Monday, January 7, 2013

Our transformation by the Word made Flesh

Fr Lev Gillet was born in 1893 (as ‘Louis’ Gillet) in Saint-Marcellin (Isère, France). He studied philosophy in Paris, and then saw service in the First World War. He was taken prisoner in 1914 and spent three years in captivity, where he was attracted by the spirit and the spirituality of the Russian prisoners. He studied mathematics and psychology in Geneva and joined the Benedictines in Clairvaux in 1919. 

Attracted by the Eastern Christian world, he was influenced by Metropolitan Andre Szeptycki of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in Galicia, and made his final vows at the Studite Monastery of Ouniov in Galicia. 

Disappointed by the attitude of the Roman Catholic Church towards Orthodoxy, Father Lev was received into the Orthodox Church in Paris in May 1928, and in November 1928 he become the rector of the parish of Sainte-Geneviève-de-Paris, the first French-speaking Orthodox parish.

In 1938 he left Paris to settle in London, within the framework of the Fellowship of Saint Alban and Saint Sergius, an ecumenical organization dedicated to the bringing together of the Anglican Church and the Orthodox Church. 

Fr Lev remained in England until his death in 1980, going on many journeys abroad, in particular to France, Switzerland and Lebanon, where he took part in the spiritual revival of Antiochian Orthodoxy.

His principal publications (under the pseudonym “a monk of the Eastern Church”) include: The Jesus Prayer, Introduction to Orthodox Spirituality, Jesus, Simple Gazes to the Saviour, and The Year of Grace of the Lord: A Commentary on the Byzantine liturgical year, from which the following paragraphs have been taken (pp.70-71):

‘They saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshiped him: 
and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; 
gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.’ 

Like the Magi, we offer our treasures and we offer the little child the most precious things we have. In spirit we offer gold, the sign of Jesus’ sovereignty over all riches and all created things, a sign also of our own detachment from earthly goods. In spirit we offer incense, the sign of adoration, for Jesus is not only the king of the universe, he is our God. We offer in spirit myrrh, the spice with which we honour in advance the death and burial of Jesus and through which too, is represented our own renunciation of bodily pleasures. Lord Jesus, accept my offering.

‘And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen...’ 

Lord Jesus, before we leave Bethlehem, or come to the end of this feast of the Nativity, allow us to see something of what the shepherds saw, to hear something of what they heard, and to receive in our hearts the message which is preached to us from the manger.

‘Ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.’ 

The feast of Christmas is the feast of the mystical Body, for it is through the Incarnation that men have become members of Christ. Whatever theological interpretation we give to this great spiritual and patristic affirmation of our incorporation into Christ, we must believe that with the Incarnation, an ineffable union- that passes all understanding- began, in human flesh, between Jesus Christ and men. Beyond the particular historical event which took place at Bethlehem and through which the Son of God took on a visible human body, another event took place that concerns the whole human race: God, in becoming incarnate, in some way weds and assumes the human nature which we all share and creases between himself and us a relationship which, without its ever ceasing to be that between the Creator and his creature, is also that between the body and its members. There is union without confusion. Christmas allows us to become most deeply conscious of what is our true nature, human nature, re generated by Jesus Christ.

‘And the Word was made flesh.’

These words summarise and express the feast of Christmas perfectly. If we give them their full meaning, we will understand that they do not only concern the mystery by which the Son and Word of the Father became man: this formula also carries an implication of a moral and practical order. Our flesh is often a source of temptation and sin to us. May the Word of God therefore become flesh in us, may it enter into our body. May the power of this Word (for there can be no question of its being an Incarnation in substance) pass from the exterior to the interior, and so, into our bodies; then the law of the Spirit will prevail over the law of the flesh. Christmas will have a true meaning for us only if our own flesh becomes transformed, changed and ruled by the Word made flesh.


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