Sunday School
Holy Cross

The Incarnation

Then the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger." And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:
"Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!"
The concept of the Incarnation has been a mystery and a source of constant controversies and heresies in the Church since the origin of Christianity. The holy fathers were amazed by the abounding mercy and grace revealed in the Incarnation of the Son of God.
  • Begotten of the Father before all worlds and before even the framework of space and time were created.

  • Incarnated of his mother in the fullness of time without a physical father.

His birth had been predetermined before the foundations of the world

  • "Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel" , foretold prophet Isaiah who went on to say:
    For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.

  • "But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times." prophesied Micah

  • So it is written: "The first man Adam became a living being"; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven. explains St.Paul in his first letter to Corinthians

Church Fathers had to fight the various heresies that originated about the Incarnation of the Word of God and the nature of Christ. No one has explained the mystery of Incarnation better than Holy Father Athanasis in his classic work 'On the Incarnation' as is evident from the following quote from Chapter 3:
The Word of God came in His own Person, because it was He alone, the Image of the Father Who could recreate man made after the Image. In order to effect this re-creation, however, He had first to do away with death and corruption. Therefore He assumed a human body, in order that in it death might once for all be destroyed, and that men might be renewed according to the Image. The Image of the Father only was sufficient for this need. Here is an illustration to prove it.

You know what happens when a portrait that has been painted on a panel becomes obliterated through external stains. The artist does not throw away the panel, but the subject of the portrait has to come and sit for it again, and then the likeness is re-drawn on the same material. Even so was it with the All-holy Son of God. He, the Image of the Father, came and dwelt in our midst, in order that He might renew mankind made after Himself, and seek out His lost sheep, even as He says in the Gospel: "I came to seek and to save that which was lost."
Read the entire book online at: http://www.theologywebsite.com/etext/athanasius/incarnation.shtml

Here is what other church fathers wrote about the Incarnation:
If the coming of the Lord in the flesh did not take place, the Redeemer did not pay Death the price for us, and did not by Himself destroy the reign of Death. For if that which is subject to Death were one thing and that which was assumed by the Lord were another, then neither would Death have stopped doing his own works, nor would the suffering of the God-bearing flesh have become gain for us. He would not have destroyed sin in the flesh; we who had been dying in Adam would not have been made alive in Christ, that which had fallen apart would not have been repaired; that which was shattered would not have been restored; that which had been alienated from God by the deceit of the serpent would not have been made God's own again.
( St. Basil the Great (+379) Letter, AD 377 )

Inasmuch as I was weak by reason of the flesh, the Saviour has been sent to me in the likeness of the flesh of sin to conduct a very special business deal, so that He might redeem me from slavery, from corruption, and from death. And for me “He became righteousness and sanctification and redemption”; righteousness because by His fidelity He atoned for sin; sanctification because He acquitted through water and Spirit, and in His word; redemption, because He gave Himself, His blood, the blood of the true Lamb, as a price for me.
( St. Epiphanius (+403), The Man Well-Anchored )

... for the Only Begotten Word of God has saved us by putting on our likeness. Suffering in the flesh, and rising from the dead, he revealed our nature as greater than death or corruption. What he achieved was beyond the ability of our condition, and what seemed to have been worked out in human weakness and by suffering was really stronger than men and a demonstration of the power that pertains to God.
( Cyril of Alexandria, On the Unity of Christ, p. 130 )

The Only Begotten did not become man only to remain in the limits of the emptying. The point was that he who was God by nature should, in the act of self-emptying, assume everything that went along with it. This was how he would be revealed as ennobling the nature of man in himself by making {human nature} participate in his own sacred and divine honors.
( Cyril of Alexandria, On the Unity of Christ, p. 101 )

[In the person of Chirst] a man has not become God; God has become man.
( Cyril of Alexandria, Select Letters, p. xxxiv )

For if man's creation, his present condition, and future hope are all bound up with the divine grace which is Christ, it will not do to think of Christ as a good man or a very good man, an inspired man or a very inspired man, an important or a very important example of divine grace. It will not do to explain the Incarnation as a union of wills dependent upon the essentially transitory and fragile responsiveness of the human subject in Christ. Grace cannot depend upon anything, least of all upon the waverings of the best even of human wills. Grace must be unconditional and the Incarnation a binding of the Son of God with man in a union stronger than, because more basic than, any human act or choice.
( Cyril of Alexandria, Select Letters, p. xxxv )

[The Incarnation] is the descent of the eternal Word of God into human conditions and limitations in order radically to alter and restore them, without annihilating them. God remains God and his manhood is manhood still, but now charged with divine power and capable of restoring to fullness of life the believer who shares in it sacramentally.
( Cyril of Alexandria, Select Letters, p. xxxiii )

We must not think that he who descended into the limitation of manhood for our sake lost his inherent radiance and that transcendence that comes from his nature. No, he had this divine fullness even in the emptiness of our condition, and he enjoyed the highest eminence in humility, and held what belongs to him by nature (that is, to be worshipped by all) as a gift because of his humanity.
( Cyril of Alexandria, On the Unity of Christ, p. 123 )

"...there has been appointed over the spiritual Sion, that is, over the Church, a prince and a teacher who was not promoted at the time when He is said to have acceded to that office. For the Word that was born from the Virgin was and is always king and Lord of all. But when He became man, He made the limitations of humanity His own. For in this way we could believe truly and without hesitation that He became as we are. Therefore although it might be said that He received dominion over all things, this refers to His accepting the dispensation of the flesh, not to His pre-eminence by which He is regarded as Master of all things."
( St. Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on Isaiah, Isa 42:1-4, Cyril of Alexandria written and translated by Norman Russell; Routledge pg. 85 )

... The incorporeal and incorruptible and immaterial Word of God entered our world. In one sense, indeed, He was not far From it before, for no part of creation had ever been without Him Who, while ever abiding in union with the Father, yet fills all things that are. But now He entered the world in a new way, stooping to our level in His love and Self-revealing to us.
( St. Athanasius of Alexandria )

...Through this union of the immortal Son of God with our human nature, all men were clothed with incorruption in the promise of the resurrection... For the solidarity of mankind is such that, by virtue of the Word's indwelling in a single human body, the corruption which goes with death has lost its power over all. You know how it is when some great king enters a large city, and dwells in one of its houses; because of his dwelling in that single h use, the whole city is honored, and enemies and robbers cease to molest it. Even so is it with the King of ail; He has come into our country and dwelt in one body amidst the many, and in consequence the designs of the enemy against mankind have been foiled, and the corruption of death, which formerly held them in its power, has simply ceased to be. For the human race would have perished utterly had not the Lord and Saviour of all, the Son of God, come among us to put an end to death.
( St. Athanasius of Alexandria, On the Incarnation of the Word )

For His it was once more both to bring the corruptible to incorruption, and to maintain intact the just claim of the Father upon all. For being Word of the Father, and above all, He alone of natural fitness was both able to recreate everything, and worthy to suffer on behalf of all and to be ambassador for all with the Father. For this purpose, then, the incorporeal and incorruptible and immaterial Word of God comes to our realm, howbeit He was not far from us before. For no part of creation is left void of Him: He has filled all things everywhere, remaining present with His own Father. But He comes in condescension to show loving-kindness upon us, and to visit us.
( St. Athanasius of Alexandria, On the Incarnation of the Word )

For by the sacrifice of His own body, He both put an end to the law which was against us, and made a new beginning of life for us, by the hope of resurrection which He has given us. For since from man it was that death prevailed over men, for this cause conversely, by the Word of God being made man has come about the destruction of death and the resurrection of life; as the man which bore Christ saith: For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive: and so forth. Fort no longer now do we die as subject to condemnation; but as men who rise from the dead we await the general resurrection of all, `which in its own times He shall show,' even God, Who has also wrought it, and bestowed it upon us.
( St. Athanasius of Alexandria, On the Incarnation of the Word )

For since from man it was that death prevailed over men, for this cause conversely, by the Word of God being made man has come about the destruction of death and the resurrection of life; as the man which bore Christ saith: 'For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.'
( St. Athanasius of Alexandria, On The Incarnation of the Word. )

Now the Word of God in His man's nature was not like that; for He was not bound to His body, but rather was Himself wielding it, so that He was not only in it, but was actually in everything, and while external to the universe, abode in His Father only. And this was the wonderful thing that He was at once walking as man, and as the Word was quickening all things, and as the Son was dwelling with His Father. So that not even when the virgin bore Him did He suffer any change, nor by being in the body was [His glory] dulled; but, on the contrary, He sanctified the body also. For not even by being in the universe does He share in its nature, but all things, on the contrary, are quickened and sustained by Him.
( St. Athanasius of Alexandria, On The Incarnation of the Word )

The Word of God thus acted consistently in assuming a body and using a human instrument to vitalize the body. He was consistent in working through man to reveal Himself everywhere, as well as through the other parts of His creation, so that nothing was left void of His Divinity and knowledge. For I take up now the point I made before, namely that the Saviour did this in order that He might fill all things everywhere with the knowledge of Himself, just as they are already filled with His presence, even as the Divine Scripture says, 'The whole universe was filled with the knowledge of the Lord'.
( St. Athanasius of Alexandria, On The Incarnation of the Word )

The Word, then, visited that earth in which He was yet always present; and saw all the evils.... For this purpose, then, the incorporeal and incorruptible and immaterial Word of God comes to our realm, howbeit he was not far from us before. For no part of Creation is left void of Him: He has filled all things everywhere, remaining present with His own Father. But He comes in condescension to show loving kindness upon us, and to visit us.
( St. Athanasius of Alexandria, On The Incarnation of the Word )

And being clothed with the Spirit, they [the prophets] saw that none among the creatures was able to heal that great wound, but only the bounty of God, that is to say His Only-begotten, Whom He sent to be the Saviour of all the world, for He is the great Physician, Who is able to heal the great wound. And they asked God and of His bounty the father of creatures spared not His Only-begotten for our salvation, but delivered Him up for us all and for our iniquities. And He humbled Himself, and by His stripes we all were healed. And by the word of His power He gathered us out of all lands, from one end of the world to the other end of the world, and raised up our hearts from the earth, and taught us that we are members one of another.
( The Letters of St. Anthony the Great )

For what principle did the Blood of His Only-Begotten Son delight the Father, Who would not receive even Isaac, when he was being offered by his father, but changed the sacrifice, putting a ram in the place of the human victim? Is it not evident that the Father accepts Him, but neither asked for Him nor demanded Him; but on account of the Incarnation, and because humanity must be sanctified by the Humanity of God, that He might deliver us Himself, and overcome the tyrant, and draw us to Himself by the mediation of His Son, Who also arranged this to the honor of the Father, Whom it is manifest that He obeys in all things? So much we have said of Christ; the greatest part of what we might say shall be reverenced with silence.
( St. Gregory the Theologian, Second Oration on Pascha )

God's Majesty that had clothed Itself in all sorts of similitudes saw that humanity did not want to find salvation through this assistance, so He sent His Beloved One who, instead of the borrowed similitude with which God's Majesty had previously clothed Itself, clothed Himself with real limbs, as the First-born, and was mingled with humanity: He gave what belonged to Him and took what belonged to us, so that this mingling of His might give life to our dead state.
( St. Ephrem the Syrian, quoted in The Luminous Eye )

How could anyone doubt that the nature of God the Word is filled with true and regal dominion? Certainly we must understand this nature as being in the very heights befitting to God. Since He appeared as a man, however, a being upon whom all things are bestowed as gifts, He received as a man, even though He is full and gives to all from His own fullness (Jn. 1:16). He made our poverty His own, and we see in Christ the strange and rare paradox of Lordship in servant's form and divine glory in human abasement. That which was under the yoke in terms of the limitations of manhood was crowned with royal dignity, and that which was humble was raised to the most supreme excellence.
( St. Cyril of Alexandria, On the Unity of Christ )

In saying that the Apostles were eyewitnesses of the substantial and living Word, the Evangelist agrees with John, who says, that the Word was made flesh, and tabernacled in us, and His glory was seen, the glory as of the Only begotten of the Father. For the Word became capable of being seen by reason of the flesh, which is visible and tangible and solid; whereas in Himself He is invisible. And John again in his Epistle says, That which was from the beginning, That which we have heard, That which we have seen with our eyes, and our hands have handled around the Word of Life, and the Life became manifest. Hearest thou not that he speaks of the Life as capable of being handled? This he does that thou mayest understand that the Son became man, and was visible in respect to the flesh, but invisible as regards His divinity.
( Saint Cyril Patriarch of Alexandria, Commentary on Luke )

Jesus Christ, radiant center of glory, image of our God, the invisible Father, revealer of His eternal designs, prince of peace; Father of the world to come. For our sake he took the likeness of a slave, becoming flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary, for our sake, wrapped in swaddling bands and laid in a manger adored by the shepherds and hymned by the angelic powers, who sang: Glory to God in the heavens and on earth peace and good to men. Make us worthy, Lord, to celebrate and to conclude in peace the feast which magnifies the rising of Thy light, by avoiding empty words, working with justice, fleeing from the passions, and raising up the spirit above earthly goods. Bless Thy Church, formed long ago to be united with Thou through Thy life-giving blood. Come to the aid of Thy faithful shepherds, of the priests and the teachers of the Gospel. Bless Thy faithful whose only hope is in Thy mercy; Christian souls, the sick, those who are tormented in spirit, and those who have asked us to pray for them. Have pity, in Thy infinite clemency, and preserve us in fitness to receive the future, endless, good things. We celebrate Thy glorious Nativity with the Father who sent thee for our redemption, with the life-giving Spirit, now and for ever and through all ages. Amen
( Ancient Syriac liturgy )

Men forsook God, and made carved images of men. Since therefore an image of man was falsely worshipped as God, God became truly Man, that the falsehood might be done away.
( St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures: Lecture 12 no. 15 )

The Devil had used the flesh as an instrument against us; and Paul knowing this says, 'But I see another law in my members warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity' (Rom. 7:23). By the very same weapons, therefore, wherewith the Devil used to vanquish us, have we been saved. The Lord took on Him from us our likeness, that He might save man's nature: He took our likeness, that He might give greater grace to that which lacked; that sinful humanity might become partaker of God.
( St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures: Lecture 12 no. 15 )

The perfect Teacher of babes (Rom. 2:20) became a babe among babes, that He might give wisdom to the foolish. The Bread of Heaven came down on earth (John 6:32,33,50) that He might feed the hungry.
( St. Cyril of Jerusalem (Catechetical Lectures: Lecture 12 no. 1) )

... if Christ is God, as indeed He is, but took not human nature upon Him, we are strangers to salvation. Let us then worship Him as God, but believe that He also was made Man. For neither is there any profit in calling Him man without Godhead, nor any salvation in refusing to confess the Manhood together with the Godhead.
( St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures: Lecture 12 no. 1 )

Through Eve yet virgin came death; through a virgin, or rather from a virgin, must the Life appear: that as the serpent beguiled the one, so to the other Gabriel might bring good tidings.
( St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures: Lecture 12 no. 15) )

The Word, having unveiled the truth, showed to men the summit of salvation, so that either repenting they might be saved, or refusing to obey, they might be condemned. This is the proclamation of righteousness: to those who obey, rejoicing; to those who disobey, condemnation.
( St. Clement of Alexandria (190 AD) , Exhortation to the Heathen chap. 11) )

From God Christ's deity came forth, His manhood from humanity; his priesthood from Melchizedek, his royalty from David's tree: praised be his Oneness. He joined with guests at wedding feast, Yet in the wilderness did fast; he taught within the temple's gates; his people saw him die at last: praised be his teaching. The dissolute he did not scorn, Nor turn from those who were in sin; he for the righteous did rejoice but bade the fallen to come in: praised be his mercy. He did not disregard the sick; To simple ones his word was given; and he descended to the earth and, his work done, went up to heaven: praised be his coming. Who then, my Lord, compares to you? The Watcher slept, the Great was small, the Pure baptized, the Life who died, the King abased to honor all: praised be your glory.
( St. Ephrem the Syrian, translated by John Howard Rhys, Adapted and altered by F Bland Tucker, (Episcopal) Hymnbook 1982 )

He became a servant on earth; He was Lord on high. Inheritor of the height and depth, Who became a stranger. But the One Who was judged wrongly will judge in truth, and He in Whose face they spat, breathed the spirit into the face. He Who held a weak reed was the scepter for the world that grows old and leans on Him. He Who stood [and] served His servants, sitting, will be worshipped. He Whom the Scribes scorned -- the Seraphim sang "holy" before Him.
( St. Ephrem the Syrian, Hymns on the Nativity )

Melchizadek anticipated Him; he the vicar was watching to see priesthood's Lord Whose hyssop cleanses creation. Lot saw the Sodomites who perverted nature; he looked for the Lord of natures Who gave chastity beyond nature. Aaron anticipated Him - he who saw that if his staff swallowed reptiles, His cross would swallow the Reptile that swallowed Adam and Eve. Moses saw the fixed serpent that healed the stings of basilisks, and he anticipated he would see the Healer of the first Serpent's wound. Moses saw the he alone received the brightness of God, and he anticipated the One to come - by His teaching, the Multiplier of the godlike.
( St. Ephrem the Syrian, Hymns (On the Nativity.) )

The Firstborn, Who was begotten according to His nature, underwent yet another birth outside His nature, so that we too would understand that after our natural birth, we must undergo another (birth) outside our nature. As a spiritual being, He was unable to become physical until the time of physical birth. And so too physical beings, unless they undergo another birth, cannot become spiritual. The Son, Whose birth is beyond investigation, underwent another birth which can be investigated. So, by the one we learn that His majesty is limitless, and by the other we realize that His goodness is boundless. For His majesty increases without bounds, Whose first birth cannot be imagined by any mind, and His goodness overflows without limit, Whose other birth is proclaimed by every mouth.
( St. Ephrem the Syrian, Homily on Our Lord )

Now the day of mercy has shown forth! Let no one persecute his neighbor with revenge for the wrong he has caused him! The day of joy has arrived! Let no one be guilty of causing sorrow and grief to another person. This is a cloudless and bright day! Let anger be stilled for it disturbs peace and tranquility. This is the day in which God descended to sinners! Let the righteous man be ashamed to exalt himself over sinners. This is the day when the Lord of creation came to servants! Let the master of the house humble himself in similar love to his servants. This is the day on which the Wealthy One became poor for our sake! Let not the rich be ashamed to share their table with the poor.
( St. Ephrem the Syrian )

Think not, therefore, it is of small things thou art hearing, when thou hearest of this birth, but rouse up thy mind, and straightway tremble, being told that God hath come upon earth. For so marvellous was this, and beyond expectation, that because of these things the very angels formed a choir, and in behalf of the world offered up their praise for them, and the prophets from the first were amazed at this, that "He was seen upon earth, and conversed with men(7)." Yea, for it is far beyond all thought to hear that God the Unspeakable, (8) the Unutterable, the Incomprehensible, and He that is equal to the Father, hath passed through a virgin's womb, and hath vouchsafed to be born of a woman, and to have Abraham and David for forefathers.
( St John Chrysostom, Gospel According To St. Matthew, Homily 2 )

Through the fall our nature was stripped of divine illumination and resplendence. But the Logos of God had pity upon our disfigurement and in His compassion He took our nature upon Himself, and on Tabor He manifested it to His elect disciples clothed once again most brilliantly. He shows what we once were and what we shall become through Him in the age to come, if we choose to live our present life as far as possible in accordance with His ways.
( St. Gregory Palamas )

... Today the Lord is born, the life and salvation of mankind; today a reconciliation is made of Divinity to humanity, and of humanity to Divinity; today all creation has leapt for joy; those above sent toward those below; and those below towards those above; today occurred the death of darkness and the life of humanity; today a way was made toward God for man and a way for God into the soul.
( St. Macarius the Great )

The purpose of the advent of the Saviour, when He gave us His life-giving commandments as purifying remedies in our passionate state, was to cleanse the soul from the damage done by the first transgression and bring it back to its original state. What medicines are for a sick body, that the commandments are for the passionate soul.
( Saint Isaac of Syria )