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The Message of His Grace Archbishop Mark on the Nativity of Christ

Beholding him who was in God’s image and likeness fallen though transgression, Jesus bowed the heavens and came down, and without change He took up His dwelling in a Virgin womb: that thereby He might renew corrupt Adam, who cried to Him: Glory to Thine appearance, O my Deliverer and God.

Stichira at the Lity, Tone I

In her marvellous Nativity hymns Holy Church most wisely and splendidly glorifies and sings of the mystery of the incarnation of God the Word. The Son of God, Who bowed the heavens, came down to our earthly world in order to renew and restore fallen mankind – those who had fallen away from Divine life, the wise Maker renews again (First Canon of the Nativity, Ode I). The Lord Jesus Christ takes on human nature, not merely in order to restore to His earthly brethren is earthly brethrenHitheir primal dignity, but also in order to bestow on them a new nature, that of the God-man, which alone merits the name of true. For without the Divine presence in our world, man, who became corrupt through transgression and fell away from Divine life, turns into the gloomy mask of his own ego. The Coming of Christ opens to us the path to heaven, the path from death to life – He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life (I Jn 5, 12). Those who have faith in the Son of God receive from Him the power to become the sons of God (Jn 1, 12).

Herein lies the importance for our salvation of confessing the Divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ, Who came in the flesh, as the Apostle Peter confessed Him: Thou art the Son of the living God (Matt. 16, 16). Christ founded His Church on the unshakeable rock of this confession of Christ and, according to His unfailing promise, the gates of hell shall not prevail (Matt. 16, 18). They will never prevail, although they will attempt to prevail. For two thousand years, starting with the Jews who rejected the Son of God, from the first heresies until present-day, ‘humanistic’, Western pseudo-Christianity, attempts to bring Christ down to the level of a simple man, a prophet or great teacher, have continued. But to deny the Divinity of the Lord Christ is at the same time to deny man’s origins at the hands of God and our adoption by our God. This inevitably turns backwards into man’s humiliation and destruction, his reduction to ‘the measure of all things’ and ‘the summit of evolution’, that is to a being who is merely passing, material, mortal and corruptible. It is fitting that we Orthodox Christians should in mind and heart believe as salvation that the Lord Christ – the true God – came not merely to prophesy and teach, but to raise up and glorify with Himself fallen human nature, as the Church sings at the Forefeast of the Nativity – in a hymn which is nowadays probably offered up only in monasteries, for it is rare for parishes to have daily services.

The Lord Christ, God All-Powerful, Who without change took up His dwelling in a Virgin womb, that is Who was not parted from His Divinity, carries out an act, which is beyond the powers of any prophet or teacher: He restores our fallen nature, communing life to those who were condemned to death, darkened and made mortal by human sin. He restores fallen man, whose sin brought him down to the darkness of the passions, to where he sees no light and accepts death as a natural and lawful state. The restoration of man is carried out in the mystery of Christ the God-man, in the body of the God-man – the Church. In becoming a practising member of the Church, man finds his true self, because Christ Himself leads him out from the darkness to the light, from corruption to life. Through Faith in the God-man, man is raised up and begins to feel real joy in life – not a fleeting life which is threatened by death, but an eternal life which does not pass by and which consoles him in every way.

Why did all those who saw Christ in the flesh not accept His saving good news and why today do not all accept Him with joy and thanksgiving? Because human science falsely so-called (I Tim 6, 20) is prepared for all manner of cunning, prepared to believe all manner of absurd imaginations, prepared even to see in man the descendant of dumb beasts, just as long as he does not have to believe in His Creator, just as long as he does not have to submit himself to obeying Christ. Of this sickness the Lord said: That seeing they may see and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them (Mk. 4, 12). Man in his pride rejects the Son of God, and God the Father, and the Holy Spirit, for he is in love with himself and his supposed achievements, he is blinded by his own ‘dignity’, as he calls it. But man’s authentic and unimagined dignity is to be found only in the sincere realization of his indignity, of his fallen state. Only a humble man can accept true life from the hands of God, only those who are aware that the misuse of human freedom brought the First Adam, who was perfect and uncorrupted, created according to the image and the likeness of God, to fall and experience the corruption of his nature, which was created by the Maker as very good. Humbly recognizing himself as created – the creation of God the Maker, man is penetrated by revulsion at his own fallen state and begins to seek out deliverance from death and corruption. Humility brings him to acknowledge his guilt before his Maker and to prepare through repentance to tear himself away from the spiral of lethal pride and enter into life through the open gates of repentance, crying together with Adam: Glory to Thine appearance, O my Deliverer and God!

Dear brothers and sisters, today we celebrate the Feast of ineffable Divine humility. The Son of God shows His humility, becoming for our salvation the Son of man. Let us also become humble under the mighty hand of God (I Peter 5, 6), that we may be able to accept for our salvation the most precious gifts of our Deliverer and God: eternal life, love and peace, adoption by God the Father: The great Shepherd of men and High Priest comes as a man from the Virgin through the abyss of ineffable compassions: O Bethlehem, make ready, shepherds sing praises, proclaiming the common exaltation unto the ends of the earth (21 December, Hymn to the Birthgiver of God, Ode V of the Canon).

+ Archbishop Mark

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