September 9, 2020

Encomium on the Nativity of our Most Holy Lady the Theotokos (St. Nicholas Cabasilas) - 2 of 5

...continued from part one.

4. So what is holier than the mouths that could raise such a voice to God? What is equal to those prayers, which were prayed so effectively? Of what sacrifices are these souls more beloved to God? Which altars are more sacred? Because there was a need from this root and in this way for the Mother of God to receive her spiritual body: to be born of those people who were more than all others familiar to God and with the power of prayer. In other words, the one who united people with God, dissolving the enmity that existed between them, and opened the way to heaven the prayers of people, breaking down the dividing wall, had to come to life using the appropriate bases and starting points: And if the same happened to others who were born as a fruit of prayer - either before or after - it is obvious that the Virgin is not the cause only to those who came after her, but having opened the treasure of grace for all, she is the one in which they refer to and to which the previous ones lead. Because everything good that existed before, came from there: just as the shadow comes from the body, taking from it its form and shape - because the events of the Old Testament are thus related to the events of the New Testament - or because the Virgin was the common jewel of all before she even came to life, because God with the honors he did for the nation from afar adorned his mother.

Therefore, all this did not happen at all - not in the slightest - in the same way to them as to the All-Pure One, but there is a relationship between the shadow and the truth, the imprint and the things themselves. Just as there was for the ancients - before the great Sacrifice - blood that cleansed sins, but in reality there is as much difference between the two sacrifices as there is in their resemblance in form and name. Both are indeed offered blood sacrifices for the remission of sins. The same thing happens here. Thus the Virgin is the only true achievement of holy prayer - who had nothing undesired - and the only one who was a gift of God worthy both for God to give and for those who asked for it to receive. Because what the Virgin had matched both in the hand she gave and in the hand she received.

For this reason, it follows the birth of All-Pure One that nature could not contribute anything, but that it was realized entirely by the one who was invited. It follows, leaving aside nature, for God to create the Blessed One, so to speak, in a direct way, like the first man. Because, of course, very truly and par excellence, the Virgin is the first person, the one who was the first and only one to reveal human nature. And this is as follows:

5. Among the many gifts that God has already given to people or was going to give, as rewards in the struggle for the observance of the first, what creates man most of all, the summation of all, is to love in a pure way God, to live rationally, to dominate his passions and to have the slightest sin unknown to him. And the power that is needed to live in this way and to be superior and absolutely pure from all evil, God put in us at the time of creation, so that in the beginning we can overcome sin not without effort, but with struggle, since we do not present and utilize to the end all our possibilities, then the efforts should stop and we should be good and remain sinless without struggles, having achieved this incorruptibility of the body as well.

Because otherwise, to be man created in this way, of course, would not be a logical thing. For, if our nature was so inclined towards sin, that even though we fight against it by all means, we could not remain completely clean from its wounds and the evil was thus immovable within us, we would be before all else worse than the irrational animals, in which there is nothing wrong. On the other hand, it would be impossible not to accuse the Creator in this case, both as not entirely good and as a cause of evil, as well as as not always righteous, since he asks of us what he did not submit to our nature and judging us demands retribution for all sins, though he himself did not arm man against all. If again he had connected us from the beginning with good deeds, so that we are good without having fought in the slightest, it would certainly be impossible to be truly good in this way, since we would not have hastened ourselves with our will towards good and virtue, but we would have been seduced and suffered rather than acted on good. Then how would we use the freedom of will we received to be different from animals, who are driven by natural instincts, as humans alone with our will have freedom as an occasion for praise and crowns? On the other hand, neither to God nor to the graces with which he endowed human nature would it be appropriate for the struggles for virtue to never cease, but for man to be left to fight endlessly, that is, to never know any end in the struggles. Because in this case nothing would be more miserable than man, since everything else has the purpose to which it leads and the end to which it must end. That is why it is absolutely necessary to believe that God has placed in our nature power to deal with every sin and has given us the command to turn power into energy. And then, since by using our own means we will become good with the powers of ourselves, God will add what depends on him, thus he would complete the good man in us and the struggles and the study would cease. Why do we need struggles other than to guard ourselves, while virtue is still imperfect within us, from the evil that surrounds us and not to stand too far from the virtues that are in front of us? Whereas then, when God, the most perfect good, becomes the complete master of our desires and leaves nothing in us that does not fill it by himself, there will be no danger and no - not even the slightest - to sin in our tendency.

In this magnificent way God created humans. But the people, while they received a nature so good from that creative hand, and would receive it so much better, if they remained faithful to the first gifts, distorted it so much that neither what they had managed nor used properly nor much more, were able to achieve the latter and much higher, those that they would receive if they proved to be good housekeepers of the former. And of course the power against sin existed in nature and was in everyone, but no one turned it into a work, nor was there anyone who lived without sinning. But the disease, starting from the first man and proceeding through all, prevailed over all. Evil seemed to be our nature. And the natural beauty of man was hidden and man was invisible in the innumerable human bodies. Because everyone made use of the worst tendencies of the soul and the good that was inside it was nowhere to be seen, since no one lived according to it.