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 babe 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 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. Matt. 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 Your. 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 You 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..." (Source: A Prayer Book: An Anthology of Orthodox Prayers by Father Peter A. Chamberas)
ON THE INCARNATE LOGOS (WORD) OF GOD
Saint Maximus the Confessor
"In becoming Incarnate, the Logos (Word) of God teaches us the mystical knowledge of God because He shows us in Himself the Father and the Holy Spirit. For the full Father and the full Holy Spirit are essentially themselves incarnate. Rather, the Father gives approval and the Spirit cooperates in the Incarnation of the Son Who effected it, since the Logos remained in possession of His own mind and life, contained in essence by no other than the Father and the Spirit, while Hypostatically realizing out of love for man the union with the flesh." (Source: Commentary on the Our Father)
TODAY'S SYNAXARION (THE COMMEMORATION OF TODAY'S SAINTS):
On December 15th Our Holy Orthodox Christian Church commemorates, honors and entreats the holy intercessions of the following Saints, Forefathers, Fathers, Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, Preachers, Evangelists, Martyrs, Confessors, Ascetics, Teachers, and of every righteous soul made perfect in Our Holy Orthodox Christian faith: Holy Hieromartyr Eleftherius, Bishop of Illyricum; Saint Anthia, the mother of St. Eleftherius, who was beheaded while embracing her dead son; Saint Coremmon the Eparch and who was perfected in martyrdom by the sword; Two Executioners who believed in Christ through St. Eleftherius and were beheaded; Holy Righteous Martyr Susanna the Deaconess of Palestine; Holy Martyr Eleftherius of Byzantium the Chamberlain; Holy Righteous Martyr Bacchus the New of Palestine, the Savvaite, who was beheaded in Jerusalem; Saint Paul the New; Holy Confessor Valerian, Bishop of Abensa in Africa; Saint Maximinus, Egoumenos (Abbot)of Micy near Orleans; Saint Stephen of Cappadocia, Archbishop of Surozh in the Crimea; Saint Trypon of Pechenga, and his martyred disciple Jonas; Holy New Hieromartyr Hilarion of Solovki, the Archbishop, who was slain by the atheists communists in the year of our Lord 1929.
+By the holy Intercessions of Your Saints, Holy Martyrs, Holy Mothers, Holy Bishops, Holy Archbishops, Holy Deaconesses, Holy Confessors, Holy Egoumenoi, Holy Hieromartyrs, O Christ Our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
THE HOLY HIEROMARTYR ELEFTHERIUS, BISHOP OF ILLYRICUM. Saint Eleftherius had Rome as his homeland. Having been orphaned of his father from childhood, he was taken by his mother Anthia to Anicetus, the Bishop of Rome (some call him Anacletus), by whom he was instructed in the sacred letters (that is, the Divine Scripture). Though still very young in years, he was made Bishop of Illyricum by reason of his surpassing virtue, and by his teachings he converted many unbelievers to Christ. However, during a most harsh persecution that was raised against the Christians under the pagan Roman emperor Hadrian (reigned 117-138 AD), the Saint was arrested by the tyrants. Enduring many tortures for Christ, he was finally put to death by two soldiers about the year 126 AD. As for his Christ-loving mother Anthia, while embracing the remains of her son and kissing them with maternal affection, she was also beheaded.
Apolytikion (Dismissal) Hymn. Plagal of First Tone
Being comely adorned in thy sacred robes and newly drenched with the streams of thy pure and sanctified blood, thou didst soar aloft to stand before they Master, Christ; hence never cease to intercede for those honoring with faith thy mighty and blessed contest, thou overthrower of Satan, O wise and blessed Eleftherius.
Kontakion Hymn. Second Tone
We all extol thee as an adornment of priests, O righteous one, and an encourager of trophy-bearers, O Hieromartyr Eleftherius; and we beseech thee: Free from all manner of peril them that celebrate thy memorial with love, and intercede unceasingly in behalf of us all.
TODAY'S SACRED SCRIPTURAL READINGS ARE THE FOLLOWING:
Holy Epistle Lesson: Colossians 3:4-11
Holy Gospel Lesson: St. Luke 14:16-24
INSPIRING SAYINGS FROM THE HOLY ASCETICS, HOLY MOTHERS AND HOLY FATHERS OF THE CHURCH:
"He restores nature to itself not only in that having become man He kept a free will tranquil and undisturbed in the face of nature and did not allow it to become unsettled in its own movement in a way contrary to nature even in the face of those who were crucifying Him; He even chose death at their hands rather than life, as the voluntary character of the passion shows us, which was accomplished by the disposition of love for men by the one who underwent this passion." (Saint Maximos the Confessor)
THE GOSPEL ON THE ASTROLOGERS FROM THE EAST
(At the Divine Liturgy on Christmas Day)
St. Matthew 2:1-12
"Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold there came wide men from the east to Jerusalem, saying: 'Where is He that is born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the east, and are come to worship Him...'
Saint Nikolai Velimirovich (Source: Bishop Nikolai Velimirovic, HOMILIES)
THE NATIVITY III
It is easier for mortal man to measure the depths of the sea and the height of the starry heavens than to measure the depth and height of Divine wisdom in the dispensation of man's salvation. There are therefore many more of the sons of men who give themselves to the former than to the latter. There are more who investigate with their eyes than with their spirit. That which the eyes investigate seems greater, but in fact, that which the spirit investigates is incomparably wider and deeper and longer, "for the Spirit searches all things, yea the deep things of God" (1 Corinthians 2:10).
Who are these mysterious astrologers from the East? And how was it that they came and worshipped the new-born Jesus? We cannot say precisely from which eastern land they came to Jerusalem-from Persia or Egypt, or maybe from Babylon or distant India. Did they, in fact, as a lovely tradition hast it, set out from different eastern lands and, meeting one another, continue together to come and worship the Messiah? But to know from which eastern land they came is a side-issue. The most important thing is that they came in the name of the entire star-worshipping East, to worship the Most Brilliant Star in the heavens in human history. The Evangelist wants to tell us this-that they came from the East in the name of the East, not in the name of just one eastern land or people, to worship the New-Born.
The learned men of the East, to save themselves from the coarse folk-beliefs of the people, began to study the stars and their influence on the lives of men. They were the first to create the science of the stars: that which we call astronomy. This science, though, did not bring freedom to men, but uncovered a yet greater slavery and a greater horror. The eastern astrologers "discovered" that the stars were not, in fact, gods, as the people believed, but that their lordly influence on all living things on earth was so strong and so mathematically exact that no living being was able, by a hairsbreadth of space or a second of time, to free himself this blind and merciless tyranny of the stars. As though the stars were not created for man, but man for the stars! As though they had discovered from it itself that it was not that star of liberation, but only a star that led to the new-born King of the Jews, that He was born in Judea and that they must take Him three gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh!
The Holy Fathers thought, in their wisdom, that this guiding star, that led the astrologers from the East to Bethlehem, was not a star like other stars, but was some spiritual power in the form of a star. If the Lord could appear to Moses the shepherd as a burning bush, and to Abraham as three young men, and to the Prophet Elias as a whirlwind and a voice, why should the Lord, or His Angel, not appear to the astrologers as a star? In His mercy, He comes down to men and appears to them n that form in which men most expect Him. He appeared to the astrologers, who had sought Him among the stars, as a Star. But it was not His good pleasure to appear to the Israelites as a star, for they had never sought Him in the stars. And therefore the star, that had shone before the astrologers throughout their journey through the eastern lands, disappeared over Jerusalem. God had revealed Himself to Jerusalem in another way, and it was not necessary to appear in the form of a star. (St. Jerome, in his "Commentary on Matthew", says: "The star shone in the East so that the Jews, to their shame, learn of the birth of Christ from pagans."
Arriving in Jerusalem, the astrologers told Herod and his chief ministers of the appearing of this strange star, a sign that a new Judean king was born. Herod, and the scribes and sages of Israel, instead of rejoicing, and the people of Jerusalem crying out with joy that they had been given to see that "which many prophets and kings have desired to see...and have not seen" (St. Luke 10:24)-instead of rejoicing, "Herod was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him." Why were they troubled, when they spoke of Him every day, and every day besought God that He would come? Why were they afraid of the coming of the One Whom His forbears had awaited for thousands of years? Their sin confused them, and the evil workings of their souls made them afraid. The righteous awaited the Messiah as a friend, but sinners as a judge. Glued to the earth in mind and body, Herod and the scribes were afraid that the new king would exert pressure on them to unstick themselves from the earth. Herod and the princes of the people were especially afraid that the new King would find them unworthy, depose them from their positions and take new fellow-workers and assistants, and the scribes were also afraid that He would overthrow all their knowledge and drive them, in their old age, to learn new things.
But no-one was as frightened as Herod. Seized on by fear, he called together the chief priests and scribes of the people, to tell him clearly where Christ should be born. He was not a Jew but a foreigner, an Idumean, and so it was possible that he did not know the prophecies concerning the Messiah. Infected with their ruler's fear, the servants quickly leafed through the prophetic books and replied: "In Bethlehem of Judea!" They specifically mentioned that it was the Judean Bethlehem, and not other, for two reasons: firstly, because there was another Bethlehem in Zabulon (Joshua 19:15), and secondly, because the Messiah was expected to come from the tribe of Judah, King David's tribe. The Prophet himself made this clear: "But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the princes of Judah, ye tout of thee shall He come forth unto Me that is to be ruler in Israel" (Micah 5:2; cf. John 7:42).
"They fell down, and worshipped Him." They who had worshipped the stars in fear and trembling, now with great joy fall to the ground and worship the living Lord, Who was come on earth to free them from their slavery to the stars and their belief in blind fate.
"And when they had opened their treasures, they presented to Him gifts: gold and frankincense and myrrh." They brought Him three gifts, unwittingly signifying the Holy and Life-Giving Trinity, in Whose Name the Child Jesus came among men and, in this way, made known the threefold ministry of the Lord Jesus: royal, priestly and prophetic-for gold signifies the imperial, incense the priestly, and myrrh the prophetic or sacrificial. The new-born Child would be the King of the Immortal Kingdom, He would be the sinless Priest and the Prophet and, like most of the prophets before Him, He would be killed. It is clear to all that gold denotes a king and his reign; it is clear that incense denotes prayer immortality: Nicodemus anointed Jesus' dead body with myrrh (St. John 19:39-40; cf. Psalm 44/45:8, and bodies were anointed to keep them from decay and corruption, to preserve them a little longer from the horror of death's destruction. The world was to be illuminated by Christ as by gold; it was to be filled with prayer as a church is filled with the fragrance of His teaching and His body as by myrrh. Together with this, these three gifts signify the enduring and the changeless: gold remains gold, incense remains incense and myrrh remains myrrh: none of them loses its nature in the course of time.
When they were done worshiping in Bethlehem, the astrologers thought to return to Jerusalem, returning home by the way they came. Herod was awaiting them with impatience, and they thought naively to go and share their joy with this joyless ruler. But, "being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way." Saint Gregory the Dialogist says in his "Sermons on the Gospels" [Book 1, Homily X]: "The astrologers have something important to show us in this returning to their own country another way. Our homeland is Paradise. Having come to know Christ, the way is closed for us to return to Paradise by the path by which we came. For we left our homeland by the path of pride, disobedience and prejudice towards the invisible world, the tasting of forbidden fruit, and on the way back, we must follow the path of tears and obedience, the scorning of the visible and the restraining of bodily desires."
...And so, in a brief space of time, there came both shepherds and astrologers, the simplest and the most learned men in the world, under the roof of the cave in Bethlehem to worship Christ. From this we see, be we simple or learned, that we all equally need the Lord Christ and that we must all, with the same humility and obedience, worship Him as the Giver of Life and glorify Him as our God and Savior, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit-the Trinity of one essence and undivided, now and forever, through all time and all eternity. Amen.
(To be continued)
Please note: The holy Nativity Fast is a time of love, reconciliation, repentance, forgiveness, prayer, worship, obedience, peace and faith. Use this sacred time wisely and for the salvation of your souls.
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