Orthodox Study Journal~~Youth Issue 9/-Jan 2020

THE DIVINE ECONOMY

The liturgical Calendar Year of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church is divided into six periods:

  1. From Koodos Etho Sunday to Yeldo
  2. From Yeldo (Birth) to Kothine
  3. From Kothine (water made into wine) Sunday to Kymtha
  4. From Kymtha (Resurrection) Sunday to Pentecost
  5. From Pentecost to Sleeba
  6. From Sleeba (Feast of the Cross) to Koodos Etho

As a remembrance and a means of union with Christ, the liturgical year becomes a source of grace[1]. With its succession of feasts and fasts it commemorates on the one hand events in the life of our Lord, His Mother, St. John the Baptist and also all those men, women and children who have achieved sanctity. Each feast brings into focus a special aspect and meaning of the divine order. The feasts of the saints, beginning with those of the Theotokos and ending with those of the most recently glorified members of the Church “celebrate a special grace that flows from Christ, for their sanctity is but an aspect, a shining ray of the holiness of Christ” (Fr. Lev Gillet). The festal calendar is a result of continuous development. Begun in Christian antiquity, it is always “in progress.” Each age adds to it its own significant ecclesiastical events and its own martyrs and witnesses of the faith, who in the purity of their hearts have seen the invisible God as in a mirror, and through whom divine grace has richly flowed to us.

As Father Lev Gillet has written, “In the liturgical year we are called to relive the whole life of Christ: from Christmas to Pascha, from Pascha to Pentecost, we are exhorted to unite ourselves to Christ in his birth and in his growth, to Christ suffering, to Christ dying, to Christ in triumph and to Christ inspiring His Church.  The liturgical year forms Christ in us, from His birth to full stature of the perfect man.”

We have entered the second period of the Liturgical calendar year; from Yeldo to Kothine.

Yeldo perunal can also be understood through the words of Mar Philexenos of Mabbug, as— “God who made Adam in the beginning outside his personality, has now recreated nature of man in himself. This is a mystery which we confess by faith, and not by reason.” ‘Yeldo perunal’ as known in the Indian Orthodox Church is (in the words of St. Gregory of Nazianzus), the celebration of coming of God to man that we might go forth, or rather (for this is the more proper expression) that we might go back to God -that putting off the old man, we might put on the New; and that as we died in Adam, so we might live in Christ, being born with Christ and crucified with Him and buried with Him and rising with Him.”.

But, for the world Christmas is celebrated on December 25 and is both a sacred religious holiday and a worldwide cultural and commercial phenomenon. For two millennia, people around the world have been observing it with traditions and practices that are both religious and secular in nature. Christians celebrate Christmas Day as the anniversary of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, a spiritual leader whose teachings form the basis of their religion. Popular customs include exchanging gifts, decorating Christmas trees, attending church, sharing meals with family and friends and, of course, waiting for Santa Claus to arrive.

Sadly, this kind of practice is seen in many of our Orthodox Christian households too. On the day of Christmas, we get up early in the morning and attend the church. We come back from the liturgy and have delicacy food with our family and friends because for us it a great day, a joyful occasion; to get together with our near and dear ones and have the best time and hoard up great memories rather than commemorating the day to heal our soul. The Church observes a 25 day fast before Christmas (the Nativity Fast) which has become an option for many in today’s times.  Rather than observing the fast to practice in progression to rid ourselves of the earthly needs and wants and through prayer and charity renew our faith and relationship to God and others, we chose to spend these days like any other days running behind wants and desires that never satiate. In the midst of such occupations and celebrations we fail to understand the spiritual reality that God became man, so that we become like God. We forget the actual reason for the season. To such a celebration, St. Gregory of Nazianzus counsels,

“Therefore let us keep the Feast, not after the manner of a heathen festival, but after a godly sort; not after the way of the world, but in a fashion above the world; not as our own, but as belonging to Him Who is ours, or rather as our Master’s; not as of weakness, but as of healing; not as of creation, but of re-creation.

And how shall this be? Let us not adorn our porches; nor arrange dances, nor decorate the streets; let us not feast the eye, not enchant the ear with music, nor enervate the nostrils with perfume, not prostitute the taste, nor indulge the touch, those roads that are so prone to evil and entrances for sin; let us not be effeminate in clothing soft and flowing, whose beauty consists in its uselessness, nor with the glittering of gems or the sheen of gold or the tricks of color, belying the beauty of nature, and invented to do despite unto the image of God. Not in rioting and drunkenness, with which are mingled, I know well, chambering and wantonness, since the lessons which evil teachers give are evil.

Let us not appraise the bouquet of wines, the kickshaws of cooks, the great expense of unguents; and let us not strive to outdo each other in temperance, and this while others are hungry and in want, who are made of the same clay and in the same manner.

Let us leave all these to the Greeks[2] and to the pomp and festivals of the Greeks. But we, the object of whose adoration is the Word, if we must in some way have luxury, let us seek it in word, and in the Divine Law, and in histories; especially such as are the origin of this Feast; that our luxury may be akin to and not far remove from Him Who has called us together. Or do you desire (for today I am your entertainer) that I should set before you, my good guests, the story of these things as abundantly and as nobly as I can, that you may know how a foreigner can feed the natives of the land, and a rustic the people of the town, and one who cares not for luxury those who delight in it, and one who is poor and homeless those who are eminent for wealth?

We will begin from this point; and let me ask of you who delight in such matters to cleanse your mind and your ears and your thoughts, since our discourse is to be of God and Divine; that when you depart, you may fade not away. And this same discourse shall be at once both very full and very concise, that you may neither be displeased at its deficiencies, nor find it unpleasant through wearisomeness.”.

So true to the words of St. Gregory which was said centuries ago is very relevant even today in the 21st century. The reason for the season is forgotten and we spend our life having a good time.

The reason for this season is the Word’s becoming Man and His divine Appearing in our midst; the Incarnation.

God made all things out of nothing, and He reserved especial mercy to the race of man.

St. Athanasius[3] quotes,

“He bestowed a grace which other creatures lacked—namely the impress of His own Image, a share in the reasonable being of the very Word (The Second Person in the Trinity) Himself, so that, reflecting Him and themselves becoming reasonable and expressing the Mind of God even as He does, though in limited degree they might continue for ever in the blessed and only true life of the saints in paradise”.

Referring to Ephesians 4:11-16[4], the above quote means that, what we are all expected to do is to be true in love, so that all grow towards him and in him; for he, Christ is the Head. It is from Him as controlling element that the whole body is coordinated and linked together in harmony, through the mutual connecting joints provided in the body, and through each part fulfilling the function assigned to it. The same Head ensures that the whole body grows and builds itself through love.

Further referring to Mathew 4:19, Christ says “Come, follow me.”. St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:1 says, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ”. And in 1 Corinthians 4:16 says, “Therefore I urge you to imitate me”.

He secured this grace to man by making it ‘conditional’ from the first with two things—a law and a place.

“If they guarded the grace and retained the loveliness of their original innocence, then the life of paradise should be theirs, without sorrow, pain or care, and after it the assurance of immortality in heaven. But if they went astray and became vile, throwing away their birthright of beauty, then they would come under the natural law of death and live no longer in paradise, but, dying outside of it, continue in death and in corruption. This is what Holy Scripture tells us, proclaiming the command of God, “Of every tree that is in the garden thou shalt surely eat, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil ye shall not eat, but in the day that ye do eat, ye shall surely die.”. “Ye shall surely die”—not just die only, but remain in the state of death and of corruption.”.

Through our (man’s) own devising’s, we chose to turn to evil and set ourselves to the law of death. We lost our existence by turning away from God, Who alone Exists and Who alone is all good. We were called to ‘being’, but we chose to return to ‘non-being’ by choosing evil which is the negation and antithesis of good. We were creatures brought out of nothing, but bore the Likeness of God, and

“and if man preserves that Likeness through constant contemplation, then his nature is deprived of its power and he remains incorrupt.”

Keeping of the law was the assurance of man being incorrupt.

But man,

“turning from eternal things to things corruptible, by counsel of the devil, they had become the cause of their own corruption in death; for, as I said before, though they were by nature subject to corruption, the grace of their union with the Word (The Second Person in the Trinity) made them capable of escaping from the natural law, provided that they retained the beauty of innocence with which they were created. That is to say, the presence of the Word (The Second Person in the Trinity) with them shielded them even from natural corruption, as also Wisdom says: God created man for incorruption and as an image of His own eternity; but by envy of the devil death entered into the world.”

“When this happened, men began to die, and corruption ran riot among them and held sway over them to an even more than natural degree, because it was the penalty of which God had forewarned them for transgressing the commandment. Indeed, they had in their sinning surpassed all limits; for, having invented wickedness in the beginning and so involved themselves in death and corruption, they had gone on gradually from bad to worse, not stopping at any one kind of evil, but continually, as with insatiable appetite, devising new kinds of sins. Adulteries and thefts were everywhere, murder and rapine filled the earth, law was disregarded in corruption and injustice, all kinds of iniquities were perpetrated by all, both singly and in common. Cities were warring with cities, nations were rising against nations, and the whole earth was rent with factions and battles, while each strove to outdo the other in wickedness. Even crimes contrary to nature were not unknown, but as the martyr-apostle of Christ says: “Their women changed the natural use into that which is against nature; and the men also, leaving the natural use of the woman, flamed out in lust towards each other, perpetrating shameless acts with their own sex, and receiving in their own persons the due recompense of their pervertedness.”

“The thing that was happening was in truth both monstrous and unfitting. It would, of course, have been unthinkable that God should go back upon His word and that man, having transgressed, should not die; but it was equally monstrous that beings which once had shared the nature of the Word (The Second Person in the Trinity) should perish and turn back again into non-existence through corruption”

“As, then, the creatures whom He had created reasonable, like the Word, were in fact perishing, and such noble works were on the road to ruin, what then was God, being Good, to do? Was He to let corruption and death have their way with them? In that case, what was the use of having made them in the beginning?”.

“What—or rather Who was it that was needed for such grace and such recall as we required?

The Word of God (The Second Person in the Trinity) Himself, Who also in the beginning had made all things out of nothing? His part it was, and His alone, both to bring again the corruptible to incorruption and to maintain for the Father His consistency of character with all. For He alone, being Word of the Father and above all, was in consequence both able to recreate all, and worthy to suffer on behalf of all and to be an ambassador for all with the Father.”

Thus, for this reason the incorporeal and incorruptible and immaterial Word of God (the Second person of the Trinity) entered our world. He was never far away from us, and filled everything while still abiding in union with the Father (refer Creed).

“But now He entered the world in a new way, stooping to our level in His love and Self-revealing to us.”

To explain the above quote further— The Incarnation of God the Word is a great grace given by God to the humanity. This is the primary affirmation of Bar Ebraya[5] regarding his faith in the Incarnation. According to him, the purpose of Incarnation is the salvation of the world. God could have accomplished it by any other means. It pleased Him, however to work it out in and through human life, because, it appeared to Him, the appropriate way for the accomplishment of the purpose of Economy (mdabronuto). Bar Ebraya says: “It is by birth of God according to the flesh, by His voluntary suffering according to the flesh, and His death according to the flesh, that you have been saved.”

Therefore God the Son the second person of the Trinity became man. God the Son accepted an incarnated state as a dispensation for the salvation of the world. This dispensation is God’s action in which the Son accepted a birth from a human mother. However, God the Son incarnate does not mean that the universe was deprived of His divine care during his lifetime on earth. In order to become incarnate God the Son accepted on Himself a self-limitation.

But why only the second person of the Holy Trinity became incarnate in Virgin Mary, rather than first or third?

According to Bar Ebraya, each one of the hypostases has the power to do every possible thing. But it is the hypostasis[6] of the Word that the union is convenient.

“He took our body, and not only so, but He took it directly from a spotless, stainless virgin, without the agency of human father—a pure body, untainted by intercourse with man. He, the Mighty One, the Artificer of all, Himself prepared this body in the virgin as a temple for Himself, and took it for His very own, as the instrument through which He was known and in which He dwelt. Thus, taking a body like our own, because all our bodies were liable to the corruption of death, He surrendered His body to death instead of all, and offered it to the Father. This He did out of sheer love for us……”

The above quote means God the word is one hypostasis. He united Himself hypostatically to the flesh endowed with a rational and intelligent soul, which was assumed from Mary. The natures, therefore, which came in to union were hypostases although manhood received its hypostatic status only in the union. The one from two is one person. Jesus Christ as a person has been formed of a union of Godhead and manhood. Thus He is one double nature (united nature) and one composite hypostasis. The concern of Bar Ebraya here is not to explain away either of the natures but to affirm the real unity.

In brief, God the Son became man. Though the Virgin was the mother of manhood alone, because manhood had come into being, and existed, only in union with God the Son, she gave birth to God incarnate, and therefore she was the Theotokos. The confession is not to minimize the reality and perfection of Christ’s manhood, but to insist to the unity of Christ.

“This great work was, indeed, supremely worthy of the goodness of God. A king who has founded a city, so far from neglecting it when through the carelessness of the inhabitants it is attacked by robbers, avenges it and saves it from destruction, having regard rather to his own honor than to the people’s neglect. Much more, then, the Word of the All-good Father was not unmindful of the human race that He had called to be; but rather, by the offering of His own body He abolished the death which they had incurred, and corrected their neglect by His own teaching. Thus by His own power He restored the whole nature of man.”

“For by the sacrifice of His own body He did two things:

  1. He put an end to the law of death which barred our way;
  2. and He made a new beginning of life for us, by giving us the hope of resurrection.

By man death has gained its power over men; by the Word made Man death has been destroyed and life raised up anew. That is what Paul says, that true servant of Christ: For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. Just as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive,” and so forth. Now, therefore, when we die we no longer do so as men condemned to death, but as those who are even now in process of rising we await the general resurrection of all, “which in its own times He shall show,” even God Who wrought it and bestowed it on us. This, then, is the first cause of the Savior’s becoming Man.

Thus,

“it was our sorry case that caused the Word to come down, our transgression that called out His love for us, so that He made haste to help us and to appear among us. It is we who were the cause of His taking human form, and for our salvation that in His great love He was both born and manifested in a human body.”

To summarise, Man, as we already noted, is a creature of God endowed with creaturely freedom. As a creature he has a beginning and the possibility of an end. Yet, unlike other creatures, he/she is created to attain the eternal life, which God grants him. To gain this goal man is called upon to live his life in communion with Creator and follow his way, using his creaturely autonomy. However, man took advantage of his personal freedom to follow his own plan in life. This led to his fall from the Source of eternal life, to which he had to be restored. The restoration required an absolute self-surrender to God on the part of man, which was possible only by God himself helping man to do it. Therefore, the coming together of God the Son and man into union (Incarnation) was necessary, and God accomplished it in Jesus Christ. This is the Divine Economy[7].

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[1] Liturgical Calendar, Ahmedabad Diocese

[2] Greeks or referring to pagans

[3] On the Incarnation, St. Athanasius (Source: Copticchurch)

[4] The Kingdom of Diakonia- Dr. Paulose Mar Gregorios

[5] The Christology of Bar Ebraya by H.G. Dr. Yuhanon Mar Diascoros

[6] In the words of H.G Dr. Geevarghese Mar Osthathios, “Trinity means ‘one in three and three in one’. God is one and three in the same time. One ousia and three hypostases is difficult, but simple we can say one family with father, mother and a child. This relativity is to make supra-natural sharing of love, which is the very sharing of God. The number three is not ultimate in nuclear families. 360 Deg. Of a circle remains the same in bigger circles also. Therefore, ultimately whether children are one, two or many, the unity of family remains.”

Hypostases can mean ‘in particular’. This meaning is given for the understanding of all but there is theological depth to it.

[7] An Orthodox Catechism on the Faith and Life of the Church, Dr. V.C. Samuel