During the Christmas prefeast season, the connection between the first coming of God's Son as the Suffering Servant, the Lamb of God who takes upon Himself the sins of the World, and His second coming as the triumphant King and Judge of the universe is not overtly stressed in any of the church services. But it is clearly implied in virtually all of the songs, hymns and lections

The Old Testament prophecies read at the hours, vespers and matins on the day before the Nativity quite specifically proclaim the messianic age which Jesus is born to bring, but which He will manifest in power only at the end of history. And several verses which are sung during the season directly refer to the interrelationship between the Master's two comings.  Christ our Judge commands us to be vigilant. We wait expectantly for His visitation, For He comes to be born of a Virgin.

At Your awesome second coming, O Christ, Number me with the sheep at Your right hand, For You took up Your abode in the flesh to save us.  At Your first coming to us, O Christ, You desired to save the race of Adam;   When You come again to judge us,  Show mercy on those who honor  Your Holy Nativity.  Excerpt from Ode 9 of the canon of  compline of the second day of the  prefeast of the Nativity, December  21

The Christmas pre-feast hymns,  especially the canons, consciously  refer to the hymns of the services  of Holy Week before the springtime  Pascha. In many of them,  Easter paschal themes are replaced  by Winter paschal themes,  with just a few words being  changed in each verse. Thus, what is effected at these services is a  sort of "triple connection."  Christ's Nativity, with His Epiphany  in the Jordan, is referred to  His Passion and Resurrection,  which is then referreed to His  Coming at the end of the ages. In  making the triple connection, the  entire Mystery of Christ is placed  before the believers for their contemplation  and communion. 

Christians live between the two  comings of Christ. They remember  His first coming to be sacrificed.  They anticipate His second  coming to reign. This is vividly  portrayed in traditional Orthodox  church buildings where the "royal  gates" of the icon screen in front  of the altar table are flanked by  the icons of the Theotokos and  Child on the one side, and the  Lord Jesus in glory on the other. 

To the uninitiated it may seem as  though these are simply pictures  of Mary and Jesus put on the same  level. This is not so. The icons which frame the Orthodox altar are images of the two comings of  Christ. Mary is not alone in her icon; she is holding the Christ Child, who is not  shown as a baby, but as the  Son of God incarnate "in the  form of a slave... in the likeness  of men" (Phil 2:7). This is the  icon of Christ's first coming. 

And the icon on the right of  the doors is not a picture of  Jesus as He was on the earth.  It is His image in glory as King  and Lord, the icon of His second  coming.  The two comings of Christ are  held together in Christian  thought, action, and prayer at  all times. They cannot be separated.  When they are, it is the  end of Christian faith, life and  worship.

The first coming  without the second is a meaningless  tragedy. The second coming without the first is an  absurd impossibility. Jesus is born to bring God's kingdom.  He dies to prove His kingship.  He rises to establish his reign.  He comes again in glory to  share it with His people. In the kingdom of God there are no  subjects. All rule with the risen  Messiah. He came, and is coming, for this purpose alone. 

Excerpt from Chapter 20 of The  Winter Pascha, by Fr. Thomas  Hopko. www.antiochian,.org Published  by St Vladimir Press.  Page 3 Volume 11 Issue 3  The Two Comings of Christ 



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