A forethought for the Nativity
As we are now only a few days away from the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ in the flesh, I would like to share some thoughts for us to consider. I believe the whole meaning and purpose of the Incarnation of our Lord can be expressed in a brief phrase written by St. John of Damascus: “Christ has enriched our human nature with His divinity.” We see intimations of this in the Holy Scriptures. In his second epistle, the Apostle Peter writes, “we have become partakers of the divine nature.” (IIPet. 1:4) Elsewhere, St. John the Theologian tells us, “As many as received Him—to them that believe on His Name—to them He gave authority to become the children of God, Who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of a man, but of God.” (John 1:12-13) And the Apostle Paul having brought this to perfection cried out: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.” (Gal. 2:20)
To illustrate what God has done for us we can think of a dried out sponge. If you put it in water, it becomes permeated with that water – its form changes, its color is brightened, and it appears to come to life. This is similar to what Christ has done to our human nature – He has enriched it with His divinity. This is the gift that God has given to us through the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is deposited within us, but its development requires ascetic effort. Returning to the quote from St. Paul in Galatians, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.” (Gal. 2:20) To be crucified with Christ indicates ascetic effort.
This shows us one of the biggest differences between the Christianty in the East and the West. One Catholic author, Richard Payne, studied the Eastern Fathers and wrote a book called, The Holy Fire. It is a compilation of some of the lives of Holy Fathers in the East who elucidated Christian theological teachings in their writings. In this book he acknowledges that: “From the Greek Fathers we derive almost all the great doctrines of the Church, and we are their children whether we like it or not.” (p. 294) In the last of these biographies, which is on St. Gregory Palamas, he points out: “The Western Church fixed its eyes on the Atonement, the Greek Church saw its highest desire in the Incarnation and the Transfiguration. In the West men wanted to be saved; in the more contemplative East, it was a small thing to be saved if one could meet God face to face.”(p.294)
Over time, varying concepts and understanding of what ‘salvation’ meant developed in the East and West. This is why the argument of how one is saved never arose in the East. As Payne pointed out, “The Western Church fixed its eyes on the Atonement.” When you stop at the Cross and the forgiveness of sins, then salvation simply takes on the notion of an escape from hell and the wrath of God. But when one’s mind is focused on the Nativity and the Transfiguration, then the greater meaning of salvation is revealed. This truth is expressed best in the words of St. Athanasius the Great: “God became so that man could became like God.” As St. Gregroy Palamas indicated, we are able to experience the life of God within our being, through His uncreated divine energy. We are able to contain within us the uncontainable God.
This is precisely what the Apostle Peter meant when he wrote that “we have become partakers of the divine nature.” This is what St. John the Theologian tells us: “As many as received Him—to them that believe on His Name—to them He gave authority to become the children of God, Who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of a man, but of God.” And in closing this is what St. John of Damascus meant when he wrote,”Christ has enriched our humanity with His divinity.”
May we all bring this gift to perfection and so cry out with the Apostle Paul: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.” Amen!