January 12, 2014

Homily on the Circumcision of the Lord (excerpt)

By Saint Dimitry of Rostov

“When the Archangel Gabriel descended from heaven and appeared to the most pure Virgin Mary, he made known that her Son would be called thus; whereupon, she consented to the tidings and cried, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word” (Luke 1). And immediately, the Word of God assumed flesh and took up His dwelling in her immaculate, most sacred womb. At His circumcision, the Name disclosed by the herald before the Virgin conceived was formally given to Christ the Lord to announce the coming of our salvation. Jesus means salvation, as the same angel explained to Joseph in a dream, saying, Thou shalt call His Name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins (Matt. 1). Similarly, the Apostle Peter declared, There is none other Name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved (Acts 4). The saving Name of Jesus was reserved by the pre-eternal counsel of the Holy Trinity for our salvation, and on this day the righteous Joseph brings it forth like a priceless pearl from heaven's treasury, so that it may be used to redeem the whole human race. In it are revealed the hidden and secret things of God's wisdom (Ps. 50). It shines on the world like the sun, as the prophet tells us: “To you that fear My Name shall the Sun of Righteousness arise.” It fills creation with the fragrance of myrrh, as it is written: “Thy Name is ointment poured forth” (Song of Sol. 1). It is poured out and no longer hidden. So long as myrrh is kept enclosed in a jar, its aroma is trapped, but when the seal is broken fragrance fills the air. Similarly, while Jesus' Name remained spoken only in pre-eternal counsels, its power remains unknown, sealed as it were, in a jar. When the infant's blood was spilled during circumcision, however, it descended from heaven to earth like the sweet-smelling myrrh of grace. Now every tongue confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Phil. 2).

The power of Jesus' wondrous Name has been revealed, causing angels to marvel, mankind to rejoice, and demons to tremble; for the devils also believe, and tremble (James 22). Hades is shaken by this Name; the foundations of the abyss are undermined; the prince of darkness flees; idols are toppled; the gloom of idolatry is dispelled; and the light of piety is shed abroad, illumining every man that cometh into the world (John 21). Every knee of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth (Phil. 22) bows at the sound of Jesus' most glorious Name. It is become our powerful weapon against adversaries; therefore, Saint John of the Ladder counsels, "Flog the adversaries incessantly with the Name of Jesus; there is no weapon more powerful in heaven or on earth" (The Ladder of Divine Ascent, 15). How sweet is this precious Name to those that seek and love Jesus Christ! Jesus is their sole desire, their only delight. How beloved is this all-holy Name to Jesus' servants and prisoners, captives of His love! Jesus is in their thoughts, Jesus is upon their lips. With the heart they believe in Jesus unto righteousness; with the mouth they confess Jesus unto salvation (Rom. 10). Whether they are sitting or walking - whatever they may be doing - Jesus is before their eyes. I determined not to know anything among, you, save Jesus, (I Cor. 2) says the Apostle. For the man who cleaves to His Name, Jesus is the mind's enlightenment, the soul's adornment, strength of body, happiness of soul, a helper in afflictions, joy amid sorrows, the healing of illnesses, consolation in misfortunes, hope of salvation, and a welcome recompense.

In days of old, relates Jerome, God's Name was inscribed on a golden plate worn on the High Priest's forehead; now the divine Name of Jesus is marked in letters of blood spilled at the circumcision. It is written not on gold plaques, but on the hearts and lips of the Saviour's  servants. Thus Christ testified regarding the Apostle Paul, He is a chosen vessel unto Me, to bear My Name. (Acts 9) Sweetest Jesus wishes His Name to be held like sweet food in a vessel, for verily, He is sweet to all who partake of Him lovingly. It says of Him in the Psalms, O taste and see that the Lord is good (Ps. 33). Having tasted His sweetness, the prophet cried, I will love thee, O Lord, my strength, (Ps. 17) and the Holy Apostle Peter exclaimed, Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed Thee, (Matt. 19) to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life (John 6). Having tasted His sweetness, the holy martyrs feared neither bitter torments nor bitterest death, but shouted, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or sword, (Rom. 8) or death, or life? For love is strong as death? (Song of Sol. 8)

What material was used for the receptacle which holds the ineffable sweetness of Jesus' Name? Certainly gold, tried in the furnace of afflictions and sorrows. The vessel is adorned with precious stones, the wounds Jesus adorned on our behalf, and proclaims as it were with human voice, I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus. (Gal. 6) The sacred Name of Jesus requires a suitable receptacle, such as is worthy to hold the sweetness, the most precious contents. Not by chance does Jesus bleed on the day He is Named. He wishes the container holding His Name to be dyed crimson. No sooner had He claimed the Apostle Paul as His chosen vessel, than He declared, I will show him how great things he must suffer for My Name’s sake. (Acts 9) “Behold My bloody, wounded vessel!” proclaims the Lord regarding His sufferer, who resists unto blood, striving against sin. (Heb. 12) On his flesh the Name of Jesus is painfully engraved in blood-red letters.

We lovingly praise and fervently revere Thy sweetest and most holy Name, O most sweet, All-compassionate Jesus! We fall prostrate before the blood that dripped at Thy circumcision, O Thou Who art at once a blameless child and the perfect Lord. For the sake of Thine exalted Name, of Thy most precious Blood, and of Thine immaculate Mother, who bore Thee without corruption, do Thou shed upon us Thy rich mercy. Sweeten our hearts with Thy presence, O Jesus. Keep and preserve Thy servants, and receive us into Thy Kingdom, that with angels we may hymn and glorify Thy most honorable and majestic Name forever. Amen.”

The Great Collection of the Lives of Saints, Vol. 5, Chrysostom Press, 2002.

January 2, 2014

Holy Fathers on the Name of God: St. John Chrysostom

“Holy and fearful is His Name” (Ps. 110:9), that is, it is worthy of wonder and awe... And in what way is His Name holy and fearful? Demons are in fear of it and illnesses flee from it. With this Name the Apostles conquered the whole universe; David was victorious over the alien using it instead of a weapon; by means of it are done many mighty deeds; by means of it we perform the Mysteries. Considering, therefore, how many wonders His Name achieves, how many benefits, how it confounds His opponents, how it gives security to Hos own, and pondering the things that surpass natural logic and defy human reason, he says "holy and fearful is His Name." And if it is holy, it requires holy mouths for singing praise, holy and pure.

St. John Chrysostom, Commentary on Psalm 110