Seeing Christ Revealing Himself in Everyday Life

Nathanael’s Saving Encounter with Jesus – John 1.35-51

[35] The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples;
[36] and he looked at Jesus as he walked, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!”
[37] The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.
[38] Jesus turned, and saw them following, and said to them, “What do you seek?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?”
[39] He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying; and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour.
[40] One of the two who heard John speak, and followed him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother.
[41] He first found his brother Simon, and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ).
[42] He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him, and said, “So you are Simon the son of John? You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter).
[43] The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. And he found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.”
[44] Now Philip was from Beth-sa’ida, the city of Andrew and Peter.
[45] Philip found Nathan’a-el, and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”
[46] Nathan’a-el said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.”
[47] Jesus saw Nathan’a-el coming to him, and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!”
[48] Nathan’a-el said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.”
[49] Nathan’a-el answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”
[50] Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe? You shall see greater things than these.”
[51] And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.”

Collect for Purity

Almighty God, unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid: cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of Thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love Thee and worthily magnify Thy holy name, through Christ our Lord. Amen.”

—————-

It is very interesting to note the warmth with which Jesus speaks of Nathanael. At no time does He speak in this way about anyone except John the Baptizer when John’s disciples came to him from prison. But he had known John a long time, and John was the chosen prophetic messenger chosen by God to make ready for the coming of the Messiah. This is the first time Jesus had met Nathanael. He had not yet been introduced to him or talked with him. Yet, Jesus is so full of appreciation of the good qualities which He perceives in Nathanael that he exclaims to those who are standing about him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!”

Notice how the Lord Jesus perceived what was good in people. It is profitable for us to note. This illustrates one of the characteristics of His divine nature. He was always detecting areas of goodness in people.

The people of Jericho saw nothing but sin and meanness in Zaccheus. But underneath all the cheating and miserliness, Christ detected at once the sleeping greatness of his manhood. This manhood Jesus related to in Zaccheus.

Other people saw in Mary of Magdala or in the woman at Samaria only sinful, outcast, worthless creatures deserving of nothing but death. But Jesus saw there the golden vein of womanhood that could be dug out and redeemed.

And so you may go through the life of Jesus, and one of the characteristics of the Savior that will comfort you most is that he is always looking for the good. As surely as a magnet detects the steel and draws it toward itself, Christ finds the good in a man or woman, and brings it to the surface.

What a glorious and fruitful thing it would be to always relate to others in this way!

“…speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all men.” Titus 3.2

“Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Philippians 4.8

But, contrast Jesus with Nathanael.  Jesus is responding to Nathanael first in terms of what is good about him, but Nathanael is doing the opposite. Recall the story.

When approached by his brother, Philip, who is excited about having found the Messiah, Nathanael rejects Philip and reacts by saying,   “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” What a judgmental thing to say!! How utterly dismissive. Nathanael doesn’t show respect for Philip’s new-found faith. What is more, Nathanael doesn’t know Jesus! He immediately lumps Him into a category – worthless – which is Nathanael’s prejudiced summation for everything and everyone connected with Nazareth. Nathanael starts off his relationship with Jesus by connecting with him based on his conviction of Jesus’ worthlessness. So, Nathanael rejects Philip, Jesus, and Nazareth all in one “fell swoop”!!

Nathanael, is a good example of what prevents us from seeing Jesus as He reveals Himself in others and at work in their lives. Nathanael is blind to Jesus. He cannot see Him. All he sees is WORTHLESS NAZARETH….

Depend on it, the opposite spirit, that is forever causing us to seek out the evil spots in our friend or neighbor is born of some similar rotten cancor of sin in our own hearts.

The story is told of boys, between whom there was a feud that they met one day in the street and began to quarrel. One of them became very abusive, and called the other many ugly names. The other listened to him until his patience was exhausted, and then said : “Are you finished?” The first said he had no more to say. The other replied: “All those things you say that I am, you are.” The boy perhaps did not understand the philosophy of his words, but, consciously or unconsciously, he was uncovering a great relational law. No man will use words of hatred and revenge who does not have the rot of hatred, bitterness, festering wounds of the past, or revenge in his own heart. No man’s eye will be alert and suspicious to detect evil in another person and gloat over it in his thoughts about that person, unless there is the kindred spot of evil in his own soul which forms the dark lens through which he looks at the other person. The gossipy and slanderous way in which Nathanael regarded Jesus, which we must remind ourselves he has not even met (!), is, I would assume, not admired by any of us. But, even if Nathanael had met Jesus, I believe we would agree, to relate to him on the basis of his inadequacies and perhaps even his evil qualities, is no better. This slanderous attitude has often been the cause of incredible sorrow, has destroyed many families, and made the innocent and pure to suffer needless wrong.

Our model of how to access others in relationship is Jesus not Nathanael. Jesus, we know from other examples, does not ignore the sin in those to whom He relates. Jesus perceives the evil that is there. Every evil purpose they form in their inmost soul is perceived by Him. Nothing is hid from his sight. But Jesus’ manner reminds us of the scripture that says, “If our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart.” But, Jesus begins His relationship with them not on the basis of their sinfulness or with how worthless they are, but how valuable they are to Him. He perceives the good and rejoices over it. The beginning place for Jesus, as contrasted with Nathanael (and perhaps you and me on many occasions) is unconditional love and regard for their infinite value in the heart of God. This is, of course, was only the beginning.

LET US “come and see” THE RESULT.

The result is easy to detect in the ministry of Jesus. People’s lives are healed and transformed.  Jesus asks us to realize that the result of His way is, “…the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is he who takes no offense at me.” (Luke 7.22-23).

Nathanael is the best example of the result. Let’s let the Apostle John tell us of the result in his own words. Listen for the contrast between the relational manner of Nathanael and Jesus and the transformation that results in Jesus’s manner of relating:

[46] Nathan’a-el said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.”
[47] Jesus saw Nathan’a-el coming to him, and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!”
[48] Nathan’a-el said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.”
[49] Nathan’a-el answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”

What a miracle this is !! Notice several important things that result in the transformation of Nathanael.

First, notice the role of Philip. Philip certainly knew Nathanael. He knew, we would assume, that he was a cynic. When Nathanael rejects Philip and his new-found faith, Philip does not cave in. Rather, he is, apparently, patient and reiterates his desire that Nathanael enter into a relationship with Jesus by inviting him to “come and see.” Are we patiently assertive like Philip in our desire for others to come to know Jesus in spite of their rejection of us and Him?! Are we willing to simply invite, or do we enter into an argument in which we defend Jesus (who does not need our defense)? Philip is not insecure regarding his new-found faith, but patient and hopeful.

Notice, secondly, that it is Philip along with Jesus who plays a REAL role in Nathanael’s salvation. It is rare that a person enters into a saving relationship with the Lord in isolation from the ministry of other disciples. Philip and so also we, are “co-laborers with Christ” in the harvest.

 Notice, third, that Nathanael does, in fact, “come and see.”  The soul of Nathanael desperately yearns for the Lord. Nathanael’s soul was secretly seeking the voice of the Messiah. As St. Augustine said in his,  Confessions:

“Thou movest us to delight in praising Thee; for Thou hast formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee?”(1.1) As soon as he recognized in Jesus the Messiah, he cried out in glad assurance, as though he had found that which he had long been seeking for his whole life: “Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel!” Only about a dozen words of conversation had passed between Nathanael and Jesus before it is Nathanael’s time to exclaim with glad and heartfelt reverence and excitement, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”

Jesus invites us to: 

  • “come and see” ourselves and others as infinitely valuable and worth saving as a result of seeing ourselves as loved
  • recognize the truth about how we relate to others according to the “Nathanael syndrome”
  • realize that we are helpless to do otherwise without the grace of the Holy Spirit 
  • ask for His merciful grace to heal our sight and manner of relating 
  • step out beyond the projection of our self-hatred on others and seek and serve Jesus the Christ in them

When you are tempted to say hard things and bitter things about others, or to have your relationship with them governed by the leading edge of resentment or prejudice, remember the story of the boy who replied to the other who condemned him, “All those things you say that I am, you are.”

And let us remember that he who knew what was in man, who knew our humanity better than anybody else in the world, loved and loves us like nobody else in the world, and counted us as valuable enough to give his own life to rescue us from sin and death. Your hope and mine rests on the fact that Jesus Christ, who knows us better than anyone in the world, sees in us that which is worth saving and begins in His relationship with us on that basis. THAT IS THE ESSENCE OF MERCY AND COMPASSION. Let us take him at his word. If we are disheartened and discouraged about our own selves, let us consider and be encouraged by the thought that the Savior knows us better even than we know our-selves, and knows the latent possibilities for good in us which nobody else has ever discerned.

Let us see the “Nathanael syndrome” in ourselves. Let us be done with it, once and for all.

If there are any who have been living “Nathanael” lives and as a result, lacking the clear and joyous consciousness (sight) of the abiding presence of “God with us” in your circumstance and the lives of those you encounter, then come to Jesus today for healing. Draw near to Jesus all you “…who travail and are heavy laden…,” for He eagerly waits to give you rest. Come with the mustard seed of faith. Let us all come and knee humbly and helplessly at His feet and lay hold of them and weep with hope. But, let us come boldly to the throne of grace as He has invites us. Ask to be healed by the nourishment of His body and blood.

Let us truly inhabit the words of the collect for purity and seek to see others and relate to them as does Jesus. He knows the inadequacies and evils that reside in every one of us. To Him, the hearts of every person are open, all of their desires known, and to Him none of their secrets are hid. But, Jesus does not begin with the inadequacies and evils that reside in the heart of a person. Rather, He approaches us through the goodness He beholds deep within and especially the fact that we are created in His image. Jesus is able, according to the prayer, to see His reflection (however fragmented, twisted, stained, and corrupted that image may be in the person’s life). Himself in us He sees and Himself in us He loves for our salvation’s sake.

Let us pray to have our inner sight, so clouded by prejudice and self-hatred as was Nathanael’s, cleansed so we may not only see others as Jesus sees, but relate to others as Jesus relates. Jesus seeks Himself in others and relates to them through His measureless value. Let us pray for the grace to do likewise. Let us pray that we, who have received the divine nature, will yield to its expansion and expression in our lives. Let us go even further and desire that it be Jesus Himself that sees and relates to others through us by grace.

Let us answer the invitation of Jesus to “come and see” by coming to Him in our “Nathanael-ness”. Let us come to Jesus that we may see Jesus “… at all times and in all places…” and especially “..in all persons…”

Fr. Thomas

No Christian reflection is the original work of the author if he or she is completely honest. I therefore, gratefully acknowledge the source of this reflection as being the revival sermon, “Nathanael Under the Fig Tree”, by The Rev’d. Louis Albert Banks, D.D., preached in January, 1895. The text of that great work provided the basic outline for this reflection. I have freely adapted that sermon for the purpose of addressing the audience the Lord has given to me. I pray that you are blessed by it.

Enemies and the Disciple of Christ

What is the right way to relate to my enemy? Seem like a thorny question? Well, it is – a “crown of thorns” to be precise. My tendency is to fight fire with fire and obtain the upper hand. In short, to conquer my enemy with the weapons of the enemy. But that has never gotten me anywhere and my feelings of having “sold out” to something sinister as a result are intense. So, I have to ask myself, is there REALLY another way? Does Jesus really desire for me to take time literally?

The real question I need the courage to ask myself is not what am I to do in relationship with my enemy. The answer is clear (see the passage below). The REAL question is, Am I willing to do what Jesus clearly says to do?!  Am I willing to admit and embrace in practical action that the only way to properly relate to my enemy is LOVE that is the literal love of Christ, offered to my enemy through Christ and by the strength of Christ?

Below are two quotes. The first is the “whole counsel of God in Christ” on the matter. The second is a prayer for my enemies, written by St. Nicolai of Ochrid.

It is my conviction that the place to start with regard to my enemies is my prayers. If I start with prayer, continue in prayer, and conclude with prayer I will go a long way to experiencing the UNIQUE blessing God wants to bestow upon me THROUGH none other than my enemies!!

Fr. Thomas

———–

Matthew 5.38-48

[38] “You have heard that it was said, `An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’
[39] But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also;
[40] and if any one would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well;
[41] and if any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.
[42] Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would borrow from you.
[43] “You have heard that it was said, `You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’
[44] But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
[45] so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
[46] For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?
[47] And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?
[48] You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

A Prayer for Our Enemies – St. Nicolai of Ochrid

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

  • Enemies have driven me into Thy embrace more than friends have.
  • Friends have bound me to earth, enemies have loosed me from earth and have demolished all my aspirations in the world.
  • Enemies have made me a stranger in worldly realms and an extraneous inhabitant of the world.
  • Just as a hunted animal finds safer shelter than an unhunted animal does, so have I, persecuted by enemies, found the safest sanctuary, having ensconced myself beneath Thy tabernacle, where neither friends nor enemies can slay my soul.

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

  • They, rather than I, have confessed my sins before the world.
  • They have punished me, whenever I have hesitated to punish myself.
  • They have tormented me, whenever I have tried to flee torments.
  • They have scolded me, whenever I have flattered myself, they have spat upon me, whenever I have filled myself with arrogance.

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

  • Whenever I have made myself wise, they have called me foolish.
  • Whenever I have made myself mighty, they have mocked me as though I were a dwarf.
  • Whenever I have wanted to lead people, they have shoved me into the background.
  • Whenever I have rushed to enrich myself, they have prevented me with an iron hand.
  • Whenever I thought that I would sleep peacefully, they have wakened me from sleep.
  • Whenever I have tried to build a home for a long and tranquil life, they have demolished it and driven me out.
  • Truly, enemies have cut me loose from the world and have stretched out my hands to the hem of Thy garment.

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them

  • Bless them and multiply them; multiply them and make them even more bitterly against me:
  • so that my fleeing to Thee may have no return; 
  •  so that all hope in men may be scattered like cobwebs; 
  •  so that absolute serenity may begin to reign in my soul;
  • so that my heart may become the grave of my two evil twins: arrogance and anger;
  • so that I might amass all my treasure in heaven;
  • ah, so that I may for once be freed from self deception, which has entangled me in the dreadful web of illusory life.

Enemies have taught me to know what hardly anyone knows, that a person has no enemies in the world except himself. One hates his enemies only when he fails to realize that they are not enemies, but cruel friends. It is truly difficult for me to say who has done me more good and who has done me more evil in the world: friends or enemies.

Therefore bless, O Lord, both my friends and my enemies.

  • A slave curses enemies, for he does not understand.
  • But a son blesses them, for he understands. For a son knows that his enemies cannot touch his life. Therefore he freely steps among them and prays to God for them.

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

Amen

For more on St. Nicolai, consult the following website: http://www.orthodoxinfo.com/general/stnikolai.aspx

“Blog, Blah, Babel, or Bravo …”

I am a new blogger. I have read blogs now and then, but never registered for and posted blogs until now. A friend of mine urged me to do so. I am amazed and excited. I am astounded and troubled.

 

I want, in this article, to touch on a couple of things with no assumptions (maybe even desire) of comprehensiveness or objectivity. Unusual for me, I know … What is more, I am going to use the first person singular throughout this article to “own” all of this for myself as much as possible.

 

There is a lot of talking going on!!!! Lots of expression!!!! What comes to mind are the opening lyrics of the theme song, by Harry Nilsson, in the movie Midnight Cowboy:

 

“Everybody’s talking at me.
I don’t hear a word they’re saying,
Only the echoes of my mind.”

 

I have been blogging only a week or so and have already had my nose verbally bloodied, and I think, verbally bloodied the nose of someone else. The whole thing kind of reminds me of “Ultimate Fighting” or “Mad Max Beyond Thunder Dome.”  Not for the faint of heart to be sure!

 

Someone told me, “Get over it. It’s part of the blogging phenomenon. You just gotta get in there and “duke it out.”  Yikes!!

Life is filled with words, both spoken and printed. Words are essential and thus, very powerful. By the use of words, I give voice to what I believe is true or false. I give voice to the hope or despondency I have come to hold in my heart. With words I reach out in love, hate, or indifference. Words are the basis upon which I make many mundane and major decisions.

 

But communication is not the same thing as the purposeful use of words. Communication involves understanding. The speaker and the hearer, although they are hearing the words the other is saying, may not be communicating. Verbal communication requires more than hearing. Communication requires listening. The old adage is applicable:

 

I know you think you understood what you thought I meant by what I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you understood is not necessarily what I really meant.”

 

Have you ever been involved in a conversation (written or spoken) in which the people involved were using the same words but, at least in your estimation based on the heightening intensity and obvious frustration, meant very different things by them? Or, have you been in a situation in which the two parties were so entrenched in their convictions and need to change the other person that any meaningful communication was impossible?

 

Hearing is a bodily function involving more than just our ears. Listening is and internal – spiritual?! – function involving my mind and heart.

 

I heard somewhere, sometime, I am not sure where or when, that we think four times faster than we talk. So, as we are speaking or hearing, we are also thinking. As the speaker, we are speaking and planning the next words at the same moment. As the hearer, we are hearing and drawing conclusion about what we are hearing.

 

Two questions and two assumptions are being made, it seems to me.

 

First question, “Just because I can say it does it need to be spoken?” Second question, “Just because I can hear it do I need to listen to it?” Big questions based on a previous assumption of “if I can I should” or “if I can I am entitled to.” Two spirits are operative in the blog world, the spirit of responsibility and the spirit of entitlement. But, I would ask, where is the spirit of silence? Sometimes it is what could be said but isn’t that is most helpful. Sometimes is it what could be listened to but isn’t that is healing. Silence is a substantial preexisting environment out of which legitimate communication arises. More on that later.

 

Now, on to the assumptions.

 

The first assumption, as the speaker, is that I have something to say that is worth saying and being heard. I am not just “talking,” which is not the same thing as “speaking.” An important development in human maturation is coming to the conviction that “I have a voice” – something that is important (essential?!) for my good and the world’s to at least have me speak and perhaps to have heard.

 

The second assumption, as the listener, is that there is something outside myself that is worth my listening. This assumption is based on the important maturation moment in which I realize I have something to learn (even though whether I am willing to admit it, I have been a learner all my life). It is the assumption that, mysteriously, I and the world will be better off if I listen and learn what is being spoken. 

 

Both of these assumptions bring into my consideration of communication, an additional essential variable. Communication, REAL communication, involves, I submit, some level of caring.

 

It is worth my time to make the effort to discover and use carefully the words that communicate the content of my deeply held convictions. But, how do “I”, ultimately, care? What does it require of me? But, is it worth it to me, to care?! Am I willing to listen to the answer and pay the price that caring requires?

 

I mentioned that “silence is a substantial preexisting environment out of which legitimate communication arises.” What does that mean? It is my conviction that silence is the context of true caring.  Kind of mystical, I know, but true nonetheless. The deepest caring I have received and offered without exception is silent presence and shared joy or sorrow in that silence. 

 

Do I care enough to be silent even though I could say something, knowing that the silence is more communicative? Do I care enough to not listen when listening would just perpetuate brokenness and be understood as sponsorship of a behavior or conviction? We are so addicted to words that I am not sure everyone who reads that will “get it.”

 

Do I care??  If I say I do, then, what is the content of my caring?  Do I care about those who are the recipients of my “blog,” those who hear (maybe listen) to my voice?  Or am I speaking (yelling) just to delight in the sound of my own words/voice? Am I building bridges or just subtlety or not so subtlety destroying everybody else’s?

 

I am amazed by the “blogging world”—what an opportunity for communication, reconciliation, and transformation. I am troubled by the same “blogging world”—what an opportunity for rampant narcissism, division, and condemnation.

 

Communication is a choice.  It is a choice to be open. It is a choice to reach out and to allow someone else to reach in.  I believe that real communication (which involves coming together rather than choosing to stay apart) is fueled by the desire for right and good will to triumph over evil. Communication, when I have experienced it in this way, has been for me and others the source of much confidence regarding the course of history globally and locally.

 

Blogging is an image of much in my life. As the actress asks the director, “What is my motivation in this scene?” Blogging is a “scene” for millions.

 

It is my scene if I am dedicated to communication. When I caringly [even perhaps lovingly (?!)] reach out with my words or I desire to listen to the other person, the darkness of isolation and alienation is “put to flight.”

 

Is the blog world another version of the tower of Babel – lots of words and little or no communication?  Or, is the blog world a Pentecost of a sort, in which even though you and I may be speaking in different languages, we mysteriously understand one another in a new way and  are able to connect deeply for a greater purpose than their own personal interests.

 

I wonder about my motivation and I wonder about yours ….

 

— Fr. Thomas

The Tragedy of Anxiety

The tendency to be anxious about many things reveals a lack of trust in God’s loving-kindness, the foundation of all Divine provision. Among the things about which we are often anxious are the things mentioned in Matthew 6.25-33: what we will wear, what we will eat, or by implication, where we shall live. Elder Paisios, of the Holy Mountain, points to the tendency we all have to expend our energies on things that are not worthy of its expenditure. It is said of the great Elder, “He would say that God is greatly touched when someone who is in great suffering does not complain, but rather uses his energy to pray for others.”

Anxiety, however, is not a root condition, but the symptom of something much deeper. So, where does anxiety originate? The origin or root of anxiety is fear. John the Apostle, in his first Epistle says, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love”1 (1Jo. 4.18). When we fear, we are basically convinced that we are not loved, and perhaps, that we are not lovable. The logic of “unlovability” continues, “Since I am not loved, and people only provide for those whom they love, others will not provide for me. So, I must provide for myself. I must make my own way in life.” The fear of not having enough or that we are not lovable generates a spirit of anxiety.

When we have “anxiety regarding many things,” Jesus teaches, we give our devotion (the bulk of our attention and allegiance) to trying to control our circumstances and make a provision for ourselves. This, in turn, renders us incapable of receiving God’s provision. We cannot receive or share the love of God. In this regard, one of Elder Paisios’ sayings is profoundly relevant: “Those who possess this pure (noble) love [the spiritual love of Christ] are full of kindness, because they have Christ inside them and the Godhead is depicted on their faces. Naturally, it is impossible for Christ’s love to enter within us unless we separate our self from our love, offer it to God and His images, and give ourselves to others without wanting them to commit themselves to us.”2

But fear and the anxiety it produces also robs us of the an attitude of thanksgiving or gratitude. We can easily understand why this is the case. When we expend our energy to make a provision for ourselves or others based on our own strength and capabilities, it is not God to whom we render gratitude. We admire ourselves instead. So, gratitude, which is designed to prompt us to share, becomes an instrument of greed and self-ishness.

The fact of the matter is, the relative success we experience when we trust in ourselves becomes the greatest failure for our life. We have not really provided for our life but for our death. The result of trusting in and receiving our provision from God is the legitimate definition of “life.” The life robbing illusion is that we can live either without or alongside God. Our “success” has only served to separate and alienate us from God more deeply. What is more, our alienation affects others. The spirit of anxiety is a tragic contagion that can spread through families and communities, destroying fellowship and rendering our witness as disciples and the Body of Christ void of its power to commend Christ.

Let us take Jesus at His word when He compassionately exhorts us, “… I tell you, do not be anxious.”3

 

———-

 

1.      1 John 4.18

2.      http://www.orthodoxphotos.com/readings/paisios/love.shtml

3.   Matthew 6.25

“The Voice-Word: An Icon of the Incarnation”

The Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ, is the revelation of our salvation and the accomplishing of it. It is both the means and the reality. What is the substance of this revelation? The overcoming of the division between God and man. The reestablishment of the union between divinity and humanity. The Church Fathers are unanimous on this subject. The Incarnation is both the way in which the union will be reestablished and the picture of that reunion:

 

“For this is why the Word became man, and the Son of God became the Son of man: so that man, by entering into communion with the Word and thus receiving divine sonship, might become a son of God.” St. Irenaeus1

 

“For the Son of God became man so that we might become God.” St. Athanasius2

 

“The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods.” St. Thomas Aquinas3

 

One of the dimensions of this picture of union is the mysterious reality of the “both and” nature of the union. What do I mean? Well, the union is not a “swallowing up” of divinity by humanity or humanity by divinity. In Christ Jesus, we experience true divinity and humanity at the same moment. Not “one then the other” and not “one instead of the other.”

 

I remember studying “light” in High School Physics. Light behaves as both a wave and a particle. So, which is it?! Both, but how can that be?? Kind of maddening… But, I don’t have to understand the particle-waving nature of light to turn on the light, live in it, and provide it for others. The same is true for the divinity-humanity union. How do we put such a mystery into words? How do we comprehend such a thing as this?

 

“But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glorification. None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written, ‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him,’ God has revealed to us through the Spirit.” 1 Corinthians 2.7-10

 

The gospel accounts give us several ways of putting into words through images, what we know in our spirits and are able to experience in a practical way. The relationship between John the Forerunner and Jesus the Christ is one such picture. St. Augustine, in his sermon on the nativity of John the Baptist says:

 

John was the voice but “in the beginning was the Word” (Jn 1.1). John was a voice for a time; Christ, the Word from the beginning, the eternal Word. Take away the word and what is the voice? Where there is nothing to understand there is only an empty sound. A voice without a word may strike the ear, it does not edify the heart.”4

 

Now, of course, St. Augustine’s sermon is not a direct treatment of the union of divinity and humanity, but he gives us, nonetheless, a beautiful picture of union. The union between the voice – John – and the word – Jesus – is like the union between divinity and humanity.

 

The word is, by its nature, a silent reality. It does not need to be expressed verbally to exist. But, it can be spoken. It is spoken. And, what is more, its being spoken does not violate any aspect of the nature of the word. But, if the word is to be heard, it must express itself physically by the use of the voice. However, the voice, though it exists without the word, IS dependent on the word. What purpose or meaning for existence does a voice have without the word it speaks? What is true for the voice, its dependence on the word, is not true for the word, its dependence on the voice. The relationship of God and man is like the word-voice relational union. God does not need man but man does need God. The voice is made for the word. Man is made to be filled and “at-one-with” God. Just as “expression” is the union of voiced word, the saved person is the divinely human person.

 

But there is more. The divine-human union is not a static reality, isolated in itself:

 

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day. Genesis 1.1-5

 

But how are men to call upon him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without a preacher? And how can men preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel; for Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes by the preaching of Christ. But I ask, have they not heard? Indeed they have; for “Their voice has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world.” Romans 10.14-18

 

The union of divinity and humanity is fruit-bearing. By means of the “voiced-word” the world came into being. By means of the “voiced-word” the Kingdom of Christ is made known, received, fulfilled and consummated. St. Augustine, once again, in reflecting on John the Baptist, indirectly shows us the power of the voice-word union:

 

However, let us examine how things are put together in our hearts when they are to be edified. If I think about what I have to say, the word is already in my heart; but when I want to address you then I consider how to cause what is already in my heart to pass over into yours. So if I am seeking how the word already in my heart can meet up with you and take root in your heart, then I make use of the voice. And it is with this voice that I speak to you: the sound of my voice conveys to you the idea contained in the word. Then, it is true, the sound of it evaporates, but the word that the sound conveyed to you is henceforth in your heart without having left mine.5

 

God has not only chosen in Christ to save us by restoring the union of divinity and humanity in the incarnation of the Son of God. God has in Christ, chosen to use the very same means, the union of divinity and humanity – the Body of Christ (the Church) – to be the means by which this salvation is made available to all. So, we can (we must) affirm that the Church is, in the economy of God, essential to the salvation of any person ! !

 

It is not, essentially, “good enough” to live a life of union with God in Christ without being used by God to voice His word into the lives of others. The “voiced-word” is not intended to be a solo but a chorus of “voiced-word.” Evangelism is the essential fruit-bearing of the “voiced-word” – the disciple in the world as an agent of reconciliation by his/her saving presence (union reestablishing presence by the grace of God) which is “the word voiced”: “… the voice of one crying in the wilderness”. Perhaps the fruit-bearing divine-human union, and not so much the dissemination or articulation of convincing arguments designed to convince the non-believer, is the deep underlying meaning of St. Paul’s famous conviction regarding both the appeal we make and the appeal of the appeal we make.

 

Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5.17-21

 

This is not to lessen the importance and Salvific power of the “voiced-word” in the form of the preached word. Professor Arthur Just, in an insightful article published in the April 2004 issue of Touchstone magazine.

 

Viva vox Jesu—the living voice of Jesus—is what we hear when his written word is read and preached. In lesson and sermon, this word, transcribed in the divinely inspired pages of the Holy Scriptures and canonically received by the Church, is proclaimed as the living voice of Christ in the here and now of Christ’s body, which is the Church. By this bodily proclamation, Christ is present in his Church in a bodily way. It is his living voice.6

 

But, the preached version of the “voice-word” finds its primary power in the context of the lived “voiced-word”, which is the Church. The preached-word is dependent for its power on the the mystery of the Holy Spirit speaking in and through the people of God and making them the “voice-word” so that preaching, whether its setting be the Liturgy or the local coffee shop becomes the  Viva vox Jesu.

Once again, the voice – the Church – is totally dependent on the word – Christ Jesus – for its existence and power. Without the word of love – Christ – we are “a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Corinthians 13.1). So, the “voiced word” is not only the union of word and voice, but the communication of the union of voice and word. The “voiced word” begets or bears the fruit of the “voiced-word.”

 

The Incarnation is the “voiced-word” – divinity become humanity without ceasing to be divinity. But this union of divinity and humanity in Christ Jesus (fully human and fully divine) bears the fruit of the union of divinity and humanity in all persons who receive. Likewise, the Church, as the community of those who enjoy the union of divinity and humanity in their lives and are as a community, divinely human bear the fruit of the union of divinity and humanity in the lives of others.

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1.       St. Irenaeus, Adv. haeres. 3, 19, 1: PG 7/1, 939.

2.       St. Athanasius, De inc. 54, 3: PG 25, 192B.

3.       St. Thomas Aquinas, Opusc. 57, 1-4.

4.       Saint Augustine, Sermon 293, 7th for the Nativity of John the Baptist

5.       Saint Augustine, Sermon 293, 7th for the Nativity of John the Baptist

6.       http://www.touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=17-03-036-f