Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Homily on the Nativity of Christ, by St. John Chrysostom

Christ is born! Glorify Him!
  

Homily on the Nativity of Christ, by St. John Chrysostom
The following is one of several sermons by the great Hierarch and Teacher of the world, St. John Chrysostom, on the Nativity of Christ. It is a beautiful and deep work in which the Saint praises the newborn Christ, discusses the deep theology of Christ's incarnation, and tries to urge us all to deeper faith in Him and to follow His commandments. The first portion has been translated and posted numerous places online, while I have yet to find the rest of this moving homily translated. Thus the remainder is also posted below, as an amateur translation of mine.
  
It should be noted that some mistakenly interpret some of the Blessed Chrysostom's words as "anti-semitic". This is not the time for a full examination of this error, but I will say the following: St. John, having been purified of his passions through love of God and his fellow man, and following the Lord's commandments, truly became a great vessel of the Holy Spirit. As such, the Saint did not bear any hate towards anyone in his life, neither does he after his death. He did not rejoice in hate or persecution of anyone, but ever preached love and forgiveness. He does not judge any person, but is only critical of false beliefs and of sin against God. The admonishments that he uses (whether addressed towards Jews, Gentiles, idolaters, sinners, or the faithful) are dispassionate, loving urgings to come to understand the Truth that is Christ. He urges all on this great feast of Christmas, both believers and unbelievers throughout the world: "Come, let us rejoice together! Come, let us celebrate!" Let us all worship Christ: God Who became man for our salvation! May He be born also within our cold and unbelieving hearts! Amen!
  
I behold a new and wondrous mystery! My ears resound to the Shepherd's song, piping no soft melody, but chanting full forth a heavenly hymn.
The Angels sing!
The Archangels blend their voices in harmony!
The Cherubim hymn their joyful praise!
The Seraphim exalt His glory!
  
All join to praise this holy feast, beholding the Godhead here on earth, and man in heaven. He who is above, now for our redemption dwells here below; and he that was lowly is by divine mercy raised.
  
Bethlehem this day resembles heaven; hearing from the stars the singing of angelic voices; and in place of the sun, enfolds within itself on every side the Sun of Justice.
  
And ask not how: for where God wills, the order of nature yields. For He willed, he had the power, He descended, He redeemed; all things move in obedience to God.
  
This day He Who Is, is Born; and He Who Is becomes what He was not. For when He was God, He became man; yet not departing from the Godhead that is His. Nor yet by any loss of divinity became He man, nor through increase became he God from man; but being the Word He became flesh, His nature, because of impassibility, remaining unchanged.
  
And so the kings have come, and they have seen the heavenly King that has come upon the earth, not bringing with Him Angels, nor Archangels, nor Thrones, nor Dominations, nor Powers, nor Principalities, but, treading a new and solitary path, He has come forth from a spotless womb.
  
Yet He has not forsaken His angels, nor left them deprived of His care, nor because of His Incarnation has he departed from the Godhead.
  
And behold,
Kings have come, that they might adore the heavenly King of glory;
Soldiers, that they might serve the Leader of the Hosts of Heaven;
Women, that they might adore Him Who was born of a woman so that He might change the pains of child-birth into joy;
Virgins, to the Son of the Virgin, beholding with joy, that He Who is the Giver of milk, Who has decreed that the fountains of the breast pour forth in ready streams, receives from a Virgin Mother the food of infancy;
Infants, that they may adore Him Who became a little child, so that out of the mouth of infants and sucklings, He might perfect praise;
Children, to the Child Who raised up martyrs through the rage of Herod;
Men, to Him Who became man, that He might heal the miseries of His servants;
Shepherds, to the Good Shepherd Who has laid down His life for His sheep;
Priests, to Him Who has become a High Priest according to the order of Melchisedech;
Servants, to Him Who took upon Himself the form of a servant that He might bless our servitude with the reward of freedom;
Fishermen, to Him Who from amongst fishermen chose catchers of men;
Publicans, to Him Who from amongst them named a chosen Evangelist;
Sinful women, to Him Who exposed His feet to the tears of the repentant;
  
And that I may embrace them all together, all sinners have come, that they may look upon the Lamb of God Who taketh away the sins of the world.
[The Magi to worship Him.
The Shepherds to glorify Him.
The tax collectors to preach Him.
The harlots to offer myrrh to Him.
The Samaritan Woman to quench His thirst.
The Canaanite Woman to be benefited by Him.]
(amateur translation of missing portion)
          
Since therefore all rejoice, I too desire to rejoice. I too wish to share the choral dance, to celebrate the festival. But I take my part, not plucking the harp, not shaking the Thyrsian staff, not with the music of pipes, nor holding a torch, but holding in my arms the cradle of Christ. For this is all my hope, this my life, this my salvation, this my pipe, my harp. And bearing it I come, and having from its power received the gift of speech, I too, with the angels, sing: Glory to God in the Highest;
and with the shepherds: and on earth peace to men of good will.
  
We only can say this: that as His heavenly birth is true, thus also His earthly birth is irrefutable. It is true that God was begotten from God, it is true that He was born a man from a virgin. In heaven, He alone was born from the Father, His only-begotten Son. And on earth, He alone was born from the Virgin, her only Son.
  
As with His heavenly birth, it is impious to think of a mother, thus in His earthly birth, it is blasphemy to propose a father.
   
God gave birth to Him in a divine manner; the Virgin have birth to Him in a supernatural manner. Thus neither His heavenly birth can be fully explained, nor can His incarnation be studied.
   
I know that the Virgin today gave birth to Him. I believe that He was begotten of God the Father before the ages.
  
And I have learned to silently honor His birth, without curious investigations and unnecessary discussions. Because, whatever relates to God cannot be held to the natural course of events, but it is belief in His power that orders all things.
   
What is more natural than for a married woman to give birth? However, what is more paradoxical than for a virgin to give birth to a child, without a man, and to remain a virgin?
   
What can we study, therefore? That which occurrs according to the natural laws. However, whatever occurs supernaturally, we must honor silently. Not because it is dangerous, but because it is inscrutable.
  
I ponder in fear before the divine mystery.
  
What can I say, and what shall I speak? I see her who gave birth. I see Him Who was born. But the manner of birth, I cannot understand.
  
Do you see how, where God wills, the laws of nature are overcome? The same occurred here: the natural order is put aside, and the divine will works.
  
How inexplicable is the compassion of God!
  
The Son of God before the ages, the incorruptible and invisible and bodiless, came to inhabit our corruptible and visible body. For what reason? That, as you know, we men might believe beyond that which we see, beyond that which we hear. We [sinners] believe in the visible, but not the invisible. Thus we do not believe in the true God, but we worship visible idols in the form of men. Therefore, God appeared before us in the visible form of man, to dissolve in this manner every doubt as to His existence. And later, having taught the certainty of His presence through the senses, in order to easily lead us to the true faith, to the invisible and supernatural.
  
The wonder fills me with astonishment!
  
I see God before the ages as a child!
He rests in the manger, He Whose throne is heaven!
Human hands hold Him Who is unapproachable and bodiless!
He is wrapped in swaddling clothes, He Who breaks apart the bonds of sin!
  
However, this is His will: to transform dishonor into honor, to array worthlessness in glory, to recreate assault into virtue.
  
He took my body, He offers me His Spirit. He grants me the treasure of eternal life, taking but also giving me. He takes my flesh to sanctify me, He give me His Spirit to save me.
   
“Behold, a virgin shall conceive.” (Isaiah 7:14).
The words are from the synagogue, but has been acquired by the Church.
The synagogue buried the thread; the Church wears the royal robe.
Judea gave birth to Him; the world received Him.
The synagogue nursed Him and raised Him; the Church received Him and was benefited by Him.
In the synagogue the root sprouted; we however partake of the grapes of truth.
The synagogue trampled upon the grapes; the idolaters, however, drink of the mystical drink.
He offered the seed to Judea; the idolaters, however, reaped the sheaves with the sickle of faith. They cut the rose with honor, and left the Judeans with the thorn of faithlessness.
The little bird has flown away, and they still senselessly wait and guard the nest.
The Judeans struggle to study the scriptures, and the idolaters eat of the fruit of the Spirit.
  
“Behold, a virgin shall conceive.” (Isaiah 7:14).
Tell me, O Judaean, tell me, who was born?
I entreat you, show boldness as that which you showed before Herod. But you do not have boldness. And I know why. Because you are insidious. You spoke to Herod to cast Him out, and to me you do not speak that I might not worship Him.
  
Who, therefore, was born? Who? The Creator of creation. And if you are silent, nature will cry out like thunder. He was born, therefore, in the manner in which He willed to be born. In nature, there is no possibility for a birth like this. He, however, as the Lord of creation, created a paradoxical way of birth. And He thus showed that, though He became man, He was not born like other men, but in a way that suits God.
  
Adam, therefore, without a woman, acquired a woman. The Virgin now, without a man, gave birth to a man.
   
And why did this occur? Behold why:
Women had an ancient debt towards men, because Adam had sprouted a woman without the intervention of another woman. For this reason, today the Virgin fulfills the debt of Eve towards men, and gives birth without a man, showing thus the equal honor of nature.
  
Adam remained whole after parting with his rib; the Virgin remained incorrupt after giving birth to her Child.
  
But note something further:
The Lord did not create another body to be seen on earth. He took the body of man, that He not appear to disdain the matter with which he created Adam. He came thus, God and man, in a mystical union. And the devil, who had enslaved man, ran to flee.
  
God becomes man, but is born as God. If He came like I did, from a common marriage, many would doubt His birth. This is why He was born from a virgin. For this reason he kept her womb untouched. For this reason he preserves her virginity unspotted: that the manner of His birth might be paradoxical, a cause of unshakable faith.
  
Therefore, to those who doubt the seedless birth of the Word of God, I call upon the spotless seal of virginity as a witness.
  
Tell me, therefore, O Judean, did the Virgin give birth or not?
And if she gave birth, why do you not confess the supernatural birth?
And again if she did not give birth, why did you deceive Herod?
  
For he sought to learn where the Christ would be born, and you told him: “In Bethlehem of Judea” (Matthew 2:4).
Perhaps I knew the city or the place?
Perhaps I knew the worth of the Child Who had come into the world?
Did not Isaiah and the Prophets speak to you of Him?
And you thankless enemies, did you not study the truth? You, the scribes and Pharisees, the strict keepers of the law, why don't you teach us about Christ?
Haven't you searched the Scriptures? Perhaps, do you not understand your own language?
And when the Virgin gave birth, did you not present the witness of the Prophet Michah to Herod: “But you, O Bethlehem of the land of Ephratha, though you are among the least of the cities of Judea, you will receive the leader of Israel” (Michah 5:1)?
  
Very well did the Prophet say: “from you”. From you He came, and appeared to the whole world. He appeared as a man, to lead men. He appeared as God to save the world.
  
O how beneficial enemies you are! What philanthropic condemners!
You by mistake showed how the newborn of Bethlehem is God.
You preached Him without wishing it.
You revealed Him, while trying to hide Him.
You were good to Him, while you wished to harm Him.
Truly, what illiterate teachers you are.
You hunger, and you run to others to be fed.
You thirst, and you are watered by others. You are utterly poor, and enrich others.
   
Come, let us rejoice together! Come, let us celebrate! The manner of the feast is strange—as is also the word on the birth of Christ.
Today are dissolved the ancient bonds.
The devil is disgraced.
The demons flee.
Death is dispoiled.
Paradise is opened.
The curse disappears.
Sin is cast out.
Error is driven away.
Truth is revealed.
The message of piety is poured forth and is given everywhere.
The kingdom of the heavens is transplanted to earth.
Angels speak with men.
All have been united.
Why?
Because God has descended to earth, and man has ascended to the heavens.
  
God descended to earth, and again is found in heaven. He is wholly in heaven and wholly on earth. He became man and is God. He is God and took on flesh. He is held in virginal arms, and with His hands holds the world.
  
The Magi hasten to Him; let us also hasten.
The star hastens to reveal the Lord of heaven, and He Himself hastens.
   
He hastens towards Egypt. And of course it appears that he is going to flee the command of Herod. However, this came about to fulfill the prophetic words: “On that day, the people of Israel will take third, along with the Assyrians and the Egyptians, of the blessing of God upon the earth” (Isaiah 19:24).
  
What do you say, O Judean? You who were first have become third? The Egyptians have moved ahead, and the first-born of Israel has moved behind? Yes, this occurred. The Assyrians will be first, because through the Magi, they were the first to worship the Lord. Behind them, the Egyptians received Him, when they fled to their lands to flee the command of Herod. Third and last is the Israelite people, who knew the Lord through the apostles, after His baptism in the Jordan.
  
What else remains for me to say?
  
I behold the Creator and the manger, Child and swaddling clothes, Virgin and Mother arrayed in much poverty. You see, however, what riches there are in great poverty. The Rich One became poor as a gift to us. He does not have even a bed nor mattress. He is placed in His humble crib.
  
O poverty, spring of riches!
O uncountable riches, hid amidst poverty!
  
In the manger He is laid, and the world he preserves.
In swaddling clothes He is wrapped, and He breaks the bonds of sin.
You have not spoken a word yet, and you teach the Magi about God.
  
What can I say, and what should I speak?
There the Child is wrapped!
There is Mary, His Mother and Virgin, with Him!
There is Joseph, the supposed father of the Child!
She is the wife, he is the husband. The names are legal, but without meaning. Joseph only betrothed Mary, when the Holy Spirit came upon her. Thus, full of wonder, he did not know what to think about this Child:
He would not dare to say that He was the fruit of adultery.
He could not offer a blasphemous word against the Virgin.
He also could not receive the Child as his, because it was unknown to him who He was born from.
But above his confusion, he receives an answer from heaven, with the voice of the angel: “Joseph, do not hesitate to take Mary into your house, for the child which will come from her is from the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1:20).
  
And he revealed the same to us, that the Holy Spirit came upon the Virgin.
  
Why, however, did Christ wish to be born from a virgin, leaving her virginity intact?
  
Behold the reason:
Once, the devil deceived the virgin Eve. Now, the angel brings the saving message to the Virgin Mary.
Once, Eve poured forth a word, which became the cause of death. Now, Mary gives birth to the Word, Who became the cause of eternal life.
  
The word of Eve revealed the tree which took Adam from Paradise. The Word of Mary revealed the Cross, which placed Adam again in Paradise.
  
To Him, therefore, the Word of God and Son of the Virgin, Who opened the road in an impassible manner, let us offer glory, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit unto the ages of ages. Amen.
(Bibliography, Voice of the Fathers. Holy Monastery of the Paraclete. Amateur translation of the later portion (http://oparadeisos.wordpress.com/2011/01/01/%CE%B1%CE%B3%CE%AF%CE%BF%CF%85-%CE%B9%CF%89%CE%AC%CE%BD%CE%BD%CE%BF%CF%85-%CF%84%CE%BF%CF%8D-%CF%87%CF%81%CF%85%CF%83%CE%BF%CF%83%CF%84%CF%8C%CE%BC%CE%BF%CF%85-%CF%87%CF%81%CE%B9%CF%83%CF%84%CF%8C/))
  
  
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!