The bottom half of my icon corner in our Thessaloniki apartment.
(A repeat post from last year.)
On this day, December 20, the Church commemorates the Holy Father among the Saints, Ignatius the God-bearer (1st century). St. Ignatius was the child who Jesus Christ pulled into the crowd of Apostles as recorded in the Gospel of St. Matthew, Chapter 18. Our Lord used St. Ignatius as an example of the greatest virtue, humility: “Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.” I will return to speak of St. Ignatius the God-bearer, and humility, but for now I must take you all along with me into a Christmas of the past, five years ago when we lived in the “Orient”, South Korea.
My husband and I had been living there for a few months, teaching English and paying off student loans, when we decided to travel to St. Anthony’s Monastery for Christmas. My brother and sister-in-law were flying there as well, my mother and younger sister were to travel down from Canada and we were all to spend Christmas in Arizona, in the desert.
We left for America on December 23 and were due to arrive in the afternoon of the same day. However, once in Los Angelas we found out our flight was cancelled and that we would not arrive at the monastery until the middle of the night, Christmas eve, ie. the vigil would be halfway over.
Instead of handling this as an adult I threw as close to a temper tantrum as any grown woman can, not of course until we were alone in our hotel room. (My poor husband might have gained a crown in Paradise for that night alone!) We had traveled for many hours, I was exhausted, sick with the flu, and unbelievably selfish and childish, but not the way St. Ignatius was “childish”, or rather “child-like”.
After crying and being angry for quite some time, I laid down to try to sleep and inside of me I heard a voice say, “The Theotokos accepted God Almighty’s choice to be born in a cave without protesting.” That killed me. It cut me to the quick.
How could I have protested against God’s will so much? How could she, the All Immaculate, Mother of our God, who once dwelt in the Holy of Holies now allow herself, let alone God Incarnate, to enter a cave of common animals? God chose where He would be born, it was not an accident. It wasn’t enough that He should become Man, but in order to teach us by example who He is and what humility means He chose to be born in a humble manner, in a dark, cold, and presumably dirty, cave.
Instead of waiting until the next evening to take the rescheduled flight, we went to the bus station in downtown Los Angelas at 12:00 AM, in the middle of the night, to see if we could catch a bus. The line was huge and it didn’t look like we would get on, but I was by no means going to protest. Once they filled the bus we were left standing in the bus station, seventh in line. It did not look like we were going to arrive at the monastery until the evening of the next day.
Suddenly, however, they pulled up another bus, they would take two buses to Arizona that night! We were on our way. Around six or seven in the morning, I woke up still on the bus to see the most beautiful sight, the sun rising in the desert, the mountains looked like they came out of an icon of the Magi traveling from the East and I thought about my behaviour and the humble acceptance of our All Holy Mother to willingly have her child, God Incarnate, born in a cave with not so much as a single complaint; not even in her thoughts.
I imagine, in fact, that she knew the nature of the Divine so well that she emphatically understood the height of humility Our Lord sought to display by His birth, life, death and resurrection. That experience humbled me – on my way from the “Orient” to kneel down before the Incarnate Lord, a Man and yet perfect God, to ask Him to dwell in the cave of my heart that is even more lowly and unfit than the cave of common animals in which He dwelt long ago.
And so, I return to St. Ignatius, the humble child, who, because he lived his life in humility and prayer, came to have the very Lord dwell in His heart. When He was lead to his martyrdom he ceasely repeated the name of Jesus Christ (ie. the Jesus Prayer). When the soldiers asked him why he did this he responded that the Name was written on his heart and so he professed with his mouth Him who he already carried within. Therefore once he was devoured by lions the soldiers, remembering what he had said, cut open his heart to see the name “Jesus Christ” written in gold.
Let us therefore become like St. Ignatius and the Virgin Mary by becoming “god-bearers,” little “theotokoses,” through acquiring Christ in the cave of our hearts, in humility and peaceful acceptance of His Divine Will. Just as the earth once “offered a cave to Him who is Unapproachable” so let us kneel before Him and offer ourselves for His dwelling, He who became for us a Child, that we might unite with Him Who is Pre-eternal God.
Seeing a strange child-birth let us estrange ourselves from the world by transporting our minds to Heaven; to this end the Most High God appeared on earth a lowly man that He might draw to the heights those that cry to Him. -Akathist Hymn, St. Rominas the Melodist
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