Saturday, January 07, 2006


«Δόξα τω θεώ εν υψίστοις και επί γης ειρήνη, εν ανθρώποις ευδοκία» sang the angels at the birth of Christ, according to the Gospel of St Luke. The peace that the angels praised was not merely a social or temporal peace, the absence of war, but the incarnation and presence of Christ. Thus the angels were hymning a peace which arrived upon the earth with the Birth of Christ and not merely a future or possible peace. For by His incarnation, Christians believe that Christ gave man peace with his God, his neighbour and himself, precisely because through the birth of Christ, the divine nature was united with the human nature in His person. As a result of this great condescension, mankind is given the possibility to be restored to its true, original nature, before the error that brought about the fall. Thus the peace spoken of by the angels is considered also to be an inner peace, for in Christ, mankind achieved that which Adam failed to do. Adam had to attain full communion with God by the grace of God and his own personal struggle, the powers of his soul had to function naturally and supernaturally. This was achieved in Christ.
The second phrase sung by the angels, “good will towards men,” suggests that the incarnation was previously willed by God. Thus, man’s union with God would not have been able to succeed if there had not been a particular person in whom the divine would unite hypostatically with his human nature. Therefore, the incarnation is not a consequence of Adam’s fall. What followed from the fall was the Passion and Crucifixion of Christ. The incarnation of Christ however, is held to be the end of creation. The whole creation and man came into being for the God-man. Thus, man could not have been deified and creation sanctified, had it not been for the incarnation of the God-man, that is Christ Theanthropos. The very thought that God could condescend to unite mankind with Him in such a way is awe-inspiring.
In addition to the Shepherds and the angels, the first persons to also worship the newborn Christ were the magi or wise men of the East. The important thing is not when this happened, but that they discovered Christ. Essentially, God was revealed to them, something which did not occur to the Scribes and Pharisees, comprising the religious establishment of those times. The magi recognized Christ and worshipped Him because of their ‘inner knowledge.’ With their physical eyes, with their sight, they beheld an infant, but with their nous, they saw God who had become man. Thus the magi were in a spiritual state suitable for seeing and worshipping God. This was not a matter of science but of inner noetic purity.
Sadly, when these images of unparalleled beauty, meaning, hope and majesty are juxtaposed against the doings of our world leaders and especially those of the conservative fringe who would have as believe that they espouse ‘Christian’ values cause them not to pale in significance but to cause one to wonder how it is that such a significant event in the Christian calendar can fail to move and inspire. Last year in particular, was a very trying one for humanity. The after-effects of Encheladus’ wrath in the tsunami afflicted areas of South East Asia and earthquake afflicted Kashmir proved not only how powerless and insignificant we are but also how magnificent we can be when motivated by philanthropy. Australians opened their hearts out to the afflicted and though many of them still live in misery, their contribution, as well as the Greeks’ inspiring assistance to Sri Lanka, is something to feel proud of.
Unfortunately, by the end of the same year, this climate of brotherhood and co-operation had largely been dispelled. The Cronulla race riots introduced into this country, a manifestation of long-simmering resentment: hatred and violence against the other. All of a sudden, from a pluralistic and cohesive society, we manifested ourselves as insular, suspicious, fragmented and hateful, with disaffected muslim youths in Sydney harassing the innocent and racist rednecks intent upon ‘reclaiming’ Australia for themselves and forgetting under what circumstances their ancestors’ conquered this country in the first place, committing acts of violence upon those of ethnic origin and through their various threats to ‘bash all wogs,” terrorizing a significant proportion of the Australian community. What is especially lamentable in this circumstance, is the PM’s insistence in glossing over the ethnic hostility that has been cultivated by the “Global war on terror” and glibly seeking to re-package the issue as one merely of law and order. A good many people in Australia will have spent Christmas and New Year wondering what has happened to the myth of the easy-going society they have taken for granted for so long. For others, especially refugees who have arrived here after experiencing persecution and violence in their countries of origin, the coincidence of the festive season with racial strife will have added salt to their wounds, reinforcing their conviction, that they are not welcome anywhere.
The past year also saw the passage of legislation in Federal Parliament that potentially harbours onerous and damaging consequences for more vulnerable members of Australian society. The amendments to the Workplace Relations Act which render the playing field between employee and employer decidedly tilted in favour of the latter and renders employees more vulnerable to exploitation, the abolition of compulsory VSU legislation, projected legislative amendments for the unemployed that remind one of the Poor Laws of 1834 that saw the destitute committed to workhouses for a pittance, along with sedition laws that come dangerously close to similar laws promulgated by totalitarian regimes, all make one wonder whether we are not but the Tiny Tims and Bob Cratchits of a Dickensian ‘Christmas Carol,’ labouring at the mercies of decided Scroogian humbugs, while the departed Jacob Marleys of the world look with horror upon our metaphysical fettering with the bonds of raw unkindness.
At least here in Australia, those that wish to had the opportunity to celebrate Christmas, each in accordance with their own understanding. In Iraq, ‘liberated’ at the behest of ‘devout’ President Bush, the one million or so Christians belonging variously to the Assyrian and Armenian minority did not have such an opportunity. Every day their churches are being bombed and vandalized by muslim fanatics while the crusading forces of the US President, at least in one situation are not averse to bulldozing Christian churches in Iraq, in their perennial search for terrorists. Spare a thought also as to how our Ecumenical Patriarch celebrated Christmas, having to experience the extreme hostility of racist, xenophobic and violent Turkish organizations in what has been the cradle of Orthodoxy for the past one thousand and seven hundred years.
Just before Christmas, my parish priest handed me what he termed to be ‘a birthday invitation.’ What is actually was, was a letter decrying the commercialisaton of Christmas and its deconstruction from a festival celebrating a pivotal moment in our cosmogony to a capitalist trade orgy. The letter purportedly was from Jesus Christ asking why people were celebrating His birthday without sparing a thought for Him or inviting Him. Is this inability then for mankind to perceive the central message of Christmas symptomatic of the ‘coldening of hearts’ that is a sign of the last days? Assuredly not. For while Christmas may indeed be overtaken by commercialism at its most crass, while millions around the world will suffer hunger, illness or pain at the same moment that we sit at our Christmas lunch table and gorge ourselves with goodies, one hopes that there is still enough goodwill as to ensure that the central message of Christmas, the apokatastasis and perfection of the cosmos, including that of human nature, endures. Considering the number of young families I saw at church this year, waking their children in the wee hours in order to partake in an unparalleled mystery, consolation is at hand. Now if only we could all retain that spirit, throughout the year.
The ghost of Christmas past invariably returns me to a Christmas I had in Albania a few years ago. Driving cross country in a battered Stalinist jeep to get to an isolated mountain village in order to distribute presents to the few impoverished children that remained there, I listened to a priest, his face contorted in painful memory, tell me how despondent he and his compatriots felt every Christmas in not being permitted to celebrate Christmas by the communist regime. I will never forget the delight on the villagers’ faces as we, after almost toppling off every sinuous curve on the mountainside, finally made it and distributed the meager presents to the delighted children. «Μας φέρατε τα Χριστούγεννα» one old woman exclaimed. As we chanted the Christmas troparion inside the dark, leaking, defaced and crumbling church that had all the insulating properties of a deep freezer, our lips blue with cold, I wondered how many others destitute like these villagers, in emulation of the magi, are pure and privileged enough to see and worship God and how many times Jacob Marleys will condescend to warn the Scrooges, before the harsh soullessness of the year to follow will cause them to just give up. Χρόνια Πολλά και Καλή Χρονιά.
First published in NKEE on 9 Janury 2006