Icons of Theophany in Genesis

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving¹ over the face of the waters.

– Genesis 1:1-2

[H]e sent forth the dove out of the ark; and the dove came back to him in the evening, and lo, in her mouth a freshly plucked olive leaf so Noah knew that the waters had subsided from the earth.

– Genesis 8:9-11

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 And when Jesus was baptized, he went up immediately from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and alighting on him;  and lo, a voice from heaven, saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

– Matthew 3:16-17

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¹The Hebrew verb has been translated “hovering” or “moving” (as a bird over her young, see Deut 32:11). The Syriac cognate term means “to brood over; to incubate.”  Excerpt from footnote found here: https://bible.org/netbible/

In the footnote for Genesis 1:2 we see that the author uses the word for moving or hovering to image the movement of the Holy Spirit or the Breath of God. This is the first critical image of our meditation. The second is the root of the name Adam. “The noun ‘Adam’ is…the masculine form of the word adamah which means “ground” or “earth”. It is related to the words: adom (red), admoni (ruddy), and dam (blood).” Wikipedia

Key words and images: water, Spirit/breath/wind, dove, hovering bird, Adam, earth, Baptism, Chrismation

We see in Genesis several icons prefiguring the Baptism of our Lord. The primordial waters on the face of the earth and the cleansing flood water. The Spirit of God moving as a bird over the waters and the dove flying out to look for the dry earth as the waters recede. In both the genesis and flood narratives we see the waters recede and dry land emerge (Gen. 1:9-10 and 8:9).

At the Baptism of Christ we see the same images – the waters and the dove. My favorite image or perhaps favorite connection is that of Christ as the New Adam imaged in Genesis by the earth. Adam, the man — made of earth and vivified by the Holy Spirit. Christ the New Adam emerges from the waters like the dray lands in Genesis and the Spirit like the form of the dove alighting upon Him of whom the Father says “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

Brothers and sisters, let us remember Christ’s words to his disciples, the Great Commission, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” Mat. 28:19-10

We are baptized into Christ we have put on Christ! We are sealed with the Holy Spirit! And as ones adopted unto sonship we call upon The Father as Our Father!

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The Humility of Christ: Two Icons

And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. -Luke 2:7

The definition of humility in Wikipedia opens with this line:     “Humility (adjectival form: humble) is variously seen as the act or posture of lowering one self in relation to others…”

Let us ponder the humility of God the Son, who became flesh of the Virgin. As He was born in a cave and laid in a manger, His incarnation is an act of lowering. One of the hymns of Nativity illustrates this beautifully:

imageToday, He who holds the whole creation in His hand
is born of a virgin.
He whose essence none can touch
is bound in swaddling-clothes as a mortal man.
God who in the beginning fashioned the heavens
lies in a manger.
He who rained manna on His people in the wilderness
is fed on milk from His mother’s breast.
The Bridegroom of the Church summons the wise men.
The Son of the Virgin accepts their gifts.
We worship Thy Nativity, O Christ!
We worship Thy Nativity, O Christ!
We worship Thy Nativity, O Christ!
Show us also Thy glorious Theophany!

What a lovely icon this hymn is! But this is just the beginning of His lowering. Christ not only descends from on high to become a man, but completes His life in total humility – the humility of the Cross. The hymn from Holy Week, which corresponds to our Nativity hymn reads:

imageToday, He who hung the earth upon the waters
Is hung upon the tree.
The King of angels
Is decked with a crown of thorns.
He who wraps the heavens in a cloud
Is wrapped in the purple of mockery.
He who freed Adam in the Jordan
Is slapped in the face.
The Bridegroom of the Church
Is affixed to the cross with nails.
The Son of the Virgin is pierced with a spear.
We worship Thy Passion, O Christ!
We worship Thy Passion, O Christ!
We worship Thy Passion, O Christ!
Show us also Thy glorious Resurrection!

The Blameless One is hung upon the cross as one deserving of blame. This is the completion of His lowering: total humility even unto death, an undeserved death.

To return to our Wikipedia definition, it continues with a converse perspective on humility: “…having a clear perspective, and therefore respect, for one’s place in context.”

Let us have a clear perspective of ourselves brothers and sisters. May we be humble in all things, like the Lord, remembering that in His humiliation He was exalted. The Cross is a symbol of triumph now and this is why we also celebrate the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross: “for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” –Luke 14:11

Article 2: Humility

“Salvation begins and ends with humility”  – Saint John Chrysostom

humilityAs discussed in Article 1: Pride, humility is the cure,  just as the saint said. When pride rules our emotions and actions, the world around us changes. It seems as if even God becomes distant, and, in a sense, that may be true. It is well-known among monastics that there are periods when God takes a step back for this very purpose, to remind us of our dependence on Him, to humble us. But what about the distance we feel in our state of pride?

One night, in a drunken haze, I was walking past a church, and began pounding on the door. As I beat my fists I railed against God, asking where He was, “Why can’t I see You?” That was a moment I look back on with a bit of tender fondness. It was a small light in a life otherwise devoid of anything real. In my state of complete self-absorption it was a blessing from the curse. Had I not been there, at that moment, and in that state, I may never have come to understand just how broken I was; why I was feeling so alone. In that moment the seed was planted. God had not turned away from me, I had turned away from God. For me this was the beginning of humility.

In the book of Proverbs we find a number of very simple, very plain statements about humility. Let’s take one for example, 29:23 which states “Arrogance humbles a man, but the Lord supports the humble-minded with glory.” Huh? How does that make any sense? Well, to put it plainly, what happens when you fall? You land. In recovery programs it’s called “rock bottom”, the end of the line. It’s the point at which we see very plainly our impending doom, and decide whether to live or die. At that moment one of two things can happen: we look up and see our lowliness; we humble ourselves, or we refuse to see the depths, and dig deeper into our grave. It’s not the fall that kills us, it’s the injury. A wounded pride, folks, can kill us. But, just as the proverb implies, God allows us this arrogance, that we may learn humility, so that He may raise us up. So, we have gotten prideful, fallen away from reality, and are presented with the chance to humble ourselves before God. How do we learn humility? I’m glad you asked.

“Therefore, humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting your care upon Him, for He cares for you.” -1 Peter 5:6-7

The humble are unpretentious, modest. They are meek. By yielding all rights and possessions to The Lord, by responding properly to anger, by simple patience waiting to be heard instead of demanding, humility begins to take hold. Virtue comes with this cost. Our due diligence in this area may earn us God’s blessings, the true treasures of His kingdom. Honor, wisdom, unity, eternal life. Here on earth, we can manifest these gifts in our service to one another, taking the seat in the back. Humility manifests a calm spirit. It opens us up to God, and allows truth to penetrate us. Through prayer fasting, and good works (there it is again!) the old self falls away, and we are made new. We become an asset. We become the children God wants us to be.

The world doesn’t want us humble. the world wants consumers, takers, sinners of the finest caliber. TV, film, the internet, inundates us with enticing images of our selfish desires. Our only hope is to look up, and accept the humility that God has granted us. Only then can we hope to be lifted by His mighty and loving hand.

Humility, dear brothers and sisters, is Theosis distilled. It is the beginning, and the end.

Article 1: Pride

Pride[In this series of 14 articles, I hope to look into the 7 grievous sins, and 7 capital virtues. Since every sin has a virtue to combat it, one will follow the other. (Hopefully, this will keep the writer from falling too far into a state of self-dejection and deepening acedia.)]

Dear brothers and sisters, pray for me, a sinner. Today, my sin is Pride.

Here’s a bit of history:

Pride, as listed in the seven grievous sins, is the product of the amalgamation of the previous list by the monk Avagarius (4th century AD), derived from Hubris, and Boasting. Thank you, Saint Gregory! These days we see pride in two forms, and for our purpose here, we will focus more on the spiritual aspect, that being of inwardly directed emotion, inflated sense of self, and outward expression.

Today it is not at all uncommon to see pride all around us, hanging on walls, flashing from the screen, dripping down off of people’s very flesh. It’s the prime “virtue” promoted by the secular society we live in. “Let your freak flag fly”. Every media outlet tells us this. Gay and proud! Gun owner, and proud! Proud to be an American! We are told to be proud of our looks (and ashamed if they are not to a prideful standard), to show it with our accumulated material goods. Nice car, nice clothes, nice hair, etc. Who among us doesn’t look in the mirror every day to assess our selves, and groom and clothe accordingly?  Then again, where do we draw the line?

Pride, as some may know, is usually the source of all other sin. It is the voice of the enemy telling us that not only do all these things matter, but are of the utmost importance. We develop a high self-esteem, we think we are so great, and it begins. “Pride comes before the fall”. Just ask Satan. He was the first. And he wants us to follow him. So, with our inflated, sometimes bloated, ego, we commence to lust for things, we get greedy, possessive, and defensive to a fault. We begin to feel that we are above reproach, and become angry with any one who defies our thinking. Through it all, we boast, and boast, and boast. We are so this, that, or the other.  Pride has become the first step to spiritual death.

“Wherever arrogance enters, there also is dishonor, but the mouth of the humble meditates on wisdom.” – Proverbs 11:2

When we fall victim to pride, we stop caring. The opinions and views of others become more annoying, and in a rage we lash out. We become bigots, racists, elitists. We ignore Gods wisdom, we pay no attention at all. We forget who we really are. Not to say that all of us are doomed to fall to the lowest depths of this sin, but we all have our moments.  For example, when in the choir at church, or when I’m reading the Hours, more often than not, I have to stop and realign myself. I begin singing too loud, boom too much. Puffing my feathers, as it where. “I’m a trained singer, by golly, and you need to know it.” No, no you don’t. In those moments, I have to hang my head, and start again. Lower my voice, dial back the bravado. I cross myself, and ask God for another shot. No joke, this happens EVERY SUNDAY. I am beginning to see why so many priests have a slight bow to their posture.

In Dante’s Inferno, penitents of pride walk around with stone slabs on their backs to keep their heads bowed. So, what’s our slab? Assuming we are, in fact, penitent for this sin, how do we combat it in our daily lives, how does it SHOW? As we all know (I hope!) the cure for sin is a triple-decker sandwich of prayer, fasting, and good works. Yet, there in is a virtue we can practice, a discipline, a rule we can live by to destroy our pride, and return to God…

HUMILITY

God-bearers

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None of these things is hid from you, if ye perfectly possess that faith and love towards Christ Jesus which are the beginning and the end of life. For the beginning is faith, and the end is love. Now these two, being inseparably connected together, are of God, while all other things which are requisite for a holy life follow after them. No man [truly] making a profession of faith sinneth; nor does he that possesses love hate any one. The tree is made manifest by its fruit; so those that profess themselves to be Christians shall be recognised by their conduct. For there is not now a demand for mere profession, but that a man be found continuing in the power of faith to the end.

– Ignatius to the Ephesians 14

Many are the commentaries on faith and works. This will not be one. Let us instead ponder the connection drawn between faith and love in both 1st John and Ignatius’ letter to the Ephesians.

In his letter Ignatius unifies faith and love in Christ. Faith is the beginning of life love is the end – the purpose. Ignatius ends the chapter exhorting the reader to continue in the of the “power of faith”. We find something like this in 2Tim 3:5 where the author warns against those who hold the form of religion but deny the power of it. This power of faith is manifest in love. Faith leads us to love. John writes “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God… God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God.” This is the heart of Christian life – to abide in God and God in us.

Brothers and sisters let us emulate St. Ignatius and be bearers of God.