When you fall down before God in prayer, become in your thought like an ant, like a creeping thing of the earth, like a leech, and like a tiny lisping child. Do not say anything before him with knowledge, but with a child’s manner of thought, draw near God and walk before him, that you may be counted worthy of that paternal providence that fathers have for their small children.
[Mar Isaac the Syrian, Ascetical Homilies]
Let us consider, beloved, how the Master continually calls our attention to the future resurrection, the first fruits of which He has made the Lord Jesus Christ by raising Him from the dead. Let us consider, beloved, the kind of resurrection that occurs at regular intervals. Day and night give us examples of resurrection. The night sleeps, the day rises; the day departs, the night comes on. Let us take the crops. The sowing – how and in what manner does it take place? The sower goes out and puts each of the seeds into the soil: when they fall on the soil, they are dry and bare, and decay. But once they have decayed, the Master’s wondrous Providence makes them rise, and each one increases and brings forth multiple fruit.
[St. Clement of Rome, Epistle to the Corinthians]
On the Nativity of Christ who is God
The power that is in his works he hath shown unto his people. When the new covenant was about to begin, it was preceded by wonders which signified the joy that was to happen to the World. For by a miracle the affliction of barrenness was removed, and trembling age was made young, and a plant sprang up from an unfruitful field; in order that this might be believed by all men, that a virgin also should conceive and bear without seed God the Word, who was to become incarnate from her, and to become a babe for our salvation in the greatness of bis mercy and of his grace toward us.
Who shall declare the Lord’s wonders? What mind or speech or hearing is there that is equal to the ineffable sea of mercifulness? The Only one, who before all the ages was born in divine fashion and without a body from the Only one, the Word of the Father, he was born alone from a mother alone in flesh and in bodily fashion; who by his birth did not destroy this mother’s virginity and so showed her to be the God-bearer, since neither was he himself changed when he willed it and became man. «the depth of the riches and of the wisdom of God!» The womb of a woman which was condemned to bear children in pains, This became a spring of immortality; which conceived and bore Emmanuel without seed, and by its incorruptible delivery loosened the bond of our race: whom let us all praise, and let us say, «Incomprehensible Lord of all, praise be to you!
Let the redeemed of the Lord say. O! the wonderful and divine pangs of tho God-bearer and Virgin Mary, through which conception and virginity were brought together, and the couch of copulation did not precede the marvellous birth, nor yet did the birth break the stamps and seals of virginity. He who was born of the Father in a divine manner and without passion, the same was also born of the Virgin in a fleshly manner without passion, being one out of two, Godhead and manhood. Him the Magi also worship; and by means of offerings they silently proclaimed him to be God: for they offered him frankincense as a god; and gold as a king; and myrrh, which is a symbol of the life-giving mortality which on our behalf he took upon him and endured of his own will, who is the only merciful one.
He bowed the heavens and came down. The Son and Word of God, who filleth all things, but is not himself confined and contained by all things, «bowed the heavens and came down» in his mercy to us on earth, and was contained without being confined in a virgin’s womb in a manner inexpressible. Having become incarnate from her without variation, he is born according to the laws of conception; and by an innovation he overcame the laws of nature: for he was conceived as a babe by a miracle, and fulfilled the time of nine months conception; but by his birth he did not burst the bond and the closed seals of bis mother’s virginity. Ask not how: for, if he is Emmanuel who was born, his birth is incomprehensible, and the manner of such a miracle is past finding out. Being led therefore by the star of light to go up to heaven with the eyes of our mind, let us all with the Magi bless and worship him as Maker of heaven and of earth, offering praise to his great mercy and his grace toward us.
The Lord shall feed me and I shall want nothing. The Shepherd of the heavenly spiritual hosts and Maker of all creation, suprasensual and perceived by the senses, having become incarnate without variation of the Holy Spirit and of the God-bearer Mary and become man, was born as a little child in Bethlehem of Judah, which means ‘house of bread’: and the shepherds, having been enlightened as to this by the divine glorv, which shone from heaven, and having seen the army of angels and the company of spiritual beings, and heard them chanting and singing a hymn of praise, searched and sought eagerly and said to one another, «Let us go and make our way to Bethlehem»; and, as in a figure, they by this foreshadowed the shepherds and priests of the church, who set themselves constantly to seek the heavenly bread, and «the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world» and is mysteriously sacrificed upon his altar every day according to the riches of his great mercy.
Say unto God, ‘How terrible are thy works’. No couch of intercourse with a man cleft and broke the seal of virginity, nor was mortal seed placed in the pure uncorrupt womb; but Christ, the heavenly ear, sprang forth by a miracle from the Holy Spirit and from the Godbearer, showing also that his birth was free from phantasy, and that he is God of God, even when «he took of the seed of Abraham» without variation; in order that the Only one, who is the eternal Word, might be by dispensation «the first-born among many brethren»; since it pleased him in all things save sin only to be made like unto us, whom he was about to release from the bonds of death and destruction by his pure blood, as the only good and merciful one.
God hath spoken in his Holy One. Isaiah, when he learned beforehand the mystery of the seedless birth from the God-bearer Mary, feil into astonishment and great wonder, and cried with a loud voice and said, «Behold! a virgin shall conceive and bear»: and, when he had considered him that was born and known that he is the eternal Son of the Father, and that the same became incarnate without variation as a habe in his mercy, the child that is born to us now and not to him, proclaimed and said in prophecy, «A child has been born unto us, a son has also been given unto us», whom also his very name showed to be a messenger of a great purpose and a wonderful counsellor and mighty God. How then is she not the Godbearer, who bare the mighty God, you unbelievers, uninstructed, and foolish? whom also acknowledge with us, worshipping and saying, «Praise be to you!»
The kings of Tharshish and of the isles shall bring presents to him. The birth of Emmanuel in the flesh from the Virgin Mary was not preceded by the exercise of copulation, but only by the descent of the Holy Spirit; and this God-befitting miracle is confirmed by the closed seal of virginity which is preserved even after the birth. But, before you look at and regard the mother’s womb, and call him a babe who is borne and enclosed in bis mother’s arms, the Magi draw near, and bid and urge you to look at the star, and consider in your heart God the Word who descended and came from heaven, and to confess the same to be earthly and heavenly: whom also let us bless and worship and praise as God the Saviour of all and the merciful.
To thee have I lifted up mine eyes, the dweller in the heavens. In the wish to see with the eyes of my mind the depth of the mystery of the Humanization, I both stretch my intellect and apply it to all sides; and, being little enlightened, I restrain my sight and pass from speculation, since I am overcome by the incomprehensible light of the miracles. He who in the beginning is the Word of God and the Father without ceasing to be God was wholiy contained without being confined in the womb of Mary the Virgin the God-bearer. Not by stirring up hosts of heavenly beings did he this, but silently and in a manner inexpressible; and, having been hypostatically united to holy flesh with an intelligent soul, he became perfect man without variation. Of this David sang beforehand when he prophesied and cried, «He shall come down like rain upon a fleece». This John also was inspired moreover to write in his Gospel-teaching when he proclaimed and said, «The Word became flesh and dwelt among us». This Gabriel announced to the Virgin when he said, a hail to thee, thou that art highly favoured! The Lord is with thee, blessed among women». Him let us also praise and confess, inasmuch as he is the Saviour of our race, Christ, God over all.
When the Lord turned again the captivity of Zion. That God the Word in a manner inexpressible as he willed it «bowed the heavens and came down to us, and of the Holy Spirit and of the very essence of the most blessed Virgin without variation and without all sin became incarnate and became perfectly man by his grace let us all confess like Paul the teacher of mysteries, who wrote in his teaching and said to the peoples, «But, when the fulness of time was come, God sent his Son and he was born of a woman». For the conception and the true birth with the swaddling-clothes bear witness to the truth of the Incarnation; while to the descent without a body from on high witness is borne by the Star which appeared to the Magi; and that he is God the frankincense also that is offered to him as to a god proclaims; while the gold that was offered him which was placed before his feet as a king bears witness to his power over all; and the saving Passion which he endured on our behalf in the flesh and the annihilation of corruption by the life-giving burial were prefigured hy the sweet smell of myrrh. In virtue of them all therefore let us bless and worship him who even in his very exinanition is shown to be full, asking of him forgiveness of sins and his great mercy.
[St. Severus of Antioch – Credit to Fr. Peter Farrington of the London School of Orthodox Christian Studies, http://www.lsocs.co.uk]
Then He said: “A certain man had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.’ So he divided to them his livelihood. And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living. But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land, and he began to be in want. Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything.
“But when he came to himself, he said, “How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.”‘
“And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. And the son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
“But the father said to his servants, “Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ And they began to be merry.
“Now his older son was in the field. And as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, “Your brother has come, and because he has received him safe and sound, your father has killed the fatted calf.’
“But he was angry and would not go in. Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him. So he answered and said to his father, “Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends. But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him.’
“And he said to him, “Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours. It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.”‘
What then is the object of the parable? Let us examine the occasion which led to it; for so we shall learn the truth. The blessed Luke therefore had himself said a little before of Christ the Saviour of us all, “And all the publicans and sinners drew near unto Him to hear Him. And the Pharisees and Scribes murmured saying, This man receives sinners and eats ” with them.” As therefore the Pharisees and Scribes made this outcry at His gentleness and love to man, and wickedly and impiously blamed Him for receiving and teaching men whose lives were impure, Christ very necessarily set before them the present parable, to show them clearly this very thing, that the God of all requires even him who is thoroughly steadfast, and firm, and who knows how to live holy, and has attained to the highest praise for sobriety of conduct, to be earnest in following His will, so that when any are called unto repentance, even if they be men highly blameable, he must rejoice rather, and not give way to an unloving vexation on their account.
For we also sometimes experience something of this sort. For some there are who live a perfectly honourable and consistent life, practising every kind of virtuous action, and abstaining from every thing disapproved by the law of God, and crowning themselves with perfect praises in the sight of God and of men: while another is perhaps weak and trodden down, and humbled unto every kind of wickedness, guilty of base deeds, loving impurity, given to covetousness, and stained with all evil. And yet such a one often in old age turns unto God, and asks the forgiveness of his former offences: he prays for mercy, and putting away from him his readiness to fall into sin, sets his affection on virtuous deeds. Or even perhaps when about to close his mortal life, he is admitted to divine baptism, and puts away his offences, God being merciful unto him.
And perhaps sometimes persons are indignant at this, and even say, ‘This man, who has been guilty of such and such actions, and has spoken such and such words, has not paid unto the judge the retribution of his conduct, but has been counted worthy of a grace thus noble and admirable: he has been inscribed among the sons of God, and honoured with the glory of the saints.’
Such complaints men sometimes give utterance too from an empty narrowness of mind, not conforming to the purpose of the universal Father. For He greatly rejoices when He sees those who were lost obtaining salvation, and raises them up again to that which they were in the beginning, giving them the dress of freedom, and adorning them with the chief robe, and putting a ring upon their hand, even the orderly behavior which is pleasing to God and suitable to the free.
It is our duty, therefore, to conform ourselves to that which God wills: for He heals those who are sick; He raises those who are fallen; He gives a helping hand to those who have stumbled; He brings back him who has wandered; He forms anew unto a praiseworthy and blameless life those who were wallowing in the mire of sin; He seeks those who were lost; He raises as from the dead those who had suffered the spiritual death. Let us also rejoice: let us, in company with the holy angels, praise Him as being good, and loving unto men; as gentle, and not remembering evil. For if such is our state of mind, Christ will receive us, by Whom and with Whom, to God the Father be praise and dominion with the Holy Spirit, for ever and ever, Amen.
[St. Cyril the Pillar of Faith, Commentary on Luke, Sermon CVII]
When God the Almighty was making mankind through His own Word, He perceived that they, owing to the limitation of their nature, could not of themselves have any knowledge of their Artificer, the Incorporeal and Uncreated. He took pity on them, therefore, and did not leave them destitute of the knowledge of Himself, lest their very existence should prove purposeless. For of what use is existence to the creature if it cannot know its Maker? How could men be reasonable beings if they had no knowledge of the Word and Reason of the Father, through Whom they had received their being? They would be no better than the beasts, had they no knowledge save of earthly things; and why should God have made them at all, if He had not intended them to know Him? But, in fact, the good God has given them a share in His own Image, that is, in our Lord Jesus Christ, and has made even themselves after the same Image and Likeness. Why? Simply in order that through this gift of Godlikeness in themselves they may be able to perceive the Image Absolute, that is the Word Himself, and through Him to apprehend the Father; which knowledge of their Maker is for men the only really happy and blessed life.
[St. Athanasius the Apostolic, On the Incarnation of the Word]
The Word perceived that corruption could not be got rid of otherwise than through death; yet He Himself, as the Word, being immortal and the Father’s Son, was such as could not die. For this reason, therefore, He assumed a body capable of death, in order that it, through belonging to the Word Who is above all, might become in dying a sufficient exchange for all, and, itself remaining incorruptible through His indwelling, might thereafter put an end to corruption for all others as well, by the grace of the resurrection. It was by surrendering to death the body which He had taken, as an offering and sacrifice free from every stain, that He forthwith abolished death for His human brethren by the offering of the equivalent. For naturally, since the Word of God was above all, when He offered His own temple and bodily instrument as a substitute for the life of all, He fulfilled in death all that was required.
Naturally also, through this union of the immortal Son of God with our human nature, all men were clothed with incorruption in the promise of the resurrection. For the solidarity of mankind is such that, by virtue of the Word’s indwelling in a single human body, the corruption which goes with death has lost its power over all. You know how it is when some great king enters a large city and dwells in one of its houses; because of his dwelling in that single house, the whole city is honored, and enemies and robbers cease to molest it. Even so is it with the King of all; He has come into our country and dwelt in one body amidst the many, and in consequence the designs of the enemy against mankind have been foiled and the corruption of death, which formerly held them in its power, has simply ceased to be. For the human race would have perished utterly had not the Lord and Savior of all, the Son of God, come among us to put an end to death.
[St. Athanasius the Apostolic, On the Incarnation of the Word]
Yet, true though this is, it is not the whole matter. As we have already noted, it was unthinkable that God, the Father of Truth, should go back upon His word regarding death in order to ensure our continued existence. He could not falsify Himself; what, then, was God to do? Was He to demand repentance from men for their transgression? You might say that that was worthy of God, and argue further that, as through the Transgression they became subject to corruption, so through repentance they might return to incorruption again. But repentance would not guard the Divine consistency, for, if death did not hold dominion over men, God would still remain untrue. Nor does repentance recall men from what is according to their nature; all that it does is to make them cease from sinning. Had it been a case of a trespass only, and not of a subsequent corruption, repentance would have been well enough; but when once transgression had begun men came under the power of the corruption proper to their nature and were bereft of the grace which belonged to them as creatures in the Image of God.
No, repentance could not meet the case. What—or rather Who was it that was needed for such grace and such recall as we required? Who, save the Word of God Himself, Who also in the beginning had made all things out of nothing? His part it was, and His alone, both to bring again the corruptible to incorruption and to maintain for the Father His consistency of character with all. For He alone, being Word of the Father and above all, was in consequence both able to recreate all, and worthy to suffer on behalf of all and to be an ambassador for all with the Father.
For this purpose, then, the incorporeal and incorruptible and immaterial Word of God entered our world. In one sense, indeed, He was not far from it before, for no part of creation had ever been without Him Who, while ever abiding in union with the Father, yet fills all things that are. But now He entered the world in a new way, stooping to our level in His love and Self-revealing to us. He saw the reasonable race, the race of men that, like Himself, expressed the Father’s Mind, wasting out of existence, and death reigning over all in corruption. He saw that corruption held us all the closer, because it was the penalty for the Transgression; He saw, too, how unthinkable it would be for the law to be repealed before it was fulfilled. He saw how unseemly it was that the very things of which He Himself was the Artificer should be disappearing. He saw how the surpassing wickedness of men was mounting up against them; He saw also their universal liability to death.
All this He saw and, pitying our race, moved with compassion for our limitation, unable to endure that death should have the mastery, rather than that His creatures should perish and the work of His Father for us men come to nought, He took to Himself a body, a human body even as our own. Nor did He will merely to become embodied or merely to appear; had that been so, He could have revealed His divine majesty in some other and better way. No, He took our body, and not only so, but He took it directly from a spotless, stainless virgin, without the agency of human father—a pure body, untainted by intercourse with man. He, the Mighty One, the Artificer of all, Himself prepared this body in the virgin as a temple for Himself, and took it for His very own, as the instrument through which He was known and in which He dwelt.
Thus, taking a body like our own, because all our bodies were liable to the corruption of death, He surrendered His body to death instead of all, and offered it to the Father. This He did out of sheer love for us, so that in His death all might die, and the law of death thereby be abolished because, having fulfilled in His body that for which it was appointed, it was thereafter voided of its power for men. This He did that He might turn again to incorruption men who had turned back to corruption, and make them alive through death by the appropriation of His body and by the grace of His resurrection. Thus He would make death to disappear from them as utterly as straw from fire.
[St. Athanasius the Apostolic, On the Incarnation of the Word]