четверг, 7 января 2010 г.

Nativity of Christ. Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh.

Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh
                    Nativity of Christ
                           1975
                           ----

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.

There  is anguish when a woman is in labour, but all this is forgotten
when the child is born, because a man has come into the world. Someone
has come into the world to live, someone has entered into the realm of
transitory life in order to grow into life eternal, and the birth of a
child  is  always  perceived  as  the  beginning  of  life  and as the
beginning  of  eternity,  once  more  incarnate,  once more made real,
visible, tangible, become part of human joy and human simplicity.

And  yet,  when we think of the nativity of Christ, the birth on earth
of  the  Son  of  God,  we see it in a quite different way. One of the
ancient miniatures representing the birth of the Lord, shows us, apart
from the habitual features of a cave, of the Mother Virgin, of Joseph,
of the familiar animals, the manger standing by, deposited on an altar
of  sacrifice.  And the child is lying on it as probably Isaac laid on
the  altar  which  Abraham  had built in order to bring him as a blood
offering  to  the Lord. Every one of us is born through temporary life
into  eternal  life;  the  Eternal One, He who is life itself, is born
into  the  world  in  order to enter into the realm of death. Eternal,
Immortal God enters into the realm of man, not only the created world,
but  to  enter  the fallen world where death is the end of our earthly
pilgrimage.

When we look at this image of the new-born child, lying on an altar of
stones, ready for a sacrifice, brought as an offering, we can well ask
ourselves,  ╚Who  is  he  who sacrifices this child?╩ - and we have an
answer:  it  is the Father who gives us His Son that through His death
we  may  live.  We see here incarnate, clearly expressed, divine Love,
and  the  measure  of this love divine. The Only-Begotten Son is given
unto  death, delivered unto death for our sakes. Saint Paul ponders on
the event, and he exclaims, ╚Hardly would anyone die for a friend, and
Christ died for us while we still were enemies of God.╩

God  called  us into existence, it was a one-sided act, not of His own
powerful  will,  but  of  His  immeasurable  love.  He  called us into
existence,  that  we  may share with Him not only existence, but life,
become  partakers  of  all  that He is; we are called, in the words of
Saint Peter, to become partakers of divine nature; we are called to be
brethren  and sisters of Christ, sons and daughters of the Living God.
He  created  us  in  an  act of love and in this act of love, from the
first,  He  gave  Himself  as  an offering to us. And this offering is
always a sacrifice. In order to make this offering meaningful, He gave
us freedom, the freedom to accept love and to reject love, to love Him
in  response  to His love, or discard His love and, through our deeds,
through  all  our attitude to Him and to life, to proclaim to Him that
His  love  is of no avail to us, that we do not want it, that it is in
vain that he has loved us first, it is in vain that He had loved us so
much as to give His Only Begotten Son for us.

God gives us the freedom, and we ask very often, ╚Why?!╩ - why have we
not been made in such a way that, compelled by a blessed necessity, we
would be unable to go wrong, that we should be made in such a way that
we  always  and in all things would respond to the best. But is it not
simply  because  where  there  is  no freedom of love and rejection of
love,  there  is no love? If we gravitated towards one another without
any  choice,  it  would  be a law of nature, it would not be an act of
free  gift  of  oneself  and  of acceptance of the other. This freedom
means  love,  at  least  the possibility of love, as it means also the
possibility  for  us  to  reject  God. But God in His freedom does not
reject  us.  He  remains  faithful  to  the  last, perfectly generous,
heroically faithful.

And  when  the freedom of man is misused, He uses His freedom to come,
and  to  reach  out  towards us at the very depth of ourselves, at the
extreme  distance  which  we reach when we die to love. He enters this
very  realm  which is the realm where there is no love, where there is
only  dividedness,  brokenness  and separation, both from God and from
one  another  and  within ourselves, the inner brokenness and conflict
between  mind and heart, between conscience and action: Christ is born
into  the  realm  of death we have made through the misuse of freedom,
because  we  have  forgotten  that freedom culminates, is fulfilled in
that  love  which  gives  itself  perfectly, which is forgetfulness of
self, which is the laying down of one's life for the other.

Let us then look at this crib not as we do when we are small children,
seeing only an image of a child's birth, miraculous, wonderful; let us
look  at  it with an earnest and adult gaze, and see that this crib is
an altar of sacrifice, that this cave where He was born is an image of
that cave in which He will be deposited, a young man, killed for God's
sake after the agony of the Garden and the agony of the Cross, and let
us  ask ourselves, 'Are we, each of us, a response to love revealed in
such  a  way,  revealed  to  such degree? ╚Will we find in ourselves a
response,  or  shall  we  only  say, ╚It was His choice, I have chosen
against Him. He has chosen life for me, I have chosen death for Him╩.

Is that the answer which we will give? Oh, not in words, but in deeds,
through  our  life, through our attitude to our own self, in which our
own  dividedness  is not overcome, through our attitude to one another
in  which  those  people  for  whom Christ lived and died remain to us
strangers,  irrelevant  and  can be brushed out of our way, or through
our  attitude to Him Whom we do not treat as our everpresent invisible
neighbour,  for Whom we have no thought, no compassion, no charity, no
love.

Or  are  we  going  to respond to this revelation of love in which the
frailty  of  love is made visible, perceptible to us in the frailty of
this  little  human  body deposited on the straw of a crib, respond to
the frailty of God by a mature love?

This  is  the  question which now the day of Christmas sets before us,
and  we  have  days and months of liturgical unfolding of the year, to
grow through it towards a definitive and final answer when we will see
love sacrificed on Calvary. We have got this liturgical year to follow
step by step, in this year we will discover how the saints of God have
responded,  and  at every step the question will stand before us: ⌠And
what  about  you,  what  about  thee  personally, what about us in our
togetherness, what is our answer to love?■ Amen

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