Orthodox America

God’s Gift to Us

119a.jpg (48024 bytes) The star was everywhere guiding our way,
Just as Moses brought his wand for you,
And the light of the knowledge of God shone round about.
Long ago manna fed you and the rock gave you drink;
Hope of seeing Him satisfied us.
So, nourished by His grace,
We intended to travel the pathless road
And not turn back into Persia;
For we yearned to behold, to worship, and to praise
A newborn babe, the God before time.

The coming of God to earth, something inaccessible even for the minds of angels, is granted to us to behold in these holy and soul-saving days.  The Only-Begotten Son of God-the eternal Word, by Whom everything visible and invisible was created and has its being-descended to us, descended to the point of taking upon Himself our mortal substance, was made flesh, became man, was made like unto us in everything but sin, for all eternity.

What is particularly joyous and comforting for us in this occurrence? The fact that in the Incarnation of the Son of God there was accomplished the re-generation and renewal of fallen man. The incarnate Son of God did everything necessary for our regeneration: He enlightened us, who were sitting in darkness and the shadow of death, with the light of truth and divine knowledge, and He indicated for us the way to eternal life; He took upon Himself our sins and blotted them out through His sufferings and death upon the Cross; He descended into the tomb and dispelled for us the darkness of the tomb and the fear of death; He rose from the dead and laid the foundation for our resurrection; He ascended into heaven and opened for us the entrance into the Kingdom of God, into the bright mansions in the house of the Heavenly Father; He sent down to us the Holy Spirit and with Him the entire array of grace-filled gifts, in order that, cleansed of all impurity, we should become fit to dwell with the angels in heaven.  Such is the everlasting consolation which God’s coming to earth in the flesh brought to mankind.

Do we experience this spiritual fruit of the Christian celebration of the Birth of Christ, this holy joy in the Lord, which is a certain pledge of eternal joy with the Lord in heaven?  If not, this is a sure sign that we have not yet undergone that renewal for which the Only-begotten Son of God came down to earth and was incarnate; a sign that we remain the same “old man”, subject to the threat of eternal death.  Our salvation consists in renewing within us God’s image, in putting on the “new man”, created according to God’s likeness. Has our entire way of life and our behavior become renewed in such a way that our actions bear witness to our being children of God?  Or is it still to be said of us, in the words of the Prophet: the harvest is past, summer is ended, and we not saved (Jer.  8:20)?

Days follow days, never to return-and we don’t think to make use of them in order to acquire a blessed eternity.  One after another, the great and soul-saving days of the holy feasts of the Church go by, and we remain mere spectators of these events. What prevents us, my dear brethren, in these solemn days proclaiming the salvation of the whole world, to reflect also upon our own salvation?  The Lord of Glory humbled Himself to the point of taking upon Himself the form of a servant, in order to seek out and to save lost sinners, and how many of our brethren according to the flesh have been found by Him and led into the mansions of the Heavenly Father?  

The Son of God became the Son of Man in order to save fallen man (Luke 10:10). Do we do anything on our part in response to this unspeakable condescension of the Son of God towards us?   For this utmost and awesome self-emptying on the part of the Son of God demands from us the same urgent and intense effort in the work of salvation.

The Incarnation of the Son of God is, as it were, a strong and trustworthy rope which the Heavenly Father stretches out to us who are perishing in an abyss of sin.  Whoever grabs onto this rope with all his might and hangs onto it as he navigates the sea of life will not drown in the abyss and will attain the calm harbor of heaven; but whosoever scorns this life-saving rope, whosoever falls away from Christ’s Church through schism or lack of faith or wrong faith or immoral life, that man will perish eternally.

Each one of us must with our whole heart believe in Christ as our only Saviour; we must cling to the Church as our only saving ship; we must ceaselessly study the word of God and Christ’s commandments and use them to guide our lives according to these commandments; we must try by all means to correct our thoughts and the strivings and intentions of our heart; we must offer continual repentance before God, assiduously attend God’s temple, unite ourselves to the Lord in the Mystery of the Eucharist for the cleansing of our souls and to receive spiritual strength in our battle against sin, to live in mutual love and all manner of good works.  This is what the Incarnation of God the Word requires! 

The Incarnation of the Son of God is the sole extraordinary means which God in His pre-eternal counsel appointed for our salvation.  What is left for us to do, brethren, us sinners, when the heavenly Physician with such love, such self-denial offers us such a powerful and effective prescription for our salvation-His incarnation, His becoming man, His self-abasement, His teaching and miracles, His cross and death?  Nothing more than that we should earnestly avail ourselves of this prescription and live according to the precepts of this heavenly Physician-and not carelessly as we have been wont to do. We should be particularly careful to avoid all unseemly behavior during these holy days.   How is it that we dare to spend these days not only irreverently but in sinful excess?

Let us depart from our pagan manner of life and become Christians not in name only-which is of no benefit to us-but in deed.   Otherwise we shall be judged not only like pagans, but much more severely, as Christians who have degraded Christ and scorned the Christian faith.  And there is nothing in the world more glorious, more precious than this, our faith.  Amen.

Compiled from various sources by

Archimandrite Panteleimon
Translated from Propovednicheskaya Khrestomatia, Jordanville, 1963.