Daily Meditations

First Day of Christmas Advent: The Winter Pascha

The Christmas-Epiphany season in the Orthodox Church begins with a forty-day fasting period….When winter begins to make its way into the northern hemisphere, the Church of Christ begins to celebrate  the feast of Christ’s Nativity…called [Winter] Pascha. This emphasizes its close connection with the mystery of our salvation and deliverance from sin and death; the mystery which the holy Church proclaims in her dogmatic teachings and with which she brings us into direct spiritual contact in her liturgical services and sacraments.

The liturgical services for Christmas, officially called The Nativity According to the Flesh of Our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ, are consciously patterned after the services for the festival of the Pascha of the Lord, the holy Resurrection. There are pre-feast preparations. There are the special royal hours with their prophecies, epistles, gospels, and hymns on the eve of the feast, followed by the vesperal liturgy of St Basil the Great. There is the solemn all-night vigil, crowned by the matin’s canon and hymns. And finally, after the eucharistic celebration of St John Chrysostom on the day of the feast itself, the celebration continues to its completion in the festival of The Meeting of the Lord in the Temple forty days later. At the center of the festal season remains the original “Festival of Lights,” the holy Epiphany, officially called in the Orthodox Church The Holy Theophany of Our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ.

The liturgical verses and hymns for Christmas and Epiphany, the Pascha of Christ’s incarnation and manifestation in the flesh, repeat those of Easter, the Pascha of Christ’s death and resurrection. The Lord’s birth and baptism are directly connected to His dying and rising.  He was born in order to die. He was baptized in order to be raised. The con-holy Epiphany, officially called in the Orthodox Church, The harmony between the events is overwhelming. The beauty of it is almost more than the believer can bear.

Today He who hung the earth upon the waters

is hung upon the tree.

Today He who holds the whole creation in His hand

is born of a virgin.

The King of angels is decked with a crown of thorns.

He whose essence none can touch is bound

in swaddling-clothes as a mortal man.

He who wraps the heavens in a cloud

is wrapped in the purple of mockery.

God who in the beginning fashioned the heavens

lies in a manger.

He who freed Adam in the Jordan

is slapped in the face.

He who rained manna on His people in the wilderness

is fed on milk from His mother’s breast.

The Bridegroom of the Church is affixed

to the cross with nails.

The Bridegroom of the Church summons the wise men.

The Son of the Virgin is pierced with a spear.

The Son the Virgin accepts their gifts.

We worship Thy Passion, O Christ!

We worship Thy Passion, O Christ!

We worship Thy Passion, O Christ!

We worship Thy Nativity, O Christ!

We worship Thy Nativity, O Christ!

We worship Thy Nativity, O Christ!

Show us also Thy glorious Resurrection!

Show us also Thy glorious Theophany!

Jesus lay as an infant in the cavern in the reign of Caesar Augustus that He might lay in the tomb under Pontius Pilate. He was hounded by Herod that He might be caught by Caiaphas. He was buried in baptism that He might descend into death through the Cross. He was worshipped by wise men that the whole of creation might adore Him in His triumph over death. The Pascha of His Cross was prepared by the Pascha of His Coming. The Pascha of His Resurrection was begun by the Pascha of His Incarnation. The Pascha of His Glorification was foretold by the Pascha of His Baptism. This is what Christians celebrate each year in what Father Alexander Schmemann was the first to call “the Winter Pascha.”

~Adapted from Thomas Hopko, The Winter Pascha: Readings for the Christmas-Epiphany Season