Saturday, December 24, 2005

Christ is Born! Glorify Him!

Thy Nativity, O Christ our God, has given rise to the light of knowledge in the world, for by it those who worshipped the stars were taught by a star to worship You, O Sun of Righteousness, and to know You as the Daybreak from on high, O Lord, glory to You!

(Troparion for the Nativity of Christ)


From the Nativity homily of St. John Chrysostom, Archbishop and Patriarch of Constantinople, 354-407 AD

I behold a new and wondrous mystery. My ears resound to the Shepherds' song, piping no soft melody, but chanting full forth a heavenly hymn. The Angels sing. The Archangels blend their voice in harmony. The Cherubim hymn their joyful praise. The Seraphim exalt His glory. All join to praise this holy feast, beholding the Godhead here on earth, and man in heaven. He Who is above, now for our redemption dwells here below; and he that was lowly is by divine mercy raised.

Bethlehem this day resembles heaven; hearing from the stars the singing of angelic voices; and in place of the sun, enfolds within itself on every side, the Sun of Justice. And ask now how; for where God wills, the order of nature yields. For He willed, He had the power, He descended, He redeemed; all things move in obedience to God.

But what shall I say? What shall I utter? Behold an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. Mary is present, who is both Virgin and Mother, Joseph is present, who is called father. He is called husband, she is called wife. The names indeed are lawful, but there is no other bond. We speak here of words, not of things. He was espoused to her, but the Most High overshadowed her. Hence, Joseph, doubting, knew not what to call the Infant. He would not dare to say that It was conceived in adultery; he could not speak harshly against the Virgin; he shrank from calling the Child his own. He knew well that here was something unknown to him; how or whence was this Child born? And being anxious because of this, there came to him a message, by the voice of an angel, which said: Fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife, for that which is conceived in her, is of the Holy Spirit.


Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Christmas is Coming!

Make ready, O Bethlehem;
for Eden hath been opened for all.
Prepare, O Ephratha;
for the Tree of life hath blossomed forth
in the cave from the Virgin;
for her womb did appear as a super-sensual paradise,
in which is planted the Divine Plant,
whereof eating we shall live and not die as did Adam.
Verily, Christ shall be born,
raising the likeness that fell of old.

(Troparion for the Prefeast of the Nativity of Christ, sung December 20-23.)

Monday, December 05, 2005

Why "Transfigure Baton Rouge"?

I am a convert to the Orthodox faith. After twelve years of ministry in the United Methodist and Episcopal Churches, my wife, daughters, and I were chrismated and received as members of St. Basil Antiochian Orthodox Church in Metairie, Louisiana by Fr. Peter Nugent in October 2005.

We hope to plant an Orthodox Mission in Baton Rouge - our adopted hometown. This tiny corner of cyberspace is devoted to cultivating Orthodox Christianity in the heart of Louisiana.

So, why the name, “Transfigure Baton Rouge”?

It may sound audacious… perhaps it is. But the verb “transfigure” in its Greek form, metamorphow, appears a number of times in the New Testament. Most prominently, the word denotes the visible change which several of the disciples witness in Christ’s appearance on the mountaintop in Matthew 17:1-9. This scene, typically known as “the Transfiguration,” is a disclosure of Christ’s divine nature and a glimpse of the glory of the kingdom of heaven.

Significantly, the word is also employed by St. Paul the Apostle to depict the change or transformation that takes place in the lives of Christian people. In 2 Corinthians 3:17-18, St. Paul writes, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed [“metamorphed,” or transfigured] into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”

And at the beginning of Romans 12, he writes, “I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed [again, “metamorphed,” or transfigured] by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

These passages refer to the work of God to transfigure us into the people we were created and redeemed to be. This work is our salvation and sanctification, or as Orthodox Christians often say, our “theosis.” It is a work we share, or “participate in.” Indeed, this “co-operation” or “synergy” is the fundamental task of the Orthodox Christian life. In Philippians 2, St. Paul writes, “Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

God is at work in us. And we are to work, as well: We hear the Good News; we repent and receive God’s healing and forgiveness through the sacramental life of the Church; we practice the ascetic disciplines of the Church, struggling to love God and our neighbor; we feast upon holy mysteries. Through it all, God is at work in us and we are sharers in that work.

So, with fear and trembling, with humility and boldness, I pray that God will “Transfigure Baton Rouge.”

And by God’s grace, may we share in that transfiguration!