Orthodox Daily Devotional for December 9-15
Colossians 1:12… giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light. 13 He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, 14 in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins. 15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or]principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. 17 And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. 18 And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence.
The Orthodox understanding of the second coming of Christ is clear: The Lord Jesus Christ truly will return. His second advent is not a myth nor an empty promise, nor is it a metaphor. In fact, each time the Divine Liturgy is celebrated, the priest makes a proclamation to the Father that reveals how the Church responds not only to the second coming of Christ, but to all of His work. Orthodox Christians also believe the New Testament revelation of the second coming of Christ is meant to stimulate our preparation for it, not our speculation about it. This explains the relative simplicity with which the Nicene Creed, the most universal confession of faith in all of Christendom, addresses Christ’s return: “He . . . will come again, with glory, to judge the living and the dead, whose Kingdom shall have no end.” The emphasis of historic Orthodoxy is that Jesus will come again, not when He will come again. Thus, St. Paul writes, “denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works” (Tts 2: 12– 14). There are signs of Christ’s coming, to be sure. Jesus prophesied many events that would take place in the world prior to His return (Mt 24; Lk 21: 7– 36). But even these Gospel passages close with Jesus’ exhortation to virtue, righteousness, and preparation for the Judgment. Christ and His apostles issue severe warnings, implicit and explicit, against second-guessing the time of His coming.
The word “theophany” derives from the Greek words theos (“ God”), and phainesthai (“ to show forth, appear”). Hence, a theophany is an appearance or manifestation of God. While types of Christ in the Old Testament prefigure His coming in the flesh, theophanies are recognized by the Church as being actual appearances of the pre-incarnate Son and Word of God. How this happens remains a mystery. But because the Son of God took on human nature in the fullness of time, each theophany directly prefigures Christ’s Incarnation. St. John of Damascus wrote, “No one saw the divine nature, but rather the image and figure of what was yet to come. For the invisible Son and Word of God was to become truly Man.” Three Theophanies of Christ An often cited theophany of Christ occurs in the visit of the “three men” to Abraham and Sarah in Genesis 18: 1– 16: “Then God appeared to him at the oak of Mamre” (v. 1). Though three men are there, Abraham addresses them in the singular, “Lord.” He responds in the singular (vv. 9– 15). As St. Ephraim the Syrian says, “Therefore the Lord . . . now appeared to Abraham clearly in one of the three.” The three are generally considered to be Christ the Lord, along with two attending angels. At Genesis 32: 25– 31, Christ is the “man” who wrestles with Jacob, after which Jacob says, “I saw God face to face” (v. 30). St. Cyril of Jerusalem asks the Jews concerning these theophanies to Abraham and Jacob, “What strange thing do we announce in saying that God was made Man, when you yourselves say that Abraham received the Lord as a guest? What strange thing do we announce, when Jacob says, ‘For I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved’? The Lord, who ate with Abraham, also ate with us.”
In the Book of Daniel, a heathen king bears witness to another theophany of Christ. When King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon peers into the fiery furnace, upon seeing a “fourth man” he exclaims, “The vision of the fourth is like the Son of God” (Dan 3: 92). Other Appearances of God At times Christ appears as “the Angel of the Lord” or “the Angel of God.” At Exodus 3: 1– 4: 17, “the Angel of the Lord” appears to Moses in the burning bush and identifies Himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Ex 3: 6, 15, 16; 4: 5). He also says that His name is “I AM HE WHO IS” (Ex 3: 14), which in Greek is represented by the three letters placed around Christ’s head in the holy icons. St. Ambrose of Milan observes, “Christ therefore is, and always is; for He who is, always is. And Christ always is, of whom Moses says, ‘He that is has sent me.’” The Incarnation When God the Son became incarnate, this can be called an everlasting theophany. For having assumed human nature, Christ not only manifests God to the world during His earthly life (Jn 1: 14; see also but He ascends into heaven in the same glorified flesh in which He will return at His Second Coming (see Acts 1: 9– 11). At the baptism of Christ (Mt 3: 13– 17), a further theophany occurs, as all three Persons of the Holy Trinity are made known: the Father in the voice from heaven, the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove, and the Incarnate Son. Hence, the feast day commemorating this event is known as Holy Theophany. On this day the Church sings, “When Thou, O Lord, wast baptized in the Jordan, the worship of the Trinity was made manifest.” Additionally, at Christ’s Transfiguration on Mt. Tabor (Mt 17: 1– 9), the Father again is heard, the Holy Spirit is present in the brightness of the cloud, and the Son shines with the gleaming radiance of His Divinity.
Deification is the ancient theological word used to describe the process by which a Christian becomes more like God. St. Peter speaks of this process when he writes, “As His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness . . . you may be partakers of the divine nature” (1: 3, 4). What does it mean to partake of the divine nature, and how do we experience this? To give an answer, let us first address what deification is not, and then describe what it is. What deification is not. When the Church calls us to pursue godliness, to be more like God, this does not mean that human beings become divine. We do not become like God in His nature. That would not only be heresy, it would be impossible. For we are human, always have been human, and always will be human. We cannot take on the nature of God. St. John of Damascus makes a remarkable observation. The word “God” in the Scriptures refers not to the divine nature or essence, for that is unknowable. “God” refers rather to the divine energies— the power and grace of God that we can perceive in this world. The Greek word for God, theos, comes from a verb meaning “run,” “see,” These are energy words, so to speak, not essence words. In John 10: 34, Jesus, quoting Psalm 81: 6, repeats the passage, “You are gods.” The fact that He was speaking to a group of hypocritical religious leaders who were accusing Him of blasphemy makes the meaning doubly clear: Jesus is not using “god” to refer to divine nature. We are gods in that we bear His image, not His nature.
What deification is. Deification means we are to become more like God through His grace or divine energies. In creation, humans were made in the image and likeness of God (Gn 1: 26) according to human nature. In other words, humanity by nature is an icon or image of deity: The divine image is in all humanity. Through sin, however, this image and likeness of God was marred, and we fell. When the Son of God assumed our humanity in the womb of the blessed Virgin Mary, the process of our being renewed in God’s image and likeness was begun. Thus, those who are joined to Christ, through faith, in Holy Baptism begin a process of re-creation, being renewed in God’s image and likeness. We become, as St. Peter writes, “partakers of the divine nature” (1: 4). Because of the Incarnation of the Son of God, because the fullness of God has inhabited human flesh, being joined to Christ means that it is again possible to experience deification, the fulfillment of our human destiny. That is, through union with Christ, we become by grace what God is by nature— we “become children of God” (Jn 1: 12). His deity interpenetrates our humanity. Historically, deification has often been illustrated by the example of a sword in the fire. A steel sword is thrust into a hot fire until the sword takes on a red glow. The energy of the fire interpenetrates the sword. The sword never becomes fire, but it picks up the properties of fire. By application, the divine energies interpenetrate the human nature of Christ. When we are joined to Christ, our humanity is interpenetrated with the energies of God through Christ’s glorified flesh. Nourished by the Body and Blood of Christ, we partake of the grace of God— His strength, His righteousness, His love— and are enabled to serve Him and glorify Him. Thus we, being human, are being deified.
Sunday, the Day of Worship: At first, early Jewish Christians continued to observe Sabbath regulations and to worship on the Sabbath (Acts 13: 13– 15, 42– 44; 18: 1– 4). But they also met for the celebration of the Holy Eucharist on Sunday (Acts 20: 7; 1Co 16: 1– 2), called “the Lord’s Day” (Rev 1: 10), since Jesus rose on a Sunday. St. Ignatius of Antioch, in about AD 107, confirms that Sunday was the main day of worship for the early Church: “They have given up keeping the Sabbath, and now order their lives by the Lord’s Day instead— the Day when life first dawned for us, thanks to Him and His death.” St. Constantine the Great, the first Christian emperor, honored the Church’s practice of celebrating the Lord’s Resurrection every Sunday by decreeing, in AD 321, that every Sunday would be a holy day. For Orthodox Christians, Saturday is still the Sabbath, the day on which the Church especially remembers the departed, since Christ rested in the tomb on Great and Holy Saturday. Sunday, the Eighth Day As the day after the seventh day (when God rested from His six days of creation) and as the day of Christ’s Resurrection, Sunday early on came to be understood in a mystical way among Christians as the “Eighth Day.” It was the day “beyond nature and time” (MaxCon), “the beginning of another world” (Barn). “Whether you call it day, or whether you call it eternity, you express the same idea” (BasilG). Fittingly, during the week after Pascha (Easter), called Bright Week, the Church celebrates Pascha for eight days, almost as though it were one continuous day. By tradition, babies are named on the eighth day after birth. And from ancient times, Christian baptisteries and fonts have been built with eight sides, indicating the newly baptized are entering the realm of the Eighth Day, the day of eternal rest (Heb 4: 1– 11) in Christ’s Heavenly Kingdom.