On the Incarnation of the Lord
by St. Proclus of Constantinople
Many different festivals brighten our manner of living, transforming by festive cycles the pain of the hardships of life. For just as those who come from stormy seas rejoice in harbors as if in the arms of life, so too do we, distressed by many circumstances, rejoice in a festival as if it were a mother who frees us from care.
For a feast is the forgetfulness of sorrow, the sleep of cares, the cultivation of joy, the cause of delight, the season of prayer, a harvest for the poor, the adornment of the Church, the festival of cities, the shipwreck of hatred, the dawn of friendship, and heaven upon earth. And why say all this? A feast is the fruit of the resurrection, according to the prophet who says: "O Judah, celebrate thy feasts, for the One who breathes upon your face has risen from the earth" (Nah. 1:15, 2:1).
Although there are, as I have said, many different festivals, not every feast is of equal value. For while some have been established by God, others were concocted by the devil. Some festivals threaten the soul with calamity, while others celebrate satiety in the stomach. But there are others which traffic in the salvation of human nature. The Greeks keep festivals, but having disgracefully deified their lusts they defiled themselves with the filth of shame. The Jews also keep festivals. However, they confuse God with their stomach and so turn their feasts into gluttonous occasions for sin. While they were keeping festival in the wilderness they worshipped the golden calf. During times of "quarrels and strifes" they kept a fast (Is. 58:4). Keeping festival in Jerusalem, they set up a cross for the Lord. O Jewish feast days, whose merriment is but a deception, and whose delight ends in death!
The festivals of the Christians, on the other hand, are divine and wondrous, truly fountainheads and treasuries of salvation. For the first of our feasts proclaims the advent of God among men. The second represents the sanctification of the waters and the womb of baptism. The third joyfully announces the destruction of death, the trophy of the Cross, the gift of the resurrection, and the liberation of our fathers. The fourth proclaims both the ascension and the first fruit of humanity into the heavens and its seat at the right hand (of the Father). The fifth heralds the descent of the Holy Spirit and the thunderous rain of a thousand graces. These are the feasts "which the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in them" (Ps. 117:24).
Among the things celebrated at yesterday's feast, was there anything which was not miraculous and wondrous, or awesome and glorious? What was the marvel of yesterday's feast day? But first, I beg you, listen with forbearance, for a tongue of clay is trying to convey the mysteries of God. What, then, was the marvel of yesterday's feast? The inexplicable mystery of divinity and humanity; a birth pang without pain; an enfleshment giving form to the one without shape; an inconceivable birth; a beginning, but not the beginning of the One who was born. For even though it was the beginning of His humanity, His divinity remained beginningless; one form assumed another form, but the Trinity did not increase to a quaternity, for (this was) a union of two natures, the birth of one Son, and the unconfused union of the Word with the flesh. He who was born according to the flesh is God from the Father, and man from me. O awesome and wondrous mystery! Who ever saw a king take on the appearance of a condemned man? Or when did the eye ever take in the sight of the entire sun? And when was human flesh ever essentially united without change to God, if not yesterday? When the Virgin was heavy with child, (when) the Word entered in through her sense of hearing, (when) the Holy Spirit fashioned the living temple of the body, (when) the Most High emptied Himself into the form of a servant (Phil. 2:7), (when) the womb of a virgin contained within herself the mystery of the divine dispensation. O womb wider than the heavens! O birth that bears salvation! O womb of clay and bridal chamber of the Creator! O birth, a ransom for the sin of the world! O mystery, the manner of which I am unable to explain! O birth, not the beginning of God's existence, not a change of nature, nor a diminishing of power, neither a separation from the beginningless progenitor, but the essential union of God and flesh; the blessing of birth; the advent of God; the wonder hidden by God from the ages; the indivisible mystery of (divine and human) natures; the abolition of the curse; the overturning of the sentence which stood against us; (the birth) of the one and only Son, (His) beginningless existence, (His) birth in the flesh from the Virgin and veneration by all creation, joyfully announced and freely given to all! To Him be glory and dominion, unto the ages of ages. Amen.