The Observance of the Holy Nativity Fast

Prophet Obadiah (Abdias)

My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,


Apolytikion (Dismissal) Hymn of the Eve of the Holy Nativity of Christ. Fourth Tone

As the fruit of David's seed, Mary was registered of old with the Elder Joseph in the little town of Bethlehem, when she conceived with a seedless and pure conception. Behold, the time was come that she should bear her Child, but no place was found within the inn for them; yet the cave proved a delightful palace for the pure Lady and Queen of all. For Christ is born now to raise the image that had fallen aforetime.

Kontakion Hynm of the Eve of the Holy Nativity of Christ. Third Tone

On this day the Virgin cometh to the cave to give birth to God the Word ineffably, Who was before all the ages. Dance for joy, O earth, on hearing the gladsome tidings; with the Angels and the shepherds now glorify Him Who is willing to be gazed on as a young Child Who before the ages is God.


Beloved in Christ,

We greet you as we prepare for the Great Feast of our Lord's Nativity and Holy Theophany. This is a season when not only the hymnody and singing in Church shines with a special beauty and power, but also the singing of traditional carols from our ethnic heritages together with the great carols that were written in English resounds with the joy and message of the Angels.

In the coming great feast we will hear the account of our Lord's Birth from the Gospel according to Saint Luke. The song of the Angels after they had announced the Birth of the promised Messiah reads, "And suddenly there was with the Angels a multitude of the heavenly hosts, praising God, saying "Glory to God in the highest and on earth, peace good will toward men..." These words, so well known to us as the introduction to the Great Doxology, (sung toward the conclusion of the Sunday Orthros (Matins) and the Orthodox Great Feasts and Great Saints), and said by the priest in his prayers before the Divine Liturgy, introduces us to the worship that is going on in heaven at this moment and every moment. That song of the Angels announces that the event that happened in Bethlehem has an impact on both heaven and earth. We understand that this amazing event connects heaven and earth and unites men and the Angels.

The worship of the Church continues and amplifies the worship in heaven. Singing is a big part of that celestial worship, just as singing is a big part of the worship of the Church on earth. We take it for granted that singing is a part of the received tradition of the Church. We should also understand that the songs that we sing, both text and melody, come from this received tradition. Early Christians simply did what they had been doing in the synagogue, and this too is part of the inspired self-disclosure of God. In the letters of Saint Paul, he admonishes the faithful to "sing psalms, and hymns and spiritual songs" at least 2 times. This occurs in Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16. "Do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit. Speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord".

In Colossians 3:19 Saint Paul writes: "Let the Word of Christ dwell in your richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord." It is almost certain that the recipients of Saint Paul's letters immediately understood, what those songs and their melodies were, and their place in the Liturgical life of the community.

The psalms were sung in the Temple and the Synagogue, in processions that ascended the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Since Christianity is the renewal and fulfillment of the Old Covenant it was only natural that in the early days of Christianity psalms were sung in the way customary for the Jewish Synagogue. That is, the presenter sang the whole psalm and the congregation or choir responded after each verse with an interpolated phrase. In the East this was usually a verse taken from the psalms, or as in the case of the Divine Liturgy the two antiphons "Through the intercessions of the Theotokos" and "Son of God who is risen from the dead" were sung after each verse. The Prokeimena at Vespers, Matins and before the Epistle is what remains of this antiphonal psalm singing.

There is also evidence that the Psalms were sung antiphonally between two choirs as we do in monasteries. The earliest evidence that we have of this comes from the 4th century but we may assume that this practice was so well established and so self-evident that there was no need to write this. Eusebius in his Ecclesiastical History, refers to the writings of Philo (30 BC) which speaks of a sect of Jews who practice alternate singing between men and women and then uniting. Eusebius says that these are obviously the Christians of the 1st Century.

To the 150 Biblical Psalm are added the Biblical Odes that were lifted out of the Holy Scriptures, but were undoubtedly part of the worship in the Old Testament and the New Testament. In the early fifth century a list of 14 canticles was listed in the Codex Alexandrinus. These include the 9 Biblical odes that we use in the Canon of Orthros/Matins as well as the Prayer of Manasses and the Great Doxology. Scholars believe that there is no reason to doubt that these odes would have been used well before the 5th century.

The hymns of which Saint Paul speaks are composed hymns that were deeply rooted in the practice of the Temple. These were melodies that provided the music and structure for the rhythm of the poetry, or the hymn writer could compose his own melody. In the 3rd century there was a strong Orthodox reaction against these composed hymns and paraphrases of psalms, all new hymns were condemned and only those to be found in the Holy Scriptures were tolerated. It seems that heretics were distorting the faith through the use of persuasive and beautiful words and music. This explains why there are so few hymns that remain from the 1st century of Christianity. However they played too imported a role in public worship to be suppressed, and so by the 4th century Saint Ephraim the Syrian composed hymns, and organized women to sing hymns on the street that combated the heresy of Origen.  By altering heretical passages and putting new words (lyrics) to melodies of pagan or Gnostic origin the old practice was restored and flourished.

When Saint Paul speaks of "spiritual songs" scholars say that he is speaking of melismatic triumphal songs of joy. Saint Augustine describes the character of the songs of exultation: "he who jubilates, speaks no words: it is a song of joy without words." This seems obvious that these are the melismatic melodies of the Alleluias and other exultant songs of praise, which again the Jewish Christians brought with them from the Temple and Synagogue into the Church. Words like Alleluia, Amen, Hosana, have never been translated into Greek or Latin. These words and the music accompanying them are the basis for those florid melismatic songs that go beyond words in expressing the ecstatic joy of the Christian people. Like the bodiless voices in heaven, we have the wordless utterances of the Spirit on earth.

Even if we accepted the view of one group of musical historians (certainly not all scholars) that says that Byzantine Music is simply the music of the ancient Greeks. We must say that there is an entirely different spirit and context in which this music is sung in the church. For one thing the ancient Greek philosophers either deified the body or they saw it as a prison and therefore the body and passions needed to be deadened. Christians believing in the bodily Resurrection of Jesus Christ, see the body as the temple of the Holy Spirit, the dwelling place of God Himself, and the passions are movements of the soul that need to be directed away from the carnal pleasures and directed toward God. Thus the body and passions are to be transfigured and transformed according to the image of Christ. We need to have a soul that delights and desires God and a body that is spiritual--that is energized and motivated by the Holy Spirit and not a carnal soul and body that is tied to the dust of the earth because of its addiction to the physical pleasures.

The worship and life of the Church is a therapeutic method by which the person comes to his senses and finds life. The healing and rediscovery of our true identity happens through the liturgical and ascetical method of the Church. Prayer both personal and corporate, silent and spoken, fasting, and almsgiving (philanthropy) are meant to silence the noise and distractions of the appetites that drain us of natural and spiritual energy.

Therefore the music of the Church--Byzantine music-functions in a therapeutic way to calm and redirect the senses. The music is not too loud and not too soft, not too fast and not too slow. If it is working well, the experience of the music of the Church gives a feeling similar to going to the ocean or a vista from a high mountain. Deep peace and calm should prevail. The basic rhythm and pulse of this Church music is the rhythm of the heartbeat.

In other words ecclesiastical music/Byzantine music, iconography, church architecture and all of the arts employed in the worship of the One True God are never ends in themselves. They point beyond themselves to the worship of God in "Trinity, and they are servants of the "Logos" ("Word"). The ethos and spirit of this music is not culturally relevant nor has it ever tried to be culturally relevant because it calls our attention to a kingdom that is not of this world. As Saint Gregory Palamas clearly articulated, the Old Testament Church and the New Testament Church always understood, that those who have mortified their carnal passions and purified themselves can experience God in a way that is direct and unmediated. This experience which our liturgical life conveys to us, is really only perceived by those who are practicing the faith. So for those who fast and pray, practice the Gospel Commandments and are making a sustained and constant effort to focus on prayer, for those who are trying to "pray without ceasing"--the music of the Church, Byzantine chant, is really part and parcel of the experience of the presence of God. The point that that needs to be made is that Byzantine music cannot be separated from the liturgical/dogmatic, ascetical/mystical life and the moral and practical life of the believer. It is all one complete fabric and one complete whole.

Byzantine Music is not of this world or about this world and we can clearly say that Byzantine music, as a component Orthodox worship is the worship of the revealed God. This form of worship was revealed to Moses on Mt. Sinai and continued to be revealed to the Apostles and the Holy Fathers. All those details about the sanctuary, the tabernacle, the table for the Holy Bread, the lamp stand, the golden censer, the altar, the vestments, the curtains, all this is what is called "the pattern." The revealed worship on earth is a pattern of the worship that is in heaven. What we do, we understand to be a shadow and pattern of what goes on in heaven. Our worship in the Church on earth is not a product of our own imagination and creativity. The worship that is Orthodox has been given to us and is inspired by the Holy Spirit. The worship of the Orthodox Church is a continuation of the temple, in which the glory of God descends and dwells. [Source: Saint Gregory Palamas Greek Orthodox Monastery)

(To be continued)



The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.

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

+Father George