We commemorate today the Nativity of Our All-holy, immaculate, most blessed and glorified Lady, the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary, daughter of the righteous Joachim and Anna.
The Holy Virgin and Theotokos Mary was born to elderly and previously barren parents by the names of Joachim and Anna, in answer to their prayers. Orthodox Christians do not hold to the Roman Catholicdoctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, in which it is supposed that Mary was preserved from the ancestral sin that befalls us all as descendants of Adam and Eve, in anticipation of her giving birth to the sinless Christ. The Orthodox believe that Mary indeed received the ancestral sin, having been conceived in the normal way of humanity, and thus needed salvation like all mankind. Orthodox thought does vary on whether Mary actually ever sinned, though there is general agreement that she was cleansed from sin at the Annunciation.
(Orthodoxwiki) If you wonder why we commemorate such a thing and give Mary such an over-the-top title – and there are many in the world today, even among those calling themselves Christian, who do wonder, and even are scandalized – consider that she was prepared by God for her role, that she consented to becoming pregnant outside wedlock, and that without her consent – dixit autem Maria ecce ancilla Domini fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum, Our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ would not have taken human flesh from her, and we would not be saved. (Yeah, I suppose there could be a “Plan B” but there didn’t need to be.)
And that doesn’t even touch on little things like her gestating God for 9 months, her womb containing the uncontainable one (“your womb he made more spacious than the heavens,” we sing), the creature giving birth to her creator.
Truth is, I wonder and am scandalized at those who refuse to venerate her, and who mutter “okay, dammit, she’s blessed,” thus performing what they think they biblically must, but with an attitude like an adolescent mad at being forced to apologize to another kid.
Christians are indistinguishable from other men either by nationality, language or customs. They do not inhabit separate cities of their own, or speak a strange dialect, or follow some outlandish way of life. Their teaching is not based upon reveries inspired by the curiosity of men. Unlike some other people, they champion no purely human doctrine. With regard to dress, food and manner of life in general, they follow the customs of whatever city they happen to be living in, whether it is Greek or foreign.
And yet there is something extraordinary about their lives. They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through. They play their full role as citizens, but labor under all the disabilities of aliens. Any country can be their homeland, but for them their homeland, wherever it may be, is a foreign country. Like others, they marry and have children, but they do not expose them. They share their meals, but not their wives.
They live in the flesh, but they are not governed by the desires of the flesh. They pass their days upon earth, but they are citizens of heaven. Obedient to the laws, they yet live on a level that transcends the law. Christians love all men, but all men persecute them. Condemned because they are not understood, they are put to death, but raised to life again. They live in poverty, but enrich many; they are totally destitute, but possess an abundance of everything. They suffer dishonor, but that is their glory. They are defamed, but vindicated. A blessing is their answer to abuse, deference their response to insult. For the good they do they receive the punishment of malefactors, but even then they, rejoice, as though receiving the gift of life. They are attacked by the Jews as aliens, they are persecuted by the Greeks, yet no one can explain the reason for this hatred.
(Epistle to Diognetus) I suppose the Krustian response to this quote, from somewhere between AD 130 and the end of the century, would be a triumphalist “We’ve come a long way, baby!” But have we? Really?
They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through. They play their full role as citizens, but labor under all the disabilities of aliens. Any country can be their homeland, but for them their homeland, wherever it may be, is a foreign country.
How are we doing on that “only passing through” thingy? It seems to me that a lot of Christians are very much at home in the America of, say, 25 years ago – any 25 years ago measured from now.
(Epistle to the world from pickup truck window)
They live in the flesh, but they are not governed by the desires of the flesh.
When was the last time you fasted – skipped or deeply scrimped even one meal – to devote yourself to nourishment of the spirit?
But the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and then shall they fast in those days.
(Luke 5:35) Are you addicted to any smutty TV shows?
And how’s your brotherly love doing?
Christians love all men, but all men persecute them … A blessing is their answer to abuse, deference their response to insult. For the good they do they receive the punishment of malefactors, but even then they, rejoice, as though receiving the gift of life.
When were you last persecuted? How loving was your response? When they come to take you away to the gallows (assuming you don’t deny Christ in order to live) will you welcome them and feed them a nice warm meal?
Mathetes wrote epistle to Diognetus when Christian numbers were probably increasing about 40% per decade, and Christendom was emerging from both their numbers and their influence.
We – cozy, warm, well fed, and feeling at home in America – are seeing the calamitous and undeniable collapse of Christendom, from absolutely pervasive dissembling and outright lies from our elected leaders, to a country intent on using terrorism as the pretext for building a police state, to a certainly Supreme Court Justice now thrice anathematizing traditional Christians as irrational haters.
And why shouldn’t it collapse? What credibility does it have left now that we’re lived it so indifferently?
There’s a point to my rant.
I’ve been to a number of Orthodox Evangelism conferences where people sought the magic formula for evangelizing our little American corner of the world. Maybe resuming the countercultural lifestyle Mathetes described to Diognetus would restore the good name of our Lord in the nostrils of out countrymen, where we’ve made Him a stench. And if not, at least it prepares us for the night that’s fast descending.
Whoever marries the spirit of this age will find himself a widower in the next.
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“The remarks made in this essay do not represent scholarly research. They are intended as topical stimulations for conversation among intelligent and informed people.” (Gerhart Niemeyer)