-giver to Christ, – the Holy Fathers composed the following laudation in honor of the Theotokos: “Thou art the crown of virginity, Thou art Mother and Virgin. O, miracle! Ever-Virgin and Ever-Maiden! To all who call Her Birth-giver to Christ – anathema! She gave birth to the One Who, being true God, at the very moment of conception in Her womb absorbed human nature into the unity of His Hypostasis, into the unity of His Divine Person.”
This unfathomably miraculous and supernatural nativity of the Saviour is explained by the Church Fathers thusly: just as the first-created Adam received his corruptible nature from untilled, virginal earth, and was created by the hand of God, by God the Word, by Whom everything came to be, similarly, in order to restore within Himself the sinfully-fallen Adam, He was born from the virginal Mary and truly chose for Himself a nativity best suited for restoring the fallen Adam (St. Irenaeus). St. Cyril of Jerusalem has this to say: “Through the virgin Eve came death; through the Virgin, or rather from the Virgin had to come life. That virgin Eve was tempted by the serpent; to this Virgin Mary glad tidings were brought by Archangel Gabriel.”
The Ecumenical Church incontrovertibly believes that the Most-holy Virgin Mary remained a Most-pure and Most-blessed Ever-Virgin even after the birth of Jesus Christ, and to the end of Her life on earth. From the times of the Apostles, in all the ancient creeds the Mother of God is lauded as an Ever-Virgin and Ever-Maiden. The second rule of the Fifth Ecumenical Council in Constantinople in 553 gives the following stricture: “To whosoever does not confess God the Word come down from the heavens and incarnated from the Holy, Most-glorious Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary – anathema!” The Church’s universal belief in the ever-virginity of the Mother of God was also confirmed by the Sixth Ecumenical Council in Constantinople in 680.
As genuine and perfect man, Jesus Christ differed from us not only in His supernatural conception from the Holy Spirit, but also in His absolute sinlessness. Jesus Christ “did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth” (1 Peter 2:22). “For the prince of the world cometh, and hath nothing in Me,” – said the Saviour of Himself. In the words of Apostle Paul, “He hath made Him, Who knew no sin, to be sin for us, that in Him we might be made righteous before God.” In his first general Epistle Apostle Peter says: “Foreasmuch as ye know that ye were redeemed not with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain life received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot, Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for all who by Him have come to believe in God.”
(To be continued)
LIVES OF THE SAINTS
On February 1st (January 29th, old style) the Church commemorates the great desert-dweller, the venerable Saint Macarius of Egypt.
St. Macarius was born in 301 A.D. in Egypt, on the western shore of the Nile, in a pious family. Having dedicated himself to a truly Christian life from childhood, upon the death of his parents he departed into the desert of Nitrea, and from thence, in obedience to an angel’s revelation, into the Scythian desert, where he excelled in prayer and monastic life.
One time he came across the devil, who carried a scythe, with which he wished to strike the holy man, but could not. The devil then said to St. Macarius: “Macarius! You are causing me great grief, because I am unable to vanquish you. Here I am, doing every-thing that you are doing. You are keeping fast — and I am not eating at all; you are keeping awake — and I never sleep. There is one thing, however, in which you surpass me.” “And what is that?” — asked the saint. “Your humility, — replied the devil. — It is for this reason that I cannot cope with you.”
When St. Macarius reached the age of 40, he received from God the gifts of miracle-working, prophecy and power over the evil spirits. At the same time he became a priest and the abbot of his monastery. The power of the saint’s grace was so great, that he could even resurrect the dead. A multitude of people came from everywhere to visit St. Macarius — for spiritual benefit, for instruction, for the healing of illnesses.
Once the brothers asked the saint: “Tell us, father, how should we pray?” St. Macarius gave them the following instruction: “A prayer does not require many words, but one should simply lift one’s arms and say: ‘Lord! In whatever way You wish and see fit — have mercy upon me.’ If the enemy should raise a storm of sin in your soul, you should simply say: ‘Lord, have mercy!’ The Lord knows what is beneficial for us and will have mercy upon us.”
St. Macarius died peacefully at the age of 90.
From the spiritual writings of St. Macarius the Great
The visible world, from kings to beggars, is in a state of agitation, dissension, struggle, and not one of them understands the cause of it, i.e. the evil that occurred as a result of Adam’s sin, the sting of death; for the sin that came into the world, as some sentient force and the very essence of Satan, sowed all manner of evil: it secretly acts upon man’s soul and mind, and battles with him by means of thoughts. People do not realize that they commit evil, being motivated by a certain alien force; on the contrary, they believe that evil is a natural occurrence and that they commit it through their own reasoning, but those who keep Christ’s peace and enlightenment in their minds, know from whence this evil and these battles arise.
THE ORTHODOX VIEW OF EVOLUTION
(see beginning here)
The Nature of Man
And now I come to the final and most important question that is raised for Orthodox theology by the modern theory of evolution: the nature of man and the nature of the first-created man Adam in particular. I say that this is the most important question raised by evolution because the doctrine of man, anthropology, touches most closely upon theology, and here, perhaps, it becomes most possible to identify theologically the error of evolutionism. It is well-known that Orthodoxy teaches quite differently from Roman Catholicism regarding man’s nature and Divine grace, and now I shall attempt to show that the theological view of man’s nature which is implied in the theory of evolution is not the Orthodox view of man, but is much closer to the Roman Catholic view; and this is only a confirmation of the fact that the theory of evolution, far from being taught by any Orthodox Father, is simply a product of the Western apostate mentality and even, despite the fact that it originally was a reaction against Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, has deep roots in the Papist scholastic tradition.
The view of human nature and the creation of Adam which you set forth in your letter is very much influenced by your opinion that Adam, in his body, was an “evolved beast.” This opinion you obtained not from the holy Fathers (for you cannot find one Father who believed this, and I have already shown you that the Fathers indeed believe quite literally that Adam was created from the dust and not from any other creature), but from modern science. Let us then look, first of all, at the Orthodox patristic view of the nature and value of secular, scientific knowledge, particularly in relation to revealed, theological knowledge.
This patristic view is very well set forth by the great hesychast Father, St. Gregory Palamas, who was forced to defend Orthodox theology and spiritual experience precisely against a Western rationalist, Barlaam, who wished to reduce the spiritual experience and knowledge of hesychasm to something attainable by science and philosophy. In answering him, St. Gregory set forth general principles which are well applicable in our own day, when scientists and philosophers think they can understand the mysteries of creation and man’s nature better that Orthodox theology. He writes: “The beginning of wisdom is to be sufficiently wise to distinguish and prefer to the wisdom which is low, terrestrial, and vain, that which is truly useful, heavenly, and spiritual, that which comes from God and conducts toward Him, and which renders conformable to God those who acquire it.”
St. Gregory teaches that the latter wisdom alone is good in itself, while the former is both good and evil: “Even if one of the Fathers says the same thing as do those from without, the concordance is only verbal, the thought being quite different. The former, in fact, have, according to Paul, ‘the mind of Christ,’ while the latter express at best a human reasoning.” From secular knowledge, St. Gregory writes, “we absolutely cannot expect any precision whatever in the knowledge of Divine things; for it is not possible to draw from it any certain teaching on the subject of God.”
And this knowledge can also be harmful and fight against true theology: “The power of this reason enters into battle against those who accept the traditions in simplicity of heart; it despises the writings of the Spirit, after the example of men who have treated them carelessly and have set up the creation against the Creator.”
There could hardly be a better account than this of what modern “Christian evolutionists” have tried to do by thinking themselves wiser than the holy Fathers, using secular knowledge to reinterpret the teaching of the Sacred Scripture and the holy Fathers. Who can fail to see that the rationalistic, naturalistic spirit of Barlaam is quite close to that of modern evolutionism?
But notice that St. Gregory is speaking of scientific knowledge which, on its own level, is true; it becomes false only by warring against the higher knowledge of theology. Is the theory of evolution even true scientifically?
I have already spoken of the dubious nature of the scientific evidence for evolution in general, and now I must say a word specifically about the scientific evidence for human evolution, since here we already begin to touch on the realm of Orthodox theology. Now I must ask you a very elementary question: what is the evidence for the “evolution of man”?
The scientific fossil evidence for the “evolution of man” consists of: Neanderthal Man (many specimens); Peking man (several skulls); the “men” called Java, Heidelberg, Piltdown (until 20 years ago), and the recent finds in Africa (all extremely fragmentary). The total fossil evidence for the “evolution of man” could be contained in a box the size of a small coffin, and is from widely separated parts of the earth, with no reliable indication of even relative (much less absolute) age, and with no indication whatever of how these different “men” were connected with each other, whether by descent or kinship.
Further, one of these “evolutionary ancestors of man” – Piltdown Man – was discovered 20 years ago to have been a deliberate fraud. It is an interesting fact that Teilhard de Chardin was one of the “discoverers” of Piltdown Man – a fact which you will not find in most textbooks or in biographies of him. He “discovered” the canine tooth of this fabricated creature – a tooth which had already been dyed with intent to cause deception regarding its age when he found it! I do not have the evidence to say that Teilhard de Chardin consciously participated in the fraud; I think it more likely that he was the victim of the actual perpetrator of the fraud, and that he was so anxious to find proof for the “evolution of man” in which he already believed, that he simply did not pay any attention to the anatomical difficulties which this crudely fabricated “man” presented to any objective observer. And yet in evolutionary textbooks printed before the discovery of the fraud, Piltdown Man is accepted as an evolutionary ancestor of man without question; his “skull” is even illustrated, and it is confidently stated that “he combines human characteristics with others far retarded.” This, of course, is just what is required for a “missing link” between man and ape, and that is why the Piltdown fraud was composed precisely of a mixture of human and ape bones.
Some time later this same Teilhard de Chardin participated in the discovery, and above all in the “interpretation,” of Peking Man. Several skulls were found of this creature, and it was the best candidate that had been found until then as the “missing link” between modern man and the apes. Thank to his “interpretation” (for by then he had established a reputation as one of the world’s leading paleontologists), Peking Man also entered textbooks as an ancestor of man – in utter disdain of the uncontested fact that modern human bones were found in the same deposit, and to everyone without “evolutionary prejudices” it was clear that this “Peking Ape” had been used for food by human beings (for there was a hole in the base of every skull of Peking man by which the brains had been drawn out).
If you will examine objectively all the fossil evidence for the “evolution of man,” I believe you will find that there is no conclusive or even remotely reasonable evidence whatever for this “evolution.” The evidence is believed to be proof for human evolution because men want to believe this; they believe in a philosophy that requires that man evolved from ape-like creatures. Of all the fossil “men” only Neanderthal Man (and of course Cro-Magnon Man, who is simply modern man) seems to be genuine; and he is simply Homo sapiens, no different from modern man than modern men are different from each other, a variation within one definite kind of species. Please note that the pictures of Neanderthal Man in evolutionary textbooks are the invention of artists who have a preconceived idea, based on evolutionary philosophy, of what “primitive man” must have looked like!
I have said enough, I believe, not to show that I can disprove the “evolution of man” (for who can prove or disprove anything with such fragmentary evidence?!), but to indicate that we must be very critical indeed of the biased interpretations of such scanty evidence. Let us leave it to our modern pagans and their philosophers to become excited with the discovery of every new skull, bone, or even a single tooth, about which newspaper headlines declare: “New Ancestor of Man Found.” This is not even the realm of vain knowledge; it is the realm of modern fables and fairy tales, of a wisdom which has become astonishingly foolish.
(To be continued)
HE CAME INCARNATE…
All bathed in starlight and aglow,
For earth a sacrament so odd,
Eternal puzzle for the mind,
The heavens’ endless joy thou art –
Nativity of Christ on earth!
The Godhead shows Itself overt
And vests Itself in mortal flesh,
And indescribably, ineffably,
To mortal mind incomprehensibly,
Into the manger does descend.
O heavenly mystery so great!
The wild desert vividly blooms,
The withered staff has brightly flowered,
And there He comes – Eternal, Vast,
The Orient, the hope of men.
In search of Truth incontrovertible,
The incorruptible magi traveled,
In awe the prophet did announce:
The Saviour of all men has come,
Incarnate God of all who sorrow,
And now He’s standing at the gate,
To wake all who in sleep are mired.
— V. Utrenev
— Translated by Natalia Shenilof