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The Miracle of the Nativity

13-01-2012, 13:23


God was manifest in the flesh in order that we might know him and partake his life, in order that the very flesh could share his triumph, wrote Ephrem the Syrian in the IV century, adding a significant clarification that this triumph of God, if performed without appearing in the flesh, would not have been triumph in the full sense. Even many an epoch later, the concept continued to inspire profound interpretations. World War I was raging when St. Justin Popovic, a young philosopher and theologian resident in a tiny Serbian town, wrote that, while other religions urged humans to become superhuman to rise above human sins and to sever ties to the world to avoid worldly evils and wrong-doings, only Christianity called for staying sinless within the evil world, faithful among the treacherous, and immune to inescapable filth. The power for the  mission that would be otherwise impossible to shoulder was given to humans by Christ, stressed Popovic.

If God only had demanded faultless conduct but had not backed the calling with his personal example by appearing in flesh and being human-like in everything except for sin,  humans would have been  presented with a challenge beyond their means, and God's saying “I Am The Way, The Truth, And The Life” (John.14:6) would have sounded abstract. The fact that God chose to reach out to humans more than to any other part of the created world reflects the truly extraordinary extent of God's affinity for for them – the event of God's assuming a material body, was, no doubt, far more “miraculous” than the formerly greatest miracle of ex nihilo creation.

Christ's Nativity took place when humanity was passing through a gloomy age of near-total disregard for human life and of violence which used to be a commonly accepted norm across the Roman Empire.<!--[if gte vml 1]> <!--[if !vml]--><!--[endif]--> At the time, atrocity was a pervasive cult and, weirdly, a popular demonic sport among the aristocracy and the social lows alike, so that we may be simply unable to imagine how unwelcome Christ's preaching of brotherly love – moreover, of love as self-sacrifice – must have been in the settings.

The commandment calling for love of God similarly must have  sounded incomprehensible to the people brought up in idolatry and accustomed to merely fear the vaguely perceived superior. Loving God meant loving the Truth contrary to the pressures of the pagan world which took no interest in truth as such or professed the brand of moral relativism which Pontius Pilate expressed with utmost clarity when he dropped his “What is truth?”. Ignorance and superstitions were everywhere, and the doctrines which mastered minds in the epoch placed a human being in a mental labyrinth with no light at the end of the tunnel. Yet, “Galilee of the Gentiles — the people dwelling in darkness  have seen a great light” (Matthew 4:15-16) - “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).

Apostle Paul wrote that Christ is the same in all epochs, but, it must be borne in mind, God himself asked the key question in reference to his promised Second Coming: “When the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8). The warning to humanity against reversal to minted paganism, against new rounds of apostasy is lucid, and, by all means, adopting pagan ways  after the coming of Christ would have been a sin of incomparably greater proportions than the pagan existence before Christ used to be. It does happen here and there that, in a deadly twist, Christians switch to a curtailed creed, stressed St. Justin, and let the themes of the immortality of the soul and the heavenly origin of humans drift out of sight, the faith – dim, and material interests – prevail. Worst of all, for many Christians the religion stops being a spiritual necessity and the key commitment but rather, as it was with Judes in the days of the Old Testament, degenerates into a sequence of rites, a kind of a moral philosophy, or a part of an ethnic legacy – into almost anything short of a faith paving the way for full transfiguration.

As an old man, St. Justin who was educated in pre-communist Russia and in Oxford commented bitterly on the European religious landscape: “Where is the soul of a European? Where are these people's souls? Everything here is done with the narrow purpose of ever greater enjoyment, but that is the massacre of  souls”. Objections and indignation to be voiced by those who credit Europe with the great values of freedom, equality, and fraternity are not hard to foresee, but the real problem is that the ideals may not be realized in a materialistic society, no matter how wealthy and developed it is, since it lives its life without Christ. A naive hope “to achieve the transfiguration of humans by societal means” is central to the European Utopia, while what the Savior suggested is to transform humans via God, not via the society. “In truth there is only one freedom - the holy freedom of Christ, whereby He freed us from sin, from evil, from the devil. It binds us to God. All other freedoms are illusory, false, that is to say, they are all, in fact, slavery” (St. Justin Popovich, Ascetical and Theological Chapters, II.36) Indeed, “They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity”, wrote Apostle Peter (Peter 2:19).

One might object that the vision of humanity making its choice in favor of the Christian way is no less Utopian. The Christian pespective has been de facto rejected and the alternative to what we are witnessing globally - the Christlike civilization - does appear to be nothing but a dream in the world of today. The silkworm produces silk, a spider weaves a web, humans are who they are, and the fruits of a tree which nobody has bothered to cultivate will not be theirs. Nevertheless, turning to saints, even these days we – with the bulk of our imperfections – do come in touch with heavenliness which is God's gift we enjoy thanks to the Nativity.

St. Justin is one of the saints who enable us to catch a glimpse of this perfect world, of the paradise once renewed but lost. He wrote: “Love is the only equality possible on the Earth. It brings the equality between humans, between a human and a lily, between a sparrow and a human, the equality between everything on the Earth, between everything on the Earth and in Heaven. This equality is all-embracing as its foundation is God, and God is the same in Heaven and on the Earth, in a lily and in a human. In God, we are all equal because of love”. For sure, suspicion of pantheism does not belong here – the excerpt evokes in memory the sentiment by which Alyosha Karamazov was overwhelmed all of a sudden in a scene vividly depicted by Dostoevsky, the same adoration of the entire God-given universe, from a human to the tiniest insect.

<!--[if !mso]> v\:* {behavior:url(#default#VML);} o\:* {behavior:url(#default#VML);} w\:* {behavior:url(#default#VML);} .shape {behavior:url(#default#VML);} <!--[if gte mso 9]> 96 800x600 <!--[if gte mso 9]> Normal 0 false false false RU JA X-NONE <!--[if gte mso 9]> <!--[if gte mso 10]> /* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:"Обычная таблица"; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-priority:99; mso-style-parent:""; mso-padding-alt:0cm 5.4pt 0cm 5.4pt; mso-para-margin:0cm; mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:10.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman";} <!--StartFragment--> Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32) – these are the words God addressed to the Christians of all times in a clear anticipation of widening apostasy. “But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33). The world of yesterday, today, and tomorrow professes materialism and the passing character of everything, which, in essence, is the same as preaching death, but the truth that “God has entered the bosom of human life” - as states the title of a Christmas sermon by St. Justin – holds and that will never change. “For without the Incarnate God, the God-Man Lord Jesus Christ, human life is overall, a completely suicidal absurdity; death is truly the most obvious and awful absurdity on earth. To comprehend death is to comprehend life - all of the height and depth, the boundless eternity, of life. This is something accomplished only by the All-man-loving Lord, Who in His immeasurable love becomes man, while ever remaining God Incarnate, God-Man in the world of man”, preached St. Justin Popovic.<!--EndFragment-->

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