Compassion for Orthodox Christians –whether you are Russian, Greek, Serbian, or something other -- begins with the very nature of God Himself. This can be seen in the prayers of the Holy Mysteries (Sacraments) of Holy Baptism and Holy Chrismation
PRIEST: For Thou, of Thine own good will, hast brought into being all things which before were not, and by Thy might, Thou uphold creation, and by Thy providence Thou order the world. For Thou, who art God inexpressible and everlasting, didst descend upon earth, and didst take on the semblance of a servant, and was made in the likeness of man. For, because of the tender compassion of Thy mercy, O Master, you could not endure to behold mankind oppressed by the Devil; but Thou didst come, and didst save us. We confess Thy grace. We proclaim Thy mercy. We conceal not thy gracious acts. Thou hast delivered the generations of our mortal nature. By Thy birth Thou didst sanctify the Virgin’s womb. All creation magnifies You, who hast manifested Thyself. For Thou, O our God, hath revealed Yourself upon earth, and dwelt among men. Thou didst hallow the streams of Jordan, sending down upon them from heaven Thy Holy Spirit, and didst crush the heads of dragons who lurked there.
In this prayer you have just read, the priest gives thanks to God on behalf of the one who is to be baptized – or sacramentally initiated into the faith. At the same time, the priest reminds all those who are present that God is compassionate and that we must replicate this compassion in our own lives. In this prayer, God is compassionate because, out of pure love and His own good will, He created the universe and each of us. But that wasn’t all He did.
In His great and glorious compassion, God continues to uphold his creation, ordering the physical world and our inner lives. To do this, he wrote into our very being His own divine purpose. But respected and loved us so much that He allowed us to have our own unique human will. In this prayer, we express awe at God’s inexpressibility and seek a certain deepened humility before this glorious and untouchable being who descended upon us and upon this earth, in body and spirit. In this prayer, we are bewildered by a God who would allow Himself to come to us in human form. Then we realize He did this out of tender compassion and with great mercy.
God came to us because He could not endure to behold our suffering and oppression. And in great and holy wisdom, He taught us to look upon each other with the same warm hearts and longing eyes; not unlike a parent overlooking a child, in a manger, at the door of a stable. In this simple moment, we too are taught how to live with love. That is why it is our duty and our joy to confess the grace given to us so freely by God. We proclaim His mercy. We share His glorious acts. Like Mary, the birth-giver of God, our souls are to magnify the Lord. But this magnification isn’t a recitation of facts or rules. It is a magnification of such great love and compassion, that we find ourselves called to sacrifice – even to the point of death – for each and all. But we are not alone in this endeavor.
For in this prayer, we are assured once again that God has left us His Most Holy Spirit -- not merely to walk alongside of us in our journey on this earth, but to show us the way; to show us the way of faith, hope, love, holiness, and compassion. So in this moment, and in this place, we pray that our lives are a reflection of this prayer.