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Σάββατο, 25 Νοεμβρίου 2017

THE GOSPEL ON THE FIRSTBORN. By. St. Nikolai Velimirovic, from “Homilies, vol. I, ” Lazarica Press, Birmingham (1996), pp. 13-23.







By. St. Nikolai Velimirovic, from “Homilies, vol. I, ” Lazarica Press, Birmingham (1996), pp. 13-23.      


Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily. But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife; for that ivhich is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins. "Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us. Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife: And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son; and he called his name Jesus.
[Mt 1:18-25]



He who, in obedience and humility, draws near to the Lord Jesus Christ will never again desire to be separated from Him.
The first exercise for a recruit in Christ’s army is practice in obedience and humility. Ihe new world, the new creation, the
new man: all began with obedience and humility. The old world trod obedience to God underfoot, together with humility towards Him, and by this destroyed the bridge linking earth and heaven. The spiritual materials for the rebuilding of this bridge are, before all else, obedience and humility.




While Adam was rich in obedience and humility, it was hardly possible to differentiate between his spirit and the Spirit of God, between his will and thoughts and those of God. He could feel, desire or think nothing that was not in God and of God. As the angels of God stood in the full presence of God, so did Adam (in a direct closeness), and from this closeness gazed on the Source of light, wisdom and love. He had no need to light a candle of his own, living as he did in the Sun Itself. His candle would, in the light of that Sun, neither have burned nor given light.



But when Adam violated obedience and lost humility—and those two are always gained or lost together—then his direct communication with God was cut off, the bridge was demolished and he fell into a fearsome, stagnant darkness, in which he had to light himself with his own candle, the candle that the mercy of God had given him when God’s righteousness drove him out of Paradise. He then began not only to make a difference between himself and God, between his will and the will of God, his feelings and those of God, his thoughts and those of God—he not only began to make and see a difference, but was scarcely able (only now and then, in moments of enlightenment) to be aware of his likeness to God.



Alas, in what a miserable and abysmal state, through his dis-obedience and pride, does he find himself who was originally created in the image and likeness of the Holy and Divine Trinity Itself! (St. Philaret of Moscow says, in his homily on the Entry of the Mother of God into the Temple: In man in a sinless state, the image of God was the source of blessing; in fallen man, it was [only] the hope of blessing). Alas, we are all descendants of Adam, all low shoots from the stump of the felled cedar that had once majestically been raised up above all God’s creatures in Paradise; low shoots overcome by the tall weeds of cruel, brutal nature, which had grown up like a curtain between him and the Source of immortal love.



Only see how, as at the waving of a magicians wand, the disobedience and pride of mans forefather all at once change all creation around him, and he becomes surrounded by an army of the disobedient and the proud!




While Adam was obedient and humble before his Creator, all around him breathed obedience and humility. But what a change came about in the twinkling of an eye! At the moment of Adam’s fall, he was surrounded by the disobedient. Here was disobedient Eve beside him. Here was the chief disseminator of disobedience and pride, the spirit of disobedience—Satan. Here was the whole of nature—disobedient, rebellious and full of fury. Fruit, that had till then melted with sweetness in man’s mouth, began to smite him with its bitterness. Grass, that had wrapped itself around his feet like silk, began to scratch him like needles. Flowers,  that had rejoiced in giving their scent for their lord to breathe, began to smother themselves with weeds, to keep him away from them. Wild beasts,  that had fawned round him like lambs, began to spring on him with sharpened teeth and eyes aflame with fuiy. Everything took a wild and aggressive stance towards Adam. And the richest of all creatures felt himself to be the poorest. Clothed formerly in angelic glory,
he now felt himself humiliated, lonely and naked; so naked that he was forced to borrow clothing from nature to cover his nakedness, both physical and spiritual. For his body, he began to borrow skins from the animals and leaves from the trees; and for his spirit, he began to borrow from all creatures—from creatures!—knowledge and skills. He who had formerly drunk from the overflowing Fount of life was now forced to go with the animals, to bend down in the mud and drink at the trough in order to slake his physical and spiritual thirst.



Look now at the Lord Christ. All is obedience and humility. The Archangel Gabriel, the representative of angelic obedience and humility; the Virgin Mary—obedience and humility; Joseph—obedience and humility; the shepherds—obedience and humility; the wise men from the East—obedience and humility. Storms obedient, winds obedient, sun and moon obedient, men obedient, beasts obedient; the grave itself obedient. All is obedient to the Son of God, the New Adam, and all is humble before Him, for He also is unconditionally obedient to His Father, and is humble before Him.




It is known that, together with much that man sows in the earth and cultivates, other plants and herbs readily spring up, that have been neither sown nor cultivated. So it is with the virtues: you may carefully sow and cultivate obedience and humility in your soul, and you will see that a whole bouquet of other virtues will quickly shoot up beside them. One of the first will be simplicity, both within and without. The obedient and humble Virgin Mary was adorned at the same time with childlike simplicity. This was also true of righteous Joseph, and also of the apostles and evangelists. Only look at the unparalleled simplicity with which the evangelists record the greatest events in the history of man’s salvation, in the history of the universe! Could you imagine in what detail and with what theatricality a secular writer would write, for example, about the raising of 



Lazarus, were he to have witnessed that event? Or what sort of prosy and pretentious drama he would have written about all that came to pass in the soul of the obedient, humble and simple Joseph at the moment when he discovered that the girl under the protection of betrothal to him was pregnant? This is recorded by the Evangelist in a few, simple sentences: But the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as His mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. Before this, the Evangelist had given the genealogy of the Lord Jesus, or, more precisely, that of righteous Joseph, from the Tribe of Judah and the House of David. In this genealogy, the Evangelist listed men, born of men in a natural way, such as all mortal men on earth are born. He then suddenly begins to record the Lords birth, and says: But the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise as though, with this “but”, he wants to show the unusual and supernatural nature of His birth, completely divorced from the manner of birth of all Joseph’s recorded forebears. Mary, His mother, was betrothed to Joseph. In the eyes of the world, this betrothal was seen as an introduction to married life; but, in the eyes of Mary and Joseph, it could not be seen like this.



Sought with tears from God, the Virgin Mary was consecrated to God by her parents’ vow. She, on her part, voluntarily took this vow made by her parents upon herself, as is seen in her many years of ser-vice in the Temple at Jerusalem. Could she have followed her own inclinations, she would undoubtedly have spent the rest of her life in the Temple, like Anna the daughter of Phanuel (Lk 2:36-37), but the law ruled otherwise, and so it had to be.




She was betrothed to Joseph, not to live in marriage with him but in order to escape marriage. All the details of this betrothal, and its meaning are to be found in the Church’s tradition. And if men were to value tradition with reference to the Mother of God, to righteous Joseph and to all the people involved who are mentioned in the Gospel, as much as they value traditions—some of them of the wildest—about the rulers, leaders and wise men of this world, the meaning of the betrothal of the Most Holy Virgin Mary to Joseph would be clear to all.
St Ignatius says that the Virgin was betrothed that His birth should be concealed from the devil; that the devil should think of Him as born of a married woman, and not of a virgin. This is also found in Jerome’s Commentary on Matthew and in Gregory of Neocaesarea’s Second Talk on the Annunciation.



Before they came together... These words do not mean that they afterwards came together as man and wife, or that this was in the Evangelist’s mind. The Evangelist is, in this case, interested only in the birth of the Lord Jesus, and nothing else, and he writes the above words in order to show that His birth was without the coming together of man and woman. Therefore understand the wise words of the Evangelist, as though he had written: and without their coming together, she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit. Only by the Holy Spirit could He be conceived who was, in the midst of the kingdom of darkness and evil, to found the Kingdom of the Spirit of light and love. How would He be able to fulfill His divine mission on earth if He had come on earth through all the usual earthly channels, blocked as they are by sin and stinking of mortal corruption? In that case, new wine would have stunk of old wineskins, and He who had come to save the world would have been in need of salvation. The world could only be saved by a miracle from God; this was the belief of all men on earth. And when God’s miracle is wrought, it must not be doubted but venerated, and healing sought from it, and salvation.



How did Joseph react to the knowledge of the Virgin Mary’s pregnancy? And Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily. He acted, we see, in obedience to God’s law. He was obedient to God’s will insofar as it had, up till then, been revealed to the Israelites. He also acted in humility before God. Justify not thyself warns wise Solomon (Sir 7:5). That is: do not force too much justice on those who sin, but feel your own weakness and your own sins, and strive with mercy to lighten justice towards sinners.



Imbued with this Spirit, Joseph did not consider giving the Virgin Mary over to justice for the suspected sin: and not willing to make her a public example (he) was minded to put her away privily. This plan of his shows us what an exemplary man Joseph was, exemplary in justice and in mercy, such a one as the Spirit of the old Law was able to instruct. With him, all was as simple and clear as it could be in the soul of a God-fearing man.





Righteous Joseph had only just found a suitable way out when heaven intervened in his plan with an unexpected command: But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying: ‘Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. "The angel of God, who had earlier proclaimed to the most pure Virgin the coming into the world of the God-Man, now comes to clear the way before Him and level it out beneath His feet. Joseph’s doubt was a hindrance on His way—a very great and dangerous hindrance that must be removed. In order to show how easy it is for the heavenly powers to do things that are very difficult for men, the angel did not appear to Joseph in a vision, but in a dream. With these  words to Joseph the son of David, the angel wanted both to reward him and to warn him. As a descendant of King David, you should rejoice at this divine mystery more than other men, and you should also understand better than others.





But how is it that the angel refers to the Virgin as his wife: Fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife? In the same way that the Ivord said from the Cross to His mother: Woman, behold thy son! and to His disciple: Behold thy mother! (Jn 19:26-27). Indeed, heaven is sparing with words, and says nothing superfluous. If it had not been necessary to say this, why did the angel say it? If this calling Mary the wife of Joseph is a stumbling block to some unbelievers, it is a defense of purity against the impure powers. For God’s words are not listened to only by men, but by all worlds, both good and evil. He who wishes to penetrate to the heart of all God’s mysteries, the same must have God’s view of all things, visible and invisible.
That which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. This is God’s act, and not man’s. Don’t look to nature, or be fearful of the law. This is the action of Him who is greater than nature and stronger than the law, without Whom nature would have no life, nor the law force.




From this that the angel announced to Joseph, it is clear that the Virgin Mary had told him nothing of her earlier encounter with the great archangel, as it is clear that now, when Joseph intended to put her away, she did not justify herself in anyway. The angel’s message, as all the heavenly mysteries that were gradually revealed to her, she kept, and pondered in her heart (Lk 2:19; cf. 2:51). In her faith in God and obedience to Him, she shrank from no humiliation at the hands of men. If my sufferings are pleasing to God, why should I not endure them!, said some of the Christian martyrs later. Living in constant prayer and pondering on God, the Most Pure was also able to say: If my humiliation is pleasing to God, why should / not endure it! Only let me be righteous before God, who knows the heart, and the world can do what it likes with me. She knew this: that the world could do nothing to her unless God allowed it. What gende humility before the living God this is, and what wonderful devotion to His will! And further—what a heroic spirit is seen in this delicate maiden: The secret of the Lord is among them that fear Him. (Pss 24/25:13). While sinners, in our day as in all days, bring even false witnesses to testify for them, the Virgin Mary, who had no man to testify for her, but God almighty, did not justify herself; she was not disturbed, but remained silent—and waited for God, in His good time, to justify her. And God hastened to justify His chosen one.






This same angel who had revealed to her the great mystery of her conceiving, made haste to speak now in place of the silent Virgin. Explaining, then, to Joseph that which had already come to pass, the angel of God went further, and explained to him that which was to be: And she shall bring forth a Son, and thou shalt call His name Jesus; for he shall save His people from their sins. Chrysostom says: He does not say: “she will bear you a son, ” but simply “will bear, ” because she does not bear for him alone, but for the whole world. The angel told Joseph to behave towards the Newborn as though he were His real father, and he therefore says: “and thou shalt name Him Jesus. “Jesus” means “Savior”, and so the next sentence begins with “for”, meaning: thou shalt name Him “Savior”, for He shall save His people from their sins.
The Archangel is God’s true messenger. He speaks that which he learns from God; he sees the truth in God. For him, nature with all its laws is as though it did not exist. He knows only the almighty power of the living God, as Adam once knew it. In saying: “He shall save His people from their sins”, the Archangel foretold the greatest of Christ’s acts. Christ was to come and save men, not from some external evil but from the greatest evil, from sin, that is the source of all the evil in the world. He is to save the tree of humanity, not from a host of caterpillars that descends on it one year, but from the worm at its roots, from which the whole tree withers.


 He comes, not to save man from men, or people from peoples, but to save all men and all peoples from Satan, the sower and lord of sin. He comes, not like the Maccabee brothers, or Barabbas or Bar-Kohba, to stir up rebellion against the Romans, who had descended like a host of caterpillars on the Israelite people to devastate them, but like an immortal and universal doctor, before whose coming the Israelites and the Romans, the Greeks and the Egyptians, and all the peoples on earth, sick and more than sick, were fading away from one and the same virus - from sin. Christ was later perfectly to fulfil the archangel’s prediction. “Thy. sins are forgiven” was His victorious pronouncement throughout the whole of His earthly ministry among men. These words contained both the diagnosis of the sickness and the medicine. Sin: the diagnosis of the sickness; the forgiveness of sins: the medicine. And Joseph was the first of mortal men in the New Creation to be made worthy to know the real purpose of the Messiah’s coming, and the true nature of His ministry.



That which the Archangel has told Joseph up to now is enough for the latter, in obedience to this new and direct command from God, to break off his thoughts and also his plan to put Mary away. Heaven commands—Joseph obeys. But it is not heavens usual way to give commands to men without an appeal to their understanding and free response. It was, from the beginning, God’s will that man act as a free being. In freedom, in mans free decision, rests all the beauty of man’s being. Without freedom, man would only be an artificial, mechanical thing of God’s making, held and activated by God solely by His will and power. There are plenty of such things made by God in nature, but He destined a special place for man, giving him freedom to decide for God or against Him, for life or for death. A  position full of honor, and at the same time full of danger. The command that God gives to Adam is not, therefore, just a simple one: 



Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it, and God immediately adds: or in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die. (Gen 2:16-17). In this last sentence, God  gives man a reason for his understanding, and a motive for his will, not to eat of the forbidden tree—-for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die. The angel acts in the same way now with Joseph. Having given this command to take and not put her away, and having explained that the fruit of her virgin womb was of the Holy Spirit, the Archangel reminds Joseph of the clear prophecy by the great prophet: Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Emmanuel. (Isa 7:14), and Matthew adds this further clarification: which being interpreted is “God with us. ”
That which has already been said: And thou shalt call His name Jesus, does not stand in opposition to what is said here: and shall call his name Emmanuel; which being interpreted is; “God with us. ”In the first case, Joseph is told to give Him the name Jesus (Savior), and in the second case, it is stated that the young child shall be called, by peoples and nations, Emmanuel (God with us). 



The one name and the other, each in its way, gives profoud expression to the reason for Christ’s coming into the world and His ministry within it. He will come to forgive sins, to have mercy on men and save them from sin, and so will be called the Savior—Jesus. “ Who can forgive sins but God only? (Mk 2:7). No-one in the world: no-one either in heaven or on earth has the right to forgive sins and save from sin but God Himself, for sin is the worm at the heart of this world’s sickness. No-one knows the abysmal horror of sin as God, who is sinless; and no-one can dig out the worm of sin but God. So, as Jesus forgave sin and thus made men whole, He is God among men. If one were to place the names in order of causality, the name “Emmanuel” would come before the name “Jesus.” For the Newborn to be able to carry out the work of salvation, He had to be Emmanuel—to come as God among us. But, whichever way round, they have the same meaning: Emmanuel is the Savior, and the Savior is Emmanuel. In any case, one thing is clearer than anything else in the world, and that is that there is no salvation in this world if God does not come into it, and that there is neither healing nor salvation for us men if God is not with us, not as some idea or lovely dream, but with us as we are—with a soul as we have, a body as we have, in poverty and suffering as we are and finally, in that in which we are most different from God—in death as we are.




Therefore, every faith that teaches that God did not come in the flesh, and that He cannot come in the flesh, is false, as it presents God as both weak and uncaring: it presents Him as a stepmother, and not as a mother. It presents Him as weak, because it always keeps Him back from the greatest battle—the battle with Satan, sin and death. Satan must be bound; the first growth of sin must be uprooted from the human soul; the snake’s tongue of death must be crushed—a labor must be undertaken that is greater and harder than that of Atlas in bearing the world on his shoulders.



 Our God fought this battle, and did so victoriously. Men of other faiths fear, even in their thoughts, to allow their gods such a battle, in which their opponents might be victorious. What sort of a mother
would it be who would not bend down to the earth out of love for her child, to comfort it, rock it and croon over it? And how much the more if the child were in danger of fire or wild beasts? O Lord, forgive us such questions! How couldest Thou be the compassionate Creator of the world and not have come down in Thy mercy among us? How couldest Thou, only from a misty and painless distance, have looked on our wretchedness and placed no cool finger on us in the flames nor moved into the den where we are attacked by wild beasts? In truth, Thou hast come down among us, even lower than any sort of earthly love demands. 

Thou wast born in the flesh, to live and save those in the flesh; Thou didst drink of the cup of all Thy creatures’ suffering, sharing with none this cup of bitter communion, but Thyself draining it. Thou art therefore our Savior, for Thou hast been God among us: Thou hast been God among us because Thou wast able to be our Savior. Glory to Thee, o Jesus our Emmanuel!




To go back to Joseph: he, with fear and trembling, saw more and more clearly that a tapestry was being woven around him, more penetrating than the sun’s light and more all-embracing than the air; a tapestry of which the canvas is the Almighty, and the angels and all creation the silken strands. It fell to his lot to serve as God’s instrument in the center of the tapestry of the New Creation. While a man is unaware that God acts through him, he is weak and feeble, hesitant and cautious. But when a man senses that God has taken him into His hands, as a blacksmith takes iron to make a shoe, he feels at the same time both strong and humble, decisive in his actions and upheld by his God.




When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel had commanded him, and took the Virgin Mary to himself again, and knew her not until she had brought forth her Firstborn Son, and he called His name Jesus. When we read the Gospels, we must enter into the Evangelist’s mind, and not project our mind into the Gospel. The Evangelist himself marvels as he speaks of the wonder of the Savior’s birth. His main task is to show that this birth came about in a wondrous manner. This that the Evangelist Matthew emphasizes is already the fourth proof of this. Firstly, he says that the Virgin Mary was only betrothed to Joseph; secondly, that she found herself with child of the Holy Ghost, thirdly, that the angel, in a dream, showed that her pregnancy was wondrous and supernatural and, fourthly, we see here that the angel now repeats this same thought with the words that Joseph knew her not until she had brought forth her Firstborn Son. 



It is, therefore, as clear as day that the Evangelist has no thought of saying that, after this birth, Joseph had carnal relations with Mary. That which was not so until she had brought forth her Son was not so afterwards, when she had borne Him. If we say of someone that, during the celebration of the Liturgy in church, he paid no attention to the priest’s words, we do not mean that, once the service was over, he became attentive to them. Or, when we say that a shepherd sings while the sheep graze, we do not think that he stops singing when the sheep stop grazing. St. Theophylact  says: As it was said at the time of the Flood, that the raven did not return to the Ark while the earth had not dried out, it naturally did not return to it afterwards, or as Christ said: “1 am with you always, even unto the end of the world, ” does that mean that He will not be afterwards. 




The word “firstborn” therefore applies exclusively to the Lord Jesus (Pss 88/89:28; cf. 2 Sam 7:12-16; Heb 1:5-6: Rom 8:29), who is the first among all kings and the firstborn among many brethren (Rom 8:29), which means: among all saved and adopted men. If the word “firstborn” were to be written with a capital letter, as a special title, there would be no doubt of its meaning. Or, if a comma were placed before the word “firstborn, there would be no doubt or confusion. This is how it must be read: as though “Firstborn” were a title, with a comma before it: and she brought forth her Son, the Firstborn. The Lord Jesus is the Firstborn as the Creator of the New Kingdom, as the New Adam.
It is said of St. Ammon (Oct. 4th) that he spent eighteen years in wedlock without having physical relations with his wife. The holy martyr Anastasia (Dec. 22nd) also spent a number of years married to Publius, a Roman senator, without consummating the marriage. We quote here only two instances among thousands of others. By her most pure virginity, before, during and after giving birth, the Virgin Mary has turned thousands of girls and young men to a life of virginity throughout the Church’s history. Looking to her virginity, many married women have broken off their marriage and devoted themselves to virginal purity. 



Looking at her, many leading a deeply immoral life have turned from their immorality, cleansing their mired souls with tears and prayer. How, dien, could it be imagined that the most pure Virgin, the pillar and inspiration of Christian purity and virginity through the ages, was on a lower level of virginity than that of Anastasia, Thecla, Barbara, Katharine, Paraskeve and all the rest, without number? Or, how would it be possible to imagine that she who bore in the flesh her passionless Lord could ever have known the shadow of physical passion? She who carried and gave birth to God was a virgin, not only in the flesh but in the spirit, as St. Ambrose says. And Chrysostom compares the Holy Spirit with a bee, saying: As a bee will not enter a stinking vessel, so the Holy Spirit will not enter into an impure soul.



Let us stop speaking about this, about which we should speak less and marvel more. There where obedience and humility towards God have their abode, there is purity. The Lord heals His obedient and humble servants of every earthly passion and lust. Let us give ourselves over to the cleansing of our consciences, our souls, our hearts and our minds, that we may be made worthy of the blessed power of the Holy Spirit; that the earth may once more stop sowing its seed in our inner man, so that the Holy Spirit may begin in us new life and a new man, like to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be glory and praise, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit—the Trin¬ity consubstantial and undivided, now and forever, through all time and all eternity. Amen.


NOVEMBER-DECEMBER 2017  BROTHERHOOD OF ST. POIMEN

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