The two Sundays prior to the Feast of the Nativity are dedicated to the Ancestors and the Forefathers of Christ. One feast honors those who have been ancestors to Christ (according to the flesh) the other feast remembers those who were the “righteous” of those generations before Christ, though not necessarily ancestors according to the flesh.
Such feasts are absent in most of Christianity – as though Christ had come at a point in time without preparation – without ancestors. Just as many Christians refuse to recognize the blessedness of Mary, from whom Christ took flesh, so do they also refuse to recognize that “flesh” involves ancestry. It is a bothersome aspect of the incarnation of Christ. It would be so much easier for many to speak of Christ’s humanity if His humanity did not involve any other humans. Thus there are Christians who worship a God made man, who is no man at all.
The traditional title for the grandparents of Christ (the parents of the Virgin Mary) is “the holy and righteous ancestors of God, Joachim and Anna.” They are honored at every liturgy, being invoked as part of the dismissal. If the title, “Mother of God,” can be tolerated by some, the title, “holy and righteous ancestors of God,” is yet more problematic.
In many ways this is not surprising. The modern world is largely devoid of ancestors. Ancestors are inherently part of tradition, and modernity despises tradition – it rebels against tradition. Living in America, I am deeply aware that many of the current generation cannot cite their ancestors further back than grandparents. It is as though we were a culture that came from nowhere. Perhaps this has an element of truth.
To come “from somewhere,” is to come with restrictions on freedom. It is to come with a history – perhaps a history of friends and enemies. This can, indeed, be destructive and counter-productive. But it also means that we come into the world without identity, and thus find the need to “invent” ourselves. And so it is that modern Christians think nothing of inventing their own version of Christianity – for they themselves have no inheritance – no received tradition.
I am in California this week (a very self-invented place) for the Baptism of my second grandchild. It is a wonderful event in my life. It is also a wonderful event in the life of the child Sebastian, for he does not invent himself. As the community of faith, we plunge him into the waters of Christ’s death and resurrection. He is received into the household of faith, into the generations of faithful Orthodox Christians who have offered to God innumerable martyrs and a faithfulness that now becomes my grandson’s inheritance. He will know his name, and the courage of St. Sebastian. He will know his father and mother, a priest and his wife. He will know his grandfather, a priest and his grandmother, a priest-wife. He will also know his grandparents who are Baptists (a minister and his wife). He will know the household of faith that extends deeply beyond parents and grandparents and extends through the generations of the faithful. All this is part of the content of his baptism.
Modernity has a penchant for invention. But it is not so good for man to invent himself – it is not in the nature of our creation. If our ancestors have made mistakes (and surely they have) we do well to know it, and embrace the humility that it should bring. If our ancestors have given us an inheritance of righteousness, we do well to know it, and not imagine that righteousness began on yesterday.
We do well to know that we did not invent ourselves, our faith, or the God whom we follow. Life is a gift, received and passed along. I rejoice that tomorrow my hands will plunge into the waters with my grandson. For all that have, just as all that he has, is a gift. I did not invent it – I received it. The test of my life is to faithfully live what has been given to me, and to give it to others, faithfully and without change.
Glory to God!