There is a word that appears in the hymnography of the Church which is prominent in Great Lent and in Holy Week. That word is stavrotheotokion. If we look at this compound word and break it down to its component parts we can recognize a couple of fairly familiar Greek words, Stavro – Greek for cross and Theotokos, the Mother of God. Now, we can connect the concepts The Theotokos and the Cross. The Stavrotheotokion is a troparion (short hymn with a theme usually sung after a verse of psalm), which is a manifestation of true human emotions. It is a poetic expression of the pain, sorrow and astonishment of a mother beholding her Son and her God on the Cross. These verses of theology and tenderness are heard in many of the services of the Great Lent, but reach their zenith in the services of the Holy Passion. The Theotokos expresses the wonder of us all. The awe, which could only be articulated by a mother who has kept a secret for many years (“and his mother kept all these things in her heart” Luke 2, 51). The identity of her Son as the incarnate God was known the Theotokos since the Annunciation. Now at the Cross she suffers a new mystery, the inscrutability of her Son and Creator taking on death by His own free choice. Each of these verses proclaims the truth of Christ’s condescension.
…”Woe is me beloved Child, light of my eyes! Thou has hung the earth above the waters, how can you endure to be nailed upon the Tree between two evildoers.” – Vespers of Tuesday in the Third Week.
Nonetheless, the Virgin stands by the cross, hour by hour true to her mission to intercede for the entire world. Her pain is palpable. Her lament is moving and yet there is true nobility in her devotion. When all the disciples, except John the Beloved, had fled because of their fear, she and the other women stood there unafraid. St. Romanos the Melodist has captured her grief and her consolation in a kontakion (a combination of troparia of the same structure, connect alphabetically or acrostically) used on Great and Holy Friday. As we, the Church prepare for Holy Week and the revelation of the pain and suffering of Christ, Our Lord and God we will also be reminded of the deep sorrow of His mother as she stands by the Cross with pain in her heart and tears in her eyes. The dialogue between the Theotokos and her Son becomes the revelation of God’s plan of salvation in poetry. This kontakion is lyrical theology, the stavrotheotokion with the voice of response by our Crucified Lord. Christ assures the Theotokos just as she witnesses his hanging on the Cross, she would receive the grace of being the first to see His glorious resurrection.
“Courage, Mother because you will see me first on my coming from the tomb. I am coming to show you by how many toils I ransomed Adam and how much I sweated for his sake. I shall show it to my friends by showing the marks in my hands and then you will see Eve, Mother, living as before, and you will cry out with joy: ‘He has saved my forebears, my Son and my God.’*
*(St. Romanos the Melodist. On the Life of Christ: Kontakia. Translated by Archimandrite Ephrem Lash. Edited by Kerry Brown, The Sacred Literature Series. New York et al.: HarperCollins Publishers, 1995, p. 148).
For Orthodox, the true image of God and the true nature of man are revealed in history by one event. God has revealed Himself to us in Christ. Through the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, the Theotokos, Christ accomplishes this by His Incarnation in the Flesh. The Incarnation of our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, reveals the image of the Father to the world and only through Him, in the Holy Spirit, can we KNOW God the Father (St. John 17, 25-26). The hymn of Christmas, by St. Romanos the Melodist, summarizes the theology of incarnation with this phrase, “A new born child; God before the Ages”.
The Incarnation is an act of GOD out of love. It is an act of God identifying with our nature and of sharing His Nature with us. The nature of God as Trinity was the topic of the first two Ecumenical Councils; the next five great Councils dealt with who is Jesus and what is His relationship to us, His creation.
- JESUS CHRIST IS FULLY AND COMPLETELY PERFECT GOD.
- JESUS CHRIST IS FULLY AND COMPLETELY PERFECT MAN.
- JESUS CHRIST IS NOT TWO PERSONS BUT ONE.
- JESUS CHRIST IN HIS HUMANITY IS LIKE US IN EVERY WAY, SAVE HE IS WITHOUT SIN.
Our God as Trinity is a perfect community of love shared between the Three Persons of one essence. The Incarnation is also about sharing and participation. Christ shares our humanity, even to death on the cross. This act of perfect love enables us, in Christ, through His Spirit to participate in the life of God. We are called to intimate communion, even friendship with our Lord. The entire history of Christ in the world can be summed up in one word ENCOUNTER. Through Him, in Him and with Him, we encounter the Living God. Christ assumed our human nature and our human body. He transformed them with the Glory of God and showed us the true original beauty of our created potential. In His Ascension He present our humanity to His Father, wholly transfigured, so that we might share in the Nature of God. As we celebrate the great miracle of Christ’s incarnation let us allow Christ to be born in our hearts as He was born in that humble manger in a cave. By allowing Christ to be born within us we can become His presence in the world to love our fellow human beings as He loves us.
Ria and I wish you and your families a blessed Nativity and a joyous 2021. God Bless Fr. G
If you take a quick look at January’s ecclesiastical calendar you notice that it is dominated by big events. Christ’s Circumcision, St Basil, Epiphany and its associated feast days, St. John the Forerunner, St. Anthony, Sts. Athanasios and Cyril and the Three Hierarchs (together and separately). Goodness, it’s enough to make you tired. With this post, I would like to look at some of the other commemoration; lest they slip by us. January has a great number of saints that are not featured in bold type, but are extremely interesting in their diversity and their spiritual examples to us. From the very first day, we see the unfolding of families of holiness with Gregory of Nanzianzos (Sr.), father of Gregory the Theologian, to the last day Sts. Cyrus and John the Unmercinaries. We see examples of piety, sacrifice, people who defended the faith and ascetics. There really isn’t enough space to write concerning each saint, but needless to say the variety and diversity are a little mind boggling.
Perhaps, it is more beneficial to think a moment of the intent of the Church to commemorate saints at all. Why do we bother? What good do all these strange names and strange sounding places do us? Most of the people held up for our consideration are literally strangers. We might know someone named Gregory or Tatiana, but few of us know a Hermylos or a Kalogeras. What good do all these historical figures do us? It would seem to me that we can all acknowledge that we live in an age of celebrity. All over television, radio, newsstands and the internet we can not get away from what some “personality” wore last night, said inappropriately, or with whom they were seen. From film stars, to sports’ figures, politicians or the new name of the week; we are constantly inundated by useless prattle about someone who is looking for their fifteen minutes of fame. The sad truth is that many times, we stop and pay attention; only, so that we are “in the know”. What a sad commentary! When confronted by the Church calendar, do we think that these people, who are commemorated, have been held up as examples for hundreds or even thousands of years? How many present day celebrities will have that kind of staying power? The answers to these rhetorical questions truly challenge us to put our priorities straight. Who do we wish to understand, some temporary here today gone tomorrow plastic celebrity or a saint who has been remembered by Christians throughout the ages. Perhaps, we should put a little effort in getting to know a new saint a month. Pick one, choose a new name and look them up. You can even Google most of them. Make this a project this year. Less fluff and more substance; it might be fun and think of how edifying it will be when we know twelve new saints. Within these saints there very well might be a new friend or someone who catches our imagination with the way they brought Christ alive in their time. If you would like refer to Prologue of Ohrid for information on the saints. (http://www.westsrbdio.org/prolog/my.html.)]]>