Lex Rex

verbum sat sapienti

Lex Rex

Monday, May 02, 2005

Fasting, Flesh & Incarnation

Greetings fellow Pilgrims!

As the excuse for my delays would likely trigger cabbages rather than sympathy, I press causally onwards (as if no one noticed I arrived three hours late for dinner). I am sorry for my injuries caused this august forum (although it grew in my esteem directly due to my absence from it). Recall Groucho Marx and his opinion of clubs that would grant him membership.

Is the Italian Counselor now a member (I look forward to his wisdom and cautious corrective)?

Having missed out on so much of the conversation, I dive back in with a brief comment on Zain’s latest posting on fasting (I seek to then reply to his and Lex Rex’s posts on the sacraments). I agree with Zain’s comments and point out only a few introductory Orthodox impressions (so appropriate at the conclusion of the Lenten fast with the celebration of Our Lord’s glorious third day resurrection in Pascha (Easter)).

The Isaiah 58 passage is one that fully comports with the Orthodox understanding of the fast (to be added the many other biblical passages concerning fasting that I never investigated as a Protestant, including: Matt 4:2, 6:16-18; 17:21: Luke 2:37; Acts 13:3; 1 Cor. 7:5; 2 Cor 6:5, etc.).

The overwhelming biblical evidence describes fasting as a normative, continuing Christian act (these are solely NT passages) yet very few Protestant churches fast in any manner. Why? IMO, because of significant dogmatic changes in many (not all) Protestant views of salvation, nature of the “material” and critical details of the doctrine of the Incarnation.

Fasting is another aid to kill off the old Adam, and to put on Christ, for the benefit of all (ourselves, the Church, and the world in which we witness His love). This continual transformation (or repentance) is the path and goal of the Christian life.

This pursuit of such godly transformation is furthered by both “spiritual” and “physical” means. “Spiritual means” such as prayer, preaching and singing (with which Evangelicals agree) as well as “physical” means (or aids) such as the sacraments, icons, incense, fasting, the Cross, etc. (with which Evangelicals generally disagree). God works through both spiritual and physical means (the Orthodox believe) to make transformation of the whole man, spiritual and physical.

Man is both material and immaterial, not a disembodied spirit or brain floating in a glass jar. Even more important, the material world is not evil. God did not become embodied, His spirit take on flesh (material) so as to provide a salvation for only our minds (through our mere mental assent to the “four spiritual laws”). (I do not accuse any on this blog of this error, I am making a general comment).

He came to save us as whole men: body and soul, flesh and spirit; all of us. As such, the Orthodox Church conveys tools that affect both body and spirit, to involve the whole man in the pursuit of godliness and his ultimate salvation (Theosis).

In my own shallow experience of the same, I have learned that I have the greatest power of influence over my own self, next over my family, then my Church, and then the world. Thus, the Orthodox view the personal disciplines of fasting, prayer, alms, etc., as the very foundation and means of witnessing to and saving the world. Be yourself transformed into an imitation of Christ and you will lead others to Him. This is the obvious meaning of being “salt” and “light.” It is that we ourselves become different (as preservative salt or illuminating light) as His witness. Not that we (merely) talk words of Jesus being salt and light, theoretically to a decaying and dark world. I have just begun to learn and repent.

As a Protestant, I thought I should teach (often lecture) others on Christian doctrine to bring them into the Kingdom. This was “preaching the word” I thought. I now believe that the personal transformation of my life into an imitation of Christ, in humility and submission should be my leading method of Christian witness (even though I obviously fail in this and regularly continue my old “lecture route” by habit, training and sin, as you can all witness). How different are these two approaches (in my life and in the response).

The most remarkable corrective of this error is the continuing nature of fleshly Incarnation of Jesus through today. Most Protestant’s agree with the Nicene Creed in that “(Jesus) ascended into heaven, and He sits at the right hand of the Father.” But most Protestants do not consider (Council of Chalcedon) that Jesus retains His human flesh, there, at the heavenly throne, this very moment. This is a critically important (and for me, paradigm shifting) correction.

The Theo-anthropos Savior (God-Man) resurrected from the dead, with His human flesh intact (not as a ghost or Platonic disembodied soul, leaving his human flesh in the tomb), he ate, walked around, spoke, ministered in His human flesh and then He took His human flesh back to heaven as He ascended and now presently sits in heaven at the right side of the Father, with that same human flesh! (How’s that for the elevation of lowly humanity!)

Again (I speak to myself of this incredible feat) Jesus took His God/Human body BACK to HEAVEN! That God (=Spirit) could become flesh (incarnate= to become flesh) was crazy to start with. But to have the now God-Man keep His human flesh and take human flesh back into the heavens was total absurdity. If St. Paul’ Mars Hill proclamation (of the bodily Resurrection) was foolishness to the Greeks, this was too foolish to even respond towards.

This is one of the most important concepts in Orthodoxy, and one (in my opinion) significantly missed by evangelicalism, and thus, explains much of the differences between the two. The consequence and depth of this Incarnation teaching have almost no end. This understanding of the Incarnation transforms my view of God and Man, heaven and earth, spirit and matter, etc., etc. As example, with this concept of the perpetual God/Man as our advocate, reread Hebrews 4:14-16:

Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we doe not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

I do not blame the evangelicals as they (as I did) largely miss this point. IMO the evangelicals have never been taught the true meaning and consequence of the Incarnation, and its continued meaning, and as such, they discredit the material in the Christian life. I know that this was true for myself. I viewed the incarnation and ministry of Jesus as a largely a condition prerequisite for Calvary, not as a transformation of the very nature of humanity.

As a reformed Protestant, I saw life as largely a determined play set in existence solely for the climatic act of the legal redemption of Calvary, not as God transforming His very creation, especially His prize creation of Humanity. A human act such as fasting makes little sense in the common evangelical approach.

God forever transformed the nature of humanity by His Incarnation, taking human flesh to the heavens forever.

This is one of the most important concepts in Christianity and I was never taught anything of it until perhaps two years ago. I have so much to learn.

I have gotten carried away again (from fasting to the Incarnation, sorry).


PS: If you want me to leave again, I'll understand.