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The Nativity of the Theotokos

Homily for the feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos, September 8

Let us rejoice today as we celebrate this first major feast of the new ecclesiastical year. Today begins the economy of our salvation; the barrenness of our nature is loosed, for the barren woman gives birth to the one who will bear God; the Gate-facing-East of the mystical temple comes into being, through which the Lord God himself will enter as the Great High Priest, yet leaving the gate closed; the book of the Word of Life is opened, confirming the preaching of the prophets; and the bridal chamber appears, in whom divine and human are united into one.

Nativity of the Virgin (Theotokos), Church of the Virgin Hodegetria, Patriarchate of Pec, Serbia (Image: BLAGO Archives)

Nativity of the Virgin (Theotokos), Church of the Virgin Hodegetria, Patriarchate of Pec, Serbia (Image: BLAGO Archives)

Today really is the beginning, and also the end, or perhaps rather the end and the beginning together: the end of shadows and promises, and the revelation of reality and truth; the end of the old covenant, and the beginning of the new; the end of the old creation, and the inauguration of the new.

Today the period of the Law concludes, and a new era of grace dawns. The beautiful hymnography that we have been singing last night and this morning depicts for us, in a multitude of ways–so many ways, in fact, that it is hard to comprehend–how all the things spoken of in the Law and the Prophets are fulfilled in the Theotokos, revealing to us a deeper and more profound mystery than we had previously imagined.

The prophecies have given way to their fulfillment, the types to the realities, the letter to the Spirit: She is the Gate of Paradise, the Burning Bush, the Ark of the Covenant, the Temple of Life.

As so, the old covenant gives way to the new. What was enacted on earth in times long past today becomes a spiritual reality in the present, bringing to an end the shadow–sacrifices in the Temple, propitiating deities–so that we might offer the only sacrifice acceptable to God, and ourselves become living temples of God, dwelling in his paradise, nourished by the Tree of Life.

The old covenant has passed, and so too has the long history of the old creation that culminates in the birth of the Virgin–this creation and its history has come to an end; the new creation is inaugurated, not a new work, but one which recreates the old.

Of old we were fashioned from virgin earth, molded by the hand of God and receiving the breath of the Lord. Now God prepares virgin soil anew, not from elsewhere, for then Christ would not be human, would not be our Savior, our creator and our redeemer.

He takes virgin earth from our own stock, as it were, from our own flesh, and it is from this virgin earth, the body of the Virgin, by the power of the Spirit, that the Word of God will fashion for himself a body in which to appear, revealing to us true divinity and true humanity–in one, together–united in the bridal chamber of the womb.

Our minds were turned to our bodies, caught fast in material things, and so the Word comes to us in bodily form, to grab our attention, and for this he must prepare for himself new virgin earth.

Our minds were turned to the earth, preferring the dust from which we were taken rather than the things of heaven, and so setting ourselves on a course which could only lead back to that dust…to death.

In the period of the old creation, the events of the old covenant–the Law and the Prophets–could not of themselves rectify us, restore us to our former life, put an end to the death that was at work in our earth; and so the Word took that earth to himself, and by offering himself to death, turned death inside out, so that now it becomes the means of life.

Taking earth to himself, he gilds the mud that we are with divinity, adorning us such that the King himself desire our beauty. This is the goal for which the whole of creation has been groaning in travail: the revelation of the children of God in their glorious liberty. It is the inauguration of this new creation that we now celebrate, for today there comes into being the one through whom it is possible.

Nativity of the Virgin (Theotokos), Gracanica Monastery, Serbia (Image: BLAGO Archives)

Nativity of the Virgin (Theotokos), Gracanica Monastery, Serbia (Image: BLAGO Archives)

The hymns for this day in fact speak of the Virgin as being preordained to this role, fore-ordained to usher in the new creation.

Here, really, is the heart of the mystery: for God could not have revealed himself upon earth, in this way–divinity and humanity united in one person, one face–he could not have done this without earth that could respond to him freely and positively.

The original creation, the old creation, was created by divine fiat–let there be! It was merely passive.

But the realization of the divine purpose for creation depends upon the human fiat–let it be! “Let it be to me according to your word!” It depends upon there being earth ready and willing to be taken and fashioned by the hands of God.

As we look back now at the old covenant, fulfilled in the Theotokos born today, and at the old creation, now ready to be refashioned into a new creation , we can perhaps see that the whole economy turns upon the earth, for the human being, said an early father, is earth that suffers (Epistle of Barnabas 6.9).

What had seemed its frailty, that it is nothing but dust and will return to the dust, is in fact its strength–the earthen vessels containing heavenly power–when it holds itself open, ready to be fashioned, to bear the fingerprints of its Creator.

Today the virgin is born, the temple through which the High Priest enters the world,

The virgin is born, in whose womb divinity and humanity come together,

The virgin is born, and all creation is renewed, for the economy of salvation begins.

Let us sing the praises of the Virgin, then, and offer thanksgiving to God–let it indeed be!

 

cross_stands__52149.1406224506.300.300Published in The Cross Stands While the World Turns: Homilies for the Cycles of the Year, by The Very Rev. Dr. John Behr.

 

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Meeting of the Lord and Zacchaeus

A homily delivered in the Three Hierarchs Chapel at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary on the Feast of the Meeting of the Lord in the Temple and Zacchaeus Sunday (Sunday, February 2, 2014).

Giotto, Presentation of Christ at the Temple, 1306, Scrovegni (Arena) Chapel, Padua, Italy

Giotto, Presentation of Christ at the Temple, 1306, Scrovegni (Arena) Chapel, Padua, Italy

Today, as we celebrate the meeting of Christ and the righteous Simeon and Anna, in the temple, we come to an end of a series of feasts that have taken us through the darkness of the long and cold winter nights: a series of feasts bringing out different aspects of God’s search or outreach to us: the Word becoming flesh in the small dark cavern, in the depths of the earth, the manifestation of God to us, through the passage through the waters.

And now, in obedience to the Mosaic Law, forty days after his birth, Christ, the first-born son, is brought to the temple so that he might complete the law, and the law might be completed by him.

Being brought to the temple, he is met by the righteous elder Simeon and the prophetess Anna: the old now passes, and the new has come, and the place where they meet, where the old meets the new and the new is revealed, is in the Temple, the place to which Jesus is brought as a sacrifice.

We heard last night in the readings from Isaiah that it was in the temple that Isaiah saw the Lord of glory enthroned and prophesied, that this same Lord would be worshipped by none other than the Egyptians—the biblical symbol of the gentiles hostile to Israel and their God. Now these words are fulfilled: Christ is brought into the temple, and he rests in the arms of the elder as on a throne. Israel’s glory has dawned in Christ, who is the light of revelation to the Gentiles. And now that Israel has accomplished its task of bringing the Messiah into the world, Simeon can depart in peace: the promises made in the beginning to Abraham about the calling of the nations are now fulfilled, so that in Abraham’s seed, all nations of the world are now blessed.

The very age of the righteous elder and the prophetess indicate the passing away of the ancient customs, the rituals and prescriptions, for these were only ever, as the apostle puts it, a shadow of the good things to come whereas the reality belongs to Christ, the one who was received in the arms of the elder, the one who was to cause the fall and rising again of many in Israel, the one who thus bestows upon us the resurrection—the new creation. All this, the righteous elder Simeon sees, and more: he foresees the pain that would wound the one who gave birth painlessly to the Son of God, that he will be a sign spoken against—but a sign that therefore reveals the thoughts of our hearts.

Today then, standing in the temple with Simeon, we do indeed come to the completion of the movement of God towards us, so that we can also say, let us depart in peace: the glory of God is revealed, enlightening those who sat in darkness.

Jesus and Zaccheus, Basilica of Sant’Angelo in Formis, Capua (Caserta) [© Bruno Brunelli]

Jesus and Zaccheus, Basilica of Sant’Angelo in Formis, Capua (Caserta)

But if the movement of God towards us is completed in this way, our movement now begins. We must begin to set our own sights upon the journey to Jerusalem, something we are reminded about by the second Gospel reading today: that about Zacchaeus—which alerts us to the coming pre-Lenten Sundays. If this movement of God towards us is indeed light coming into the world, enlightening those who sit in darkness, then there are various points of which we should take note.

Firstly, it means that we must recognize that we are indeed the ones who have been sitting in darkness. Only now, in the light of Christ, can we begin to realize how dark indeed has been our supposedly enlightened world and our all-too-human behavior, however decent, civilized, polite, it may seem. And, recognizing that we are the ones sitting in darkness, our response should be as Zacchaeus: not simply waiting around on the off-chance that the Lord will pass by, but, the Gospel says, he eagerly sought the Lord; he demonstrated an intense desire to seek him out, to actively find him.

The second point would be that as we begin to allow his light to shine upon us and in us, we will certainly begin to understand what it means that he is a sign spoken against, revealing the thoughts of our hearts; for as we begin to try to live by this sign, we will assuredly find all our resistances coming to the surface, all the reasons, the thoughts of our hearts which usually remain unconscious, all the reasons why we should do otherwise, or with less enthusiasm or zeal, or perhaps start tomorrow. In other words, the light that we are given enables us to see ourselves as we truly are, a feat that St Isaac says is greater than raising the dead. This is our own path to Golgotha. And, as with Zacchaeus, this requires recognizing how we stand. The Gospel reading places great emphasis on Zacchaeus’ small stature. He was short. Zacchaeus knew that he had to be lifted up, up from this earth, to see the Lord, and he does this by ascending the tree, an image of taking up the cross. Our problem, on the other hand, is that we do not know this: we think that we are something, something great and grand, someone important, with our own sense of self-worth.

We are indeed important and valuable in God’s eyes: out of love for us, he came to dwell among us, to save, redeem, and recreate us. But it is all too easy for our own sense of well-being and self-worth to get in the way, to prevent us from even realizing that we stand in need of what God has to offer; we spend most of our lives in delusion, not knowing that we are, in fact, small, needy, sinful, before him: it is for the sinners that he has come, to call them to repentance, not those who imagine themselves to be basically alright, needing Christ only for an extra religious element to their lives.

And finally, although we have been given so much more to see than was Simeon (we have repeatedly been present at his birth, his baptism, his passion and his resurrection), we have not yet really begun to see the Lord as did Simeon: to know that he is indeed our rest, our eternal rest, to find in him the peace that keeps us in peace throughout the storms of the sea of life, rather than being blown about from one crisis to the next, from one emotional bruise to another, or from one preoccupying thought to yet another habituated action that we will regret. Rather, what is required of us, to find this peace, is the repentance shown by Zacchaeus: a ready repentance, a change of mind, manifest not only in how we feel about things, but how we act: “half my goods I give to the poor; and will restore fourfold what I have defrauded.”

It is in these ways that we move from sitting in darkness to being enlightened by the light of God—the light that is also the peace of God. So let us pray that we may also learn to meet Jesus in the temple, so that we might also find in him the completion of our heart’s desire, and so ourselves come to know his mercy and peace; for this, as we will sing shortly, is the true sacrifice of praise.

Fr. John Behr (SVOTS ’97) is the Dean of St Vladimir’s Seminary and Professor of Patristics, teaching courses in patristics, dogmatics and scriptural exegesis at the seminary, and also at Fordham University, where he is the Distinguished Lecturer in Patristics.

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February 3, 2014 · 8:45 pm

Can you hear the wolves?

A homily delivered in the Three Hierarchs Chapel at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary on the Feast of St. John Chrysostom (Tuesday, November 13, 2012).

At night, the shepherds would have heard the wolves. The shepherds in the time of Jesus took their flocks out into the countryside to find pasture and water. Journeying far from the safety of the village or the city, settling down for the night, they could hear the hungry wolves that prowled in the distance. Remember, this was not the Wild West; shepherds did not carry lever action Winchester rifles to fend off predators. The shepherds in Jesus’ day would have had a wooden staff, a sling, and a bag of small round stones. Shepherds had to be brave folks who could face danger. But at night, as the small fire would have been dying down to embers, and as the sheep settled down, they would have heard the wolves, and it would have sent a chill up the spine of the bravest shepherd.

Can you hear the wolves?

When Hurricane Sandy knocked us off the grid and devastated the Tri-State Area, could you hear the wolves?

As the national election shook the country and inflamed passions of anger and bitterness between brothers and sisters, could you hear the wolves?

Hearing about scandals and controversy within the Church on the national level, in the parish, or between friends and family, can you hear the wolves?

It is awfully tempting to run for it, isn’t it? Just give up the whole thing and run for your life. Today Jesus tells us that if the shepherd was a hired hand, if the sheep weren’t his own and if he caught a glimpse of those ravenous wolves advancing towards the sheep, he’d abandon the flock and run for his life. And the sheep scatter, and the wolves attack at will. Now, if we are merely talking about livestock, then a shepherd might fare pretty well if he ran for his life. There are only so many wolves, maybe a dozen or so, and odds are that a pack of wolves would much rather go after a young lamb, a slow pregnant female, or an old feeble sheep.

But here is the problem.

Jesus is not giving advice on caring for livestock; he is speaking of a spiritual reality.

And the wolves that Jesus is talking about are not of this world. They are demons, intent on dividing the Body of Christ and devouring human souls. So, if the shepherd runs away and leaves the flock of Christ to the demonic wolves, there is no safety for anyone. The demonic powers of Satan will not only hunt down every last one of the sheep but also go after every shepherd that runs and tries to save his own life.

But our shepherd is not a hired hand.

Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ lays down His life for His reason-endowed flock. He offers His life as He is suspended on the Cross so that we would know, without a doubt, that He loves us and that we belong to Him. Jesus Christ is the Good Shepherd. He knows His own flock, and His flock knows Him. We hear His voice and we follow Him.

St. John Chrysostom, 13th c. manuscript illumination

Today we celebrate the life of St. John Chrysostom, a man who listened to the voice of the Good Shepherd, a man who followed in the footsteps of Christ, a man who did the work of the Gospel. He served the flock of Christ in the midst of a wilderness of sin: Constantinople, with its spectacles and games, its greed and its wealth, its lust and its passion. The demonic wolves in that capital city threatened the flock of Christ more than any predators in the Jordan Valley ever threatened a flock of sheep. In the midst of that danger, St. John stood by the poor, the weak, and the vulnerable, constantly providing for spiritual and material needs. Ravening wolves attacked him from every side. On one side, strict disciplinarians said that he was too soft in his merciful appeal to sinners. He would say, “If you have fallen a second time, or even a thousand times into sin, come and you shall be healed.” On the other side, influential and wealthy bishops and priests mocked him for his austere lifestyle and publicly accused him of mismanagement, claiming that his care of the poor was a “waste” of Church money. Finally, he was attacked head-on by a vain and decadent empress and her imperial court, who did not feel it was right for a bishop to criticize their public spectacles.

Exile of St. John Chrysostom, Menologion of Basil II, ca. 1000

Yet in spite of it all St. John stood by his flock and never ran for his life. Facing the imperial threat he said, “Though the sea roar and the wave rise high, they cannot overwhelm the ship of Jesus Christ. I fear not death which is my gain, nor exile for the whole earth is the Lord’s, nor the loss of goods for I came naked into the world and I can carry nothing out of it.”He stood by his flock until armed guards dragged him out of the city into exile. But even in exile, he wrote letters and exhorted his friends and spiritual children, reminding them of the love of God and the mercy of Christ. And in his death, out in the lonely, harsh place where he had been literally dragged in chains, he completed his course by laying down his life, in emulation of Christ the Good Shepherd. And with his last breath, saying, “Glory be to God for all things.”

Hearing the Word of God, preaching the Gospel and standing by the weak and the vulnerable, even when it costs you your life: this is the legacy of St. John Chrysostom.

This is our life. This is our work. This is our calling.

Today we follow Christ the Good Shepherd. When a stranger is hungry, we feed him. When a sister is lonely, we sit by her side. When a brother is angry, we patiently listen to him, just like God always patiently listens to us. We follow Christ the Good Shepherd; we hear His word and know that we belong to Him. And we lay down our life for others, just like He laid down His life for us.

Christ the Good Shepherd, 5th c.

The Rev. Dr. J. Sergius Halvorsen (SVOTS ’96) received his M.Div. from St. Vladimir’s Seminary and completed his doctoral dissertation at Drew University in 2002. From 2000 to 2011 he taught at Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell Connecticut, where he also served as Director of Distance Learning. He was ordained to the priesthood in February 2004, and currently serves on the faculty of SVOTS as Associate Professor of Homiletics and Rhetoric and Director of Field Education.

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What does it mean to be an Apostle?

A homily delivered in the Three Hierarchs Chapel at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary on the Feast of the Holy Apostle Onesimus of the Seventy (Wednesday, February 15, 2012).

What does it mean to be an Apostle?

What kind of person is an Apostle?

Christ and His Apostles, Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna

Being pious Orthodox we hold Apostles in high esteem. They are writers of gospels, and epistles. Their proclamation has gone out into all the earth, and their words to the ends of the universe. Their icons adorn the walls of the sanctuary. Apostles are important, and famous, and holy. And when people are regarded as important and famous and holy, we have a tendency to regard them as distant and exotic. Like famous artists or historical figures, like Bach and Beethoven, or Michelangelo, or Abraham Lincoln.

And at some level it is safer this way. Isn’t it?

If the apostles are unusual and extraordinary, then we really can’t be like them, which sort of lets us off the hook. Because being an apostle is hard work. An apostle does not get to sit around. Apostle means the one who is “sent out” If you are an apostle, Christ entrusts you with His teaching, he seals you with the gift of the Holy Spirit, and he sends you out to preach the good news, in season and out of season, to any and all people, using whatever means available, so that some might be saved. Now that’s not an easy job description, not to mention many of the apostles suffered great persecution and died as martyrs. So it is perhaps rather comforting to say to ourselves,

“I try to be a good Christian, but I’m no apostle.”

But if the apostles are exotic and distant, then the Christ who they preached becomes exotic and distant. If the apostles’ work and ministry is something remote and inaccessible, then Christ who sent them becomes remote and inaccessible. Yet we know that that is not who Christ is. He is the Son of God, who took flesh and became man, he died a painful humiliating death on the Cross, he endured three days in the tomb, and he was raised from the dead. Christ did all of that, so that we might be reconciled to God, so that we might be united to God, so that in Christ we might never, ever be alone.

So what does it mean to be an apostle?

Who were the apostles?

We know that the apostle Paul violently persecuted the Church in his younger days. And Christ chose him to be an apostle. Today we hear about the Apostle Peter who famously denied Jesus three times, publicly abandoning Christ in his darkest hour, swearing that he did not know Jesus. Yet Christ forgave Peter, and sent him out as an apostle.

Peter Denies Jesus, Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna

Today we celebrate the life of Onesimus, one of the Seventy Apostles. Onesimus was a slave in Phrygia, which is in modern day Turkey. At some point Onesimus did something to offend his master and fearing severe punishment, he fled to Rome but ended up in prison. In the Roman Empire, runaway slaves were dealt with extremely harshly. But in Rome, Onesimus met St. Paul who was also in prison. I suppose we could say that Onesimus was something of a captive audience, but in the course of their relationship Onesimus was baptized. St. Paul then wrote a letter to Onesimus’ master Philemon  and in the gentlest terms, St. Paul implores Philemon to receive Onesimus in a spirit of Christian love, not as a runaway slave, but as a brother in Christ. This letter became part of the New Testament. It is said that Philemon not only received Onesimus in love, but sent him out to serve the in the Apostolic work of St. Paul and the others.

Holy Apostle Onesimus of the Seventy, St. Petka Chapel, Belgrade

So what does it take to be an apostle?

An apostle can be a persecutor, a betrayer, and even a runaway slave. But ultimately, an apostle is a man, or a woman (we can’t forget Nina the enlightener of Georgia and equal to the apostles). An apostle is a man or woman who hears God’s call and goes to serve specific people. Christ never sends apostles to places; He sends them to serve people. Of course, in a formal sense, there are the 12 and the 70.

But in a real sense we are all apostles.

We have all heard the teaching of Christ, we have been sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit, and now Christ sends us out to do his work.

Where is he sending you?

Christ Multiplies the Loaves and Fish, Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna

It could be to a remote international mission field, or an old dying parish in New England, or a mission in the southwest. But none of us are going there today. Today Christ is sending us to our workplace, or to the classroom, or to our home, or to the hospital, or to the CVS, or to the grocery store. And in all of those places we will meet people with hopes and dreams and fears, and Christ sends us to them.

Today, like St. Onesimus, be an apostle to the people you meet. Bring them the love, and mercy and joy of Jesus Christ. This is what it means to be an apostle, and it is a vocation for all of us.

Fr. Sergius Halvorsen (SVOTS ’96) received his M.Div. from St. Vladimir’s Seminary and completed his doctoral dissertation at Drew University in 2002. From 2000 to 2011 he taught at Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell Connecticut, where he also served as Director of Distance Learning. He was ordained to the priesthood in February 2004, and currently serves on the faculty of SVOTS as Associate Professor of Homiletics and Rhetoric and Director of Field Education.

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Scoundrels and sinners

Genealogies don’t mean the same to us as they did for ancient peoples, so the first part of this morning’s reading may be tedious to modern ears.  Most people will remember the list of strange names and forget the ending probably because a majority check out somewhere around “Amminadab” if not before.  By the time we get to the story of Christmas at the end people are a little glassy-eyed.  I actually look forward to it.  I like this reading!

Jacob, Abraham, and Isaac in Heaven (detail of Last Judgment fresco), 1408. Andrei Rublev, Assumption Cathedral, Vladimir, Russia.

Just a word of explanation about the genealogy part. Both Matthew and Luke include genealogies of Jesus in their Gospels and they differ from one another.  No worries.  Genealogies were useful for a variety of reasons, so it wasn’t unusual for a person to have more than one made up to cover their bases. Things like inheritance, land ownership, and vocation were at stake.  You had to prove your pedigree!

Since the point was to establish an ancestral link rather than to list all the family names exhaustively they were not as interested in getting all the names in there just right the way we would be.  Thinking of the size of Middle Eastern families that would be ridiculous anyway.

St. Matthew’s genealogy emphasizes that Jesus is the Son of David. He begins with David and moves then to Abraham, a double whammy for Jewish identification and backward since Abraham came before David! His predominately Jewish audience would be looking for that connection. His aim was to convince the Jews that Jesus was the Messiah and Davidic sonship was essential to do so.

St. Luke emphasizes the Lord’s human nature so he begins his genealogy with Adam to be more universal in his message. For his predominately Greek audience that would be significant. Luke points also to the Lord’s divine origin. He ends with “Jesus the Son of Adam and the Son of God.”

King David. Photo credit: The Temple Gallery

Both genealogies are essential for our understanding of the Incarnation. They compliment one another. Jesus is the Son of God and the Son of David, both human and Divine. As a human being he was specifically Jewish. As God He was perfect God.

The real story here is that the Son of God was born at all. If the Son of God had not been born in the flesh, then he could not have been the Son of David. The genealogy tells us that Jesus was a real, live human being with grandparents, uncles, aunts, and probably hundreds of cousins. Tradition tells us that Jesus had half-brothers and sisters since Joseph was a widower and had children from a previous marriage.

Some of the Lord’s relatives were righteous people, some were scoundrels. At least one of them was a prostitute. Just like our families! White sheep and black sheep. Jesus was a human being with an all-too-typical human family. I’ll bet their Hanukkah dinners were a riot!

This tells us another very important thing. Even scoundrels and sinners are included because this is the human condition. Things down here are far from perfect. The thing is that even sinners and scoundrels have the image of God in them. Whether we are righteous or sinners we all have that in common. Human nature does not become evil because we do evil things. Impossible! What God has called “very good” will always remain “very good.” That “very good” human nature we share in common is what Jesus took upon himself – your nature and my nature, everyone’s nature and yet He still remained perfect God and perfect man! But there is more! Then, he took upon himself our suffering and sins and bore our diseases as well and still remained perfect God and perfect man! This is a very great mystery! He took upon Himself the whole of the human condition from birth to death and beyond and remained fully God and fully man! He took upon Himself all that we are in order to heal all that we are. Why? Because He loves us!

Nativity icon (detail), 11th century, Tokalı Kilise, Cappadocia, Turkey. Photo credit: Andrew J. Frishman

At Vespers on Saturday night we usually chant a prokeimenon that says, “The Lord is King, he has clothed himself with majesty. The Lord has put on His apparel and has girded Himself with strength.” What is this “majesty”? What is “His apparel”? It is human nature. Human nature is majestic. It is beautiful! The crown of God’s creation. It is filled with God as is everything he has made. That we have dirtied this beautiful thing is not God’s fault; it is ours. What we discover as we embark on the interior spiritual journey is that no matter what we do, or think, or feel, underneath it all is human nature which sparkles with the light of God. It is the ground of our being, the truth of who we are. Those who come at long last through meditation and prayer to see their own essential goodness understand the core truth about themselves and their neighbors. The Son of God reveals this to us in the example of His own human/divine life.

Here is another great and strange mystery: we too, even though we are created, share this human/divine connection. In Him divinity is by nature. It is granted to us creatures by grace.

This sermon, “On the Sunday before Nativity: The Genealogy of Christ” was preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, December 19, 2010, and was originally published here. Fr. Antony Hughes (SVOTS ’87) is the priest at St. Mary Orthodox Church in Cambridge, MA, where he has been serving since 1993.

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