My beloved brothers and sisters in Christ God,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE.
THE NATIVITY ACCORDING TO THE FLESH OF OUR LORD
AND GOD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST.
"Come, let us greatly rejoice in the Lord as we tell of this present mystery. The
middle wall of partition has been destroyed, the flaming sword turns back, the
Cherubim withdrew from the Tree of Life, and I partake of the delight of Paradise
from which I was cast out through disobedience. For the express Image of the
Father, the Imprint of His eternity, takes the form of a servant, and without
undergoing change He comes forth from a Mother who knew not wedlock. For
what He was, He has remained, True God: and what He was not, He has taken
upon Himself, becoming man through love for mankind. Unto Him let us cry
aloud: God born of a Virgin, have mercy upon us" (Vespers, Sticheron).
In Orthodox Worship
By Alexander A. Bogolepov
The King Born in a Cave
The observance of a special period of preparation before the Feast of the Nativity of Christ has long since become an established part of Christian practice. In Western Christianity, this period is the four weeks of Advent, while in the Eastern Orthodox Church it is the Christmas or Nativity Fast and the special days OF PREPARATION before Christmas itself, also the week of the Holy Forefathers and the week of the Holy Fathers.
Long had the world awaited Christ, the Messiah, and the services for these days of preparation commemorated the Patriarchs, the Prophets, and all who had lived by faith in the Savior Who was to come and had preached about Him long before His Coming. And the hymns for the Feast of the Nativity itself are full of the original joyful excitement of the thought of God’s appearance on earth.
The Christmas Canon begins with a joyous declaration, gradually swelling in volume, of Our Savior’s Birth:
CHRIST IS BORN! Glorify Him!
CHRIST DESCENDS FROM HEAVEN, welcome Him!
CHRIST IS NOW ON EARTH, O be jubilant!
Sing to the Lord, the whole earth,
And sing praises to Him with joy, O ye people,
For He has been exalted! (Christmas Canon, Canticle I. Irmos)
In her Christmas hymns, as in her other hymnody, the Orthodox Church does not limit her vision to earthly happenings alone. In these hymns, she contemplates the Events in Christ’s life on earth from a dual perspective. Beyond the visible phenomena of this world, the things of a higher world stand revealed — a world unseen by the ordinary eye and discernible only through faith to the eye of the spirit. Beyond the Birth of a Child in the poverty of a squalid cave, beyond His laying in a simple manger instead of a child’s crib, and beyond His poor Mother’s anxiety and alarm over His fate, supramundane events emerge — Events which are outside this world’s natural order:
"TODAY doth Bethlehem receive Him
Who sitteth with the Father for ever".
[Christmas Orthros (Matins) service.
Sticheron after the Gospel)
This was not the first birth of the One "Who lay in a Manger." First He was born of His Father "Before all ages" as God; moreover, He was born of the Father ALONE, WITHOUT His Mother. In Bethlehem, He was born AS MEN ARE BORN, BUT IN CONTRAST TO ALL THE SONS OF EARTH He WAS BORN OF His Mother ALONE, WITHOUT AN EARTHLY FATHER. Having proclaimed "Christ is born!" in Canticle I of the Christmas canon, the hymnodist next calls upon the faithful to praise:
"…the Son Who was born of the Father
Before all ages, and in this latter day
Was made Incarnate of the Virgin
Without seed; Christ our God."
[Chrismas canon, Canticle III. Irmos]
"The Heavens have descended" and the Savior has come down fro them to earth. The believer bows in spirit with the Wise Men before the sight that met their eyes:
"Not scepters of thrones, but the utmost poverty
What is there worse than the cave,
Or humbler than the swaddling clothes?
Although He has dominion over the most pure powers
And tears asunder sin’s strongly-woven bonds,
And is wrapped in swaddling clothes."
[Christmas canon, Canticle VI. Troparion]
In the last canticle of the Christmas canon, the feeling of the human mind’s powerlessness to comprehend this union of Divine Majesty and human insignificance is expressed even more brilliantly and eloquently. In his mind’s eye the hymnodist saw these things as a strange, incomprehensible, and yet at the same time very glorious mystery…a dark cave had replaced the resplendent Heavens, the earthly Virgin had taken the place of the Throne of the Cherubim as the "throne" of the Lord of Glory; a little manger had become the receptacle of the Omnipresent God no one place can contain.
"I behold a strange but very glorious mystery
HEAVEN — the cave, the THRONE of the Cherubim — the Virgin.
The manger — the receptacle in which CHRIST OUR GOD,
Whom nothing can contain, is lying."
[Christmas canon. Canticle IX. Irmos]
But nowhere does the attitude of worshipful emotion toward this incomprehensible union of things heavenly and earthly find a more forceful expression than in the Kontakion hymn for Christmas written by the greatest Greek hymn-writer, Sant Romanos Melodos. Every word in it is full of meaning and one brilliant image follows another:
"TODAY the Virgin brings forth the Supersubstantial One
And the earth offers a cave to the Unapproachable One."
Mary gave birth but remained a virgin, while She gave existence to the One Who is above all that exists in the world. And in the cave the earth provided a sanctuary for the One Whom, as a general rule, men may not even approach, Next, the second part of this Kontakion hymn gives us two pictures of events which unfold simultaneously and harmoniously on earth and in heaven… In HEAVEN the Angels Glorify God together with the shepherds on earth and the Wise Men moreover across the earth according to the direction taken by the Heavenly Star:
"The Angels and the shepherds
Sing hymns of Glorification,
And the Wise men journey on with the star."
The meaning of all this is that the Child Whose life on earth was as yet only a few days old is at the same time God, Who has existed since before time itself and WAS BORN FOR OUR SALVATION:
"For for our sakes, God
Who is before all the ages,
Is born a little Child."
[Chrismas canon. Kontakion]
(To be continued)
"Glory Be To GOD
– Saint John Chrysostomos
+ + +
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia (Ministry),
The sinner and unworthy servant of God
+ Father George