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.
DISCOURSE ON THE NATIVITY OF CHRIST
Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, was born of the Most Holy Virgin Mary in the city of Bethlehem during the reign of the emperor Augustus (Octavian). Caesar Augustus decreed that a universal census be made throughout all his empire, which then also included Palestinian Israel. The Jews were accustomed to carry out the nation's census-taking according to ancestral-origins, tribes and family-relations. Every ancestral-origin and family-relation had its own designated city as its place of ancestry. The Most Blessed Virgin Mary and Righteous Joseph, descended from the family line of King David, had to go to Bethlehem (the city of David), to register their names on the census-list of Caesar's subjects. At Bethlehem they did not find a single place vacant at any of the city's inns. In the celebrated cave, used as a stable, amidst the hay and the straw, strewn about as food and bedding for the cattle, far from the hearth of home, amidst people that were total strangers, on the cold winter night, and in a setting deprived not only of worldly grandeur but even of the basic amenities--was born the God-Man, the Savior of the world. "I behold a strange and most glorious mystery,--with awe sings Holy Church,--Heaven--the cave; the throne of Cherubim--the Virgin; the manger--the crib, in which lay the placeless Christ God" (Irmos in 9th Ode of the Festal Canon). Without defilement having given birth to the Divine Infant the Most Holy Virgin, Herself without help from strangers, "wraps Him in swaddling clothes and places Him in the manger" (St. Luke 2). But amidst the midnight stillness, when all mankind was shrouded in its deepest sinful sleep, the proclaiming of the Birth of the Savior of the world was heard by the shepherds, watching their flocks by night. And the great joy, which shall be for all people, for this day is born unto you the Savior, Which be Christ the Lord in the city of David." The humble shepherds were the first deemed worthy to offer worship for the salvation of mankind unto He That hath condescended to "the image of an humble servant". Besides the Angelic glad tidings to the Bethlehem shepherds, the Nativity of Christ by means of a wondrous star was made known to Magi "knowing the stars", and in the person of these Eastern wise-men all the pagan world, imperceptibly--bent down upon its knees before the True Savior of the world, the God-Man. Entering wherein the Infant lay, the wise-men Magi--"falling down they worshiped Him, and opening their treasure they presented Him gifts: gold and frankincense and myrrh" (St. Matthew 2:11).
In remembrance of the Nativity in the flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, the feast day was established by the Church. Its very origin is related to the times of the Apostles. In the Apostolic Constitutions it says: "Brethren, observe the feast days, and among the chief such the day of the Birth of Christ, which make ye celebration of on the 25th day of the tenth moth" (from March, which in those days began the year)…There also in another place it said: "Celebrate ye the day of the Nativity of Christ, in the which unseen grace is given man by the birth of the Logos (Word) of God from the Virgin Mary for the salvation of the world".
In the 2nd Century also Saint Clement of Alexandria indicates that the day of Nativity of Christ 25th December. In the III Century as before Saint Hypolitus of Rome makes mention concerning the feast day of the Nativity of Christ, and designates the Gospel readings for this day from the beginning chapters of Saint Matthew. It is known also, that during the time of persecution of Christians by the pagan emperor Maximian in the year 302 A.D., the Nativity of Christ (Comm. 28 December). In that same century, but later on after the official religion in the Roman Empire, we find the feast day of the Nativity of Christ observed throughout all the Universal Church. And this is evidenced from the works of Saint Ephraim the Syrian, Saint Basil the Great, Saint Gregory the Theologian, Saint Gregory of Nyssa, Saint Ambrose of Milan, Saint John Chrysostom and other Holy Fathers of the Church of the IV Century concerning this feast day. Saint John Chrysostom, in his sermon which he gave in the year 385 A.D., points out the feast of the Nativity of Christ is ancient and indeed very ancient. In this same century also at the place of the Bethlehem Cave, made famous by the Birth of Jesus Christ, the Equal-to-the-Apostles Empress St. Helen erected a church, which her mighty son St. Constantine the Great strove after her to make resplendent. In the Codex of the emperor Theodosius from 438, and of the emperor Justinian--in 535 A.D., is promulgated as law the universal celebration of the day of Nativity of Christ. It is in this sense, truly, that Nicephoros Kallistos, a writer of the XIV Century, says in his history that the emperor Justinian in the VI Century established the celebration of the Nativity of Christ throughout all the world.
However, during the first three centuries, when persecutions hindered the freedom of Christian Divine-services, in certain places in the East--in the Churches of Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria and Cyprus--the feast day of the Nativity of Christ was combined together with the feast day of the Baptism of Christ 6 January, under the in-common term "Theophany" ["Bogoyavlenie"--which both in the Greek and the Slavonic means "Manifestaion of God"]. The reason for this, actually, was from the view, that Christ was baptized at a later time on His birthday, as might be inferred concerning this from the discourse of Saint John Chrysostom who, in one of the sermons on the Nativity of Christ says: "It is not that day on which Christ was born which is called Theophany, but rather that day on which He was baptized". Towards such like a viewpoint also it is possible to consider a nuance in the words of the Evangelist Luke who, speaking about the Baptism of Jesus Christ, testifies, that then "Jesus being [incipient, arkomenos] upon His thirtieth year" (St. Luke 3:23). The Churches continued to the end of the IV Century, and in some--until the V or even the VI Century. Remembrance of the ancient conjoining of the feasts of the Nativity of Christ and Theophany at present enters into the making of the order of services in the celebration of these feasts. For both--on the eve-day preceding the feast, there is a similar tradition among the people, that on the festal eve-days the fast ought to be kept until the stars appear. The order of Divine-services on the eve of both feast days and the feast days themselves is done the same.
The day of the Nativity of Christ from of old was numbered by the Church among the twelve great feasts,--in accord with the Divine witness of the Gospel in depicting these festal events as the greatest, most all-joyful and wondrous, "Behold, I proclaim unto you glad tidings--said the Angel to the Bethlehem shepherds,--of great joy, for all mankind. For unto you this day is born the Savior, Who is Christ the Lord, in the city of David. And this for ye is the sign: ye will find the Infant wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. Then suddenly with the Angel was a multitude of the heavenly hosts, glorifying God for everything they had heard and seen" (St. Luke 2: 10-20). Thus the Nativity of Christ, as an even most profound and extraordinary, was accompanied by the wondrous tidings to the shepherds and the Magi about the universal rejoicing for all mankind--"for the Savior is born", by the Angelic proclamation of glory to the new-born Savior, by the worship to him by shepherds and wise-men, by the reverent awe of many, hearkening to the words of the shepherds about the new-born Child, amidst glory and praise of Him by the Shepherds.
In accord with the Divine witness of the Gospel, the Holy Fathers of the Church in their God-imbued writings also depict the feast of the Nativity of Christ as most profound, universal and all-joyous, which serves as a basis and foundation for all the other feast days.
Christ is Born! Glorify Him!
by Saint Gregory Thavmatourgos
MY BLESSSING 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.
Glory Be To GOD For All Things!
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God