Category Archives: history

This is the Wisdom of Man.

“I have stood near the cave of St. Jerome in Bethlehem, and seen the recently excavated graves of the Holy Innocents. There are a mass of infant burials, clearly made in haste, with evidence of violence, all dating to the first century. It is not a Biblical myth but a crime scene as gruesome as any that we could imagine. This is the Wisdom of Man.

“The Wisdom of Man measures strength and power by the ability to administer brute force. Whether a sword or nuclear weapon – power is defined by physics. Were the power that confronted us measured in the same manner, victory could be as simple as a mathematical equation. But the power of God, the Wisdom of God, that confronted King Herod and all the so-called “rulers” of this world, belonged to a realm that is wholly other.”

-Father Stephen Freeman, in this article: “The Wisdom of Man and the Foolishness of God”

Troparion:

As acceptable victims and freshly plucked flowers,
As divine first-fruits and newborn lambs,
You were offered to Christ who was born as a child, Holy Innocents.
You mocked Herod’s wickedness;
Now we beseech you:
“Unceasingly pray for our souls.”

 

Even though the world has upended itself.

Ever since the King of Glory was born into this world of death, His people have suffered under and among the kingdoms of this world. We talk a lot about how He was weak and helpless, being a baby. But any of us mothers might remember the vulnerability of women in pregnancy, in the very season when one wants to be most in control, so as to nurture and protect.

I think a lot about my children and grandchildren, who are likely to live on after I am gone, and what they might have to endure in this earthly world, where it seems that the rich and powerful, and often the evildoers, are getting stronger; in any case, the relative impotence of the majority is being revealed. I was very glad to see my friend Anna Mussman write about these concerns last spring, in “Why I’m Grateful to be Pregnant During This Pandemic.” It may be that I linked you to her article back then. She safely gave birth to her fourth child after publishing this article, in which she reminds us of reasons for confidence, even in the face of vulnerability:

We can’t say for sure what will happen to our children, our children’s children, or their children, but we can remember that our God’s promises are just as true for them as for us. 

We need not mourn past seasons of prosperity “as those who have no hope” mourn. We know that sometimes suffering is exactly what we humans need to recognize our sin, repent, and receive forgiveness. Besides, suffering does not last forever. Eternity, the answer and fulfillment of all seasons, is yet to come. 

Babies are cute and adorable and fill us with love, but they also remind us that we are vulnerable. Strangely enough that is actually the most comforting thing about them. Their very perfection forces us to realize we will not be able to save and protect them in the way we wish. We mothers cannot guarantee that our babies will be safe and happy in this world. 

That’s how babies drive us to God. Through our babies and the difficult seasons they may bring, we are reminded over and over that our hope is found in the Father who has promised never to leave us, to never forsake us or our children. God’s love is not seasonal. 

That is why even though the world has upended itself and the media is declaring this year a bad one to have a baby, the world and the media do not get the last say. God does.

In his Advent collection Waiting on the Word, Malcolm Guite offers a sonnet of his own for December 22. With its reference to the facts of Christ being despised, cast off, “never on the throne,” under imminent threat of murder even as an infant, it reminded me of Anna’s exhortation. We who are followers of Christ can expect no less than the treatment He got; kingdoms rise and fall, and there haven’t been very many truly good kings in all those millennia.

It doesn’t matter. Christ’s Kingdom is real, and the only lasting one, and it is where “we ourselves are found.” It is even right and proper, given the presence of this Kingdom, that we be cheerful, because He told us to be: “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.

O REX GENTIUM

O King of our desire whom we despise,
King of the nations never on the throne,
Unfound foundation, cast-off cornerstone,
Rejected joiner, making many one,

You have no form or beauty for our eyes,
A King who comes to give away his crown,
A King within our rags of flesh and bone.

We pierce the flesh that pierces our disguise,
For we ourselves are found in you alone.
Come to us now and find in us your throne,
O King within the child within the clay,

O hidden King who shapes us in the play
Of all creation. Shape us for the day
Your coming Kingdom comes into its own.

Therefore thus says the Lord God, See, I am laying in Zion for a foundation stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation: ‘One who trusts will not panic.’ (Isaiah 28:16)

-Malcolm Guite, in Waiting on the Word

Let us eat of it and live forever.

Many, if not most, Orthodox Christians in the world will celebrate our Lord’s Nativity on January 7, as was the custom for all Orthodox until less than a century ago. Under various pressures to westernize, some began to use the “secular” calendar as had been requested of them since the 16th century. I happen to have been baptized into a “new calendar” diocese, so here I am! When I announce a feast day or a calendar date of a commemoration, saying “We –,” I don’t disregard the vast numbers of my beloved brothers and sisters who are waiting thirteen more days for their holy day. But here I go again:

We have entered the Forefeast of the Nativity of our Lord:

Prepare, O Bethlehem, for Eden has been opened to all!
Adorn yourself, O Ephratha,
for the tree of life blossoms forth from the Virgin in the cave!

Her womb is a spiritual paradise planted with the Divine Fruit:
If we eat of it, we shall live forever and not die like Adam.
Christ comes to restore the image which He made in the beginning!

Lament for a Stone

LAMENT FOR A STONE

The bay where I found you faced the long light
of the west glowing under the cold sky

there Columba as the story goes looked
back and could not see Ireland any more

therefore he could stay he made up his mind
in that slur of the sea on the shingle

shaped in a fan around the broad crescent
formed all of green pebbles found nowhere else

flecked with red held in blue depths and polished
smooth as water by rolling like water

along each other rocking as they were
rocking at his feet it is said that they

are proof against drowning and I saw you
had the shape of the long heart of a bird

and when I took you in my palm we flew
through the years hearing them rush under us

where have you flown now leaving me to hear
that sound along without you in my hand

W.S. Merwin

St. Columba's Bay Iona
St. Columba’s Bay, Iona