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Topic of the Week – A Homily in Preparation for the Celebration of Christmas: According to Saint John Chrysostom
A feast day is about to arrive and it is the most holy, august, and awesome of all feasts; it would be no mistake to call it the chief and mother of all holy days. What feast is that? The day of Christ’s birth in the flesh. It is from this day that the feasts of the Theophany, the sacred Pascha, the Ascension, and Pentecost had their source and foundation. Had Christ not been born in the flesh, he would not have been baptized, which is the Theophany or Manifestation; nor would he have been crucified, which is the Pascha; nor would he have sent down the Spirit, which is Pentecost. So, it is that, just as different rivers arise from a source, these other feasts have their beginnings from the birth of Christ.
Not only for this reason it is right that the day of Christ’s birth should enjoy the principal place but also because what occurred on this day provides a much stronger reason for us to experience a holy fear and trembling than all the others do. For the fact that Christ, who became man, also died was a consequence of his birth. Even though he was free from any sin, he did take upon himself a mortal body, and that should make us marvel. That he who is God was willing to become man, that he endured to accommodate himself to our weakness and to come down to our level is too great for our minds to grasp. It makes us shudder with the deepest holy fear; it fills us with terror and trembling….
“…Therefore, let us tear down this wall and, from this time on, let us bid everything farewell for these five days and begin to observe the feast. Away with business of the law courts! Away with the business of the City Council! Away with daily affairs together with their contracts and business deals! I wish to save my soul. “What does it profit a man if he gain the whole world but suffer the loss of his soul?” The magi went forth from Persia. You go forth from the affairs of daily life. Make your journey to Jesus; it is not far to travel if we are willing to make the trip. We need not cross the sea nor climb the mountain crests. If you prove your piety and full compunction, you can see him without leaving home, you can tear down the whole wall, remove every obstacle, and shorten the length of the journey. As the prophet said: “I am a God who is near at hand and not a God afar off,” and: “The Lord is close to all who call upon him in truth.”
But, as it is, many of those who do believe have come to a high pitch of folly and contempt. Even though their souls are weighted down with countless sins and they feel no concern for themselves, they still approach this table on feasts days with no thought or preparation. They do this because they fail to realize that it is not the feast day nor the assembly but a pure conscience and a life freed from sin which make the time right for communion. The man whose conscience is free from fault should approach this table every day. But for the man who is in the grip of his sins and is unrepentant, it is perilous to approach this table even on feasts. For surely coming once a year does not free us from the reproach of our sins if we draw near to the table with an unworthy heart. In fact, our condemnation is the greater because, even though we come but once a year, on that one occasion we approach the table with an uncleansed soul.
Therefore, I exhort all of you not to take in your hands these divine mysteries because you feel that the feast forces you to do so. If ever you should be going to share in this holy sacrificial offering, I urge you to cleanse your hearts many days before. How? By repenting, praying, giving alms, and devoting your efforts to things of the spirit. Do not, like a dog, turn yourself back again to your own vomit.
Listen to these Christmas Hymns: Christ is Born, Give Glory! full album — Archangel Voices – YouTube
“…This is what amazed Paul when he said: “Wonderful indeed, is the mystery of our religion.” How wonderful? “God was manifested in the flesh.” And again, in another place: “God is not taking to himself the angels but he is concerned with taking to himself the children of Abraham; therefore, it was right for him to become like his brothers in every way.” This is why I especially greet and love this day. This is why I set before your eyes his love so that I may make you share in it. And this is why I ask and beg all of you to be here in Church for that feast with all zeal and alacrity. Let each of us leave his house empty so that we may see our master wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. This is a sight which is filled with holy fear and trembling. It is incredible and beyond our every expectation.
What defense or excuse will we have when, for our sake, he comes down from heaven, but we do not even leave our homes to come to him? The magi were strangers and foreigners from Persia. Yet they came to see him lying in the manger. Can you, a Christian, not bear to give a brief measure of time to enjoy this blessed sight? If we shall present ourselves in a spirit of faith, there is no doubt but that we shall truly see him as he lies in the manger. For the table of this altar takes the place of the manger.
And surely the master’s body will be lying on this altar, not wrapped in swaddling clothes, as it was after birth, but clothed all about by the Holy Spirit. Those who have been initiated understand what I am saying. The magi adored him, but that was all. If your conscience is without stain when you come forward, we shall allow you even to receive that body and then to go off to your home. Do you, therefore, come forward and bring your gifts, not such gifts as the magi brought, but gifts which are far holier and more august. The magi brought gold; you bring a temperate and virtuous spirit. They brought incense; you must offer pure prayers, which are the incense of the soul. They brought myrrh; you must bring a humble and contrite heart along with alms….”
Read the entire homily here: A Homily in Preparation for the Celebration of Christmas: According to Saint John Chrysostom (orthodoxethos.com)
How have you and your family been preparing for the celebration of Christmas? Is it the way St. John Chrysostom describes? Do you need to change what you have been doing? There is still some time left until the feast! Will you and your family be in Church “with zeal and alacrity” for Christ?
A Message from Maria Spanos
I am passionate about our Orthodox Christian faith and seek to help others learn as much as they can about it. My purpose here is to share online resources that help strengthen our relationship with Christ and bind us closer to His Church. I believe they are invaluable in learning about our precious Orthodox Tradition, and are a great aid for teaching family members, friends and others about Orthodoxy. ~Maria
Two of my favorite quotes:
“A true Christian behaves in this life so that it may be a preparation for the future one and not only a life here below. In his actions, he does not think what will be said of him here but of what will be said there in heaven; he represents to himself that he is always in the presence of God, of the angels and all the saints, and remembers that someday they will bear witness of his thoughts, words, and deeds.” — Saint John of Kronstadt
“Of all the holy works, the education of children is the most holy.”
— St. Theophan the Recluse