23 June 2007

Why This Nativity?

The Church commemorates the saints on their dies natale (Latin: “day of birth”). This “heavenly birthday” is not the day the saint was born, but the day the saint received the crown of life (Jas 1.12; Rev 2.10). For most of the early saints, this dies natale was their day of martyrdom. For this reason, the dies natale supersedes the day they entered this world in the flesh. Hence, unlike the world which celebrates its hero’s birthdays, the Church celebrates her hero’s death-days—and calls them “true birthdays” (dies natale).

There are, however, three notable exceptions to this rule: the Nativity of Our Lord (25 December), the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (8 September) and the Nativity of St John the Baptist (24 June). One reason is that these are the birthdays of the only individuals who were without, or cleansed from, ancestral sin. St Augustine suggests another reason: “The Lord wished John to be an attestation to his own first coming; for if Christ had come too suddenly and unexpectedly, men might not have recognized him. And on this wise John was a figure of the Old Testament, and showed in his own person a typical embodiment of the Law; for he heralded beforehand the coming of the Savior, even as the Law was our schoolmaster to bring us to the grace of Christ.” In other words, St John’s nativity points to Our Lord’s nativity; which means that the Nativity of St John the Baptist teaches us (as do all the feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary) that Our Lord God deigned to take our human nature so that He might dignify and elevate it by penetrating it with His divine nature.

For more by St Augustine on this feast, see this excerpt.

For an fine piece on the same topic by St John the Wonderworker of Shanghai & San Francisco, see this piece at Christ is in our Midst.

5 comments:

Matthew N. Petersen said...

Why don't we celebrate the date of Baptism or Chrismation?

Jeannelle said...

It's doubtful you will approve this comment.

June 24 was chosen as feast day for John the Baptist because it was the date of the important pagan Midsummer celebration, just as December 25 was chosen as Christ's birthdate because it was the date of another very important pagan holiday.

Not that any of this should matter to the faithful. The early Church's confiscation of pagan holidays was an excellent plan to follow to grow the Church.

Your leap from Lutheranism to Orthodoxy is intriguing. I'm a frustrated Lutheran myself. What exactly is theosis?

Anam Cara said...

"Jeannelle said...
It's doubtful you will approve this comment.

June 24 was chosen as feast day for John the Baptist because it was the date of the important pagan Midsummer celebration, just as December 25 was chosen as Christ's birthdate because it was the date of another very important pagan holiday."

Here is what I understand and believe:

The Roman festival to which you refer for Christmas is Sol Invictus or the festival of the Unconquered Sun. It was not celebrated until the 3rd century AD. The earliest reference to it isn't until the mid 4th century! Scholars today believe that it was Christianity that influenced the Roman solstice festival and not the other way around.

The Jewish people believed that prophets lived "integral years" which means that a prophet died on the day he was conceived. If Jesus died at the time of the Passover, he died around March which means He was conceived around March. That would place his birth in December. John was 6 months older than Jesus (see Luke 1 for a time line) which places his birth in June.

John was born to an old couple, conceived when the leaves were turning brown and falling. He was born when days are longest but getting shorter.

Jesus was conceived to a young woman, almost too early in life for her to be having a child. The leaves were budding forth when he was conceived. He was born when days are short, but getting longer.

John himself said, "He must increase, but I must decrease." From birth, John's days grew shorter, just as his ministry decreased after his baptism of Jesus. For Jesus, the days grew longer after his birth, and certainly his ministry grew after his baptism by John in the Jordan River.

God's timing is perfect!

I hope this explaination will strengthen your faith.

Chris Jones said...

Theosis means that in the resurrection, we shall become like God, because He will share His own characteristics with us, and indeed will share His own life with us.

In this life, we are made alive by a natural, human quality or principle. That quality of "natural life" is truly life, but in itself it is weak and temporary. It has no "staying power" of its own, and when it runs out, we die. The New Testament uses the Greek word psyche to refer to that natural, human quality.

In the age to come, on the other hand, we shall be made alive not by that natural quality, but by the Holy Spirit Himself. We shall not have to rely on living a life "of our own" but shall instead live by His life.

That is what St Paul is talking about in 1 Corinthians 15:42 and following:

So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written, the first man Adam became a living soul; the last Adam became a life-creating spirit.

What we are now is "a natural body" (soma psychikon): a body given life by a human soul; what we shall be is "a spiritual body" (soma pneumatikon): a body given life by the Holy Spirit.

That is what theosis means: being made truly alive with divine life, rather than human life, by the indwelling of the life-creating Holy Spirit.

Fr John W Fenton said...

All,

Thanks for your comments.
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Matthew,

Let me suggest that we do when we celebrate one's "Name Day."

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Jeannelle,

I tend toward the answer "anam cara" gave. In addition, where there appears to be correspondence, it may be just as likely that the world, by the temptation of the devil, attempted to subvert the Church's holy day rather than the Church baptizing and converting a pagan festival.

As for theosis, you might wish to review my recently posted comments here.

Finally, concerning your frustration, feel free to email me offlist.