Nativity, 2023

xenia

Fallen Leaves wishes its readers, whoever they may be, a merry Christmas according to the Julian calendar.

What is the proper relationship between man and God? What is man’s role in it, and what is God’s? How does man approach God? Every religion answers these questions differently. God may be a lawgiver, a judge, a king. Certainly, Christians also view God in these ways. “Which in His times He shall shew, Who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords; Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; Whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to Whom be honour and power everlasting.” In comparison, man is nothing, less than dust, living in a fundamentally defective world whose fatal flaws are a precondition of his very existence. “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.” The best, the most that man can do is to prostrate himself before God and beg for mercy.

But then a strange thing happens. Man’s humble pleas establish contact with God. Man is no longer alone. God is present with him; man begins to speak with God. What started out as a supplication to a distant authority turns into a dialogue. But if man’s base, degraded form still leaves him able to carry on a conversation with God, then perhaps it was not so degraded after all. Man’s pleas become bolder and take on some of the character of demands. “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” But not only does God not reject them, they meet with His approval. Man, having humbled himself, is elevated and appears nearly equal to God.

In parallel, God willingly accepts the abasement of mortal life, choosing to be born in the filth and sorrow of physical existence, followed by an agonizing and disgraceful death. But God’s willingness to suffer these trials also elevates them. The human experience can no longer be pointless when it has been God’s experience as well. It turns out that man’s humanity is his link to God, not the cause of his separation. St. Athanasius of Alexandria wrote, in the 4th century, “God became Man so that man could become god.”

prodigal

Therefore, the way to separate man from God is to make him reject his humanity. In the past, when man rejected God for the sake of worldly desires, he remained human, and therefore still had a chance to return to God, as the prodigal son did. But the new world that is dawning is more hostile to human desire than any religion in history. It prefers sin to virtue, but only as a means to a different end; ultimately, it has no room for any form of human life at all. To justify abolishing religion, they used to say that the universe was governed by immutable, impersonal biological laws, but this turned out to be a prelude to abolishing the biological laws themselves. The next step, evidently, will be to abolish the universe.

Real human feeling has been lost for so long that we are beginning to forget what it was like. The only way to transcend the limitations of the physical world is to learn to be human again — from the very beginning, from the setting of the Nativity.

This is the day of salvation, which teaches us wisdom in words; thus, let us refrain from idle talk, so that it may not seem as if we have no part in this day. This night brings peace and calmness to the universe; burdensome to it is the man who is filled with the storm of wrath. This night belongs to the meek, so let each put aside wrath and severity — it belongs to the humble, so let each curb his pride and humble his arrogance. Now is the day of mercy; let no one pursue vengeance for any wrong. It is the day of joy; let no one be the cause of grief and sorrow for another. It is the day of goodwill, so let all cruelty be held back; it is the day when God came down to the sinners, so let the virtuous be ashamed to exalt themselves before the sinful…it is the day in which the doors of Heaven opened to our prayers, and unseemly it would be to close our doors to those who ask for our forgiveness, or for relief in their suffering. The Lord of nature changed Himself without changing His essence; what then? will we say that it is too difficult to change our will, which has been damaged by sin? Our flesh, by its own nature, cannot be more or less than it is; but will, according to its direction, may grow to any size; it is for this that the Divine enclosed itself in human nature, so that this nature may seek out all that is holy.

Christmas homily of St. Ephraim of Syria
Edessa, 4th century

pokrovChrist is Born! Христос раждается! Христос се роди!

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