This interview with his Eminence
Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou was published in
the journal "Καθ' οδόν" by the Community Youth of the Sacred Metropolis
of Limassol, and as the reader will see, the questions cover a large
part of the Christology of Christmas.
Question: The word
Χριστούγεννα (Greek word for "Christmas") means the birth of Christ. We
would like you to tell us what was the purpose of the birth of Christ
and generally why did the Word of God have to incarnate. Couldn't there
have been another way for the salvation of the human race?
Answer: As it is written
throughout our biblical-patristic tradition, the purpose of the
Incarnation of the Word of God is the theosis of humanity, which means
that He who according to His nature is God became man, that we may
become gods according to Grace. In one of his discourses, Athanasius the
Great analyzes that God sent the Prophets in the Old Testament to speak
to His people, but ultimately the issue was how man will be deified and
how he will be released from death. The law could not save, but it
prepared the people to accept Christ, which is why it was our "pedagogue
in Christ" (Gal. 3:24). Christ by His incarnation united to His Person
the divine and human nature, that it may be the "medicine" for our
theosis, and He received an extremely pure yet mortal and sufferable
body that He may suffer and conquer death. For example, when a drug is
discovered the possibility is given to each person to use it for their
healing. This is what took place with the incarnation of Christ, who
offered the "medicine of immortality", according to Saint Ignatius the
Question: What does
history reveal about the events of the birth of Christ (the time, the
place, the circumstances, the persecution, etc.)?
Answer: Two points are
shown in the event of the birth of Christ. The first is the love of God
towards man, His great philanthropy, that He is, as Saint Maximus the
Confessor says, both eros and the object of eros, and as eros He moves
towards man and as the object of eros He attracts to Himself those
receptive to His eros. The second is the tragedy of fallen man, who did
not understand the benevolence of God and created many problems for Him.
This is also a contemporary reality. And today there is a struggle
between the philanthropy of God and the apostasy of fallen tragic man.
It is a terrible thing for man to refuse and resist the love of Christ,
which is offered in many ways.
Question: Why was Christ born of the Virgin Mary and why did He come from the Jewish race and not by another woman?
Answer: Christ was "the
expectation of the nations" (Gen. 49:10), since all nations were
expecting a redeemer, a savior. We see this also in ancient Greece, such
as the trilogy of Aeschylus (Prometheus Bound, Prometheus Unbound, Prometheus the Fire-Bringer)
and Socrates, as well as among the eastern peoples. But the Prophets
prepared the Jewish nation better for the coming of the Messiah. The
Virgin Mary became His mother, because, according to Saint Gregory
Palamas, before the Annunciation she reached theosis according to Grace
within the Holy of Holies. However, the incarnate Christ called all
nations to His Church, He became the Savior of all humanity, and His
work was universal.
Question: Christ was born in time. The second Person of the Holy Trinity was born. Why didn't the Father or the Holy Spirit incarnate?
Answer: By His birth
Christ entered history and time, and in this way He sanctified history
and time. The incarnation of the second Person of the Holy Trinity took
place, according to Saint John of Damascus, for two reasons. The first
is because the Son and Word of God was the prototype of the creation of
man, that is, man was created in the image of the Word and for this
reason it is through the Word that our regeneration should take place.
The second reason is that the Word was born before all ages by the
Father according to His divinity, and He also had to be born in time
according to His humanity, that this property (of birth) may not change
and remain still. Thus, the Son of God became the Son of man.
However, the incarnation of the
Word of God is a work of the entire Triune God, since the Father willed
it, the Son was incarnated and the Holy Spirit participated in the
incarnation. And we through Christ in the Holy Spirit know the Father.
Everything is triadic.
Question: We hear the
phrase "He was foretold by the Prophets". Regarding this historical
event of the Nativity, what was prophesied and by whom?
Answer: The Nativity of
Christ was foretold by the Prophets in a clear way. The Prophet Isaiah,
who is called the loudest voice of the Prophets (St. John Chrysostom)
and the fifth Evangelist (St. Jerome), foresaw the birth of Christ by
the Virgin. The Prophet Micah foresaw the place of the Nativity, in
Bethlehem. The Prophet Jeremiah foresaw the slaughter of the infants.
The Prophet Hosea foresaw the flight of Christ into Egypt. The Prophet
David foresaw the adoration of the Magi. Everything was prophesied in
the Old Testament.
Question: What does
the hymn that was chanted by the Angels at the time of the birth mean:
"Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth peace to men of good
pleasure"? What "peace" (ειρήνη) did the Angels mean here, and what does
the word "good pleasure" (ευδοκία) mean?
Answer: The peace
of which the angels sang at the birth of Christ is the union of the
divine and human nature in the Person of Christ. Christ assumed human
nature in His Person and deified it, by which all of human nature was
brought peace from the consequences of the fall, and in this way every
person was given the opportunity to participate in this peace, by living
within the Church, with her sacramental and ascetic life. The Church is
the "place" in which man experiences the love and peace of God.
The word good pleasure,
according to Saint Nikodemos the Hagiorite, who used various patristic
texts, such as Saint Maximus the Confessor, Saint John of Damascus and
Saint Gregory Palamas, means that the reception of human nature by
Christ was the original/prior will of God for the deification of
humanity (according to the will of His good pleasure). The deification
of man could not take place if there was not a hypostatic union of the
divine and human natures, the uncreated and the created natures.
However, the law through Moses, the words of the Prophets, etc. were
imperfect (according to the will of concession) due to the fall, but
were perfected through the incarnation of Christ. This is the difference
between the will "according to good pleasure" (κατ' ευδοκίαν) and
"according to concession" (κατά παραχώρησιν). The incarnation of Christ
was the original plan of God, His good pleasure. What was introduced
after the fall of Adam, was the Cross and death.
Question: Many things are heard about the star of Bethlehem and the Magi. How did the Fathers of the Church interpret them?
Answer: Astronomers try
to give various explanations for the appearance of the star. However,
the star cannot be interpreted through scientific explanations,
particularly if one observes that it moved from east to west, from north
to south, that it was concealed and it appeared again, that it leads
the Magi, that it comes low and shows the location of Christ. This is
why the Fathers of the Church say that the star was a bright Angel, even
the Archangel Gabriel, who led the Magi, and worked out the incarnation
of Christ. Saint John Chrysostom says that it was not a star but "some
invisible power transformed into this appearance". This patristic
interpretation is shown in various icons where the star is depicted as
Question: The incarnation of Christ is called an emptiness (κένωσις) and a condescension (συγκατάβασις). What do these terms mean?
Answer: The term
"emptiness" was determined by the Apostle Paul, when he writes of
Christ: "Who, being in the form of God, did not consider equality with
God something to be used to His own advantage; rather, He emptied
Himself by taking the form of a servant, being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled himself by becoming
obedient to death — even death on a cross!" (Philippians 2:6-8).
According to Saint John Chrysostom, the term "emptied" does not mean a
change, a migration or an extinction of the divine nature, but that
Christ, as God, remained what He was: "Being made flesh He remained God,
in that He was the Word."
Emptiness is associated with the
word "condescension", because Christ assumed human nature without
eliminating His divine nature, the glory of divinity, which is why He
condescended to humanity, without losing His glory. In the Akathist Hymn
we chant: "For it was God’s condescension, and not a change of place."
Here lies the greatness of God's love, since as Saint John of Damascus
says: "He humbled without humiliation His lofty station which yet could
not be humbled." In this manner it is indicated to us to live our own
emptiness as an expression of love for God and man.
Thus, God's descent to earth
means the reception of mortality and a sufferable body, and the
ascension of Christ to heaven means the release of the body from
corruptibility and mortality.
Question: "Christ is eternally born" and "Christ is born in us". What is your view?
Answer: Christ, according
to Saint Maximus the Confessor, was born once in the flesh, but He is
always born spiritually in those who are united with Him. The birth of
Christ within us, which is experienced as our regeneration, takes place
through the sacramental life of the Church, especially through Holy
Communion, when we commune with the prerequisites of prayer, repentance
and the hesychastic life, which is called the neptic tradition of the
Church. This is why Saint John Chrysostom speaks of the "eternal
Christmas", the "eternal Pentecost".
When one reads the works of
Saint Symeon the New Theologian, they understand what it is for Christ
to be born within us. A person must feel within themselves Christ
"stirring in the womb", like a pregnant woman feels the stirrings of an
embryo within her. Our union with Christ does not take place in an
abstract way, but existentially and spiritually, and it is experienced
psychosomatically. One feels within themselves repentance, love for God
and man, the sense of eternal life, the transformation of the passions,
unceasing prayer and finally, if God allows, man can see God in His
uncreated Light. The birth of God should cause our personal spiritual
regeneration. If we do not experience this, it is as if Christ was not
born for us. And it is a terrible thing to celebrate the Nativity of
Christ, without feeling our own regeneration. It is as if we are
celebrating the birth of an infant that is absent.
Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "Συνέντευξη για τα Χριστούγεννα", November 2007. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.