Feliz Navidad! Joyeux Noël!

December 26, 2009

Feliz Navidad! Joyeux Noël!

As a sometimes student of Spanish and French, I want to wish all a very Merry Christmas in both these languages!

For a look at Christmas from an Eastern Christian perspective in Spanish, check out this page from Iglesia de la Santisima Virgen Maria — Santiago, Chile.

It contains a full explanation of the Feast of the Nativity in Spanish. Those who read some Spanish will recognize these quotes from the Canon for Nativity and its troparion.

Cristo ha nacido, glorifícale. Cristo ha venido del cielo, ven a su encuentro. Cristo está sobre la tierra, elévense. Canta al Señor, toda la tierra. Canten con alegría, oh pueblos. Pues Él ha sido glorificado. (Primera Oda del Canon de la Navidad)

Tu nacimiento, oh Cristo Nuestro Dios, ha hecho resplandecer sobre el mundo la luz de la sabiduría. Porque los que adoraban las estrellas aprendieron de la estrella a adorarte a Ti, el Sol de Justicia, que desde las alturas viniste. Oh Señor, Gloria a Ti. (Tropario)

A similar page for the Nativity in French can be found here. Here’s the troparion in French:

Ta naissance, Ô Christ, notre Dieu,
a fait resplendir dans le monde la lumière de l’intelligence.
Ceux qui servaient les astres

sont insruits par l’astre de t’adorer,
Soleil de Justice, et te contempler,

Orient veant des hauteurs.
Seigneur, gloire à toi !

Le Christ est né! Glorifions-Le!

¡Cristo ha nacido! ¡Glorifícale!

Christ is born! Glorify Him!


Is the Date for Christmas Pagan?

December 24, 2009

The received notion is that December 25th was chosen for the celebration of the birth of Christ to help convert pagans. But, the evidence for that idea is weak. A very interesting article in Biblical Archaeology Review gives another perspective. It concludes:

How did December 25 become Christmas? We cannot be entirely sure. Elements of the festival that developed from the fourth century until modern times may well derive from pagan traditions. Yet the actual date might really derive more from Judaism—from Jesus’ death at Passover, and from the rabbinic notion that great things might be expected, again and again, at the same time of the year—than from paganism.

The whole article “How December 25 became Christmas” here.


Christmas Sermon of St. John Chrysostom

December 24, 2009

St John Chrysostom

BEHOLD a new and wondrous mystery. My ears resound to the Shepherd’s song, piping no soft melody, but chanting full forth a heavenly hymn. The Angels sing. The Archangels blend their voice in harmony. The Cherubim hymn their joyful praise. The Seraphim exalt His glory. All join to praise this holy feast, beholding the Godhead here on earth, and man in heaven. He Who is above, now for our redemption dwells here below; and he that was lowly is by divine mercy raised.

Bethlehem this day resembles heaven; hearing from the stars the singing of angelic voices; and in place of the sun, enfolds within itself on every side, the Sun of justice. And ask not how: for where God wills, the order of nature yields. For He willed; He had the power; He descended; He redeemed; all things yielded in obedience to God. This day He Who is, is Born; and He Who is, becomes what He was not. For when He was God, He became man; yet not departing from the Godhead that is His. Nor yet by any loss of divinity became He man, nor through increase became He God from man; but being the Word He became flesh, His nature, because of impassability, remaining unchanged.

And so the kings have come, and they have seen the heavenly King that has come upon the earth, not bringing with Him Angels, nor Archangels, nor Thrones, nor Dominations, nor Powers, nor Principalities, but, treading a new and solitary path, He has come forth from a spotless womb.
Since this heavenly birth cannot be described, neither does His coming amongst us in these days permit of too curious scrutiny. Though I know that a Virgin this day gave birth, and I believe that God was begotten before all time, yet the manner of this generation I have learned to venerate in silence and I accept that this is not to be probed too curiously with wordy speech.

For with God we look not for the order of nature, but rest our faith in the power of Him who works.

What shall I say to you; what shall I tell you? I behold a Mother who has brought forth; I see a Child come to this light by birth. The manner of His conception I cannot comprehend.

Nature here rested, while the Will of God labored. O ineffable grace! The Only Begotten, Who is before all ages, Who cannot be touched or be perceived, Who is simple, without body, has now put on my body, that is visible and liable to corruption. For what reason? That coming amongst us he may teach us, and teaching, lead us by the hand to the things that men cannot see. For since men believe that the eyes are more trustworthy than the ears, they doubt of that which they do not see, and so He has deigned to show Himself in bodily presence, that He may remove all doubt.

Christ, finding the holy body and soul of the Virgin, builds for Himself a living temple, and as He had willed, formed there a man from the Virgin; and, putting Him on, this day came forth; unashamed of the lowliness of our nature.

For it was to Him no lowering to put on what He Himself had made. Let that handiwork be forever glorified, which became the cloak of its own Creator. For as in the first creation of flesh, man could not be made before the clay had come into His hand, so neither could this corruptible body be glorified, until it had first become the garment of its Maker.

What shall I say! And how shall I describe this Birth to you? For this wonder fills me with astonishment. The Ancient of days has become an infant. He Who sits upon the sublime and heavenly Throne, now lies in a manger. And He Who cannot be touched, Who is simple, without complexity, and incorporeal, now lies subject to the hands of men. He Who has broken the bonds of sinners, is now bound by an infants bands. But He has decreed that ignominy shall become honor, infamy be clothed with glory, and total humiliation the measure of His Goodness.

For this He assumed my body, that I may become capable of His Word; taking my flesh, He gives me His spirit; and so He bestowing and I receiving, He prepares for me the treasure of Life. He takes my flesh, to sanctify me; He gives me His Spirit, that He may save me.

Come, then, let us observe the Feast. Truly wondrous is the whole chronicle of the Nativity. For this day the ancient slavery is ended, the devil confounded, the demons take to flight, the power of death is broken, paradise is unlocked, the curse is taken away, sin is removed from us, error driven out, truth has been brought back, the speech of kindliness diffused, and spreads on every side, a heavenly way of life has been ¡in planted on the earth, angels communicate with men without fear, and men now hold speech with angels.

Why is this? Because God is now on earth, and man in heaven; on every side all things commingle. He became Flesh. He did not become God. He was God. Wherefore He became flesh, so that He Whom heaven did not contain, a manger would this day receive. He was placed in a manger, so that He, by whom all things arc nourished, may receive an infant¢s food from His Virgin Mother. So, the Father of all ages, as an infant at the breast, nestles in the virginal arms, that the Magi may more easily see Him. Since this day the Magi too have come, and made a beginning of withstanding tyranny; and the heavens give glory, as the Lord is revealed by a star.

To Him, then, Who out of confusion has wrought a clear path, to Christ, to the Father, and to the Holy Ghost, we offer all praise, now and for ever. Amen.

St. John Chrysostom, “Homily on Christmas Morning”


Some Hymns for Nativity

December 23, 2009

Words for the first hymn:

Tropar of the Pre-Feast of the Nativity:

Prepare, O Bethlehem,
For Eden has been opened to all.
Adorn yourself, O Ephratha,
For the Tree of Life blossoms forth from the Virgin in the cave.
Her womb is a spiritual paradise planted with the fruit divine;
If we eat of it, we shall live forever and not die like Adam.
Christ is coming to restore the image which He made in the beginning.


India: Non-Chalcedonian Orthodox & Catholics Agree to Share Services

December 22, 2009

INDIA:  Catholic, Orthodox Churches agree to share services
December 18, 2009

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, India (UCAN) — Catholic and Orthodox Churches have agreed to share priestly services and infrastructure in a major development in their often troubled 356-year-old history.

As a first step, they have agreed to share churches for Sunday Mass outside Kerala. Recent meetings between the two also explored the possibility of sharing cemeteries and the services of priests at funerals.

The Church leaders have asked their theologians to prepare guidelines to implement this agreement.

The Inter-religious Dialogue Commission of the Kerala Catholic Bishops’ Council met with the Syrian Jacobite and Syrian Orthodox Churches in mid-December to seek ways to foster greater unity and cooperation.

The bishops’ council represents all three Catholic Church rites in Kerala — the Latin, Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara rites.

The rest here.


Meditations on the Nativity

December 22, 2009

Christmas Eve in the Gulag

December 21, 2009

H/T to This is Life:

This from a 1987 AGAIN magazine article (link opens a Word document file) on Pastor Richard Wurmbrand’s experience in a Soviet prison, regarding an Orthodox priest and the man who tortured him, in the pastor’s own words:

When I was in jail I fell very, very ill. I had tuberculosis of the whole surface of both lungs, and four vertebrae were attacked by tuberculosis. I also had intestinal tuberculosis, diabetes, heart failure, jaundice, and other sicknesses I can’t even remember. I was near to death.

At my right hand was a priest by the name of Iscu. He was abbot of a monastery. This man, perhaps in his forties, had been so tortured he was near to death. But his face was serene. He spoke about his hope of heaven, about his love of Christ, about his faith. He radiated joy.

On my left side was the Communist torturer who had tortured this priest almost to death. He had been arrested by his own comrades. Don’t believe the newspapers when they say that the Communists only hate Christians or Jews—it’s not true. They simply hate. They hate everybody. They hate Jews, they hate Christians, they hate anti-Semites, they hate anti-Christians, they hate everybody. One Communist hates the other Communist. They quarrel among themselves, and when they quarrel one Communist with the other, they put the other one in jail and torture him just like a Christian, and they beat him.

And so it happened that the Communist torturer who had tortured this priest nearly to death had been tortured nearly to death by his comrades. And he was dying near me. His soul was in agony.

During the night he would awaken me, saying, “Pastor, please pray for me. I can’t die, I have committed such terrible crimes.”

Then I saw a miracle. I saw the agonized priest calling two other prisoners. And leaning on their shoulders, slowly, slowly he walked past my bed, sat on the bedside of this murderer, and caressed his head—I will never forget this gesture. I watched a murdered man caressing his murderer! That is love—he found a caress for him.

The priest said to the man, “You are young; you did not know what you were doing. I love you with all my heart.” But he did not just say the words. You can say “love,” and it’s just a word of four letters. But he really loved. “I love you with all my heart.”

Then he went on, “If I who am a sinner can love you so much, imagine Christ, who is Love Incarnate, how much He loves you! And all the Christians whom you have tortured, know that they forgive you, they love you, and Christ loves you. He wishes you to be saved much more than you wish to be saved. You wonder if your sins can be forgiven. He wishes to forgive your sins more than you wish your sins to be forgiven. He desires for you to be with Him in heaven much more than you wish to be in heaven with Him. He is Love. You only need to turn to Him and repent.”

In this prison cell in which there was no possibility of privacy, I overheard the confession of the murderer to the murdered. Life is more thrilling than a novel—no novelist has ever written such a thing. The murdered—near to death—received the confession of the murderer. The murdered gave absolution to his murderer.

They prayed together, embraced each other, and the priest went back to his bed. Both men died that same night. It was a Christmas Eve. But it was not a Christmas Eve in which we simply remembered that two thousand years ago Jesus was born in Bethlehem. It was a Christmas Eve during which Jesus was born in the heart of a Communist murderer.

These are things which I have seen with my own eyes.