My beloved spiritual children 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.
AN EXTEMPORANEOUS PRAYER TO THE IMMANUEL AT CHRISTMAS TIME
Lord, on that Holy Night of Your Birth, the poor shepherds of Bethlehem "went with haste" when they heard the joyous message of the Angel, and they found You "a Baby lying in a manger" (St. Luke 2:16). Even the Wise Men from the East, when they saw Your Star, started their journey from their far away country and came to worship You. And coming to the cave in Bethlehem, they found You "a Child" in the arms of Your All-Holy Mother (St. Matthew 2:11).
How blessed were those simple shepherds and those Wise Men from the East, who found You, the newly born Christ! We, who live more than two thousand years after Your Birth, also desire very much to find You, but we do not succeed in this effort.
You, our True and Living God, live and exist among us, "In You we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28). And yet, we, being children of a materialistic and secular society cannot readily discover You. You can see this for Yourself, Lord. We are celebrating Christmas. And during these days we will find many other things very readily. The stores will be filled with Christmas decorations, games, and gifts, foods and pastries. But how very difficult it will be to find You! Because You, O Divine Child of Bethlehem, are not where we often run to find something in order to celebrate Christmas. This is why we do not find Your readily, Lord. For what is offered to us by our surroundings and what we find with our senses during these days is not at all You, Whom we so desire to find.
We seek to see the beauty of Your Person. O Most Beautiful Lord, and not dolls and decorations. We seek to find You, the True God, to quench the thirst and to satisfy the hunger of our soul, and not food and drink. We seek You, the Priceless One, the unique precious pearl of life, and not money and things. For only when we find You, when we discover You, then only will we achieve what it is we seek with great desire. This is why we ask again, as did the Wise Men of old: "Where is the new-born King? (St. Matthew 2:2). Tell us, then, where can we too, the children of the 21st century, find You, O Eternal King?
"Truly I say to you, inasmuch as you have done it to one of the least of my brothers, you have done it to Me" (St. Matthew 25:40).
Who could have imagined this Truth which You have revealed to us, O Lord? That You, Who are the Infinite and Eternal God, the Great One being sought by our souls, are actually dwelling in the humble hut of the poor; that Your body is lying on the bed of the sick person; that Your eyes are shining in the pale face of a sickly child; that Your hands are tied with the shackles of someone in prison? (St. Matthew 25:35-36). We believe it, Lord, because You Yourself confirm this categorically. But we do not hide it from You. It is not easy even now to recognize You. Our eyes have become dim from the smoke of our materialistic life and we cannot see clearly. Should You, with Your grace and Your Divine Light, cleanse the eyes of our soul, then only will we be able to recognize You among the persons of our suffering brothers and sisters who are in need.
(Source: A Prayer Book: An Anthology of Orthodox Prayers, by Father Peter A. Chamberas)
OUR SPIRITUAL JOURNEY TO CHRISTOUGENNA (THE NATIVITY OF CHRIST)
THE HOLY NATIVITY
By Saint Nikolai Velimirovic, Bishop of Ochrid (Source: Homilies: A Commentary on the Gospel Readings for great feasts and Sundays throughout the year, Vol. 1.)
"And they came with haste, and found Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger."
You can imagine how quickly the shepherds ran up the hill to Bethlehem! Joy lent them wings, and they were quickly with the holy Family. In the cave in which they folded their flocks, He to whom the whole universe is confining found Himself a shelter; in a manger in which they put feed for their flocks, the Heavenly Bread, who gives life to all living things, lay swaddled. The straw that the sheep had left served as a bed for Him Who, from the very creation of the world, had been seated upon the fiery Cherubim. (Bethlehem means "Hose of Bread". The inner meaning of this name was brought to light by the birth of the Lord Jesus, the Heavenly Bread, in that place. "I am the Living Bread which come down from heaven" (St. John 6:51). The Evangelist says that they found Mary and Joseph. Normally, it is the father who is mentioned first, and then the mother. This is the custom today, and was even more so at that time, when a woman was considered secondary to a man. The Evangelist mentions Mary first, contrary to age-old custom. He does this deliberately, in order to emphasize that the Mother of God (Theotokos) is the Savior's only earthly parent, Joseph not being husband but only her helper and protector.
"And when they had seen it, they made known abroad that which was told them concerning this Child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds."
The shepherds certainly had plenty to talk about! Their eyes had seen that which few earthly eyes were given to see; their ears had heard that which few earthly ears were given to hear. "And all they that heard it wondered..." This obviously does not refer just to Mary and Joseph, or he would not have said "all". It must include others in the vicinity of the cave, in Bethlehem, to whom (by God's Providence) the shepherds revealed this most wondrous heavenly mystery.
About Holy Mary, the Evangelist Luke says: "And Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart." The Evangelist is infinitely careful towards the Blessed Virgin. He always watches over her heart, and measures the impressions that come to that most sensitive heart, crowned in marriage with the Holy Spirit. She listened to all that was said, all that heaven and earth had to say about Her Son, and kept all these words in her heart. The time would come for Her to open her lips, to bring forth the riches from the treasury of Her heart and speak of all the mysteries for the Apostles and Evangelists to learn of Her. The time would come for Her to be the Apostle of the apostles, and Evangelist of the evangelists-and this time would come after Her Son was Glorified. When the Firstborn broke forth from the tomb and rose from the dead, the Apostles were to ask among themselves yet again: who is this? Whom were they to ask? Her, her alone on earth. And she would then tell them all that she had kept in her heart-the words of the Archangel at Nazareth and those of the shepherds at Bethlehem, and many, many other words, and mysteries that shone could know from Her closeness to the Apostles' Teacher.
And so, the Lord Jesus was not born in Rome, at Caesar's court, to be the lord of the world by force of arms, but among the shepherds, to reveal in this way the predominant character of His peace-loving service in the world. As a shepherd cherishes and nourishes his flocks, so He cherishes and nourishes all men. And a shepherd is concerned for one sick or wandering sheep more than the ninety-nine that are healthy and safe, so He has more concern for sinners than for the righteous-more for men than for Angels. And as a shepherd knows each one of his sheep, and each sheep knows its shepherd, so will it be with Him, the Great Shepherd, and His rational, human flock. And a shepherd watches over his flock at night, when the whole world is asleep without cares, so will He the Good Shepherd, spend many nights, nights full of terrors and temptations, watching over His human flock and praying for them in humble obedience to His Heavenly Father.
Every event in His life is a complete Gospel in itself. And so then, when He has just been born and is, as yet, unable to open His mouth and utter a single word, He gives mankind an entire Gospel in the manner, place and circumstances of His Birth.
He could not be born at the imperial court, because it is not His task to be an earthly ruler. His Kingdom is not of this world, dark as storm clouds and transient as a dream. He could not be born as the son of an earthly emperor, for His way is not that of fire and the sword, of decree and force, but of the gentle healing of the sick and their gradual restoring to health. The events of His life do not contradict His words, but confirm them. His teaching is contained in His life and His words-His saving Gospel.
All that came to pass in His Coming on earth was wrought with such great wisdom that man's tongue cannot express it. We therefore worship God's wisdom in humility and obedience, for He not only satisfies our human minds but fills our hearts with joy-and we, filled with joy, repeat the Angelic hymn:
"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill among men."
Glory be to the Only-Begotten Son, in heaven and on earth, on the Throne of the Cherubim in heaven and in the straw of Bethlehem on earth, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit, the Trinity consubstantial and undivided, now and forever, through all time and all eternity. Amen.
(To be continued)
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