On the Necessity of the Incarnation — Irenaeus

31.So then He united man with God, and established a community of union 88 between God and man; since we could not in any other way participate in incorruption, save by His coming among us. For so long as incorruption was invisible and unrevealed, it helped us not at all: therefore it became visible,89 that in all respects we might participate in the reception of incorruption. And, because in the original formation of Adam all of us were tied and bound up with death through his disobedience, it was right that through the obedience of Him who was made man for us we should be released from death: and because death reigned over the flesh, it was right that through the flesh it should lose its force and let man go free from its oppression. So the Word was made flesh,90 that, through that very flesh which sin had ruled and dominated, it should lose its force and be no longer in us. And therefore our Lord took that same original formation as (His) entry into flesh, so that He might draw near and contend on behalf of the fathers, and conquer by Adam that which by Adam had stricken us down.

32.Whence then is the substance of the first-formed (man)? From the Will and the Wisdom |99of God, and from the virgin earth.91 For God had not sent rain, the Scripture says, upon the earth, before man was made; and there was no man to till the earth.92 From this, then, whilst it was still virgin, God took dust of the earth and formed the man, the beginning of mankind. So then the Lord, summing up afresh this man, took the same dispensation of entry into flesh, being born from the Virgin by the Will and the Wisdom of God; that He also should show forth the likeness of Adam’s entry into flesh,and there should be that which was written in the beginning, man after the image and likeness of God.93

33.And just as through a disobedient virgin man was stricken down and fell into death, so through the Virgin who was obedient to the Word of God man was reanimated and received life.94 For the Lord came to seek again the sheep that was lost;95 and man it was that was lost: and for this cause there was not made some other formation, but in that same which had its descent from Adam He preserved the likeness of the (first) formation.96 For it was necessary that Adam should be summed up in Christ, that mortality might be swallowed up and overwhelmed by immortality; and Eve summed up in Mary, that a virgin should be a virgin’s intercessor, and by a virgin’s obedience undo and put away the disobedience of a virgin.97

—————-

  1. For this double rendering see above c. 6.
  2. Cf. 2 Tim. i. 10: …
  3. John i. 14.
  4. Almost the same words are here used as in III, xxx. I.: … Cf. III, xix. 6: also Ephraim’s Commentary on the Diatessaron (Moesinger, p. 21): “In Virginis conceptione disce quod qui sine conjugio Adamum ex virginea terra protulit, is etiam Adamum secundum in utero virginis formaverit.” Cf. also Tertullian, De carne Christi, 17; Firmicus Maternus, De errore prof. relig., 25.
  5. Gen. ii. 5.
  6. Gen. i. 26.
  7. The same parallel is worked out in III, xxxii. 1, and V, xix. 1. It is found earlier in Justin Martyr (Dial. 100), and later in Tertullian (De carne Chr. 17).
  8. Irenaeus is fond of referring to the sheep that was lost: see III, xx. 3, xxxii. 2, xxxvii. I; V, xii. 3, xv. 2.
  9. See above, c. 32.
  10. Cf. I Cor. xv. 53.

“Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching,” 31-33, by Irenaeus

Partakers of the Divine Nature

At Christmas we celebrate the saving mystery of the Incarnation.

The Nativity of Christ is about the God who created the world becoming incarnate, while the foundations of the Earth are shaken. The Nativity of Christ is about Theosis, whereby we are deified, and by His grace, share in His Divinity, just as He has joined Himself with our humanity. (Abbot Tryphon, All-Merciful Savior Monastery)

God partook of our nature that we might partake of His nature by grace.

——————-

1 Simon Peter, a bondservant and apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who have obtained like precious faith with us by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ: 2 Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, 3 as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, 4 by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world… (2 Peter 1.1-4 NKJV)

——————

God our Father,
our human nature is the wonderful work of your hands,
made still more wonderful by your work of redemption.
Your Son took to himself our manhood:
grant us a share in the godhead of Jesus Christ,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God for ever and ever. Amen. Source

The Immensity of the Lord Requires an Immense Grace

This pastoral form of blessing is familiar to use all: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”

And yet, do we HEAR what is being said?!

“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ … be with you all.”

St. John reiterates this in his gospel account:

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.  (John bore witness to him, and cried, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, for he was before me.’”)  And from his fulness have we all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known. (John 1.14-18)

We are being told that the fullness of grace is ours to receive. We are, by our “yes,” filled with grace by virtue of being overshadowed by the Holy Spirit – “filled with the Holy Spirit.”

Some folks “have a problem with Mary.” Well, the pre-nativity gospel narrative, if read closely, and informed by the Holy Tradition, makes it obvious that we are in the middle of an immense mystery (pun intended as you will learn).

I invite you to read the following texts alongside a VERY CLOSE reading of the pre-nativity narrative. Mark the variety of ways in which every character in the narrative – Mary, Joseph, Zechariah, Elizabeth, prenatal John the Forerunner, and the villagers of Judea are being influenced and/or filled with the grace of the Holy Spirit.

The narrative is all about the fact that the Lord is with them and they are full of grace.

Advent is the season in which we prepare a place for the fullness of grace to be born and dwell within us – a Nativity. There is a reason the icon of the Nativity shows Mary in a black cave. We are the black cave. This world is the black cave.

Yes, of course, Christ is born in our hearts. The light in the midst of darkness – the black cave. But, also in our minds and our bodies – all of the cave. The fullness of grace (light) once it takes up residence – tabernacles and shines – in our hearts. He will enlarge our hearts and purify our minds, emotions, and bodies. But, the expansion will continue. We will realize that the Christian life is a “we” not “me” life. The expansion to include as an aspect of what it means to be “me” must, essentially, include “you.” To quote my monastic brothers, “My brother is my life.” The phrase “fullness of grace” is as immense as the Savior Himself. He whole holds the whole universe in His heart is held in our heart. The indwelling Christ Jesus is born in us and grows up into full manhood. We are Mary who kept not just the memory and profundity of all that had and was happening in her heart, but Christ Jesus Himself because the Holy Spirit who overshadowed her never quit overshadowing her.

We will be Mary in another way, too. We will give birth to Christ. We will bear Christ – offer Christ – to the world through our way of life in relationship – thoughts, words, and deeds. This will be our Theophany, the season of the Church year that follows Nativity.

——————–

Hail Mary, full of grace. It has been shown above, how Mary, because of the pure innocence of her life, is rightly saluted by the Ave. We have now to show how, by the abundance of her grace, she deserves the salutation “full of grace.” Consider, dearly beloved, this grace, the grace of Mary, this admirable grace. Consider the truth, the immensity, the multiplicity, the utility of the grace of Mary. For the grace of Mary is a most true grace, a most immense grace, a most manifold grace, and a most useful grace.

… Consider the immensity of the grace because of which Mary is called “full of grace.” The grace of which she was full was certainly immense. An immense vessel cannot be full, unless that is also immense wherewith it is filled. Mary was an immense vessel, since she could contain Him who is greater than the Heavens. Who is greater than the Heavens? Without doubt He of whom Solomon says: “If heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain thee, how much less this house which I have built?” (3 Kings VIII, 27.) It was not indeed the house which Solomon built, but she of whom that house was the type, which could contain God. Thou, therefore, O most immense Mary, art more capacious than the Heavens, because He whom the Heavens cannot contain was borne in thy womb. Thou art more capacious than the world, because He whom the whole world cannot contain, being made man, was enclosed within thee. If Mary’s womb then had such immensity, how much more had her mind? And if so immense a capacity was full of grace, it was fitting that that grace which could fill so great a capacity, should also be immense. Who can measure the immensity of Mary? Behold what is said in Ecclesiasticus: “Who hath measured the height of heaven, and the breadth of  the earth, and the depth of the abyss?” (I, 2.) Mary is a heaven, as much because she abounded in heavenly purity, heavenly light, and other heavenly virtues, as because she was the most high throne of God, as the Prophet saith: “The Lord hath prepared His throne in heaven” (Ps. CII, 19.) Mary was also the earth which brought forth for us that fruit of which the same Prophet saith: “The earth hath given its fruits” (Ps. LXVI, 7.) Mary is also an abyss in goodness and deepest mercy. Therefore she obtaineth for us the mercy of her Son, as it were an abyss calling upon an abyss. Therefore Mary is a heaven, Mary is the earth, Mary is the abyss. Who hath ever measured the height of that heaven, the breadth of that earth, the depth of that abyss, except He who hath made her, not only in grace and glory, but in mercy so high, so wide, so deep? Therefore it is especially of her mercy that Bernard saith: “Who can search into the length and breadth and depth and sublimity of thy mercy, O blessed one? For the length of it will help all who call upon her till the last day; the breadth of it fills the whole world, so that the earth is full of her mercy; and the sublimity of it will bring about the restoration of the heavenly city, and its depth hath obtained redemption for them that sit in darkness and the shadow of death.(“Serm. de Assumpt.,” 4.) Mirror Of The Blessed Virgin Mary, Chapter V, by Saint Bonaventure

——————–

Again, we offer this spiritual worship for those who repose in the faith, forefathers, fathers, patriarchs, prophets, apostles, preachers, evangelists, martyrs, confessors, ascetics, and for every righteous spirit made perfect in faith.

Especially for our most holy, pure, blessed, and glorious Lady, the Theotokos and ever virgin Mary. It is truly right to bless you, O Theotokos, ever-blessed and most pure, and the Mother of our God. More honorable than the Cherubim, and more glorious beyond compare than the Seraphim, without defilement you gave birth to God the Word. True Theotokos we magnify you! The Divine Liturgy

——————–

Nativity
By John Donne

Immensity, cloister’d in thy dear womb,
Now leaves His well-beloved imprisonment.
There he hath made himself to his intent
Weak enough, now into our world to come.
But O! for thee, for Him, hath th’ inn no room?
Yet lay Him in this stall, 1 and from th’ orient,
Stars, and wise men will travel to prevent
The effects of Herod’s jealous general doom.
See’st thou, my soul, with thy faith’s eye, how He
Which fills all place, yet none holds Him, doth lie?
Was not His pity towards thee wondrous high,
That would have need to be pitied by thee?
Kiss Him, and with Him into Egypt go,
With His kind mother, who partakes thy woe.
Source

The Wonder-filled Incarnation

And that was that the Word of God Himself, Who is before all worlds, the Invisible, the Incomprehensible, the Bodiless, the Beginning of beginning, the Light of Light, the Source of Life and Immortality, the Image of the Archetype, the Immovable Seal, the Unchangeable Image, the Father’s Definition and Word, came to His own Image, and took on Him Flesh for the sake of our flesh, and mingled Himself with an intelligent soul for my soul’s sake, purifying like by like; and in all points except sin was made Man; conceived by the Virgin, who first in body and soul was purified by the Holy Ghost, for it was needful both That Child-bearing should be honoured and that Virginity should receive a higher honour. He came forth then, as God, with That which He had assumed; one Person in two natures, flesh and Spirit, of which the latter deified the former. O new commingling; O strange conjunction! The Self-existent comes into Being, the Uncreated is created, That which cannot be contained is contained by the intervention of an intellectual soul mediating between the Deity and the corporeity of the flesh. And He who gives riches becomes poor; for He assumes the poverty of my flesh, that I may assume the riches of His Godhead. He that is full empties Himself; for He empties Himself of His Glory for a short while, that I may have a share in His Fulness. What is the riches of His Goodness? What is this mystery that is around me? I had a share in the Image and I did not keep it; He partakes of my flesh that He may both save the Image and make the flesh immortal. He communicates a Second Communion, far more marvellous than the first, inasmuch as then He imparted the better nature, but now He Himself assumes the worse. This is more godlike than the former action; this is loftier in the eyes of all men of understanding…Is it not evident that the Father accepts Him, but neither asked for Him nor demanded Him; but on account of the Incarnation, and becauseHumanity must be sanctified by the Humanity of God, that He might deliver us Himself, and overcome the tyrant, and draw us to Himself by the mediation of His Son, Who also arranged this to the honour of the Father, Whom it is manifest that He obeysin all things? So much we have said of Christ; the greater part of what we might say shall be reverenced with silence. St. Gregory of Nazianzen, Oration 45

Give Glory to God

Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall not only see in truth but speak in truth. No longer will they seek practices to build themselves up – to glorify themselves. They will join the whole creation in glorifying God in all things – with their entire being.

—————-

“Now when Balaam saw that it pleased the Lord to bless Israel, he did not go as at other times, to seek to use sorcery, but he set his face toward the wilderness. 2 And Balaam raised his eyes, and saw Israel encamped according to their tribes; and the Spirit of God came upon him.
3 Then he took up his oracle and said:
“The utterance of Balaam the son of Beor,
The utterance of the man whose eyes are opened,
4 The utterance of him who hears the words of God,
Who sees the vision of the Almighty,
Who falls down, with eyes wide open..” (Numbers 24.1-4)

—————-

The heavens are telling the glory of God;
and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
2 Day to day pours forth speech,
and night to night declares knowledge.
3 There is no speech, nor are there words;
their voice is not heard;
4 yet their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.
14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable in thy sight,
O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. (Psalm 19.1-4, 14)

Being Present in the Present to Him Who is Present

“Acquire the Spirit of Peace and a thousand souls around you will be saved.” St. Seraphim of Sarov

————

“‘Disillusioned by all our other efforts, we now see that the only hope left for the human race is to become like Christ.’ That is the statement of a famous scientist, and is being repeated among ever more educators, statesmen, and philosophers. Yet Christ has not saved the world from its present terrifying dilemma. The reason is obvious: few people are getting enough of Christ to save either themselves or the world. Take the United States, for example. Only a third of the population belongs to a Christian church. Less than half of this third attend service regularly. Preachers speak about Christ in perhaps one service in four—thirty minutes a month! Good sermons, many of them excellent, but too infrequent in presenting Christ.

Less than ten minutes a week given to thinking about Christ by one-sixth of the people is not saving our country or our world; for selfishness, greed, and hate are getting a thousand times that much thought. What a nation thinks about, that it is. We shall not become like Christ until we give Him more time. A teachers’ college requires students to attend classes for twenty-five hours a week for three years.

Could it prepare competent teachers or a law school prepare competent lawyers if they studied only ten minutes a week? Neither can Christ, and he never pretended that he could. To his disciples he said: ‘Come with me, walk with me, talk and listen to me, work and rest with me, eat and sleep with me, twenty-four hours a day for three years.’ That was their college course—‘He chose them,’ the Bible says, ‘that they might be with him,’ 168 hours a week!

All who have tried that kind of abiding for a month know the power of it—it is like being born again from center to circumference. It absolutely changes every person who does it. And it will change the world that does it…

Practicing the presence of God is not on trial. It has already been proven by countless thousands of people. Indeed, the spiritual giants of all ages have known it. Christians who do it today become more fervent and beautiful and are tireless witnesses.

Men and women who had been slaves of vices have been set free. Catholics and Protestants find this practicing the presence of God at the heart of their faith. Conservatives and liberals agree that here is a reality they need. People who are grateful for what this booklet has done for them are ordering wholesale quantities to give to friends…

Somebody may be saying, ‘All this is very orthodox and very ancient.’ It is indeed, the secret of the great saints of all ages. ‘Pray without ceasing,’ said Paul, ‘in everything make your wants known unto God.’ ‘As many as are led by the Spirit of God these are the sons of God.’”
Frank Laubach, “The Game of Minutes”

A Wonder-full Wonder

“6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came for testimony, to bear witness to the light, that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but came to bear witness to the light. 9 The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not. 11 He came to his own home, and his own people received him not. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. 14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.” (John 1.6-14)

“Although it may appear outwardly that we make our way toward God, the joyful and wonderful truth is that it is God who comes to us.”  Matthew the Poor

The Question That is Not a Question But a Proclamation

1 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tibe′ri-us Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Iturae′a and Trachoni′tis, and Lysa′ni-as tetrarch of Abile′ne, 2 in the high-priesthood of Annas and Ca′iaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechari′ah in the wilderness; 3 and he went into all the region about the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 4 As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet,

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
5 Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be brought low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways shall be made smooth;
6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” (Luke 3.1-6)

——————

3 I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, 4 always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, 5 thankful for your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. 6 And I am sure that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. 7 It is right for me to feel thus about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. 8 For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. 9 And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, 10 so that you may approve what is excellent, and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruits of righteousness which come through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1.3-11)

——————

You may count it strange that, based on that passage that is filled with the vocabulary of confidence, I choose to talk about questioning.

I do so in the spirit of St. John thee Forerunner. We might otherwise name him “St. John the Questioner.”

Advent is about questioning. Asking the questions that faith requires us to ask. It is about living in questions. There are two ways to do this. We can live in “the question” because we doubt or we can live in the question because we trust.

Origen put forward a question:

“…let us see whether the following prophecy concerning the coming of Christ has been fulfilled… ‘The crooked shall be made straight.’”

We ask this not in the usual sense of measurement and a desire for the assurance of progress. We ask it not because we doubt in the faithless sense or need some assurance to bolster ourselves up. We ask it out of the faithful “nevertheless.”

No. We ask it out of a completely different paradigm of faith confession – confidence.

We ask it in the sense of proclamation. We ask it because we believe. We ask it for the purpose of being able to answer it with our unceasing “YES!!”

And you he made alive, when you were dead through the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among these we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of body and mind, and so we were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4 But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up with him, and made us sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God – 9 not because of works, lest any man should boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2.1-10)

Origen said, in his commentary on St. Luke’s gospel:

 “…let us see whether the following prophecy concerning the coming of Christ has been fulfilled. In fact the text continues: “The crooked shall be made straight”. Each one of us was crooked– at least, if it concerns what we used to be formerly and not what we still are today – and the coming of Christ, which has taken place even in our souls, has set to rights all that was crooked…

“Therefore, my brethren, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.” (Philippians 4.1)

I reiterate:

Let us pray that his coming may be fulfilled in us each day and that we may be able to say: “I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2.20).

It is in the region of the desert, the crooked places, the valleys, the insurmountable mountains that our voice of confident, faithful questioning must be heard. The place of impossibility is, according to the gospel, the place of authentic possibility:

“Then Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I do not know a man?’ And the angel answered and said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible.’ Then Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. (Luke 1.34-38)

This is the testimony of those who have acquired the Holy Spirit – the Spirit of Peace. Indeed, Zechariah was told by the angel, that John would “be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb” (Luke 1.15). The place of questioning is not the purview of the Forerunner alone. It is the “Treasured Way” of the Theotokos as our text shows.

So John, who was courageous enough to ask the question(s) of his life that discipleship required, along with Mary who did the same, are living examples of the way we are to live our lives.

And, as St. Seraphim of Sarov said:

“Acquire the Spirit of Peace and a thousand souls around you will be saved.” 

The Manifest Mystery of Scripture

“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1)

How compact and full is God’s every word! It is like folded linen, which can be carried under the arm and spread upon the grass over a large area. How many, many priceless good things does this word of God reveal to us: In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. First of all, it shows us that God is the only eternal and uncreated One. And this first revelation brings about in us the first inexpressible joy. In this whirlpool of change and transience, we are inexpressibly happy that our Creator is beyond change and transience. It further tells us that the one and only good God is the Creator of the world, and since He is the Creator, He is also both the Almighty and the Provider. And this second revelation brings about in us a second inexpressible joy. The world did not proceed out of chaos or chance, without thought and purpose, rather it proceeded from the All-wise God, omniscient and most-merciful, Who is in control of it and is guiding it toward its intended goal. It further reveals to us that this world had a beginning, and consequently it will have an end. And this third revelation brings about in us inexpressible joy. For it would be sad if this world were eternal, and if all its goals, immediate and distant, were to be found only within itself. This would indeed cause a whirlpool in the mind of the intelligent, and sadness in the heart of the righteous. It finally points out to us that God created two worlds, the heavenly and the earthly, or the incorporeal and the corporeal. And this fourth revelation brings us a fourth inexpressible joy. As we now raise our gaze to the heights and rejoice in the sun, moon and stars above our heads, so we can raise our spirit to the spiritual world, toward the angelic world, which is akin to us but purer and brighter than us. We rejoice, for we know that there is a world better than ours, which we will also enter and, like weary travelers, return home and find rest. Oh, how sadly would men’s gaze wander around the world if this were the only world and there were no starry heavens! And how sorrowfully would the spirit of man wander in the material world if there were not a spiritual world, the heavenly!

O Most-gracious Lord, glory to Thee and praise.

To Thee alone be glory and praise forever. Amen.

Source: “The Prologue,” December 2