, , , , , , ,

I think the most significant idea to come out of the third paragraph of St. Gregory Palamas’ Homily Fifty-Eight on the Saving Nativity According to the Flesh of Our Lord and God and Savior (and, indeed, out of everything that we’ve read so far of this sermon) is an idea that may very well be alien to the modern American mind.

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.

Modern man is far removed from the practice of anointing. It was a mainstay in ancient cultures as a means of healing (see James 5:14-15). In other words, oil was not merely something to fry foods in, it was also seen as medicinal. This is why oil and anointing play such large roles in Baptism and Chrismation. God is healing His broken creation. The means of this healing is an actual partaking and participation in God Himself. At their chrismation (where they are anointed with myrrh), Orthodox Christians are sealed with the Holy Spirit Himself. In a literal sense, we become the tabernacle — the place where God resides. This, in turn, allows us to partake of Christ Himself in the eucharist.

In the notes of the Mount Thabor annotated edition of Gregory Palamas’ homilies, the editors cite St. Ireneus who stated in Against the Heresies V:

The Word of God, Jesus Christ our Lord: who, on account of His boundless love became what we are, so that we might become what He is.

The means by which this happens is the Holy Spirit. Note how the Holy Spirit is not only present at the major events in Christ’s ministry, but leads Christ and prepares His way. Just take a look at the events surrounding the Baptism of Christ. The Spirit fills St. John the Baptist, who prepares the way for Christ (Matt 3:3). The Holy Spirit descends upon Christ in the form of a dove (Matt 3:16; Mark 1:10; Luke 3:22), thus preparing Christ for His ministry. Then immediately, Christ heads out to the desert for forty days lead by the Holy Spirit (Matt 4:1; Mark 1:12; Luke 4:1). In this same way, it is the Spirit that not only leads us to Christ, but is our access to Him.

In defending the divinity of the Holy Spirit in his Letter to Serapion, St. Athanasius notes the various ways the three persons of God are described throughout Scripture. The Father is called Fountain: “They have forsaken me, the fountain of living water” (Jer 2:13). The Son is described as flowing waters (River): “the river of God is filled with waters” (Ps 65:10). Finally we are said to Drink of the Holy Spirit: “we have all been given to drink of the Spirit” (1 Cor 12:13).

In other words, God the Father is the Fountain of Life who, out of love, sends us the river of life (the Son). We, in turn, drink of the Holy Spirit. This also means that we drink in Christ: “they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and that rock was Christ” (1 Cor 10:4). In so doing, we become the children of God: “You have received the Spirit of sonship” (Rom 8:15) and “For those who did accept Him, He gave power to become children of God” (Jn 1:12). As the children of God, we participate in the love of the Father.

To put it yet another way, God so loves the world that He sent us His Only-Begotten Son. Christ went to the Cross and Tomb so that we might be sealed with the Holy Spirit, who then leads us to participate in the Divine Liturgy, where we pray:

Once again we offer to You this spiritual worship without the shedding of blood, and we ask, pray, and entreat You: send down Your Holy Spirit upon us and upon these gifts here presented.

And make this bread the precious Body of Your Christ. Amen.

And that which is in this cup the precious Blood of Your Christ. Amen.

Changing them by Your Holy Spirit. Amen. Amen. Amen. — Anaphora from the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom

We then partake of the Body and Blood of Christ through the Eucharist, through which we participate in the love of the Father.

Thus, God created us in His image and likeness so that we could become like God by participating in the Trinity just as He does. Christ became a babe in a manger specifically for this purpose — that we partake of His life. This becomes manifest every time we participate in the Divine Liturgy. We do not merely gather to give praise to God and give Him thanks for all that He does for us. We gather to partake in the life of the Trinity.

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God the Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with all of you. — Anaphora from the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom