The following summary of the mystery of the economy by the renowned theologian of our times, Protopresbyter and Professor Emeritus of the University of Athens, Fr. George Metallinos is an appropriate post at this time of the year, as we have arrived at the great feast of the Nativity in the flesh of our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ.
Of special interest to me is His statement that “Christ was born free from all the consequences of sin, suffering and death,” which confirms the thesis of my book, “Jesus: Fallen?” namely, Christ assumed our human nature, free from sin and its consequences (corruption, suffering and death), but voluntarily and in total freedom allowed the blameless passions to act on His deified humanity not out of necessity, but by exercising total control over them. [Fr. EH]
by Protopresbyter Fr. George D. Metallinos
Originally published in Orthodoxos Typos, on Dec. 18, 2015
Translated from Greek by Fr. Emmanuel Hatzidakis
Modern man, tired from the various celebrations that typically end up fulfilling societal conventions, faces Christmas without approaching it internally. Most people, even the otherwise religious ones, see Christmas as a big family feast, which offers the opportunity to bring together scattered family members around Christ laying in the manger, under the Christmas tree that came out of the closet to be decorated in a corner of our house for a few days. But today, each one of us is called to ask himself the question: What does Christmas mean to me? One makes personal a broader question: “Why did God become man?” —a question that occupied the greatest minds of history.
“… so we might receive adoption as sons” (Gal. 4:5)
Christmas is the birth of the eternal God from a human being, a Mother, the Virgin Mary, which marks the entrance of God into history. What the sages of the world could not approach, even with their imagination, in a given time became reality. The uncreated God becomes what He was not, for our salvation. He whom the entire universe could not contain is “contained in a womb.” The infinite God is self-confined within the human nature He received from the most pure Theotokos. In the language of our holy Fathers this is called “condescension.” God condescends. He who is beyond every size and measurement becomes small. The inconceivable by any power of our senses is felt and becomes tangible and visible. Why? — To enter into communion with us. God communicates with us in our own language, to enable us to accept Him and understand Him. Had He spoken the language of heaven, we could not understand Him; therefore He speaks our language, the earthly language (Jn. 3:12).
Man was created “in the image” of Christ. Man’s standard (his “archetype”) was Christ, as God-man. Man ought to have elevated himself to this “archetype,” by purifying himself and by loving God so much, that God would come and dwell in him and manifest Himself in history as God-man. The fall of man was the derailment from this course. But God’s love corrects man’s failure, so He accomplishes what man had failed to achieve. When the appointed time of the incarnate economy had come, God sent forth His Son (see Gal. 4:4), which means: God himself came “of His own free will,” as the poet of the Akathist Hymn will say so aptly, to “redeem” us from the curse of the Law and to grant us the adoption. The Incarnate God was “born under the law,” He was circumcised, and performed everything required by the Old Testament Law, and fulfilled (Mt. 5:17) the entire Law, staying away from any sin. Thus the Lord remained out of the curse of the Law, which says: “Cursed be he who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them” (Deut. 27:26). Thus He fulfilled the entire Law, rescuing us from the curse of the Law, since we could never keep all its commandments. By freeing us from the curse of the Law and by uniting us with Himself with the Holy Baptism, He grants us the adoption, and renders us children of God by grace. Our adoption, then, our union with Christ, our deification, is the purpose of His incarnation. This is the only “destiny” of man, the only purpose of our lives.
Foundation of our salvation
With His incarnation “from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary” our Christ was born free from all the consequences of sin, suffering and death. But as out of His love for humanity He became incarnate, so out of love He accepted to assume the consequences of our sin: suffering and death.
He assumed the whole human reality, apart from sin itself. This He did to crush our sin and its consequences, to His death, in His human nature. This is why Christ accepted to arrive at the passion of the Cross. This is why loaded with our sins He descended to Hades. He went down to the last step of our fall, to put to death our sin on His Cross, to bury it in the depths of Hades, and to brilliantly raise our human nature, all enlightened, lifting it up to the kingdom of the Triune God with His Ascension. So here is why Orthodoxy is not limited to the sentimentalities that the cross and the passion of Christ generate, as it happens outside the Church—because the foundation of our salvation is the incarnation of the Divine Word. Without the Incarnation and Christ’s Nativity, His crucifixion, death and resurrection would be inconceivable. St. Maximos the Confessor says that the Incarnation of the Word of God “is the blessed end for which all things were created.” In other words, all creation was made for the Incarnation, since the deification of man and the sanctification of the world is the sole purpose of creation.
Participation in salvation
The divine Logos with His incarnation united in His Person the created with the uncreated, God with man. But what happened to the individual human nature of Christ, also happens to everyone’s. With His incarnation Christ united us all with Him. With our baptism we participate in the fact of the Incarnation, we are implanted in the deified human nature of our Christ, in order to be buried (die) with Him, and resurrect with Him. But to make our salvation complete, our person (our ego, our will) must also be united with Christ. And this happens when we are purified from our passions, and let the Holy Spirit dwell within us. The Apostle Paul reminds us of this. Proof that we have become worthy to be “sons” (children) of God is the presence of the Holy Spirit within us, who prays in our hearts (Gal. 4:6). It is the “noetic prayer” or “prayer of the heart,” about which speak our holy Fathers. With the grace and synergy of the Holy Spirit we remain united to Christ, and our entire life is sanctified. With the grace of the Holy Spirit we participate in the salvation in Christ; we are saved; we are deified. The life of the Church is a continuous struggle of the faithful to remain in the grace of God, to have within us the Holy Spirit, to sanctify our entire life, personal and social—to transform our whole life to the life of Christ.