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Archive for the ‘Advent and Christmas’ Category

Very Reverend Protopresbyters, Very Reverend and Reverend Fathers, and dearly-beloved faithful of our God-saved Diocese:

CHRIST IS BORN! GLORIFY HIM!
CHRISTOS RAZDAJETSJA! SLAVITE JEHO!

“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.”   Galatians 4:4

Last year, at this festive time, I received a Christmas card which many people, I’m sure, would have found quite unusual, and yet for us Orthodox Christians, it was very appropriate. It did not depict the Christ Child in the cave surrounded by the Theotokos and Joseph, nor the adoration of the shepherds or the Magi, nor even hosts of angels singing the praises of God. Instead, it revealed the 40-day old Messiah, held in the arms of the righteous Elder Symeon, while His parents looked on. We know, of course, that this is the Feast that we now call the Meeting of the Lord in the Temple. The image was not an Orthodox icon, but it was a rather realistic portrayal of this event, and one which struck a chord in my own heart and soul. While we view the two feasts as separate events, they do share a commonality which unites them and all of the celebrations of this forty-day period and beyond. And that motif pertains to the law, and the fulfillment of and obedience to the law.

Beginning with the above epistle verse, the Holy Apostle Paul tells us that God the Father sent His Son Jesus Christ into the world as a human male. In order to do so, He, God Himself, became obedient to the law of nature, the Creator entering into creation in the same manner that every human being must. This is a profound concept of our Christian theology. Since man brought about his own downfall, he had to accept the responsibility for it and had to play a part in his own redemption. But he was totally incapable of doing that; God alone could redeem mankind. The Son of God united Himself with humanity through this miraculous and unusual birth, becoming what He had not been before; now He is the God-man (Theanthropos). He was a human man in every way except sin. And through Him our eternal salvation was accomplished! The Nativity was not an imaginary event nor a phantasm, “not in semblance or guise” as a hymn of our Church says, but a true human birth. Early heresies attempted to dispute and disprove this, but failed. The Orthodox Church clearly and precisely proclaimed the truth of this dogma. Unfortunately many people have once again succumbed to these errors in recent decades.

Not only did our Lord submit to the laws of nature, he also fulfilled the prescriptions of His own religious laws; first, that of circumcision, which initiated Him into the Hebrew faith. He did not try to circumvent this ritual of which He had no need; instead He embraced it. Listen to other hymns of our Holy Church:

“As the Fulfiller of the law, and One in nowise opposed to God, Christ showed Himself to be incarnate, and has deigned of His own will to be circumcised on the eighth day.”

“The all-good God was not ashamed to be circumcised with the circumcision of the flesh, but provided Himself as an example and pattern for all, for their salvation.”

On the fortieth day, again He was obedient to those God-given laws which directed the people to present their male infants to God as an offering of thanksgiving. “Now when the days of her purification (the Virgin Mary’s) according the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, ‘Every male who opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord’) and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the law of the Lord, ‘A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.'” (Luke 2:22-24)

“Receive, O Symeon, Him Whom Moses beheld in the gloom of Sinai giving the law, and Who has become a Babe, submitting to the law…” and

“He Who loves mankind, fulfilling the law of the Scriptures, is now borne into the temple…”

are but portions of the many stichiri which emphasize this truth.

At age twelve, after having been found in the temple, preaching to and teaching the elders, we learn that “He (Jesus) went down with them to Nazareth and was subject to them (his parents)… ” In this we see the laws of society and family to which God was also obedient!

The Gospels continue to inform us that the Christ, the Son of God, was baptized, prayed, fasted, attended Sabbath worship every week, gave alms, celebrated all of the Jewish festivals; in essence, He was obedient to the law in every detail. He is God, and He sets the example for us to follow! By being subservient to the laws, He demonstrated His own love of God the Father and His obedience to Him, even though He was equal to Him!

Thus it is, that once again our God, the Child of Bethlehem, sets the example for us to follow. So often today, people, even faithful people, do not want to obey the laws of God, of nature, of the Church, of our families, or of society. They are tempted to set them aside or toss them out altogether in deference to their own standards and egos, insisting that they can do without many of the laws that do not really apply to them and because they know better what is best for them.

But when we pause to contemplate that our loving Saviour, the Son of God Himself, submitted to laws when, as God, He was certainly not obligated to do so, He shows us the way, because He is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” (John 14:6) Laws have been established for the good and welfare of humanity, and when we are obedient to them, we are successful and do well in life, whether our physical or spiritual life. Being obedient to and submitting our often-stubborn self-will to the will of God, then we learn and practice one of the greatest virtues that the Incarnation calls us to learn; that is, or course, HUMILITY! God as a tiny human baby is the HEIGHT OF HUMILITY!!! As children of God, it is our sacred duty to continue to study the Laws of God daily and for all the days of our lives, and to obey them without reservation, because our God loves us and cares for us that much! Each of us needs to recommit ourselves to obedience of the laws of God so that we will be imitators of His own humility.

What the angels announced on that Holy Night two millennia ago, and what was revealed to the world, finds its culmination and fulfillment throughout this entire season. The message is the same; may we learn it and live it.

Beseeching peace, great joy, good health, and salvation for you and yours and imparting my archpastoral blessing upon each of you on this glorious and saving Feast, I remain

Most sincerely yours in the Christ Child,

+METROPOLITAN NICHOLAS

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Collect of the Day: The Holy Innocents (Anglican)

“We remember today, O God, the slaughter of the holy innocents of Bethlehem by King Herod. Receive, we pray, into the arms of your mercy all innocent victims; and by your great might frustrate the designs of evil tyrants and establish your rule of justice, love and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”

 

Today in the Orthodox Church (the 28th in the Catholic/Anglican, and the 27th in the Syrian Church) is the celebration (or should I say commemoration) of the Feast of the Holy Innocents. The feast is centered around King Herod’s wicked act of the murdering of the children in Bethlehem:

 

Matthew 2:16-18 (King James Version)

Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men. [17] Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying,

“In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.”

 

This Feast is a commemoration of what many call the “first martyrs” for Christ, the innocent children who were slew by Herod’s men in attempt to kill the Jewish Messiah, that the Magi had concerned the King with. In the west, the Liturgical vestments are red to indicate that this was martyrdom. Another interesting thing is that this Feast is also a time in many churches to reflect and mourn the death of the millions of children disposed of in the abortion clinics. God help us!

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Dear Brothers and Sisters! “You are my son, this day I have begotten you” with this passage from Psalm 2 the Church begins the liturgy of this holy night. She knows that this passage originally formed part of the coronation rite of the kings of Israel.

The king, who in himself is a man like others, becomes the “Son of God” through being called and installed in his office. It is a kind of adoption by God, a decisive act by which he grants a new existence to this man, drawing him into his own being.

The reading from the prophet Isaiah that we have just heard presents the same process even more clearly in a situation of hardship and danger for Israel: “To us a child is born, to us a son is given. The government will be upon his shoulder” (Is 9:6).

Installation in the office of king is like a second birth. As one newly born through God’s personal choice, as a child born of God, the king embodies hope. On his shoulders the future rests. He is the bearer of the promise of peace.

On that night in Bethlehem this prophetic saying came true in a way that would still have been unimaginable at the time of Isaiah. Yes indeed, now it really is a child on whose shoulders government is laid. In him the new kingship appears that God establishes in the world. This child is truly born of God.

It is God’s eternal Word that unites humanity with divinity. To this child belong those titles of honor which Isaiah’s coronation song attributes to him: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Is 9:6). Yes, this king does not need counselors drawn from the wise of this world. He bears in himself God’s wisdom and God’s counsel.

In the weakness of infancy, he is the mighty God and he shows us God’s own might in contrast to the self-asserting powers of this world. Truly, the words of Israel’s coronation rite were only ever rites of hope which looked ahead to a distant future that God would bestow. None of the kings who were greeted in this way lived up to the sublime content of these words.

In all of them, those words about divine sonship, about installation into the heritage of the peoples, about making the ends of the earth their possession (Ps 2:8) were only pointers towards what was to come as it were signposts of hope indicating a future that at that moment was still beyond comprehension.

Thus the fulfillment of the prophecy, which began that night in Bethlehem, is both infinitely greater and in worldly terms smaller than the prophecy itself might lead one to imagine. It is greater in the sense that this child is truly the Son of God, truly “God from God, light from light, begotten not made, of one being with the Father.”

The infinite distance between God and man is overcome. God has not only bent down, as we read in the Psalms; he has truly “come down,” he has come into the world, he has become one of us, in order to draw all of us to himself. This child is truly Emmanuel God-with-us. His kingdom truly stretches to the ends of the earth.

He has truly built islands of peace in the world-encompassing breadth of the holy Eucharist. Wherever it is celebrated, an island of peace arises, of God’s own peace. This child has ignited the light of goodness in men and has given them strength to overcome the tyranny of might.

This child builds his kingdom in every generation from within, from the heart. But at the same time it is true that the “rod of his oppressor” is not yet broken, the boots of warriors continue to tramp and the “garment rolled in blood” (Is 9:4f) still remains. So part of this night is simply joy at God’s closeness.

We are grateful that God gives himself into our hands as a child, begging as it were for our love, implanting his peace in our hearts. But this joy is also a prayer: Lord, make your promise come fully true. Break the rods of the oppressors. Burn the tramping boots.

Let the time of the garments rolled in blood come to an end. Fulfill the prophecy that “of peace there will be no end” (Is 9:7). We thank you for your goodness, but we also ask you to show forth your power. Establish the dominion of your truth and your love in the world the “kingdom of righteousness, love and peace.”

“Mary gave birth to her first-born son” (Lk 2:7). In this sentence Saint Luke recounts quite soberly the great event to which the prophecies from Israel’s history had pointed. Luke calls the child the “first-born.” In the language which developed within the sacred Scripture of the Old Covenant, “first-born” does not mean the first of a series of children.

The word “first-born” is a title of honor, quite independently of whether other brothers and sisters follow or not. So Israel is designated by God in the Book of Exodus (4:22) as “my first-born Son,” and this expresses Israel’s election, its singular dignity, the particular love of God the Father.

The early Church knew that in Jesus this saying had acquired a new depth, that the promises made to Israel were summed up in him. Thus the Letter to the Hebrews calls Jesus “the first-born,” simply in order to designate him as the Son sent into the world by God (cf. 1:5-7) after the ground had been prepared by Old Testament prophecy.

The first-born belongs to God in a special way and therefore he had to be handed over to God in a special way as in many religions and he had to be ransomed through a vicarious sacrifice, as Saint Luke recounts in the episode of the Presentation in the Temple. The first-born belongs to God in a special way, and is as it were destined for sacrifice.

In Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross this destiny of the first-born is fulfilled in a unique way. In his person he brings humanity before God and unites man with God in such a way that God becomes all in all. Saint Paul amplified and deepened the idea of Jesus as firstborn in the Letters to the Colossians and to the Ephesians: Jesus, we read in these letters, is the first-born of all creation the true prototype of man, according to which God formed the human creature.

Man can be the image of God because Jesus is both God and man, the true image of God and of man. Furthermore, as these letters tell us, he is the first-born from the dead. In the resurrection he has broken down the wall of death for all of us. He has opened up to man the dimension of eternal life in fellowship with God.

Finally, it is said to us that he is the first-born of many brothers. Yes indeed, now he really is the first of a series of brothers and sisters: the first, that is, who opens up for us the possibility of communing with God. He creates true brotherhood not the kind defiled by sin as in the case of Cain and Abel, or Romulus and Remus, but the new brotherhood in which we are God’s own family.

This new family of God begins at the moment when Mary wraps her first-born in swaddling clothes and lays him in a manger. Let us pray to him: Lord Jesus, who wanted to be born as the first of many brothers and sisters, grant us the grace of true brotherhood.

Help us to become like you. Help us to recognize your face in others who need our assistance, in those who are suffering or forsaken, in all people, and help us to live together with you as brothers and sisters, so as to become one family, your family. At the end of the Christmas Gospel, we are told that a great heavenly host of angels praised God and said: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!” (Lk 2:14).

The Church has extended this song of praise, which the angels sang in response to the event of the holy night, into a hymn of joy at God’s glory “we praise you for your glory.” We praise you for the beauty, for the greatness, for the goodness of God, which becomes visible to us this night. The appearing of beauty, of the beautiful, makes us happy without our having to ask what use it can serve.

God’s glory, from which all beauty derives, causes us to break out in astonishment and joy. Anyone who catches a glimpse of God experiences joy, and on this night we see something of his light. But the angels’ message on that holy night also spoke of men: “Peace among men with whom he is pleased.” The Latin translation of the angels’ song that we use in the liturgy, taken from Saint Jerome, is slightly different: “peace to men of good will.”

The expression “men of good will” has become an important part of the Church’s vocabulary in recent decades. But which is the correct translation? We must read both texts together; only in this way do we truly understand the angels’ song. It would be a false interpretation to see this exclusively as the action of God, as if he had not called man to a free response of love.

But it would be equally mistaken to adopt a moralizing interpretation as if man were so to speak able to redeem himself by his good will. Both elements belong together: grace and freedom, God’s prior love for us, without which we could not love him, and the response that he awaits from us, the response that he asks for so palpably through the birth of his son.

We cannot divide up into independent entities the interplay of grace and freedom, or the interplay of call and response. The two are inseparably woven together. So this part of the angels’ message is both promise and call at the same time. God has anticipated us with the gift of his Son.

God anticipates us again and again in unexpected ways. He does not cease to search for us, to raise us up as often as we might need. He does not abandon the lost sheep in the wilderness into which it had strayed. God does not allow himself to be confounded by our sin.

Again and again he begins afresh with us. But he is still waiting for us to join him in love. He loves us, so that we too may become people who love, so that there may be peace on earth. Saint Luke does not say that the angels sang. He states quite soberly: the heavenly host praised God and said: “Glory to God in the highest” (Lk 2:13f.).

But men have always known that the speech of angels is different from human speech, and that above all on this night of joyful proclamation it was in song that they extolled God’s heavenly glory. So this angelic song has been recognized from the earliest days as music proceeding from God, indeed, as an invitation to join in the singing with hearts filled with joy at the fact that we are loved by God. Cantare amantis est, says Saint Augustine: singing belongs to one who loves.

Thus, down the centuries, the angels’ song has again and again become a song of love and joy, a song of those who love. At this hour, full of thankfulness, we join in the singing of all the centuries, singing that unites heaven and earth, angels and men. Yes, indeed, we praise you for your glory. We praise you for your love. Grant that we may join with you in love more and more and thus become people of peace. Amen.

___

Copyright Vatican Publishing House

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Much has been said about St. Matthew’s use of Isaiah, so there is not really any need for me to write up a whole blog post on it. I would like to let those without training in this subject be directed to one of my former profs, Dr. Alan Streett, who does a nice write up on the subject: http://already-not-yet.blogspot.com/2010/12/virgin-birth-and-isaiah-714.html

 

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I attended a beautiful service at the church that I attend, Church of the Incarnation, last night. It was the classic ‘Lessons and Carols’ service that the Church of England began in 1880’s England, yet became famous in 1918 with King’s College, Cambridge.

Honestly, the service was one of the most Christocentric services I have ever been to– Tracing the promise of the Messiah from Eden to His incarnation, through song and sacred scripture. Not only that, but the spirit of the Lord seemed to have been heavy in that place of worship. The choir was breath taking, and I do believe Christ Jesus received our prayers and praise like precious incense unto his nostrils.

The order of the liturgy and more info can be found on the link below. They will have the same service on the 18th at Incarnation, and I do hope you can make it!

http://www.incarnation.org/events/Lessons-Carols

 

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One of the Most beautiful hymns in all of Christendom. It was most likely translated  by St Hilary of Poitiers in the 300s AD from Greek to Latin. The song draws on the angelic announcement to the shepherds concerning the birth of Messiah, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2:14), and thus it is known as the Angelic Hymn. With the addition of the other verses, it forms what is often called the Greater Doxology.

Latin Text

Glória in excélsis Deo
et in terra pax homínibus bonae voluntátis.
Laudámus te,
benedícimus te,
adorámus te,
glorificámus te,
grátias ágimus tibi propter magnam glóriam tuam,
Dómine Deus, Rex cæléstis,
Deus Pater omnípotens.
Dómine Fili Unigénite, Iesu Christe,
Dómine Deus, Agnus Dei, Fílius Patris,
qui tollis peccáta mundi, miserére nobis;
qui tollis peccáta mundi, súscipe deprecatiónem nostram.
Qui sedes ad déxteram Patris, miserére nobis.
Quóniam tu solus Sanctus, tu solus Dóminus, tu solus Altíssimus,
Iesu Christe, cum Sancto Spíritu: in glória Dei Patris. Amen.
English Text
Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace to people of good will.
We praise you,
we bless you,
we adore you,
we glorify you,
we give you thanks for your great glory,
Lord God, heavenly King,
O God, almighty Father.
Lord Jesus Christ, Only-begotten Son,
Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father,
you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us;
you take away the sins of the world, receive our prayer.
you are seated at the right hand of the Father, have mercy on us.
For you alone are the Holy One, you alone are the Lord, you alone are the Most High,
Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit, in the glory of God the Father. Amen.

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A Brief Background:

It was the year 325 AD at the council of Nicea. Approximately 300 bishops from around the reaches of Christendom had gathered to discuss: 1. the nature of God (the Father), and God the Son (Jesus); Arius’ Christological error, 2. the date of Easter, 3. very early canon law, 4. The Nice Creed

Saint Nicholas of Myra:

While Arius was explaining his position, a Bishop form Myra, St. Nicholas (Άγιος Νικόλαος) was angered by his heresy and he arose a slapped Arius across the face. The council had St. Nicholas stripped of his episcopate, and chained in jail (where he was expected to stay until the end of the council)

During the night, while Nicholas was weeping in repentance and shame for his actions, the Lord Jesus and Mary appeared to him. Jesus asked Nicholas, “Why are you in chains?” and Nicholas replied, “because of my love for you”. Mary then gave Nicholas his priestly omophorion, and Jesus gave him a book of the Gospels. In the morning other bishops (and some sources claim Constantine), went to Nicholas because they had had the same dream. The bishops and jailers found him dressed as a priest, and studying the gospel book. Needless to say, he was reinstated as a bishop and the council progressed.

[1] Arius’ Heresy: Christ was a created being, that is, he did not eternally exist. He was inferior to the Father.

 

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