SERMONS DELIVERED AT ST. VASILIOS
The Incarnation of Our Lord Jesus Christ
by His Eminence Archbishop Spyridon of America
on the occasion of his first pastoral visit to St. Vasilios
Delivered on Sunday, December 20, 1998
My Beloved Spiritual Sons and Daughters in Christ,
Listen to the words of the Christmas carols that we sing in this season of the year. These songs tell almost the entire story of the Nativity, as we find it in the Gospels.
We hear of the shepherds and the angels, of the wise men and the star, of the stable and the manger, we hear of the Virgin Mother, and of the Child Who was born a King.
But there are no Christmas carols about the portion of the Gospel which was read in your hearing today the great genealogy that opens the Gospel of Matthew. There are no songs which repeat the names of the ancestors of Christ; there are no carols which recount the forty-two generations from Abraham to Joseph. Most of the world, it seems, ignores the genealogies in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. But they shouldn't. These genealogies are an integral part of the story of the Incarnation. These genealogies remind us of that great truth, that the Son of God came from the Father to be born as one of us.
From a human point of view, the genealogy of Christ inspires some very mixed feelings. In this genealogy, we find the names of saintly men and women, great heroes of faith as you just heard in the Epistle reading.
But they are not all heroes. In this genealogy we hear the whole story of fallen human nature. We see the whole human condition, summed up in the lives of the ancestors of Christ. We see people who had shortcomings, people who had faults, people who struggled with all of the passions of humanity.
Imagine, though this is the family into which Christ chose to be born. Of all the tribes of the earth this is the one that He chose to call His own people. Christ did not demand to be born into a sinless nation or a perfect people. Which one of us, after all, could offer Him an ideal ancestry? What family could offer Him an untarnished name? Christ came to us as we are "while we were yet sinners." Τhe Apostle says "while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." (Rom. 5:8).
For our sake He became the Second Adam, by becoming a son of the First Adam. He was truly born as one of us. "You shall call His name Jesus," the angel said, "For He will save His people from their sins." (Matt. 1: 21). God truly sent His Son, as the Apostle Paul says, "in the likeness of sinful flesh, as an sacrifice for sin" (Romans 8:3). And this sacrifice, He alone could offer, for He alone is without sin. This is the value of the genealogies for while we confess that Christ in His divinity is eternally consubstantial with the Father, ὁμοούσιος τῷ Πατρί, we also confess that in His humanity He has become consubstantial with us.
To the minds of worldly philosophers and cynics, this genealogy is a scandal, a stumbling-block. It is offensive to them to think that the King of All should be born into a peasant family, and into a fallen and captive people, in an obscure corner of the world.
And so throughout the history of the Church, there have been those who deny the truth of the Incarnation.
But the Orthodox Church has always declared such thinking to be heresy.
We remain the Church that reads and understands and cherishes the genealogy of Christ.
We remain the Church that teaches Christ's essential unity with us, in the fullness of our human nature.
We remain the Church that teaches that "Jesus Christ came to save sinners" by raising our fallen nature through the Incarnation and the gift of the Holy Spirit.
We remain the Church that teaches that Jesus Christ forever lives as the Theanthropos, the God-man, the Word-become-flesh. And we remain the Church that teaches that the Ecclesia is truly His Body"His very flesh and His very bones" (Eph. 5:30).
These truths stand together, or fall together.
If you can confess the Incarnation, you must also confess that the Church is truly the body of Christ. We celebrate today one the greatest champions of the Incarnation in the Orthodox Church, Saint Ignatius of Antioch, a second-century bishop and martyr.
Saint Ignatius left behind only a few brief letters, but in each one he emphasizes that Jesus Christ truly was born of human flesh and blood, of the house and lineage of King David. But St. Ignatius teaches more than that. With deep theological insight, he anticipates the more subtle denials of the Incarnation that arise in the minds of would-be theologians and reformers.
St. Ignatius proclaimed the Incarnation, by teaching that Jesus Christ is truly present in the Eucharist, that by divine Grace the holy Gifts truly become His Body and Blood. St. Ignatius proclaimed the Incarnation, by teaching that through the sacramental life of the Church, we truly become the Body of Christ. St. Ignatius proclaimed the Incarnation, by teaching that Christ is the Head of the Body, that Christ constantly leads and directs His Church, that Christ constantly refills us with His Holy Spirit.
There are those today, who see that the Church is an assembly of fallen and imperfect people and they say, "Surely Jesus Christ cannot be present here; surely Jesus Christ is not leading the Church." But to these modern philosophers and cynics, we say, in faith and love: "Christ is in our midst! He was, and is, and ever shall be!"
Jesus Christ lives!
Jesus Christ reigns!
Jesus Christ remains the Good Shepherd, Who leads His flock, through the persons of His chosen Patriarchs and Hierarchs.
Jesus Christ calls the world to Himself and to His Church, His glorious and spotless Body!
I challenge you to find the time to read the letters of Saint Ignatius. They are as relevant today as they were in the second century. They are as relevant for the Church in America as they were for the Church in Asia Minor. If you read nothing else, read his epistle to the Church in Smyrna.
Think about it.
Discuss it with your priests and with one another.
I promise you that this epistle will deepen your understanding of the Incarnation,
I promise you that this epistle will bless your celebration of the Nativity,
I promise you that this epistle will strengthen your participation in the life of the Church, the Body of Jesus Christ.
To Christ our God born of the Virgin, born of the seed of David, to Him be glory, honor, and worship, together with His Father and the Holy Spirit, unto the ages of ages. Amen.
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