December 1, 2009

Orthodox Christmas Reflection (1)

In the kontakion of the Nativity Feast, composed by St. Romanos the Melodist (c.490-c.556), through the blessing and aid of the Virgin herself, the Church chants:

"Today the Virgin gives birth to Him Who is transcendent in essence; and the earth offers a cave to Him Who is unapproachable. Angels with shepherds give glory; with a star, the magi do journey; for our sakes a young child is born, Who is the pre-eternal God."

"What mysteries beyond mind and speech! God, in His compassion, is born on earth, putting on the form of a servant that He may snatch from servitude to the enemy them that with fervent love cry out: 'Blessed are You, O Saviour Who loves mankind.'"

The Preaching of the Prophets Has Reached Its Fulfillment

Saint Andrew of Crete (c.660-740) comments: "Of you, O Mary, all interpreters of the Spirit sang." Nowhere in the divinely inspired Scripture can one look without seeing some allusion to her.

"Rejoice, Mediatress of the Law and of Grace, Seal of the Old and New Testaments, clear fulfillment of the whole of prophecy, of the truth of Scriptures inspired by God, the living and most pure book of God and the Word in which, without voice or writing, the Writer Himself, God and Word, is everyday read."

Saint Gregory Palamas (+1359) thought that "all divinely inspired Scripture was written because of the Virgin who brought forth God incarnate."

Early Prophecies

Saint John of Damascus (c.676-c.750) interprets the burning bush [Ex. 3:1-8] as an image of the virgin birth when he chants:

"Plainly foreshadowed by the burning bush that was not consumed, a hallowed womb has borne the Word. God is mingled with the form of mortal men, and so looses the unhappy womb of Eve from the bitter curse of old" [Gen. 3:16].


"That which was revealed to Moses in the bush, we see accomplished here in strange manner. The Virgin bore Fire within her, yet was not consumed, when she gave birth to the Benefactor Who brings us light."

Saint Andrew of Crete also chants elsewhere that:

"As You are one of the Trinity, You were seen become flesh, not changing Your essence, O Lord. Neither did You burn the incorrupt womb of her that bore You, since You are wholly God and Fire."

The burning bush was traditionally interpreted as a type of the Virgin. Saint Gregory of Nyssa (c.335-394) is insistent on the virginitas in partu. From the image of the burning bush seen by Moses in Sinai, "we also learn the mystery of the Virgin: the light of divinity, which through birth shone from her into human life, did not whither the flower of her virginity, just as the burning bush was not consumed."

Saint Ildephonsus (607-667), Archbishop of Toledo, wrote that, "The Holy Spirit heated, inflamed, and melted Mary with love, as fire does iron, so that the flame of the Holy Spirit was seen and nothing was felt by the fire of the love of God."

Saint Joseph the Hymnographer (c.816-886), borrowing from the book of Numbers [24:19] chants:

"Now is Christ born of Jacob, so Barlaam said. And He shall rule over nations, and His Kingdom shall be exalted in grace and shall remain perpetually."

"That You might fill all things with Your glory, You have come and bowed the heavens [Ps. 17:9] till they touched the earth. For as rain upon the fleece [Judg. 6:36-38], have You descended into a virgin womb, from which You now come forth to be born in two natures, O God-Man."

The poet and brother of St. John of Damascus, St. Cosmas, Bishop of Maiouma, writes:

"As dew upon the fleece have You descended into the womb of the Virgin, O Christ, and as drops of rain that fall upon the earth. Ethiopia and Tarshish and the isles of Arabia, the kings of Saba, of the Medes, and all the earth, fell down before You, O Saviour."

Saint Romanos in the Matins Service writes:

"Bethlehem has opened Eden: come, let us behold. We have found joy in this hidden place: come, and let us take possession of the paradise that is within the cave. There the unwatered Root has appeared and flowers forth forgiveness; there is found the undug Well, when David of old yearned to drink [2 Kings 23:15]. There the Virgin has borne a babe, and quenched the thirst of Adam and David to cease straightway. Therefore, let us hasten to this place where now a young child is born, the pre-eternal God."

Part 2