The Ascension: God’s Sovereignty Over All

The exalted Jesus participates in God’s unique sovereignty over all things.

At a very early stage, which is presupposed and reflected in all the New Testament writings, early Christians understood Jesus to have been exalted after his death to the throne of God in the highest heaven. There, seated with God on God’s throne, Jesus exercises or participates in God’s unique sovereignty over the whole cosmos. This decisive step of understanding a human being to be participating now in the unique divine sovereignty over the cosmos was unprecedented. The principal angels and exalted patriarchs of Second Temple.

Jewish literature provide no precedent. It is this radical novelty which leads to all the other exalted christological claims of the New Testament texts. But, although a novelty, its meaning depends upon the Jewish monotheistic conceptual context in which the early Christians believed it. Because the unique sovereignty of God over all things was precisely one of the two major features which characterized the unique identity of God in distinction from all other reality, this confession of Jesus reigning on the divine throne was precisely a recognition of his inclusion in the unique divine identity, himself decisively distinguished, as God himself is, from any exalted heavenly servant of God.

(Richard J. Bauckham, God Crucified: Monotheism and Christology in the New Testament, Kindle Location 302-309)

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Christmas is Trinitarian

Of course, the Son of God did not consign Himself to a material body or mingle human deeds with divine ones on a whim. He did this, together with the miracles that He performed in the body, in order to obey the will of God. But the fact that He could organize and work divine purposes through a human body in a pure and marvelous manner shows that he created Himself as a man with a material body, and thus created all matter with the capacity for being filled and used to manifest His divine Person.

And He raised men through grace to become sons of His heavenly Father through the fact that He Himself was the only begotten Son of the heavenly Father. If there were no Triune God–a God who was the Father, Son and Holy Spirit–He could not have done this. The raising of man from the prison of his nature is possible thanks to the fact that God exists in Trinity. (Dumitru Staniloae, The Holy Trinity, pp. 112-113)

 

Being Orthodox: Spirituality and Membership

“For the Orthodox, spirituality is about moving more and more closely into communion with the source of life, with God, who has been revealed as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is the life of that relationship, which can be lived fully only in the context of the Church. The Holy Spirit was given to the Church as a whole, not to a set of individuals, and it is when the Church gathers that the fullness of Christ’s presence among us can be realized. The self becomes what it truly is only in relationship; this teaching is at the heart of Orthodox trinitarian theology.

However, here it is necessary to say something about the mysterious nature of what ‘membership’ means, when we speak of someone as a ‘member’ of the Church. Membership in a merely social sense is hardly the point. To live truly as an Orthodox means prayer, ascetic struggle, spiritual direction, and liturgical participation. And the participation must involve the whole of self: before we recite the Creed we say, ‘Let us love one another so that with one mind we may confess Father, Son and Holy Spirit…’ Without love and reconciliation, the rest is meaningless.” (John Garvey, Orthodoxy for the Non-Orthodox, pp. 76-77)

The River Jordan and Paradise

The prayers for the Great Blessing of water entreat God to make the blessing of the Jordan be present in the water in the church font.  In the Vespers service for Theophany, 13 Old Testament Readings are proclaimed.  Four of these reading make reference to the River Jordan:

Joshua 3:7-8, 15-17 (the ark causes the Jordan to stop flowing, so Israel can cross to the promised land on dry ground);

4[2] Kings 2:6-14 (Elisha parts the Jordan after receiving Elijah’s mantle when he ascended into heaven);

4[2] Kings 5:9-14 (Naaman is cured by washing three times in the Jordan);

Genesis 32:1-10 (Jacob reminds God that he became a rich man after crossing the Jordan).

The Jordan River has a virtual mythical quality for Israel, and takes on a mystical purpose and meaning.  Crossing the Jordan is associated with the saving acts of God on earth – with movement that brings one closer to God and God’s Kingdom.   St. Gregory the Theologian reflects on the mystical meaning of the Jordan River.

St. Gregory then comes back to the Jordan:

‘Alone among all rivers, the Jordan received the first-fruits of sanctification and blessing, and has shed the grace of baptism over the whole world, as from a source. And these things are signs of that regeneration which is effected by Baptism’.

This is a very striking definition of a type, that it is an act truly accomplished, and signifying some future action. St Gregory then alludes to the Jordan in its relation to Paradise:

‘The Jordan is glorified because it regenerates men and makes them fit for God’s Paradise’.”

(Jean Danielou, From Shadows to Reality,p 275)

The Jordan is involved in several epiphanies of God, but in Christ’s baptism there is the Theophany of the Holy Trinity. It is Christ’s baptism that gives meaning and power to all baptisms done in Christ.  The Jordan has a mystical quality that is transferred to all who participate in it.

Blessed is the Kingdom

“The first exclamation of the Divine Liturgy reveals the key to the entire celebration:

Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages.

With these words the celebrant announces the source and the goal of the divine service of the People of God, the very context and contents of the entire liturgical action. It is the Kingdom of God brought to the world by Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and mystically reigning already in the faithful disciples of Christ by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.

The Kingdom of God is eternal life in communion with God in loving obedience to his divine will. It is life in union with the Blessed Trinity; life lived toward the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit. It is the life which Christ has given to men by his incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, and glorification. It is the life to be lived already in this world by the People of God. To bless the Kingdom of God means to love it as one’s most precious possession. The response of the people to the proclamation of blessing by the priest is with the word Amen, which means so be it. This is the solemn affirmation that indeed the blessing of God’s Kingdom is fitting and proper. It is the official confirmation that this Kingdom is indeed the ‘pearl of great price’ for the faithful, which once having found it, they will love it and serve it and desire to have it forever (Lk 13.14).” (Thomas Hopko, The Orthodox Faith: Worship, Vol. 2, pp 152-153)

If Jesus … then the Theotokos

“If Jesus is truly the eternal Son of God, the God-man who became flesh is the womb of Mary;

if in and through her person He, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, actually assumed our human nature, to transfigure that nature and restore it to its original intended purity and holiness;

if His saving, redeeming work was made possible by Mary’s fiat, her willing acceptance of virginal birth-giving through the power of the Holy Spirit

– if all of this is true, then we can do nothing other than acknowledge her role in God’s economy of salvation, and celebrate that role, with joy and conviction, in the services of the Church.

If Jesus is truly who we believe and confess Him to be, then we can do nothing other, and nothing less, than exalt His humble mother as truly Theotokos: a human person like ourselves, but whose womb ‘became more spacious than the heavens’ by bearing the incarnate Son of God. And if, from her Nativity through her Dormition and beyond, she is truly who we believe and confess her to be – the Mother of God – then we can do nothing other, and nothing less, than to ask her to intercede ceaselessly for us, for the sake of our salvation. The most ancient icon we possess is a fresco of Mary found in the catacombs of Rome. There she offers herself as she does in the familiar image of the Deisis: standing upright, her hands lifted in supplication, making intercession on behalf of us all. She is the Ornate, the very incarnation of ceaseless prayer.” (John Breck, Longing for God, p 129)

 

The Fire Which is the Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit is Light and Life,

a living Fountain of spiritual gifts,

the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,

all-knowing, upright and good–

He leads us and washes away our sins.

He is God, and He makes us gods;

He is Fire proceeding from Fire,

speaking and acting and distributing gifts.

Through Him all the Prophets, Martyrs and Apostles of God are crowned.

Strange account, strange and wonderful sight:

fire is divided for distributing gifts.

(Pentecost Hymn)

The Trisagion: Bringing Order to Chaos

“According to The Shepherd of Hermas, a very early Christian text, ‘the name of God sustains the world,’ keeps it in equilibrium. The name of God creates the cosmos out of chaos. This is why the Church sings the Trisagion or Thrice-Holy prayer at the moment of catastrophes:

‘Holy God,

Holy Mighty,

Holy Immortal,

have mercy on us.’

The invocation of the Trinity calms, it brings order into chaos. This is the same reason for singing the Trisagion in the burial service, when the body is interred. Such a prayer expresses faith in the resurrection, the re-establishment of what is normal, ontological healing.”

(In the World, Of the Church: A Paul Evdokimov Reader, p 13)

 

Transformed by the Liturgy

“We must always remember that the Liturgy is an infinite creation. Every Liturgy is unique and is performed by Christ Himself. It is an act of revelation surpassing description, embracing the whole creation: heaven and earth, Angels and men, the living and the departed. Christ offered Himself once for all in the eternal power of the Holy Spirit and His Holy Sacrifice remains unto eternity to sanctify all who partake of it, for it is sealed in His divine blood which He shed for the life of the world. The Divine Liturgy is an eternal expression of Christ’s ‘greater love’. It is a workshop of love, a heart of love, man’s union and communion with the Savior and the other members of the Body. Man thus becomes an active member of the communion of Divine love, hearing the word of God, invoking His holy Name and partaking of the Body and Blood of the Lord.” (Archimandrite Zacharias, Remember Thy First Love, pp 213-214)

earth

Pentecost (2015)

The Gospel Lesson for the feast of Pentecost is John 7:37-52;8:12.  The first part of that lesson has Jesus talking about the Holy Spirit.

On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and proclaimed, “If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.'” Now this he said about the Spirit, which those who believed in him were to receive; for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

St Basil the Great (d. 379AD) comments:

“Who could be the river of God except the Holy Spirit, who comes into those worthy because of the faith of the believers in Christ?

He who believes in me,’ as the Scriptures says, “From within him there shall flow rivers.” ’ And again, ‘If anyone drinks of the water which I give, it will become in him a fountain of water, springing up unto life everlasting.’ This river, accordingly, makes all the city of God at once joyful, that is to say surely, the Church of those who hold to a heavenly manner of life. Or, every creature endowed with intelligence, from celestial powers even to human souls, must be understood as the city made joyful by the inflowing of the Holy Spirit.” (The Fathers of the Church: Exegetic Homilies, p 302)