ENGLISH VERSION: Nativity Encyclical of Metropolitan Gregory (Babunashvili) of Boston, the First-Hierarch of HOCNA

“Tell us, O Joseph, how is it thou bringest to Bethlehem, great with child, her whom thou hast received from the temple as a virgin? I have searched the Prophets, saith he, and have been instructed by an Angel, and I am persuaded that Mary shall give birth to God in a manner past interpretation. In homage unto Him, Magi shall come from the East, worshipping Him with precious gifts. O Thou Who wast incarnate for our sakes, Lord, glory be to Thee.” (Menaion, Royal Hours of December 25, Third Hour)

Beloved Orthodox Christians,

This hymn, one of the many spiritual songs with which we welcome the Lord’s Nativity, is addressed to the Righteous Joseph the Betrothed, whom God chose to minister to His Incarnation in a unique manner. The Theotokos had been living in the Temple from the age of three, having been dedicated to God by her parents in infancy. Following custom, she was to have been given in marriage once she had come of age. But this was not to be, for she had vowed to remain a virgin entirely consecrated to God, something unusual in those times.

The Righteous Joseph, being an elderly widower, was by divine inspiration brought forward by the priests of the Temple to be her betrothed. In reality, however, he was to serve as her paternal guardian and protector, now that Joachim and Anna were no longer living, so that she could continue to live in perfect chastity and continence. This arrangement had the providential intention of hiding the mystery of a virgin conceiving and giving birth to the promised Messiah. Here is how Saint John of Damascus describes these circumstances:

“The enemy of our salvation was keeping an eye on virgins, according to the prophecy of Esaias, who spoke of a virgin conceiving. Thus, the maiden is given in marriage to Joseph by the priests, thereby deceiving the enemy who always glories in his wisdom. Hence the marriage was both a protection and deception to him who was keeping a watchful eye on virgins.” (Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, book 4, chapter 14)

The ministry to which Joseph was called was truly noble: to minister to the very Virgin he had taken from the Temple, who bore God in her womb. Yet Joseph himself was unaware of the true nature of his calling. For as we read in the Holy Gospel, the truth was kept hidden from him until an angel assured him that “that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1:20). Joseph, fortified by this heavenly assurance and finding confirmation of the virginal conception in the Prophets, became a devoted minister of the great mystery unfolding before him.

Why was Joseph initially deprived of the knowledge of this mystery? It was so that his true righteousness might be revealed. The Gospel tells us that when he found Mary to be great with child he naturally concluded that there had been an illicit union. Yet he, “not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly.” This was, Saint Matthew tells us, because he was “a righteous man” (Matthew 1:19). There is great meaning in these simple words, which we should examine more closely. Joseph, following the Law of Moses, did not wish to have anything to do with a suspected adultery. He therefore wished to put her away, that is, to divorce her. Here we arrive at the critical point: he intended to do this secretly, so as not to make a public example of her. If Joseph had made public the suspected adultery, Mary would have been in danger of being put to death. It was for this not to happen that Joseph decided to put her away in secret. This is why the Evangelist calls him righteous. He is lauded in the Gospel not for following the Law to its letter, but rather for breaking the Law in this matter! Saint John Chrysostom describes Joseph’s conduct in this way:

“But nevertheless he was so free from passion, as to be unwilling to grieve the Virgin even in the least matters. Thus, whereas to keep her in his house seemed like a transgression of the Law, but to expose and bring her to trial would constrain him to deliver her to die; he doth none of these things, but conducts himself now by a higher rule than the Law.” (Homily 4 on Matthew)

What is this higher rule? It is the Gospel, which makes the rule of mercy override the rule of justice, upon which the Law of Moses was based. The old law delivered the commandments and demanded punishment for breaking them, regardless of the repentance of the offender. The Law of Moses was a necessary means of leading the Israelites away from lawlessness and sin and instilling in them a sense of justice. Yet it was still a step behind the more perfect Law of the Gospel that, rather than calling for the punishment of the sinner, calls for showing compassion towards him while demanding an even higher standard of virtue. Therefore the righteousness of Joseph consists of this: he was compassionate and merciful, following the perfect law of mercy rather than the imperfect law of justice. This opposition between mercy and justice is beautifully stated by Saint Isaac the Syrian:

“Mercy and justice in one soul is like a man who worships God and the idols in one house. Mercy is opposed to justice. Justice is the equality of the even scale, for it gives to each as he deserves; and when it makes recompense, it does not incline to one side or show respect of persons. Mercy, on the other hand, is a sorrow and pity stirred up by goodness, and it compassionately inclines a man in the direction of all; it does not requite a man who is deserving of evil, and to him who is deserving of good it gives a double portion. If, therefore, it is evident that mercy belongs to the portion of righteousness, then justice belongs to the portion of wickedness. As grass and fire cannot co-exist in one place, so justice and mercy cannot abide in one soul. As a grain of sand cannot counterbalance a great quantity of gold, so in comparison God’s use of justice cannot counterbalance His mercy.”

And further:

“Justice does not belong to the Christian way of life, and there is no mention of it in Christ’s teaching. Rejoice with them that rejoice, and weep with them that weep; for this is the sign of limpid purity. Suffer with the sick, and mourn with sinners; with those that repent, rejoice... Rebuke no man, revile no man, not even those that live very wickedly. Spread your cloak over that man who is falling and cover him. And if you cannot take upon yourself his failings and receive his chastisement in his stead, then at least patiently suffer his shame and do not disgrace him.” (Homily 51)

How alien this is to the ways of the world! How far removed is the self-righteousness of man from the true righteousness of God! The first condemns sin and punishes the sinner, while the second rightly condemns sin, yet shows mercy towards the sinner.

May this be imprinted upon our hearts: to be righteous means to show mercy. Joseph was righteous because, even beyond his many virtues, he lived by the law of mercy rather than justice, thereby being chosen to minister to the Virgin who was to bear the Incarnate Son of God in her womb. In him burned the lamp of true righteousness, in which the fire of virtue is fed by the oil of mercy. Let us therefore imitate the Righteous Joseph the Betrothed, who followed the law of mercy even before its inauguration by our Saviour, Who today is born. Amen.

Christ is Born!
Glorify Him!

Your fervent supplicant unto the Lord,

+ Gregory, Metropolitan of Boston
Nativity of Christ, 2018

Опубликовано: 07.01.2019 в 22:40

Рубрики: English version, Лента новостей

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