My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ! ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.
KATAVASIAE FOR THE NATIVITY OF OUR LORD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST
Ode I: Christ is born, give ye glory! Christ cometh from heaven, meet ye Him! Christ is on earth, be ye exalted! O all the earth, sing ye unto the Lord, and chant with gladness, ye people, for He hath been glorified!
Ode III: To Christ God, the Son Who was begotten of the Father without corruption before time began, and in the latter times without seed became incarnate of the Virgin, let us cry aloud: O Lord Who liftest up our horn, holy art Thou!
Ode IV: A rod from the root of Jesse and blossom thereof, O Christ, Thou didst spring forth from the Virgin; from the mountain over-shadowed and densely wooded hast Thou come, incarnate of her who knew no man, O Thou praised and immaterial God. Glory to Thy power, O Lord!
We praise, we bless, we worship the Lord, hymning and supremely exalting Him unto all ages!
Ode VIII: The dew-bearing furnace showed forth the image of a super-natural wonder; for it burned not the youth whom it had received, just as the fire of the Godhead burned not the Virgin, whose womb it had entered. Wherefore, chanting let us sing: Let all creation bless the Lord and exalt Him supremely for all ages!
HOLY NATIVITY FAST: ORTHODOX CHURCH MUSIC IS INSPIRED BY GOD
In Saint Paul's Epistle to the Hebrews, speaking of Christ the High Priest and His sacrifice in the heavenly place we read:
"For if He were on earth, He would not be a priest, since there are priests who offer the gifts according to the law; who serve the copy and shadow of the heavenly things as Moses was divinely instructed when he was about to make the tabernacle. For He said, 'see that you make all things according to the pattern shown you on the mountain."
The most prominent characteristic of Orthodox Church Music is the understanding that this music is inspired by God. It is the music of the angels and inspired by the Holy Spirit and revealed by God. What might be the strangeness, or other worldliness is really the strangeness and other worldliness of the Kingdom of God. The language of hymnography both in Greek and Syriac were not the everyday slang. Those texts would not have been immediately understandable to people who walk in off the street or people who had no familiarity with the language of the Church. The understanding of the texts would only come by living with the texts and living the texts. The music of the Church, most musicologists agree, was not the music of the Hippodrome and the theater.
The lives of certain musical Saints and other miraculous events demonstrated the conviction that God inspired our ecclesiastical music and it is patterned after the worship in heaven. This is demonstrated for example on the 24th of September when we read in church from the Synaxarion, the account of the "Holy God" (the Trisagion that we sing). Thy hymn is of great antiquity and probably older than the event assigned by the book of the Menaion. The tradition recounts that during the reign of Theososius II (408-450 AD) Constantinople was shaken by a violent earthquake and that while the people, the emperor and the Patriarch Proclus of Constantinople were praying for heavenly assistance, a child was suddenly lifted into midair, to whom all cried out "Kyrie eleison." The Child was then seen to descend again to the earth, and in a loud voice he exhorted the people to pray: 'Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal'. After giving this exhortation the child reposed. The Armenians and others were singing "Holy God, Holy Might, Holy Immortal crucified for us." Thus the heretical text was supplanted by the miraculous happening.
On June 11, we read in Church the account of the Axion Estin ("It is truly right to call you blessed") that we sing in the Orthros (Matins) and the Divine Liturgy. According to tradition, an Elder and his disciple lived in a cell on Mount Athos. One Saturday night the Elder left to attend the All-Night Vigil in Karyes. He told his disciple to chant the service alone. That evening an unknown monk who called himself Gabriel came to the cell, and they began the Vigil together. During the Ninth Ode of the Canon when they began to sing "My soul magnifies the Lord" the disciple sang the original hymn "More honorable than the Cherubim..." and afterwards the visiting monk chanted it again, with the words "It is truly meet to call you blessed" preceding the heirmos of the canon. As he sang the holy icon began to radiate with Uncreated Light. The visiting monk said that this is the way we sing it where he came from. When the disciple asked the visiting monk to write it down, he took a piece of roof tile and wrote with his finger as though it were wax. The disciple knew then that this was no ordinary monk, but the Archangel Gabriel. At that moment the Archangel disappeared, but the holy icon of the Mother of God continued to radiate Light for some time afterward. The holy icon of the Mother of God called Eleousa ("Merciful") is the icon before which they first sang "It is truly Meet" and was later transferred to the main Church of Karyes. The tile with the hymn written on it was taken to Constantinople when Saint Nicholas II Chrysoverges was Patriarch (984-996 AD).
Divine inspiration also overshadows the life of Saint Romanus, who was born in the Syrian town of Emesa, and served in the Church in Beirut and then in Constantinople at the cathedral, in the time of Patriarch Euphemius (490-96 AD). Illiterate and with no musical training, he was despised by certain educated clergy. Saint Romanus prayed weeping to the Mother of God, and she appeared to him in a dream held a piece of paper out to him and told him to swallow it. The following day was Christmas Day, and St. Romanus went up to the ambo and with an angelic voice sang: "Today the Virgin comes to the cave" and this has come down to us as the Kontakion hymn of the Feast of Christmas. Receiving the gift of song from the Mother of God, Saint Romanus composed more than a thousand Kontakian hymns. He died in 530 AD.
Saint John Cucuzelis had the Mother of God appear to him twice in his life time. He lived in rare asceticism as a shepherd in the environs of the Great Lavra on Mt. Athos. During the Akathist of the 5th Saturday of Great Lent, Saint John was very tired and sat down near the icon of the Mother of God. The Mother of God appeared to him and said, "John! Sing and never stop singing and for this I will never leave you" and she placed a gold coin in his hand. When he awoke he found himself clutching the coin. Many wonders took place after this with the holy icon and the gold coin.
So in our worship we truly believe that the Birth of Christ, the appearance of the Angels to the shepherds and their singing "Glory to God in the Highest Heaven" does indeed introduce us to the worship of heaven. Saint Paul develops this a step further and says that we should "go on singing in our hearts."
Although we rarely realize this, there are three Liturgies that are going on at any one time. There is the liturgy in heaven in which the Angels are ceaselessly crying out "Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Sabbath". There is the Liturgy in the Church on earth in which we are also crying out, "Holy, Holy, Holy" and there is the personal liturgy of the heart for every believing Orthodox Christian and this unites the liturgy of our heart to the liturgy in the Church and the liturgy in heaven. In other words the Liturgy that goes on within the heart and life of every Orthodox Christian either unites us to heaven or cuts us off from the worship of heaven.
For this, the Angels appeared to the shepherds on that Holy Night, in order to invite them to the worship in heaven. Thus the mission of our Savior's Incarnation is to bring us into this heavenly reality. The quality of our own personal prayer and the practice of the faith in both the religious and moral dimensions are very much impacted by the Divine Liturgy that happens in the local church. Conversely the Liturgy of the local church is very much impacted by the quality of the Liturgy that is going on in our hearts. There is the temple in heaven, the temple on earth, and there is the temple not made by human hands--the human heart, that is, the life of every member of the Church There are three concentric circles; the worship of heaven that envelops the entire cosmos, there is the worship of the Church that envelops each local community, there is the worship that is going on (or should be going on) at this very moment in the heart of each one of us and this inner liturgy commends us, our whole life and each of us to Christ our God.
May God grant that we live and move and have our being with hearts and minds focused on the Kingdom that is already in our midst! May God grant that we "go on singing in our hearts-Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace good will toward men."
With our prayers and good wishes we greet you in this holy season and pray that God gives you every good gift for your health and salvation.
In Christ our Incarnate God,
+ Father Joseph of the Saint Gregory Palamas Greek Orthodox Monastery) [ Perrysville, Ohio]
THE HOLY NATIVITY OF CHRIST
The celebration of the feast of the Nativity of Christ in the Orthodox Church is patterned after the celebration of the feast of the Lord's Resurrection. A fast of forty days precedes the feast, with special preparatory days announcing the approaching Birth of the Savior. Thus, on Saint Andrew's Day (November 30th) and Saint Nicholas Day (December 6th) songs are sung to announce the coming birthday of the Lord.
"Adorn yourself, O Cavern. Make ready, O Manger. O Shepherds and wisemen, bring your gifts and bear witness. For the Virgin is coming bearing Christ in her womb (Vesperal Hymn of Saint Nicholas Day.)
The feast of Christmas was not a separate Church feast for the first four centuries of Christian History. It was celebrated with Epiphany 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 twenty fifth 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 troparion 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 worshiped by all of the elements of nature:
"Thy Nativity, O Christ our God, has shown to the world the light of wisdom! For by it, those who worshiped 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! (Troparion)
Thus, the feast of Christmas 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 of God the Father by the indwelling of His Holy Spirit in us.
MY BLESSING TO ALL OF YOU
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