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CommunityChurchSaint Gregory the Theologian on the Nativity

Saint Gregory the Theologian on the Nativity

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From Oration 38, “On the Nativity of Christ”

 

Christ is born, give glory; Christ is from the heavens, go to meet him; Christ is on earth, be lifted up “Sing to the Lord, all the earth,” and, to say both together, “Let the heavens be glad and let the earth rejoice,” for the heavenly one is now earthly. Christ is in the flesh, exult with trembling and joy; trembling because of sin, joy because of hope. Christ comes from a Virgin; women, practice virginity, that you may become mothers of Christ. Who would not worship the one “from the beginning’? Who would not glorify “the Last”?

 

…This is our festival, this is the feast we celebrate today, in which God comes to live with human beings, that we may journey toward God, or return – for to speak thus is more exact- that laying aside the old human being we may be clothed with the new, and that as in Adam we have died so we may live in Christ, born with Christ and crucified with him, buried with him and rising with him. For it is necessary for me to undergo the good turnaround, and as painful things more pleasant things must return. “For where sin abounded, grace superabounded,” and if the taste [of forbidden fruit] condemned, how much more does the Passion of Christ justify? There we celebrate the feast not like a pagan festival but in a godly manner, not in a worldly way but in a manner above the world. We celebrate not our own concerns but the one who is ours, or rather what concerns our Master, things pertaining not to sickness but to healing, not to the first molding but to the remolding.

 

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…In regard to these things, what do the slanderers say to us, the bitter calculators of divinity, the accusers of praiseworthy things, the dark ones speaking of the light, the uneducated speaking of wisdom, for whom “Christ died in vain,” the unthankful creatures, fashioned by the Evil One? Do you bring as a charge against God his good deed? Is he small because he is humble for your sake? Do you accuse the Good Shepherd because he went to the one who strayed, he who laid down his life for the sheep, to find the stray “on the mountains and and the hills where you offered sacrifice,” and having found it took it on his shoulder, on which also he carried the cross, and having taken it brought it back to the life on high, and having brought it on high counted it again among those who remained there? Do you accuse him because he lit a lamp, his own flesh, and swept the house, cleansing the world of sin, and searched for the coin, the royal image covered with a heap of passions, then calls together his friends, the angelic powers, once he has found the coin, and makes participants in his joy those angels initiated into the mystery of his saving plan? Do you accuse him because the most radiant Light follows the lamp, his forerunner John, and the Word follows the voice, and the Bridegroom follows the friend of the bridegroom, who prepares for the Lord a chosen people and through water purifies them beforehand for the Spirit? Do you bring these charges against God? Do you also suppose that he is inferior for these reasons, that he girds himself with a towel and washes the feet of his disciples, and shows that the best way to be exalted is lowliness, since he lowers himself because of the soul bent down to the ground, so as also to lift up with himself those leaning downward because of sin? But how do you not accuse him because he also eats with tax collectors and at the homes of tax collectors and makes tax collectors his disciples, that he also may make some profit for himself? What profit? The salvation of sinners. If so, one must also blame the physician for bending over one who is ill and enduring the stench to give health to the sick; or one who through compassion leans over a pit to rescue, according to the law, the animal that has fallen into it.

 

He was sent, but as human, for he was twofold. For he was tired and hungry and thirsty and endured agony and wept through the law of the body; but if he underwent these things also as God, what of it? Consider the good will of the Father to be sent forth, and to it the Son ascribes his own activities, both as honoring the timeless Beginning and so as not to seem to be a rival god. For indeed Scripture says that he was given up, but it is also written that he gave himself up; and he was raised and taken up to heaven by the Father, but he also resurrected himself and ascended there again. For one is the Father’s good will, the other is his own power. You speak of what belittles him, but you overlook what exalts him; you recognize that he suffered, but you do not add that it was voluntary. It is as if the Word still suffers now! By some he is honored as God but confused with the Father; by others he is dishonored as flesh and separated from him. Against which is he more angry? Rather, whom must he pardon more? Those who unite Father and Son wrongly or those who divide them? For the former would need to distinguish and the latter would need to conjoin; the one in regard to number, the other in regard to divinity. Do you take offense at the flesh? So did the Jews. Do you also call him a Samaritan? I will be silent about the rest. Do you disbelieve in his divinity? This even the demons do not do. O you who are more unbelieving than demons and more senseless than Jews! The latter regarded “Son” as a term denoting equality of honor, the former knew that God drove them out, for they were persuaded by what they suffered. But you neither accept the equality nor confess the divinity. It would have been better for you to be circumcised and possessed by a demon, if I may say something ridiculous, rather than in uncircumcision and good health to be in a state of wickedness and atheism.

 

…Now welcome for me his conception and leap for joy, if not indeed like John in the womb, then like David when the ark came to rest. Be awed at the census record through which you have been recorded in heaven, and revere the birth through which you have been released from the bonds of birth, and honor little Bethlehem, which has brought you back to paradise, and bow before the manger through which you who were without reason have been fed by the Word. Know, like the ox, your owner – Isaiah exhorts you- and like the donkey know your master’s crib, whether you are among those who are pure and under the law and chew the cud of the Word and are prepared for sacrifice, or whether up to now you are among the impure and unfit for food or sacrifice and belong to the Gentiles. Run after the star, and brings gifts with the magi, gold and frankincense and myrrh, as to a king and a God and one dead for your sake. With the shepherds give glory, with the angels sing hymns, with the archangels dance. Let there be a common celebration of the heavenly and earthly power. For I am persuaded that they rejoice and celebrate with us topday, if indeed they love humankind and love God, just as David represents them ascending with Christ after his Passion as they come to meet him and exhort each other to lift up the gates.

 

You should hate only one of the events surrounding the birth of Christ, Herod’s murder of children; but rather, revere this sacrifice of those of the same age as Christ, who are sacrificed before the new victim. If he flees to Egypt, be willingly banished with him. It is good to flee with the persecuted Christ. If Christ delays in Egypt, call him forth from Egypt, where his worshipped well. Travel blamelessly through all the stages of Christ’s life and all his powers, as a disciple of Christ. Be purified, be circumcised, that is remove the veil that has surrounded you since birth. After this teach in the temple, drive out the traders in divine things, be stoned if it is necessary that you suffer this; you will escape from those throwing the stone, I know well, and you will flee through the midst of them like God. For the Word is not stoned. If you are brought before Herod, do not answer for the most part. He will revere your silence more than the long discourses of others. If you are scourged, seek the other tortures. Taste the gall because of the taste [of the forbidden fruit]. Drink the vinegar, seek the spittings, accept the blows, the beatings; be crowned with thorns through the harshness of a life in accord with God. Put on the scarlet robe, accept the reed and the worship of those who mock the truth. Finally, be crucified with him, die with him, be buried with him willingly, so as also to be resurrected with him and glorified with him and reign with him, seeing God as far as is possible and being seen by him, who is worshipped and glorified in the Trinity, whom even now we pray to be manifest to us as clearly as is possible to prisoners of the flesh, in Christ Jesus our Lord, to whom be glory and sovereignty unto the ages of ages. Amen.

 

From Festal Orations: Saint Gregory of Nazianzus, Translated by Nonna Verna Harrison, Crestwood, NY, St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2008.

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