The mystery of Incarnation is the center of Christology. It teaches us about how God became Man and Man became God. It reveals the reality of redemption of man from the original/ancestral sin. This mystery defines our religious and spiritual identity. It’s on the basis of this mystery that our apostolic orthodox church got the prefix in its name “Tewahedo” and we are called Christians. Tewahedo is a Geez word which represents the inseparable unity between Divinity and humanity in the person of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. The mystery of incarnation is a fundamental biblical teaching about revelation of God to human beings. Through incarnation mysteries of kingdom of Heaven were revealed to human beings. “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.” (John 1:18)
TWO BIRTHS OF GOD THE SON
We believe that God the Son (Jesus Christ) has two births. In eternity (before all ages), eternal Son of God, God the Son, has been begotten from the Father. He is one nature with the Father and a perfect Person (Ps 2:7 110:3 Prov 8:25). In time, through incarnation, He was born from St Virgin Mary with Virginal conception and without a human fatherhood (Galatians 4:4 Isa 7:14 Gen 3:15 18:13 12:8 Ps 107:20).
WHY GOD BECAME HUMAN?
Though it is not possible to fully explain God’s plan for humanity, prominent church scholars guided by the Holy Spirit and Holy scriptures noted some of the main reasons that made God became human. God became Human for many reasons. The first and foremost reason is to redeem humanity from the consequences of sin (Isa 64:6 Isa 53:5 Heb 9:26 John 10:15-18). The second reason is to become an ultimate role model for human beings (Gen 3:12 4:8 13:13 Ps 61:4 Matt 11:29 2Peter 2:21). By being Human, God taught us everything we need to do to become his children. The third reason is to reveal His love for Human beings (Hos 14:4 John 3:16 1John 4:19 Romans 5:8 Ephe 2:4). He loved man to the extent of being crucified on the cross. The fourth reason is to reveal himself to us (Romans 1:19-20 Matt 11:27 John 14:8-9 John 1:18). It is through Jesus Christ that we know the mystery of Trinity and important aspects of Kingdom of God. The fifth reason is to restrain Satan (Heb 9:2,14,15) and this was mainly done while Jesus Christ was on the Cross.
PRE-INCARNATION: TWO NATURES, TWO PERSONS
Before incarnation, there were two natures and two persons. Divinity and Humanity. The Divine nature, God the Son, is one nature with the Father and the Holy Spirit. He is also one of the three persons of God. He is present everywhere, is eternal, knows everything, and can do everything. On the other aspect was Humanity, the Human nature. Humanity is a combination of Flesh/body (Soil, Air, Fire, Water) and rational Soul (Think, Speak, Immortal). The human nature has limited knowledge and power. We believe that God the Son perfectly united with body and soul from St Virgin Mary. A prominent church scholar, St Cyril (Kyrillos) explained this biblical fact saying “starting from incarnation, there is only one person Jesus Christ. Whatever belongs to Divinity, is an attribute of His humanity and whatever belongs to humanity is an attribute of His Divinity.”
Based on Orthodox Tewahdo teaching, incarnation is from two Persons to one Person; and from two natures to one united nature. From two Persons to one Person means Divine Person and Human united in to one hypostasis, Jesus Christ – He is both perfectly Divine and perfectly Human. Similarly, from two natures to one nature means Divine nature and Human nature perfectly united in to one united nature. We believe that this incarnation is without alteration/change, without reversion, without mingling/mixing, without dwelling, without superimposing, without separation, and without detachment.
The incarnated Lord Jesus Christ is true God. As He is true God, He rebuked the sea (Matt 8:23), created eyes (John 9:6) and entered through closed doors (John 20:26). These are possible only for a supernatural power. Moreover, many verses about Jesus’ birth confirm that He is True God (Luke 2:11 Matt 2:11 Isai 9:6). The incarnated Lord Jesus Christ is also a true Human being. He was sleeping (Matt 8:23). He spat on the ground (John 9:6). He ate after resurrection (Luke 24:42). All these confirm that He is also a True Human being. In short, He is both God and Human.
DIVINITY OF JESUS CHRIST
The Holy Bible provides ample evidence about the Divinity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul in his epistle to Romans wrote that ” …according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever”.(Romans 9:5). Similarly, St John the Evangelist clearly stated the Divinity of Jesus Christ as “He is the true God and eternal life” (1 John 5:20). After resurrection of Jesus Christ, Thomas answered and said unto Him, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28). All the disciples taught about the Divinity of Jesus Christ. In more definitive terms Jesus Christ Himself said “I Am Alpha And Omega, The Beginning And The Ending,”(Rev 1:8) and “‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’ (Matt 22:31).
Holy fathers in the early church also taught the same. For instance St Athanasius said the following about incarnation and Divinity of Jesus Christ: “He is God from the essence of the Father, begotten before time; and he is human from the essence of his mother, born in time; completely God, completely human, with a rational soul and human flesh; equal to the Father as regards divinity, less than the Father as regards humanity. Although he is God and human, yet Christ is not two, but one. He is one, however, not by his divinity being turned into flesh, but by God’s taking humanity to himself. He is one, certainly not by the blending of his essence, but by the unity of his person. For just as one human is both rational soul and flesh, so too the one Christ is both God and human.”
ANALOGIES OF INCARNATION
To help us better understand the mystery of incarnation, our church used some analogies. These analogies have some drawbacks and don’t explain the entire mystery. Nonetheless, they help us understand some aspects of the mystery. The first analogy is the Burning Bush (Exodus 3:2). The bush represents humanity whereas Divinity is represented by the flame. The bush was on fire, but was not consumed by the flames. The fire was not extinguished by the nature of the bush. In the same way, Jesus Christ’s Divinity does not destroy His humanity and His humanity does not make His Divinity less powerful. Instead, the two were united with their perfect attributes as explained to Mosses in the miraculous Burning Bush.
The second commonly used analogy is The Live Coal (Isaiah 6:6). “Then flew one of the Seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar.” Fire and coal united without alternation. The fire in the Live Coal represents Divinity whereas the Coal represents humanity. As the Live Coal purged Isaiah’s unclean lips, the body of Jesus Christ which is handed down to Christians during Holy Eucharist (Holy Qurban) purges our transgressions.
A third analogy, similar to the Live Coal, is Heated Iron. St Cyril (Kyrillos) is known for using this analogy. The Heated Iron is both heated and iron at a time. In the same way, Jesus Christ is both Divine and human.When iron gets hot, the iron and fire will be united. The fire will take the shape of the iron. We call it heated iron, not iron or fire only. In a comparable way, we call Jesus Christ Son of God, Son of Mary. Starting from incarnation, Son of God and Son of Mary are inseparably united in the person of Jesus Christ.
The fourth analogy is the unity of Body and Soul. When body and soul are joined together to make a human being, they do not lose their distinctiveness nor is their integrity compromised. In a similar manner, we speak of the inseparable distinctiveness of humanity and Divinity in the person of Jesus Christ. Despite being united, neither Divinity nor humanity loses its integrity. However, body and soul will get separated at death and this is the limitation of the analogy in explaining the mystery of Incarnation. There is no separation of Divinity from humanity.
NAMES OF INCARNATE GOD THE SON
The incarnated God the Son has three names that are often used in the Bible. The first one is Emmanuel፡ “Behold, a virgin shall be with child and shall bring forth a Son, and they shall call His name Emmanuel” (which being interpreted is, “God with us”) (Matt 1:23 Isaiah 7:14). The second name is Jesus: Jesus (Joshua in the Old Testament) means “Savior.” “And she shall bring forth a Son, and thou shalt call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins” (Matt 1:21). The third name is Christ: Means “the anointed one“ or “Messaih.”But both the anointer and anointee is Himself (John 4:25-30). In the Orthodox Tewahdo Church we usually address Him as “Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” There are also other less prominent names attributed to Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
There are many heresies around incarnation of God. These emerged from flawed understanding and interpretation of the holy scriptures. Some heresies denied the Divinity of Jesus Christ. These “Human only” heresies deny the deity of Christ and claim Christ is Man Only. A commonly cited example of these heresies is Ebonism. On the contrary, there were “Divine only” Gnostics. These heretics denied Christ is Man. They claimed that Jesus seemed to be human, and that his human form was an illusion. Docetism can be cited as one of these heresies.
Elipandus described incarnation using the concept of Adoptionism. He said Jesus is “Adopted as God.” By that he meant Jesus was a man and put on divinity at his baptism as he was sinless. But this is a heresy as the Son is God before all ages and was born from St Mary without change. That was why the wise men presented Him gifts signalling His Divine nature upon His human birth from Holy Virgin Mary. (Mathew 2:11) Appolinarius taught that Jesus Christ had a human body, but a divine soul. This heresy is called Apollinarism. We believe Jesus Christ had a human body and a human soul. In the recent past Thomasius taught the heresy usually described as Kenocitism or “Limited Divinity.” He quoted the verse “He laid aside some of His divinity in order to be more like human beings (Philippians 2:6–7) to support his claim.
One of the major heresies on incarnation in the history of our church was the heresy that described Jesus Christ as having “Two natures, Two Persons.” This was first introduced by Nestorius and often described as Nestorianism. Nestorius taught that Jesus Christ was really two separate nature and persons, and only the human Jesus was in Mary’s womb (thus she shouldn’t be called Mother of God). He also said Divinity dwell on Him later. This heresy is called Diphysitism. Opposite to this was the heresy of Eutychetes (also called (Eutychianism). Eutychetes taught Jesus Christ is One (single) nature, mixture of Man and God. He said a third unique nature, a blend or mixture of the human and the Divine, was possessed by Jesus. This heresy is called Monophysitism.
Another major heresy that emerged around the middle of the fifth century was Dyophysitism. Dyophysitism teaches that Jesus Christ is two natures but one person. It says two natures, divine and human, exist in the person of Jesus Christ. It has some aspects of Nestorianism. This taught was proposed by Leo and endorsed at the council of Chalcedonian. It became the cause of great Schism in the history of the Church. The Oriental Orthodox churches don’t recognize the Chalcedonian declarations. It is a modified version of Dyophysitism that was introduced to some parts of present-day Ethiopia by the Portugese missionaries in the 16th Century was “Grace” and “Anointment.” At that time Alfonso Mendez taught Jesus was anointed in the womb by the Holy spirit and got the grace of God (or the nature of God).
Miaphysitism: “One United Nature”
We believe that incarnation is from two natures to one; from two persons to one. Our church teaches the notion that Christ is both Divine and human, but in one united nature. Our belief is that the Eternal Son of God became Man taking soul and body from St Mary. Our mystery of incarnation is miaphysitism. On the basis of the truth taught by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and revealed by the Holy Spirit to the disciples, we believe that in the person of Jesus Christ, divine nature and human nature are perfectly united, the two being united without separation, without mixture, without confusion and without alteration. This is the doctrine of Oriental Churches – the mystery of Incarnation!
May God give us the wisdom to understand the mystery of Incarnation and worship the Lord in the same way our apostolic forefathers did. Amen.