Daily Meditations

The Twenty-Third Day of Christmas Advent: The Eternal Mystery

By Fr John Breck, December 2, 2004

I’m sorry this column can’t be accompanied by sound. One of the most precious components of Orthodox Christianity, perhaps especially in the Russian tradition, is its store of melodies to liturgical hymns that are heartbreakingly beautiful. I just came across a fine example, tucked away in the iTunes folder of this laptop. It’s a contemporary variant of a hymn sung normally at Annunciation, composed by Fr Paul Jannakos. It was recorded last summer by an impromptu family quartet: simple, no frills, and lovely beyond words. The version they sang was this:

The eternal mystery is revealed today:
God the Word of God becomes the Son of Mary the Virgin.
Gabriel heralds the Annunciation of joy.
Let us cry with him: Rejoice, O Mother of our God!

At one time or another, most of us become frustrated with what we perceive to be the stultifying inertia or irrational zeal that can seize our clergy, hierarchs and “influential laypeople.” We deplore the obstacles thrown up in the way of ecclesial unity and the establishment of a truly “local,” self-governing Church. Some of us become exasperated over disputes between authorities of our various jurisdictions, or money-mismanagement by our bishops and diocesan treasurers, or authoritarian decision-making or an absence of decision-making, or priest-transfers made willy-nilly and not made when they need to be made, or misbehavior on the part of those who should know better. Others among us, with a more highly developed social conscience, complain that we Orthodox spend too much time liturgizing and hobnobbing with one another, when the world in its appalling spiritual poverty so desperately needs to be fed, clothed, visited and healed.

It would be a shame, though, and even sinful, to forget or underestimate the extraordinary treasure that remains so often hidden in the field of our tradition. Moreover, we need very much to hold things in perspective. While we squabble about jurisdictions, finances and matters of ecclesial authority—all of which are doubtless serious and important concerns—most of the rest of Christendom is caught up in doctrinal uncertainty and moral ambiguity to the point that increasing numbers are jumping ship from the traditions of their youth. While we raise questions about what, if any, “secret” prayers are to be said aloud, many people of Christian background are “imaging and imagining” a dual-gendered God, or dismissing as myth the divinity of Christ, or laughing at the Virgin Birth, or militantly defending “reproductive rights” that include infanticide. Our real sin in the midst of all of this would be to leave the treasure of Orthodoxy buried in that field.

In this Nativity season we have an exceptional opportunity to proclaim to the world, including to other Christians, that, indeed, the eternal mystery has been revealed: that the eternal Word of God, who is Himself God, has become the Son of Mary, the Virgin, and that He has done so for our sake, out of His inexhaustible love for us and His insatiable desire for our salvation.

In our own life, and in the celebrations of our parish communities, we can step back and relive that mystery to the full. We can celebrate the Compline and other services of the Feast, not out of habit or some sense of “responsibility,” but because those services give us access to the mystery as nothing else can. They enfold us in the reality of Christ’s incarnation so that we “remember” it in the profound biblical sense of the word: we relive and partake of it. We take that mystery into ourselves, we allow our minds and hearts to be reshaped by it, and thereby we find it to be the unique and glorious way to liberty and life.

If it is appropriate to recall an Annunciation hymn during the season of Christ’s Nativity, it is because the mystery of the Son of God is all embracing. It fills all the time and space of our lives with His presence. And this presence is reactualized, relived liturgically. To celebrate one Feast is to celebrate them all. There is no separation, no hiatus, between Annunciation and Nativity, or between Nativity and Pascha. Today, as at every feast (and every day is festal) we celebrate, “remember” and thus relive the one great and awesome Mystery of God’s eternal love and our eternal salvation.

So today, in this Christmas season, we celebrate the inestimable gift—the priceless “treasure in the field”—of that mystery. We do so for ourselves, and we do so for those around us, Christians and others, who find themselves adrift in a sea of moral confusion and radical unbelief.

With the angel Gabriel, we herald the glad tidings, the Annunciation of joy, that Christ Is Born! We proclaim to one another and to the whole world that the eternal Word of God has—in fact, in all reality—become the Son of the Virgin, that in Him God has truly visited His people to grant them life. And with the Mother of God, together with the heavenly host and the saints of every age, we rejoice. We rejoice and we celebrate, with tears and with boundless thanksgiving.

~Orthodox Church in America (OCA), https://www.oca.org/reflections/fr.-john-breck/the-eternal-mystery1.


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