St Gregory Palamas: from the Homily on the Meeting of the Lord in the Temple
Before Christ we all shared the same ancestral curse and condemnation poured out on all of us from our single forefather, as if it had sprung from the root of the human race and was the common lot of our nature. Each person’s individual action attracted either reproof or praise from God, but no one could do anything about the shared curse and condemnation, or the evil inheritance that had been passed down to him and through him would pass to his descendants.
But Christ came, setting human nature free and changing the common curse into a shared blessing. He took upon Himself our guilty nature from the most pure Virgin and united it, new and unmixed with the old seed, to His divine person. He rendered it guiltless and righteous, so that all His spiritual descendants would remain outside the ancestral curse and condemnation. How so? He shares His grace with each one of us as a person, and each receives forgiveness of his sins from Him. For He did not receive from us a human person, but assumed our human nature and renewed it by uniting it with His own person. His wish was to save us all completely and for our sake He bowed the heavens and came down. When by His deeds, words and sufferings He had pointed out all the ways of salvation, He went up to heaven again, drawing after Him those who trusted in Him. His aim was to grant perfect redemption not just to the nature which He had assumed from us in inseparable union, but to each one of those who believed in Him. This He has done and continues to do, reconciling each of us through Himself to the Father, bringing each one back to obedience and thoroughly healing our disobedience.
To this end, He established holy baptism and gave us saving laws. He preached repentance and shared His own body and blood with us. For it is not only human nature in general, but each believer as a person who receives baptism, governs his life by the holy commandments and becomes a partaker of the Bread that makes divine and of the Cup. By these means Christ justified each one of us personally and restored us to obedience to the heavenly Father. He renewed the human nature He took from us and by what He did and suffered in His person united with our nature, He revealed it as sanctified, justified and completely obedient to the Father. Among the things He did and suffered are the events we celebrate today, when He went up, or was taken up, to the ancient Temple for purification, was met by the God-bearing Simeon, and was proclaimed by Anna, who spent her whole life attending to the Temple….
Notice that the Creator and Lord of the law is completely obedient to the law. What does He achieve by this? He makes our nature obedient in all things to the Father, He completely heals us of its disobedience and transforms the curse on it into a blessing. As all human nature was in Adam, so it is in Christ. All who received their being from the earthly Adam have returned to the earth and been brought down, alas, to Hades. But, according to the apostle, through the heavenly Adam we have all been called up to heaven and made worthy of its glory and grace….
“And when the days of their purification were accomplished they brought him to present him to the Lord” (Luke 2:22). Whose purification? The law says that the parents and the children born from their coming together need to be purified. Also the psalmist says, “I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Ps. 51:5). Where there were no parents, only one Virgin Mother, and the child born was conceived without seed, there was of course no need for purification. But this too was an act of obedience which restored disobedient human nature and took away the guilt of its disobedience. So “when the days of their purification were accomplished, they brought him to present him to the Lord”, to dedicate Him, to declare openly that He was a firstborn son, as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every male that openeth the womb shall be called holy to the Lord” (Exod. 13:2, 12, 15; 34:19, Luke 2:23).
He is the only one who opened the womb at His conception, for He was conceived not through parents’ coming together but simply through God’s salutation and message which the Virgin heard from the angel. So why does the law say “every male that openeth the womb”? Just as “prophets” and “anointed ones” are referred to in the plural when God says through the psalmist, “Touch not mine anointed ones, and do my prophets no harm” (Ps. 105:15, 1 Chr. 16:22), even though there is only one anointed and only this one particular prophet, so every firstborn is said to open the womb, even though the only one who truly did so is the holy one of Israel. Then, it says, they brought Him up “to offer a sacrifice according to that which is said in the law of the Lord, A pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons” (Luke 2:24).