The Coming One

“Behold all Creation is saved by Christ and sang praise for the Son’s Nativity”

~Qolo: Nativity Night Vigil

Advent is a season of travail. Birth pangs are upon the entire creation that yearns for the coming of its Creator;[1] for salvation is not anthropocentric but eco-centric. It is not just the human beings who long for the advent of Christ but the entire creation; “The whole creation has been groaning in labour pains.” (Rom. 8:22). God so loved the world (κόσμος) and not just human beings that He gave His only begotten Son. (John 3:16). Christ does indeed become a human being – that is because among creatures only human beings are created in the image of God[2] therefore Christ could only become a human being[3] – but that does not mean deification is exclusive to human beings. This would be a fallacious idea.[4] As we sing in the Bo’utho Mor Jacob in our Nativity Vespers; “Earth rejoices with peace on His Nativity. Glory to Him who gladdened the earth by His birth.”

Human beings cannot be conceived apart from the cosmos because through a visible body and an invisible soul, human beings hold in themselves the visible and invisible worlds.[5] As Dumitru Staniloae eruditely puts it; “Each human person in a certain way is a hypostasis of the entire cosmic nature, but he is this only in solidarity with others. Cosmic nature is thus common to all hypostases, although each one hypostasizes it and lives it personally in a way that is particular to himself and complementary to that of others.”[6]

Human beings are not just on the earth but more emphatically of the earth. A single prepositional change makes a world of difference. We are earth and we literally realize this only when we die and become soil; until then we are withering away, each day, each moment. St. Barnabas beautifully remarks; “A human being is earth suffering.”[7] Even the worship offered by human beings encompasses the entire creation. In fact we are blessed with mouth and tongue to praise God not only for ourselves but also the wider creation. Thus we sing in the Qolo of Monday Vespers; “The one who possess a mouth and word and tongue; ought to give thanks for the creatures which are silent.” No Sacrament is complete without the mutual cooperation of human beings and ecology. For instance the Holy Eucharist. We do not offer a sheaf of wheat and a bunch of grapes but bread and wine. It is a collective effort of human beings and ecology.  Incarnation itself – in a generic sense – is God becoming matter. As Eric Simpson writes;

“The Gospel story emphatically declares: Christ, who as the discarnate Logos is the second Person of the Triune God, was made flesh, a fully material human being, in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Through this act alone, all matter becomes subject to redemption and is now not only good because God declared all of creation to be good, but all matter carries the potential for purity, or holiness. The wood of the cross of Christ, Athanasius argues, is transformed from mere wood into the vehicle of redemption for the entire cosmos; it is therefore legitimate to value matter because it is through matter that we are redeemed.”[8]

Therefore the entire cosmos anxiously awaits Christ – The Coming One (ἐρχόμενος).

Christ is the coming one (ἐρχόμενος). This was blatantly confessed by Martha of Bethany. Unlike the Synoptic Gospels, John omits Peter’s confession of Christ but places a more profound Christological confession on the lips of Martha; “You are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” (11:27). Martha bestows upon Christ three titles; Messiah, the Son of God and the Coming One. By identifying Christ as ‘The Coming One’ (ἐρχόμενος), Martha sheds light on the transcendental immanence of Christ. Christ is indeed ‘the coming one’[9] for the Lord himself states; “I am Alpha and Omega, the one who is and was and is coming.” (Rev. 1:8). His ever-coming(ness) generates in us an insatiable longing for him.[10] There is something more to Christ than his physicality. It is this transcendental immanence of Christ that fervently and magnetically draws (ἀντλέω) us towards him as he promised; “When I am lifted up I will draw (ἀντλέω) all people to myself.” (John 12:32). St. Gregory expatiates this further;

“The divine draws us towards itself, for what is completely ungraspable is unhoped for and unsought. Yet one wonders at the ungraspable, and one desires more intensely the object of wonder, and being desired it purifies, and purifying it makes deiform, and with those who has become such he converses as with those close to him – I speak with vehement boldness – God is united with gods.” (Or. 38:7).[11]   

Christ is always the coming one (ἐρχόμενος). The labyrinth of meanings this phrase gives birth to should not be denigrated by affixing it to a mere numerical understanding (for instance first coming and second coming) of the advent of Christ. The coming of Christ is hinged upon our ability to receive him. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him, and will dine with him, and he with me.” (Rev. 3:20). Christ is not going to break open the door and come in rather it is incumbent on us to open the door of our heart, mind and soul and invite Christ. As Origen notes; “If Christ did not come to your soul, of what use would his historical coming in the flesh be to you?”[12]  

Incarnation happens at the fullness of time;[13] it is precisely the “intersection of the timeless with time.” Time is not a meagre historical continuum rather it should be consciously redeemed; “Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, redeeming (ἐξαγοραζόμενοι) the time.” (Eph. 5:15-16). Time is not futile but purposive; it has to be given meaning constantly for “without meaning there is no time.”[14] Incarnation of Christ could then be understood as the transformation of time. As Kallistos Ware observes;

“True time is living, personal, existential, measured not by mere succession but by intention. True time is kairos rather than chronos, characterized not by the predetermined swing of the pendulum but by unpredictable yet decisive moments of opportunity, moments of disclosure filled with meaning when clock time stands still, as Joseph found in the Protoevangelion, and when eternity breaks in.”[15]

May we have a redemptive time this advent season as we prepare to receive Christ – The Coming One.

Advent Greetings!

In Christ

Dayroyo Fr. Basil


[1] “All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.” (John 1:3).

[2] “God created humankind in his image.” (Gen 1:27). Notice that in the preceding verse God says; “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness.” (v. 26). But then God creates humankind only in his image (not likeness). This means that image is a gift and likeness is a calling (something yet to be attained) and both would be consummated at the eschaton. One must understand creation in an eschatological sense (something that is still in process) rather than protological. As Rowan Williams puts it: “It could be said, though rather awkwardly, that the world we inhabit as material beings is not ‘created’ by God: it is made, or at least conditioned, by the choices of his creatures, and regulated by his providence. ‘Creation’, ktisis, is strictly only the unimpeded expression of God’s rational will.” (Arius, 141)

[3] Christ is the image of God into which we humans are being fashioned. “He is the image of the invisible God.” (Col. 1:15).

[4] The entire creation is very good. “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.” (Gen. 1:31).

[5] This concept has been very well expressed by St. Gregory of Nazianzus; “The human being is a kind of second world, great in smallness, placed on the earth, another angel, a composite worshiper, a beholder of the visible creation, an initiate into the intelligible, king of things on earth, subject to what is above, earthly and heavenly, transitory and immortal, visible and intelligible, a mean between greatness and lowliness.” (Or. 38.11). St. Gregory of Nazianzus, Festal Orations, Nonna Verna Harrison trans. (Crestwood: SVS Press, 2008), 68. 

[6] Dumitru Staniloae; The Experience of God: Orthodox Dogmatic Theology Vol 2. The Word: Creation and Deification, Ioan Ionita and Robert Barringer trans. and eds. (Massachusetts: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 2005), 2.

[7] https://www.uniontheology.org/resources/bible/biblical-theology/the-epistle-of-barnabas.

[8] Eric Simpson, “On The Incarnation: The Value of Matter” https://orthodoxyindialogue.com/2018/12/08/on-the-incarnation-the-value-of-matter-by-eric-simpson/?fbclid=IwAR0YS75ni8kx5bST9eabo4YPf-GYNx5rnlOGVGx1MjnHsZY69_5jX27ZViY.

[9] “When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is coming (ἐρχόμενος) into the world.” John 6:14. Even the disciples of John the Baptist ask Jesus; “Are you the coming one (ἐρχόμενος)?” They could have phrased their question as; “Are you the one was supposed to come?” Because he was already there. But No. They specifically asked; “Are you the coming one?”

[10] For we read; “My soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you.” (Ps. 63:1).  This can be read alongside Is. 65: 1; “I was ready to be sought out by those who did not ask, to be found by those who did not seek. I said, ‘Here I am, here I am,’ to a nation that did not call on my name.” This means that it is because Christ sought us first we do now feel the urge to seek him. 

[11] Gregory of Nazianzus, Festal Orations, 65.

[12]https://afkimel.wordpress.com/2020/12/05/if-christ-did-not-come-to-your-soul-of-what-use-would-his-historical-coming-in-the-flesh-be-to-you/?fbclid=IwAR3yAbv1wD73iasj8hnM4BE9UEELmOwgnIKq5vtEx9-Yz2KU8MwrRQJhuqc.

[13] “When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman.” (Gal. 4:4)

[14] T.S. Eliot, “The Dry Salvages”, The Complete Poems and Plays (London: Faber, 1969), 160.

[15] Kallistos Ware, The Inner Kingdom (Crestwood: SVS Press, 2000), 190.

7 Comments

  1. In the Syriac gospel tradition of the Diatessaron, in John 1v14 is written: ” The Word put on a body “. It does not say that he became anything.

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    1. ὁ λόγος σὰρξ ἐγένετο (The Word became flesh – John 1:14).

      Concerning the linguistics of Incarnation, Philoxenos juxtaposes two traditions of theological language;

      a. Alexandrine Tradition: The Word became flesh, God was embodied, was enfleshed, was inhominated etc.
      b. Antiochene Tradition and Archaic: The Word took/assumed, was united, dwelt, put on, was joined.

      His Profession of faith is quite revealing;

      “One of the qnume of the Trinity came down from heaven, in the mystery of self-emptying, and from the holy Virgin became a human being. Because He is God, and in His becoming human His nature (kyono) was not changed, and there was no addition in his hypostasis (qnumo), but He remained the Only-Begotten also after He had become embodied, for the becoming did not introduce another ‘first-born’ for the Only-Begotten, but it showed the Only-Begotten who is from the Father to be the first-born who is from the Virgin; for he who is the Only-Begotten in his generation from the divine Being, became at His Nativity the first-born from the Virgin; and because God the Word who is born from the Virgin is the Only-Begotten and the Only-Begotten is the first-born, He being God … Single is the Only-Begotten and there is no number in Him.” (Quoted in Metropolitan Mor Polycarpus Aydin, “Syrian Orthodox Christology and the Chalcedonian Definition of Faith” in Christine Chaillot ed. The Dialogue Between The Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Churches (Volos: Volos Academy Publications, 2016), 294)

      Philoxenos further writes;

      “Because it was by means of the inhomination (methbarnshonutho) that the divine economy of salvation was established, and not because of any doubling, for if doubling (piputo), is thought to be in Christ, and number is determined concerning Him once He has become incarnate, then by all means the economy is nullified, for in the case of all that is double it is evident that it is numbered, and what is numbered is also necessary to be thought of as one thing and another. And if God is one and man is the other (in the incarnate Christ), how could there be any economy in the flesh, for God would not have become human, nor would the human have been believed to be God.” (Quoted in Metropolitan Mor Polycarpus Aydin, “Syrian Orthodox Christology and the Chalcedonian Definition of Faith”, 294.)

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      1. Yes, the Diatessaron may have a better reading than the Greek, since egeneto implies that the Word became something, or changed in some way, whereas the Diatessaron’s reading meltho lebshat pagro suggests there was a union without a change in nature.

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      2. I’d still stand by “became” to avoid any docetic resonance. Moreover it is our Creedal Affirmation – Wahwo Barnosho (And became Man).

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      3. “The word put on a body” does not contradict your creedal affirmation, because it remains true in many senses that our Lord became a man. The creed is a summary. However, the Syriac Diatessaron gospel throws some more light on the incarnation, because it says that his essential Divinity, i.e. his qnumo, remained unchanged after the union. Many passages in the Diatessaron make clear that our Lord’s humanity was real (for example the blood and sweat in the garden that many Greek manuscripts omit and the water and blood that flowed from his holy body on the cross). If you wanted to criticise this reading, you might have called it adoptionist. However, in the Diatessaron his Divinity is already made clear before his birth at the annunciation to the blessed Maryam and again during his birth to the shepherds. In fact, his Divinity and majesty are clearer in the Diatessaron than they are in the Greek gospels, (I can give examples if you would like that).

        It is also possible to discern that the reading “The Word put on a body” is an early reading, well before Mar Ephrem’s days. In the New Testament era, concerning our outward bodily natures, the apostle Paul uses the same terminology that equates incarnation to ‘putting on clothes’ several times in his letters:
        Galatians 3v27 (Peshitto): “Those of you who in the Messiah have been baptised, you have put on the Messiah.”
        2 Corinthians 5v2-4 (Peshitto): “Also we are groaning about this, and longing that we will be clothed in our dwelling from heaven, lest whilst we are clothed we will be found naked while we are in this dwelling groaning from its weight. And we do not want to send it [away], but that we would be clothed from above, that its mortality may be swallowed up by [eternal] life.”

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      4. Thank you Steven. This expatiation was really helpful and informative. I hope our deliberation has offered the readers many insights, for it has certainly provided me. Thank you for your time and willingness to engage. Appreciate it. God bless.

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      5. It is good to muse upon the truths of our faith, to quote and think about the scriptures and the words of Philoxenus of Mabbug. So, thank you for your patience and your thoughts. Respectfully, Steven.

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