Adventures in Advertising #2: Naming a Housing Development

Welcome to your second lesson in “Adventures in Advertising:™ Because Effective Advertising is the Lifeblood of Healthy Capitalism.”™ Our professionally-trained team of researchers, experts, scientists, professionals, specialists, and all-around Renaissance persons will present in this series the fundamental principles of advertising.

So let’s keep going! (See our first lesson for tips on naming a luxury vehicle.)

Naming a Housing Development

OK, so you’ve got plans to buy Farmer Brown’s farm and turn it into something useful to society, i.e., a gazillion identical homes slightly further out from the lights and noise of the city, or even from other suburbs. The only problem is that you can’t think of a name for it.

What do you do? Well, my financially enterprising friend, you’ve come to the right place.

Introductory Principle: We’re not in the business of presenting a development as it really is. People are fleeing from the crush and crawl of the city for a reason, so you don’t want to rub it in their faces that they’re moving into a vanilla middle-class suburbotopia. You want them to think that they’re moving into a neighborhood that has more wildlife than rats and tree rats (squirrels), which may or may actually not be the case. They’re reaching for freedom, and you can give it to them (for a price, of course).

You also want them to feel pride every time they pull into the neighborhood while listening to “Can’t Get Enough Of Your Love Baby” by Barry White in their all-new AX5, if they can afford one; simply seeing the development’s clever name on the faux-brick sign that you’ve devised at the entrance to the neighborhood will instill a sense of gratefulness in the development’s denizens for your perspicacity.

Two Easy, Simple, Not Hard Steps

Step One: Make it Sound Naturey. Nobody wants to move into neighborhoods like Concrete Country Club or Treeless Terraces. They want to think that they’re enjoying some scrap of the peace and quiet of nature, enjoying the good life in some pristine pre-modern village out in the boonies. To effect this, always make one word, preferably the first, something naturey-sounding. Whether the development actually has or had those naturally-occurring features is irrelevant. Here is a list gathered by our specialists for inspiration (which may have been mostly taken from actual developments in the western suburbs of Chicagoland):

Summerlakes, Walnut Hill Apartments, Country Ridge Apartments, Fox Hollow, Butterfield Oaks, Ginger Woods, Linden Grove, Marywood Meadows, Oak Meadows, Timber Trails, or, quite simply, Savannah.

Don’t you just want to drop everything and spontaneously go hiking? Stop right there, partner, because we’re not done yet. Notice how all of these examples have a natural element; this is because the developers knew what they were doing. They wanted people to have naturey associations with their housing developments, however real or imaginary those associations may be.

(We may note in passing that the developers of “The Trees of Wheaton” and “Sunny Apartments” could have used our life-changing tips to rectify their stunning lack of imagination.)

However, avoid a major pitfall by also applying our next step. You can have a naturey word in the name of your housing development but still fail disastrously. Nobody wants to move into neighborhoods like Reykjavík Rocks, Kiev Steppes, or Archangelsk Cottages. Borrowing place names taken from anywhere in the world but a single particular island could be, well, really bad.

Step Two: Also include, if possible, a name sounding English. You want to associate your development with the peace and poshness of the English countryside. Think “Pride and Prejudice,” “Shadowlands,” heck, even “Nanny McPhee.” Try these names on for size:

Cambridge Pointe, Prestonfield, Chesterfield, Cambridge Countryside, or London Square. (Most Americans haven’t been to London, but this serves the purpose just as well.)

If you can combine our two career-changing two steps, we guarantee that you’ve have a gaggle of middle-class folks lining up in their AX5s while pumping Barry Manilow’s silky-smooth tunes to buy one of the gazillions of clone homes you are offering at a reasonable price.

Career-Changing Advice in Action™

Believe us now? Of course you do!

Now you try it! Stun your business partner by combining something naturey and something even remotely English-sounding in the name of your new housing development. Make people think that they’re moving into a bucolic paradise with all the swankiness of Mr. Darcy’s country estate. As you climb the ladder of success, always remember our motto: “Effective advertising is the lifeblood of healthy capitalism.”™

Join us for our next Adventures in Advertising™ post as we reveal the secret of making consumers think that they deserve something good!

Catechetical Homily for the Nativity of Jesus Christ

After St. John Chrysostom’s Paschal Catechetical Homily.

If anyone serves the needs of others like Abraham, today let him enjoy the master’s hospitality.
If anyone prays with Hannah’s zeal, today let her rejoice that God hears the prayers of the upright. 
If anyone fasts in repentance as did David, today let him be filled with the joy of the feast. 

For God returns to those who return to Him,
And He is good to those who seek Him with their whole heart. 

Those who do works of mercy, the Lord visits with His mercy;
Those who pray in the temple of their heart, the Lord sits enthroned within them as a kind king;
And those who abstain from food, the Lord teaches to abstain from sin. 

For He Who accepted the widow’s mite also accepts our sincere offerings
If offered out of love for God and neighbor. 

Yet even you who have ignored your neighbors’ needs, today enjoy the Savior’s providential assumption of human nature;
Even you who have spurned prayer, today pray and sing praises to Him Who formed you;
Even you who have not fasted from even a single meal, today the Lord invites you to sit at His table that He may serve you. 

Although He was truly God by nature, the Word of God emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant. 
Although He was not subject to temptations or sufferings, all these things He voluntarily took upon Himself, that He might annihilate temptations and abolish sufferings. 

He Who holds the universe in the palm of His hand is now held in the hands of His foster-father;
He Who upholds all creation by His infinite power now receives nourishment from His mother’s breast;
He Who separated light from darkness now leads the shepherds to the brilliant darkness of the cave. 

That serpent of old, who led Adam by the hand into the depths of Sheol, now fears this New Adam;
He who enslaved all humanity to sin and death is powerless against this helpless baby. 

Therefore, let no one despair or grow despondent, for Jesus Christ has come to heal the brokenhearted,
He has come to proclaim liberty to those held captive by the unbreakable bonds of sin;
He has come to set at liberty those oppressed by the all-consuming appetite of death. 

For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given.
Christ is born, and the wise men hasten to worship the only wise God;
Christ is born, and the shepherds stand in awe of the Good Shepherd;
Christ is born, and Joseph soothes the Father of the Coming Age;
Christ is born, and Mary feeds Him who never forgets His own children;
For Christ, being born of the Virgin, has become the mediator between God and man, leading us from the darkness of Sheol back to the luminous glory of Paradise. 
To Him be glory and dominion unto ages of ages. Amen. 

Nativity Fast Scripture Reflections 5: Full of Glory

On Ezekiel 43:27-44:4, Read at Great Vespers for the Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Holy of Holies

In the past two posts, in our reflections on the feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Holy of Holies, we have discussed the Old Testament readings for the feast: first Exodus 40 and then 1 Kings 7,8. In the first, we saw how the tabernacle/temple was a type of Mary, as it foreshadowed her becoming the new Place wherein God would dwell. In the second, we moved our focus to Jesus Christ, Who also fulfills that which the temple prefigured: God dwelling among His people in a new, radical way, such that the divine and human natures would be joined in one person.

(See also an older post in which we explore St. Gregory Palamas’ homily on this feast.)

Now, we will move our discussion even closer to home: we will see how the third Old Testament reading for this feast, from the prophecy of Ezekiel, relates not only to Mary and Jesus, but also to all of us.

“It will be when these days are over, on the eighth day, the priests shall offer your whole burnt offerings and your peace offerings on the altar, and I shall accept you,” says the Lord. Then He brought me back to the outer gate of the sanctuary that faces toward the east, but it was shut. So the Lord said to me, “This gate shall be shut. It shall not be opened, and no man shall pass through it, because the Lord God of Israel will enter by it; therefore, it shall be shut. As for the prince, he will sit in it to eat bread before the Lord. He will go in by way of the gate chamber and go out the same way.” Then He brought me by way of the north gate to the front of the temple, and I looked, the house of the Lord was full of glory; and I fell on my face.

Ezekiel 43:37-44:4, Orthodox Study Bible

This reading is often shown in the Orthodox Church’s liturgical hymns and the writings of the Fathers to refer to Mary’s continued virginity after Jesus’ birth. Because the Word of God entered her womb, it was shut to all others. We will not discuss the matter of her ever-virginity here, as another article explains the topic comprehensively.

Instead, we will focus on the last verse from this reading: “…and I looked, the house of the Lord was full of glory; and I fell on my face.” Falling on your face is the standard reaction to God’s glory in the Bible. Why? It’s overwhelming, it far exceeds what our puny little minds can fathom. Faced with the presence of the Creator God, all we can do is fall on our faces.

And so this should certainly color how we view the human person as well. We were created to be receptacles for the divine glory, to be permeated with His uncreated glory, power, energy, life, and light.

Just as Mary became the Place of God’s presence, as Jesus united God’s presence with His true human nature, so are Christians who are united to God in the Church also the Place where God’s glory dwells. We might look at any of the saints and say, “and I looked, the house of the Lord was full of glory…”

When we persevere in the ascetical-sacramental life of the Church, the whole person becomes a temple which offers sacrifices to God, recalling Psalm 141(140):2, “Let my prayer arise in Your sight as incense; the lifting up of my hands as an evening sacrifice.”

The goal of the Christian life is to be the temple of God, the place where He is worshipped. St. Ephrem the Syrian shows this by likening the Christian person to the stone upon which Jacob poured oil in Genesis 28:18, naming that place where he saw the vision of the ladder leading to heaven Bethel, “the house of God.” By drawing this comparison, St. Ephrem is suggesting that those who are sealed in chrismation have become “the house of God,” the Place where He dwells and where He receives our sacrifices.

The oil again that Jacob poured, upon the stone when he sealed it, that it should be between him and God, and that he might offer there his tithes; lo! in it is a symbol of your bodies, how by chrism they are sealed as holy, and become temples for God, where He shall be served by your sacrifices.

St. Ephrem, Hymns on the Epiphany 3.9, p. 269. NPNF translation.

Following a theme which we have been dwelling on, St. Ephrem explains that the ultimate end of the Incarnation was to make the human person the dwelling place of God.

All these havens He passed through to come and make our bodies havens for His dwelling. Therefore let each of us become His dwelling! ‘Whoever loves me, we will come to him, and make our haven with him’ (says) the Godhead, whom, without a single creature being lost to Him, a small, humble mind can accommodate.

St. Ephrem the Syrian, “Homily on Our Lord” 59, p. 332. Mathews Jr. and Amar translation. See John 14:23. Note 285 explains that “mind” may be translated as “soul.”

The indwelling of God in the human person gives force to St. Ephrem’s powerful injunction to live the Christian life to the fullest, to not turn back to the “old person” (Rom. 6:6; Eph. 4:22; Col. 3:9) who is dead and buried (Rom. 6:7), but to live fully alive in Christ (Rom. 6:8-11).

For by baptism our Lord made new your old age—
He, the Carpenter of life, Who by His blood formed and built a temple for His dwelling.
Do not allow that old man
To dwell in the renewed temple.
O body, if you have God live in your Temple,
You will also become His royal palace. 
- St. Ephrem, Hymns on Virginity 1.2, p. 262. McVey translation. 

If we have God live in our temple, we will also become His royal palace. If we abide by Christ’s Gospel commandments, believing in Him, repenting daily, and participating in the life of the Church, which is His Body (Eph. 1:22-23), we also will be “full of glory,” the same divine glory which shone from Moses’ face in Exodus 34:19-35.

But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.

2 Corinthians 3:18

And this, finally, is what the feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Holy of Holies points toward: every Christian becoming a temple of God, full of God’s glory, shining with His uncreated light. This is what the Old Testament readings from Exodus, 1 Kings, and Ezekiel all signify in types, symbols, and images, that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19), and as such, have a potential for holiness and perfection that far exceeds our ability to understand.

So our salvation is not merely “getting into heaven,” but is being filled with God’s uncreated glory, growing in union with our Creator God in a dynamic relationship of love and sacrifice.

Photo credit: Ezekiel’s vision, 1860 woodcut by Julius Schnorr von Karolsfeld

Nativity Fast Scripture Reflections 4: The Cloud of Glory

On 1 Kings 7:50; 8:1, 3-7, 9-11 (3 Kingdoms OSB), Read at Great Vespers for the feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Holy of Holies [1]

While Mary’s entrance into the Holy of Holies to pray and live there is itself the fulfillment, or “antitype,” of the types (symbols) in the Old Testament of God’s Presence dwelling among His people, her entrance is also itself a type, a foreshadowing, of the greater mystery—that of God taking on our human flesh, joining it forever to the divine nature of the Second Person of the Trinity.

Maybe that was a lot. The temple points to Mary, but she points to something beyond herself. OK, good.

Case in point: types can point to many things simultaneously, with no danger of contradiction or mutual exclusivity. There is no single application of typology: one image, event, or thing in the Bible need not represent one thing only, but a type can represent many things simultaneously. This is difficult for our so-called post-Enlightened minds, which desire order, neat logic, and mathematical exactitude.

Rather, in the Orthodox Christian conception, the temple in Jerusalem, for example, does not only foreshadow Mary’s conception of the Word of God, making her the walking Place of the presence of God, but it foreshadows the Word in His Incarnation as well. So, the type points to the first someone while pointing simultaneously to someone else; even the first fulfiller of the type points to the second fulfiller of the same type!

The types are many and their referents are many: the eyes of faith help us to see the Truth in the multiplicity of Scriptural symbols and the antitypes to which they refer.

To this end, let’s examine the second Old Testament reading for this feast, 1 Kings 7,8, which speaks of the bringing of the ark of the covenant into the newly-completed temple.

And it came to pass, when the priests came out of the holy place, that the cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not continue ministering because of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord.

1 Kings 8:10-11

Just as we saw in Exodus 40, the glory of the Lord descends in a cloud, making it impossible for anybody to enter or serve there. Note that—the cloud of God’s glory was impenetrable. Everyone drew back in amazement.

That God’s own presence and glory dwelt among His people in the tabernacle of testimony was itself an earth-shattering event in the history of humanity; never before had God been so close, so incredibly immanent. And even so, He still remained ultimately distant, other, transcendent, beyond the peoples’ reach in a very real way. Nobody could enter the cloud of God’s glory.

Even God’s relative immanence in the temple was itself a foreshadowing, a prelude to the greater mystery, the only truly “new thing under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9); for, many centuries later, the Archangel Gabriel would announce to Mary, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35).

The cloud of God’s glory in the Old Testament points towards something even greater than the physical temple, when “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). The cloud of God’s glory descended on Mary in a way that had not been accessible to anyone ever, and in her womb, the divine nature was joined to our human nature.

As has been noted elsewhere, the word for “dwelt” in this verse in Greek is literally “tabernacled,” no doubt intentionally bringing to mind the tabernacle in the wilderness, where God had dwelt among His People in a new, radical way. So, just as Mary would become the fulfillment of the tabernacle/temple, the place where God’s glory dwelt, so would the Incarnate Word of God, Jesus Christ, become the fulfillment of the temple.

This is a theme that runs throughout the Gospel according to St. John. In the second chapter, John breaks ranks with the other Evangelists and tells the story of Jesus’ cleansing of the temple at the beginning of His ministry, rather than at the end. Naturally, the temple officials are shocked at Jesus’ actions. He is clearly claiming to have (at the absolute least) prophetic authority.

So the Jews answered and said to Him, “What sign do You show to us, since You do these things?” Jesus answered and said to them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” Then the Jews said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?” But He was speaking of the temple of His body. Therefore, when He had risen from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this to them; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had said.

John 2:18-22

We have reflected first on Mary and then on Jesus as both being the fulfillment of that which the tabernacle/temple had pointed towards: the notion that “the Most High does not dwell in temples made with hands” (Acts 7:48), but in people; Mary would become the Mother of God Incarnate, and so insofar as she fulfills the Old Testament type of the temple, even this fulfillment points to a greater reality, the Incarnation, where the divine and human natures were joined in one single Person.

Mary is the true temple. Jesus is the true temple.

And yet, even this mystery points to yet another mystery: that union and communion with that Person is possible for people, particularly for those who have been joined to Jesus Christ’s very own Body, the Church, the community of believers which have been called out from the world that they may be united to God in a very real way.

They have been called out of the world so that the cloud of God’s glory may descend upon them, that they may all be the Place of the presence of God, walking temples wherein God’s power dwells.

The Church also is the true temple.

And so in the next post, we will further discuss this relationship between Christ, the temple, and the community of Christians. And what we will find is that while the type of the temple has many referents, they all point towards one magnificent, mystical reality: the cloud of God’s glory descending upon the human heart, which through God’s free gift may be transformed into an altar to the Most High God.

[1] 1 Kings 8:1, 3-4, 6-7, 9-11 in all other translations

Photo credit: King Solomon Praying Before the Temple of Jerusalem by Giuseppe Bonito, c. 1750

Nativity Fast Scripture Reflections 3: The Holy Glory

On Exodus 40:1-5, 8-9, 14, 28-29, Read at Great Vespers for the feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Holy of Holies [1]

Within the course of the Nativity Fast, we celebrate the feast of the Entry of the Theotokos into the Holy of Holies on November 21. As told in the second-century document The Protoevangelium of James, after Joachim and Anna had miraculously conceived a child in old age, they offered her at the age of three to God, to be brought up in the temple at Jerusalem.

The hymns for this feast center on one major theme: the true Temple of God is brought into the temple to be prepared to receive God in her womb.

Today the living Temple of the holy glory of Christ our God, she who alone among women is pure and blessed, is offered in the temple of the Law, that she may make her dwelling in the sanctuary.

Second sticheron at Great Vespers, Festal Menaion, p. 166.

(The hymns for this feast can be found here or at

The Old Testament readings likewise center on this theme, referring to three stages of the Hebrew place of worship: first, the completion of the tabernacle by Moses (Exodus 40), the completion of the temple in Jerusalem by King Solomon (1 Kings 8), and the eschatological (end-times) temple (Ezekiel 43-44).

But how, we might ask, do these readings prophetically announce Mary’s entry into the temple? And, more concretely, what does that have to do with us? Although all three Old Testament readings for today answer these questions, we will first focus on Exodus 40. Over the next two posts we will turn to 1 Kings and Ezekiel.

Exodus 40 is the climax of the book, where Moses finally sets up the tabernacle of the testimony (a portable tent-temple); the narrator says eight times that Moses did everything the Lord commanded Him to do, suggesting a superabundance of perfection.

When all was set up according to God’s directions Moses was unable to enter “because the cloud overshadowed it, and the glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle” (Exod. 40:29[40:35]).  The cloud and the glory were signs that God’s Presence was now abiding with Israel, literally “tabernacling.” 

The tabernacle is therefore a type of the Theotokos, in that it foreshadows and prefigures the reality that ultimately God desired to dwell in people as in a holy temple. Then, the cloud of God’s holy glory filled the tabernacle; now, His glory overshadows the young child who will be His own mother, as she enters the temple which prefigures her.

The tabernacle only pointed to the greater reality of God dwelling in His chosen servant Mary, His very Life filling her mortal body. This is the essence of what St. Stephen says in his defense in Acts 7:

Our fathers had the tabernacle of witness in the wilderness, as He appointed, instructing Moses to make it according to the pattern that he had seen, which our fathers, having received it in turn, also brought with Joshua into the land possessed by the Gentiles, whom God drove out before the face of our fathers until the days of David, who found favor before God and asked to find a dwelling for the God of Jacob. But Solomon built Him a house. However, the Most High does not dwell in temples made with hands, as the prophet says:

‘Heaven is My throne,
And earth is My footstool.
What house will you build for Me? says the Lord,
Or what is the place of My rest?
Has My hand not made all these things?’

Acts 7:44-50; Isaiah 66:1-2

Instead of forever dwelling in a tabernacle or temple made by hands, God was preparing Israel for when He would dwell in a temple made without hands, the Ever-virgin Mary. And, as we will see, this points to an even greater reality: the Word of God Himself “tabernacling” among us in her womb, joining His uncreated divinity with our created humanity (John 1:14).

And, as we will also see, this has profound implications for all of us as well.

Today is the prelude of the good will of God,
of the preaching of the salvation of mankind.
The Virgin appears in the Temple of God,
in anticipation proclaiming Christ to all.
Let us rejoice and sing to her:
“Rejoice, O Fulfillment
of the Creator’s dispensation!”

Troparion (main hymn) of the feast

[1] Note that the verses given here are according to the Orthodox Study Bible’s numbering (the Septuagint). The Orthodox Study Bible (curiously) and the Festal Menaion reference the Hebrew numbering for this reading. Since we will be quoting the Orthodox Study Bible, we will first give the Septuagint numbering and then the numbering in most other translations in posts to come.

Photo credit: The Building of the Tabernacle with the Israelites Sewing the Curtains by Adriaen van Stalbemt

Nativity Fast Scripture Reflections 2: In the Beginning, To Begin With

Genesis 1:1-5, Read at Vesperal Liturgy for the Nativity of Christ

Charles Dickens begins his much-beloved story, “A Christmas Carol,” in this way: “Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that.” And a little further on, he writes, “This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate.”

In a way, this is how Moses, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, begins the book of Genesis: “In the beginning God made heaven and earth.” We might add, following Mr. Dickens’ lead, that “This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate,” or rather, the story of salvation that has been handed down to us in the Bible.

What is so significant about this first line in Genesis? And how does this relate to the birth of Jesus Christ?

To begin with, today begins the Nativity Fast, and so today we will reflect on the first day of creation, of which we hear read at Vesperal Liturgy on Christmas Eve. In these words, “In the beginning God made heaven and earth,” we actually learn what there was before the beginning, or rather, Who there was.

What is implied in this opening statement is that God was before the creation and is therefore uncreated: no-one or nothing made Him. He always was, and yet He even transcends our understanding of what it means to exist, “was-ness.”

At any rate, the Uncreated God created heaven and earth simply by speaking. So, in the beginning, there is a fundamental distinction: on the one hand, there is the Uncreated God, Who always “was” yet transcends “was-ness.” On the other hand, God creates the world out of nothing.

This distinction between uncreated and created “must be distinctly understood,” because it is through this distinction that we see what is truly so mind-boggling about Christ’s birth as a baby human being: that God, who is “ineffable, inconceivable, incomprehensible, and eternally the same,” united His divine uncreated nature with our mortal created nature in the Incarnate Word of God, Jesus Christ.

God steps in to His creation to become one of us, that we might become divine by grace.

St. Ephrem the Syrian compares the first day of creation to the day of Christ’s birth, for while the first day is “the source and beginning” of our universe, in which our Uncreated God created the world out of nothing, the first day is merely a type, a foreshadowing of when God Himself would come to redeem and heal the world by being born of a Virgin Mother and taking on the fullness of human nature.

The Old Testament is full of types and symbols which point to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The first day of creation, the type, foreshadows the fulfillment of what the words “In the beginning” were pointing to all along: the antitype, the reality—the birth of Christ.

Therefore, we can see Christmas as a new first day of creation, or rather, the first day of the New Creation, the beginning of the sanctification of human nature and entire cosmos, the turning of the tide against the forces of evil.

“This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate.” And the story that follows throughout this Nativity Fast is the story of God gradually revealing Himself to mankind over many centuries, slowly preparing the people of Israel for the coming of His Son, Our Savior.

In the Incarnation, Christ bridges the chasm between uncreated and created, making it possible for us to be brought into union with God by grace; this union of the uncreated and the created is the content and foundation of our salvation.

Therefore, our salvation is grounded in the Church’s confession of Christ as being fully God and fully Man: “For what He was, He has remained, true God: and what He was not, He has taken upon Himself, becoming man through love for mankind.”[1]

And this means that the day in which the God-Man was born as a human child is the first day of the renewal of creation, a step toward the very purpose for which all that is created was created: that God might truly fill all things with His unlimited grace, love, truth, light, power, goodness.

“This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate” in the coming weeks before Christmas.

[1] Great Vespers for the Feast of the Nativity of Jesus Christ. Festal Menaion, p. 253.

Nativity Fast Scripture Reflections 1: St. Philip and the Finding of the Messiah

John 1:43-45, Read at Liturgy for the Feast of St. Philip

What was to Philip pure, unexpected joy in having found the Messiah might very likely be commonplace to today’s Orthodox Christian. “Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph'” (John 1:45).

Maybe modern Orthodox Christians take it for granted that “of course Jesus is the Messiah.” It might be easy for us to only casually read Philip’s ecstatic exclamation to his brother that he’s identified the Messiah of Israel given our place in the salvation history: we stand at the end of twenty centuries since this Truth was first proclaimed, we have been handed down the decisions of the Ecumenical Councils, the writings of the Holy Fathers, liturgical worship and hymnographical traditions.

On top of all this, we have been given the Holy Scriptures, through which we have the ability to follow the historical trajectory of salvation history from the very beginning of the world until the fulfillment of “the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints” (Col. 1:26).

If only our joy in having found the Messiah was as great as Philip’s! Philip, who might have known the Law of Moses and writings of the prophets by heart, sought to share his joy with his brother Nathanael—but notice the place of the Old Testament in Philip’s thought: the Old Testament points to Christ, yet is not itself the experience of Christ. This is why he says to his brother, “Come and see.” His brother already knew the Hebrew Scriptures, so he had no need to point out to him which prophecies spoke of this Man Jesus.

For us to truly recognize the significance of the Incarnation of our Lord, God, and Savior, Jesus Christ, not only for the Jews in the first century who expected the coming of the Messiah, but for us in the twenty-first century, Orthodox Christians are called to “swim in the Lord’s Law,” as St. Seraphim of Sarov teaches—to “search the [Old Testament] Scriptures” (Acts 17:11) for Christ, guided by the interpretative tradition of the Orthodox Church.

The way we can find out where we fit in God’s plan of salvation for mankind is by learning how God prepared Israel for the coming of the Savior. The forthcoming reflections in the weeks leading us to the Nativity of Our Lord will focus on this very point—on showing where in the Old Testament we find prophecies of His Incarnation, as well as the significance that these passages have for us, today.

The purpose of these reflections is to bring us closer to the living and powerful Word of God (Heb. 4:12)—not the Book, but the God-Man. Philip sought to lead his brother to Jesus Christ through direct experience: “come and see—come and meet Him for yourself—your life will never be the same!” The Scriptures are not a substitute for the experience of God: the Bible is the record of the experience of God, and not the experience itself. The Old Testament is invaluable insofar as it points us to the ultimate meaning and significance of Christmas—that God became Man “for us men and for our salvation.”

Philip’s conversation has particular importance for us on this first evening of the Nativity Fast, for as Fr. Thomas Hopko teaches us in The Winter Pascha,

The Christmas-Epiphany season in the Orthodox Church begins with a forty-day fasting period which starts on the feast of “the holy and all-praised apostle Philip.” For this reason Christmas lent is sometimes called “the fast of Philip.” Although the coincidence of the feast of the apostle Philip and the beginning of the Christmas fast is accidental, humanly speaking, the eyes of faith may see in it a certain providence of God.

Fr. Thomas Hopko, The Winter Pascha: Readings for the Christmas-Epiphany Season (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1984), p. 12.

Philip’s encounter with Nathaniel mystically reaches out to us: the holy Apostle Philip invites us to experience Jesus Christ, today, in our time. Yet this experience can only be strengthened by studying how the Old Testament points to Christ, for by doing so we will find that He has been preparing us for His coming into our lives in ways we could not have imagined.

God became Man that we too may be transformed by the experience of Christ in glory during this Nativity Fast and proclaim with Philip, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the law, and also the prophets, wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”

Singing True Theology 5: Adam and the New Adam

Often in the liturgical hymns of the Orthodox Church, especially in the Vespers and Matins of Saturday-Sunday, Adam is described as having been delivered from the grasp of death by Jesus’ resurrection. The kontakion for tonight’s Vespers speaks of the cosmic effects of the resurrection in this way.

Thou didst descend into hell, O my Savior,
shattering its gates as Almighty,
resurrecting the dead as Creator,
and destroying the sting of death.
Thou hast delivered Adam from the curse, O Lover of man,
and we cry to Thee: O Lord, save us!

(You can find the full text of tonight’s hymns here or at

What is notable in this kontakion, as is in many other hymns, is that Adam is poetically presented as the sole beneficiary of the resurrection. And that is not an accident: Adam represents all of humanity, so when the hymns speak of Adam being “delivered from the curse,” for example, this is really speaking about the whole human race.

“Christ is risen,” St. John Chrysostom triumphantly proclaims in his Paschal Sermon, “and not one dead remains in the grave. For Christ, being risen from the dead, is become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.”

Adam and Jesus, the New Adam, are therefore representatives of all humanity: Adam being a representative of humanity being redeemed from sin and death, and the New Adam being the representative of resurrected humanity. Jesus “recapitulates” Adam, He takes over Adam’s identity as he should have been, becoming the first Man to experience the universal resurrection of the dead.

The idea that Jesus Christ in the Incarnation is a recapitulation of Adam is as old as Christianity itself. St. Paul draws a comparison in 1 Corinthians 15 and Romans 5 between Adam and Christ, in both cases showing the former to be a representative of death and corruption, and the latter to be a representative of new life and incorruption. Thus he writes in 1 Corinthians 15:45, “Thus it is written, ‘The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.”

Perhaps St. Paul had in mind that the name “Adam” can also simply mean “man” in Hebrew—therefore, both men, both Adams, are representatives of the whole of humanity.[1] A modern writer calls this Scriptural and patristic motif “Hebraic ‘corporate personalities,’” whereby one person represents the entire body of humanity.[2]

This notion of ‘corporate personalities’ is also apparent in such passages as Romans 5:19, where St. Paul writes, “For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.”[3]

One man brings death to all humanity, and the other Man brings life to all humanity.            

Many early Fathers, such as Sts. Irenaeus, Ephrem the Syrian, and Maximos the Confessor, among others, offered detailed comparisons between the Old Adam and the New Adam, thus following St. Paul’s motif of corporate personalities, wherein the second Man, Christ, recapitulates the first, Adam.[4]

What this means for us, then, is that just as Christ’s resurrection from the dead freed Adam from the power of death, so will we also be resurrected from the dead. This is God’s common gift to all people, whom we could collectively call “The Whole Adam.”

“Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.”

John 5:25-29 ESV

So the question for us is this: how will we live? All will be resurrected, all will follow Adam from out of the grave. But what remains to be seen is whether we will live in accordance with God’s will or not, whether we will value the pleasures and comforts of this life above the hope of eternal life in the Messiah Jesus.

May the Lord give us strength and patient endurance to live according to our hope in the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.

[1] We may recall Pontius Pilate’s words at Christ’s trial in John 19:5: “Behold the man!” The Hebrew term’s (אָדָם) multivalency is shown in Genesis 2:20, where its first usage is “the man” (הָאָדָם) and the second is the proper noun, (אָדָם). Notably, the Septuagint renders both as Αδαμ. See also 1 Corinthians 15:47-49, where St. Paul plays on the Hebrew relationship between man (אָדָם) and ground/earth (אֲדָמָה), drawn from Genesis 2:7, “then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground” (וַיִּיצֶר יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים אֶת־הָאָדָם עָפָר מִן־הָאֲדָמָה). St. Paul uses the same terminology in these verses that are found in the LXX of Genesis 2:20: man = ἄνθρωπος; ground = γῆς; of dust/earthy = χοϊκός, from χοῦν. Since in Hebrew, the term אָדָם can mean “man” and “Adam,” it appears that he sometimes uses both renderings simultaneously in 1 Corinthians 15, especially vv. 47-49.

[2] Robert Murray, Symbols of Church and Kingdom: A Study in Early Syriac Tradition (London: T&T Clark International, 1977), pp. 82, 88.

[3] ESV.

[4] See St. Irenaeus’ Against Heresies, 3.21.10; 3.22.1, 3; 5.21.1-2; 5.19.1. See also Eph. 1:10. Leave a comment if you would like me to dig up references in Sts. Ephrem and Maximos.

Singing True Theology 4: Smashing the Gates of Hell

The hymns for Saturday Vespers are gloriously triumphant. At this service we are beginning to celebrate the day of Resurrection, Sunday, the Lord’s Day. After the first Pascha/Easter, Sunday forever after became the Lord’s Day, because it’s the day that He triumphed over all His enemies by rising from the dead.

So at Saturday Vespers, like a crowd of soldiers cheering for their victorious King, the Church gathers to celebrate the rising of Christ. (The Lord of the Rings nerds: I imagine a victorious Boromir shouting “For Gondor” atop the ruins of reconquered Osgiliath.) And one of the major themes throughout the Church’s hymnography and the writings of the Fathers related to Christ’s Resurrection is the smashing of the gates of hell:

Thou didst smash the gates of hell, O Lord,
and by Thy death Thou didst demolish the kingdom of death.
Thou didst deliver the race of men from corruption,
granting the world life, incorruption and great mercy.

(You can find the hymns for tonight’s Vespers here or at

This leads to a very reasonable question, “What exactly are the gates of hell?” I’m glad you asked! I think the answer will surprise you, as it surprised me.

In Matthew 16:13, we read that Jesus took His disciples to the region of Caesaria Philippi. This was a rough part of Judea, where the locals worshipped the Greek gods in many temples at the base of Mount Hermon and all over it. Mount Hermon was understood to be a “cosmic mountain” (an idea which I hope we can come back to), that is, a mountain that connected our world with the other levels of the spiritual plane: the gods above and below. The notion that a mountain could be a cosmic nexus of spiritual planes was common in the ancient world, and is even behind the significance of such mountains in the Bible as Sinai, Zion, and Tabor.

At the base of Mount Hermon there is a cave which the pagans believed to be a portal to the underworld, connected to the worship of Pan. This they called, “The Gates of Hades.” (Many thanks to Frs. Andrew and Stephen at The Lord of Spirits podcast for bringing this to my attention.)

Note that “Hades” is linguistically equivalent to hell and Sheol, the former being the Greek term for the realm of the dead. (“Hell” is from Old English and “Sheol” is Hebrew; what these terms mean theologically is another question, which Fr. Thomas Hopko addressed with characteristic precision.)

An artist’s rendering of the pagan site at Caesaria Philippi. The header image was taken by the author on June 1, 2010.

So when Jesus took His disciples to Caesaria Philippi, we may assume that He took them here, to the very gates of Hades, in the midst of wildly immoral pagan worship (bestiality, etc.).

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell (Gk. hades) shall not prevail against it.

Matthew 16:13-18

In the midst of a stronghold of demons, Jesus launches a direct assault on those evil spirits posing as gods, whom the pagans worshipped. How does He have the power to launch such an assault? Because He is “the Christ, the Son of the living God,” from whom the demons flee from in terror.

Although “this rock” on which Christ will build His Church is alternately interpreted as Peter’s confession of Jesus’ divinity (by the Orthodox and probably others) or Peter’s ultimate preeminence over the other apostles (by Catholics), perhaps on a very literal level, Jesus also means that here, in this very stronghold of demon worship, on this cosmic mountain, God is reclaiming the world for Himself.

Dr. Michael Heiser adeptly comments on the phrase, “And the gates of hell shall not prevail against it”:

We often presume that the phrase “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” describes a Church taking on the onslaught of evil. But the word “against” is not present in the Greek. Translating the phrase without it gives it a completely different connotation: “the gates of hell will not withstand it.”

It is the Church that Jesus sees as the aggressor. He was declaring war on evil and death. Jesus would build His Church atop the gates of hell—He would bury them.

From Heiser’s “I Dare You Not to Bore Me with the Bible
The grotto of Pan, also known as the Gates of Hades. Also taken by the author.

And that’s exactly what happened on several levels: by rising from the dead, Jesus burst open the bars and gates of hell which had held people captive. This was Jesus’ victory over the spiritual realm. (The Pascha service is chock-full of references to Jesus blasting open the gates of hell and leading out the prisoners of death.)

Also, on a very literal level, archaeologists recently discovered a fourth century Byzantine church built atop a temple of Pan near this very site, a physical image of the reality of Christ’s victory over death and hell. The early Christians may have taken Jesus’ words very seriously about building a church on the site of Pan’s temple!

It was there, in the stronghold of pagan worship, that Christ promised His disciples that death and hell would be powerless against His invincible Church.

Thou didst smash the gates of hell, O Lord,
and by Thy death Thou didst demolish the kingdom of death.
Thou didst deliver the race of men from corruption,
granting the world life, incorruption and great mercy.

This turned out to be a fitting discussion to have on Halloween, the day when many Americans glorify death and hell. For an informed analysis of the spiritual implications of Halloween from an Orthodox Christian perspective, read Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick’s recent article “Should Christians participate in Halloween?”

Singing True Theology 3: The Blood of the Martyrs

At Vespers tonight, during the hymns at “Lord, I call upon Thee,” we sing these words to the Matryrs Marcian and Martyrius:

You showed yourselves to be followers of the holy preacher Paul,
like him in zeal and one with him in mind and heart:
you drowned the adversaries with the blood you poured out,
drying up the torrent of wicked heresies.
O Marcian and Martyrius, revealed as rivers of piety
watering the Church of Christ.

(You can find the full text of hymns for tonight’s Vespers here or at

Ten years after the Council of Nicaea of 325, where Jesus Christ, the Word of God, was proclaimed to be of one essence with the Father, the Arian heresy still raged on. The Arians denied the divinity of Christ as their mantra attests: “There was a time when he (the Son) was not.” At this time, Marcion was a reader in the cathedral in Constantinople in the fourth century, and Martyrius was a subdeacon.

Marcion and Martyrius refused to accept the Arian heresy, even though the followers of Arius in Constantinople tried to win them over first by flattery, then by threats of torture and death. Nothing would sway these soldiers of Christ. Before their execution, these valiant men prayed,

“Lord God, Who has invisibly created our hearts, and directed all our deeds, accept with peace the souls of Your servants, since we perish for You and are considered as sheep for the slaughter (Ps 32/33:15; 43/44:22). We rejoice that by such a death we shall depart this life for Your Name. Grant us to be partakers of life eternal with You, the Source of life.”


They died by beheading in the year 335 for their Lord, the same way that the Apostle Paul was killed.

Returning to the hymn composed in their honor, it is fairly common in the hymnography of martyrs to describe their deaths as victories over their enemies, whether those enemies be their human torturers or the demons who incited people to kill them.

This is not unlike St. Paul’s account of Jesus’ own crucifixion in Colossians 2:15, where Jesus turns the shame and torment of the Cross back onto the demonic hordes: “Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in [His crucifixion].” He took the weapon of shame and disgrace and used against His enemies. He submitted to the feeble power of death so that He could “trample death by [means of] death.”

So also those who defeat demonic temptations by triumphing in martyrdom for Christ’s sake also put their torturers to shame:

You drowned the adversaries with the blood you poured out,
drying up the torrent of wicked heresies.

Often in the hymns commemorating martyrs, the means by which the martyrs were killed is described as being turned back onto their killers. That is, like Christ, the very means by which the enemies of Christ sought to kill the saints is shown to be, spiritually speaking, their own downfall. Here, by beheading, the blood that flows from the martyrs’ bodies drowns the feeble power of their murderers, while simultaneously “drying up the torrent of wicked heresies.”

In these lines, we perhaps catch an allusion to Tertullian’s famous declaration that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” In fact, after their deaths, St. John Chrysostom had Marcion’s and Matyrius’ bones moved to a church built in their honor, and their relics were known to have worked miracles.

This is how their blood shed for Christ’s sake continues to water and feed the Church.

...O Marcian and Martyrius, revealed as rivers of piety
watering the Church of Christ.

Holy Martyrs Marcian and Martyrius, pray that the Lord will give us strength to endure to the end!