The recent reappearance of the ancient terror of a pandemic has prompted fertile conversation among theologians and literary people across the world. Various opinions have been articulated, such as that disease can be transmitted through the current way of distributing holy communion, or that the Eucharistic Gifts themselves can be bearers and transmitters of pathogenic germs. It is said that since the bread and the wine do not alter their essence and essential properties, it follows that they are subject to decay and can also spread toxic viruses. This idea has supposedly found Christological grounds as well in that the human body of Christ is a carrier of germs which can be harmful to us, though not to Him; after all, germs themselves are not bad, since there is nothing bad in creation.
Within this framework, the following evidence drawn from the writings of the Fathers might be relevant and useful.
Undoubtedly, there is nothing bad in creation. No form of life, nor even natural destruction can be considered as bad, because evil is only that which alienates us from God. However, one should also consider the products of personal sin, such as, for example, a dangerous laboratory hybrid, as well as the effects of the ancestral Fall, namely decay and death, to which the human being has been submitted. Now, God’s incarnation manifests something entirely new in the world.
Our current pandemic has brought us face-to-face with the reality of human mortality, our susceptibility to disease and death. We no longer confront death in the abstract: its long hand has reached out to our communities and, in some cases, even touched our families. In our big extended family called the Church, we have become more aware of our common brokenness, and we are called to become more compassionate, more responsive to each other’s needs.
Throughout the Church’s history, communities that have been visited by similar or greater disasters, including “famine, plague, earthquake, flood, fire, and sword,” have always asked for divine protection in prayer. In addition to imploring God for protection, their members in the past and today have wondered, where is God amidst horrendous human suffering? And why would God allow suffering on such an astonishing scale?
About a decade ago I found myself pregnant with triplets halfway through work on a PhD in theology at the University of Virginia. My husband and I had thought long and hard about having a third child, so the joke was on us when—to our total surprise—we learned at a routine ultrasound that I was carrying not just our third child, but also our fourth and fifth. One of my many reactions to this news was to write a book.
Admittedly, penning a work of incarnational theology many not be the typical reaction to a triplet pregnancy, but there’s really nothing typical about a triplet pregnancy. For me, even though I had been a mother of two for several years already, the prospect of a trifecta of infants raised the spiritual stakes of motherhood: I was deeply driven to know more about how motherhood was understood within the Orthodox Christian theological tradition. Continue reading →
It is the Annunciation, the Euaggelismos, the Announcing of the Good News to Mary that she will bear the Christ child whom she will name Jesus; the day of the Incarnation, the day God became human in the form of a man. We celebrate this story on March 25th.
Our Orthodox tradition very much affirms that on this day God became human, that Jesus who was conceived on this day is paradoxically God and man. This belief in the incarnation of God in the man Jesus—as it says in the creed, “incarnate by the Holy Spirit,” that is by the power of the Holy Spirit—is not an easy one to affirm. In fact, I would say that over the past few centuries, it has fallen into disfavor. One reason is that a scientific standard of truth has prevailed since the 17th century and the idea that God can become human is something that has never been observed before, nor is it something that is scientifically verifiable. In an age where trust is given to that which can be verified, that for which we can provide proof or evidence, the belief in God becoming human in a particular individual is something which simply cannot meet that standard of truth. Even before the Scientific Revolution, it wasn’t something easy to believe. A study of early Christian writings reveals that the Greek philosophers did not find such a belief very reasonable.
Yet much is at stake in its affirmation or its denial. What I wish to suggest is that what is at stake is the very essence of Christianity itself. Continue Reading…