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.


The Eucharistic Miracle of Lanciano

24 October 10

Reposted from here.


In the city of Lanciano, Italy, around A.D. 700, a Basilian monk and priest were assigned to celebrate the Divine Liturgy in the small Church of St. Legontian. Celebrating in Greek and using leavened bread,* that monk had doubts about the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist.

During the Divine Liturgy, when he said the Words of Consecration (“This is my body”; “This is my blood”.), with doubt in his soul, the priest saw the bread change into living flesh and the wine change into live blood, which coagulated into five globules, irregular and differing in shape and size (this number corresponds to the number of wounds Christ suffered on the cross: one in each hand and foot from the nails, and the wound from the centurion’s spear).

Since 1574, various ecclesiastical investigations of varying degrees of detail have been conducted upon the miracle. The first appears to consist of a weighing, in which each different globule though varying in size, all each weigh the same and always produced the same weight no matter what the amount of these globules was. Thus all of them put together was the equivalent to any one of them or any three or any four all equaled the same weight no matter what combination. Also an examination in 1971 conducted by Professor Doctor Odoardo Linoli which were confirmed by Dr. Bertelli. The flesh was found to be human striated muscular tissue of the myocardium (the heart wall), type AB, and to be absolutely free of any agents used for preserving flesh. The blood at Lanciano has divided into five irregularly shaped pellets. At scientific examinations conducted in 1971 these pellets were found to be human blood, type AB (“the universal receiver”), with proteins normally fractionated and present in the same percentage ratio as those in normal fresh blood.

– February 17, 1574 by Bishop Rodriguez
– 1636 by Father Serafino from Scanno
– October 23, 1777 by Bishop Gervasone
– October 26, 1886 by Bishop Petrarca
– 1971, by Professor Odoardo Linoli

This most recent examination was performed by Professor Odoardo Linoli, Professor in Anatomy and Pathological Histology and in Chemistry and Clinical Microscopy, and Professor Ruggero Bertelli of the University of Siena. The report was published in Quaderni Sclavo di Diagnostica Clinica e di Laboratori in 1971.

The following conclusions were drawn by Odoardo Linoli:

– The flesh is real flesh and the blood is real blood.

– The flesh and the blood belong to the human species.

– The flesh consists of the muscular tissue of the heart.

– In the flesh we see present in section: the myocardium, the endocardium, the vagus nerve and also the left ventricle of the heart for the large thickness of the myocardium. The flesh is a heart complete in its essential structure.

– The flesh and the blood have the same blood type, AB.

– In the blood there were found proteins in the same normal proportions (percentage-wise) as are found in the sero-proteic make-up of fresh normal blood.

– In the blood there were also found these minerals: chlorides, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, sodium and calcium.

The flesh and blood of the alleged miracle can still be seen today. The flesh, is fibrous and light brown in colour, and becomes rose-coloured when lighted from the back. The blood consists of five coagulated globules and has an earthly colour resembling the yellow of ochre.

* The piece today is deceptively stretched out to appear as if it was unleavened according to later Catholic practice.

Source with photos

Read also:

Eucharistic Miracle

The Eucharistic Miracle of Lanciano, Italy

Lanciano, 700’s A.D.: The Heart of Christ

Physician Tells of Eucharistic Miracle of Lanciano

Important note from the Russian Sluzhebnik (Priest’s Service Book):

“If after the consecration of the bread & wine a miracle is revealed, ie, if the bread manifests the appearance of a child or the wine the appearance of blood, and if in a short time this appearance does not change, ie, if they do not appear again under the form of bread & wine, but if they remain thus without change, then let the priest not take communion because it is not the Body & Blood of Christ, but a miracle from God manifest only because of the lack of faith or some other reason.”

The instruction goes on to say that if the Body assumes another appearance then the priest must make another Lamb as he did at Proskomedia. He then resumes the Liturgy with the prayer “With these blessed hosts…” which is the prayer said at the Anaphora while the choir sings, “Holy, holy, holy…” If the Blood changes appearance, then he must pour new wine into the chalice. The purpose of this is so the faithful may still receive the Body & Blood of Christ at the Liturgy.