§ 1. This text refers not to the eternal Word but to the Incarnate.
” All things were delivered to Me by My Father. And none knows Who the Son is, save the Father; and Who the Father is, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son wills to reveal Him. “
And from not perceiving this they of the sect of Arius, Eusebius and his fellows, indulge impiety against the Lord. For they say, if all things were delivered (meaning by ‘all’ the Lordship of Creation), there was once a time when He had them not. But if He had them not, He is not of the Father, for if He were, He would on that account have had them always, and would not have required to receive them. But this point will furnish all the clearer an exposure of their folly. For the expression in question does not refer to the Lordship over Creation, nor to presiding over the works of God, but is meant to reveal in part the intention of the Incarnation ([τῆς οἰκονομίας]).
For if when He was speaking they ‘were delivered’ to Him, clearly before He received them, creation was void of the Word. What then becomes of the text ” in Him all things consist ” [ Colossians 1:17 ]? But if simultaneously with the origin of the Creation it was all ‘delivered’ to Him, such delivery were superfluous, for ‘all things were made by Him’ [ John 1:3 ], and it would be unnecessary for those things of which the Lord Himself was the artificer to be delivered over to Him. For in making them He was Lord of the things which were being originated. But even supposing they were ‘delivered’ to Him after they were originated, see the monstrosity. For if they ‘were delivered,’ and upon His receiving them the Father retired, then we are in peril of falling into the fabulous tales which some tell, that He gave over [His works] to the Son, and Himself departed. Or if, while the
Son has them, the Father has them also, we ought to say, not ‘were delivered,’ but that He took Him as partner, as Paul did Silvanus. But this is even more monstrous; for God is not imperfect , nor did He summon the Son to help Him in His need; but, being Father of the Word, He makes all things by His means, and without delivering creation over to Him, by His means and in Him exercises Providence over it, so that not even a sparrow falls to the ground without the Father [ Matthew 10:29 ], nor is the grass clothed without God [ Matthew 6:30 ], but at once the Father works, and the Son works hitherto [ cf.John 5:17 ]. Vain, therefore, is the opinion of the impious. For the expression is not what they think, but designates the Incarnation.
§2. Sense in which, and end for which all things were delivered to the Incarnate Son.
For whereas man sinned, and is fallen, and by his fall all things are in confusion: death prevailed from Adam to Moses [ cf.Romans 5:14 ], the earth was cursed, Hades was opened, Paradise shut, Heaven offended, man, lastly, corrupted and brutalised [ cf.Psalm 49:12 ], while the devil was exulting against us—then God, in His loving-kindness, not willing man made in His own image to perish, said, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go?’ [ Isaiah 6:8 ]. But while all held their peace, the Son said, ‘Here am I, send Me.’ And then it was that, saying ‘Go,’ He ‘delivered’ to Him man, that the Word Himself might be made Flesh, and by taking the Flesh, restore it wholly. For to Him, as to a physician, man ‘was delivered’ to heal the bite of the serpent; as to life, to raise what was dead; as to light, to illumine the darkness; and, because He was Word, to renew the rational nature ([τὸ λογικόν]). Since then all things ‘were delivered’ to Him, and He is made Man, straightway all things were set right and perfected. Earth receives blessing instead of a curse, Paradise was opened to the robber, Hades
cowered, the tombs were opened and the dead raised, the gates of Heaven were lifted up to await Him that ‘comes from Edom?’ [ Psalm 24:7, Isaiah 63:1 ]. Why, the Saviour Himself expressly signifies in what sense ‘all things were delivered’ to Him, when He continues, as Matthew tells us: ‘Come unto Me all you that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest’ [ Matthew 11:28 ]. Yes, you ‘were delivered’ to Me to give rest to those who had laboured, and life to the dead. And what is written in John’s Gospel harmonises with this: ‘The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand’ [ John 3:35 ]. Given, in order that, just as all things were made by Him, so in Him all things might be renewed. For they were not ‘delivered’ unto Him, that being poor, He might be made rich, nor did He receive all things that He might receive power which before He lacked: far be the thought: but in order that as Saviour He might rather set all things right. For it was fitting that while ‘through Him’ all things came into being at the beginning, ‘in Him’ (note the change of phrase) all things should be set right [ cf. John 1:3, Ephesians 1:10 ]. For at the beginning they came into being ‘through’ Him; but afterwards, all having fallen, the Word has been made Flesh, and put it on, in order that ‘in Him’ all should be set right. Suffering Himself, He gave us rest, hungering Himself, He nourished us, and going down into Hades He brought us back thence. For example, at the time of the creation of all things, their creation consisted in a fiat, such as ‘let [the earth] bring forth,’ ‘let there be’ [ Genesis 1:3, 11 ], but at the restoration it was fitting that all things should be ‘delivered’ to Him, in order that He might be made man, and all things be renewed in Him. For man, being in Him, was quickened: for this was why the Word was united to man, namely, that against man the curse might no longer prevail. This is the reason why they record the request made on behalf of mankind in the seventy-first Psalm: ‘Give the King Your judgment, O God?’ [ Psalm 72:1 ]:
asking that both the judgment of death which hung over us may be delivered to the Son, and that He may then, by dying for us, abolish it for us in Himself. This was what He signified, saying Himself, in the eighty- seventh Psalm: ‘Your indignation lies hard upon me’ [ Psalm 88:7 ]. For He bore the indignation which lay upon us, as also He says in the hundred and thirty-seventh: ‘Lord, You shall do vengeance for me’ [ Psalm 137:8 ].
§3. By ‘all things’ is meant the redemptive attributes and power of Christ.
Thus, then, we may understand all things to have been delivered to the Saviour, and, if it be necessary to follow up understanding by explanation, that has been delivered unto Him which He did not previously possess. For He was not man previously, but became man for the sake of saving man.
And the Word was not in the beginning flesh, but has been made flesh subsequently [ cf.John 1:1 sqq ], in which Flesh, as the Apostle says, He reconciled the enmity which was against us [ Colossians 1:20, 2:14, Ephesians 2:15-16 ] and destroyed the law of the commandments in ordinances, that He might make the two into one new man, making peace, and reconcile both in one body to the Father. That, however, which the Father has, belongs also to the Son, as also He says in John, ‘All things whatsoever the Father has are Mine’ [ John 16:15 ], expressions which could not be improved. For when He became that which He was not, ‘all things were delivered’ to Him. But when He desires to declare His unity with the Father, He teaches it without any reserve, saying: ‘All things whatsoever the Father has are Mine.’ And one cannot but admire the exactness of the language. For He has not said ‘all things whatsoever the Father has, He has given to Me,’ lest He should appear at one time not to have possessed these things; but ‘are Mine.’ For these things, being in the Father’s power, are equally in that of the Son. But we must in turn examine
what things ‘the Father has.’ For if Creation is meant, the Father had nothing before creation, and proves to have received something additional from Creation; but far be it to think this. For just as He exists before creation, so before creation also He has what He has, which we also believe to belong to the Son [ John 16:15 ]. For if the Son is in the Father, then all things that the Father has belong to the Son. So this expression is subversive of the perversity of the heterodox in saying that ‘if all things have been delivered to the Son, then the Father has ceased to have power over what is delivered, having appointed the Son in His place. For, in fact, the Father judges none, but has given all judgment to the Son?’ [ John 5:22 ]. But ‘let the mouth of them that speak wickedness be stopped’ [ Psalm 63:11 ], (for although He has given all judgment to the Son, He is not, therefore, stripped of lordship: nor, because it is said that all things are delivered by the Father to the Son, is He any the less over all), separating as they clearly do the Only-begotten from God, Who is by nature inseparable from Him, even though in their madness they separate Him by their words, not perceiving, the impious men, that the Light can never be separated from the sun, in which it resides by nature. For one must use a poor simile drawn from tangible and familiar objects to put our idea into words, since it is over bold to intrude upon the incomprehensible nature [of God].
§4. The text John 16:15 , shows clearly the essential relation of the Son to the Father.
As then the light from the Sun which illumines the world could never be supposed, by men of sound mind, to do so without the Sun, since the Sun’s light is united to the Sun by nature; and as, if the Light were to say: I have received from the Sun the power of illumining all things, and of giving growth and strength to them by the heat that is in me, no one will be mad enough to think that the mention of the Sun is meant to separate him from
what is his nature, namely the light; so piety would have us perceive that the Divine Essence of the Word is united by nature to His own Father. For the text before us will put our problem in the clearest possible light, seeing that the Saviour said, ‘All things whatsoever the Father has are Mine;’ which shows that He is ever with the Father. For ‘whatsoever He has’ shows that the Father wields the Lordship, while ‘are Mine’ shows the inseparable union. It is necessary, then, that we should perceive that in the Father reside Everlastingness, Eternity, Immortality. Now these reside in Him not as adventitious attributes, but, as it were, in a well-spring they reside in Him, and in the Son. When then you wish to perceive what relates to the Son, learn what is in the Father, for this is what you must believe to be in the Son. If then the Father is a thing created or made, these qualities belong also to the Son. And if it is permissible to say of the Father ‘there was once a time when He was not,’ or ‘made of nothing,’ let these words be applied also to the Son. But if it is impious to ascribe these attributes to the Father, grant that it is impious also to ascribe them to the Son. For what belongs to the Father, belongs to the Son. For he that honours the Son, honours the Father that sent Him, and he that receives the Son, receives the Father with Him, because he that has seen the Son has seen the Father [ Matthew 10:40; John 14:9 ]. As then the Father is not a creature, so neither is the Son; and as it is not possible to say of Him ‘there was a time when He was not,’ nor ‘made of nothing,’ so it is not proper to say the like of the Son either. But rather, as the Father’s attributes are Everlastingness, Immortality, Eternity, and the being no creature, it follows that thus also we must think of the Son. For as it is written [ John 5:26 ], ‘As the Father has life in Himself, so gave He to the Son also to have life in Himself.’ But He uses the word ‘gave’ in order to point to the Father who gives. As, again, life is in the Father, so also is it in the Son, so as to show Him to be inseparable and everlasting.
For this is why He speaks with exactness, ‘whatsoever the Father has,’ in order namely that by thus mentioning the Father He may avoid being thought to be the Father Himself. For He does not say ‘I am the Father,’ but ‘whatsoever the Father has.’
§5. The same text further explained.
For His Only-begotten Son might, you Arians, be called ‘Father’ by His Father, yet not in the sense in which you in your error might perhaps understand it, but (while Son of the Father that begot Him) ‘Father of the coming age’ [ Isaiah 9:6, Septuagint ]. For it is necessary not to leave any of your surmises open to you. Well then, He says by the prophet, ‘A Son is born and given to us, whose government is upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Angel of Great Counsel, mighty God, Ruler, Father of the coming age’ [ Isaiah 9:6 ]. The Only-begotten Son of God, then, is at once Father of the coming age, and mighty God, and Ruler. And it is shown clearly that all things whatsoever the Father has are His, and that as the Father gives life, the Son likewise is able to quicken whom He will. For ‘the dead,’ He says, ‘shall hear the voice of the Son, and shall live’ [ cf.John 5:25
], and the will and desire of Father and Son is one, since their nature also is one and indivisible. And the Arians torture themselves to no purpose, from not understanding the saying of our Saviour, ‘All things whatsoever the Father has are Mine.’ For from this passage at once the delusion of Sabellius can be upset, and it will expose the folly of our modern Jews. For this is why the Only begotten, having life in Himself as the Father has, also knows alone Who the Father is, namely, because He is in the Father and the Father in Him. For He is His Image, and consequently, because He is His Image, all that belongs to the Father is in Him. He is an exact seal, showing in Himself the Father; living Word and true, Power, Wisdom, our Sanctification and Redemption [ 1 Corinthians 1:30 ]. For ‘in Him we both
live and move and have our being’ [ Acts 17:28 ], and ‘no man knows Who is the Father, save the Son, and Who is the Son, save the Father?’ [ Luke 10:22 ].
§6. The Trisagion wrongly explained by Arians. Its true significance.
And how do the impious men venture to speak folly, as they ought not, being men and unable to find out how to describe even what is on the earth? But why do I say ‘what is on the earth?’ Let them tell us their own nature, if they can discover how to investigate their own nature? Rash they are indeed, and self-willed, not trembling to form opinions of things which angels desire to look into [ 1 Peter 1:12 ], who are so far above them, both in nature and in rank. For what is nearer [God] than the Cherubim or the Seraphim? And yet they, not even seeing Him, nor standing on their feet, nor even with bare, but as it were with veiled faces, offer their praises, with untiring lips doing nought else but glorify the divine and ineffable nature with the Trisagion. And nowhere has any one of the divinely speaking prophets, men specially selected for such vision, reported to us that in the first utterance of the word Holy the voice is raised aloud, while in the second it is lower, but in the third, quite low—and that consequently the first utterance denotes lordship, the second subordination, and the third marks a yet lower degree. But away with the folly of these haters of God and senseless men. For the Triad, praised, reverenced, and adored, is one and indivisible and without degrees ([ἀ] [σχηματιστός]). It is united without confusion, just as the Monad also is distinguished without separation. For the fact of those venerable living creatures [Isaiah 6; Revelation 4:8] offering their praises three times, saying ‘Holy, Holy, Holy,’ proves that the Three Subsistences are perfect, just as in saying ‘Lord,’ they declare the One Essence. They then that depreciate the Only-begotten Son of God blaspheme God, defaming His perfection and accusing Him of
imperfection, and render themselves liable to the severest chastisement. For he that blasphemes any one of the Subsistences shall have remission neither in this world nor in that which is to come. But God is able to open the eyes of their heart to contemplate the Sun of Righteousness, in order that coming to know Him whom they formerly set at nought, they may with unswerving piety of mind together with us glorify Him, because to Him belongs the kingdom, even to the Father Son and Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen.
This month, we are learning to “Walk in the Light” with St. Athanasios the Great. St. Athanasios was the patriarch of the Church of Alexandria. He is most famous for championing the correct when the Church was battling the heresy of Arius. Arius taught that there was a time when the Father was but the Son was not, making Christ a creation of the Father. The true faith persevered and was proclaimed at the first Ecumenical Council, held in the city of Nicaea in 325 AD, which taught that Christ was “the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all ages; Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten, not created, of one essence with the Father…”
Even after the council, Arius’ teachings lingered throughout the world and thus, we have one of the most famous pieces of Christian literature ever composed: “On the Incarnation” by St. Athanasios. In this masterpiece, St. Athanasios writes in great detail about the purpose and function of the incarnation of the Son of God, while speaking in very plain language so that all the members of the Church can understand the true faith. Today, we will read pieces of this timeless treasure and discuss them together in order that we might more clearly understand Christ and His love for us.
Before we begin our discussion, let’s begin with 120 seconds of silence. It’s been a long day. Take this chance to come into the presence of God and his saints as a group. Sit still. Breathe slowly and deeply. Say the Jesus prayer.
Part I: The Creation & Fall of Humanity
St. Athanasios begins his work about the Incarnation of Christ by first speaking about the creation of all humanity.
“Perhaps you are wondering for what reason, having proposed to talk about the Incarnation of the Word, we are now expounding the origin of human beings. Yet this too is not distinct from the aim of our exposition. For speaking of the manifestation of the savior to us, it is necessary also to speak about the origin of human beings, in order that you might know that our own cause was the occasion of his descent and that our own transgression evoked the Word’s love for human beings so that the Lord both came to us and appeared among human beings. On the Incarnation 4
He goes on to speak extensively about the different “theories” of creation that were floating around at his time. He lays down the foundation: God created all things out of nothing through His Word. He does all of this in order to remind the reader that Christ is able to save us, to “re-create” us, because He is, in fact, the same one who created us in the first place.
“As we give an account of this, it is first necessary to speak about the creation of the universe and its maker, God, so that one may with us worthily reflect that its re-creation was accomplished by the Word that created it in the beginning. For it will appear not at all contradictory if the Father works at salvation in the same one by whom he created it.” On the Incarnation 1
“You know what happens when a portrait that has been painted on a panel becomes obliterated through external stains. The artist does not throw away the panel, but the subject of the portrait has to come and sit for it again, and then the likeness is re-drawn on the same material. Even so was it with the All-holy Son of God. He, the Image of the Father, came and dwelt in our midst, in order that He might renew mankind made after Himself, and seek out His lost sheep, even as He says in the Gospel: ‘I came to seek and to save that which was lost.’” On the Incarnation 14
Here, we are presented with the most beautiful imagery. God yearned to restore us after our fall when He could have “started fresh” and just destroyed us for our lack of obedience to Him. St. Athanasios presents to us Christ as the one who loves us and comes to save us Himself. He does not send an angel, prophet, or saint to restore us, but rather, comes to us in our state of death and brings life into us once again Himself.
We love Him because He first loved us. 1 John 4:19
What are your reactions to hearing the words of St. Athaniasus? What do you find most important? Discuss together.
Christ comes to renew us because of His love for us. We might know this mentally but forget this spiritually. How does this impact how you see yourself, those around you, and the entire world?
If you could make one change in light of this impact tomorrow, what would it be?
Part II: Christ our Salvation
St. Athanasios gets to the crux of the matter: Christ comes to restore us through His Incarnation. He spends a good majority of the book expanding on this since he argues that Christ doesn’t simply come to die quietly just to fulfill some obligatory death but rather, He does much more.
Christ, Emmanual, visits us. “For this purpose, then, the incorporeal and incorruptible and immaterial Word of God comes into our realm, although he was not formerly distant. For no part of creation is left void of him; while abiding with his own Father, he has filled all things in every place. But now he comes, condescending towards us in his love for human beings and his manifestation” On the Incarnation 8
Christ, the Lamb, is slain for us, putting an end to the law’s judgment over us. “For by the sacrifice of his own body, he both put an end to the law lying against us and renewed for us the source of life, giving hope of the resurrection.” On the Incarnation 10
Christ, our teacher, reminds us once more of the Father. “For what profit would there be for those who were made, if they did not know their own Maker? Or how would they be rational, not knowing the Word of the Father, in whom they came to be? For they would not have differed at all from the irrational creatures if they had known nothing more than the terrestrial animals. And why would God have made those by whom he did not wish to be known?… So, lest this should happen, being good he bestowed on them of his own image, our Lord Jesus Christ, and made them according to his own image and according to the likeness, so that understanding through such grace the image, I mean the Word of the Father, they might be able to receive through him a notion of the Father, and knowing the Creator they might live the happy and truly blessed life.” On the Incarnation 11
Christ, our Savior, redeems us as He destroys death by His resurrection. “Indeed, with the common Savior of all dying for us, we, the faithful in Christ, no longer die by death as before according to the threat of the law, for such condemnation has ceased.” On the Incarnation 21
Christ, our King, protects us. “And like as when a great king has entered into some large city and taken up his abode in one of the houses there, such city is at all events held worthy of high honor, nor does any enemy or bandit any longer descend upon it and subject it; but, on the contrary, it is thought entitled to all care, because of the king’s having taken up his residence in a single house there: so, too, has it been with the Monarch of all. On the Incarnation 9
For St. Athanasios, the entire life of Christ—each and every detail—is purposeful and works to save and restore us.
How does St. Athanasios’ understanding of Christ’s incarnation and work of salvation change how you understand Him?
While many of us are quite intimidated when we hear “Church Fathers”, “Patristics”, “Theology”, etc, how has this exercise of reading all of these quotes been? Discuss.
What stood out to you about these passages?
What questions has this conversation raised for you?
Is there anything you’re still wondering about?
“The Dying Prayer of St. Athanasios
Thou art Jesus, the Son of the Father, Yea, Amen.
Thou art He who commandeth the Cherubim and the Seraphim, Yea, Amen.
Thou hast existed with the Father in truth always, Yea. Amen.
Thou rulest the Angels, Yea, Amen.
Thou art the power of the Heavens, Yea, Amen.
Thou art the crown of the Martyrs, Yea, Amen.
Thou art the deep counsel of the Saints, Yea, Amen.
Thou art He in whom the deep counsel of the Father is hidden, Yea, Amen.
Thou art the mouth of the Prophets, Yea, Amen.
Thou art the tongue of the Angels, Yea, Amen.
Thou art Jesus my Life, Yea, Amen.
Thou art Jesus the object and boast of the world, Yea, Amen.
(A.W.T. Budge, Coptic Homilies in the Dialect of Upper Egypt, [The Dying Prayer of St. Athanasios, Archbishop of Alexandria, pp. 1012-1020])
Protopresbyter George Dion Dragas: According to this text, which is based on the personal witness of his Archdeacon, who stood by him at the moment of his departure from the present life, and was uttered shortly before he delivered his sanctified soul to the angels who came down to receive it, recalls the entire course of the divine economy for the salvation of mankind and concludes with a doxology to the Lord Jesus Christ. (Saint Athanasios: Original Research and New Perspectives, pg. 204)”
Saint Athanasios the Great, Archbishop of Alexandria, was a great Father of the Church and a pillar of Orthodoxy. He was born around the year 297 in the city of Alexandria into a family of pious Christians. He received a fine secular education, but he acquired more knowledge by diligent study of the Holy Scripture. In his childhood, the future hierarch Athanasios became known to Saint Alexander the Patriarch of Alexandria (Commemorated May 29). A group of children, which included Athanasios, were playing at the seashore. The Christian children decided to baptize their pagan playmates.
The young Athanasios, whom the children designated as “bishop”, performed the Baptism, precisely repeating the words he heard in church during this sacrament. Patriarch Alexander observed all this from a window. He then commanded that the children and their parents be brought to him. He conversed with them for a long while, and determined that the Baptism performed by the children was done according to the Church order. He acknowledged the Baptism as real and sealed it with the sacrament of Chrismation. From this moment, the Patriarch looked after the spiritual upbringing of Athanasios and in time brought him into the clergy, at first as a reader, and then he ordained him as a deacon.
It was as a deacon that Saint Athanasios accompanied Patriarch Alexander to the First Ecumenical Council at Nicea in the year 325. At the Council, Saint Athanasios refuted the heresy of Arius. His speech met with the approval of the Orthodox Fathers of the Council, but the Arians, those openly and those secretly so, came to hate Athanasios and persecuted him for the rest of his life.
After the death of holy Patriarch Alexander, Saint Athanasios was unanimously chosen as his successor in the See of Alexandria. He refused, accounting himself unworthy, but at the insistence of all the Orthodox populace that it was in agreement, he was consecrated bishop when he was twenty-eight, and installed as the archpastor of the Alexandrian Church. Saint Athanasios guided the Church for forty-seven years, and during this time he endured persecution and grief from his antagonists. Several times he was expelled from Alexandria and hid himself from the Arians in desolate places, since they repeatedly tried to kill him. Saint Athanasios spent more than twenty years in exile, returned to his flock, and then was banished again.
There was a time when he remained as the only Orthodox bishop in the area, a moment when all the other bishops had fallen into heresy. At the false councils of Arian bishops he was deposed as bishop. Despite being persecuted for many years, the saint continued to defend the purity of the Orthodox Faith, and he wrote countless letters and tracts against the Arian heresy.
When Julian the Apostate (361-363) began a persecution against Christians, his wrath first fell upon Saint Athanasios, whom he considered a great pillar of Orthodoxy. Julian intended to kill the saint in order to strike Christianity a grievous blow, but he soon perished himself. Mortally wounded by an arrow during a battle, he cried out with despair: “You have conquered, O Galilean.” After Julian’s death, Saint Athanasios guided the Alexandrian Church for seven years and died in 373, at the age of seventy-six.
Numerous works of Saint Athanasios have been preserved; four Orations against the Arian heresy; also an Epistle to Epictetus, bishop of the Church of Corinth, on the divine and human natures in Jesus Christ; four Epistles to Serapion, Bishop of Thmuis, about the Holy Spirit and His equality with the Father and the Son, directed against the heresy of Macedonius.
Other apologetic works of the Saint in defense of Orthodoxy have been preserved, among which is the Letter to the Emperor Constantius. Saint Athanasios wrote commentaries on Holy Scripture, and books of a moral and didactic character, as well as a biography of Saint Anthony the Great (January 17), with whom Saint Athanasios was very close. Saint John Chrysostom advised every Orthodox Christian to read this Life.
The memory of Saint Athanasios is celebrated also on January 18 with Saint Cyril of Alexandria.
When reading the life and works of this holy Saint, it may seem somewhat difficult to find ways that through our prayers, he is able to intercede for us. Looking closer, however, reveals there is an application to us as college students. He received an education not just in the world, but outside of it as well. The resulting knowledge gained from the education and upbringing by the hands of St. Alexander led St. Athanasios to be an educated defender of the faith against Arianism and the persecutions of Julian the Apostate. When we are faced with adversity and persecution, we can pray to St. Athanasios to bring about understanding and correct those who speak falsely about the Faith.
What surprised you about the life of St. Athanasios?
How might you benefit from getting to know the intricacies of the lives of the saints?
Learn his Troparian
Thou wast Orthodoxy’s steadfast pillar, holding up the Church with godly dogmas, O great Hierarch, for thou didst preach unto all that God the Son is one essence in very truth with God the Father; thus thou didst shame Arius. Righteous Father Athanasios, do thou entreat Christ God that His great mercy be granted unto us.
O Saint of God, you were raised by the Lord of Glory to confront the greatest heresy of all time, the diabolical lie that the Son of God is a created being. When the impious Arius spread his poison of falsehood throughout Egypt and beyond, you led the defense of the one true Faith and to you, who defeated the devil and annulled the Arians, we cry:
Rejoice, true theologian of the Incarnation!
Rejoice, pious guardian of the Nicene Creed!
Rejoice, godly son of the Son of God!
Rejoice, bright beacon of the Light of Light!
Rejoice, destroyer of the devil’s delusion!
Rejoice, defender of the one true Faith!
Rejoice, O Father Athanasius, Holy confessor and champion of Orthodoxy!
Saint John of Damascus expresses the Light of Christ in the poetry of the hymns that he wrote for the Church. Many of his hymns can be found in the Orthodox funeral service, and we will take a deeper look at how amidst the great grief and sorrow of a death, there is hope in eternal life with our Lord. First, read the story behind Saint John’s writing of the funeral hymns here. Next, take the time to focus specifically on these two hymns by Saint John. Soak in the beauty of his paradoxical poetry.
“What earthly sweetness remains unmixed with grief? What glory stands immutable on the earth? All things are but feeble shadows, all things are most deluding dreams, yet one moment only, and death shall supplant them all. But in the light of Thy countenance, O Christ, and in the sweetness of Thy beauty, give rest to him whom Thou hast chosen, for as much as Thou lovest mankind.
“I weep and lament when I think upon death, and behold our beauty created in the likeness of God lying in the tomb disfigured, bereft of glory and form. O the marvel of it! What is this mystery concerning us? Why have we been delivered to corruption? Why have we been wedded unto death? Truly, as it is written, by the command of God who giveth the departed rest.”
Questions For Discussion
In the story, we see how Saint John disobeyed his elder in writing this hymn, knowing that his brother monk was so grieved by the loss of his brother. A quote by Saint Justin Popovich comes to mind: “I will sacrifice myself in order to save the canons of the Church, but in the case of saving one person I will sacrifice all the canons.” What times (if there are any) are we called to abandon rules for our fellow brothers and sisters? What discernment is needed in those moments? Discuss.
The Greek word charmolypi (χαρμολύπη) translates to “joyful sorrow”, and in Orthodoxy, this pertains to the Cross and Resurrection of Christ. What is the joyful sorrow in our own lives? Think of examples of where you may have felt this intense emotion (maybe you didn’t even know how to describe it!), and discuss.
In “An Exposition by the Orthodox Faith”, Saint John states that “since the enemy snares man by the hope of the Godhead, he himself is snared in turn by the screen of flesh.” What do the words of Saint John reveal to us about the unnaturalness of death? What is this “mystery” concerning us?
There is a realism and bluntness to the words of Saint John in relation to death, a harsh reality of the inevitable fate for all of us. Knowing this striking reality, how can we gain a more full appreciation for the victorious resurrection of Christ? How does our understanding of death grant us a spirit of gratefulness?
This month, we are learning to “walk in the Light” with Saint John of Damascus. Saint John had a true devotion to Christ and His Church as he defended the faith against the heresy of iconoclasm that was ever present during his time. Saint John shows us that there is a dimension to iconography that reveals the true light of our salvation—Jesus Christ. Today, we will use his writings to explore icons as “the window of heaven” through which the Light that springs from the Holy Trinity can be revealed.
Before our discussion begins, let’s have 120 seconds of silence.
Take this chance to come into the presence of God and His saints as a group. Sit still. Breathe slowly and deeply. Say the Jesus prayer.
Part I: Icons Communicate the Light of Christ
Saint John of Damascus penned some of the most vital arguments in favor of icon veneration through the lens of Christology, or our understanding of who Jesus Christ is. According to Saint John, our relationship to icons unfolds from the nature of Christ, who is both fully man and fully God in one Person. The Second Person of the Trinity became incarnate, taking on flesh and therefore making the invisible God visible. Thus, icons reveal to us the Incarnate Christ—in which both humanity and divinity are manifested without confusion, division, mixture, or change.
“I make an image of the God whom I see. I do not worship matter, I worship the God of matter, who became matter for my sake, and deigned to inhabit matter, who worked out my salvation through matter. I will not cease from honoring that matter which works my salvation. I venerate it, though not as God. How could God be born out of lifeless things? And if God’s body is God by its union with him, it is changeless. The nature of God remains the same as before, the flesh created in time is brought to life by a logical and reasoning soul. I honor all matter, and venerate it. Through it, filled, as it were, with a divine power and grace, my salvation has come to me.”
Here we see Saint John conveying how the icon communicates the incarnation of Christ without leading us to worship created things. Icons are neither simply portraits nor are they idols meant to draw our attention away from the Creator, but rather, icons portray the unity of humanity with God in Christ.
How would you summarize Saint John’s thoughts on the defense of icons, specifically looking at the difference between worship and veneration? Discuss with one another.
Icons are unlike any painting of Picasso or Monet, as they call us to something deeper, something not of this world. How are icons a union between the visible and invisible worlds?
Part II: Icons Reveal the Goodness of Creation
Saint John adresses the fact that the origin of icons lay in the Incarnation of Christ, as this was a sign of perfect love for the purpose of salvation for the world. In each icon, the awesomeness of God becomes accessible to our very eyes, a true way to reveal the glory of God. Let us read the words of Saint John, as they so beautifully describe the icon as it transcends the detachment between the created world and the kingdom of God.
“The invisible things of God have been made visible through images since the creation of the world. We see images in creation which remind us faintly of God, e.g. in order to talk about the holy and worshipful Trinity, we use the images of the sun and rays of light, a spring and a full river, the mind and speech and the spirit within us, or a rose tree, a sprouting flower, and a sweet fragrance.”
“I honor all matter, and venerate it. Through it, filled, as it were, with a divine power and grace, my salvation has come to me. Was the three-times happy and blessed wood of the Cross not matter? Was the sacred and holy mountain of Calvary not matter? What of the life-giving rock, the Holy Tomb, the source of our resurrection — was it not matter? Is the holy book of the Gospels not matter? Is the blessed table which gives us the Bread of Life not matter? Are the gold and silver, out of which crosses and altar-plate and chalices are made not matter? And before all these things, is not the body and blood of our Lord matter? Either stop venerating all these things, or submit to the tradition of the Church in the venerating of images, honoring God and his friends, and following in this the grace of the Holy Spirit. Do not despise matter, for it is not despicable. Nothing that God has made is.”
Here, Saint John states that we are not to despise matter.” It is true that in the Orthodox Church, we venerate icons and hold them with dear reverence. We are careful with them at all times, and do not damage them in any way. Why is this? As Saint John emphasizes, icons are images of the light of Christ, and are to be treated with great care and honor. Just as we hold icons to be matter that is venerated, we must too hold our own brothers and sisters to this same standard of honor and care, as each one of us are icons of Christ. If we are to “honor all matter and venerate it” as Saint John voices, we must be ready to honor and venerate our neighbors with the very same carefulness. Imagine if we ran and kissed our neighbors the same way we run to kiss an icon of the Theotokos. We are all created by God as a reflection of His holiness, and thus, we should treat each with that very belief, running to hug and kiss one another as we run and kiss the very icon of Christ.
Why is it very easy to love and venerate an icon but at times, so difficult to love our neighbors?
Saint Paisios once said “The grass is an icon; this stone is an icon; and I can kiss it, venerate it, because it is filled with God’s grace.” In today’s day and age, we see trends of neo-paganism on the one hand and rejection of physical realities on the other. What do St. John and St. Paisios teach us in regards to how we should approach the material world? How is it different from approaches you see others take?
We are constantly being called to be ready to defend our faith at all times. If asked, how would you defend the veneration of icons in the Church?