“He Who holds the universe and grasps it in the hollow of His hand, is wrapped in narrow swaddling bands and fastened into ordinary clothes”

This is the festival of the virgin birth! Our address must be exulted therefore in accordance with the greatness of the feast, and enter into the mystery, as far as this is accessible and permissible, and time allows, that something of its inner power might be revealed even to us. Please strive, brethren, to lift up your minds as well, that they may better perceive the light of divine knowledge, as though brightly illumined by a holy star. For today I see equality of honor between heaven and earth, and a way up for all those below to things above, matching the condescension of those on high. However great the heaven of heavens may be, or the upper waters which form a roof over the celestial regions, or any heavenly place, state or order, they are no more marvelous or honorable than the cave, the manger, the water sprinkled on the infant and His swaddling clothes. For nothing done by God from the beginning of time was more beneficial to all or more divine than Christ’s nativity, which we celebrate today.

The pre-eternal and uncircumscribed and Almighty Word is now born according to the flesh, without home, without shelter, without dwelling, and placed as a babe in the manger, seen by men’s eyes, touched by their hands, and wrapped in layers of swaddling bands. He is not a spiritual creature coming into being after previously not existing; nor flesh which is brought to birth but will soon perish; nor flesh and mind united to form a rational creature, but God and flesh mingled unconfusedly by the divine Mind to form the existence of one theandric hypostasis, who entered the Virgin’s womb for a time. By the good pleasure of the Father and the co-operation of the Spirit, the Word Who transcends being came into being in this womb and by means of it, and now He is delivered from it and born as an infant, not loosing but preserving the signs of virginity. He is born without suffering, as He was conceived without passion, for as His mother was shown to be above the pleasure of passion when she conceived, so she is above grievous pains when she gives birth. “Before the pain of travail came upon her, she escaped it”, as Isaiah says (cf. Isa. 66:7 Lxx), and she brought forth in the flesh the pre-eternal Word. Not only is His Divinity inscrutable, but the manner in which He was united with flesh is past understanding. His condescension unsurpassable, and the human nature He assumed divinely, ineffably sublime, and so far above all thought and speech, that it does not admit of any comparison with creation. Even though you see in the flesh the child born to the Maid who knew no husband, He is still beyond compare. It says, “He is fair in beauty beside the sons of men” (cf. Ps. 45:2 Lxx). It does not say “fairer” but simply “fair”, so as not to compare incomparable things: the nature of God Himself to than of mere men.

“God, thy God”, it says, “hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows” (Ps. 45:7). The same one is both perfectly God and perfectly man; the same God is both the one who anoints and is anointed. For it says, “God, thy God hath anointed thee”. It is as man that the Word from God the Father is anointed, and He is anointed with the co-eternal Spirit who is of one nature with Him. This is oil of gladness, which is why, again, it is the same God Who is both the divine unction and the one anointed. But although He is anointed as man, as God He has the source of anointing within Himself. That is why he who beheld things in a divine manner saw and foretold that all those anointed by God were partakers of His life. For it is the property of God alone not to partake of the lives of others but to be partaken of, and to have as partakers those who rejoice in the Spirit. Such is the infant born now in the lowly stable, and hymned by us as a babe in the manger. …

That is why God Who sits upon the Cherubim (Ps. 99:1) is set before us as a babe on earth. He upon whom the six-winged Seraphim cannot look, being unable to gaze intently not only at His Nature but even at the radiance of His glory, and therefore covering their eyes with their wings (Isa. 6:2), having become flesh, appears to our senses and can be seen by bodily eyes. He Who defines all things and is limited by no one is contained in a small, makeshift manger. He Who holds the universe and grasps it in the hollow of His hand, is wrapped in narrow swaddling bands and fastened into ordinary clothes. He Who possesses the riches of inexhaustible treasures submits Himself voluntarily to such great poverty that He does not even have a place at the inn; and so He enters into a cave at the time of His birth, Who was brought forth by God timelessly and impassibly and without beginning. And–how great a wonder!–not only does He Who shares the Nature of the Father on high put on our fallen nature through His birth, nor is He subject merely to the utter poverty of being born in a wretched cave, but right from the very start, while still in the womb, He accepts the final condemnation of our nature. He Who is by Nature Lord of all is now ranked with the servants and enrolled with them (Luke 2:1-6), clearly making humble service to others no less honorable than the exercise of lordship, or rather, showing the servants as having greater honor than the earthly ruler at that time, provided of course they understood and obeyed the magnificence of grace. For the man who then seemed to rule the world was not counted with the King of Heaven, though all his subjects were, nor was this earthly ruler reckoned then as one of them, but the heavenly Lord was.

St Gregory Palamas

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1 Response to “He Who holds the universe and grasps it in the hollow of His hand, is wrapped in narrow swaddling bands and fastened into ordinary clothes”

  1. Incomparable glory. Wonder of the Blessed Trinity. Glorious mystery of the Incarnation.

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