The Womb and the Tomb

 

Icon of the Nativity compared with the Icon of the Resurrection

Left: Christ in the manger; Right: the Empty Tomb

No description of the Nativity Icon would be complete without mention of Jesus’ appearance in the manger.

It should be never forgotten that Jesus came to us in order to die – this was known by Him, at least, from the very beginning. Therefore, in Iconography, the manger in the Nativity Icon deliberately resembles a stone coffin, the swaddling clothes resemble a burial shroud, and the cave itself can even be said to prefigure Christ’s tomb.

With the side-by-side comparison shown above of the Icon of the Nativity with the Icon showing the Myrrh-bearing women discovering Jesus’ empty tomb, no more words are necessary. (1)

The Passion of Nativity

… Let us look more closely at the child in the relief.  “His tight swaddling clothes are evocative of burial wrappings.  In the byzantine tradition, there is an intentional connection between the swaddling clothes of the infant in a Nativity icon and the burial clothes of the Epitaphios (epi– upon; taphos- grave or tomb) icon which is venerated and anointed during Great Friday Vespers.  Also on Great Friday, the “soma” icon on the crucifix is taken down from the cross and shrouded in identical wrappings before it is processed and reposed in the sanctuary.”

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“…Note, as well, that the “manger” is a cave, a small hollow in a rock formation that mirrors Jesus’ tomb in the gospels.  In many icons, Jesus’ cradle is a stone box.  Who would lay a child in a coffin? What macabre motive would make an artist paint a baby as a mummy and give him a tomb as his nursery?  Indeed, the motive is not macabre, but joyful and eschatologically triumphant: we only understand the significance of the incarnation if we hold it in tension with Jesus’ saving death; we may not separate the two.  This also reminds us that the liturgical year commemorates events in the life of Jesus but it never parses the paschal mystery.”

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Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem 

The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem is one of the oldest continuously operating churches in the world, and the oldest in the Holy Land (founded in 325)

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A virgin womb, conceiving thee, revealed thee;
a virgin tomb, receiving thee, concealed thee.

We glorify her from whom thou didst receive a beginning in time,
and we honour him that ministered to the end of thine earthly life for our sakes,
asking that through their prayers, O merciful Saviour,
we might be deemed worthy of thy Kingdom of the Heavens.

Theotokion on the Praises for the Feast of St. Joseph of Arimathea
Appendix to the July Menaion, Holy Transfiguration Monastery

 

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Church Of The Nativity Bethlehem Stable

All the eschatological themes of the Advent season converge in the Nativity tableau and are carried forward into Christmas.  This should not surprise us.  The birth of Christ and his salvific death form the cosmic fulcrum upon which the beam of human history rests, with creation and eschaton at each end.  In a nativity icon this is super concentrated.  Incarnation and eschaton are so ingeniously and inextricably intertwined that we might not even read “passion” in what is written in the icon unless we understand the symbolic significance of the iconographic elements.  The best known example of this is the gifts of the wise men: while gold and frankincense represent Jesus’ kingship and priesthood, respectively, myrrh, used for embalming, is a symbol of his death.

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When I look at a Nativity icon and I see a child embraced by death, and embracing death, I have at least an inkling of what Rilke was, perhaps, trying to convey in the first Duino Elegy:

“For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror, which we are still just able to endure, and we are so awed because it serenely disdains to annihilate us.” (2)

 

(1) Posted on by 

(2) Posted at https://memoriadei.wordpress.com/2010/12/17/the-ox-the-ass-and-the-passion-of-the-nativity/

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Bending in the Archer’s Hand

Poetry, Theology, Videos: Orthodox Worship, Conception and the Personhood of the Unborn 

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Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

Kahlil Gibran – The Prophet

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“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you” Jeremiah 1:5

“Your eyes saw my unformed substance” Psalm 139:16

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Orthodox Worship, Conception and the Personhood of the Unborn 

“If we turn to the Festal cycle, the consciousness of the personhood of the unborn is strikingly manifest especially in three important Feasts: The first is the Feast of the Conception of John the Baptist (September 23) in which we sing: “Rejoice, O barren one, who had not given birth; for behold you have clearly conceived the one who was about to illuminate the whole universe, blighted by blindness. Shout in joy, O Zacharias, crying in favor; truly the one to be born is a prophet of the High!” John the Baptist existed as a human being and a part of God’s plan of salvation from the moment of his conception.

The second is the Conception of the Theotokos (December 9). Here the vesperal hymn proclaims: “Behold the promises of the Prophets are realized for the  Holy Mountain is planted in the womb, the Divine Ladder is set up, the great Throne of the King is ready, the place for the passage of the Lord is prepared . . .” It is notable that both Elizabeth and Anna were advanced in years and barren. Thus they were considered “cursed” in the Jewish tradition where children were a sign of God’s blessing. (Consider that mind-set with our own of today and how God’s Plan is being affected by the hundreds of millions who will never participate in it.)

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The quintessential Feast illustrating the Church’s belief of the importance of human beings from the moment of conception is the Annunciation (March 25) which is so important that a Divine Liturgy must be served even when it falls on Great and Holy Friday! The Annunciation Troparion makes a most profound statement:

“Today is the beginning of our salvation, the revelation of the eternal mystery! The Son of God becomes the Son of the Virgin as Gabriel announces the coming of grace…” 

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  This is a far cry from the “pro-choice” rhetoric of “Who knows when life begins?” or the degradation of the unborn by calling him a “blob of tissue” and a “product of conception.”

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Can any Christian seriously propose that Jesus Christ was ever a “blob” or an appendage of the Theotokos’s body?

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At the Great Compline the hymnography makes this astonishing claim: “…O marvel! God has come among men; He who cannot be contained in a womb; the timeless One enters time…For God empties Himself, takes flesh, and is fashioned as a creature, when the angel tells the pure Virgin of her conception…” This is not sung at the feast of our Lord’s Nativity but at His conception!!! Such concepts as “viability” and “quickening” are utterly withoutmeaning and irrelevant.

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Scripture and the Unborn 

In the New Testament, consciousness of the personhood of the unborn is clearly manifested. The same word – brephos – is used for the child in the womb as out of the womb unlike modern medical and scientific distinctions of “zygote,” “embryo,” “fetus“ etc. used to differentiate among the stages of pre-natal life. The Latin word “fetus” simply means “little one” and was never intended as a means of denying humanity to the child dwelling in his mother’s womb. A similar pattern of language occurs in the Old Testament as in the book of Job 3:16 in which he refers to: “Infants [gohlal] which never saw the light.” 

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In Luke 1:41 we find another astonishing image of the scriptural consciousness of the personhood of the unborn: “And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb” Here, the unborn John the Baptist recognizes and rejoices at the unborn Messiah – a “fetus” greeting a “fetus.” This is not just a “literary device” as some would insist. It illustrates the narrator’s consciousness of the already existing personality – and Divine calling – of an unborn human being. We do celebrate the birth of John the Baptist, the Theotokos, and the Lord Jesus Himself, but we also celebrate their conception – their entry into time and the physical world – the “fulness of time” as it is called by St. Paul.

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A more profound point to this all is that these feasts, especially the Annunciation, point to the Incarnation. By Jesus Christ taking on our humanity from the moment of conception, existing in the pre-natal condition in the womb of the Theotokos, experiencing birth, living through infancy to adulthood, and finally physical death, God sanctified every moment of human existence – from conception to death.

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There is more to this – God also completely identifies with us in our fallen suffering nature, and by dying for us on the cross, He expresses His solidarity with us: whether we are a zygote, embryo, fetus, infant, child, adolescent, adult, or elderly: human existence is a continuum from conception, and – yes – beyond death to life eternal in the Lord! Read the rest of the article at “Abortion: An Orthodox Christian Perspective on the Sanctity of Human Life” by Rev. Deacon John Protopapas at https://orthodoxword.wordpress.com/2011/01/29/abortion-an-orthodox-christian-perspective-on-the-sanctity-of-human-life/

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“Science Does TOO Know When “Human Life” Begins”. Read more at http://www.nationalreview.com/human-exceptionalism

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Watch a disturbing undercover investigative video by Live Action, “What is Human?”, which  probes America’s late-term abortion industry, and reveals chilling admissions from abortionists on the humanity of children in the womb, at https://www.lifesitenews.com/pulse/this-viral-video-is-changing-countless-minds-about-abortion

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Watch a very disturbing undercover video which catches planned parenthood selling “uterine contents” (ie. one unborn baby plus placenta and amniotic fluid –> aborted baby body parts), while casually sipping wine and eating salad at a ‘business’ lunch: http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/80682.htm

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Watch a new, shocking video: Planned Parenthood abortionist–between sips- jokes about harvesting baby’s brains, getting ‘intact’ head at https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/tearing-off-a-babys-head-intact-is-something-to-strive-for-planned-parentho 

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“Hooverized” is a California High School Expression for an abortion

As for “Reproductive Justice”,  there is absolutely nothing ‘just’ about abortion!

Check more Pro-Choice Euphemisms at http://gerardnadal.com/2010/05/31/how-many-pro-choice-euphemisms-can-you-list/

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Abortion: An Orthodox Christian Perspective on the Sanctity of Human Life 

 

Reflection:

Each human being is unique creation of God. Each one of us has never been before and will never be again – throughout all eternity each human being who is, has, and will be conceived is unique.

  

By Rev. Deacon John Protopapas, Executive Director,Orthodox Christians for Life 

 

Overview

  The Orthodox Church regards abortion as premeditated murder. As such, She strongly opposes it because God demands the protection of all innocent human life, including that of the unborn child. The humanity (personhood) of that child exists from conception, a scientific fact that has always been recognized and unquestioned in Orthodox theology from the very beginning. Indeed, conception and not birth is the moment of the union of soul and body.

  The Early Church – of which the Orthodox Church is a…

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