Fallen Leaves wishes its readers, whoever they may be, a merry Christmas according to the Julian calendar.
Christianity has always emphasized the salvation of one’s immortal soul. In the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed, the Orthodox Christian affirms, “I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.” There was a time when one could question whether such a world will exist, and on those grounds choose the present world — the world of physical, material existence — over that promised one. But as it turns out, the very opportunity to make such a choice was only possible within the framework of Christianity, which gave the justification for material existence in the first place. Without Christianity, there is no defense for either the physical or the spiritual existence of humanity.
Every philosophy that purports to glorify human individuality will, in the end, be used to justify its extinction. Western youth read Nietzsche’s exhortation, “What is the ape to man? A laughing-stock, a thing of shame. And just the same shall man be to the Superman: a laughing-stock, a thing of shame,” and sighed dreamily, gazing in the mirror, imagining themselves as contemptuous supermen judging the world. But whenever you hear, “Man is something that is to be surpassed. What have ye done to surpass man?” you should take it for what it is — a personal threat. What this says, literally, is that your right to exist is made contingent on your ability to continuously present evidence of “what have ye done.” Someone else — Plato’s Nocturnal Council, accountable to no one — will decide whether the evidence passes muster. To such enlightened philosophers, we are all equally superfluous. We don’t have a hope of producing anything that they need, because they don’t need anything from us; a true philosopher has no need for anything or anyone outside his own mind. And since there is no way that we can possibly “surpass” ourselves to their satisfaction, we can be written off with a clear conscience.
The physical character of the Nativity, and Christ’s subsequent life in the flesh, sanctifies the physical world. If God Himself was born, then birth is holy. The fact that He was born in a manger, among animals, shows that birth itself, painful and messy as it may be, is sacred, independently of its circumstances (wealth, nobility, the Purple Chamber of the Byzantine Emperors). By going among carpenters and fishermen, not to mention publicans and harlots, He showed that life itself had inherent value, without learning or wisdom, without any noteworthy qualities, even without virtue. A sinner at least has the potential to repent, and that alone makes his life valuable to God. It is only through this value that one has the luxury of choosing whether or not to repent. Really it is the only way that one can have the right to make any choices at all.
The Nativity is the joy of life: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” One appreciates it more when one feels that it can no longer be taken for granted. The birth of God bestows His grace upon all human language, thought, and culture. The shame of imperfection is replaced by the wonderment of seeing a reflection of the life of God in the life of man.
St. Gregory Palamas
Mt. Athos, 14th century
Christ is Born! Христос раждается! Христос се роди!