St Peter Chrysologus: Can You Fathom the Mystery of the Lord's Birth?

Feast of St Gideon the New Martyr of Mount Athos

Theotokos_with_Child_Square.jpegHOW SECRET are the sleeping quarters of a king! The place where the nation’s head, who is powerful, takes his rest is wont to be viewed only in a spirit of reverence and awe. No alien, no sullied man, no unloyal subject, gains access and entrance to it. How clean, how chaste, how faithful are the services expected there! The resplendent trappings of a royal court make all this clear to us. And what common or unworthy person dares to approach the gates of the king’s palace?

Surely, no one is admitted to the inner chamber of a bridegroom except a relative or an intimate friend. He must be a man of good conscience, praiseworthy reputation, and upright life. Thus too, it happens that God takes into His inner chamber only this one virgin; she alone, with her virginity unimpaired, is received there.

These examples, O man, are for your instruction. Realize from them just who you are, how great you are, and of what character you are. Then ponder this in you heart: Can you fathom the mystery of the Lord’s birth? Do you deserve to enter into the resting place of that bosom, where the heavenly King, with all the full majesty of His divinity, finds His repose? Ought you, as a rash witness with human eyes and bodily senses, to gaze on the virgin’s conceiving? Can you, as a bystander, contemplate with daring reverence the very hands of God fashioning for Himself the holy temple of a body within the womb of the mother? Can you by your gaze lay bare that mystery hidden through the ages, and unveil for yourself that sacrament invisible to the angels themselves? Can you act as an overseer in the workshop of the heavenly Artisan, so that you may clearly observe how God has entered the shrine of her unbroken flesh? Can you observe how without this virgin’s awareness He has produced the outlines of His sacred body in her venerable womb; how, without any sensations on the part of her who was conceiving, He made firm those bones which will last forever, how, beyond any arrangement of man, He produced a genuine human form; how, without any fleshly desire, He assumed the whole nature of man; how, apart from the way human flesh operates, He has taken on its every quality?

Even if you did not enjoy free access to knowledge of all these marvels, would you think that God was unable at that time to assume from flesh what in the beginning He took from mud? Indeed, since everything is possible to God, and it is impossible for you fully to understand even the least of His works, do not pry too much into this virgin’s conceiving, but believe it. Be reverently aware of the fact that God wishes to be born, because you offer an insult if you examine it too much. Grasp by faith that great mystery of the Lord’s birth, because without faith you cannot comprehend even the least of God’s works. “All His works,” says Scripture, “are [understood] by faith” (Cf. Ps. 32.4). But, here is a matter which depends completely upon faith, and you want it to stand by reason. It is not, indeed, without reason that this matter holds true; it holds true by the reasoning of God, O man, not yours. What is so much according to reason as the fact that God can do whatever He has willed? He who cannot do what he wills is not God.

—St Peter Chrysologus, Homily on the Incarnation of Christ

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