Who is this Child?

February 2, 2019

 

In keeping the feast of the Meeting of the Lord this past week, we were, once again, treated to the beautiful and spiritual riches of the Church’s hymnography. More than simply thoughtful reflections on the feast, the hymns of the Menaion prove, again and again, to be profound spiritual interpretations of Scripture, dogma, and the experience of the saints in encountering Christ, the Lord of Glory. Here are two examples from the feast of the Meeting of the Lord:

 

On this day Symeon receives into his arms the Lord of Glory, Whom Moses of old beheld in darkness, when he received from Him the tablets on Mount Sinai. This is He Who speaks in the Prophets, and is the Author of the Law; this is He Whom David proclaims, Who is dread unto all, Who hath great and rich mercy.

 

He that rides on the Cherubim and is hymned by the Seraphim, has today been brought into the divine Temple according to the Law, and is enthroned in elderly arms....

 

One of the things that quickly becomes apparent as we hear this is how poorly this interpretation fits into non-Orthodox approaches to Christ in the Old Testament. Typically, western Christian interpretation views Old Testament theophanies, such as Moses' encounter with God on Mount Sinai or in Isaiah’s vision found in Isaiah chapter 6, as experiences of God the Father. Meanwhile, it sees Christ prefigured or prophesied in events, prophecies, or types.

 

But while it is certainly true that Christ is prefigured and prophesied in the Old Testament, the Orthodox understanding of the theophanies sees these as manifestations or appearances of the Son. Hence the hymns cited above: “On this day Symeon receiveth into his arms the Lord of Glory, Whom Moses of old beheld in darkness....”; “He that rideth on the Cherubim and is hymned by the Seraphim, hath today been brought into the divine Temple....”

 

This understanding, we must point out, is not simply different from the non-Orthodox interpretation, it is the older and more biblical of the two. To cite but a couple of examples:

 

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.… No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him. (John 1.14, 18)

 

But I want to remind you, though you once knew this, that the Lord [a reference to Christ, with some manuscripts saying “Jesus”], having saved the people out of the land of Egypt.... (Jude 5)

 

We could add to these two examples many others, including numerous references from the fathers of the 2nd and 3rd centuries and beyond, all to the same effect: that the Father is only revealed - in the Old and New Testaments and always - in Christ the Son. And it is this understanding - that Jesus Christ is the one and the same Son who is seen in the theophanies of Sinai, in Isaiah’s vision, on the mount of Transfiguration, and in every true vision of God in glory - that forms the basis for the Church’s hymns.

 

This tradition comes to its highest hymnographic expression, we will not be surprised to learn, in the hymns of Holy Week and Pascha. For there, before the Mystery of the suffering and crucifixion and death of the Man of Sorrows, we are led to ask, “Who is this Man?” The answer, as wondrous as it is unfathomable, is that He is the Lord of Glory.

 

Today He Who hung the earth upon the waters is hung on the tree.

The King of the angels is decked with a crown of thorns.

He Who wraps the heavens in clouds is wrapped in the purple of mockery.

He Who freed Adam in the Jordan is slapped on the face.

The Bridegroom of the Church is affixed to the cross with nails.

The Son of the virgin is pierced by a spear.

We worship Thy passion, O Christ.

We worship Thy passion, O Christ.

We worship Thy passion, O Christ.

Show us also Thy glorious resurrection.

 

With love in Christ,

Fr John.

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