Metropolitan Athanasios of Lemessos: Christmas’ Deeper Meaning (Part I)
Every time we stand before the Lord either in prayer or in celebration in Church of an event from the life of Christ, or we are in any other way experiencing the presence of the Lord, two basic things happen, which are attested by the Church and the experience of the Saints: Firstly, we are feeling joy because we are experiencing the Lord’s abundant love towards man. He moves our heart into great gratitude, since we are experiencing- to the measure of our spiritual condition- God’s great gift for us.
Secondly, by being presented before the Lord we are also standing in a kind of critical judgment for our actions, which leads to our salvation, particularly if this takes place during the great feast days which commemorate events from the life of Christ. Indeed any event in His life prompts us into adopting a critical attitude towards ourselves which does not lead to damnation but to our deliverance.
Thus, we are commemorating our Lord’s incarnation in order to experience on the one hand His great love for us and on the other to feel great gratitude for all the wonderful things He has granted us. In addition, this benefits us in a practical way, because we are offered the opportunity to pass judgement on our life. As St Paul says: ‘The Lord will not judge us if we pass judgement on ourselves’. If we criticise our ways in this life, we will not be judged in the afterlife, because judgement has already been accomplished in this world.
In other words, now that our Lord’s feast is before us, we have the opportunity to critically compare our lives in terms of all the things that our Lord has accomplished for our deliverance, particularly since we know that He did not leave anything to chance but guided all things as the Master of history that He is. He is the One Who wished all events to take place in the way they did, even to the smallest detail. He was the One Who wished to be born in the specific year, at the specific place, as well as all the other elements which constitute the great event of His incarnation.
All the Saints used to critically compare the particular events happening in their lives with the life of Christ and passed judgement on themselves. We would like to believe that a Christian is the one who imitates the life of Christ as far as humanly possible. He then replenishes any deficiencies through repentance and humility. And this constitutes his inner spiritual work.
On such feast days, our Church constantly glorifies the Lord for His great condescension towards man through wonderful hymns, while digging into the deeper theological meaning of His incarnation. Holy elders as well as pious laity have particular experience of the deeper meaning of this event. When elder Efraim Katounakiotis returned from a trip to Jerusalem, we had expected him to be overwhelmed by the experience of Golgotha and of the Crucifixion. Yet, he was overwhelmed by the Cave of the Nativity in Bethlehem. He stood before this event saying: ‘I thought I was somebody when I was living in my ascetic hut at Katounakia, amongst my meagre possessions. But when I saw where Christ was born, I became truly crushed in spirit’.
Having been born in a cave, persecuted and despised by all men, Christ accomplished the greatest event in man’s history: His incarnation. God became man in total quietude, humility and obscurity. No one knew what was happening that night, except for some shepherds and the wise men from Persia. This event took place in absolute poverty and humility. Therefore, every time we are bothered by various demands and desires, we should place ourselves in front of the Cave of the Nativity, stand before Word’s incarnation, and see how our actions compare with what the Lord’ did that night. In this way we are passing judgement on our actions. In the same manner we ought to critically examine our entire life.
Ever since God became Man and the angels sang ‘peace on earth’, the Word of God is saying to us: ‘I did not come to bring peace, but to bring a sword’. Why did the Lord bring a sword while the angels were singing about peace? Christ was the Peace which came to the world and became man so that we would be able to love Him. He showed us that our relationship with the Lord is not a relationship with an ideology, because nobody can love an idea. One may be devoted to some philosophical ideology, but no one can love it, because it will not reciprocate one’s love.
To Be Continued
Originally published on www.pemptousia.com.