St John of Damascus: Have You Been Schooled by the Compassionate One?

Feast of the Holy Martyrs Menas, Hermogenes & Eugraphus

John_Damascene_Square_5.jpegMAN SUCCUMBED to the assault of the demon, the author of evil; he failed to keep the Creator’s commandment and was stripped of grace and deprived of that familiarity which he had enjoyed with God; he was clothed with the roughness of his wretched life—for this is what the fig leaves signify—and put on death, that is what the garment of skins signifies (cf. Gen. 3.7, 21); he was excluded from paradise by the just judgment of God; and was condemned to death and made subject to corruption. Even then the Compassionate One, who had given him his being and had favored him with a blessed existence, did not disregard him. On the contrary, He first schooled him and exhorted him to conversion in many ways—by groaning and trembling, by a flood of waters and the near destruction of the entire race, by the confusion and division of tongues, by the tutelage of angels, by the destruction of cities by fire, by prefigurative divine appearances, by war, victories and defeats, by signs and portents, by diverse influences, by the Law and the Prophets (cf. Gen. 6.13; 11.7; 18.1ff; 19.1ff), all of which were directed to the destruction of that sin which had abounded under many forms and had enslaved man and heaped every sort of evil into his life, and to his return to the blessed existence. Since it was by sin that death had come into the world like some wild and savage beast to destroy the life of man, it was necessary for the one who was to effect a redemption to be sinless and not liable to the death which is due to sin. And it was further necessary for human nature to be strengthened and renewed, to be taught by experience, and to learn the way of virtue which turns back from destruction and leads to eternal life. Finally, the great sea of His benevolence toward man was made manifest, for the Creator and Lord Himself took up the struggle in behalf of His own creation and became a teacher in deed. And, since the enemy had caught man with the bait of the barrier of the flesh; and at the same time the goodness and wisdom and justice and power of God were made manifest. His goodness, because He did not despise the weakness of His own handiwork, but, when he fell, had compassion on him and stretched out His hand to him. His justice, because, when man had suffered defeat, He did not have another conquer the tyrant nor did He snatch man away from death by force, but He, the Good and Just, made him victor against whom death had once enslaved through sin; and like He rescued by like, which was most difficult to do. And His wisdom, because He found the most fitting solution fot his most difficult problem (cf. St Gregory of Nyssa, Catechetical Discourse 24).  For by the good pleasure of God the Father the only-begotten Son and Word of God and God, who is in the bosom of God the Father, consubstantial with the Father and with the Holy Spirit, existing before the ages, without beginning, who was in the beginning and was with God the Father and was God (cf. Jn. 1.1, 18), He, being in the form of God (cf. Phil. 2.6), bowed down the heavens and descended—that is, without lowering it, He brought down His exalted sublimity and condescended to His servants with an ineffable and incomprehensible condescension, for such is the meaning of the term condescension. And He, while being perfect God, became perfect man and accomplished the newest of all new things, the only new thing under the sun, by which the infinite power of God was clearly shown. For what is greater than for God to become man? So, without suffering change, the Word was made flesh of the Holy Spirit and the holy and ever-virgin Mary, Mother of God. And He stands as mediator between God and men. He, the only loving One, was conceived in the immaculate womb of the Virgin not by the will of man, nor by concupiscence, nor by the intervention of a husband, nor by pleasurable generation, but of the Holy Spirit and the first offspring of Adam. And He became obedient to the Father by healing our disobedience with that which is like to us and which was taken from us, and by becoming to u s a model of that obedience without which it is impossible to attain salvation.

—St John of Damascus, An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith

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