Feast of the Righteous Fathers Sergius & Herman, Founders of Valaam Monastery
THIS WEEK, we turned from the one who bore Christ in her womb—the Mother of God and Ever-Virgin, according to the third and fifth Ecumenical Councils—back to theme of light. We’ve looked at light reflected in the souls of the saints and we’ve see the True Light born of the Virgin Mary. Now we turn to the same Light who is the source of all being, the One who illumined the world at creation and then later illumined Moses to tell us the story of that creation.
The Cappadocian Father, St Gregory of Nyssa (d. 394) sets the course this week by defining truth as the “sure apprehension of real Being.” But what is “real being”? According to Gregory, “that which is always the same, neither increasing nor diminishing, immutable to all change whether to better or to worse (for it is far removed from the inferior and it has no superior), standing in need of nothing else, alone desirable, participated in by all but not lessened by their participation—this is truly real Being.” Truth as real Being, he goes on to suggest, is the ineffable and mysterious light that illuminated Moses from a thorny bush. It is a Radiance that shines upon us through our thorny flesh, illuminating the eyes of our soul. It is the true light, truth itself, namely, the One who calls Himself truth: “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Are you looking to the Radiance of Real Being? Read the full passage.
Moses saw this Radiance of real Being in a burning bush. He also saw God on a mountain and spoke with Him as one speaks with a friend. And, as St Gregory Palamas (d. 1359) notes, Moses taught his people what he learned from God: “that He is He Who eternally Is and will never cease to be, that He summoned what did not exist into existence, brought all things out of non-being and will not let them fall back into non-existence.” More specifically, God created heaven and earth. Then He created man, “a great wonder surpassing all else, towering above everything, superior to all.” And for man, He created paradise as a home where “it was his lot to have sight of God, speak to Him face to face.” But man also received a “counsel and commandment” from God, which Gregory describes as “fasting appropriate to that place.” When Adam and Eve ate from the tree of knowledge, they broke the original God-decreed fast, resulting in toil, misfortune, and ultimately, death. Many generations later, Moses fasted for forty days on a mountain and saw God. And he spoke to God as with a friend. St Gregory calls us to do the same: “Awaken your minds, I entreat you, and lift them up, in company with Moses when he went up the mountain towards God. In this way may you start off afresh on your ascent, and be lifted up together with Christ, who did not merely go up a mountain but up to heaven, taking us with Him.” Have you lifted up your mind? Read the full passage.
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St Athanasius (d. 373) begins his famous treatise On the Incarnation by reflecting on various views of creation. Some, such as the Epicureans, say all things have spontaneously come into existence by chance. This theory implies there is no providence over the universe. Others, such as Plato, say God made the universe from preexistent and uncreated matter. This theory implies that “God is only a craftsman and not the Creator of being.” Instead, the inspired teaching and faith according to Christ “knows that neither spontaneously, as it is not without providence, nor from pre-existent matter, as God is not weak, but from nothing and having absolutely no existence God brought the universe into being through the Word, which it says through Moses.” So God made all things from nothing (ex nihilo) through His own Word, our Lord Jesus Christ. But of all the things He created on earth, “He had mercy upon the human race, and seeing that by the principle of its own coming into being it would not be able to endure eternally, He granted them a further gift, creating human beings not simply like all the irrational animals upon the earth but making them according to His own Word, giving them a share of the power of His own Word, so that having as it were shadows of the Word and being made rational, they might be able to abide in blessedness, living the true life which is really that of the holy ones in paradise.” Are you abiding in blessedness? Read the full passage.
Around 370 A.D., St. Basil the Great (d. 379) penned a series of homilies on the six days of creation. These sermons were later collected into written form and became very influential among the early Christian Fathers; so influential, in fact, that they established a genre of theological works now known as a Hexameron (from the Greek roots hexa- six and hemer- day). Basil begins these famous homilies by establishing the authority of the creation account’s author: “Moses, who, . . . hastened to escape from the tumults of Egypt and took refuge in Ethiopia, living there far from former pursuits, and passing forty years in the contemplation of nature; Moses, finally, who, at the age of eighty, saw God, as far as it is possible for man to see Him . . . It is this man, whom God judged to behold Him, face to face, like the angels, who imparts to us what he has learnt from God. Let us listen then to these words of truth written without the help of ‘enticing words of man’s wisdom’ by the dictation of the Holy Spirit; words destined to produce not the applause of those who hear them, but the salvation of those who are instructed by them.” Like Moses, Basil suggests, one should prepare the soul “to receive such high lessons.” He continues, “How pure it should be from carnal affections, how unclouded by worldly disquietudes, how active and ardent in its researches, how eager to find in its surroundings an idea of God which may be worthy of Him!” Is your ear worthy to hear such a tale of creation? Read the full passage.
Basil’s brother, St Gregory of Nyssa (d. 394), continued Basil’s Hexameron with the treatise “On the Making of Man.” Gregory announces his purpose at the outset: “We, who fall short even of worthily admiring Basil, yet intend to add to the great writer’s speculations that which is lacking in them, [. . .] the consideration of man being lacking in his Hexameron.” Next, he offers the scope of his enquiry, which “is second to none of the wonders of the world—perhaps even greater than any of those known to us, because no other existing thing, save the human creation, has been made like to God.” Now he turns to the role man. With the creation of heaven and earth, God first prepared a dominion of paradise—“a royal lodging”—for its future king. According to Gregory, “As a good host does not bring his guest to his house before the preparation of his feast, but, when he has made all due preparation, and decked with their proper adornments his house, his couch, his table, brings his guest home when things suitable for his refreshment are in readiness—in the same manner the rich and munificent Entertainer of our nature, when He had decked the habitation with beauties of every kind, and prepared this great and varied banquet, then introduced man, assigning to him as his task not the acquiring of what was not there, but the enjoyment of the things which were there; and for this reason He gives him as foundations the instinct of a two-fold organization, blending the Divine with the earthy, that by means of both he may be naturally and properly disposed to each enjoyment, enjoying God by means of his more divine nature, and the good things of earth by the sense that is akin to them.” Are you enjoying God and the good things of the earth? Read the full passage.
At the turn of the fourth century, St Augustine Hippo (d. 430) began work on his own sort of Hexameron: twelve books on The Literal Meaning of Genesis. Although his stated objective is to focus on the historical sense of the first three chapters of Genesis, he begins the work by affirming both a literal and allegorical interpretation of Scripture: “No Christian will dare say that the scriptural narrative must not be taken in a figurative sense. For St Paul says: ‘Now all these things that happened to them were symbolic’ (1 Cor. 10.11). And he explains the statem4ent in Genesis, ‘And they shall be two in one flesh’ (Gen. 2.24), as a great mystery in reference to Christ and to the Church.” And so, despite his stated objective of a literal interpretation, he begins with an allegorical interpretation of the opening two verses of Genesis: “In the beginning God created heaven and earth. The earth was invisible and formless, and darkness was over the abyss.” After exploring verse one, he turns to the “dark abyss” of verse two: “we should understand ‘dark abyss’ as a metaphor meaning that life which is formless unless it is turned towards its Creator. Only in this way can it be formed and cease being an abyss, and be illumined and cease being dark. . . . Was there no light? If there was any light at all, there would be a great abundance of it, for that is the way it is in the case of a spiritual creature that turns to God, the changeless and incorporeal Light.” Are you turned toward your Creator? Read the full passage.
Erin Doom is the founder and director of Eighth Day Institute. He lives in Wichita, KS with his wife Christiane and their four children, Caleb Michael, Hannah Elizabeth, Elijah Blaise, and Esther Ruth.