The Virgin today gives birth to the superessential One,
And the earth proffers the cave to the unapproachable One.
Angles with the shepherds sing songs of praise;
The Magi, with the star to guide pursue their way. For us there has been born,
A newborn babe, the God before time.
Bethlehem opened Eden, come let us behold;
We have found joy in this hidden place; come let us seize
The pleasures of Paradise within the cave;
There appeared an unwatered root which sprouted forgiveness;
There was found an undug well
From which David once yearned to drink;
And there the Virgin brought forth an infant
Who at once quenched their thirst, that of Adam and of David.
Come, then, let us hasten to this place where there has been born
A newborn babe, the God before time.
When people ask me what my family Christmas traditions are, and how we are supposed to feel during this season, I take pause. Are we supposed to have some special family traditions? If I don't, am I somehow deficient or wanting? What are we supposed to feel, and what if I don't feel that way? Our family kept the fast; my wife read the children the Gospel nativity accounts; she made a calendar with daily messages for the forty days before the feast; we went with the parish teens to carol for the shut-ins and nursing homes; she made or bought each child a special Christmas tree ornament; and we always went to Church for the festal liturgy (pretty important for the priest). Those asking, however, must be looking for a more special family tradition. The most memorable tradition for me was setting up the video-camera to catch the excitement of the children as they opened their gifts. Waiting for the camera was painful for the children who had been anticipating their gifts for months.
Christmastime is supposed to be a time of joy, yet, because it reminds us of days gone by, it can also be accompanied by some unfinished grieving for loved ones. We all remember past Christmases, when loved ones now asleep in the Lord were still with us. We remember what they did to add to the holidays. Remembering such times leaves us with mixed emotions. We can hardly expect to feel joyous all the time, yet we can take consolation in what this season brings to us. It brings the Resurrected Lord in the infant Jesus. We celebrate Christ's Nativity, knowing that Christ is risen from the dead. By His death is death destroyed, and we are restored to life. Symeon, the righteous old priest, saw the salvation of mankind in the infant Jesus. We can too, even if the representation of Jesus is a plastic figure in a crowded department store.
by St. Gregory the Theologian, excerpted from a homily (Festal Oration 38) given by St. Gregory while Archbishop of Constantinople, on the Feast of the Nativity in the year 380.
Christ is born, give glory; Christ is from the heavens, go to meet Him; Christ is on earth, be lifted up. "Sing to the Lord, all the earth," and, to say both together, "Let the heavens be glad and let the earth rejoice," for the Heavenly One is now earthly. Christ is in the flesh, exult with trembling and joy; trembling because of sin, joy because of hope. Christ comes from a Virgin; women, practice virginity, that you may become mothers of Christ. Who would not worship the One "from the beginning"? Who would not glorify "the Last"?
Again the darkness is dissolved, again the light is established, again Egypt is punished by darkness. Again Israel is illumined by a pillar. Let the people siting in the darkness of ignorance see a great light of knowledge. "The old things have passed; behold, all things have become new." The letter withdraws, the spirit advances; the shadows have been surpassed, the truth has entered after them. Melchizedek is completed, the motherless One becomes fatherless; He was motherless first, fatherless second. The laws of nature are dissolved. The world above must be filled. Christ commands, let us not resist. "All nations, clap your hands," "for to us a Child is born, and to us a Son is given, the power is on His shoulder," for He is lifted up along with the cross, and He is called by the name "Angel of great counsel," that of the Father. Let John proclaim, "Prepare the way of the Lord." I myself will proclaim the power of this day. The fleshless One takes flesh, the Word is made coarse, the invisible One seen, the impalpable One is touched, the timeless One makes a beginning, the Son of God becomes a Son of Man, "Jesus Christ, the same yesterday and today and for the ages." Let Jews be scandalized, let Greeks mock, let heretics talk till their tongues ache. They will believe when they see Him ascend into heaven, and if not then, at least when they see Him coming from heaven and sitting as Judge.
by St. Gregory Palamas, Philokalia, Topics of Natural and Theological Science and on the Moral and Ascetic Life: One Hundred and Fifty Texts, 56 and 57
What, then, is the divine commandment now laid upon us? It is repentance, the essence of which is never again to touch forbidden things. We were expelled from the land of divine delight, we were justly shut out from God's paradise, and we have fallen into this pit where we are condemned to dwell together with dumb creatures without hope of returning - in so far as it depends on us - to the paradise we have lost. But He who initially passed a just sentence of punishment or, rather, justly permitted punishment to come upon us, has now in His great goodness, compassion and mercy descended for our sake to us. And He became a human being like us in all things except sin so that by His likeness to us He might teach us anew and rescue us; and He gave us the saving counsel and commandment of repentance, saying: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has drawn near" (Matt. 3:2). Prior to the incarnation of the Logos of God the kingdom of heaven was as far from us as the sky is from the earth; but when the King of heaven came to dwell amongst us and chose to unite Himself with us, the kingdom of heaven drew near to us all.
ODE 1 – Tone 2
A force overwhelming in its might at one time laid low the host of all the army of Pharaoh within the deeps; even so, the Word made flesh, yea, the Lord who is glorified, hath utterly destroyed sin in all its wretchedness: for gloriously is he glorified.
Glory to thee, O Lord, glory to thee.
Under Caesar's law wast thou enrolled in thy wish to register man in the Book of Life, O thou the King of all. As a stranger hast thou come to thine own, unto those who were estranged in suffering outside Paradise, so that to heaven thou mightest call them back.
Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.
Receive Christ, O town of Bethlehem; for he cometh bodily to dwell in thee, opening Eden unto me. Prepare to behold, O cave, wondrously contained in thee the One who cannot be contained, who in the wealth of his loving kindness is become a beggar now.
Both now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.
Lo, Christ cometh that he may be born, granting in his goodness that those sprung from Adam may strangely be born anew. Make thou glad, O barren one; be thou merry, all mortal nature which beareth not. For the Master cometh to grant birth of many children unto thee.
by Eleutherious Vorontsov, Late Metropolitan of Leningrad
from The Word, December 1960
Behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:10-11)
I salute you, dear brothers and sisters, with the great feast of the Birth of Christ—with this radiant, joyous, and solemn day! This day is truly a day of especial joy: it was called this, as you have heard, by the Heavenly Angel who appeared to the shepherds in the fields of Bethlehem. And it is such in actual fact. How can not that day in which the Lord Himself descended from Heaven to earth but be radiant and joyful?
Who of the Orthodox Christians can greet this day with a feeling of coldness? Who will not rejoice in his soul, hearing that “a Saviour is born today, who is Christ the Lord?” It is for this reason that one of the Church hymns sung so joyously today, says: “Let Heaven and earth rejoice today in prophecy: let Angels and men exult . . . the whole of creation danceth because of the Saviour and Lord being born in Bethlehem.
by Rev. Vladimir Berzonsky
from The Word, December 1968
“As for Mary, she treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds went back glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen; it was exactly as they had been told.” (ST. LUKE 2:19)
The very birth of Jesus was a gift to the world. Not only the Christ-child Himself, but the way that the birth took place; on a trip, in a stable in the most calm, joyful and peaceful night the world has known.
The mystery of the night was God’s way of protecting the blessed happening for those who see with eyes of faith.
Can you imagine the birth of the Christ-child in our times? All the indignity, the vulgar exposure and lack of publicity the Holy family would be forced to suffer?
Picture yourself watching the late news on television. The announcer would say: “Finally, a news item from the Near East. A young woman from Nazareth, on her way to register as a citizen in the capitol, just gave birth to a baby some are claiming as the promised savior of the world. Take it away, Matthew Luke, in Bethlehem.”
by Metropolitan Philip
from The Word, December 1966
With great joy and gratitude for God’s unfathomable love, we greet you at this Christmas season, praying and hoping that Christ will be born in your hearts. If we look upon the birth of Christ as a mere historical event, we celebrate this holy event in vain, for Christ’s birth must serve to renew our lives and make us comprehend God’s eternal love for man whom He created in His own image and likeness.
Man was created out of God’s love to be a partaker of the divine, and when he—deceived by the malice of the devil—rent that fellowship with God, God never ceased seeking him and stretching forth His hand to lead him back to the meadows of salvation. For God loves us despite our sins. He searched for man in Paradise when he had fallen victim to the deceitful one and established a dialogue with man to prepare him for the most decisive event in the history of man. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that all who believe in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) Christ’s birth, therefore, is more than an historical event for He was born to reconcile the human with the divine, to uplift man from the swamps of his lowly existence to the vastness of truth, beauty, and goodness. Christ was born to restore the purity of the image which was stained by sin.
by Archimandrite Michael Shaheen
from The Word, December 1957
At the stroke of midnight on Christmas Eve, our church bells will peel out their cheerful tidings that recall the most unique event in history; for on that night almost 2000 years ago in the East, Christ was born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem.
Christmas (Christ-Mass), the Birthday of Jesus, ranks supreme among all the fixed feasts of our Eastern Orthodox Church. Without Christmas, as was stated by St. John Chrysostom, we could not have Epiphany, Easter and Pentecost. Therefore, our Church acts wisely in ushering in this Holy Day with elaborate religious services befitting the One whose birthday it is.
December 25 is only the traditional date of Christ’s birth: the exact time is not really known. In the early Church the Birth of Christ was remembered along with His Baptism (Epiphany) on the 6th of January. However, in the 4th century, when Christianity took over many heathen festivals in order to facilitate their conversion, December 25 was selected for commemorating the Birth of Christ. This was originally a festival of gaiety that honored the unconquered sun. It was first celebrated in Rome around 380 A.D. and is known to have been celebrated in Antioch around 380 A.D. This explains many of the customs that prevail today, which are not in harmony with the true spirit of Christmas. Since then, December 25 became accepted everywhere as the customary time to recall the Birth of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world.
by V. Rev. James C. Meena
from The Word, December 1992
“The Lord is our God. The Lord is one. If you love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your strength, let these words I urge on you today be written on your heart. You shall repeat them to your children and say them over to them whether at rest in your house or, walking abroad, at your lying down or at your rising; you shall fasten them on your hands as a sign and on your forehead as a circlet; you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. Let these words I urge on you today be written on your heart.” (Deut. 6:6-9)
This commandment from among the many Mosaic commandments is what Jesus called the greatest of all Commandments, “Thou shalt love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength.” Nothing shall take priority over your love for God. This Commandment is necessarily repeated in your ears today because we are about to celebrate that festal day in which God manifested His love for us in such a way that it shattered history. For God came into the world as a human child, took on humanity without divesting Himself of His Divinity. God became man so that you and I, man, might become God. It is essential for us to understand as we have been inundated with the commercialism of this great feast, of the secularization of this great holy day that it is necessary for us to repeat in the ears of our children, the truth about the significance of this Great Feast.
by V. Rev. Vladimir Berzonsky
from The Word, December1971
Dominating our Christmas, rather “holiday” season, (we do not want to be offensive to our non-Christian and non-believing friends), is the Santa Claus legend. The Santa figure and the gift giving displays find their source not in Jesus Christ as much as in the story by Clement Moore, “The Night Before Christmas,” which is itself a distorted derivative of the actual life of the great Orthodox bishop Nicholas who lived in the small coastal town of Myra in what is today Turkey.
In the Moore poem, a modern family is invaded by a well-meaning old man who leaves gifts nobody seems to have asked for or even want. This is the first distortion of the real situation. May we all live our lives and lack nothing! Yet if we can penetrate the stories told of the actual fourth century bishop, under the layers of legend that cover St. Nicholas throughout the centuries, we find one feature common to each tale, no matter how distorted: Bishop Nicholas always aids those in dire need. Despite the myths surrounding the event, the extreme circumstances of those in the tales of St. Nicholas are much more like the life we know than the family in the Moore story.
from The Word, December 1970
“The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; on those who live in a land of deep shadow a light has shone. You have made their gladness greater, you have made their joy increase” (Isaiah 9:1)
"I understand the significance of the pre-Easter lent, but why do we keep a Lenten season for Christmas, since it’s such a joyous occasion?” The woman who made the comment spoke sincerely and her reasoning was correct. What she misunderstood was the purpose of Lenten fasting and spiritual preparation.
To so many of our people, fasting and prayers are expressions of sorrow for a rupture in Divine-human relationships, such as was the murder of Jesus Christ.
Primarily, Lent is a time for our concentrated preparing for the Kingdom of God’s manifestation within us. By freeing ourselves from the things of this world we can better live and experience the Spirit of God dwelling in our souls. It is a time of pilgrimage—a spiritual journey to our true native land which the Lord has prepared for us.
Now it is advent, the time of His coming. Christ is on the way to my world, my city, my house and to me. How will He find it: what will He think of us; will He be pleased?
by Fr. Steven C. Salaris
St. Paul states in the opening chapter of the First Letter to the Corinthians, “ … we preach Christ crucified …” Two thousand years later, we Orthodox Christians, who are the direct descendants of the Church of the Apostles, must likewise continue to do the same. But it’s Christmas — the Nativity of Jesus Christ where we remember His birth from the Virgin Mary. Isn’t this a time of heavy incarnational theology or, at least, a time of bright lights, tinsel, and Santa Claus? Yes, it is all that, but it is also a great time to preach Christ crucified. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Cross of Christ, His shed blood and broken body, and His glorious Resurrection on the third day, are the very axis upon which our life of faith rotates. At every time and season throughout the Church year, these concepts are found at the heart of all that we do in our worship and in our hymns and spiritual songs, whereby we make melody in our hearts unto the Lord. Anyone who wishes to see Christ crucified at Christmas, from the Eastern Orthodox viewpoint, can do so quite easily. All you need is your Bible and the icon of the Nativity to do so. When you contemplate the icon, in the light of Scripture, the true meaning of Christmas shines forth.
When you first look at the icon, besides Jesus, one of the central figures in the icon is Mary, His mother. In some icons, Mary is seen holding her Son, the Incarnate Word of God, conceived in her by the Holy Spirit. She holds her Son in birth even as she will hold her Son in death. Anyone who has seen Michelangelo’s Pieta, where Mary is carved in stone holding the lifeless corpse of her crucified Son, will immediately recognize the parallel and the link that this aspect of the icon has to the death of Christ.