Friday, January 7, 2022 / December 25, 2021
29th Week after Pentecost. Tone three.
The Nativity according to the Flesh of Our Lord, God and Saviour Jesus Christ. From December 25 till January 5 is a Fast-free period (Sviatki). The Adoration of the Magi: Melchior, Caspar, and Balthasar. Commemoration of the shepherds in Bethlehem who were watching their flocks and came to see the Lord.
the Nativity of Christ
DISCOURSE ON THE NATIVITY OF CHRIST
Commemorated on 25 December 7531/7 January 2022
Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world, was born of the MostHoly Virgin Mary in the city of Bethlehem during the reign of the emperor Augustus (Octavian). Caesar Augustus decreed that an universal census be made throughout all his empire, which then also included Palestinian Israel. The Jews were accustomed to carry out the nation’s census-taking according to ancestral-origins, tribes and family-relations. Every ancestral-origin and family-relation had its own designated city as its place of ancestry. The MostBlessed Virgin Mary and Righteous Joseph, descended from the family line of King David, had to go to Bethlehem (the city of David), to register their names on the census-list of Caesar’s subjects. At Bethlehem they did not find a single place vacant at any of the city’s inns. In the celebrated cave, used as a stable, amidst the hay and the straw, strewn about as food and bedding for the cattle, far from the hearth of home, amidst people that were total strangers, on the cold winter night, and in a setting deprived not only of worldly grandeur but even of the basic amenities – was born the God-Man, the Saviour of the world. “I behold a strange and most glorious mystery, – with awe sings Holy Church, – Heaven – the Cave; the Throne of the Cherubim – the Virgin; the Manger – the Crib, in which lay the placeless Christ God” (Irmos in 9th Ode of the Festal Canon). Without defilement having given birth to the Divine Infant the MostHoly Virgin, Herself without help from strangers, “wraps Him in swaddling cloths and places Him in the manger” (Lk. 2). But amidst the midnight stillness, when all mankind was shrouded in its deepest sinful sleep, the proclaiming of the Birth of the Saviour of the world was heard by shepherds, watching their flocks by night. And the Angel of the Lord came before them and said: “Fear not, for lo I proclaim ye tidings of great joy, which shalt be for all people, for this day is born unto you the Saviour, Which be Christ the Lord in the city of David”. The humble shepherds were the first deemed worthy to offer worship for the salvation of mankind unto He That hath condescended to “the image of an humble servant”. Besides the Angelic glad tidings to the Bethlehem shepherds, the Nativity of Christ by means of a wondrous star was made known to Magi “knowing the stars”, and in the person of these Eastern wise-men all the pagan world, imperceptibly – bent down upon its knees before the true Saviour of the world, the God-Man. Entering wherein the Infant lay, the wise-men Magi – “falling down they worshipped Him, and opening their treasure they presented Him gifts: gold and frankincense and myrh” (Mt. 2: 11).
In remembrance of the Nativity in the flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, the feastday was established by the Church. Its very origin is related to the times of the Apostles. In the Apostolic Constitutions it says: “Brethren, observe the feastdays, and among the chief such the day of the Birth of Christ, which make ye celebration of on the 25th day of the tenth month” (from March, which in those days began the year). There also in another place it said: “Celebrate ye the day of the Nativity of Christ, in the which unseen grace is given man by the birth of the Word of God from the Virgin Mary for the salvation of the world”.
In the II Century also Sainted Clement of Alexandria indicates that the day of the Nativity of Christ is 25 December. In the III Century as before Saint Hypolitus of Rome makes mention concerning the feastday of the Nativity of Christ, and designates the Gospel readings for this day from the beginning chapters of Saint Matthew. It is known also, that during the time of persecution of Christians by Maximian in the year 302, Nicomedia Christians numbering 20,000 were burned in church on the very feastday of the Nativity of Christ (Comm. 28 December). In that same century, but later on after the persecution when the Church had received freedom of religion and had become the official religion in the Roman empire, we find the feastday of the Nativity of Christ observed throughout all the Universal Church. And this is evidenced from the works of saint Ephrem the Syrian, Sainted Basil the great, Sainted Gregory the Theologian, Sainted Gregory of Nyssa, Sainted Ambrose of Milan, Sainted John Chrysostom and other fathers of the Church of the IV Century concerning this feastday. Saint John Chrysostom, in his sermon which he gave in the year 385, points out that the feast of the Nativity of Christ is ancient and indeed very ancient. In this same century also at the place of the Bethlehem Cave, made famous by the Birth of Jesus Christ, the Equal-to-the-Apostles empress Helen erected a church, which her mighty son Constantine strove after her to make resplendid. In the Codex of the emperor Theodosius from 438, and of the emperor Justinian – in 535, is promulgated as law the universal celebration of the day of the Nativity of Christ. It is in this sense, truly, that Nicephoros Kallistos, a writer of the XIV Century, says in his history that the emperor Justinian in the VI Century established the celebration of the Nativity of Christ throughout all the world.
In the V Century the Patriarch of Constantinople Anatolios, in the VII – Sophronios and Andrew of Jerusalem, in the VIII – Saints John of Damascus, Cosma of Maium and the Patriarch of Tsar’grad Germanos, in the IX – the Nun Cassia and others of names unknown, all these wrote for the feast of the Nativity of Christ many sacred hymns, used at present by the Church to the glory of this radiant festal event.
However, during the first three centuries, when persecutions hindered the freedom of Christian Divine-services, in certain places in the East – in the Churches of Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria and Cyprus – the feastday of the Nativity of Christ was combined together with the feastday of the Baptism of Christ on 6 January, under the in-common term “Theophany” [“Bogoyavlenie” – which both in the Greek and the Slavonic means “Manifestation of God”]. The reason for this, actually, was from the view, that Christ was baptised at a later time on His birthday, as might be inferred concerning this from the discourse of Saint John Chrysostom who, in one of his sermons on the Nativity of Christ, says: “it is not that day on which Christ was born which is called Theophany, but rather that day on which He was baptised”. Towards suchlike a viewpoint also it is possible to consider a nuance in the words of the Evangelist Luke who, speaking about the Baptism of Jesus Christ, testifies, that then “Jesus being incipient [incipiens, arkhomenos] upon His thirtieth year” (Lk. 3:23). The celebration of the Nativity of Christ conjointly with Theophany in certain of the Eastern Churches continued to the end of the IV Century, and in some – until the V or even the VI Century. Remembrance of the ancient conjoining of the feasts of the Nativity of Christ and Theophany at present enters into the making of the order of services in the celebration of these feasts. For both – on the eve-day preceding the feast, there is a similar tradition among the people, that on the festal eve-days the fast ought to be kept until the stars appear. The order of Divine-services on the eve of both feastdays and the feastdays themselves is done the same.
The day of the Nativity of Christ from of old was numbered by the Church among the Twelve Great Feasts, – in accord with the Divine witness of the Gospel in depicting these festal events as the greatest, most all-joyful and wondrous. “Behold, I proclaim unto you glad tidings, – said the Angel to the Bethlehem shepherds, – of great joy, for all mankind. For unto you this day is born the Saviour, Who is Christ the Lord, in the city of David. And this for ye is the sign: ye will find the Infant wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger. Then suddenly with the Angel was a multitude of the heavenly hosts, glorifying God and saying: Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth peace, good-will to mankind. Those hearing of this were awestruck at the sayings of the shepherds concerning this Child. And the shepherds themselves returned back, glorifying and praising God for everything they had heard and seen” (Lk. 2: 10-20). Thus the Nativity of Christ, as an event most profound and extraordinary, was accompanied by the wondrous tidings to the shepherds and the Magi about the universal rejoicing for all mankind, – “for the Saviour is Born!”, by the Angelic proclamation of glory to the new-born Saviour, by the worship to him by shepherds and wise-men, by the reverent awe of many, hearkening to the words of the shepherds about the new-born Child, amidst glory and praise of Him by the Shepherds.
In accord with the Divine witness of the Gospel, the fathers of the Church in their God-imbued writings also depict the feast of the Nativity of Christ as most profound, universal and all-joyous, which serves as a basis and foundation for all the other feastdays.
Christ is Born! Glorify Him!
DISCOURSE ON THE NATIVITY OF CHRIST
by Sainted Gregory Thaumatourgos,
Bishop of Neo-Caesarea
Brethren, we behold now a great and wondrous mystery. Shepherds with cries of joy come forth as messengers to the sons of mankind, not on their hilly pastures with their flocks conversing and not in the field with their sheep frolicking, but rather in the city of David Bethlehem spiritual songs exclaiming. In the highest sing Angels, proclaiming hymns Archangelic; the heavenly Cherubim and Seraphim sing out praises to the glory of God: “Holy, Holy, Holy…” Together all do celebrate this joyous feast, beholding God upon the earth, and mankind of earth amidst the heavens. By Divine providence the far distant are uplifted to the highest, and the highest, through the love of God for mankind, have bent down to the far distant, wherefore the MostHigh, through His humility, “is exalted through humility”. On this day of great festivity Bethlehem hath become like unto heaven, taking place amidst the glittering stars are Angels singing glory, and taking the place of the visible sun – is the indefinable and immeasurable Sun of Truth, having made all things that do exist. But who would dare investigate so great a mystery? “Wherein God doth wish it, therein the order of nature is overturned”, and laws cannot impede. And so, of that which was impossible for mankind to undertake, God did aspire and did descend, making for the salvation of mankind, since in the will of God this is life for all mankind.
On the present joyous day God hath come to be born; on this great day of arrival God is become That Which He was not: being God, He hath become Man, so to speak as though removed from Divinity (though His Divine Nature be not divested of); in being made Man, He hath remained God. Wherefore, though He grew and flourished, it however was not thus as it were by human power to attain to Divinity nor by any human ability to be made God; but rather as the Word, by miraculous sufferance, wherein He was incarnated and manifest not being transformed, not being made something other, not deprived of that Divine Nature which He possessed previously. In Judea the new King is born; but this new and wondrous nativity which pagan Gentiles have come to believe, the Jew have eschewed. The Pharisees comprehended incorrectly the Law and the prophets. That which therein was contradictory for them, they explained away mistakenly. Herod too strove to learn of this new birth, full of mystery, yet Herod did this not to reverence the new-born King, but to kill Him.
That One, Who did forsake the Angels, Archangels, Thrones, Dominions, and all the constant and luminous spirits, – He alone having come a new path, does issue forth from an inviolate of seed virginal womb. The Creator of all comes to enlighten the world, indeed not leaving His angels orphaned, and He appears also as Man, come forth from God.
And I, though I see by the NewBorn neither trumpets (nor other musical instruments), nor sword, nor bodily adornments, neither lampadas nor way-lamps, and seeing the choir of Christ composed of those humble of birth and without influence, – it doth persuade me to praise of Him. I see speechless animals and choirs of youth, as though some sort of trumpet, songfully resonant, as though taking the place of lampadas and as it were shining upon the Lord. But what shall I say about what the lampadas do light? He – is the verymost Hope and Life Itself, He is Salvation Itself, Blessedness Itself, the focal point of the Kingdom of Heaven. He is Himself borne as offering, so that there would in power transpire the proclamation of the heavenly Angels: “Glory to God in the Highest”, and with the shepherds of Bethlehem be pronounced the joyous song: “And on earth peace, good-will to mankind!” Born of the Father, in His Person and in His Being passionless, now in a manner dispassionate and incomprehensible He is born for us. The praeternal birth, He alone Who was born dispassionately doth know of; the present birth, is supernaturally known only by the grace of the Holy Spirit; but in both the first birth truly, and in the present birth in kenotic humbling, actually and immutably God was born from God, but He – is also Man, having received flesh of the Virgin. In the highest of the One Father – He is One, the Only-Begotten Son of the One Father; in kenotic humbling Unique of the unique Virgin, the Only-Begotten Son of the one Virgin… God suffereth not passions, in being born God of God; and the Virgin did not suffer corruption, since in a manner spiritual was born the Spiritual. The first birth – is inexplicable and the second – is insurmiseable; the first birth was without travail and the second was without impurity… We know, Who now is born of the Virgin, and we believe, that it is He, born of the Father praeternally. But what manner of birth it was we would not hope to explain. Neither with words would I attempt to speak of this, nor in thought would I dare to approach it, since the Divine Nature is not subject to observation, nor approachable by thought, nor containable by the hapless reasoning. Needful only is to believe in the power of His works. The laws of corporeal nature are evident: a married woman conceives and gives birth to a son in accord with the purpose of marriage; but when the Unwedded Virgin gives birth to the son miraculously, and after birth remaineth a Virgin, – then is manifest an higher corporeal nature. We can comprehend what exists according to the laws ofd corporeal nature, but afront that which is beyond the laws of nature, we fall silent, not through fear, but moreso through sin-wrought fallibility. We mustneeds fall silent, in silent stillness to reverence virtue with a worthy reverence and, not going beyond the far limits (of word), to be vouchsafed the heavenly gifts.
What to say and what shalt I proclaim? To speak more concerning the Virgin Birth-Giver? To deliberate more on the miraculously new birth? It is possible only to be astonished, in contemplating the miraculous birth, since it overturns the ordinary laws and order of nature and of things. About the wondrous works (of God) one might say in brief, that they are more wondrous than the works of nature, since in nature nothing begets itself by its own will, though there be the freedom thereof: wondrous therefore are all the works of the Lord, Who hath caused them to be. O, immaculate and inexplicable mystery! That One, Who before the very creation of the world was the Only-Begotten, Without‑Compare, Simple, Incorporeal, is incarnated and descends (into the world), clothed in a perishable body, so that He be visible to all. For if He were not visible, then by what manner would He teach us to keep His precepts and how would He lead us to the invisible reality? It was for this therefore that He became openly visible, to lead forth those of the visible world to the invisible. Far moreso do people reckon their eyesight as more credible a witness than mere hearsay; they trust that which they see, and doubt that which they see not. God willed to be visible in body, to resolve and dispel the doubts. He willed to be born of the Virgin, not to initiate of Her something unneeded and wherein the Virgin knew not the reasons of the matter, but rather the mystery of His birth is an immaculate act of goodness, wherein the Virgin Herself asked of Gabriel: “How can this be, in that I know not a man”, – to which She received in reply: “The Holy Spirit shalt come upon Thee, and the power of the MostHigh shalt overshadow Thee” (Lk. 1: 34-35). But in what manner did the Word, Who was God, therefore issue forth from the Virgin? This – is an inexplicable wonder. Just as a goldsmith, having obtained the metal, makes of it a thing suitable for use, thus did Christ also: finding the Virgin immaculate both in spirit and in body, He assumed of Her a spirit-fashioned body conformable to His intents, and was arrayed in it, as in clothing. On this wondrous day of the Nativity the Word was neither afraid nor ashamed to issue forth from the virginal womb, nor did He consider it unworthy of Himself to assume flesh from His creation, – so that the creation, made the attire of the Creator, should be esteemed worthy of glory, and so that mercy should be made known when revealed, from whence God through His goodness hath descended. Just as it would be impossible for an earthen vessel to appear before it be clay in the hands of the potter, so likewise would it be impossible for the perishable vessel (of human nature) to be renewed otherwise, to make it the attire of the Creator, Who is garbed in it.
What more to say, what shall I expound on? The new wonders do strike me with awe. The Ancient of Days is become a Child, to make people children of God. Sitting in glory in the Heavens, because of His love for mankind, He now layeth in a manger of dumb beasts. The Inpassionate, Incorporeal, Incomprehensible One is taken by human hands, in order to atone the violence of sinners and the iniquitous and free them of their slavery, to be wrapped in swaddling cloths and be nourished on the knees of Woman, so that shame be transformed into honour, the impious to be led to glory, and in place of thorns a crown. He hath taken on my body, so that I be made capable to have within myself His Spirit, – He hath appropriated unto Himself (my nature), being garbed in my body, and doth give unto me His Spirit, so that I, giving and in turn receiving, might discover the treasure of life.
What shall I say and what proclaim? “Behold, a Virgin in womb shalt conceive and She shalt give birth a Son, and they will call Him the name Emmanuel, in interpretation: God is with us [S nami Bog; Meth’ hemon ho Theos; Nobiscum Deus]” (Mt. 1: 23). The saying here deals not with something for future whereof we might learn to hope, but rather it tells us about something that already has occurred and it awes us with something that already has been fulfilled. What formerly was said to the Jews and fulfilled amidst them, is now thus amidst us realised as an occurrence, whereof we have received (this prophecy), and adopted it, and believed in it. The prophet says to the Jews: “Behold, a Virgin shalt conceive” (Is. 7: 14); for Christians however, the saying devolves upon the fulfilling of the actual deed, the full treasure-trove of the actual event. In Judea a Virgin gave birth, but all the lands of the world accepted Her Son. There – was the root of the vine; here – the vine of truth. The Jews squeezed the wine-press, and the Gentiles have tasted of the sacramental Blood; those others planted the kernel of wheat, and these thrive by the grain harvest of faith. The Jews were pricked to death by the thorns, the Gentiles are filled by the harvest; those others sat beneathe the tree of desolation, and these – beneathe the tree of life; those expounded the precepts of the Law, but the Gentiles reap the spiritual fruits. The Virgin gave birth not Herself of Herself, but as willed He needing to be born. Not in corporeal manner did God act, not to the law of the flesh did God subordinate Himself, but the Lord of corporeal nature manifested Himself to appear in the world by a miraculous birth, in order to reveal His power and to show, that in having been made Man, He is born not as a mere man, – that God is made Man, since for His will nothing be difficult.
On the present great day He is born of the Virgin, having overcome the natural order of things. He is higher than wedlock and free from defilement. It sufficed that He the preceptor of purity should shine forth gloriously, to emerge from a pure and undefiled womb. For He – is That Same, Who in the beginning did create Adam from the virgin soil, and from Adam without wedlock did bring forth for him his wife Eve. And as Adam was without wife before that he had a wife, and the first woman then was brought into the world, so likewise on the present day the Virgin without man giveth birth to That One, about Whom spake the prophet: “He – is Man, who is he that doth know Him?” The Man Christ, clearly seen by mankind, born of God, is such that womankind was needed to perfect that of mankind, so that perfectly would be born man for woman. And just as from Adam was taken woman, without impairment and without diminishing of his masculine nature, so also from woman without man was needed to bring forth a man, similar to the bringing forth of Eve, so that Adam be not extolled in that without his means woman should bring forth woman. Therefore the Virgin without cohabitation with man gave birth to God the Word, made Man, so that in equal measure it was by the same miracle to bestow equal honour to both the one and the other half – man and woman. And just as from Adam was taken woman without his diminishing, so likewise from the Virgin was taken the body (Born of Her), wherein also the Virgin did not undergo diminishing, and Her virginity did not suffer harm. Adam dwelt well and unharmed, when the rib was taken from him: and so without defilement dwelt the Virgin, when from Her was brought forth God the Word. For this sort of reason particularly the word assumed of the Virgin Her flesh and Her (corporeal) garb, so that He be not accounted innocent of the sin of Adam. Since man stung by sin had become a vessel and instrument of evil, Christ took upon Himself this receptacle of sin into His Own flesh so that, the Creator having been co‑united with the body, it should thus be freed from the foulness of the enemy, and man thus be clothed in an eternal body, which be neither perished nor destroyed for all eternity. Moreover, He that is become the God-Man is born, not as ordinarily man is born, – He is born as God made Man, manifest of this by His Own Divine power, since if He were born according to the general laws of nature, the Word would seem something imperfect. Therefore, He was born of the Virgin and shone forth; therefore, having been born, He preserved unharmed the virginal womb, so that the hitherto unheard of manner of the Nativity should be for us a sign of great mystery.
Is Christ God? Christ is God by nature, but not by the order of nature did He become Man. Thus we declare and in truth believe, calling to witness the seal of intact virginity: as Almighty Creator of the womb and virginity, He chose an unshameful manner of birth and was made Man, as He did will.
On this great day, now being celebrated, God hath appeared as Man, as Pastor of the nation of Israel, Who hath enlivened all the universe with His goodness. O dear warriors, glorious champions for mankind, who did preach Bethlehem as a place of Theophany and the Nativity of the Son of God, who have made known to all the world the Lord of all, lying in a manger, and did point out God contained within a narrow cave!
And so, we now glorify joyfully a feast of the years. Just as hence the laws of feasts be new, so now also the laws of birth be wondrous. On this great day now celebrated, of shattered chains, of Satan shamed, of all demons to flight, the all‑destroying death is replaced by life, paradise is opened to the thief, curses be transformed into blessings, all sins forgiven and evil banished, truth is come, and they have proclaimed tidings filled with reverence and love for God, traits pure and immaculate are implanted, virtue is exalted upon the earth, Angels are come together with people, and people make bold to converse with Angels. Whence and why hath all this happened? From this, that God hath descended into the world and exalted mankind unto Heaven. There is accomplished a certain transposition of everything: God Who is perfect hath descended to earth, though by Nature He remaineth entirely in the Heavens, even at that time when in His wholeness He be situated upon the earth. He was God and was made Man, not negating His Divinity: He was not made God, since He was always such by His very Nature, but He was made flesh, so that He be visible to everything corporeal. That One, upon Whom even the Heaven-dwellers cannot look, chose as His habitation a manger, and when He came, all around Him became still. And for naught else did He lay in the manger, than for this, that in giving nourishment to all, He should for Himself extract the nourishment of infants from maternal breasts and by this to bless wedlock.
On this great day people, leaving off from their arduous and serious affairs, do come forth for the glory of Heaven, and they learn through the gleaming of the stars, that the Lord hath descended to the earth to save His creation. The Lord, sitting upon a swift cloud, in the flesh wilt enter into Egypt (Is. 19: 1), visible fleeing from Herod, on that very deed which inspires the saying by Isaiah: “On that day Israel wilt be third amidst the Egyptians” (Is. 19: 24).
People entered into the Cave, thinking not at all about this beforehand, and it became for them an holy temple. God entered into Egypt, in the place of the ancient sadness there to bring joy, and in the place of dark gloom to shed forth the light of salvation. The waters of the Nile had become defiled and harmful after infants perished in it with untimely death. There appeared in Egypt That One, Who upon a time turned the water into blood and Who thereafter transformed these waters into well-springs of the water of rebirth, by the grace of the Holy Spirit cleansing away sins and transgressions. Chastisement once befell the Egyptians, since in their errors they defied God. But Jesus now is come into Egypt and hath sown in it reverence for God, so that in casting off from the Egyptian soul its errors, they are made amicable unto God. The river waters concurred worthily to encompass His head, like a crown.
In order not to stretch out in length our discourse and briefly to conclude what is said, we shall ask: in what manner was the passionless Word made flesh and become visible, while dwelling immutably in His Divine Nature? But what shall I say and what declare? I see the carpenter and the manger, the Infant and the Virgin Birth-Giver, forsaken by all, weighed down by hardship and want. Behold, to what a degree of humiliation the great God hath descended. For our sakes “impoverished, Who was rich” (2 Cor. 8: 9): He was put into but sorry swaddling cloths – not on a soft bed. O poverty, source of all exaltation! O destitution, revealing all treasures! He doth appear to the poor ‑‑ and the poor He maketh rich; He doth lay in an animal manger – and by His word He sets in motion all the world. He is wrapped in tattered swaddling cloths – and shatters the bonds of sinners having called the entire world into being by His Word alone.
What still should I say and proclaim? I see the Infant, in swaddling cloths and lying in the manger; Mary, the Virgin Mother, stands before it together with Joseph, called Her husband. He is called Her husband, and She – his wife, in name but so and seemingly wedded, though in fact they were not spouses. she was betrothed to Joseph, but the Holy Spirit came upon Her, as about this the holy evangelist doth speak: “The Holy Spirit shalt come upon Thee, and the power of the MostHigh wilt overshadow Thee: and He to be born is Holy” (Lk. 1: 35) and is of the seed of Heaven. Joseph did not dare to speak in opposition, and the righteous man did not wish to reprove the Holy Virgin; he did not want to believe any suspicion of sin nor pronounce against the Holy Virgin words of slander; but the Son to be born he did not wish to acknowledge as his, since he knew, that He – was not of him. And although he was perplexed and had doubts, Who such an Infant should be, and pondered it over – he then had an heavenly vision, an Angel appeared to him and encouraged him with the words: Fear not, Joseph, son of David; He That shalt be born of Mary is called Holy and the Son of God; that is: the Holy Spirit shalt come upon the Immaculate Virgin, and the power of the MostHigh wilt overshadow Her (Mt. 1: 20‑21; Lk. 1: 35). Truly He was to be born of the Virgin, preserving unharmed Her virginity. Just as the first virgin had fallen, enticed by Satan, so now Gabriel bears new tidings to the Virgin Mary, so that a virgin would give assent to be the Virgin, and to the Nativity – by birth. Allured by temptations, Eve did once utter words of ruination; Mary, in turn, in accepting the tidings gave birth to the Incorporeal and Life-Creating Word. For the words of Eve, Adam was cast out of paradise; the Word, born of the Virgin, revealed the Cross, by which the thief entered into the paradise of Adam. Though neither the pagan Gentiles, nor the Jews, nor the high-priests would believe, that from God could be born a Son without travail and without man, this now is so and He is born in the body, capable to endure suffering, while preserving inviolate the body of the Virgin.
Thus did He manifest His Almightiness, born of the Virgin, preserving the virginity of the Virgin intact, and He was born of God with neither complication, travail, evil nor a separation of forsaking the immutable Divine Essence, born God from God. Since mankind abandoned God, in place of Him worshipping graven images of humans, God the Word thus assumed the image of man, so that in banishing error and restoring truth, He should consign to oblivion the worshipping of idols and for Himself to be accorded Divine honour, since to Him becometh all glory and honour unto ages of ages. Amen.
© 1996-2001 by translator Fr. S. Janos.
1. THE NATIVITY OF OUR LORD, GOD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST
St. Nikolai Velimirovic
But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son (Galatians 4:4) to save the human race. And when nine months were fulfilled from the Annunciation, when the Archangel Gabriel had appeared to the Most-holy Virgin in Nazareth, saying, Rejoice, thou that art highly favored … behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a Son (Luke 1:28, 31), at that time there went forth a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the people of the Roman Empire should be taxed. In accordance with this decree, everyone had to go to his own town and be registered. That is why the righteous Joseph came with the Most-holy Virgin to Bethlehem, the city of David, for they were both of the royal lineage of David. Since many people descended on this small town for the census, Joseph and Mary were unable to find lodging in any house, and they sought shelter in a cave which shepherds used as a sheepfold. In this cave–on the night between Saturday and Sunday, on the 25th of December–the Most-holy Virgin gave birth to the Savior of the world, the Lord Jesus Christ. Giving birth to Him without pain just as He was conceived without sin by the Holy Spirit and not by man, she herself wrapped Him in swaddling clothes, worshiped Him as God, and laid Him in a manger. Then the righteous Joseph drew near and worshiped Him as the Divine Fruit of the Virgin’s womb. Then the shepherds came in from the fields, directed by an angel of God, and worshiped Him as the Messiah and Savior. The shepherds heard a multitude of God’s angels singing: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men (Luke 2:14). At that time three wise men arrived from the east, led by a wondrous star, bearing their gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh. They worshiped Him as the King of kings, and offered Him their gifts (Matthew 2). Thus entered the world He Whose coming was foretold by the prophets, and Who was born in the same manner in which it had been prophesied: of a Most-holy Virgin, in the town of Bethlehem, of the lineage of David according to the flesh, at the time when there was no king in Jerusalem of the lineage of Judah, but rather when Herod, a foreigner, was reigning. After many types and prefigurings, messengers and heralds, prophets and righteous men, wise men and kings, finally He appeared, the Lord of the world and King of kings, to perform the work of the salvation of mankind, which could not be performed by His servants. To Him be eternal glory and praise! Amen.
HYMN OF PRAISE
THE NATIVITY OF OUR LORD, GOD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST
Out of burning love, Thou didst come down from heaven;
From eternal beauty, Thou didst descend into monstrous pain;
From eternal light, Thou didst descend into the thick darkness of evil.
Thou didst extend Thy holy hand to those choked in sin.
Heaven was amazed, the earth quaked.
Welcome, O Christ! O ye peoples, rejoice!
Out of burning love, by which Thou didst create the world,
As a slave Thou didst debase Thyself to loose the enslaved,
To restore the house that Adam destroyed,
To enlighten the darkened, to unloose sinners.
Love that knows not fear or humiliation–
Welcome, O Christ! The Master of Salvation!
Out of burning love, O King of all beauty,
Thou didst leave the radiance of the beautiful Cherubim,
Thou didst descend into the cave of human life,
To despairing men, with a torch and peace.
How to contain Thee?–The earth became frightened.
Welcome, O Christ! Heaven bears Thee up!
The most beautiful Virgin for a long time hoped in Thee.
The earth raises her to Thee, that through her Thou wilt descend
From the lofty throne, from the heavenly city,
To bring health, to release man from sin.
O Holy Virgin, Golden Censer–
To thee be glory and praise, O Mother full of grace!
The Lord Jesus, born in Bethlehem, was first worshiped by shepherds and wise men (astrologers) from the east–the simplest and the wisest of this world. Even today, those who most sincerely worship the Lord Jesus as God and Savior are the simplest and the wisest of this world. Perverted simplicity and half-learned wisdom were always the enemies of Christ’s divinity and His Gospel. But who were these wise men from the east? This question was especially studied by St. Dimitri of Rostov. He claims that they were kings of certain smaller regions or individual towns in Persia, Arabia and Egypt. At the same time, they were erudite in the knowledge of astronomy. This wondrous star appeared to them, which announced the birth of the New King. According to St. Dimitri, this star appeared to them nine months before the birth of the Lord Jesus, i.e., at the time of His conception by the Most-holy Theotokos. They spent nine months in studying this star, in preparing for the journey and in traveling. They arrived in Bethlehem shortly after the birth of the Savior of the world. One of them was called Melchior. He was old, with long white hair and beard. He offered the Lord the gift of gold. The second was called Caspar, of ruddy face, young and beardless. He offered the Lord the gift of frankincense. The third was called Balthasar, of dark complexion and a very heavy beard. He offered the Lord the gift of myrrh. After their deaths, their bodies were taken to Constantinople, from Constantinople to Milan, and from Milan to Cologne. It can be added that these three wise men were representatives of the three main races of men that descended from Noah’s three sons: Shem, Ham and Japheth. The Persian represented the Japhethites, the Arabian represented the Semites, and the Egyptian represented the Hamites. Thus it can be said that, through these three, the whole human race worshiped the Incarnate Lord and God.
Contemplate the beauty of the soul of the Most-holy Theotokos:
1. How her soul was radiant and immaculate;
2. How her soul was filled with peace from faith and hope in God;
3. How her soul was filled with the sweet-smelling fragrance of prayer.
on the birth of the Lord, the Son of God
I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world (John 16:28).
The only-begotten Son of God, brethren, begotten in eternity of the Father without a mother, was born in time of a mother without a father. That first begetting is an unfathomable mystery of the Holy Trinity in eternity, and the second is the unfathomable mystery of God’s power and love for mankind in time. The greatest mystery in time corresponds to the greatest mystery in eternity. Without entering into this greatest mystery with the small taper of our understanding, let us be content, brethren, with the knowledge that our salvation had its origin not from man or from earth, but from the greatest heights of the divine invisible world. So great is God’s mercy, and so great is the dignity of man, that the Son of God Himself came down from eternity into time, from heaven to earth, from the throne of glory to the shepherd’s cave, solely to save mankind, to cleanse men from sin and to return them to Paradise. I came forth from the Father, where I had everything, and am come into the world, which cannot give Me anything. The Lord was born in a cave to show that the whole world is one dark cave, which He alone can illumine. The Lord was born in Bethlehem–and Bethlehem means “the House of Bread”–to show that He is the only Bread of Life worthy of true men.
O Lord Jesus, the Pre-eternal Son of the Living God and the Son of the Virgin Mary, enlighten us and nourish us with Thyself.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.