Be a New Creation

I have been co-crucified with Christ; I live no more, but Christ lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by the Son of God’s faithfulness, the One loving me and giving Himself up on my behalf.   (Galatians 2:20)

What is meant by a new self? A new self in Christ means a new understanding of and a new relationship to self, Christ, God, Holy Spirit, others and the world. Christ changes not merely the spiritual circumstances in which we live, but also our inner being or character – us. There in the depths of our heart, where we experience what we are and how we feel about ourselves, where our own self-image is often distorted and covered up  by frustration and guilt, where God has nevertheless placed a treasure of spiritual gifts and powers, there is the where the personal identity of each human being is located and awaits an explosive release by the grace of Christ.

This same question of identity is as important to us as it was important to the man of the gospel account who was possessed by many demons. It is one of the key questions of life. But many are inclined to ignore it.

(Theodore Stylianopoulos, A Year of the Lord: Liturgical Bible Studies, p. 94)

Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come.  (2 Corinthians 5:17)

Put off your old nature which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new nature, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.  (Ephesians 4:22-24)

Exaltation of the Cross (2018)

“You should venerate not only the icon of Christ, but also the similitude of His cross. For the cross is Christ’s great sign and trophy of victory over the devil and all his hostile hosts; for this reason they tremble and flee when they see the figuration of the cross. This figure, even prior to the crucifixion, was greatly glorified by the prophets and wrought great wonders; and when He who was hung upon it, our Lord Jesus Christ, comes again to judge the living and the dead, this His great and terrible sign will precede Him, full of power and glory (cf. Matt. 24:30).

So glorify the cross now, so that you may boldly look upon it then and be glorified with it. And you should venerate icons of the saints, for the saints have been crucified with the Lord; and you should make the sign of the cross upon your person before doing so, bringing to mind their communion in the sufferings of Christ.”

(St Gregory Palamas, THE PHILOKALIA, Kindle Location 46350-46360)

Contemplating the Cross

The LORD reigns; he is robed in majesty;
the LORD is robed; he has put on strength as his belt.
Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved.
Your throne is established from of old;
you are from everlasting.

(Psalms 93:1-2)

Bless the LORD, O my soul!
O LORD my God, you are very great!
You are clothed with splendor and majesty,
covering yourself with light as with a garment,
stretching out the heavens like a tent.

(Psalms 104:1-2)

St Isaac of Nineveh writes:

For the Cross is Christ’s garment just as the humanity of Christ is the garment of the divinity. Thus (the Cross today) serves as a type, awaiting the time when the true prototype will be revealed: then those things will not be required (any longer). For the Divinity dwells inseparably in the Humanity, without any end, and forever; in other words, boundlessly. For this reason we look on the Cross as the place belonging to the Shekhina of the Most High, the Lord’s sanctuary, the ocean of the symbols (or, mysteries) of God’s economy.

  . . . Whenever we gaze on the Cross in a composed way, with our emotions steadied, the recollection of our Lord’s entire economy gathers together and he stands before our interior eyes.

(Isaac of Nineveh, The Second Part, p. 60)

An Icon of The Mother of God

A typical icon of the Theotokos:

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The usual type is that which you find in East and West – the Virgin holding the child.  This is an image of several things and not only the Mother of God as a person.  It is an image of the Incarnation, an assertion of the Incarnation and its reality.  It’s an assertion of the true and real motherhood of the Virgin.

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And, if you look attentively at the ikon, you will see that the Mother of God holding the Child never looks at the Child.  She always looks neither at you nor into the distance but her open eyes look deep inside her.  She is in contemplation.  She is not looking at things.  And her tenderness is expressed by the shyness of her hands.  She holds the Child without hugging him.  She holds the Child as one would hold something sacred that one is bringing as an offering, and all the tenderness, all the human love, is expressed by the Child, not by the mother.

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She remains the Mother of God and she treats the child, not as baby Jesus, but as the Incarnate Son of God who has become the son of the Virgin and He, being true man and true God, expresses to her all the love and tenderness of man and God both to His mother and to His  creature.

(Metropolitan Anthony Bloom, BEGINNING TO PRAY, pp 109-110)

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Dealing with Your Enemies  

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For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, that I might win the more. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews; to those under the law I became as one under the law—though not being myself under the law—that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law—not being without law toward God but under the law of Christ—that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.   (1 Corinthians 9:19-23)

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St. John Chrysostom comments:

You, therefore, when you have your enemy in your power, do not make it your concern how to avenge yourself and after subjecting him to countless outrages get rid of him, but how to look after him, how to bring him to mildness; do not stop short of doing and saying everything until by gentleness you overcome his ferocity. Nothing, after all, is more efficacious than mildness; someone suggested as much in the words, “A soft tongue will break bones:” what could be tougher than bones, and yet should anyone be as tough and unbending as that, the one employing mildness will easily prevail. And again, “A submissive answer turns away wrath.” Hence it is clear that you have more say than your enemy in his being upset and his being reconciled: it is up to us, not to the wrathful, both to snuff out their resentment and to kindle the flame to greater heat.

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The previous authority suggested as much by a simple example saying, Just as you ignite the flame by blowing on a spark, but extinguish it by spitting on it, and you have the say in each case (his words are “Both come out of your mouth”), so too with hostility towards your neighbor: if you give vent to inflated and foolish words, you kindle his fire, you ignite the coals, but if peaceable and moderate words, you extinguish his rage completely before the fire takes on. So do  not say, I suffered this and this, I was told this and this: you have the say in it all; as with extinguishing and enkindling the fire, so with inflaming or repressing his resentment, it is likewise up to you.

(Old Testament Homilies, Vol 3,  p. 53-54)   

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The Cross as Paradox

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I have been co-crucified with Christ; I live no more, but Christ lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by the Son of God’s faithfulness, the One loving me and giving Himself up on my behalf.   (Galatians 2:20)

St. Paul took very seriously that we who have been baptized into Christ have died with Him (Romans 6:8, Colossians 3:3).  St. Paul says we have been co-crucified with Christ – we experience his death on the cross in our own lives, and we die with Him on the cross.   And if we have died with Him, then we have died and we live no more.  It is now Christ who lives in me, so I should make decisions that are the decisions that Christ Himself would make.   I should no longer think about myself and what I want but I should be ever mindful of Christ and what He wants.

Thus the power of the Cross is that it helps us to live Christ’s life, and to do the things that Christ would have us do.  It involves self denial because “I” (my “self”) has died and has no more needs but to serve Christ.  If I’m dead to the world, I make no more claims on the world, and I don’t let the world become my focus.  Being co-crucified with Christ changes my entire relationship to the world, and limits of the value of this world to me.

The Cross of Christ is also a great paradox for us for many reasons.  So is the Exaltation of the Cross – for it is a Great Feast of the Church which is kept as a strict fast day.  Here are other ways in which the Cross of Christ remains a paradox for us:

The Cross of Christ is both an instrument of torture and death, and yet it is life giving.

It is a sign of judgment and of forgiveness.

A sign of human hatred, and yet of God’s love.

A sign of humanity’s judgment of God, and of God’s judgment of humanity.

A sign of defeat, and yet of God’s victory.

A tool of  human suffering and torment, yet it brings about healing to those tormented by sin.

A sign of humanity’s rejection of God, and God’s being reconciled with us.

It is a sign of evil triumphing over God, and yet it is God’s victory over evil and death.

A sign of the death of God, and the total annihilation of death.

It is an ultimate instrument of human torture and the ultimate sign of God’s love for humanity.

The eternal and all powerful God’s greatness and glory are revealed in the weakness and shameful suffering on the Cross.

Christ was not ashamed to die on the cross for you and me – despite the fact that we are sinners and even despite the fact that we had not even repented of sin before He died for us.   Therefore, we should not be ashamed to take up the cross and to follow Christ.   We hold up our cross to show the world that we believe in Christ and are willing to die with Him and for Him.  We make the sign of the cross when we pray or before we eat to remind ourselves of God’s love and power in our lives.  We can wear a cross to remind ourselves that we have taken up the cross to follow Christ.

We spend a great deal of our time and resources to pursue pleasure, luxury, ease, the path of least resistance, easy street.  We try to avoid the cross even though as Christians we have professed a willingness to die with Him, to die to our self in order to loved and follow Christ.

The Cross is where God reveals the greatness of His Love, a love which overcomes everything including sin, suffering and death.

God So Loved the World: Unlimited Love

No one has ascended into heaven but he who descended from heaven, the Son of man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.   (John 3:13-17)

Fr Lev Gillet writes:

Limitless Love forces open doors. Perhaps I had not achieved some sort of peaceful coexistence with God. Perhaps I had succeeded in believing that, as far as my soul was concerned, I was more or less “in good order,” and so had come to feel more or less at rest…And now all those presuppositions have been turned upside down by a divine intrusion. God asks something from me that I am quite unprepared for. It is like the news of an unwanted child..to listen to this demand, to take the costly decision, ah, but why?

Everything seemed to be going so well! Must I have new uncertainties and anxieties?…And now limitless Love wants to erupt into my life. It comes to upset everything in it. It comes to break up what seemed stable and to open new horizons to which I had never given a thought.

(in Living Icons: Persons of Faith in the Eastern Church, p. 94)

The Nativity of the Theotokos (2018)

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St. Photios the Great (d. 877AD) writes:

Thus, while each holy festival both affords the enjoyment of common gifts and lights up its particular glow of grace, the present feast honoring the birth of the Virgin Mother of God easily carries off the glittering prize of seniority against every competitor. For, just as we know the root to be the cause of the branches, the stem, the fruit and the flower, though it is for the sake of the fruit that care and labor are expended on the others, and without the root none of the rest grows up, so without the Virgin’s feast none of those that sprang out of it would appear. For the resurrection was because of the death; and the death because of the crucifixion, and the crucifixion because Lazarus came up from the gates of Hell on the fourth day, because the blind saw, and the paralytic ran carrying the bed on which he had lain, and because of the rest of those wondrous deeds (this is not the time to enumerate them all) for which the Jewish people ought to have sent up glory and chanted praise, but were instead inflamed to envy, on account of which they perpetrated the Savior’s murder to their own destruction.

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And this because Christ, having submitted to baptism, and having released men from their error, taught the knowledge of God in deed and word. The baptism was because of the nativity; and Christ’s nativity, to put it briefly and aptly, was because of the Virgin’s nativity, by which we are being renovated, and which we have been deemed worthy to celebrate. Thus the Virgin’s feast, in fulfilling the function of the root, the source, the foundation (I know not how to put it in a more appropriate way), takes on with good reason the ornament of all those other feasts, and it is conspicuous with many great boons, and recognized as the day of universal salvation.

(The Homilies of Photius Patriarch of Constantinople, 165)

Be Mary, or at Least be Martha

Now as they went on their way, he entered a village; and a woman named Martha received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving; and she went to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.”

But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her.”   (Luke 10:38-42; the Gospel lesson for the Nativity of the Theotokos)

St Theophylact of Ochrid comments:

Understand that Martha represents active virtue, while Mary represents divine vision. Action entails distractions and disturbances, but divine vision, having become the ruler of the passions (for Maria means mistress, she who rules), devotes itself entirely to the contemplation of the divine words and judgements…therefore, whoever sits at the feet of Jesus, that is, whoever steadfastly follows and imitates Jesus, is established in all active virtue. Then such a man will also come to the listening of the divine words, that is, he will attain to divine vision. Mary first sat, and by doing this she was then able to listen to Jesus’ words.

Therefore you also, O reader, if you have the strength, ascend to the rank of Mary: become the mistress of your passions, and attain to divine vision.  But if you do not have the strength, be Martha, and devote yourself to active virtue, and by this means welcome Christ.

(Hillarion Alfeyev’s Jesus Christ: His Life and Teaching, p. 453)  

A Theology of Woman

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From one of Cyril [of Jerusalem]’s statements, we might cull a starting point for a theology of woman:

At first, the feminine sex was obligated to give thanks to men, because Eve, born of Adam but not conceived by a mother, was in a certain sense born of man. Mary, instead, paid off the debt of gratitude: she did not give birth by means of a man, but by herself, virginally, through the working of the Holy Spirit and the power of God.

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Cyril seems to want to say that the Blessed Virgin restored woman’s dignity, reestablishing her position of equality with regard to man and ennobling her role as mother. Mary’s response to God, who spoke to her through the mouth of an angel, reminds women that they, too, are partners, not only of men, but of God himself.

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The prestigious catechist of the Jerusalem Church, through his simple, spontaneous, and lively style, tries to make his disciples understand that the figure of Mary is essential to understanding the mystery of Christ. God, incarnate and made man, appears in all his mysterious divine-human reality and in his glory as the Savior of men only if he is presented alongside his Mother, from whom he received the body that made him Emmanuel, God-with-us.”

(Luigi Gamero, Mary and the Fathers of the Church, p. 139)