Archive for March 29th, 2007

The Incarnation: Cause of All Things Made, And Caused by None

March 29, 2007


The title of this post is a chapter heading in George Gabriel’s Mary the Untrodden Portal of God. Gabriel occasionally strikes hard at the West and the book would perhaps be strengthened with a less combative approach to the differences of East and West in the faith (my own opinion), but I liked the book and found Gabriel addressing many things, well foot-noted, that are not found in many other places. I share an excerpt.

From eternity, God provided for a communion with His creation that would remain forever. In that communion mankind would attain to the eternal theosis for which it was made. The communion, of course, is the Incarnation through the Ever-Virgin. Mankind’s existence and, therefore, that of all creation is inexorably tied to Mary because she was always to be the Mother of the Incarnate Word. The fathers say that neither the course of human events nor necessity of any kind forced the Uncreated One to join to Himself a creaturely mode of existence. God did not become flesh because some actions of the devil or of man made it necessary, but because it was the divine plan and mystery from before the ages. Despite the works of Satan and the coming of sin into the world, the eternal will of God was undeterred, and it moved forward.

History and the course of human events were the occasion and not the cause of the Incarnation. The Incarnation did not take place for the Crucifixion; the Crucifixion took place so the Incarnation and the eternal communion of God and man could be fulfilled despite Satan, sin, and death. Explaining that there was no necessity in God the Father that required the death of His Son, St. Gregory the Theologian says of the Father “neither asked for Him nor demanded Him, but accepts [His death] on account of the economy [of the Incarnation] and because mankind must be sanctified by the humanity of God.” St. Gregory is telling us that, from before the ages, it was the divine will for mankind to be sanctified and made immortal by communion with the humanity of the Incarnate God, but corruptibility and death came and stood in the way.  By His Passion and Resurrection, Jesus Christ destroyed these obstacles and saved, that is, preserved, mankind for the Incarnation’s eternal communion of the God-Man and immortal men. St. John of Damascus repreats the same idea that the Incarnation is a prior and indeed ontological purpose in itself, and that redemption is the means to that end. Thus, he says the Holy Virgin “came to serve in the salvation of the world so that the ancient will of God for the Incarnation of the Word and our own theosis may be fulfilled through her.”

It seems worthwhile to me, for us to meditate on the fullness of our salvation which is to be accomplished in God’s great Pascha. Indeed, it seems to me that everything always was about Pascha – the “Lamb was slain before the foundation of the earth” (Rev. 12:8) We are approaching the end of all things – and, I should add, their beginning as well.

That You May not Grieve as Others Do Who Have No Hope

March 29, 2007


Most of the services and words of Holy Week are the ones I expect – I’ve heard them before and though something will leap out at me as though I had never heard it (this always happens), I still feel somewhat secure that I know what is coming.

In the Orthodox calendar, Holy Week begins on Lazarus Saturday, the day before Palm Sunday. The services bear some similarity, as is appropriate, to those of Christ’s resurrection. The raising of Lazarus is a foretaste, a promise of what is to come in Pascha, and a reminded that Pascha includes us all.

I have always been struck by the story of the raising of Lazarus, if only because in that story we are told, “Jesus wept.” There is a profound sense that he has sanctified grief by taking it on Himself. He wept as anyone would at the death of a friend, even though He knows that He is shortly to raise Him from the dead.

We ourselves lay our family and friends to rest believing that they, too, will be raised from the dead, and yet, like Christ, we weep.

I was caught off-guard last night at our service of the Presanctified Gifts. My thoughts of Lazarus Saturday were several days away, also intertwined with the fact that we are receiving 15 new members into the Church. But my mind was not on Lazarus. But the services of the Church are vigilant and remember what we would not yet contemplate. One of the verses sung by the choir said this:

Now Lazarus has been in the tomb two days, seeing the dead of all the ages, beholding strange sights of terror: countless multitudes bound by the chains of hell. His sisters weep bitterly as they gaze at his tomb, but Christ is coming to bring His friend to life, to implement in this one man His plan for all. Blessed art Thou, O Savior, have mercy on us!

It struck me that this is where we live most of our days. Not at Lazarus Saturday, at the General Resurrection of the dead, but two days out, while those we love seem lost to us and Christ seems no where to be found. But He is somewhere to be found, and He has a precise intention regarding his friend Lazarus. Christ does not close Himself off from the natural grief of human beings, but He does not grieve as one who has no hope. He is our hope and the assurance of our own resurrection and of those we love.

Two days in the tomb is a hard place to live. But as St. Paul reminds us in his First Letter to the Thessalonians, we should not “grieve as those who have no hope.” For we do have hope.

As St. Paul will say to the Hebrews: “We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner shrine behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek” (Hebrews 6:19-20). We may be waiting with Lazarus – two days out – but we have a great hope – the greatest of hopes. We have Jesus who will not leave us to grieve as those who have no hope.