December 6, 2009

Orthodox Christmas Reflection (3)

Continued from Part Two...

Mary As Prophetess

Another prophecy of Isaiah is:

"'And I went into the prophetess and she conceived and bore a son.' And the Lord said to me, 'Call His name: Spoil Quickly, Plunder Speedily. For before the child shall know His father or His mother, He shall take the power of Damascus and the spoils of Samaria before the king of the Assyrians'" [8:3-4].

The Persian sage, monk and bishop, Aphraates (4th c.) speaks of Mary as a "prophetess", because of the Magnificat [Lk. 1:46-55] that she had uttered.

Saint Cyril of Alexandria says that "contemporaneously with the birth of Christ, the power of the devil was spoiled. The name 'Spoil Quickly, Plunder Speedily' or 'Maher-shalal-hash baz', refers to our Lord. The prophetess is the Holy Virgin; and the name given to the child suits not a man, but God; for, He says, call His name 'Spoil Quickly, Plunder Speedily'. For at His birth, the heavenly and supernatural infant, while yet in swaddling bands and on His Mother's bosom, because of His human nature, stripped forthwith Satan of his goods by His ineffable might as God; for the magi came from the East to worship Him...."

Saint Justin Martyr (135-c.165) writes that Isaiah's words, "He shall take the power of Damascus and the spoils of Samaria", meant that the power of the wicked demon that dwelt in Damascus would be crushed by Christ at His birth. This is shown to have taken place. For the magi, held in servitude (as spoils) for the commission of every wicked deed through the power of that demon, by coming and worshipping Christ, openly revolted against the power that had held them captive; and this dominion Scripture [1 Kings 11:23-25; 15:16-22; 22:31-35; 2 Kings 13:3] has shown us to reside in Damascus. Moreover, that sinful and unjust power is termed well in the term, 'Samaria'. 'Damascus' was and is a part of the land of Arabia, although it now belongs to Syro-Phoenicia.

Saint Cosmas expounds upon this in his Matins hymn:

"You have shone forth from the tribe of Judah, and You have come forth to plunder the strength of Damascus and the spoils of Samaria, turning their error into faith beautiful to God."

Saint Cosmas also incorporates other prophecies of Isaiah into his inspired hymns:

"As You are the God of peace and Father of mercies, You have sent us to Your Angel of great counsel [Is. 9:6], granting us peace. So are we guided towards the light of the knowledge of God, and watching by night we glorify You, O Lover of mankind."

The Rod of the Root of Jesse

Here again, St. Cosmas composes hymns by weaving in Old Testament prophecies, showing the Virgin as the rod and the overshadowed mountain:

"Rod of the root of Jesse [Is. 11:1], and flower that blossomed from his stem, O Christ, You have sprung from the Virgin. From the mountain overshadowed by the forest You have come [Hab. 3:3], made flesh from her that knew not wedlock, O God, Who are not formed from matter."

Saint Andrew also speaks of the Virgin as the rod and Christ as the Flower:

"Let Jesse rejoice and let David dance, for behold, the Virgin, the rod planted by God, has blossomed forth the Flower, even the everlasting Christ."

Saint Ambrose (339-397), Bishop of Milan, concurs with this image, writing:

"The root is the household of the Jews, the rod is Mary, the Flower of Mary is Christ. She is rightly called a rod, for she is of the royal lineage, of the house and family of David. Her Flower is Christ, Who destroyed the stench of worldly pollution and poured out the fragrance of eternal life. As He Himself said, 'I am a flower of the plain, a lily of the valleys'" [Songs 2:1].

Saint Irenaeus (+ c.193) also speaks of Isaiah's prophecy concerning the rod of the Flower from the root of Jesse:

"Thereby the prophet says that it is of her, who is descended from David and from Abraham, that He is born. For Jesse was a descendant of Abraham, the father of David; the descendant who conceived Christ, the Virgin, is thus become the 'rod'. Moses too worked his miracles before Pharaoh with a rod; and among others too of mankind, the rod is a sign of empire. And the 'Flower' refers to His body, for it was made to bud forth by the Spirit."

From the Akathist Hymn to the Theotokos, we chant:

"Rejoice, O mystical rod which blossomed the unfading Flower."


"Rejoice, O Bride of God; you are the mystical rod from whom the unfading Rose blossomed and budded forth."

Part Four