The Gospel on the Firstborn (Part III)


My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,

By Saint Nikolai Velimirovic

This same Angel who had revealed to her the great mystery of her conceiving made haste to speak now in place of the silent Virgin. Explaining, then, to Joseph that which had already come to pass, the Angel of God went further, and explained to him that which was to be: "And she shall bring forth a Son, and thou shalt call His name Jesus; for he shall save His people from their sins." Saint John Chrysostom says: He does not say: "she will bear you a son," but simply "will bear," because she does not bear for him alone, but for the whole world. The Angel told Joseph to behave towards the Newborn as though he were His real father, and he, therefore says: "and thou shalt name Him Jesus." "Jesus" means "Savior", and so the next sentence begins with "for", meaning: "thou shalt name Him "Savior", for He shall save His people from their sins.

The Archangel is God's true messenger. He speaks that which he learns from God; he does see Truth in God. For him, nature with all its laws is as though it did not exist. He knows only the almighty power of the Living God, as Adam once knew it. In saying: "He shall save His people from their sins", the Archangel foretold the greatest of Christ's acts. Christ was to come and save men, not from some external evil but from the greatest evil, from sin, that is the source of all the evil in the world. He is to save the tree of humanity, not from a host of caterpillars that descend on it one year, but from the worm at its roots, from which the whole tree withers. He comes, not to save mankind from men, or people from peoples, but to save all men and all peoples from Satan, the sower and lord of sin. He comes, not like the Maccabee brothers, or Barabbas or Bar-Kohba, to stir up rebellion against the Romans, who has descended like a host of caterpillars on the Israelite people to devastate them, but like an immortal and universal Doctor, before whose coming the Israelites and the Romans, the Greeks and the Egyptians, and all the peoples on earth, sick and more than sick, were fading away from one and the same virus --from sin. Christ was later perfectly to fulfill the Archangel's prediction. "Thy sins are forgiven" was His victorious pronouncement throughout the whole of His earthly Ministry among men. These words contained both the diagnosis of the sickness and the medicine. Sin the diagnosis of the sickness; the forgiveness of sins: the medicine. And Joseph was the first of mortal men in the New Creation to be made worthy to know the real purpose of the Messiah's coming, and the True nature of His Ministry.

That which the Archangel has told Joseph up to now is enough for the latter, in obedience to this new and direct command from God, to break off his thoughts and also his plan to put Mary away. Heaven commands--Joseph obeys. But it is not heaven's usual way to give commands to men without an appeal to their understanding and free response. It was, from the beginning, God's will that man act as a free being. In freedom, in man's free decision, rests all the beauty of man's being. Without freedom, man would only be an artificial, mechanical things of God's making, held and activated by God solely by his will and power. There are plenty of such things made by God in nature, but He destined a special place for man, giving him freedom to decide for God or against Him, for life or for death. A position full of honor, and at the same time full of danger. The command that God gives to Adam is not, therefore, just a simple one: "Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it", and God immediately adds: "or in the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die" (Genesis 2:16-17). In this last sentence, God gives man a reason for his understanding, and a motive for his will, not to eat of the forbidden tree--"for in the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die." The Angel acts in the same way now with Joseph. Having given this command to take and not put her away, and having explained that the fruit of her virgin womb was of the Holy Spirit, the Archangel reminds Joseph of the clear prophecy by the great prophet: "Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Emmanuel" (Isaiah 7:14). And Saint Matthew adds this further clarification: "which being interpreted is "God with us."

That which has already been said: "And thou shalt call His name Jesus", does not stand in opposition to what is said here: "and shall call his name Emmanuel; which being interpreted is: "God with us." In the first case, Joseph is told to give Him the name Jesus (Savior), and in the second case, it is stated that the young Child shall be called, by peoples and nations, Emmanuel (God with us). The one name and the other, each in its way, gives profound expression to the reason for Christ's coming into the world and His ministry within it. He will come to forgive sins, to have mercy on men and save them from sin, and so will be called the Savior--Jesus. "Who can forgive sins but God only?" (Saint Mark 2:17). No one in the world: non one either in heaven or on earth has the right to forgive sins and save from sin but God Himself, for sin is the worm at the heart of this world's sickness. No one knows the abysmal horror of sin as God, Who is sinless; and no one can dig out the worm of sin but God. So, as Jesus forgave sin and thus made men whole, He is God among men. If one were to place the names in order of causality, the name "Emmanuel" would come before the name "Jesus." For the Newborn to be able to carry out the work of salvation. He had to be Emmanuel--to come as God among us. But, whichever way round, they have the same meaning: Emmanuel is the Savior, and the Savior is Emmanuel. In any case, one thing is clearer than anything in this world if God does not come into it, and there is no salvation in this world if God does not come into it, and that there is neither healing nor salvation for us men if God is not with us, not as some idea or lovely dream, but with us as we are--with a soul as we have, a body as we have, in poverty and suffering as we are and finally in that in which we are most different from God--death as we are.

Therefore, every faith that teaches that God did not come in the flesh and that He cannot come in the flesh, is false, as it presents God as both weak and uncaring: it presents Him as a stepmother, and not as a mother. It presents Him as weak because it always keeps Him back from the greatest battle--the battle with Satan, sin, and death. Satan must be bound; the first growth of sin must be uprooted from the human soul; the snake's tongue of death must be crushed--a labor must be undertaken that is greater and harder than that of Atlas in bearing the world on his shoulders. Our God fought this battle and did so victoriously. Men of other faiths fear, even in thoughts, to allow their gods such a battle, in which their opponents might be victorious. What sort of a mother would it be who would not bend down to the earth out of love for her child, to comfort it, rock it and croon over it? And how much the more if the child were in danger of fire or wild beasts? O Lord, forgive us such questions! How couldest Thou be the compassionate Creator of the world and not have come down in Thy mercy among us? How couldest Thou, only from a misty and painless distance, have looked on out wretchedness and placed no cool finger on us in the flames nor moved into the den where we are attacked by wild beasts? In truth, Thou hast come down among us, even lower than any sort of earthly love demands. Thou didst drink of the cup of all Thy creatures' suffering, sharing with none this cup of bitter communion, but Thyself draining it. Thou art, therefore, Our Savior, for Thou hast been God among us: Thou has been God among us because Thou wast able to be Our Savior. Glory to Thee, O Jesus Our Emmanuel! (Source: Orthodox Heritage)

(To be continued)


"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!"--Saint John Chrysostom


With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George