The Journey to Bethlehem

22 December 10
When Joseph and Mary departed to Bethlehem to register for the payment of their taxes, Mary was about to give birth to The Son of God.  Can you imagine this adventure.  The Son of God making such a journey?
The Hymn by Saint Ephraim proclaims:

Blessed art thou, bethlehem, that the towns envy thee––and the fortified cities!

This journey was not a easy one.  An average trip in those days would involve only about 15 miles per day.
There is an icon of their trip in the Monastery of Chora in Constantinople (Istanbul).  In it we see Joseph with a slight stoop and a gate of an elderly man.  He was generally thought to be about 80 years of age at this time.  His eyes are turned toward Mary who has her head turned towards him.  One of Joseph’s sons is leading with his mantle flowing and carrying a bundle of provisions for the trip.
In the Hymn from the ninth hour on the eve of the Nativity we hear the following dialogue,

“O virgin, when Joseph went up to Bethlehem sounded by sorrow, thou didst cry to him: ‘Why art thou downcast and troubled, seeing me great with child? Why art thou wholly ignorant of the fearful mystery that comes to pass in me?  Henceforth, cast every fear aside and understand this strange marvel: for in my womb God now descends upon the earth for mercy’s sake, and He has taken flesh.  thou shalt see Him according to His good pleasure, when He is born; and fill with joy thou shalt worship Him as Thy Creator, Whom the angels praise without ceasing in song and glorify with the father and the Holy Spirit.'”

For this three day journey, they would have carried with them only a few necessities common with a poor family of this time.  The surroundings of His birth was total poverty.  But this is part of His message and inconsistent with His divine nature.  Earthly splendor would not have been fitting for He who came to save the common man from sin and call every person to be renewed and become reunited with God.
In this next icon from the Monastery of Chora we see depicted the scene of registration for their taxes  In it we see Quirinius, the governor of Syria, with a fully armed military guard.  there is a scribe holding an unfurled scroll which has a record of the names.  Mary is see standing tall in a graceful poise with he head bowed with humility toward the officers.  She draws he maphorion modestly around her shoulder.  Joseph is shown with his four sons assisting her.
So, what kind of place did God arrange for this miraculous birth? There was no room for them to stay and they had to find a cave shared with animals, hardly a clean place for the birth of a child. It was in fact the lowest place for a birth yet fitting as a place for the Lord of All to be born.
The Apolytikion of the forefeast is as follows,

“Mary once, with aged Joseph, went to be taxed in Bethlehem, for they were of the linage of David; and she bore in her womb the Fruit that had not been sown.  The time of the birth was at hand and there was no room in the inn; but the cave proved a fair palace for the Queen. Christ is born, that He may raise again the image that before was fallen.”

A Hymn by Saint John of Damascus From the canon of the forefeast, Ode six.

“How shall a small cave receive thee, for Whom the world cannot find a room. O thou Whom none can comprehend! O Thou, Who with the Father are without beginning, how shalt thou appear as a small child?

This humble beginning is a clear message for all of us.  We too must become humble if we are to follow Him.
Saint Gregory Palamas says,

The way to be exaulted and to resemble Him is not arrogance but humility.  Because of this, men are easily set right, as they recognize humility as the road by which they are recalled…

He who defines all things and is limited by none is contained in a small, makeshift manger. He who holds the universe and grasps it in the hollow of his hand, is wrapped in narrow swaddling bands and fastened into ordinary clothes. He who possess the riches fo inehaustable treasures submits Himself voluntarily to such great poverty that He does not even havre aplace at the inn; and so He enters into a cave at the time of His birth, who was brought forth by God tielessly and impassibly and without beginning.  And––how great a wonder!__ not only does He who shares the nature of the Father on high put on our fallen nature through His birth, nor is He subject merely to the utter poverty of being born in a wretched cave, but right fromt he very start, while still in the womb, He accepts the final condemnation of our nature.

From His first days on earth Jesus showed us that the path to union with God was based on humility and detachment from earthly pleasures.

source

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The Patristic Understanding of the Virgin Birth of Christ

15 December 10

The Patristic Understanding of the Virgin Birth of Christ

Where God Wills The Order Of Nature Is Overruled“And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered” (Lk. 2:6).

Concerning the birth of Christ, the Prophet Isaiah spoke thus:

“Behold she that travailed brought forth, before the travail-pain came on, she escaped it and brought forth a male” (Is. 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 the 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.

While the conception was by ‘hearing’, the birth was by the usual orifice through which children are born, even though there are some who concoct an idle tale of His being born from the side of the Mother of God. For it was not impossible for Him to pass through the gate without breaking its seals. Hence, the Ever-Virgin remained virgin even after giving birth and never had converse with a husband as long as she lived.”1

Saint Ambrose in his Synodal Letter 44 writes:

“Why is it hard to believe that Mary gave birth in a way contrary to the law of natural birth and remained a virgin, when contrary to the law of nature the sea looked at Him and fled, and the waters of the Jordan returned to their source (Ps. 113:3). Is it past belief that a virgin gave birth when we read that a rock issued water (Ex. 17:6), and the waves of the sea were made solid as a wall (Ex. 14:22)? Is it past belief that a Man came from a virgin when a rock bubbled forth a flowing stream (Ex. 20:11), iron floated on water (4 Kings 6:6), a Man walked upon the waters (Mt. 14:26)? If the waters bore a Man, could not a virgin give birth to a man? What Man? Him of Whom we read: ‘…the Lord shall be known to the Egyptians, and the Egyptians shall know the Lord in that day; and they shall offer sacrifices, and shall vow vows to the Lord, and pay them’ (Is. 19:20).

In the Old Testament a Hebrew virgin (Miriam) led an army through the sea (Ex. 15:21); in the New testament a king’s daughter (the Virgin Mary) was chosen to be the heavenly entrance to salvation.”

In the Resurrection Theotokion of Saturday Vespers (Plagal of the First Mode), we chant:

“Then, the deep was trodden dry-shod by Israel, now, Christ is born seedlessly of the Virgin. The sea, after the passage of Israel, remained untrodden: the blameless one, after the birth of Emmanuel, remained undefiled.”

Saint Ambrose also writes in another letter that:

“A virgin carried Him Whom this world cannot contain or support. And when He was born of Mary’s womb, He yet preserved the enclosure of her modesty, and the inviolate seal of her virginity.”2

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 over the reptiles and cattle and all the earth (Gen. 1:26); all were subject to them before the fall. Saint Gregory Palamas comments that when the Logos 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 hypostatic union in Christ of the two natures was the deification of the human nature He assumed.3 The regeneration of man in Christ was the restoration of Adam and Eve.

The saints, having put on Christ, have often resumed the authority and dominion that our first parents had. Thus, the Prophet Habakkum instantly traversed vast expanses of land, with no effort, and brought food to Daniel in the lion’s den. The Holy Apostles, too, were transported on clouds to be at the Theotokos’ repose in Jerusalem, and their bodily weight proved not to hamper their flight, in defiance to gravity. Our Savior and the saints performed those things outside the created laws of physics and medicine. By a word, straightway, long and terminal illnesses vanished, limbs that were palsied became sound, those without orbs received the power of vision, and many were raised from the dead. Some of the saints could go long periods without food, water or changes of clothing as St. Paisios the Great of Egypt or St. Mary Golinduc the Persian. Others, by their mere grace0filled presence, tamed wild and ferocious animals. Thus, why should it be difficult to imagine that the Christ infant could not pass through that virginal orifice through which children are delivered without incurring damage or the slightest discomfort to His Mother, despite His newborn height and weight? Later, in life, He would pass through the midst of the mob unscathed as though bodiless and, after His Resurrection, His body would pass through solid and shut doors to meet and greet His anxious disciples (Jn. 20:19).

Concerning the mystery of the incarnation, St. Gregory of Nyssa wrote the following:

“When God became known to us in the flesh, He neither received the passions of human nature, nor did the Virgin Mary suffer pain, nor was the Holy Spirit diminished in any way, nor was the power of the Most High set aside in any manner, and 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.”4

Saint Hesychios (c. 451), a learned priest-monk of Jerusalem, expressed the same truth, writing that:

“The Theotokos was a woman, yet she did not suffer the pangs of childbirth because the field of marriage had not experienced the plow; the virginal vineyard was not tilled.”5

Notes:

1. Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, Bk. 4, Ch. 14.

2. Letter 59, To the Church at Vercelli.

3. Georgios L. Mantzarides, The Deification of Man: St. Gregory Palamas and the Orthodox Tradition, p. 29.

4. “Against Eunomius, Hom. II”, PG 45, 492.

5. “Sermon On the Presentation”, PG 93, 1469.

Source: The Life of the Virgin Mary, the Theotokos by Holy Apostles Convent, pp. 176-179.


Day 1: NTC

15 November 10

I got through 8 chapters if the Gospel of Matthew tonight. I over read a bit. I know, but once I started reading I just got sucked in. I learned so many things from the footnotes of the OSB that I had heard or read before, but had forgotten.

I plan on following through with this reading plan as much as I can, especially since with a 2 and a half yr old, a pregnant wife and a 13 day old fasting gets tough. This, I think is a good supplement.

Maybe I will write more tomorrow. Right now, bed time.


On the Dormition of the Theotokos

15 August 10

“Concerning the Dormition of the Theotokos, this is what the Church has received from ancient times from the tradition of the Fathers. When the time drew nigh that our Savior was well-pleased to take His Mother to Himself, He declared unto her through an Angel that three days hence He would translate her from this temporal life to eternity and bliss. On hearing this, she went up with haste to the Mount of Olives, where she prayed continuously. Giving thanks to God, she returned to her house and prepared whatever was necessary for her burial. While these things were taking place, clouds caught up the Apostles from the ends of the earth, where each one happened to be preaching, and brought them at once to the house of the Mother of God, who informed them of the cause of their sudden gathering. As a mother, she consoled them in their affliction as was meet, and then raised her hands to Heaven and prayed for the peace of the world. She blessed the Apostles, and reclining upon her bed with seemliness, gave up her all-holy spirit into the hands of her Son and God.

With reverence and many lights, and chanting burial hymns, the Apostles took up that God-receiving body and brought it to the sepulchre, while the Angels from Heaven chanted with them, and sent forth her who is higher than the Cherubim. But one Jew, moved by malice, audaciously stretched forth his hand upon the bed and immediately received from divine judgment the wages of his audacity Those daring hands were severed by an invisible blow. But when he repented and asked forgiveness, his hands were restored. When they had reached the place called Gethsemane, they buried there with honor the all-immaculate body of the Theotokos, which was the source of Life But on the third day after the burial, when they were eating together and raised up the artos (bread) in Jesus’ Name, as was their custom, the Theotokos appeared in the air, saying “Rejoice” to them. From this they earned concerning the bodily translation of the Theotokos into the Heavens.

These things has the Church received from the traditions of the Fathers who have composed many hymns out of reverence, to the glory of the Mother of our God.


Feast of the Precious and Life-Giving Cross

31 July 10

Commemorated on August 1

The Procession of the Venerable Wood of the Life-Creating Cross of the Lord: In the Greek Horologion of 1897 the derivation of this Feast is explained: “Because of the illnesses that occur in August, it was customary, in former times, to carry the Venerable Wood of the Cross through the streets and squares of Constantinople for the sanctification of the city, and for relief from sickness. On the eve (July 31), it was taken out of the imperial treasury, and laid upon the altar of the Great Church of Hagia Sophia (the Wisdom of God). From this Feast until the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos, they carried the Cross throughout the city in procession, offering it to the people to venerate. This also is the Procession of the Venerable Cross.”

In the Russian Church this Feast is combined also with the remembrance of the Baptism of Rus, on August 1, 988. In the “Account of the Order of Services in the Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Great Church of the Dormition,” compiled in 1627 by order of Patriarch Philaret of Moscow and All Rus, there is the following explanation of the Feast: “On the day of the Procession of the Venerable Cross there is a church procession for the sanctification of water and for the enlightenment of the people, throughout all the towns and places.”

Knowledge of the day of the actual Baptism of Rus was preserved in the Chronicles of the sixteenth century: “The Baptism of the Great Prince Vladimir of Kiev and all Rus was on August 1.”

In the present practice of the Russian Church, the Lesser Sanctification of Water on August 1 is done either before or after Liturgy. Because of the Blessing of Water, this first Feast of the Savior in August is sometimes called ‘Savior of the Water.” There may also be a Blessing of New Honey today, which is why the Feast is also called “Savior of the Honey.” From this day the newly gathered honey is blessed and tasted.