Everything Jesus Does Is a Sacrament

“…each thing that Jesus accomplished, no matter how apparently insignificant, had salvific effects.

‘Everything that Jesus does,’ writes Jerome in his explanation of why the Gospel of Mark found it necessary to record the detail that Jesus rode on an ass when he entered Jerusalem, ‘is a sacrament. He is our salvation For if the Apostle tells us, “Whether you eat or drink or whatever else you do, do all things in the name of the Lord” [1 Corinthians 10:31], are not these much more our sacraments, when the Savior walks or eats or sleeps?’ As the Gospels themselves indicate, the dynamism or radiant energy possessed by Christ extended also to his clothing, which Hilary comments on apropos of the story of the healing of the woman with the flow of blood in Matthew 9:20-22: “The power abiding in his body added a health-giving quality to perishable things, and a divine efficacy even when as far as the fringes of his garments. For God was not divisible and able to be contained, as if he could be shut up in a body.”

A striking instance of the energy that radiated from Christ, finally, is associated with his baptism in the Jordan River. Jesus’ mere physical contact with the Jordan was enough to cleanse it and, along with it, all the waters of the earth, so as to make them suitable in turn for cleaning those who would be baptized. We find this idea as early as the beginning of the second century in Ignatius of Antioch and frequently thereafter.

(Boniface Ramsey, Beginning to Read the Fathers, pp. 83-84)

Blessing Water

At Theophany we Orthodox bless water, a practice for Christians that can be traced to the early church.   We also bless water before every baptism reciting many of the same prayers and ideas at both services.  The Apostolic Constitutions, a Christian document from the 4th Century, mentions the blessing of water before a baptism:

“… let the priest even now call upon in baptism, and let him say:

Look down from heaven, and sanctify this water, and give it grace and power, that so he that is to be baptized, according to the command of Your Christ, may be crucified with Him, and may die with Him, and may be buried with Him, and may rise with Him to the adoption which is in Him, that he may be dead to sin and live to righteousness.

And after this, when he has baptized him in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, he shall anoint him with ointment…”     (Kindle Loc. 3817-21)

In the prayer, baptism is clearly our dying with Christ – we are identifying ourselves with Christ, to be crucified with Him and die with Him and be buried with Him so that we can rise with Him to eternal life.  The prayer asks God to grant this sanctifying power to the baptismal waters, not just to the rite of baptism.  The incarnation is our salvation – we are saved in, with and by creation itself.  The spiritual life is not separating ourselves from the physical world but rather transfiguring the physical world to be the spiritual reality which God created.  Theophany is revealing God to us, but also revealing that creation itself is meant to be for our salvation.  Faith is not just a noetic exercise: it is the transformation of our bodies, the formation of our hearts and souls , not just the informing of our minds.

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the sinful body might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For he who has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him. For we know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.    (Romans 6:3-11)

The Warmth of Putting on Christ

Bless the LORD, O my soul! O LORD my God, You are very great! You are clothed with honor and majesty, who covers yourself with light as with a garment…   (Psalm 104:1-2)

A very common idea among early Christians and also found in ancient Jewish writings is that Adam and Eve in Paradise were clothed with garments of light, given to them by God.

These garments were removed from them when they sinned, and thus they became aware of their nakedness and tried to cover themselves with leaves and hide themselves in the trees so that they would not have to stand naked before God.  The reversal of this in the early Church occurred when each person undressed before their baptism.  In baptism, they had nothing to hide, having confessed their sins (unlike Adam and Eve who tried to hide themselves and the fact that they had sinned), and so could stand naked before God and feel no shame.  Following baptism, a special white garment was placed on the newly baptized signifying their putting on the garments of light again.  And we sing the words of Galatians 3:27 – “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

As one early Syriac Christian notes:

At  the incarnation the Son ‘put on body’, and at His baptism in the Jordan He deposits the garment of glory in the river, so that it becomes once again available for human beings to put on. (Treasure House of Mysteries, p. 16)

Thus the baptism of Christ which we Orthodox commemorate in the Feast of Theophany is organically connected to our own baptisms.  Christ, the incarnate God, is clothed in the garment of glory since He has not sinned.  In His baptism, it is Christ who sanctifies the water rather than being sanctified by the water.  In the Syriac Christian tradition, Christ deposits the garment of glory into the Jordan River.  Before we baptize the catechumens, we pray over the water that God will send down upon the water “the blessing of Jordan”.  That blessing is the garment of glory which the baptized receive as they emerge from the triune baptism.

St. Romanos the Melodist writes poetically:

In Galilee of the nations, in the country of Zavulon and the land of Naphthalim,

as the prophet said, a great light has shone – Christ.

For the darkened, a shining beam has appeared, blazing out of Bethlehem,

or, rather, out of Mary – the Lord, the sun of justice,

has made his rays dawn on the whole inhabited world.

Therefore let us all, Adam’s naked children,

put him on that we may be kept warm;

for as a covering for the naked and a light for the darkened

you have come, you have appeared,

the unapproachable Light.

(On the Life of Christ, p. 80)

Romanos’ poem is sung at the Matins of Theophany as the Ikos hymn after the sixth ode of the Festal Canon.

Prophecy of Example and of Word

St. John Chrysostom says the Old Testament was preparing us for the New, God providing prophecy not only in words but also by example.  All God’s words and deeds were preparing the world for the greater thing God planned to do – the incarnation of the Word in which God reunited earth to heaven.  Prophecy and promise were done so that people would not find the great work of God to be unbelievable.  God’s actions were done so people would be ready when God made Himself visible in the incarnation.

“Now, since we are delivered from the controversies with the Jews, I shall demonstrate this to you from the New Covenant, so that you will see the agreement of the two covenants. Did you see the prophecy that was made with words? Learn the prophecy that was made with examples; although even this is not yet totally clear, I wonder, what is prophecy by example, and I wonder what is prophecy by word? Shortly, I will make this clear, too. The prophecy that is made by example is the practical prophecy, and the other prophecy is the theoretical prophecy. In other words, the most prudent He persuaded with words, and the most unconscious He informed by showing them examples.

Because, in other words, something big was going to happen: God was about to take upon Himself human flesh. Because the earth was going to become heaven and our nature was going to be elevated toward the nobility of the angels. Because the word surpassed the hope and expectation of the future goods that were to come. So he would not confuse the people with the new and paradoxical event of the Incarnation, those who then would have seen it all at once, and those who were going to hear it, for this reason, He iconically depicted it beforehand with examples and words, and, in this way, He accustomed our hearing and vision.”

(The Fathers of the Church: St. John Chrysostom on Repentance & Almsgiving, p. 80)

Christmas Blessings Received

Come, then, let us observe the Feast.  Come, and we shall commemorate the solemn festival.  It is a strange manner of celebrating a festival, but truly wondrous is the whole chronicle of the Nativity.

For this day –

The ancient slavery is ended,

The devil confounded,

The demons take to flight,

The power of death is broken,

Paradise is unlocked,

The curse is taken away,

Sin is removed from us,

Error driven out,

Truth has been brought back,

The speech of kindliness diffused, and spreads on every side,

A heavenly way of life has been implanted on the earth,

Angels communicate with men without fear,

And men now hold speech with angels.

Why is this?  Because God is now on earth, and man in heaven; on every side all things commingle.  He has come on earth, while being whole in heaven; and while complete in heaven, He is without diminution on earth.  Though He was God, He became human; not denying Himself to be God.  Though being the impassable Word, He became flesh; that He might dwell amongst us, He became Flesh.”   (St. John Chrysostom, THE SUNDAY SERMONS OF THE GREAT FATHERS Vol 1, p 115)

The birth of Christ inaugurates the salvation of the world.  Writing in the 4th Century, St. John Chrysostom enumerates the many blessings we have received by the Nativity in the flesh of our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ.  Heaven and earth are united together, divinity and humanity are reunited, Creator and creation have their communion restored.  St Tikhon of Zadonsk writing in the 18th Century further reflecting on what the incarnate God means for has has the Lord Jesus asking us a series of questions about our spiritual search and sojourn:

“Do you seek wisdom?  I am God’s Wisdom.

Do you seek friendship?  Who is a greater or more loving friend than I, who laid down my life for you?

Are you looking for help? Who can offer greater help than I?

Do you need a physician?  Who can cure, other than I, the source of healing?

Are you looking for joy? Who will make you happy if not I?

Looking for peace?  I am the peace of the soul.

Looking for life?  I am the Resurrection and the Life.

Looking for light?  I am the Light of the world.

Looking for truth?  I am the Truth.

Are you searching for the true way?  I am the Way.

Why don’t you want to come to me?  You dare not approach? Who is more approachable than I?

You are afraid to ask?  Whom have I ever refused who has asked in faith?

Your sins prevent you? I died for sinners.

You are distressed by the great number of your sins?  My mercy is greater than all of them.”

New Year Blessings

The Year of our Lord, 2019. 

May God bless you throughout the New Year!

5741798786_ff2d55deaa

From the 4th Century comes this prayer of blessing:

Now, God who alone is unbegotten, and the Maker of the whole world, unite you all through His peace, in the Holy Spirit; perfect you unto every good work, immoveable, unblameable, and unreprovable; and vouchsafe to you eternal life with us, through the mediation of His beloved Son Jesus Christ our God and Saviour; with whom glory be to You, the God over all, and the Father, in the Holy Spirit the Comforter, now and always, and for ever and ever.  Amen.    (The Apostolic Constitutions, Kindle Loc. 4903-6)

7733596232_8c3dec579a

The Christian biblical commentator Origen, writing in the early 3rd Century, offered some explanation about what “blessing” means.

“’Bless and do not curse‘ (Romans 12:14).

The word “blessing” is used in different ways in the Scriptures.  God is said to bless humans or the other created things, while humans and other creatures are commanded to bless God. God’s blessing always bestows some gift on those whom God blesses. When humans are said to bless God, it means to give God praise and thanksgiving. When the Apostle says here, bless and do not curse, he is warning that when we are provoked by enemies or upset by insults, we should not return curses for curses but do what he writes about himself, when reviled, we bless (1 Cor 4:12).”  (Romans: Interpreted by Early Christian Commentators, Kindle Location 6068-71)

24710233977_d47d733f49_m

May the blessing of the Lord be with you always.  Remember the wisdom: “It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.

Mary, The Virgin Earth

The Good News of the birth of Jesus Christ has been proclaimed to the world for 2000 years.  That message is as new and refreshing today as it was when first proclaimed.  Tertullian writing in the 2nd Century gives us a look at not only how long ago the Good News was received with joy but also how early in Christian history the depth of the message was recognized, for the Gospel is salvation for the world.  Christmas is not about sentimentality but about divinity and what it means to be human.

First of all, we need to show the reason why the Son of God had to be born of a Virgin. The initiator of a new birth had to be born in a new way, and Isaiah had predicted that the Lord would give a sign of this. What is that sign? ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive in her womb and bear a Son’ (Is. 7:14). Therefore the Virgin conceived and bore Emmanuel, God-with-us.

And this is the new birth: that man is born in God when God is born in man, having assumed the flesh of the old seed, but without using this seed, and to purify the flesh after having eliminated all its ancient stains. But, as it happened, this whole new manner of birth was prefigured in the ancient wise design that depended upon a virgin. When man was created by God’s action, the earth was still virgin, not yet pressed down by man’s toil, not having been sown. We know that, from this virgin earth, God created man as a living soul.

If, then, the first Adam was introduced in this way, all the more reason that the second Adam, as the apostle said, had to come forth from a virgin earth, that is, from a body not yet violated by generation, by God’s action, so that he might become the spirit who gives life. However, lest my introduction of Adam’s name appear meaningless, why did the apostle call Christ ‘Adam’ (cf. 1 Cor. 15:45), if his humanity did not have an earthly origin? But here, too, reason comes to our aid: through a contrary operation, God recovered his image and likeness, which had been stolen by the devil.

For just as the death-creating word of the devil had penetrated Eve, who was still a virgin, analogously the life-building Word of God had to enter into a Virgin, so that he who had fallen into perdition because of a woman might be led back to salvation by means of the same sex. Eve believed the serpent; Mary believed Gabriel. The fault that Eve introduced by believing, Mary, by believing, erased.”  

(quoted in Mary and the Fathers of the Church, p 67)

Christ is born!    Glorify Him!

Christ is God in the Flesh

“That is why when we have a new Adam who never grows old, “Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth” (I Pet. 2:22), and whom we now possess as Father and forefather, Father of the age to come and prince of eternal life. He has taken away our sins and removed aging from our midst. This is Christ Jesus the Son of God, clothed in the flesh taken from the Virgin for our sake, the forefeast of whose birth we have begun to celebrate today, as we keep the commemoration of the Fathers who lived before and under the law, who shone forth on account of their virtue and godliness. Theirs were the prophecies and to them were the promises given, and from among them Christ was descended according to the flesh.

He was born as we are, but of a Virgin that He might recreate us from what is our own, and, through holy baptism, renew us and make us once more capable of containing the grace of the divine Spirit, clothing in righteousness and true holiness the man created after God in Himself. He accomplished this righteousness and holiness in His own person, putting the evil one finally to shame, in spite of all sorts of attacks, rightly obeying his Father to the end and showing that obedience to Him procures resurrection and true life.”

(St. Gregory Palamas, The Homilies, p. 448-449)

The Incarnation: So We Can See Christ

For humility is the raiment of the Godhead. The Word Who became man clothed Himself in it, and therewith He spoke to us in our body. Every man who has been clothed with it has truly been made like unto Him Who came down from His own exaltedness, and hid the splendor of His majesty, and concealed His glory with humility, lest creation should be utterly consumed by the contemplation of Him. Creation could not look upon Him unless He took a part of it to Himself, and thus conversed with it, and neither could it hear the words of His mouth face to face.

The splendour of His glory appeared on Mount Sinai; and the mountain smoked and quaked in fear of the revelation that was in it, so that even the beasts that approached the lower parts of it died. The sons of Israel made ready and prepared themselves, keeping themselves chaste for three days according to the command of Moses that they might be made worthy of hearing the voice of God, and of vision of His revelation. And when the time was come, they could not receive the vision of His light and the fierceness of the voice of His thunders. But now, when He has poured out His grace upon the world through His own coming, He has descended not in an earthquake, not in a fire, not in a terrible and mighty sound, but ‘as the rain upon a fleece, and rain-drops that fall upon the earth’ softly, and He was seen conversing with us after another fashion.

This came to pass when, as though in a treasury, He concealed His majesty with the veil of His flesh, and among us spoke with us in that [body] which His own bidding wrought for Him out of the womb of the Virgin, even Mary the Theotokos. All this He did so that on beholding Him Who was of our race conversing with us, we should not be smitten with terror by the vision of Him.

Wherefore every man has put on Christ when he is clothed with the raiment wherein the Creator was seen through the body that He put on.

(St. Isaac the Syrian, The Ascetical Homilies of Isaac the Syrian, pp. 381-382)

Charity: Building Your Home in Heaven

Furthermore, if now we expend boundless wealth in order to possess well-lighted and airy houses, building them with painful toil, reflect how we ought to spend our very bodies in building shining mansions for ourselves in heaven where that ineffable light is. Here, indeed, there are strifes and contentions about boundaries and walls, while there, there will be nothing of this: no envy, no malice, and no one will contend with us about the setting of boundaries. Moreover, we must leave behind completely this home here, while that other will remain with us forever.

Then, too, this one must deteriorate in course of time, and must be the prey of countless destructive agencies, while that one must remain forever incorrupt. Besides, the poor man cannot build this one here, while it is possible to build that one for two oboli, as that well-known widow did.

Therefore, I seethe with indignation because, when so many blessings lie in wait for us, we are lazy, we make little account of them, and make every effort to have splendid homes in this world. On the other hand, we are not concerned, we take no thought as to how we may possess even a little abode in heaven.

(St. John Chrysostom, The Fathers of the Church: St. John Chrysostom Homilies on St. John Vol 2, pp. 94-95)