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.
THY NATIVITY. O Christ our God, hath shined the Light of knowledge upon the world; for thereby they that worshipped the stars were instructed by a star to worship Thee, the Sun of Righteousness, and to know Thee, the Dayspring from on high. O Lord, glory to Thee. (Apolytikion (Dismissal) Hymn. Fourth Tone)
December 26th. The Synaxis of the Most Holy Theotokos.
(This Synaxis--which is to say, our coming together to glorify the Theotokos--is celebrated especially in her honor because she gave birth supernaturally to the Son and Logos (Word) of God, and thus became the instrument of the salvation of mankind.
Kontakion of the Mother of God. Plagal of Second Tone
He that was begotten of the Father before the morning star without a mother, is today on earth become Incarnate of thee without a father; therefore, a star announceth the good tidings to the Magi; and the Angels with shepherds hymn they seedless childbirth, O Full of Grace.
December 27th. The Holy First Martyr and Archdeacon Stefanos (Stephen).
Saint Stefanos (Stephen) was a Jew by race, as some say, a disciple of Gamaliel, the teacher of the Law mentioned in Acts 5:34 and 22:3. He was the first of the Seven Deacons whom the holy Apostles established in Jerusalem to care for the poor, and to distribute alms to them. Being a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, he performed great signs and wonders among the people. While disputing with the Jews concerning Jesus, and wisely refuting their every contradiction, so that no one was able to withstand the wisdom and the spirit whereby he spake, he was slandered as a blasphemer and was dragged off to the Sanhedrin of the elders. Then Saint Stefanos stood before the people, and all saw his face "like the face of an Angel": that is, his face was illumined by the Light of Grace as was the face of Moses when he talked with God. There with boldness he proved from the divine Scripture the coming of the Just One (Jesus), of Whom they had become the betrayers and murderers, and he reproved their faithlessness and hardheartedness. And finally, gazing into Heaven and beholding the Divine Glory, he said: "Lo, I see the Heavens opened and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God." But when they heard this, they stopped up their ears, and with anger cast him out of the city and stoned him, while he was calling out and saying, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." Then, imitating the long-suffering of the Master, he bent his knees and prayed in a loud voice for them that were stoning him, and he said, "Lord, lay not this sin to their charge." And saying this he fell asleep (Acts 6:7), thus becoming the first among the Martyrs of the Church of Christ.
Among his murderers was his kinsman Saul, later the Apostle Paul. At that time, the Most Holy Mother of God was standing on a rock at a distance with Saint John the Theologian and Evangelist, and witnessed the martyrdom of this first Holy Martyr for the Truth of her Son and God, and she prayed, for Saint Stefanos. This happened exactly a year after the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Holy Apostles. Saint Stephen's body was taken secretly and buried by Gamaliel in his own ground. He was a Jewish prince and a secret Christian.
(On the Sunday that falls on or immediately after the 26th of this month, we make commemoration of Saint Joseph, the Betrothed of the Ever-Virgin Mary; David, the Prophet and king; and James, the Brother of God. If there is no Sunday within this period, we celebrate this commemoration on the 26th.)
SAINT JOSEPH (whose name means "one who increases") was the son of Jacob, and the son-in-law--and hence, as it were, the son--of Eli (who was also called Eliakim or Joachim). He was of the tribe of Judah, of the family of David, an inhabitant of Nazareth, a carpenter by trade, and advanced in age when, by God's good will, he was betrothed to the Virgin, that he might minister to the great mystery of God's dispensation in the flesh by protecting her, providing for her, and being known as her husband so that she, being a virgin, would not suffer reproach when she was found to be with child. Saint Joseph had been married before his betrothal to our Lady; they who are called Jesus' "brothers and sisters" (St. Matthew 13:55-56) are the children of Joseph by his first marriage. From Holy Scripture, we know that Saint Joseph lived at least until the twelfth year after the birth of Christ (St. Luke 2:41-52); according to the tradition of the Holy Fathers, he reposed before the beginning of the public ministry of Christ.
Apolytikion (Dismissal) Hymn of the Sunday After the Nativity. Second Tone
O Joseph, proclaim the wonders to David, the ancestor of God. Thou hast seen a Virgin great with child; thou hast given glory with the shepherds; thou hast worshipped with the Magi; and thou hast been instructed through an Angel. Entreat Christ God to save our souls.
Kontakion of the Sunday After the Nativity. Third Tone.
Godly David on this day is filled with gladness of spirit; Joseph also joineth James in offering glory and praises. They rejoice, for as Christ's kinsmen, they have received crowns; and they praise the One ineffably born upon earth as they cry out with a great voice: O Lord of mercy, save them that honor Thy Name.
The child of God and ancestor of God, David, the great Prophet after Moses, sprang from the tribe of Judah. He was the son of Jesse, and was born in Bethlehem (whence it is called the City of David), in the year 1085 B. C. (before Christ). While yet a youth, at the command of God he was anointed secretly by the Prophet Samuel to be the second king of the Israelites, while Saul--who has already been deprived of divine grace--was yet living. In the thirtieth year of his life, when Saul had been slain in battle, David was raised to the dignity of king, first, by his own tribe, and then by all the Israelite people, and he reigned for 40 years. Having lived 70 years, he reposed in 1015 B.C., having proclaimed beforehand that his son Solomon was to be the successor to the throne.
The sacred history has recorded not only the grace of the Spirit that dwelt in him from his youth, his heroic exploits in war, and his great piety towards God, but also his transgressions and failings as a man. Yet his repentance was greater than his transgressions, and his love for God fervent and exemplary; so highly did God honor this man, that when his son Solomon sinned, the Lord told him that He would not rend the kingdom in his lifetime "for David thy father's sake" (II Kings 11:12). Of the kings of Israel, Jesus the son of Sirach testified, "All, except David and Hezekiah and Josias, were defective" (Ecc. 49:4). The name David means "beloved."
His melodious Psalter is the foundation of all the holy services of the Orthodox Church; there is not one holy service that is not filled with Psalms and psalmic verses. It was the means whereby old Israel praised God, and was used by the Holy Apostles and the Lord Himself. It is so imbued with the spirit of prayer that the Monastic Fathers of all ages have used it as their trainer and teacher for their inner life of converse with God. Besides eloquently portraying every state and emotion of the soul before her Maker, the Psalter is filled with prophecies of the Coming of Christ. It foretells His Incarnation, "He bowed the heavens and came down" (Psalm 17:19), His Baptism in the Jordan, "The waters saw Thee, O God, the waters saw Thee and were afraid" (76:15), His Crucifixion in its details, "They have pierced My hands and My feet...They have parted My garments amongst themselves, and for My vesture have they cast lots" (21:16,18). "For My thirst they gave Me vinegar to drink" (68:26). His Descent into Hades, "For Thou wilt not abandon My soul in Hades, nor wilt thou suffer Thy Holy One to see corruption" (15:10) and Resurrection, "Let God arise and let His enemies be scattered" (67:1), His Ascension, "God is gone up in jubilation" (46:5), and so forth.
Please note: December 27th-the feast-day of Saint Stefanos: Orthros (Matins): 9:00 am and Divine Liturgy at 10:00 am).
With sincere agape in the Divine Nativity of Christ our Lord,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God