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.
Apolytikion (Dismissal) Hymn of the Nativity of Our Lord and God, and Savior Jesus Christ. Fourth Tone
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.
Hypakoe. Plagal of Fourth Tone
In calling the Magi by a star, Heaven brought the first-fruits of the nations unto Thee, a Babe lying in a manger; and they were astonished that there was neither scepters nor throne, but only the uttermost poverty. For what is meaner than a cave? And what is lowlier than swaddling clothes? Yet in them the riches of Thy Divinity shone forth. O Lord, glory to Thee.
Kontakion Hymn. Third Tone
On this day the Virgin beareth the Transcendent in essence; to the Unapproachable, the earth doth offer a small age; Angels join in choir with shepherds in giving glory; with a star the Magi travel upon they journey; for our sakes is born a young Child, He that existed before the ages as God.
TODAY'S SYNAXARION (THE COMMEMORATION OF TODAY'S SAINTS):
On December 16th 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 and glorious Prophet Haggai; Holy Martyr Marinus of Rome; Holy Martyr Probus (or Promus) and Hilary were perfected in martyrdom by fire; our Father among the Saints Modestus, Archbishop of Jerusalem; Holy and Wonderworking Theophano the Empress, wife of Emperor Leo the Most Wise; our Fathers among the Saints Nicholas Chrysoverges, Patriarch of Constantinople, and Memon, Archbishop of Ephesus; our Righteous Mother Sophia, who in the world was called Solomon, the Great Princes of Moscow.
+By the holy intercessions of Your Holy Martyrs, Holy Prophets, Holy Mothers, Holy Ascetics, Holy Archbishops, Holy Empresses; Holy Righteous, O Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
THE HOLY PROPHET HAGGAI. Born in Babylon in the time of the captivity of Israel, he was of the tribe of Levi. He prophesied in 520 B.C., and visited Jerusalem as a young man. He urged Zerubbabel and Joshua the priest to restore the Temple of the Lord in Jerusalem, prophesying for this Temple greater glory than the former Temple of Solomon: "The glory of this latter house shall be greater than that of the former, saith the Lord of Hosts" (2:9), for the Lord, the Savior, would appear in the new Temple. He lived to see the first half of the new Temple completed by Zerubbabel, and died in old age, and rested with his fathers.
SAINT THEOPHANO THE EMPRESS. She was born of eminent parents, Constantine and Anna, who were kin to several Emperors. Her parents were for a long time childless, and besought the Mother of God to give them a family. God gave them this daughter, Theophano. Imbued with a Christian spirit right from her youth, Theophano outstripped her companions in every Christian virtue. When she had grown up, she entered into marriage with Leo, the son of the Emperor Basil the Macedonian, and endured much misfortune alongside her husband. Reacting to the slander that Leo carried a knife in his breast with which, at the right opportunity, to kill his father, the gullible Basil shut his son and daughter-in-law up in prison, and these two innocent souls spent three years there. Then, one day, on the feast of the holy prophet Elias, the Emperor summoned all his nobles to court for a feast. At one moment, the Emperor's parrot suddenly spoke these words: 'Alack, alack, my Lord Leo!', and it repeated these words a number of times. This caused great confusion among the courtiers, and they all begged the Emperor to release his son and daughter-in-law. The Emperor was touched, and did so. After his father's death, this Leo became Emperor, being called 'the Wise'. Saint Theophano did not consider her imperial dignity to be of much account, but, being utterly given to God, she gave thought to the salvation of her soul, fasting and praying and giving alms, founding monasteries and churches. No lying word ever passed her lips, nor any unnecessary speech or the least slander. At the time of her death, she called together her closest friends and took leave of them, then gave her soul to God, in 892 AD. The Emperor Leo wanted to build a church over her grave, and, when the Patriarch refused to allow this, built the church of All Saints, saying that, if Theophano were a Saint, she would be glorified together with the others. At that time, the fest of All Saints was introduced, to be celebrated on the Sunday after the feast of the Holy Trinity.
TODAY'S SACRED SCRIPTURAL READINGS ARE THE FOLLOWING:
Holy Epistle Lesson: 2 Timothy 3:16-17; 4:1-4
Holy Gospel Lesson: St. Mark 8:22-26
INSPIRING SAYINGS FROM THE HOLY ASCETICS, HOLY MOTHERS AND HOLY FATHERS OF THE CHURCH:
Saint Maximos the Confessor writes: "The friends of Christ love everyone sincerely but are not loved by everyone. The friends of the world do not love everyone nor are they loved by everyone. The friends of Christ maintain the continuity of their love till the end. The friends of the world, on the contrary, maintain theirs until they clash with each other over the world's goods. 'A faithful friend is a strong defense,' for when his friend is prospering he is a good counselor and sympathetic collaborator, and when he is in distress he is his sincere supporter and most sympathetic defender."
By Bishop (Saint) Nikolai Velimirovich (Source: Bishop Nikolai Velimirovic: HOMILIES)
The Gospel on the Light in the Darkness of Egypt (at the Divine Liturgy on the Second Day of Christmas) Saint Matthew 2:13-23
As soon as the first worshippers from afar, the astrologers from the East, had left Bethlehem, "behold the Angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying: 'Arise and take the young Child and His mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word, for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him," God's Angels keep ceaseless vigil, guarding the Divine Child, that such an evil may not happen to Him. They, who had served Him from the creation of the world in the Immortal Kingdom, serve Him now in the temporal kingdom. They constantly marvel how the Immortal Lord of Life has condescended to clothe Himself in mortal flesh, exposed to a thousand dangers; how the King has made Himself a servant-"taking upon Him the form of a servant" (Philippians 2:7). Behold, Angels also come among men, and live near to men, but they are invisible and, in our sense, bodiless. And when they appear to men in bodily form, their appearing is brief and their heavenly bodily form is not as our earthly body that can be wounded or killed. However, Christ was born in a real, earthly body that can be wounded or wounded and killed. And so He flees from before the sword that we may see that He was really a man and not a vision, as some heretics believed. And hence the constant appearing of Angels and hence their careful watchfulness over Him as a weak Child.
"Herod will seek the young Child, to destroy Him." The Angel is speaking of the future. This means that Herod has not yet taken in hand any action against the living Child. But Herod is carrying constant fear of the Child in his heart, and intends to kill Him. No-one on earth yet knows of this intention, but the thoughts of men are an open book to God, easy for Him to read. Only God knows what Herod has in mind against Jesus. He alone can reveal the secret locked in Herod's evil mind. He revealed it to Joseph through His Angel, and Joseph obediently took the young Child and His mother, and fled into Egypt, "that it might be fulfilled that was spoken by the prophet, saying: 'Out of Egypt have I called My Son" (cf. Hosea 11:1).
"Take the young Child, and Mary His mother, and flee into Egypt," God's Angel commands Joseph. Why right to Egypt? Why specifically to Egypt? Why not to some country nearer at hand, such as Syria? Damascus was not in Herod's kingdom. Or to Moab? Or to some nearby province, out of Herod's reach? Egypt is a long way away. Today, it is a whole summer day's journey by train from Jerusalem to the Egyptian frontier, and half a day more to Cairo where, according to tradition, the Holy Family settled. How many long days were needed to cross the sandy desert to Syria and back several times in the time that another could scarcely walk to Cairo. Why did God not give the Prophet a word that would let the Savior find shelter as near to Judea as possible? Why did He allow the young Child Jesus, and His mother who had just given birth, to undertake such a long journey?
So quick are we with our human reasoning and our superfluous questions! Questioning in this way, we forget that the plan of human salvation was made by the Holy Trinity Itself, and there can be no mistakes in that plan. In fulfilling the words of His prophet, God fulfills not the prophet's words but His own. Sending Jesus into Egypt, God had several aims in view, as is the case with all that He does. We men rarely have more than one aim in view when doing one thing, and God rarely has only one aim in view when performing one action. We can freely say that He, in His boundless wisdom, has many aims in every one of His actions. Sending Jesus into Egypt, God's aim was, before all else, to save His Son's life from the slaughter that was about to begin in Bethlehem.
Besides this, God had many other things in view. When Jacob's sons, out of envy, wanted to kill their brother Joseph, did Joseph not find shelter in Egypt? Now when Herod, out of envy, wants to kill Jesus, He finds shelter in Egypt. God, in this way, sought to repeat the same lesson to the hard-headed Jewish people.
(Zigavenus says: "He is sent to Egypt because Babylon and Egypt, more than anywhere else in the world, were consumed by immorality. He therefore sends astrologers from the former, and goes to the latter Himself, desiring to turn the one and the other to the path of truth. In this way, He teaches them and us that the faithful must, from the very beginning, experience suffering.")
Then another instructive comparison can be made between Joseph the benefactor and the Lord Jesus. As Joseph, who was first persecuted because of his purity, becomes, with God's help, the guardian of Egypt and of his enemies-become-brethren, so will persecuted Jesus be the Guardian and the Giver of the Bread of Life, both in Egypt and Israel, and throughout the whole world. Now Jerusalem stones Him, but He will, in His own time, repay Jerusalem with bread.
Lastly, there is an important reason on the general, human level for the Lord Jesus' going to Egypt, and not to some other country. He did not begin His earthly mission (ministry) only at the age of thirty, when He opened His Divine lips and began to teach. He began His mission (ministry) at His conception. At His conception by the Holy Spirit, He already had a follower. This was the Holy Mother of God (Theotokos). Was not Joseph converted to Christ before His birth? Did not His birth open heaven to the shepherds and fill the astrologers (Three Magi) from the East with Truth, prayer and immortality? Did not Herod, together with the hardened leaders and scribes of Jerusalem, fall away from Him and stand against Him while He still lay in the manger? As soon as He was conceived, He became the cornerstone of the palace of salvation, and a stumbling-block to others. As soon as He was conceived, the world around Him began to be divided into sheep and goats. Above all, Mary and Joseph knew Him to be the fruit of the Holy Spirit, Joseph thought Him the fruit of sin. This division lasted only a short time. But the division made at His birth between, one the one hand, the shepherds and eastern astrologers, and Herod and the wise men of Jerusalem winnow. And He began this work from His conception in human flesh, right through to His death and glorious Resurrection, and from His Resurrection to this day, and from this day to the Last Judgment. He did not come into the world just to be a thinker. He leapt into the drama of human life, as into the darkness of Egypt, to be Light and Leader, thinker and actor, sacrifice and victor. Indeed, He began His work in the world at that moment when His messenger, the great Archangel Gabriel, came down to Nazareth and announced His coming.
(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