A banquet of light and immortality in the face of Jesus Christ

    FOR all of you who were baptized into Christ
have clothed yourselves with Christ (Gal 3:27).
Alleluia.

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THE following prayers are from today’s liturgy, celebrating the coming feast of the Theophany.

They are based on a very theologically technical Ode from Great and Holy Thursday (in italics below), apparently to suggest that our spiritual vision of Christ in the Theophany is a kind of Eucharist, a banquet of the heart’s eye, in which we eat and drink the divine light of the Saviour’s countenance. St Paul wrote in his second letter to the Corinthians:

FOR God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

2 Corinthians 4:6.

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[Forefeast of the Theophany] FIRST we tasted with delight of the Master’s hospitality and his immortal table in the poor cave; now let us run to the Jordan to see a strange mystery, host of the splendour above.

[Great Thursday] Come ye faithful, let us taste with delight of the hospitality of the Master, and his immortal table in the upper room, with minds lifted up on high, learning a transcendent word from the Word, whom we magnify.

GO, ye who delight in wonders, leave Bethlehem for the country of the Jordan, there to see deeds mystically accomplished, and Christ coming forward to baptism: for he hath taken flesh, to refashion Adam.

Go, the Word said to his disciples, prepare ye in the upper room that Passover by which the nous is established, for those whom I have instructed in it with the unleavened word of truth; and magnify ye the firmness of grace.

Detail from an icon of Jesus Christ.

God hath shined in our hearts, in the face of Jesus Christ.

The Creator, begotten of the Father before the ages, hath in these last times been brought to birth, incarnate without change from a pure Maiden, child of God, both God and man, wishing to refashion Adam through Baptism.

The Father begat me, Wisdom, Creator, before the ages, the beginning of all his ways, he created me* for deeds which now are being mystically accomplished: for I the Word who in my nature am uncreated, have made my own the speech of that which I have assumed.

Thou art here as man in reality, not fantasy, as one man among many, seeking baptism, who alone art by nature guiltless; for thou didst come to bury the guilt of men, baptized in the waters.

As I exist as man in reality, not fantasy, so also the nature united to me by way of exchange is God; recognise me, then, to be one single Christ, who is saving the things from which and in which I have come to be.

At Compline for January 4 (source); and at Matins on Great Thursday (source). Hat-tip to Anastasis for help with the translation.

* This is a reference to Pr 8:22-25 LXX. This text was hotly debated in the 4th and 5th centuries, as the use of the word ‘created’ (ἔκτισε) seemed to suggest the Word of God was created at an instant in time (as opposed to eternally begotten). However, the text goes on to say that God ‘begets’ (γεννᾷ, a present tense) Wisdom herself even before time.

In keeping with the Church Fathers, the author of this prayer seems to take ‘he created me’ as a reference to the human body and speech which divine Wisdom assumed in order to bring salvation to mankind. “For when He had taken that which He had to offer on our behalf, namely His body of the Virgin Mary, then it is written of Him that He had been created, and formed, and made: for such phrases are applicable to men.” (St Athanasius, ‘De Sententia Dionysii’ 11.)

Grace was poured out upon thy lips, saint Basil

TODAY is the feast of St Basil the Great (c. 329-379), bishop of Caesarea.

MY heart is inditing a good matter: I speak of the things which I have made touching the king: my tongue is the pen of a ready writer. Thou art fairer than the children of men: grace is poured into thy lips: therefore God hath blessed thee for ever.

Psalm 44(45):1-2, KJV. The name Basil comes from the word for ‘king’.

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For Saint Basil.

GRACE was poured out upon thy lips, holy father, and thou wast made a shepherd of Christ’s Church, teaching the sheep endowed with spiritual reason to believe in a Trinity consubstantial in one Godhead.

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TODAY is also the feast of the Circumcision of Jesus.

WHEN the Saviour came down to be with the race of men, he accepted the garment of swaddling clothes; he who was but eight days old in regard to his mother, yet without beginning in regard to his Father, did not abhor circumcision of the flesh. Let us faithful ones cry out to him, Thou art our God, have mercy upon us.

WE are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from gazing at it while the radiance was fading away. But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

2 Cor 3:12-18.

WITH thy intense longing for the love of wisdom, O father, thou didst circumcise the veil upon thy soul, and by thy wonders wast revealed unto the world like a sun; and thou didst brightly shine thy godly mind upon the minds of the faithful, O wise Basil, worshipper of the Trinity, and knowing the mysteries of the Theotokos.

Source.

The radiance of the Father has come to make us bright

WHAT saves a man is, again, not what man does in his helplessness, but what the word of God does dwelling in us. …

Even in the Old Testament, the Ten Commandments, God says to man: “Be holy, because I am holy!” He does not say “be holy because it is good, it is nice”. “Because I am holy!”

It is God speaking that word by Moses. To Moses he revealed that “I AM.” God is He Who Is. And he wants to bring man to the same state of being. He shared something of this in the beginning; and to the degree that man allows himself to share in this word of God, he finds in that word of God the vigour of life.

Fr Rafail Noica. Source. (My translation.)

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St Paul's Jarrow, Chancel

The chancel of St Paul’s Church in Jarrow, originally the 7th century monastery chapel. This was where St Bede attended the liturgy, with icons (so he tells us) on the walls and stretching across from wall to wall in front of the altar.

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IN a sermon on the Nativity, St Bede (+735), a monk of Jarrow in what is now the North East of England, drew lessons from the journey of Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem to be assessed for tax.

NOW, the holy church is our citizenship (Phil 3:20-21), which in part wanders here in the earth, absent from the Lord (2 Cor 5:6), and in part reigns now with the Lord in heaven; and after the end of this age, will reign together with him, perfect for evermore.

So we ought all of us to walk in this citizenship, nothing should excuse us from such a wholesome journey.

We must all pay a tax debt to the King who was born: that is, we must comply with the divine commands in the unity of this present church, and by a tireless course of good works, make haste towards our entry into our heavenly homeland.

Now, in enrolling for the tax a denarius amounting to ten silver pennies was handed over, bearing the image of Caesar and his name (cf. Mt 22:15-22). This is something we should imitate spiritually.

For we render our denarius to our king, when we make it our business to fulfil the ten commandments of his law.

We bear the name of our king inscribed on the denarius, when in all our actions we remember that we are named Christians from Christ (cf. Acts 11:26), and so take care to keep the honour of his name unsullied in ourselves.

Onto this denarius of our good manner of life we should also stamp his image, and that image only, as he himself taught, saying “Be ye holy, because I the Lord your God am holy” (Lev 19:2 Vulg.). This is that same image of God, for which we were made in the first man (Gen 1:26), so that we might be holy by an endless sharing in divine holiness (cf. 2 Peter 1:4). For on this subject the Psalmist said: The light of thy countenance, O Lord, is signed upon us (Ps 4:6 Vulg.).

But because man lost this light of the divine countenance by sin, it pleased God to clothe himself in the countenance of a man by being born in flesh, by which he taught us that we must be reborn in the Spirit. It pleased him to appear in the likeness of sinful flesh, yet without sin (Heb 4:15), so that he could wash us clean from every sin, and retrace the clean brightness of his image in us.

St Bede, Homily 44 (Christmas Eve). My translation.

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THY kingdom, O Christ God, is a kingdom of all the ages, and thy rule is in generation and generation. Thou who wast incarnate of the holy Spirit, and made man from the ever-Virgin Mary, hast shined light upon us, O Christ God, by thy presence, light from light, the radiance of the Father, making all creation bright and clean. Everything that hath breath praiseth thee (Ps 150:6), the expression of the Father’s glory (Heb 1:3; Wisd 7:24-26). Thou who art I AM, and I AM before all,* and didst shine out as God from the Virgin, have mercy upon us.

* Ὁ ὢν καὶ προών. See Ex 3:14.

At Vespers for December 31. Source.

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O GLADSOME light, O grace
Of God the Father’s face,
The eternal splendour wearing;
Celestial, holy, blest,
Our Saviour Jesus Christ,
Joyful in thine appearing.

Now, ere day fadeth quite,
We see the evening light,
Our wonted hymn outpouring;
Father of might unknown,
Thee, his incarnate Son,
And Holy Spirit adoring.

To thee of right belongs
All praise of holy songs,
O Son of God, Lifegiver;
Thee, therefore, O Most High,
The world doth glorify,
And shall exalt forever.

Translation by Robert Bridges (1844-1930)

Joseph, tell the good news

ON the Sunday after Christmas, we make commemoration of Joseph the Betrothed, David the King, and James the Brother of the Lord.

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OUR Saviour from on high hath visited us, Daystar from the morning lands, and we dwellers in darkness and shadow have found the truth; for the Lord was born of the Virgin.

O JOSEPH, tell the good news of these wonders to David, the ancestor of God: thou hast seen a virgin with child, thou hast worshipped with magi, thou hast given glory with shepherds, thou hast dealt through an angel. Intercede with Christ God, that our souls be saved.

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An icon of St Joseph carrying Jesus, with his son St James, and his wife St Mary the Virgin, escaping to Egypt shortly after the birth of Jesus.

An icon of St Joseph carrying Jesus, with his son St James, and his wife St Mary the Virgin, escaping to Egypt shortly after the birth of Jesus.

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CHRIST the King, whom the shepherds acclaimed in Bethelehem, and the star revealed, in servant’s form: all ye his works, praise him and exalt him to all the ages.

Christ the born child, whom the magi worshipped with gifts, and the hosts of angels sang as God: all ye his works, praise him and exalt him to all the ages.

Christ the incarnate, whom the powers of heaven glorified, and the Many-eyed ceaselessly hymn: all ye his works, praise him and exalt him to all the ages.

Christ the incarnate, whom David the ancestor of God foretold, and James preached to the peoples: all ye his works, praise him and exalt him to all the ages.

CHRIST the King, whom the Virgin Mary bore for us, and after the birth remained pure virgin: all ye his works, praise him and exalt him to all the ages.

From Vespers and Matins on December 30. Source.

There grows the flower of peace

ON December 29, we remember the children of Bethlehem and its environs, murdered on the orders of King Herod in the belief that the ‘king of the Jews’ sought by the three Persian astrologers would be among them.

It was as a part of this purge that the priest Zacharias was killed in the Temple precincts (Mt 23:35), because he would not reveal where he had hidden his infant son John (later called ‘the Baptist’), who was also Jesus’s cousin.

Many associate this sad event with the taking of unborn life today (see my Pro-Life Page), and not forgetting the ‘born alive’ children whom some still believe should be left to die.

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Dried flowers, © Manfred Brückels, Wikimedia Commons.

“There grows the flower of peace, / The rose that cannot wither, / Thy fortress, and thy ease.” © Manfred Brückels, Wikimedia Commons.

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TODAY were the infants brought together before Christ, and mystically offered as unblemished sacrifices by the sword, like whole burnt offerings in fire; and they have won divine palms of victory.

Source.

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BROTHERS, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.

According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.

Therefore encourage each other with these words.

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.

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Peace.

MY soul, there is a country
Far beyond the stars,
Where stands a winged sentry
All skillful in the wars.

There above noise, and danger,
Sweet peace sits, crown’d with smiles;
And one born in a manger
Commands the beauteous files.

He is thy gracious friend,
And (O my soul awake!)
Did in pure love descend
To die here for thy sake.

If thou canst get but thither,
There grows the flower of peace,
The rose that cannot wither,
Thy fortress, and thy ease.

Leave then thy foolish ranges;
For none can thee secure,
But one who never changes,
Thy God, thy life, thy cure.

Henry Rice Vaughan (1621-1695).

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Let all Creation dance now, and skip for joy

THEN the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” So the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, Cursed are you above all the livestock and all the wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” To the woman he said, “I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”

Genesis 3:13-16.

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LET Jerusalem be glad, and keep the feast, all ye who love Sion. Today the age long bond of Adam’s sentence is broken, Paradise is opened to us, and the serpent confounded. For she whom he once trod down now is seen to have become the mother of the Creator. O the depth of riches, and the wisdom, and the knowledge of God! She who let death come into all flesh, the tool of sin, has become the first fruits of salvation for the whole world, through the Theotokos. For from her has been born an infant child who is God beyond perfection. Through this child-bearing, he gives his seal to virginity. Through swaddling bands, he looses the bands of sin. And through childhood, he heals Eve’s sorrowful birth-pangs. So let all Creation dance now, and skip for joy; for Christ came to call her back, and save our souls.

At Vespers for December 28. Source.

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COME, Desire of Nations, come,
Fix in us thy humble home;
Rise, the woman’s conquering Seed,
Bruise in us the Serpent’s head.
Adam’s likeness now efface,
Stamp thine image in its place:
Second Adam from above,
Re-instate us in thy love.

Charles Wesley, “Hark! the herald angels sing”.

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Andante for Clarinet and Orchestra
Alice Mary Smith (1839 – 1884)

Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven

I SAW in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.

Daniel 7:13-14.

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An icon of Christ in the roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem

An icon of Christ in the roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem

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BUT Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”

Acts 7:55-56.

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THE Lord said to my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool. The Lord shall send out a rod of power for thee out of Sion: rule thou in the midst of thine enemies. With thee is dominion in the day of thy power, in the splendours of thy saints: I have begotten thee from the womb before the Morning Star.

Psalm 109[110]:1-3 (LXX).

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O THOU that art not contained in any place, how art thou contained in a womb? O thou that lieth in the bosom of the Father, how dost thou lie in the arms of thy mother? This is all as he knoweth, as he hath willed it, as it was well-pleasing to him. And He Who Is [Ex 3:14] hath become he who was not, for our sakes. And without departing from his own nature, he hath partaken of our lump [cf. Rom 11:16]. Christ was born into two natures, wishing to fill the world above.

At Matins on December 27. Source.