Saturday, January 15, 2005

Nativity Encyclical of Metropolitan Ephraim of Boston (HOCNA)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word
was with God, and the Word was God…
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.
(John 1:1, 14)

My beloved Orthodox Christians:
Christ is born! Glorify Him!

We worship and adore only the Living God of Israel. We are not idolaters. We do not offer adoration to any created thing. We offer the reverence that is due to God alone only to God. Our God is a jealous God, and He does not brook any adoration of a false deity or false image of Himself.

The Word of God Who was before the ages is, as the Holy Scriptures instruct us, God. There is not, nor ever was, nor shall there ever be, another God beside Him. He alone is the perfect image of God the Father (II Cor. 4:4), and He and the Father are One (John 10:30). No man has ever seen the Father, save the Son, Who is of God; only He has seen God the Father (John 6:46). No man knows who God the Son is in His essence, except God the Father alone; nor does anyone know who God the Father is in His essence, except God the Son, and he to whom the Son will reveal Him according to the gift of grace (Luke 10:22).

Although He Himself did not appear, at various times and in diverse manners in times past, God spoke by means of the Prophets. In these last days, God spoke to us by means of His Son, Whom He has made Heir of all things, by Whom also He made the aeons. This Son is the everlasting effulgence of the Father's glory and the express image of the Hypostasis of the Father (Heb. 1:1-3).

In days of old, in the old dispensation, God wisely instructed us not to make any image of Him or to fall down in adoration before any created thing, for this would be idolatry. Indeed, how is it possible to make an image of something which is invisible? What colors will one use to paint something that has no color or form? What canvas is large enough to portray the Infinite One?

But in these last times, a secret plan - which was decided upon by God before the creation of time - has come into effect. This "mystery hidden from eternity and unknown to the angels" was "manifested to those on earth" through the Virgin who gave flesh and form to God the Word (John 1:14).

Now, for the first time in mankind's history, we could see God! We could fall down and worship and adore our visible Creator! As the holy Prophets had foretold, God came and dwelt among us "visibly", and He called the whole earth unto Himself "from the rising of the sun unto the setting thereof" (Ps. 49:3, 1). He did not materialize out of thin air, nor was He a phantom, nor did He come as an angel, but He was born as a man, as the Prophets had proclaimed, of a Virgin who knew not wedlock. Again, as foretold, He was born of a specific race and tribe. He was not Oriental, or African; nor was He an Apache, or a Viking, or Greek, or of Slavic origin. No, my beloved Christians, as the Prophet-King David foresaw, "the magnificence of His beauty" was "out of Sion" (Ps. 49:2).

We proclaim this awesome event not only by the spoken word of preaching, not only by the written word of Scripture, not only by the chanted word of our sacred hymnology, but also by the depicted word of the holy icons - for God has now received flesh and form, and is no longer invisible. He has His deified Body and Blood, which we can see and partake of, as He commands us to do. Just as we can describe Him, and all that He said and did, by words, so can we describe Him accurately and theologically in the holy icons. The Indepictable One has become depictable.

The honor which we tender unto the holy icons is not the same as the adoration that we offer unto God alone. The Fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council described our reverence for the holy icons by the term "relative worship" - that is to say, this is not the worship or adoration (in Greek: latrнa) that we give only to God, and Him alone. The English word "veneration" (which has no direct equivalent in Greek) is a good synonym for the term "relative worship".

Just as the law of Moses was superseded by the coming of grace, in like manner was the ancient commandment against depicting God superseded by His Incarnation of the Virgin.

He, and He alone, is the image of the invisible Father!

Christ is born on earth! Glorify Him!

Your fervent supplicant unto God,
Ephraim, Metropolitan of Boston
Nativity of Our Saviour, 2004