Nativity of Christ
from The Shepherd December 2012
British spellings retained
THE NATIVITY OF CHRIST
The Feast of Divine Humility
By the Ever-Memorable Archbishop Averky
of Jordanville, + 1976 A.D.
BEHOLD, I am come ... to do Thy will, O God, so spake the
Only-Begotten Son of God, the Word of God, God-Emmanuel in God’s
Pre-eternal Counsel (see Ps. 39:7-11; Heb. 10:5-9).
For, because of His tender-hearted mercy, the Lord Pantocrator could not endure to behold the race of man tormented by the devil, and therefore, as the Church gratefully cries out to Him, Thou didst come, and didst save us (Prayer for the Great Blessing of Waters).
And herein is perfected the great mystery of Godliness: God was manifest in the flesh (1Tim. 3:16).
The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the Only-Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14).
How then, and in what circumstances, did this great and wondrous event come about?
It was not in luxurious, regal chambers, nor in splendour, wealth or celebrity that the Incarnate Son of God appeared on earth, but in a cave, and instead of an infant’s cradle, He was laid in a manger. He passed all His life on earth, not having where to lay His head (Matt. 8:20). And being constantly persecuted by the scribes and Pharisees, after being abandoned even by His closest disciples, He was given over to an ignominious death, being nailed to a cross.
He emptied Himself, as the Holy Apostle teaches, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient even unto death, the death of the cross (Phil. 2:7-8).
The very incarnation and coming into the world of the Incarnate Son of God, as we see, was sealed with the deepest humility, such as we can hardly imagine.
For what is meaner than a cave? And what is lowlier than swaddling clothes? Yet in them the riches of Thy Divinity shone forth, so chants the Holy Church compunctionately on the day of Christ’s Nativity (Hypakoë after the Third Ode of the Canon).
This is why the great ascetic of the first ages of Christianity, the Venerable Isaac the Syrian, characterises humility as the highest Christian virtue, speaking of it expressively and vividly: Humble-mindedness is the raiment of God. The Word Who became man clothed Himself in it, and therein He spoke to us (Homily 53; in the English translation, this quote in found in Homily 77).
For this reason, the Nativity of Christ is the feast of the Divine humility, which before anything else instructs us all that humility is the foremost Christian virtue and that without it it is impossible to be saved.
The great righteous one of All-Russia, who has recently been glorified by us, the holy Father John of Cronstadt, speaks of this beautifully in his inspiring homily on the Nativity of Christ, given in 1906:
“Let us consider the goodness, righteousness and wisdom of God, which is manifested in the mystery of the incarnation of God: the great mystery of Godliness: God was manifest in the flesh. How is this a mystery? Precisely because God was manifest in the flesh, He emptied Himself, took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men; and in every respect became a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient (to the Father) even unto death, the death of the cross (Phil. 2:7-8). Do you see the saving mystery? For your salvation, for the healing of your pride, lack of faith, disobedience and guilefulness, the beginningless, infinite, almighty God and Creator emptied Himself, so that He might teach you meekness, obedience, patience, guilelessness, kindheartedness and compassion. See how He teaches you by His own example, and not only teaches but is ready to grant you all the Divine strengths, so that you might completely change for the better, and recover all the treasured lineaments of the image of God: the simplicity and guilelessness of a child, meekness, humility and obedience, a firm and unshakable faith in God and His works, and so that you abandon evil faithlessness, conceit, high opinion, wandering thoughts, self-will, grasping, killing. Behold, what is now being worked out around us: who retains the likeness of man, but he who is called a Christian? And who is like a ferocious beast, which tears apart and devours his offering?”
What would the saint, the Righteous John of Cronstadt have said in our days, if he had seen the dreadful, unrelenting, self-opinionated pride of contemporary people, among whom we can also count those who consider themselves “Christians” and even “Orthodox Christians”? People do not in the least want to humble themselves in meekness, guilelessness, kindheartedness and compassion, not only before each other, but even not before God Himself, before the God-revealed teaching of the Word of God, before the voice of the Holy Church, before her sacred canons and saving precepts.
Do we not see above, a most horrible and destructive pride, which accounts itself as the highest authority especially in matters of the Faith and regarding the Church, which changes the rules and decrees of the Church, to write for itself its own, personal precepts!
Such a mentality could not be worse or more pernicious, under the influence of which they strive to put our holy Faith and the Church in subjection to the conditions of this world, which lies in wickedness (1 John 5:19), or to make the Church a tool for their own passions, using her for their own benefit, for achieving their own, personal, egotistical aims, and, under the authority of the Church, covering the evidence of their personal scores with their enemies and those who oppose them. And, alas, all this is widespread nowadays.
The flaming call to humility in the last Nativity sermon of our holy and righteous father John [of Cronstadt], given by him in 1907, must sound for us with even greater force:-
“Earthly kings, surrounded by the splendour of your rank, come in thought to Bethlehem, bow your crown-bearing heads to that manger in which the true and eternal King of kings lies, and cast your crowns at its foot, humble yourselves and recognize that you are made from dust and to dust you will return, and confess before Him, the Humble Infant, that it was from Him that you were granted dominion and power over the peoples, that you are His assistants, and that your thrones are sustained by Him, that without faith in Him, you and your thrones are just sticks shaken in the wind; that without faith in Him even your ministers are as rotting husks on whom it will be impossible to rely.”
This is precisely the basis of the proper, correct monarchist world view, which many in our time did not wish to recognise completely, blasphemously placing the Monarch and the monarchist principle itself above the Faith and the Church. Yet this is the one hope and firm basis for every authority in general, without which that authority will not be a legitimate, God-established authority, an authority from God, but simply an usurpation, from which one could not expect any genuine good.
Saint John extends his flaming appeal much further, to all those people who, on account of their calling and the high position they occupy, might use their importance and authority to gain greater influence over the community of people.
“You learned ones of this world,” he calls out, “who hold forth from positions in the top government institutions and the like, you who are teaching and learning, especially in the highest academic establishments, and in a spirit of mutiny and insubmission to the authorities turn from, and are the very worse with regard to, God” - (St John has in view here the contemporary student disorders which we experienced then) - “I send even you to the Bethlehem manger: cast aside your pride before your Creator and Saviour and the one true Teacher, and humble yourselves before the One, Who brought peace upon earth from the Heavenly Father and a blessing for the people, Who was obedient to the earthly Cæsar. Do not forget that He said to the mutinous and arrogant ones, that He is the Stone which shall break whomsoever shall fall upon it, and shall grind to powder him on whomsoever it shall fall” (see Matt. 21:44).
We must recognise this well and remember! True humility is not, as some mistakenly think, some sort of weakness, faint-heartedness or man-pleasing (this last is especially harshly judged by the Word of God, as being a betrayal of God, see for instance: Galatians 1:10; Jeremias 17:5). In giving us such an exalted example of humility, the Lord Jesus Christ even said: Learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly in heart (Matt. 11:29), yet He decisively and sternly denounced the peoples’ vices, and particularly the most evil of these, the hypocrisy of the Jewish scribes and Pharisees, in which the destructive and demonic pride, which at the very end brought the Son of God Himself to the Cross, was so much more clearly manifest. And thus it was that emulating Him, the Chief Shepherd, being himself full of the spirit of meekness and humility, our great pastor for All-Russia [St. John of Cronstadt], in bearing his pastoral ministry, did not fear openly and forcefully to denounce the great and the glorious of this world, being himself foreign to any kind of man-pleasing.
But woe unto those incorrigible arrogant ones, who while not having any such right, make themselves judges of other people, including the pastors of the Church themselves - (how often we see this nowadays!) – laying on them the severest condemnation, oftentimes about things about which they do not know and do not understand, manifesting themselves as completely ignorant of all that pertains to our holy Faith and the Church, being themselves in spirit far from the Church and alien to the true Gospel teaching and a real Orthodox and churchly self-awareness.
For woe unto them that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight (Esaias 5:21), as the holy Prophet announced in the name of God even in the Old Testament.
See how from this boundless pride, which depends upon and serves only one’s own sinful passions, self-love, love of honour, love of authority, sensuality and mercenariness, - even though it (this pride) masks itself with every kind of well-sounding slogan, and even clothes itself in the guise of a sham humility (nowadays how pervasive this is!), – the contemporary world suffers terribly, bowling along towards its end, which has been foretold in the Scriptures.
For those who do not have the spirit of Christ’s humility within, there is not, and there cannot be, any real joy in the feast of the Nativity of Christ, as though for them Christ had not been born; and this festival remains for them only a customary and traditional “seasonal” feast, without any inner substance, as we can see everywhere in contemporary soulless society.
And only for those, who humbly accept the teaching of the true Church of Christ and voluntarily bear upon themselves the yoke of obedience to her, trampling down and rooting out of themselves every manifestation of selfish pride, is the present festival really a day of great joy: the words of the fullest jubilation reverberate in the Nativity hymn radiantly and joyously in their hearts: Christ is born, give ye glory. Christ is come from heaven, receive ye Him. Christ is on earth, be ye exalted!