Section 18 is the last in St. Gregory the Theologian’s Oration 38. Despite the challenges posed by the polemics of Sections 14 & 15, this last part of St. Gregory’s homily on Christmas may very well be the most provocative, especially for those of us who live in the relative luxury of 21st century America. St. Gregory exhorts us to intimately identify ourselves with Christ. That in and of itself isn’t very shocking; however, the kind of intimacy he demands is.
Be stoned? Get interrogated by authorities who might kill us? Seek torture? Taste gall? Seek spittings? Accept beatings? Get crowned with thorns? Get crucified and die? At first glance, St. Gregory sounds as if he wants us all to turn into suicidal masochists.
For those of us who live in societies that are relatively tolerant of Christianity, St. Gregory’s words are metaphor. The proof of this is when he asks us to “be crowned with thorns through the harshness of a life in accord with God.” Though he might be speaking of the ascetical practices of Orthodox Christianity, the sacrifices we must make in our time and treasure for a life in Christ as well as the hardship that accompanies trying to do the right thing, here is a dirty little secret: life is harsh whether you are a practicing Orthodox Christian or not.
We are all doomed to tragedy, decay and death. We will be assaulted by natural disaster, emotional turmoil and disappointment. We will all see the dreams of our youth fade into the harsh realities of adulthood and old age (that is, if we aren’t molested by some disease or accident which makes old age look like a luxury).
Thus, St. Gregory really isn’t asking us to seek trials and tribulations because we are going to have to go through them whether we like it or not. Rather, St. Gregory is asking us to go through all of our pain and suffering with Christ at our side. He does so with this litany of sufferings that Christ went through Himself to demonstrate that Christ is intimately familiar with our suffering. We do not have to go through the harshness of life alone. We do not have to shoulder all of this pain on our own.
Christ tells us His burden is light, because He has the strength to shoulder all of the pain and all of the suffering that humanity has ever, will ever and is going through. If we allow ourselves to identify with the suffering Christ went through for us, we, with Christ not only at our side but within us, can power through even the most horrendous of tribulations. Witness the martyrs.
In the end, all the pain, the suffering and the death that world can throw at us are powerless in the face of of the resurrection. This is our hope, this is our strength, this is our victory and it is all made possible because Christ is Born! Glorify Him!