Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ! ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.
THE NATIVITY OF CHRIST
"Adorn yourself, O Cavern. Make ready, O Manger. O Shepherds and Wise men, bring You gifts and bear witness. For the Virgin is coming bearing Christ in her womb" (Vesperal Hymn of St. Nicholas Day)
On the eve of Christmas, the Royal Hours are read and the Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil is served with Vespers. At these holy services the Old Testament prophecies of Christ's birth are chanted, emphasizing the prophecy of Micah which foretells Bethlehem as the birthplace of the Savior, and the prophecies of Isaiah about the appearance and character of the Messiah:
"The Lord Himself will give you a sign. Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call His Name Immanuel, which translated is, God with us". (Is. 7:14-15)
"God is with us, understand all ye nations, and submit yourselves, for God is with us" (Is. 8:9).
"For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulders, and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end" (Is. 9:6-7).
The Vigil of Christmas begins with Great Compline (Megas Apodeipnos), highlighted once again by the solemn chanting of God is with us and the words of the prophecy of Isaiah. At Compline there is also the singing of the Troparion (Hymn) and Kontakion (Hymn) of the feast along with the special hymns glorifying the Savior's Birth. There are also the special long litanies of intercession and the solemn blessing of the five loaves of bread (Artoklasia) together with the wheat, wine and oil of which the faithful Orthodox Christians partake at the end of the service.
At the beginning of the Christmas Orthros (Matins), the six Matinal psalms begin as usual with the words: "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will among men" (St. Luke 2:14).
At the Christmas divine services these words of the Angelic song are normally chanted with great solemnity rather than being chanted as a daily service. The Christmas Orthros proceed as usual. The Gospel reading from Saint Matthew (1:18-25) tells of the Birth of Christ, and all of the hymns and verses glorify His appearance on earth:
"Christ is born! Glorify Him. Christ is from heaven! Go to meet Him. Christ is on earth, be ye lifted up. Sing to the Lord, all the earth. Sing out with gladness, all ye people. For He is glorified." (First Ode of the Christmas Canon)
Glory to Thee, Who hast shown forth the Light. Glory be to God on high, and on earth peace, goodwill towards men.
We praise Thee, we bless Thee, we worship Thee, we glorify Thee, we give thanks to Thee for Thy great glory.
O Lord and King, Heavenly God, Father Almighty; O Lord, the Only-Begotten Son Jesus Christ, and Holy Spirit.
O Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father, that takest away the sin of the world; have mercy upon us, Thou that takest away the sins of the world.
Accept our prayer, Thou that sittest on the right hand of the Father, and have mercy upon us.
For thou only are Holy; Thou only art Lord, Jesus Christ, in the glory of God the Father. Amen.
Every day will I bless Thee and will praise Thy Name forever and ever.
Strengthen us, O Lord, this day to be kept sinless.
Blessed art Thou, O Lord, God of our fathers, and praised and glorified is Thy Name forever. Amen.
Let Thy mercy, O Lord, be upon us, as we trust on Thee.
Blessed art Thou, O Lord, teach me Thy statutes. (Thrice).
O Lord, Thou hast been a refuge for us from generation to generation. I said, Lord have mercy upon me; heal my soul, for I have sinned against Thee.
O Lord, to Thee have I fled; teach me to do Thy will, for Thou art my God.
For with Thee is the fountain of life; in Thy Light we shall see light.
Extend Thy mercy unto them that know Thee.
Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy upon us. (Thrice)
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. Both now and forever, and from all ages to all ages. Amen.
Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy upon us.
THE CHRISTMAS DIVINE LITURGY
The Apolytikion (Dismissal) hymn and Kontakion mark the entrance with the Holy Book of the Gospels (Evaggelion). The baptismal line from Galatians 3:27 once again replaces the Thrice-Holy Hymn. The Epistle reading is from Galatians 4:4-7:
"But when the time had full come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, 'Abba! Father!' So through God, you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son then an heir".
The Gospel reading is the familiar Christmas story from Saint Matthew (2:1-12), and the Divine Liturgy continues in the normal fashion. A specific two-day celebration follows, dedicated to Mary the Theotokos and Saint Stefanos (Stephen), the First Holy Martyr. The period of Christmas rejoicing extends to Theophany (Epiphany) during which time the Christmas songs are sung and fasting and kneeling in prayer are not called for by the Church.
The feast of Christmas is formally entitled the Nativity in the Flesh of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ. At Christmas we celebrate the Birth as a man of the Son of God, the One Who together with the Father and the Holy Spirit is Truly God from all Eternity. Thus, we chant in the Church:
"Today the Virgin gives birth to the Transcendent One, and the earth offers a cave to the Unapproachable One! Angels, with shepherds, glorify Him! The Wise-men journey with the Star! Since for our sake the Eternal God is born as a little child" (Kontakion).
The feast of Christmas was not a separate Church feast for the first four centuries of Christian history. It was celebrated with Theophany in the one great feast of God's appearance on earth in the form of the human Messiah of Israel. The Nativity began to be celebrated as such on the 25th of December in order to offset the pagan festival of the invincible Sun which occurred on that day. It was established by the Church quite consciously as an attempt to defeat the false religion of the heathens. Thus, we discover the hymn of the feast making a polemic against the worship of the sun and the stars and calling for the adoration of Christ, the true sun of righteousness (Mal. 4:2), Who is Himself worshipped by all of the elements of nature.
"Thy Nativity, O Christ our God, has shone to the world the Light of Wisdom! For by it, those who worshipped the stars were taught by a star to adore Thee, the Sun of Righteousness and to know thee, the Orient from on high (St. Luke 1:78, translated as Dawn or Day Spring). O Lord, glory to Thee! (Apolytikion)
Thus, the Feast of the Holy Nativity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is the celebration of the world's salvation through the Son of God Who became man for our sake that, through Him, we might ourselves become divine sons and daughters of God the Father by the indwelling of His Holy Spirit in us.
Hypakoe. Plagal of Fourth Tone
"By calling the Magi by a star, Heaven brought the first-fruits of the nations unto Thee, a Babe lying in a manger; and they were astonished that there was neither scepter nor throne, but only the uttermost poverty. For what is meaner than a cave? And what is lowlier than swaddling clothes? Yet in them the riches of Thy Divinity shone forth. O Lord, glory be to Thee."
Kontakion. Third Tone
On this day the Virgin beareth the Transcendant in essence; to the Unapproachable, the earth doth offer a small cave; Angels join in choir with shepherds in giving glory; with a star the Magi travel upon their journey; for our sakes is born a young Child, He that existed before the ages as God."
With sincere agape in the Incarnate Word of God,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God