A Word from St. Amvrossy of Optina
I am hoping throughout this year to be primarily publishing excerpts or complete letters of St. Amvrossy of Optina. These are taken from the book, Collection of Letters to Monastics by our Holy Father—Elder Hieroschemamonk Amvrossy of the Optina Hermitage, Optina Hermitage 1995 (2nd edition). These letters are either Paschal or Nativity greetings to which the saint also added soul profiting instructions which was his custom.
Letter 26 (1883)
Mothers and Sisters in the Lord:
By the longsuffering of God we are vouchsafed once again to encounter the feast of the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ in the flesh.
I congratulate all of you with this all-joyous celebration and, as is my custom, for the benefit of your souls I offer for your examination the Irmos of the Nativity: “As the staff and its flower of the root of Jesse, from the Virgin hast Thou budded forth, O Christ. From the Mountain overshadowed by the forest hast Thou come, O praised One, incarnate from her who knew not wedlock, God Who art immaterial. Glory to Thy power, O Lord.”
I think that not many of those who can relate to my poor condition completely understand the meaning of this Irmos. I wish to give a brief explanation for those who do not understand it. “As the staff and its flower of the root of Jesse, from the Virgin hast Thou budded forth, O Christ.” The staff of Aaron which miraculously sprouted and put forth flower was placed in the Ark of the Covenant, according to the commandment of God as a remembrance for future generations. This staff was the image of another staff that blossomed from the root of Jesse, that is, the Most Holy Virgin Theotokos. She blossomed forth from barren parents, as from a dried-up staff, she blossomed as a living branch; but from this Virginal branch as a flower, budded Christ the God-man.
“From the Mountain overshadowed by the forest hast Thou come, O praised One, incarnate from her who knew not wedlock, God Who art immaterial. Glory to Thy power, O Lord.” The praised One in heaven, the invisible God, came visibly to earth as from a mountain overshadowed by a forest. The immaterial One became incarnate from the unwedded Virgin. As on a mountain the incomprehensible mystery of the incarnation is revealed – the Son of God comes from the most holy Virgin. The incomprehensible is received only with faith. For this reason, the Prophet Habakkuk, having foreseen in spirit the incomprehensible mystery of the incarnation cried out: ” Glory to Thy power, O Lord.”
It is not inappropriate to explain here the perplexity which some have experienced because it is said, “God shall come from the south”, and not from the east. This is said about Bethlehem in relation to Nazareth. The most holy Mother of God received the “glad tidings” at Nazareth, while Bethlehem – where Christ was born – is south of there. In the words, “God came from the south”, we are also able to find moral edification. For as when the visible sun is in the south at noonday, and the rays of its light illumine and warm much more, so the Sun of Righteousness, Christ the Lord, enlightens much more with the rays of His grace those who piously struggle according to the might of their strength; as it is said, “In the south, those who sow in tears shall reap with joy” (Psa. 125:4-5). In his youth, a man often does not understand what is needed, while in old age he is frequently ill and feeble. As for an old and feeble man, what asceticism is he good for?
So what are we to do who lack asceticism and are becoming enfeebled? There is but one thing—to comfort ourselves with the words of the apostle: “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (I Tim. 1:15). For in unutterable kindheartedness and love for man He does not reject even the one who comes at the eleventh hour with repentance and commands to have him rewarded just as those who worked throughout the day. For this reason we who are sinful and feeble should not be slothful in repentance and in humbling ourselves; and we should be patient in the sorrows and sicknesses sent to us. We should attend to the evangelistic words of the Lord: “in your patience possess ye your souls” (Luke 21:19), and “He who endures to the end shall be saved” (Mat. 10:22).
O Thou Who wast born of the most-immaculate Virgin and Who alone art holy, have mercy on us sinners. Amen.