John of Kronstadt: The Son of God became the Son of Man in order to make us sons of God Tuesday, Dec 24 2013 

john_kronstadtWe are approaching…the world-saving feast of the birth in the flesh of our Lord God and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

For several days before the feast, the holy Church will celebrate this wondrous mystery in the spiritual hymns of her daily services.

These hymns remind us of our divine birthright, and the squandering of our sonship through sin; of its restoration through repentance of our common spiritual kinship and of the spirit of love and care for one another.

[…] God became man to save His people from their sin (Mt 1:21). For this reason He is called Jesus, which means Saviour.

And so, it was for our salvation that the Lord came to earth and became man, for the regeneration in us of the image of God which had fallen.

The Son of God became the Son of Man in order to make us sons of God who were the children of wrath and eternal damnation; in the words of the Holy Apostle John the Theologian: that we should be called the sons of God (I Jn 3:1).

Now God became man, that He may make Adam a god (Stichera for lauds of Annunciation). O the unutterable love of God! O the unspeakable compassion of the Lord! And He, the Most Holy, did this.

He deified mankind in His chosen ones, cleansed them from all evil both of soul and body, sanctified, glorified, led them from corruption to everlasting life, made them worthy to stand in blessedness before the terrible throne of His glory.

And He deified us also, brothers and sisters; He gave us a new birth through water and the Holy Spirit, sanctified us, made us His sons, gave us the promise of eternal life and eternal blessings, surpassing all telling and imagining.

And in confirmation, as a surety of the future blessings, He gave to us, still here on earth, the Holy Spirit to dwell in our hearts: God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father (Gal 4:6) writes the Apostle.

And so, my brothers, the feast of the Nativity of Christ reminds us that we are born of God, that we are sons of God, that we have been saved from sin and that we must live for God and not sin; not for flesh and blood, not for the whole world which lies in evil and wickedness (1 Jn 5:19), not for earthly corruption.

We must live for an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you (1 Pet 1:4), and for which the Lord Himself will give you a sign: behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Emmanuel, (Isa 7:14).

John of Kronstadt (1829-1908; Russian Orthodox): The Nativity of Christ: The Feast of Renewal from Orthodox Heritage Vol. 11, Issue 11-12 @ ΑΠΑΝΤΑ ΟΡΘΟΔΟΞΙΑΣ.

Bernard of Clairvaux: “Behold, a Virgin shall Conceive and Bear a Son, and His Name shall be Called Emmanuel” Friday, Dec 20 2013 

Heiligenkreuz_Bernard_of_ClervauxIf the infirm cannot go far to meet this great Physician, it is at least becoming they should endeavour to raise their heads and lift themselves a little to greet their Saviour.

For this, O man, you are not required to cross the sea, to penetrate the clouds, to scale the mountain-tops. No lofty way is set before you.

Turn within thyself to meet thy God, for the Word is nigh in thy mouth and in thy heart.

Meet Him by compunction of heart and by confession of mouth, or, at least, go forth from the corruption of a sinful conscience, for it is not becoming that the Author of purity should enter there.

It is delightful to contemplate the manner of  His visible coming, for His “ways are beautiful, and all his paths are peace” (Prov. 3:17).

“Behold,” says the Spouse of the Canticles, “he cometh leaping upon the mountains, skipping upon the hills” (Cant. 2:8).

You see Him coming, O beautiful one, but His previous lying down you could not see, for you said : “Shew me, O thou whom my soul loveth, where thou feedest, where thou liest” (Cant. 1:6).

He lay feeding His angels in His endless eternity with the vision of His glorious, unchanging beauty. But know, O beautiful one, that that vision is become wonderful to thee; it is high, and thou canst not reach it.

Nevertheless, behold He hath gone forth from His holy place, and He that had lain feeding His angels hath undertaken to heal us.

We shall see Him coming as our food, Whom we were not able to behold while He was feeding His angels in His repose.

“Behold, he cometh leaping upon the mountains, skipping upon the hills.” The mountains and hills we may consider to be the Patriarchs and the Prophets, and we may see His leaping and skipping in the book of His genealogy. “Abraham begot Isaac, Isaac begot Jacob, etc.” (Matt. 1:2).

From the mountains came forth the root of Jesse, as you will find from the Prophet Isaias: “There shall come forth a rod out of the root of Jesse, and a flower shall rise up out of his root, and the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him” (Isa. 11:1-2).

The same prophet speaks yet more plainly: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a Son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel, which is interpreted, God with us” (Isa. 7:14). He Who is first styled a flower is afterwards called Emmanuel, and in the rod is named the virgin.

Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153): Sermon 1 on the Advent of the Lord, pp. 13-14, from Sermons of St Bernard on Advent and Christmas.

Ignatius Brianchaninov: The words of the gospels are spirit and life Wednesday, Jan 9 2013 

Ignatius_BrianchaninovThis is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him (Matthew 3:17; 17:5).

Thus did the voice of the pre-eternal God the Father speak to people about the pre-eternal God the Son, when the Son, at the behest of the Father, through the action of the Spirit, became incarnate of the Virgin and wrought the salvation of perishing mankind.

Brothers! Let us show obedience to the Son of God, as God desires of us, that Divine good will might abide with us.

Perhaps someone might say, “I would like to obey the Son of God; but how can this be done, when two thousand years have passed since our Lord Jesus Christ dwelt on earth in the flesh and preached His all-holy teaching?”

It is very easy for us to be continually with Christ, to ceaselessly hear His sweet voice, and to nourish ourselves with His life-giving teaching; for the Lord Jesus Christ still abides with us.

He abides with us in His Holy Gospels, through the Holy Mysteries of the Church; He abides through His omnipresence and omnipotence—bountifully, as befits the boundless, all-perfect God.

That the Lord abides with us is plainly proved by souls freed from the captivity of sin, the bestowal of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and by many signs and wonders.

Those who wish to approach the Lord and unite with Him in blessed union forever should begin this sacred work with scrupulous study of God’s words; they should begin by studying the Gospels, where Christ can be found, and from which Christ speaks and acts.

The words of the Gospels are spirit, and they are life (Jn. 6:63). They turn a fleshly man into a spiritual man, and revitalize a soul deadened by sin and the cares of life.

They are spirit, and they are life—beware of trying to explain the great word of the Spirit with your reason, which crawls upon the earth.

Beware of attempts to explain words filled with awesome Divine power in ways that might seem simpler to your deadened soul, deadened heart, and deadened mind.

A word spoken by the Holy Spirit can only be explained through the Holy Spirit.

Those who wish to approach the Lord in order to hear His Divine teaching, to be enlivened and saved by Him—come and stand before the Lord with utmost reverence and holy fear, as do the bright Angels, His Cherubim and Seraphim.

Your humility will turn the earth upon which you stand into heaven. The Lord will speak to you from His Holy Gospels as to His beloved disciples!

May the holy fathers who expound the Holy Gospels through the gift of the Holy Spirit be your guides to an exact and unmistaken understanding of the Holy Gospels.

Ignatius Brianchaninov (1807–1867; Russian Orthodox): Spiritual Instruction on the Feast of the Theophany translated by Nun Cornelia Rees @ Pravoslavie.

Charles Wesley: Our God Contracted to a Span Monday, Dec 24 2012 

Charles_wesleyLet earth and heaven combine,
Angels and men agree,
To praise in songs divine
The incarnate Deity,
Our God contracted to a span,
Incomprehensibly made man.

He laid his glory by,
He wrapped him in our clay;
Unmarked by human eye,
The latent Godhead lay;
Infant of days he here became,
And bore the mild Immanuel’s name.

Unsearchable the love
That hath the Saviour brought;
The grace is far above
Or man or angels thought;
Suffice for us that God, we know,
Our God, is manifest below.

He deigns in flesh to appear,
Widest extremes to join;
To bring our vileness near,
And make us all divine:
And we the life of God shall know,
For God is manifest below.

Made perfect first in love,
And sanctified by grace,
We shall from earth remove,
And see his glorious face:
Then shall his love be fully showed,
And man shall then be lost in God.

Charles Wesley (1701-1778; Church of England): Hymns, 685.

Cyril of Alexandria: Isaac’s Blessing of Jacob Wednesday, Jun 27 2012 

(On Isaac’s blessing of Jacob – Genesis 27:26-29)

Isaac’s words…are fulfilled in Christ and in those who are justified through faith, who are also made sons according to the promise in Isaac.

The words of the blessing, I believe, signify the sweetness of the spiritual perfume in Christ, like that of a garden or a plentiful field spreading a sweet and beautiful perfume from its spring flowers.

And so Christ described himself to us in the Song of Songs: I am a flower of the field, the lily of the valleys.

He was actually a lily and a rose born of the earth for the sake of humanity. Since he did not know sin, he was the most divine of all those who inhabited the whole world and produced a perfume through his works.

For this reason Scripture compares Christ with a field blessed by God, and with very good reason, because he is the perfume of the knowledge of God the Father.

As the divine Paul says, But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads in every place the fragrance that comes from knowing him.

These things therefore fit with Christ and also fit quite reasonably with the new people: May God give you of the dew of heaven and of the fatness of the earth and plenty of grain and wine.

The dew of heaven and the fatness of the earth is the Word, was given to us by the Father, together with the participation through the Spirit, and therefore we were made sharers in the divine nature through him.

And we also received plenty of grain and wine, that is, strength and happiness. In fact, it is said truly, Bread strengthens the heart of man, and wine makes glad his heart.

Bread is the symbol of spiritual strength, wine of the physical. They are given to those who are in Christ through him.

How else are we made stable and firm in piety and immovable and aware to think the right things?

Afterward the power of blessing is transferred again to the Emmanuel himself. And let nations serve you, and princes bow down to you, and be lord of your brother.

The Emmanuel was called the firstborn when he became so with reference to us, among many brothers. But for this reason we must not forget that he is God and Lord of the universe.

We worship him as God, and he has reigned as God over those who were called from the brothers through grace. Who in the heavens shall be compared to the Lord among the sons of God?

[…] This is the blessing of Jacob, whose strength refers to the Emmanuel himself and to those who are justified in the faith.

Cyril of Alexandria (c. 376-444): Glaphyrorum in Genesim, 3.5 (PG 69.172-173); ACC 2 (2002) tr. Sheridan; from the Monastic Office of Vigils, Sunday of the 4th Week of Ordinary Time, Year 2.

Prosper Guéranger: His Visible Presence would have Checked the Generosity of Our Faith Wednesday, May 23 2012 

Let us see what effects the mystery of the Ascension has produced on this land of our exile. These effects are of the most extraordinary nature.

[…] Our Saviour Himself explains it to us, by the words He spoke to His apostles after the last Supper: “It is,” said He, “expedient to you that I go.”

What means this, but that there is something more advantageous to us than having Him visibly present amongst us?

This mortal life is not the time for seeing and contemplating Him, even in His human Nature. To know Him, and relish Him, even in His human Nature, we stand in need of a special gift; it is faith.

Now, faith in the mysteries of the Incarnate Word did not begin its reign upon the earth, until He ceased to be visible here below.
Who could tell the triumphant power of faith? St. John gives it a glorious name; he says: “It is the victory which overcometh the world.”

It subdued the world to our absent King; it subdued the power and pride and superstitions of paganism.

It won the homage of the earth for Him who has ascended into heaven, the Son of God and the Son of Mary, Jesus.

[…] The departure of our Emmanuel was…the opening of that reign of faith, which is to prepare us for the eternal vision of the sovereign Good.

And this blessed faith, which is our very life, gives us, at the same time, all the light compatible with our mortal existence, for knowing and loving the Word consubstantial with the Father, and for the just appreciation of the mysteries which this Incarnate Word wrought here below in His Humanity.

It is now eighteen hundred years since He lived on the earth; and yet we know Him better than His disciples did before His Ascension.

Oh! Truly it was expedient for us that He should go from us; His visible presence would have checked the generosity of our faith.

And it is our faith alone that can bridge over the space which is to be between Himself and us until our ascension comes, and then we shall enter within the veil.

[…] Glory, then, and thanks to Thee O Jesus, who to console us in Thine absence, hast given us faith, whereby the eye of our soul is purified, the hope of our heart is strengthened, and the divine realities we possess tell upon us in all their power!

Preserve within us this precious gift of Thy gratuitous goodness; give it increase; and when our death comes—that solemn hour which precedes our seeing Thee face to face—Oh, give us the grand fullness of our dearest faith!

Prosper Guéranger (1805-1875): The Liturgical Year @ The Traditional Latin Mass in Michiana (which contains a fuller version of this reflection, in addition to other related and beautifully presented material).

Bernard of Clairvaux: The Name “God” Liquefies and Dissolves into the Title “Emmanuel” Saturday, Aug 20 2011 

You encounter many names for the Bridegroom scattered through the pages of Scripture, but all these I sum up for you in two.

I think you will find none that does not express either the gift of his love or the power of his majesty.

The Holy Spirit tells us this through the mouth of one of his friends: “Two things I have heard: it is for God to be strong, for you. Lord, to be merciful.”

With reference to his majesty we read: “Holy and terrible is his name;”

with reference to his love: “Of all the names in the world given to men, this is the only one by  which we can be saved.”

Further examples make it clearer still. Jeremiah says: “This is the name by which he will be called: ‘the Lord our righteous one’” – a name suggesting power;

but when Isaiah says: “His name will be called Emmanuel,” he indicates his love.

He himself said: “You call me Master and Lord.” The first title implies love, the second  majesty.

Love’s business is to educate the mind as well as to provide the body’s food.

Isaiah also said: “His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, God, the Mighty One, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

The first, third and fourth signify majesty, the others love. Which of these therefore is poured out?

In some mysterious way the name of majesty and power is transfused into that of love and mercy, an amalgam that is abundantly poured out in the person of our Savior Jesus Christ.

The name “God” liquefies and dissolves into the title “God with us,” that is, into “Emmanuel.”

He who is “Wonderful” becomes “Counselor”; “God” and “the Mighty One” become the “Everlasting Father” and the “Prince of Peace.” “The Lord our righteous one” becomes the “gracious and merciful Lord.”

This process is not new: in ancient times “Abram” became Abraham and Sarai became “Sara”; and we are reminded that in these events the mystery of the communication of salvation was pre-figured and celebrated.

So I ask where now is that warning cry: “I am the Lord, I am the Lord,” that resounded with recurring terror in the ears of the people of old.

The prayer with which I am familiar, that begins with the sweet name of Father, gives me confidence of obtaining the petitions with which it continues.

Servants are called friends in this new way, and the resurrection is proclaimed not to mere disciples but to brothers.

Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153): Sermons on the Song of Songs, 15, 1-2.

Cyril of Alexandria: The Names “Emmanuel”, “Jesus” and “Christ” Monday, Dec 20 2010 

In the book of Isaiah it is written: Behold, the virgin will be with child, and will give birth to a son, and they will name him Emmanuel.

Yet when blessed Gabriel revealed this mystery to the holy Virgin who was to be the Mother of God, he said:

Do not he afraid, Mary, for you have found favour in God’s sight. You will conceive in your womb and bear a son and you will name him Jesus, for it is he who will save his people from their sins.

How is this? Does the message of the holy angel contradict that of the prophet? By no means.

Speaking mysteries in the Spirit, the inspired Prophet foretold that God would be with us, naming him “Emmanuel” in consideration of his divine nature and of the plan whereby he became incarnate.

The blessed angel on the other hand called him by a name that signified his function: he has in fact saved his people, and on this account he is called “Saviour”.

This is how hosts of angels announced the Good News to the shepherds at the time when he humbled himself to be born in the flesh for our sake:

Be not afraid, they said; today we bring you good tidings of a great joy for the whole people: a saviour has been born this day in the city of David, and he is Christ the Lord.

Rightly then is he named Emmanuel, because being God by nature he became God-with-us when he was made man.

And yet he is also named Jesus, because being God, and being made man, he had the task of saving the world.

So when he came forth from his mother’s womb (for according to the flesh he was truly born of her) his name was conferred on him.

It was inappropriate for God the Word to be named “Christ” before his birth in the flesh: how should he be called Christ, the Anointed One, when he had not yet been anointed?

But, when he was born as man, then there was given to him the name that belonged to him in virtue of his human condition.

Cyril of Alexandria (c. 376-444): Commentary on Isaiah Lib. 4, Oratio 4 (PG 70, 1035-1038), from the Monastic Office of Vigils, December 20th in Advent Year 1.

Leo the Great: The Enduring Presence of the Risen and Ascended Lord Tuesday, Apr 20 2010 

And so, dearly-beloved, if we unhesitatingly believe with the heart what we profess with the mouth, we are crucified in Christ.

We are dead, we are buried in Christ. On the very third day, too, we are raised in Christ.

Hence the Apostle says, “If you have risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting on God’s right hand.

“Set your affections on things above, not on things on the earth.  For you are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.

“For when Christ, your life, shall have appeared, then shall ye also appear with Him in glory” (Col. 3:1-4).

But that the hearts of the faithful may know that they have that whereby to spurn the lusts of the world and be lifted to the wisdom that is above, the Lord promises us His presence, saying, “Lo!  I am with you all the days, even till the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20).

For not in vain had the Holy Ghost said by Isaiah: “Behold! a virgin shall conceive and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Emmanuel, which is, being interpreted, God with us” (Is. 7:14; Matt. 1:23).

Jesus, therefore, fulfils the proper meaning of His name, and in ascending into the heavens does not forsake His adopted brethren.

Although “He sits at the right hand of the Father,” He dwells in the whole body, and Himself from above strengthens them for patient waiting while He summons them upwards to His glory.

Leo the Great (c.400-461): Sermon 72, 3.