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Episode 2
April 8th, 2020

The First of Feasts, The Beginning of Redemption, and The Fear of Death

Today's podcast focuses on the First of Feasts, the Annunciation:

* The power of the Great Mystery of the Incarnation destroys the fear of death. 

* St. Maximos the Confessor on how God desires to become incarnate in each of us and make the soul that gives birth to Christ a Virgin Mother. 

* The Apostle Paul on the Incarnation, which brings to nought the devil's power, the fear of death, which keeps men in bondage. 

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Transcript


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For all who would like to economically support the work of The Orthodox Ethos, donations can be made via Paypal at the following link: paypal.me/FrPeterHeers

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Today on Orthodox Ethos, the First of Feasts, the Beginning of Redemption, the Fear of Death and Bondage to the Devil.

We begin at the beginning, with the Feast of Our Lord, the Great Feast of the Annunciation, which most Orthodox Christians around the world are celebrating today, following the Church calendar. It is a feast that reaches back into deep antiquity. It is witnessed to by St. John Chrysostom, and Blessed Augustine already, as an ancient feast, a customary feast. And it was referred to by different names, The Conception of Christ; The Annunciation of Christ; The Beginning of Christ; The Beginning of Redemption; The Annunciation of the Angel to Mary; and other names.

And we read in the Gospel for the feast, the following:

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God into the city of Galilee, named Nazareth, to a virgin, a spouse to a man whose name was Joseph of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And the angel came in to her and said, “Hail” or “Rejoice, Thou art highly favored, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women.” And when she saw him, when she was troubled at this saying, and cast in her mind, what manner of salutation is this? And the Angel said to her, “Fear not. Fear not Mary, for thou has found favor with God. And behold, thy shall conceive in thy womb and bring forth a son and shall call his name Jesus.

“He shall be great, and should be called the Son of the Highest, the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of His father David. And He shall reign over the house of Jacob forever, and as of His Kingdom, there shall be no end.” Then said Mary to the Angel, “How shall this be, seeing that I know not a man.” And the Angel answered and said to her: “The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the power of the highest shall overshadow thee. And therefore, also that Holy Thing which shall be born of thee, shall be called the Son of God. Behold, thy cousin Elizabeth, she also has conceived a son in her old age. And this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren. For with God, nothing shall be impossible.” And Mary said, “behold, the handmaiden of the Lord, be it unto me according to thy word.” And the angel departed from her.

This is the Gospel of the Feast that many of you heard this morning, if you were able to go to Church, or at least online. Here we see that the very incarnation, the very economy of our salvation, the beginning of our salvation, has its presuppositions. We are not going to do a full exegesis of this text obviously, we are going to focus on certain things that I think are timely for us, in this day and age.

It has its presuppositions, some of them are: a pure temple, of course, the Mother of God, in which to dwell God; purification, through unceasing prayer, abstinence; keeping the commandments; humility and obedience, on the part of the Mother of God; a “yes” to the will of God; crucifying the intellect, and rationalism; no willfulness; trust, faith, entrusting ourselves to God’s plan, God’s care, God’s way, which surpasses human understanding. There’s no doubt here.

These are the presuppositions for the beginning of our salvation, the incarnation. But it is also the presuppositions for our own giving birth within us, of the Holy Spirit. And the great example of the Mother of God for us. She is not an exception. She is the great example. She is the first of many who will follow in her footsteps, in the sense of acquiring full communion with God and achieving, or being given, by the grace of God, being made worthy of glorification, or deification, or theosis.

Let’s listen to St. Maximus the Confessor a little bit, about how this event is an example, and one to be imitated and followed. Here is what St. Maximus says, which is so instructive for us. Because everything we are doing here, everything we do in Church when we read and hear the Scriptures, which are always applicable to every age, and every person, it is as if you are reading and experiencing, the life that you lead when you read the Gospel. It is not at all just a simple historical book, but it is a book which explains our very existence. And so when we go to the Scriptures we are looking for examples, to imitate.

St. Maximus says:

The soul that through the grace of its calling resembles God, keeps inviolate within itself the substance of the blessings bestowed upon it. In souls such as this, Christ always desires to be born in a mystical way, becoming incarnate in those who obtain salvation, becoming incarnate in those who obtain salvation, and making the soul that gives birth to him, a virgin mother. You see how we are all called to imitate and follow, in a spiritual way, the Mother of God.

And, here we see a truth that is so important for us today, that there is no difference today, with us, who are in the eighth millennium, so to speak, the last Christians, there is no difference for us in approaching Christ, than those who approached Christ during his life. In fact, we have a more intimate relationship with Christ, because we actually partake of His body and blood within the Church. And there is no, the Lord is no respecter of persons, He makes no favorites. He does not say, I prefer those who lived and walked with Me when I was yet on the earth as a man walking about. The same opportunities are given to us, and the same calling is for everyone, no matter what their age, since the first until the second coming. So this is the great mystery of the incarnation, and why, and what is this mystery?

Well, St. Theodore the Studite says to us - in his catechism, his beautiful homily, short but filled with meaning about this feast - he says that the Son of God becomes Son of Man. The Holy Virgin as the means, dwelling in her and from her fashioning for Himself a temple, and becoming perfect man. Every one of us is called to become a temple of the Holy Spirit, to have as St. Maximus says, God, Christ incarnate within us.

And why is this so? We quote St. Paul, in understanding the great mystery of the incarnation. He says that He might ransom those under the law, and that we might receive sonship. Everything the Lord did and does, incarnation, from then until now, is about our salvation. Everything in the Church that’s of the Church, and for the Church, is for our salvation. It’s all about us being returned to communion, full communion with God. This is our salvation. And this incarnation, this reception of sonship, happened so that we might no longer be slaves. That we might be free, free from the passions, that we might become friends of God. And we might no longer walk according to the flesh, but according to the spirit. These are some of the basic characteristics of our life in Christ, if we are living the life in Christ, and not simply going through the motions. Free of the passions, friends of God, walking according to the spirit, not according to the flesh.

Take your temperature, your spiritual temperature. How are you doing? How are we all doing? Are we free of the passions? Are we slaves to the passions? Are we friends with the world? Do we have friendship with the world? Does the world’s ways and thinking appeal to us? Or the friends of God, the saints, and their way? Is that what inspires us and draws us, and what we love with all our heart, to be and imitate?

Do we have the Spirit of God, which is not simply a virtue, but is all the virtues together? The Spirit comes and dwells in man and gives him everything. It says that we commune of the whole Christ, the Spirit does not split into pieces, so that we might have a bit of him. He dwells in those who are friends of God and free of the passions, and gives those friends of God everything that He can, as much as we allow.

In St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, we read the following, which helps us understand this great mystery: Those who walk according to the flesh, think the things of the flesh. And here he means the flesh – the fallen man, the lustful man, who is ruled by the passions. Those who walk according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit, the thought of the flesh is death, but the thought of the Spirit, life and peace.

And so the thought of the flesh is hostile to God, it is not subject to the law of God. Indeed, it cannot be. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. The thought of the flesh is hostile to God, for it is not subject to the law of God. So here we see where St. Paul says elsewhere, those who are of Christ submit to him. This submission is key.

If we come into Church, and we withhold and stand in judgement of the tradition of the Church, of the teachings of the Fathers, of the teachings of the Gospel, and we say, “well, I’ll accept that, but I won’t accept the other thing. I’ll think about that commandment.” Then we are not subject to the law of God, and we are of the flesh. We are hostile to God.

So this is the power of the mystery in a few words. And this is why we should celebrate spiritually, and behave spiritually, with holiness and justice and love, with gentleness and peace, with forbearance, with goodness, and with the Holy Spirit, as St. Paul says, in this epistle to the Corinthians: So that as far as we ourselves are concerned, we do not render the dispensation of our Lord Jesus Christ empty and ineffectual.

So that is the Great Feast of Annunciation, the first, the beginning of our redemption, a few words on the Great Feast.

I want to go a little bit further and talk about an aspect of the Scriptural readings that we hear on this feast. We see that this mystery does not only pertain to Nazareth, to Bethlehem, to Jerusalem, that is the three years that our Lord walked this earth. The incarnation continues, for Christ continues with us, in His Church, in His body. And in that we are initiated into His body, through Baptism, Chrismation, and the Eucharist, we are initiated into the ever-present, in history, eternal incarnation, where Christ sits with our human nature at the right hand of the Father.

In so far as we are participating in the mysteries, we are already in this eternal mystery of the incarnation, which has begun and will never end, for Christ sits at the right hand of the Father, with our flesh, with our human nature.

The Eucharist, the Divine Liturgy is in heaven. It is not an earthly event. We ascend every time we - those in the Divine Liturgy, all together, every Sunday, all around the world - are all together in the same One Divine Liturgy, the heavenly Liturgy. It is not repeated. It is an event that never ends. It is a one, let’s say one time/not in time, event, not time-bound, not earthly, not fallen, or limited. It is eternal. And we chant that in all the great feasts; liturgically we talk about “today.” “Today” is the day of salvation. “Today” the Lord was born. “Today” he entered the temple, etc. This is the eternal present of the liturgical life. This is why the Divine Liturgy and the Holy Mysteries, and the liturgical life, is a non-negotiable part of our life. It is our life. It is so central. And without it we cease to be Christians, we cease to be disciples of Christ.

It is in the Eucharist, through communion, that we are made a part of the Theanthropic organism, which is His body. We become divine and human members, this Theanthropic, this divine-human reality of God, and with the God-man’s body, we become a part of that.

So of course, any negation of participation in the mystery of the Church, in the Eucharist, is a negation of the very mystery of the continuation of the incarnation in our lives and in history. It is unthinkable.

Let’s listen to what St. Paul says, in his epistle to the Hebrews, which is read on the feast. He says, “for both He Who sanctifieth, and they who are sanctified are of one.” This is really important. This is this communion between God and man, that he came to establish. Then he goes on in verse 14, Hebrews 3:14, and says, “since then the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He also Himself, in like manner partook of the same. In order that through death He might bring to naught the one who hath the power of death. That is the devil.”

Through death, he brings to naught the one that hath the power of death, that is the devil. And might set free those who through fear of death – this is the key phrase – through fear of death through all their lifetime subject to bondage. So this is a sign of the devil’s power. What? Fear of death.

Do Christians fear death? Not if they are true Christians, not if they are truly living out the life in Christ. Not if they are truly initiated into the mystery of the incarnation. Death is no longer something that binds them, that bondage to the devil is no longer present. That’s what separates them from the rest of the world.

So to allow the fear of death to keep us from the unity with the One who has brought to naught the very power of death, is in fact to reverse the incarnation, the economy of salvation, in our lives. Not in terms of its power over the whole world and its reality therein, but for us, insofar as we cut ourselves off from that reality.

This is a key, key point in understanding not only the feast, obviously, but our life in Christ. We remember death. We do not fear it, as Orthodox Christians. We remember it daily because with the remembrance of death, what happens is it is kind of a vaccination, so to speak, against the diseases of worldliness. When you remember that you are leaving shortly, this vain world, then all of those things which could have power over you and allure you, lose their power and their control.

So remembrance of death is absolutely essential, as is remembrance of God. Remember death, remember God. Be in His presence. This is the whole point of the Jesus Prayer, and all the Psalms that were read, and are read, in the monasteries, in ancient days, every day, all the time. They would continually pray. Pray unceasingly, as St. Paul teaches, precisely to not become complacent, to not lose our time, which is for repentance. And a big part of that is remembrance of death, but not fear of death.

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Utilize the Orthodox Ethos Podcast Interactive Transcripts!: https://oe-transcripts.now.sh

For all who would like to economically support the work of The Orthodox Ethos, donations can be made via Paypal at the following link: paypal.me/FrPeterHeers

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