Saturday, December 31, 2011

Excerpt from the Homily on the Circumcision of Christ and St. Basil the Great, by St. Andrew of Crete

The Circumcision of Christ - Commemorated January 1 (
Excerpt from the Homily on the Circumcision of Christ and St. Basil the Great, by St. Andrew of Crete (amateur translation)
And what else does the eighth-day circumcision tell us? The eighth day is the completion of the week, and the beginning of the new. The child completes the week, and is perfected on the eighth day, being granted his name and being numbered with the perfect. The eighth day is the beginning of infancy, while through the period of the week he was a baby, now the child begins to learn. The eighth day leads on to the things of infancy: to crawl and to stand, and to speak, and to think. The week comes to completion, and the eighth day signifies perfection. Circumcision again signifies the name-giving, which the child undergoes on the eighth day.
And not without reason. For Abraham dwelt among the idols of his father, Thara, being part of his creation, until the Creator gave him a sign of a people set aside until His coming, that renewal may be granted to men. Circumcision removes a covering of flesh, and grants an eighth-day sign to the members. Circumcision declared that the presence of Christ was coming, and that He would grant rebirth through the Spirit. By the seal of circumcision, the people were granted divine correction from idolatry, and the ceasing of destruction through idol-mania.
The former things were a symbol of the new. For Christ was the eighth law-giver from Adam. Because Adam first received a law, and secondly Noah, and Abraham third, and Moses fourth, and David, regarding the Kingdom and the Tent of Glory, was the fifth law-giver. And Esthra, following the captivity of Babylon, for a second time gave the law to the nations that had transgressed it, and was the sixth. John the Baptist, who preached a baptism of repentance to the people, and purification through the water, was the seventh law-giver. Jesus Christ was the eighth.
Regarding this great Law-giver, Moses says: “The Lord God will raise a Prophet from among our bretheren like me; listen to Him. Every soul that does not hear that Prophet will be condemned.” Being the only one able to fulfill this, I perceive that he is referring to the Lord and Creator, Who worked divine and noetic works among us. And passing the Sabbath in His flesh through the law, on the eighth day of Resurrection, became the Law-giver for the whole world. I behold God, not only of the Jews, but of all nations, Who is born, anointed and perfecting all things in the Holy Spirit, and calling His own anointed people. And He cuts off our fleshly desires and passions, and turns them to a burnt sacrifice through good works, and actions of the Kingdom of the Heavens. He is truly the “Angel of Great Council of His Father, God almighty, Councilor, Prince of Peace, Father of the Age to come.”
And do you understand this well, why we rejoice at this feast, and take from this the glad tidings, and move from feast to feast, and come to know the servant of God? As if speaking of him, the scriptures say: “The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God”, Who is the God of all. And those who approach him to clearly see his divine icon, are able. Who is this who we praise? It is Basil: the foundation of virtue, the longing of the Cappadocians, and the prided boast of the whole world, he who taught the Church in most magnificent words and deeds, through whom the Churches of the faithful take boast. For though there are many lawful and mystagogical ones before and after him, however, under his state, all ranks are united to see a new wonder. Thus the man's feast is received with worthy honor. And if we speak regarding him, those before us, who were men of greater theology, also take part in praising words of him.
And let us offer a word for this feast, its honor of which is among the greatest of feasts, and travel the road of the word, being strengthened by God, Who strengthens us in every good work, and say the following: “O man of God and faithful healer, and steward of the mysteries of God”, and “man of desires of the spirit.” Thus the Scriptures calls those dedicated to exalted and uplifted and lawful ways. I call you a god to Pharaoh, who overcame all the opposing power of the Egyptians, and pillar and foundation of the Church, and will of the Lord, and light shining in the world the word of life and the desire of the faith, and dwelling-place of the Spirit...
But with these divine praises, O Father Basil, you take part in the mansions of the patriarchs, and the mystagogy of the apostles of the prophets, and of the crowning of the martyrs, and of the choirs of monastics, and of the rewards of the divine hierarchs and all the righteous. Remember us, who are of like nature as you, who are in trouble; and ever intercede for us to the common Master for the salvation of all Christians.
Kings therefore bring forth righteousness and reverence of God, bearing in mind your words, that the eternal King rules above. Rulers and governors in piety become obedient, along with those who fight in war, and the rest of the people turn towards the divine faith in harmony, and are peaceful towards each other. The archpriests are anointed in theology, and govern well the Church of God that has been entrusted to them through your diving teaching. Priests keep piety, that they might live in a God-pleasing manner, and offer up hymns, and be crowned along with the whole city of the faithful, as a shepherd, by Him Who made Himself poor, though He is rich, and took on flesh in the womb [of the Theotokos], Who is seated above with the Father, and is laid in a cave and is wrapped in swaddling clothes in a manger, Who is hymned by the angels, and wondered at by the shepherds, Who was circumcised on the eighth day, and is named Jesus, Who offers cleansing, and is praised by Symeon and Anna, and escorted by the Magi, Who flees to Egypt, and “rents the handiwork of Egyptians”, Who, at the human age of perfection, was baptized by a servant, and drowns the sins of the world in the waters, Who is revealed to the world but is hated by the Judeans, and works strange wonders, Who ultimately was delivered to be crucified, and was then buried, that He might grant resurrection to those in slavery in hades, Who rose on the third day, making this second eighth day truly the day of rest, and in the coming eighth day at the end of the world, will come again, Who appears to His apostles, and Who was seen to ascend into the heavens, to raise me the humble one, Who is known in two natures, and Who is worshiped with the Father and the Spirit, Who has two wills and energies, Who remains touchable and untouchable, written and unwritten, depicted in places and icons, and through them, as through flesh and spirit is worshipped, Who is the archetype of His theologians and of all the Saints, Who shares all things with us, and is the archetype of the glory that is offered to you, O most-divine Father Basil, who wrote: “For the honor of the icon ascends to the prototype”. Therefore with orthodoxy, the nations are struck with fear, and islands of redemption are opened for the Church. Through sickness of men, the other-worldly icons are left to suffer, and we are endangered by the Hagarenes. These islands of the Church were seen beforehand by Isaiah, who said: “Be renewed, O islands, towards God”. For to Him, Christ our God, belong honor and glory and worship, together with the all-good Father and the all-holy and life-giving Spirit, now and ever, and to the endless ages. Amen.
St. Basil the Great - Commemorated January 1 (
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The 14,000 Holy Innocents slain by Herod at Bethlehem

Christ is born! Glorify Him!
The 14,000 Holy Innocents slain by Herod at Bethlehem - Commemorated on December 29 (
When the time came for the Incarnation of the Son of God and His Birth of the Most Holy Virgin Mary, Magi in the East beheld a new star in the heavens, foretelling the Nativity of the King of the Jews. They journeyed immediately to Jerusalem to worship the Child, and the star showed them the way. Having worshipped the divine Infant, they did not return to Jerusalem to Herod, as he had ordered them, but being warned by God in a dream, they went back to their country by another way. Herod finally realized that his scheme to find the Child would not be successful, and he ordered that all the male children two years old and younger at Bethlehem and its surroundings be killed. He thought that the divine Infant, Whom he considered a rival, would be among the dead children.

The Slaughter of the Holy Innocents (
The murdered infants thus became the first martyrs for Christ. The rage of Herod fell also on Simeon the God-Receiver (February 3), who declared before everyone in the Temple that the Messiah had been born. When the holy Elder died, Herod would not give permission for him to be properly buried. On the orders of King Herod, the holy prophet and priest Zachariah was also killed. He was murdered in Jerusalem between the Temple and the altar (Mt. 23:35) because he would not tell the whereabouts of his son John, the future Baptist of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Cave with the Holy Relics of the 14,000 Innocents, Bethlehem (
The wrath of God soon fell upon Herod himself: a horrid condition struck him down and he died, eaten by worms while still alive. Before his death, the impious king murdered the chief priests and scribes of the Jews, and also his brother, and his sister and her husband, and also his own wife Mariam, and three of his sons, and seventy men of wisdom who were members of the Sanhedrin. He initiated this bloodbath so that the day of his death would not be one of rejoicing, but one of mourning.

Troparion - Tone 1
As acceptable victims and freshly plucked flowers, as divine first-fruits and newborn lambs, you were offered to Christ who was born as a child, holy innocents. You mocked Herod's wickedness; now we beseech you: "Unceasingly pray for our souls."
Kontakion - Tone 6
When the King was born in Bethlehem, the Magi came from the east. Having been guided by the star on high, they brought Him gifts. But in his exceeding wrath, Herod mowed down the infants as wheat; lamenting that the rule of his kingdom had come to an end.
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

The Holy 20,000 Martyrs of Nicomedia

The Holy 20,000 Martyrs of Nicomedia - Commemorated on December 28 (  
The Holy 20,000 Martyrs of Nicomedia: At the beginning of the fourth century the emperor Maximian (284-305) gave orders to destroy Christian churches, to burn service books, and to deprive all Christians of rights and privileges of citizenship. At this time the bishop of the city of Nicomedia was St Cyril, who by his preaching and life contributed to the spread of Christianity, so that many members of the emperor's court were also secret Christians.
The pagan priestess Domna was living in the palace at that time. Providentially, she obtained a copy of the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles of St Paul. Her heart burned with the desire to learn more about the Christian teaching. With the help of a young Christian girl, Domna went secretly to Bishop Anthimus (Cyril's successor) with her faithful servant, the eunuch Indes. St Anthimus catechized them, and both received holy Baptism.
Domna began to help the poor: she gave away her valuables with the assistance of Indes, and she also distributed food from the imperial kitchen. The chief eunuch, who was in charge of provisions for the imperial household, found out that Domna and Indes were not eating the food sent them from the emperor's table. He had them beaten in order to find out why they did not partake of the food, but they remained silent. Another eunuch informed him that the saints were distributing all the emperor's gifts to the poor. He locked them up in prison to exhaust them with hunger, but they received support from an angel and did not suffer. St Domna feigned insanity so she wouldn't have to live among the pagans. Then she and Indes managed to leave the court, and she went to a women's monastery. Abbess Agatha quickly dressed her in men's clothing, cut her hair and sent her off from the monastery.
During this time the emperor returned from battle and ordered that a search be made for the former pagan priestess Domna. The soldiers sent for this purpose found the monastery and destroyed it. The sisters were thrown into prison, subjected to torture and abuse, but not one of them suffered defilement. Sent to a house of iniquity, St Theophila was able to preserve her virginity with the help of an angel of the Lord. The angel led her from the brothel and brought her to the cathedral.
At this time the emperor cleared the city square to offer sacrifice to the pagan gods. When they began sprinkling the crowd with the blood of the sacrificial animals, Christians started to leave the square. Seeing this, the emperor became enraged, but in the middle of his rantings a great thunderstorm sprang up. People fled in panic, and the emperor had to retreat to the palace for his own safety.
Later Maximian went to the church with soldiers and told them they could escape punishment if they renounced Christ. Otherwise, he promised to burn the church and those in it. The Christian presbyter Glycerius told him that Christians would never renounce their faith, even under the threat of torture. Hiding his anger, the emperor exited the church, and a short time later commanded the presbyter Glycerius be arrested for trial. The executioners tortured the martyr, who did not cease to pray and to call on the Name of the Lord. Unable to force St Glycerius stop confessing Christ, Maximian ordered him to be burned to death.
On the Feast of the Nativity of Christ in the year 302, when about 20,000 Christians had assembled at the cathedral in Nicomedia, the emperor sent a herald into the church. He told the Christians that soldiers were surrounding the building, and that anyone who wished to leave had to offer sacrifice to the pagan gods. Anyone who defied the emperor would perish when the soldiers set fire to the church. All those present refused to worship the idols.

As the pagans prepared to set fire to the church, Bishop Anthimus, baptized all the catechumens and communed everyone with the Holy Mysteries. All 20,000 of those praying died in the fire. Among them were the abbess Agatha and St Theophila who had been saved from the den of iniquity by a miracle. Bishop Anthimus, however, managed to escape the fire [while later he was martyred for Christ, and he is celebrated September 3].
Maximian thought that he had exterminated all the Christians of Nicomedia. He soon learned that there were many more, and that they would confess their faith and were prepared to die for Christ. The emperor wondered how to deal with them. At his command they arrested the regimental commander Zeno, who was openly criticizing the emperor for his impiety and cruelty. Zeno was fiercely beaten and finally beheaded. They jailed the eunuch Indes, formerly a priest of the idols, for refusing to participate in a pagan festival.
The persecution against Christians continued. Dorotheus, Mardonius, Migdonius the deacon and others were thrown into prison. Bishop Anthimus encouraged them by sending letters to them. One of the messengers, the Deacon Theophilus, was captured. They subjected him to torture, trying to learn where the bishop was hiding. The holy martyr endured everything, while revealing nothing. Then they executed him and also those whom the bishop had addressed in his letter. Though they were executed in different ways, they all showed the same courage and received their crowns from God.
For weeks, St Domna concealed herself within a cave and sustained herself by eating plants. When she returned to the city, she wept for a long time at the ruins of the church, regretting that she was not found worthy to die with the others. That night she went the sea shore. At that moment fishermen pulled the bodies of the martyrs Indes, Gorgonius and Peter from the water in their nets.
St Domna was still dressed in men's clothing, and she helped the fishermen to draw in their nets. They left her the bodies of the martyrs. With reverence she looked after the holy relics and wept over them, especially over the body of her spiritual friend, the Martyr Indes.
After giving them an honorable burial, she did not depart from these graves so dear to her heart. Each day she burned incense before them, sprinkling them with fragrant oils. When the emperor was told of an unknown youth who offered incense at the graves of executed Christians, he gave orders to behead the youth. The Martyr Euthymius was also executed along with Domna.
The Holy 20,000 Martyrs of Nicomedia (
Apolytikion in the Third Tone (amateur translation)
A divine army, a holy city, a people surrounded by the Lord, you were shown, O 20,000 martyrs, for being refreshed with His love, you completed your struggle by fire. But entreat the Lord, O wise ones, that mercifully, we be granted the great mercy.
Kontakion - Tone 1
Their souls strengthened by faith, the twenty thousand martyrs accepted their suffering by fire, and cried out to You, the One born of the Virgin: "Like gold, myrrh, and frankincense, the gifts of the Persian kings, receive our whole burnt offering, O Eternal God."
Megalynarion (amateur translation)
Trophy-bearing phanalnx of athletes, and holy lot, O 20,000 Champions, gathered from every generation and every age, you were shown by God.
The 20,000 Martyrs of Nicomedia (
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

St. Stephen the Protomartyr and Archdeacon

Christ is born! Glorify Him!
St. Stephen the Apostle, Protomartyr and Archdeacon - Commemorated on December 27 (  
The Holy Protomartyr and Archdeacon Stephen was the eldest of the seven deacons, appointed by the Apostles themselves, and therefore he is called "archdeacon." He was the first Christian martyr, and he suffered for Christ when he was about thirty. In the words of Asterias, he was "the starting point of the martyrs, the instructor of suffering for Christ, the foundation of righteous confession, since Stephen was the first to shed his blood for the Gospel."
Filled with the Holy Spirit, St Stephen preached Christianity and defeated Jewish teachers of the Law in debate. The Jews maligned St Stephen, saying that he had uttered blasphemy against God and against Moses. St Stephen came before the Sanhedrin and the High Priest to answer these charges. He gave a fiery speech, in which he recounted the history of the Jewish nation, and denounced the Jews for persecuting the prophets, and also for executing the promised Messiah, Jesus Christ (Acts ch. 7).
During his speech, St Stephen suddenly saw the heavens opened and Jesus Christ standing at the right hand of God. The Jews shouted and covered their ears, and rushed at him. They dragged him out of the city and stoned him, but the holy martyr prayed for his murderers. Far off on the heights stood the Mother of God with the holy Apostle John the Theologian, and She prayed fervently for the martyr. Before his death St Stephen said, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. O Lord, lay not this sin to their charge." Then he joyfully gave up his pure soul to Christ.
The Martyrdom of St. Stephen the Protomartyr (
The body of the holy Protomartyr Stephen, left to be eaten by beasts, was secretly taken up by the Jewish teacher Gamaliel and his son Habib, who buried Stephen on his estate. They both believed in Christ, and later received holy Baptism.
St Stephen is also commemorated on August 2 (Translation of his relics) and on September 15 (Uncovering of his relics in the year 415).
Part of the Holy Skull of St. Stephen the Protomartyr, treasured by the Holy Monastery of Vatopedi, Mount Athos (
Saint Fulgentius of Ruspe on the feast of St. Stephen (circa 500 AD)
Yesterday we celebrated the birth in time of our eternal King. Today we celebrate the triumphant suffering of his soldier.

Yesterday our king, clothed in his robe of flesh, left his place in the Virgin’s womb and graciously visited the world. Today his soldier leaves the tabernacle of his body and goes triumphantly to heaven.

Our king, despite his exalted majesty, came in humility for our sake; yet he did not come empty-handed. He brought his soldiers a great gift that not only enriched them but also made them unconquerable in battle, for it was the gift of love, which was to bring men to share in his divinity. He gave of his bounty, yet without any loss to himself. In a marvellous way he changed into wealth the poverty of his faithful followers while remaining in full possession of his own inexhaustible riches.

And so the love that brought Christ from heaven to earth raised Stephen from earth to heaven; shown first in the king, it later shone forth in his soldier. Love was Stephen’s weapon by which he gained every battle, and so won the crown signified by his name. His love of God kept him from yielding to the ferocious mob; his love for his neighbor made him pray for those who were stoning him. Love inspired him to reprove those who erred, to make them amend; love led him to pray for those who stoned him, to save them from punishment. Strengthened by the power of his love, he overcame the raging cruelty of Saul and won his persecutor on earth as his companion in heaven. In his holy and tireless love he longed to gain by prayer those whom he could not convert by admonition.

Now at last, Paul rejoices with Stephen, with Stephen he delights in the glory of Christ, with Stephen he exalts, with Stephen he reigns. Stephen went first, slain by the stones thrown by Paul, but Paul followed after, helped by the prayer of Stephen. This, surely, is the true life, my brothers, a life in which Paul feels no shame because of Stephen’s death, and Stephen delights in Paul’s companionship, for love fills them both with joy. It was Stephen’s love that prevailed over the cruelty of the mob, and it was Paul’s love that covered the multitude of his sins; it was love that won for both of them the kingdom of heaven.

Love, indeed, is the source of all good things; it is an impregnable defense,- and the way that leads to heaven. He who walks in love can neither go astray nor be afraid: love guides him, protects him, and brings him to his journey’s end.

My brothers, Christ made love the stairway that would enable all Christians to climb to heaven. Hold fast to it, therefore, in all sincerity, give one another practical proof of it, and by your progress in it, make your ascent together.
The Martyrdom of St. Stephen the Protomartyr (
Apolytikion in the Fourth Tone
For the struggles you endured for Christ God, a royal diadem crowns your head, O First Champion of Martyrs. For you refuted the folly of the Jews and beheld your Savior on the right of the Father. Ever beseech Him, therefore, for our souls.

Kontakion in the Third Tone
Yesterday the Master arrived in the flesh, today the servant departs from the flesh. Yesterday He who reigns was born. Today the servant dies for Him by stoning, the Protomartyr, the divine Stephen.
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Hymn I on the Nativity of Christ, by St. Ephraim the Syrian

Christ is born! Glorify Him!
Hymn I on the Nativity of Christ, by St. Ephraim the Syrian
This is the day that gladdened them, the Prophets, Kings, and Priests, for in it were their words fulfilled, and thus were the whole of them indeed performed! For the Virgin this day brought forth Immanuel in Bethlehem. The voice that of old Isaiah spake,1 to-day became reality. He was born there who in writing should tell the Gentiles' number! The Psalm that David once sang, by its fulfilment came to-day!2 The word that Micah once spake,3 to-day was come indeed to pass! For there came from Ephrata a Shepherd, and His staff swayed over souls. Lo! from Jacob shone the Star,4 and from Israel rose the Head.5 The prophecy that Balaam spake had its interpreting to-day! Down also came the hidden Light, and from the Body rose His beauty! The light that spake in Zachary, to-day shined in Bethlehem!
Risen is the Light of the kingdom, in Ephrata the city of the King. The blessing wherewith Jacob blessed, to its fulfilment came to-day! That tree likewise, [the tree] of life, brings hope to mortal men! Solomon's hidden proverb6 had to-day its explanation! To-day was born the Child, and His name was called Wonder!7 For a wonder it is that God as a Babe should show Himself. By the word Worm did the Spirit foreshow Him in parable,8 because His generation was without marriage. The type that the Holy Ghost figured to-day its meaning was [explained.] He came up as a root before Him, as a root of parched ground.9 Aught that covertly was said, openly to-day was done! The King that in Judah was hidden, Thamar stole Him from his thigh; to-day arose His conquering beauty, which in hidden estate she loved. Ruth at Boaz' side lay down, because the Medicine of Life hidden in him she perceived. To-day was fulfilled her vow, since from her seed arose the Quickener of all. Travail Adam on the woman brought, that from him had come forth. She to-day her travail ransomed, who to her a Saviour bare! To Eve our mother a man gave birth, who himself had had no birth. How much more should Eve's daughter be believed to have borne a Child without a man! The virgin earth, she bare that Adam that was head over the earth! The Virgin bare to-day the Adam that was Head over the Heavens. The staff of Aaron, it budded, and the dry wood yielded fruit! Its mystery is cleared up to-day, for the virgin womb a Child hath borne!10
Shamed is that people which holds the prophets as true; for unless our Saviour has come, their words have been falsified! Blessed be the True One Who came from the Father of the Truth and fulfilled the true seers' words, which were accomplished in their truth. From thy treasure-house put forth, Lord, from the coffers of Thy Scriptures, names of righteous men of old, who looked to see Thy coming! Seth who was in Abel's stead shadowed out the Son as slain, by Whose death was dulled the envy Cain had brought into the world! Noah saw the sons of God, saints that sudden waxed wanton, and the Holy Son he looked for, by whom lewd men were turned to holiness. The brothers twain, that covered Noah,11 saw the only Son of God who should come to hide the nakedness of Adam, who was drunk with pride. Shem and Japhet, being gracious, looked for the gracious Son, Who should come anti set free Canaan from the servitude of sin.
Melchizedek expected Him; as His vicegerent, looked that he might see the Priesthood's Lord whose hyssop12 purifies the world. Lot beheld the Sodomites how they perverted nature: for nature's Lord he looked who gave a holiness not natural. Him Aaron looked for, for he saw that if his rod ate serpents up,13 His cross would eat the Serpent up that had eaten Adam and Eve. Moses saw the uplifted serpent that had cured the bites of asps, and he looked to see Him who would heal the ancient Serpent's wound. Moses saw that he himself alone retained the brightness from God, and he looked for Him who came and multiplied gods by His teaching:14
Caleb the spy bore the cluster on the staff, and came and longed to see the Cluster, Whose wine should comfort the world. Him did Jesus son of Nun long for, that he might conceive the force of his own surname: for if by His name he waxed so mighty,15 how much more would He by His Birth? This Jesus that gathered and carried, and brought with him of the fruit, was longing for the Tree of Life to taste the Fruit that quickens all. For Him Rahab too was looking; for when the scarlet thread in type redeemed her from wrath, in type she tasted of the Truth. For Him Elijah longed, and when Him on earth he saw not, he, through faith most throughly cleansed, mounted up in heaven to see Him. Moses saw Him and Elijah; the meek man from the depth ascended, the zealous from on high descended, and in the midst beheld the Son. They figured the mystery of His Advent: Moses was a type of the dead, and Elijah a type of the living, that fly to meet Him at His coming.16 For the dead that have tasted death, them He makes to be first: and the rest that are not buried, are last caught up to meet Him.
Who is there that can count me up the just that looked for the Son, whose number cannot be determined by the mouth of us weak creatures? Pray ye for me, O beloved, that another time with strength endued, I in another legend may so set forth their foretaste, as I am able. Who is adequate to the praising of the Son of the Truth that has risen to us? For it was for Him the righteous longed, that in their generation they might see Him. Adam looked for Him, for He is the Cherub's Lord, and could minister an entrance and a residence hard by the branches of the Tree of life. Abel longed after Him, that in his days He might come; that instead of that lamb that he offered, the Lamb of God he might behold. For Him Eve also looked; for woman's nakedness was sore, and He capable to clothe them; not with leaves, but with that same glory that they had exchanged away. The tower that the many builded, in mystery looked for One, who coming down would build on earth a tower that lifts up to Heaven. Yea the ark of living creatures looked in a type for our Lord; for He should build the Holy Church, wherein souls find a refuge. In Peleg's days earth was divided into tongues, threescore and ten.17 For Him Who by the tongues, to His Apostles divided earth. Earth which the flood had swallowed up, in silence cried to her Lord. He came down and opened Baptism, and men were drawn by it to Heaven. Seth and Enos, Cainan too, were surnamed sons of God; for the Son of God they looked, that they by grace might be His brethren. But little short of a thousand years did Methuselah live: He looked for the Son Who makes heirs of life that never ends! Grace itself in hidden mystery was beseeching on their behalf that their Lord might come in their age and fill up their shortcomings. For the Holy Spirit in them, in their stead, besought with meditation:18 He stirred them up, and in Him did they look on that Redeemer, after whom they longed.19
The soul of just men perceive in the Son a Medicine of life; and so it felt desires that He might come in its own days, and then would it taste His sweetness. Enoch was longing for Him, and since on earth the Son he saw not, he was justified by great faith, and mounted up in Heaven to see Him. Who is there that will spurn at grace, when the Gift that they of old gained not by much labour, freely comes to men now? For Him Lamech also looked who might come and lovingly give Him quiet from his labour and the toiling of his hands, and from the earth the Just One had cursed.20 Lamech then beheld his son, Noah,-him, in whom were figured types relating to the Son. In the stead of the Lord afar off, the type at hand afforded quiet. Yea Noah also longed to see Him, the taste of whose assisting graces he had tasted. For if the type of Him preserved living things, Himself how sure to bestow life upon souls! Noah longed for Him, by trial knowing Him, for through Him had the ark been established. For if the type of Him thus saved life, assuredly much more would He in person. Abraham perceived in Spirit that the Son's Birth was far of; instead of Him in person he rejoiced to see even His day.21 To see Him Isaac longed, as having tasted the taste of His redemption;22 for if the sign of Him so gave life, much more would He by the reality.
Joyous23 were to-day the Watchers,24 that the Wakeful came to wake us! Who would pass this night in slumber, in which all the world was watching? Since Adam brought into the world the sleep of death by sins, the Wakeful came down that He might awake us from the deep sleep of sin. Watch not we as usurers, who thinking on money put to interest, watch at night so oft, to reckon up their capital, and interest. Wakeful and cautious is the thief, who in the earth hath buried and concealed his sleep. His wakefulness all [comes to] this, that he may cause much wakefulness to them that be asleep. Wakeful likewise is the glutton, who hath eaten much and is restless; his watching is to him his torment, because he was impatient of stint. Wakeful likewise is the merchant; of a night he works his fingers telling over what pounds are coming, and if his wealth doubles or trebles. Wakeful likewise is the rich man, whose sleep his riches chase away: his dogs sleep; he guards his treasures from the thieves. Wakeful also is the careful, by his care his sleep is swallowed: though his end stands by his pillow, yet he wakes with cares for years to come. Satan teaches, O my brethren, one watching instead of another; to good deeds to be sleepy, and to ill awake and watchful. Even Judas Iscariot, for the whole night through was wakeful; and he sold the righteous Blood, that purchased the whole world. The son of the dark one put on darkness, having stripped the Light from off him: and Him who created silver, for silver the thief sold. Yea, Pharisees, the dark one's sons, all the night through kept awake: the dark ones watched that they might veil the Light which is unlimited. Ye then watch as [heaven's] lights in this night of starry light. For though so dark be its colour yet in virtue it is clear.
For whoever is like this clear One, wakeful and prayerful in darkness, him in this darkness visible a light unseen surrounds! The bad man that in daylight stands, yet as a son of darkness deals; though with light clad outwardly, inly is with darkness girt. Be we not deceived, beloved, by the fact that we are watching! For whoso does not rightly watch, his watch is an unrighteous watch. Whoso watches not cheerfully, his watching is but a sleeping: whoso also watches not innocently, even his waking is his foe. This is the waking of the envious one! a solid mass, compact with harm. That watch is but a trafficking, with scorn and mockery compact. The wrathful man if he wakes, fretful with wrath his wake will be, and his watching proves to him full of rage and of cursings. If the babbler be waking, then his mouth becomes a passage which for sins is ready but for prayers shows hindrance.
The wise man, if so be he that watches, one of two things chooseth him; either takes sweet, moderate, sleep, or a holy vigil keeps.25 That night is fair, wherein He Who is Fair26 rose to come and make us fair. Let not aught that may disturb it enter into our watch! Fair be kept the ear's approach,27 chaste the seeing of the eye! hallowed the musing of the heart! the speaking of the mouth be cleared. Mary hid in us to-day leaven that came from Abraham. Let us then so pity beggars as did Abraham the needy. To-day the rennet fell on us from the gentle David's house. Let a man show mercy to his persecutors, as did Jesse's son to Saul.28 The prophets' sweet salt29 is to-day sprinkled among the Gentiles. Let us gain a new savour30 by that whereby the ancient people lost their savour. Let us speak the speech of wisdom; speak we not of things outside it, lest we ourselves be outside it!
In this night of reconcilement let no man be wroth or gloomy! in this night that stills all, none that threatens or disturbs! This night belongs to the sweet One; bitter or harsh be in it none! In this night that is the meek One's, high or haughty be in it none! In this day of pardoning let us not exact trespasses! In this day of gladnesses let us not spread sadnesses! In this day so sweet, let us not be harsh! In this day of peaceful rest, let us not be wrathful in it! In this day when God came to sinners, let not the righteous be in his mind uplifted over sinner! In this day in which there came the Lord of all unto the servants, let masters too condescend to their servants lovingly! In this day in which the Rich became poor for our sakes, let the rich man make the poor man share with him at his table. On this day to us came forth the Gift, although we asked it not! Let us therefore bestow alms on them that cry and beg of us. This is the day that opened for us a gate on high to our prayers. Let us open also gates to supplicants that have transgressed, and of us have asked [forgiveness.] To-day the Lord of nature was against His nature changed; let it not to us be irksome to turn our evil wills. Fixed in nature is the body; great or less it cannot become: but the will has such dominion, it can grow to any measure. To-day Godhead sealed itself upon Manhood, that so with the Godhead's stamp Manhood might be adorned.
(See the following link for Nineteen Hymns of St. Ephraim the Syrian on the Nativity of Christ:
4 Judg. vii. 18-22.
5 I.e. though boldness is matter of free will, it becomes a second nature.
1 Is. x. 19.
2 Ps. lxxxvii. 6.
3 Mic. v.2.
4 Num. xxiv. 17.
5 Hos. 1.II.
6 Prov. iii. 18.
7 Isa. ix. 6.
8 Ps. xxii. 6.
9 Is. liii. 2.
10 Notice here, how St. Ephraim (in common with others) speaks of the celebration of the day as if it was the day itself, partly in exhibiting his intense realization through faith of the mystery and the re-presentation of it, to use the word in its ancient sense partly as evincing, perhaps, a belief in the unabidingness of our conceptions of time-a belief resulting, it may be, from the mystical union with God in Christ which the saints enjoy. For to God time is as nothing, and those who through grace are one with Him, begin to view things as He views them.
11 Gen. ix 23.
12 Lev. xiv. 52.
13 Exod vii. 12.
14 St. E. refers here to St. John x, 34, where the Word Himself teaches us that it was by His coming to them that Saints of old were called Gods.
15 Heb. iv. 8.
16 I Thess iv 17.
17 This in round numbers is the received account of the number of languages at the dispersion.
18 Rom. viii. 26.
19 I Pet. i. II.
20 Gen. v.29.
21 John viii. 56.
22 Heb. xi. 19.
23 Dan. iv. 23.
24 I. e. the Angels; as usually in St. E.'s writings.
25 Ps. xlv. 5.
26 Cant. I.15.
27 St. E. here alludes to the early days of David ; he brought cheeses to his brethren ; these were made by separating the curd from the whey with rennet, a small quantity of which will curdle much milk, as a little leaven leavens the whole lump.
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Homily on the Nativity of Christ, by St. Gregory of Nyssa

Christ is born! Glorify Him!
Homily on the Nativity of Christ by our Father among the Saints Gregory, Bishop of Nyssa
“SOUND THE TRUMPET at the new moon,” says David, “even in the notable day of your feast.” The commandments of Divinely-inspired teaching are assuredly a law for those who hear them. Therefore, since the notable day of our feast is at hand, let us, too, fulfill the law and become heralds of the solemnity. The trumpet of the law, as the Apostle bids us understand, is the word. For the sound of the trumpet, he says, should not be uncertain, but its notes should be distinct so that the hearers may clearly perceive it. So let us produce a clear and audible sound, brethren, one that is no less noble than that of the trumpet. For the Law, prefiguring the truth in the shadowy types, enjoined the sounding of the trumpet at the Feast of Tabernacles. Now, the theme of the present Feast is the mystery of the true Tabernacle. For on this day did He Who vested Himself with humanity for our sake pitch His human tabernacle; on this day our tabernacles, which had disintegrated through death, are reconstituted by Him Who constructed our habitation from the very beginning. Let us utter the words of the Psalm, joining in chorus with the loud-voiced David: “Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.” How does He come? He crosses over into human life, not by boat or by chariot, but through the incorruption of a Virgin. This is our God, this is our Lord, Who appeared to us to ordain a Feast with thick branches, even unto the horns of the altar.
We are assuredly not unaware, brethren, of the mystery contained in these words: that all of creation is a single temple of the Master of creation. But since, when sin intervened, the mouths of those overcome by evil were stopped, the voice of rejoicing fell silent and the harmony of those who keep festival was interrupted, as human creation no longer celebrated with celestial Angel-kind, for this reason there came the trumpets of the Prophets and the Apostles, whom the Law calls horns, because they are formed from the true Unicorn (Numbers 23:22). By the power of the Spirit they made the word of truth resound with piercing clarity, so that the ears of those who had been made deaf by sin might be opened up and so that there might be one harmonious celebration, echoing in unison through the thick covering of the tabernacle of the lower creation with the sublime and preĆ«minent Hosts that stand around the Heavenly Altar. For the horns of the noetic Altar are the sublime and preĆ«minent Powers of the noetic nature, the Principalities, Authorities, Thrones, and Dominions, to which human nature is joined by participation in the Feast through its resurrected tabernacle, which is “thickly covered” by the renewal of our bodies. For “to be thickly covered” means the same as “to be adorned” and “to be encompassed,” as those who understand these matters interpret it. Come, then, let us rouse our souls to spiritual rejoicing, and let us appoint David the head and leader of our chorus; and let us say with him that sweet verse which we have just chanted.
Let us repeat it yet again: “This is the day which the Lord hath made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” On this day darkness begins to diminish, and the duration of the night is contracted by the waxing of the sun’s rays. Not fortuitously or arbitrarily did God ordain, in connection with this Feast, that the Divine life should now be made manifest in human life. For those who are more discerning, the creation describes a certain mystery through natural phenomena, well nigh giving utterance and teaching those capable of hearing what is meant by the waxing of the day and the waning of the night at the advent of the Master. For it seems to me that I hear the creation setting forth an explanation of this kind: “When you see these phenomena, O man, understand that hidden mysteries are disclosed to you through things that are apparent. Do you see the night advancing to its greatest length, stopping in its course, and again receding? Reflect that the evil night of sin, having increased as much as it could and having reached the utmost magnitude of wickedness through the contrivance of every kind of vice, is today prevented from spreading any further, and is henceforth driven to eclipse and extinction.
Do you see how the light shines more clearly and how the sun sits higher in the sky than usual? Ponder on the Advent of the true Light, Who illumines the entire inhabited earth with the rays of the Gospel. One might perhaps reasonably suppose that the reason why the Lord did not manifest Himself at the outset of creation, but bestowed the revelation of His Divinity upon human life in the latter times, is that He Who was going to unite Himself to human life in order to cleanse it of evil was bound to await the blossoming of all the sin planted by the enemy. Thus, it was then that He laid the axe to the root, as the Gospel says. For those physicians who are eminent in their art, while the fever is still consuming the body from within and gradually being aggravated by those factors that cause the disease, yield to the malady, until the suffering has reached its acme, giving no relief to the sufferer by way of food. But when the evil comes to a halt, when the entire disease has been exposed, then they bring their skill to bear. Thus, He Who heals those who are ill in soul waited for the evil from the disease which held the human race in its grip to become manifest in its entirety, lest any hidden evil remain unhealed, which would be the case if the doctor cured only what was visible. For this reason neither in the times of Noah, when all flesh had become corrupted by unrighteousness, did He apply the remedy of His own appearing, because the shoot of Sodomite vice had not yet budded, nor did the Lord reveal Himself in the time of the destruction of Sodom, for many other evils were still lurking in human nature. Indeed, where was the God-fighting Pharaoh? Where was the indomitable wickedness of the Egyptians?
Not even then—in the era of the Egyptian wickedness, I mean—was it opportune for the Corrector of all things to associate with our life. No, for it was necessary for the iniquity of the Israelites to be exposed. It was still necessary for both the kingdom of the Assyrians and the smouldering arrogance of Nabucodonosor to be made manifest in human life. It was necessary for the foul murder of the righteous ones to spring up like some wicked and thorny plant from the Devil’s evil root. It was necessary for the raging fury of the Jews against the Saints of God to be revealed: they slew the Prophets and stoned those sent by God, and finally perpetrated the murder of Zacharias between the Temple and the altar. Add to this list of enormities the slaughter of the children by Herod. When, therefore, the full force of evil had emerged from its wicked root and had proliferated, running riot in a variety of ways in the behavior of those in every generation notorious for their depravity, it was then, as Paul says to the Athenians, that God, overlooking the times of ignorance, came in the latter days, when there was no one who understood Him or sought after Him, when all had gone astray and had alike become good for nothing, when all things had been enveloped in sin; when iniquity had multiplied, and when the darkness of evil had increased to the highest degree. Then did Grace appear, then did the radiance of the true Light dawn. Then did the Sun of righteousness appear to those sitting in darkness and the shadow of death; then did He crush the many heads of the dragon, stepping on him with His foot, through His human flesh, dashing him to the earth and trampling on him. Let no one, looking at the present state of the world, suppose that we are speaking falsely when we say that the Lord has shone upon our life in the latter times.
Perhaps someone will say, by way of objection, that it is natural for one who waits some years for evil to manifest itself, so that he can pull it up by the roots once it is fully developed, to destroy it completely, so that no remnant of it will survive. Now, however, people dare to commit murders, thefts, adulteries, and all manner of villainy. But let him who observes this state of affairs dispel his doubt with a familiar example. For, just as when we kill a snake, we can see that the hinder part of its coil is not immediately deadened along with its head, but whereas the head is dead, the tail still pulsates with its own life and is not deprived of vital movement, so also He Who slew the dragon, when the beast had become large enough, increasing in size with each generation of mankind, destroyed its head, that is, its power to ruin what is good—which itself possesses many heads—, but took no account of the rest of its body, allowing the motion that lingered in the dead beast to serve as a means of training for future generations. What, then, is the head that is crushed? The head that brought death into the world by an evil counsel, injecting deadly venom into man through its bite.
Therefore, He Who destroyed the might of death, crushed the power contained in the serpent’s head, as the Prophet says. The rest of the beast’s body, dispersed in human life, as long as mankind is motivated by evil, always roughens life with the scales of sin. The serpent’s power is now dead, since its head has been rendered useless, but as time passes and things endowed with motion come a standstill at the awaited consummation of this life, then the tail, the enemy’s last remaining part, that is, death, is annulled. In this way evil will completely disappear, when all are recalled to life through the resurrection: the righteous will immediately be transported to celestial bliss, while those held in the grip of sins will be consigned to the fire of Gehenna.
But let us return to the present joy, which the Angels proclaim to the shepherds, which the heavens declare to the Magi, which the spirit of prophecy announces through many and sundry utterances, so that the Magi become heralds of Grace. For He Who makes the sun rise on the just and on the unjust, Who sends rain on the evil and on the good, has brought the ray of knowledge and the dew of the Spirit even to the mouths of foreigners, so that the truth is confirmed all the more for us by the testimony of our adversaries. You hear the soothsayer Balaam declaring to the foreigners by a higher inspiration that “a Star shall rise out of Jacob.” You see the Magi, who derive their ancestry from him, observing, according to the prediction of their forefather, the rising of the novel star, which, contrary to the nature of all other stars, alone partook of motion and rest, proceeding according as it had need of either of these states. For whereas, among the other stars, some stand fast once and for all in the sphere of the fixed stars, having obtained an immovable position, while others never cease from moving, this one both moved, preceding the Magi, and stood still, indicating the place.
You hear Esaias exclaiming that “unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given.” Learn from the Prophet himself how the Child was born, how the Son was given. Now, was it in accordance with the law of nature? No, says the Prophet. The Master of nature is not a slave to the laws of nature. But how was the Child born? Tell us. “Behold,” says the Prophet, “a Virgin shall conceive in the womb, and shall bring forth a Son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.” O the wonder! The Virgin becomes a mother, and yet remains a virgin. You see the innovation in nature. Among other women, as long as one is a virgin, she is not a mother. But when she becomes a mother, she no longer possesses virginity. But in this case, the two names coincide. For the same woman is both a mother and a virgin; and neither did her virginity prevent her childbirth nor did her maternity annul her virginity. For it behooved Him Who was to enter human life in order to make all things incorrupt that He should receive His beginning from the incorruption that served His birth. Men are in the habit of calling one who has no experience of wedlock incorrupt. It seems to me that the great Moses understood this in advance through the light wherein God appeared to him, when the fire touched the bush and the bush was not consumed: “I will pass over and see this great sight.” By “pass over,” he means, I think, not a local movement, but the passage of time; for that which was then prefigured in the flame and the bush was, with the passage of intervening time, clearly revealed in the mystery of the Virgin. For, just as there was a bush there, and the fire touched it and it was not burned, so here, too, there is a Virgin, who gives birth to the Light and suffers no corruption. If a bush prefigures the God-bearing body of the Virgin, do not be ashamed of the type. For all flesh, on account of our acceptance of sin, by the very fact that it is only flesh, is sin; and sin in Scripture is called by the name “thorn.” Now, provided we do not digress too far from our subject, it is perhaps not inopportune to adduce Zacharias, who was slain between the temple and the altar, as a witness to the incorruption of the Mother of God. This Zacharias was a priest; and not only was he a priest, but he was also endowed with the gift of prophecy, his power of prophecy being declared expressly in the Book of the Gospel. When the Grace of God was preparing the way for men not to think that birth from a Virgin is incredible, it set the stage for the assent of unbelievers by means of lesser miracles: a child was born of a barren woman advanced in years. This was a prelude to the miracle of the Virgin Birth. For, just as Elizabeth became a mother not by the power of nature—for she had grown old in barrenness—but the birth of her child is ascribed to the Will of God; so also, the incredibility of a virginal parturition gains credibility with reference to the Divine.
Since, therefore, he who was born of the barren woman preceded Him Who was born of the Virgin, and, in response to the salutation of her who was carrying the Lord, leaped in his mother’s womb before he saw the light of day, as soon as the Forerunner of the Word was born, the silence of Zacharias was thereupon loosed by prophetic inspiration. All that Zacharias recounted was a prophecy of the future. Therefore, guided to the knowledge of hidden things by the spirit of prophecy, and perceiving the mystery of virginity in the incorrupt birth, he did not exclude the unwedded Mother from that place in the Temple allotted by the Law to virgins, thereby teaching the Jews that the Creator of existing things and King of all creation has human nature subject to Himself, along with everything else, guiding it by His own Will as He sees fit, not being Himself mastered by it, so that it is in His power to create a new birth, which will not prevent her who has become a mother from remaining a virgin. For this reason, he did not exclude her, in the Temple, from the place of the virgins; this place was the space between the Temple and the altar. When the Jews heard that the King of creation, by Divine OEconomy, was about to undergo human birth, fearing lest they become subject to a king, they murdered the priest who bore witness to this birth as he was serving at the altar itself.
We have, however, wandered far from our subject, and must return to Bethlehem in the Gospel account. For if we are truly shepherds and keeping watch over our flocks, the voice of the Angels which proclaims these good tidings of great joy is assuredly directed to us. Let us, therefore, look up to the heavenly host, behold the choir of Angels, and hear their Divine hymnody. What is the sound of these who keep feast? “Glory to God in the highest,” they cry. Why do the Angelic voices glorify the Divinity beheld in the highest? Because they say “and on earth peace.” The Angels have become exceedingly joyful at the spectacle: “and on earth peace.” That which was previously accursed, which brought forth thorns and thistles, the place of conflict, the exile of the condemned, has received peace. Oh, the wonder! “Truth is sprung out of the earth, and righteousness hath looked down from heaven.” Such is the fruit that the earth of men yielded. And these things come to pass for the sake of God’s good will towards men. God is mingled with human nature, in order that humanity might be raised up to the height of God. Having heard these tidings, let us go to Bethlehem and behold the new spectacle, how the Virgin exults in childbirth, how she who knew not wedlock suckles her infant. But let us first hear from the stories related about her who she was and whence she came.
Icon of Jesus Christ "Emmanuel", which means "God with us" (source)
I have heard a certain apocryphal account, which presents the following narratives concerning her. Her father was distinguished for his scrupulous observance of the Law and was well known for his virtues. However, he had reached old age without having sired any offspring, for his wife was unable to bear children. Now, there was a certain honor ascribed to mothers on the basis of the Law, an honor in which barren women had no share. His wife replicated the story of the mother of Samuel. Having entered the Holy of Holies, she besought God that she not be deprived of the blessing that comes from the laws, since she not sinned against the Law in any way, but that she become a mother and dedicate to God the child that she would bear. Strengthened by Divine assent to the favor that she requested, she conceived. When she brought forth the child, she named her “Mary,” so that through the similarity of the name it might be indicated that the favor was granted by God. When the little girl was sufficiently mature, so that she no longer needed to cling to the breast, her mother made haste to give her back to God, in fulfillment of her promise, and conduct her to the Temple. The priests brought up the child in the Holy place for some time, just like Samuel, but when she was grown up, they took counsel as to what they could do about that holy body without sinning against God. To subjugate her to the law of nature and enslave her through marriage to one who would take her to wife was utterly unacceptable. Indeed, it was regarded as absolute sacrilege for a man to be master of something consecrated to God, for it was decreed by the law that a man should be master of his spouse. However, it was not lawful for a woman to consort with priests in the Temple or to be seen in the Holy place, and besides, such a thing was improper.
As they were deliberating on these matters, they received advice from God that they should betroth her nominally to such a man as would be apt to guard her virginity. Joseph, the kind of man they were looking for, since he was of the same tribe and family as the Virgin, was found, and on the advice of the priests he was betrothed to the girl. Their affinity extended only as far as betrothal. The Virgin was then initiated into the mystery of the Divine Will by Gabriel, the words of his mystagogy being themselves a blessing. “Rejoice, thou that art full of Grace,” he said, “the Lord is with thee.” The words now addressed to the Virgin are the antithesis of those addressed to the first woman. The latter was condemned to the pangs of childbirth on account of sin; in the case of the former, sorrow is expelled through joy. In the latter case, sorrows precede parturition; in the former case, joy is the midwife of parturition. “Fear not,” says Gabriel. Since the expectation of travail arouses fear in every woman, that fear is banished by the promise of an agreeable childbirth. “Thou shalt conceive in thy womb,” he says, “and bring forth a son, and shalt call His name Jesus. For He shall save His people from their sins.” What does Mary say? Hear the voice of a pure Virgin. The Angel proclaims the glad tidings of the birth; but she cleaves to virginity, judging incorruption to be preferable to the appearance of the Angel, and neither does she disbelieve the Angel nor will she relinquish her resolve. “I have refrained from knowing any man,” she says: “How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?” This utterance of Mary is proof of the narrative that I have drawn from the aforementioned apocryphal work. For if she had been taken in marriage by Joseph, how would she have been surprised by him who announced that she was to bear a child, for in that case she would surely have expected to become a mother according the law of nature? “Since it behooved me to preserve inviolate, as a holy offering, the flesh that I have consecrated to God, for this reason,” she says, “although thou art an Angel, although thou hast come from Heaven, and although this phenomenon surpasseth human nature, it is nonetheless impossible for me to know a man. How am I to be a mother without a man? For I know Joseph as my betrothed, but do not know him as a husband.” Now, what does the bridal escort Gabriel say to this? What manner of bridal chamber does he present for a pure and undefiled marriage? “The Holy Spirit,” he says, “shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee.”
Oh, that blessed womb, which on account of its exceeding purity attracted to itself the good things of the soul! For in the case of all other human beings, a pure soul would with difficulty receive the presence of the Holy Spirit; but in this case, the flesh becomes a vessel of the Spirit. “And the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee.” Now, what do these ineffable words mean? “Christ” is “the power of God, and the wisdom of God.” Thus, the Wisdom of the Most High God, which is Christ, takes form in her virginity through the coming of the Holy Spirit. For, just as a shadow assumes the same shape as the body that precedes it, so also the character and the traits of the Divinity of the Son will be manifested in the power of Him Who is to be born, the image, seal, adumbration, and effulgence of the Prototype being shown through His display of miracle-working.
But the glad tidings of the Angels exhort us to bring our discourse back to Bethlehem and to behold the mysteries in the cave. What is this? A Child wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger; and she who remains a Virgin after giving birth, the incorrupt Mother, cares for her offspring. Let us, the shepherds, utter the cry of the Prophet: “As we have heard, so have we seen in the city of the Lord of hosts, in the city of our God.” Surely these things that are related about Christ did not happen fortuitously or accidentally, and surely there is some reason behind this story. What does it mean for the Master that He dwells in a cave and lies in a manger? That He became involved with our life at the time of the whole world was being registered for taxation? Is it not clear that, just as He delivers us from the curse of the Law, becoming a curse for our sake, and transfers our stripes to Himself, so that by His stripes we might be healed, so also He submits to taxation in order to free us from the evil fetters of the tax which death has been exacting from humanity? When you see the cave in which the Master is born, understand the lightless and subterraneous life of mankind, into which He enters, appearing to those sitting in darkness and the shadow of death. He is bound in swaddling clothes Who wraps Himself in the bands of our sins. The manger is the abode of irrational animals, in which the Word is born, that the ox may know his Owner and the ass his Master’s crib; the ox stands for him who is subject to the Law, while the ass, that beast of burden, stands for him who is weighed down with the sin of idolatry. But whereas the food and sustenance suitable for irrational animals is grass—“He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle,” as the Prophet says—the rational animal is nourished with bread. For this reason, therefore, the Bread of Life, which descended from Heaven, is set forth in the manger, which is the dwelling- place of irrational animals, so that those irrational animals might partake of rational food and become rational. Thus, the Lord of both mediates, in the manger, between the ox and the ass, in order that, having “broken down the middle wall of partition,” He might “make in Himself of twain one new man,” both removing the heavy yoke of the Law from the former and relieving the latter of the burden of idolatry.
But let us now gaze upon the celestial wonders. For behold, not only do Prophets and Angels announce the glad tidings of this joy to us; the heavens, too, proclaim the glory of the Gospel through their own marvels. Christ “sprang out of Juda” for us, as the Apostle says, but the Jews are not illumined by Him Who thus sprang forth. The Magi were strangers to the promise of the Covenants and without a share in the blessing of the Fathers; yet they surpass the people of Israel in knowledge, for they recognized the heavenly luminary and were not ignorant of the King in the cave. The Magi bring Him gifts, but the Jews plot against Him. The former worship Him, but the latter persecute Him. The former rejoice at finding Him Whom they were seeking. The latter are perturbed at the birth of Him Who was announced. For, when the Magi “saw the star” over the place where the Child was,” “they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.” “When Herod...had heard” the report, “he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.” The Magi offer frankincense to Him as God, honor His regal dignity with gold, and through myrrh, by prophetic Grace, allude to the OEconomy of His suffering. The Jews [Herod and his soldiers], however, condemn the entire infant population to slaughter, which, it seems to me, convicts them not only of cruelty, but also of the utmost folly. For what did they intend by this act of infanticide? And to what end did the murderers dare to perpetrate such a heinous crime? A certain new and marvellous celestial sign, it says, indicated to the Magi the appearance of the King.
What, then? Do you believe in the truth of the sign that announces Him, or do you suspect that what is rumored about Him is groundless? For if He is such a nature as to have the heavens under His control, is He not obviously above your control? But if He makes His living or dying dependent on you, in vain do you fear such a one. For what purpose do you plot against one who acts in such a way as to be under your control? Why do you issue that dire mandate, your wicked decree against the infants, that hapless babes be slaughtered? What wrong did they do? What cause of punishment and death did they bring upon themselves? Their sole crime is that they were born and saw the light of day. Because of this it was necessary that the city be filled with executioners and that a throng of mothers and infants be assembled, with people accompanying them and parents and all their kinsfolk gathering together, as one might expect, to witness their plight. Who could describe this calamity in words? Who could bring before our eyes through narratives their torments? their mingled lamentation? the mournful dirge of children, mothers, relatives, and fathers crying out piteously at the threats of the executioners? How could one portray the executioner standing beside the infant with bared sword, with a grim and murderous look on his face, uttering words to match his expression, dragging the infant towards him with one hand, and stretching out his sword with the other, and the mother on the other side pulling the child towards herself and holding out her own neck under the edge of the sword, so as not to see with her own eyes the hapless child being destroyed by the hands of the executioner? How could one recount the reactions of the fathers? their exclamations, their lamentations, their final embraces of their sons, and many other such things that occurred at the same time as these? Who could set forth the various kinds of torment, the twofold pangs of the mothers who have recently given birth? The bitter searing of their feminine nature? how the hapless babe clave to its mother’s breast and at the same time received the mortal blow through its vitals? how the unfortunate mother held out her breast to the mouth of the infant and received the blood of her child on her bosom? At times, with the swing of his hand, by a single stroke of his sword, the executioner would thrust through both mother and child, and a single stream of blood would flow, mingled together from the wound of the mother and the mortal blow dealt to the child. And since, by Herod’s abominable decree, not only was the death sentence to be meted out to newborn infants, but also any child who had reached his second year was to be carried off and slain (as Scripture says, “from two years old and under”), the account quite naturally foresees yet another predicament: that the intervening time had made the same woman mother of two children. What a spectacle it was in such situations, with two executioners busying themselves with one mother! The one would be dragging towards him the child that was running back to his mother, while the other would be tearing the suckling away from his mother’s bosom. What suffering the poor mother must have undergone in these cases! Her instincts are split between two children, each of whom kindles the flames of maternal affection in equal measure, for she does not know which of the wicked executioners to follow: the one dragging her infant off to slaughter from one side, or the other doing the same thing from the other side. Is she to run to her newborn, who is emitting what are as yet indistinct and inarticulate laments? But she hears the other, who is already able to speak, tearfully calling out to his mother in a faltering voice. What is she to do? Who is it to be? To whose cry will she respond? In response to whose lamentation will she lament in turn? Which death will she mourn, being stung by the goads of her maternal nature equally for each?
But let us avert our hearing from threnodies for the children and direct our minds to themes more cheerful and more suitable for the Feast, even though Rachel, in accordance with the prophecy, bewails the slaughter of the children with loud cries. For on a day of celebration, as the wise Solomon says, it is fitting to forget evils. What could be more auspicious for us than this Feast, whereon the Sun of Righteousness, having scattered the evil darkness of the Devil, shines upon creation through this our nature, whereon that which was fallen is raised up, that which had become hostile is brought to reconciliation, that which had been outlawed is recalled, that which had fallen away from life returns to life, that which had become enslaved to captivity is restored to the dignity of the Kingdom, and that which had been bound by the fetters of death and runs back, liberated, to the land of the living? Now, according to the prophecy, the brazen gates of death are crushed and the iron bars are shattered, whereby the human race was formerly confined in the dungeon of death. Now, as David says, the gate of righteousness is opened. Now the sound of those who keep festival is heard in unanimity throughout the inhabited earth. Through man came death, and through man salvation. The first man fell into sin, but the second raised up him who was fallen. A woman came to the defense of a woman: the former afforded an entrance to sin; the latter ministered to the entrance of righteousness. The former accepted the counsel of the serpent; the latter brought forth the Destroyer of the serpent and gave birth to the Author of light. The former introduced sin through a tree; through a tree the latter introduced good in its place. By “tree” I mean the Cross; the fruit of this tree is evergreen and amaranthine life for those who taste thereof. And let no one suppose that such thanksgiving belongs only to the mystery of Pascha. Let him reflect that Pascha is the end of the Divine OEconomy. How could the end come about if the beginning had not preceded it? Which is prior to the other? The Nativity of Christ, of course, is prior to the OEconomy of His Passion.
The glories of Pascha, therefore, belong to the laudations of His Nativity. If one enumerates the benefactions recorded in the Gospels and reviews the miraculous healings, the provision of food amid scarcity, the return of the dead from the tombs, the extemporaneous production of wine, the expulsion of demons, the transmutation of various illnesses into health, the saltations of the lame, the fashioning of eyes from clay, the Divine teachings, the ordinances of the new Law, the mystagogy, through parables, towards higher things—all of these are a gift of the present day. Therefore, “let us rejoice and be glad in it,” not fearing the reproach of men, as the prophet exhorts, nor being overcome by the contempt of those who deride the rationale of the OEconomy, saying that it is not seemly that the Lord should assume bodily nature and mingle with human life through birth, ignorant, it seems, of the mystery involved in this matter, how the Wisdom of God wrought our salvation. We had voluntarily sold ourselves to our sins and were in bondage to the enemy of our life like bought slaves. What, indeed, would you like the Master to have done? Is it not to have delivered you from calamity? Why do you quibble about the manner of your deliverance? Why do you lay down the law for your Benefactor, as if you receive no benefit from Him? It is as if one were to spurn his doctor and reprove him for doing good, because he effected the cure not in this way, but in another way. If you inquire, out of curiosity, into the magnitude of the Divine OEconomy, it is sufficient for you to realize that the Divinity is not just one good thing among others, but is whatever good we can conceive: powerful, just, good, and wise, whatever names and concepts possess a meaning that befits God. Consider, therefore, whether all the attributes that I have mentioned—goodness, wisdom, power, and justice—coincide in the benefaction wrought for us. As good, He loved the apostate; as wise, He devised a means for the return of those in bondage. As just, He did not coerce him who had enslaved mankind, who had justly acquired him by purchase; rather, He gave Himself in exchange for those held fast, in order that, transferring the debt to Himself like a guarantor, He might set the detainee free from those detaining him. As powerful, He was not held fast by Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption. For it was not possible that the Author of life should be held fast by corruption. But was it not disgraceful for Him to undergo human birth and undergo the experience of sufferings in the flesh? You are speaking of His exceeding beneficence. For since it was not possible for humanity to be delivered from so many evils in any other way, the King of all dispassion suffered to exchange His own glory for our life. His purity descended to our filth; but our filth had no effect on His purity, as the Gospel says: “And the light shone in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.” Darkness is disappeared by the presence of light; the sun is not dimmed by darkness. Mortality is swallowed up by life, as the Apostle says; life is not consumed by death. That which is corrupted is saved along with what is incorrupt. Corruption does not affect incorruption. For this reason, there is a common symphony of all creation, all things sending up unanimous doxology to the Master of creation, every tongue of those in Heaven, on earth, and under the earth crying that the Lord Jesus Christ, in the glory of God the Father, is blessed unto the ages of ages. Amen.
(Note: hosted by an old calendar site:
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!