The Holy and Great Nativity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ

Nativity of Jesus

Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,

by His Eminence, Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos [source: The Feasts of the Lord]

The Feast of the Birth of Christ as a man is the capital of feasts, as Saint John Chrysostom says. All the other feasts of the Lord--Epiphany, the Transfiguration, the Passion, the Cross, the Resurrection and the Ascension of Christ--follow from the Nativity. Without the Nativity there would have been no Resurrection, but also without the Resurrection the purpose of the divine Incarnation would not have been fulfilled. All these feasts of the Lord are unified. We separate them in order to celebrate them and to look more closely into their content. In every Divine Liturgy we live through all the events of the Divine Incarnation. Therefore, according to the Holy Fathers of the Church, it is always Christmas, always Pascha, always Pentecost.

What happened at the Annunciation began to be revealed at the Nativity of Christ. When we call it a revelation, we mean that there are several persons, such as the Panagia (All-Holy Mother of God), Joseph, etc., to whom it was revealed that the Christ for Whom all the ages were waiting had come into the world. To be sure, Christ when revealed is hidden, and when hidden is revealed. We see this in His whole life as well as in His revelation to the Saints.

The birth of Christ is a historical event, because it took place at a specific moment in history, when Caesar Augustus was Emperor of Rome and Herod was ruler of Judaea. The Evangelists insist on emphasizing the historicity of the event, because they want to say that Christ is a historical person. This means that Christ assumed real human flesh, and the Incarnation was not merely seeming or imagined.

In spite of its historicity, this event remains a mystery. We know that the Godman, perfect God and perfect Man, exists, but it remains a mystery how the Divine Nature united with human nature in the person of the Logos (Word). Moreover, what happened to the Person of Christ, that the divine nature was united hypostatically with human nature, happened just once. Therefore Saint John of Damascos said that Christ is "the only new thing under the sun." This means that since the creation of the world and man, nothing new has happened in the world. Everything is repeated. The birth of a man is a consequence and result of God's words: "Let us make man in our image and likeness", and "be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it" (Genesis 1:26-28). The only new thing is the Godman Christ.

Thus the fact that the event is historical does not remove the mystery, but also the mystery does not do away with the historicity. At Christmas we celebrate the birth of Christ, but at the same time we experience mysteriously in our hearts the events connected with it, for when we are alive in the Church, we are participating in and experiencing all the stages of the Divine Incarnation.

The difference between the Old and New Testaments is that all the revelations of God in the Old Testament are revelations of the Logos (Word) without flesh, while in the New Testament they are revelations of the Logos (Word) incarnate. He Who revealed himself to Moses and all the prophets was the Son and Logos (Word) of God without flesh, the second person of the Holy Trinity.

The Prophets and the Righteous men of the Old Testament not only had communion with the Logos [Word] of God, but they also saw His Incarnation. This is the meaning of the fact that they saw Him as a man. Adam, as it says in the Old Testament, heard the footsteps of God Who was walking in Paradise. Jacob wrestled with God. Moses saw the back parts of God. Isaiah saw Him as a man sitting on a throne, Daniel saw Him as the likeness of a man and as son of man coming to the Ancient of Days. All these revelations indicated that they saw the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, they saw Him Who was to become incarnate in order to save the human race. The fact that Moses saw the back parts of God indicates clearly that he saw what has to happen in the future, that is to say, the Incarnation of the Logos [Word]. The Prophets did not see God's nature, but the type and image of what was to happen in the future. For the Son and Logos [Word] of God was to become man in reality in order to be united with our nature and to be seen in the flesh on the earth (St. John of Damaskos).

Apart from these cases there are also other apocalyptic texts in the Old Testament which prophesy clearly not only the Incarnation of the Logos [Word] of God, but also specific facts, such as that it would not destroy the Virginity of the Theotokos (Mother of God), that He would bring peace to the world, etc.

In these analyses we are trying to look at the Christological meanings of the feasts of the Lord. However, we can also see several other facts which are connected with the truth that Christ is the Savior of the world and that the experience of this fact presupposes a particular spiritual state of man.

Apart from the Panagia and Joseph, the first to worship the Divine Child were the Shepherds. An Angel of the Lord made known to them that the Savior of the world had been born. This was not a chance event, it did not mean that the particular shepherds were worthy of this revelation because they were nearest the Crypt.

According to the holy Fathers, this happened for many reasons. First, because of the purity of the Shepherds by reason of their solitude and hesychia. Secondly, because the Shepherds were imitators and followers of the way of life and virtues of the Patriarchs of the Old Testament. That is to say, the Shepherds were not chance characters. Thirdly, for it to be shown that Christ will be the true Shepherd of the Israelite and Gentile people. Fourthly, for it to be seen clearly that Christ chose the most simple-hearted and most capable of receiving this revelation, and not the crafty Scribes and Pharisees. All these things show the method that one can use to experience the mystery of the revelation.

The Angels' hymn is also characteristic: "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will towards men" (St. Luke 2:14). The peace which the Angels praised was not a social peace, the absence of war, but The Incarnation and presence of Christ. Thus the Angels were hymning the peace which came with the Birth of Christ and not a peace that would come in the future. For by His Incarnation Christ gave man peace with God, his neighbor and himself as well, precisely because the Divine Nature was united with the human nature in his person. After the Fall man lost peace with God because he worshipped idol without souls and senses and not the true God. Now by the Incarnation man is given the possibility to worship the true God. He also attained peace with the Angels and with his fellow men. And indeed the powers of his soul attained peace, because Christ did what Adam failed to do. Adam had to attain full communion with God by the grace of God and his own personal struggle, the powers of his soul had to function naturally and supranaturally. This was achieved in Christ.

(to be continued)

Please note: Orthodox Christians need to understand the real and true meaning of the Birth of Christ in the world. We cannot marginalize or reduce the observance of this Christian Holy Feast-Day as just another holiday. Are we so indoctrinated and desensitized by our secular society that we simply see Christmas only for its commercial importance and nothing more. It is very clear that the hostile attitude of the secular and gentile world seeks to undermine, persecute and to destroy Christianity but the question is why are we as Christians allow them to accomplish their evil agenda? Why is there this deafening silence from the Christian community? Where are the apologists and confessors of our Church? The Holy Day of Christmas has been hijacked by the merchants and Christ has been replaced by secular and commercial symbols.

My time is just as valuable and precious as yours but I am sending all these e-mails out for your benefit and because I feel very strongly that Orthodox Christians need to know the Faith, to practice it, to teach it to their children, to protect it, to defend it and be willing even to die for it as the countless holy Martyrs throughout the centuries. We can all learn what it means to love Christ unconditionally and to proclaim and defend the faith from an 18 year old holy Martyr of the Church Saint Catherine the Great Martyr. Saint Catherine endured horrific and inhumane tortures for Our Lord Jesus Christ. If you have not read her holy life I sincerely urge you to do so and be inspired by it.

It is clear to me as an Orthodox priest of 43 years that the secular world is no longer willing to tolerate Christ or Christianity! What do you think?

With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George