Christ is Born!
Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints!
On December 29, we remember the horrific slaying of 14,000 infants by Herod, performed due to his fear and jealousy of the coming Messiah. A life in Christ is a life of both martyrdom ..in other words, it is a life of humility.. By fearing this humility, Herod “lamented that his power would soon be destroyed” (Kontakia of the day) and sought to destroy Christ instead…Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, was in a furious rage, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time which he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they were no more.” (Mt 2:16-18)… Jesus escaped the slaughter of the children by his parents’ flight into Egypt.The angel warned Joseph in a dream, Rise, take the Child and His mother, and flee into Egypt, and remain there till I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the Child, to destroy Him” (Mt 2:13). From His very first days Jesus was rejected on earth. He was hunted down by Herod, only to be finally caught by Pilate who, together with the leaders of His own people, put the Messiah to death. The reason for such hostility to the point of murder is given by Christ Himself, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (Jn 3:19)… The question put to all who celebrate Christ’s Winter Pascha concerns their own relationship to the Lord. Are we ready to receive Him, and therefore to love as He has loved us, even to the point of death? [Taken from, “The Winter Pascha” by Protopresbyter Thomas Hopko, SVS Press, 1984. Available at SVS Bookstore, 800-204-book.]
The Child as God, God as Child… It is the words “child” and “God” which give us the most striking revelation about the Christmas mystery. In a certain profound way, this is a mystery directed toward the child who continues to secretly live within every adult, to the child who continues to hear what the adult no longer hears, and who responds with a joy which the adult, in his mundane, grown-up, tired and cynical world, is no longer capable of feeling. Yes, Christmas is a feast for children,
Yet Christ said “become like children” (Mt 18:3). What does this mean? What are adults missing, or better, what has been choked, drowned or deafened by a thick layer of adulthood? Above all, is it not that capacity, so characteristic of children, to wonder, to rejoice and, most importantly, to be whole both in joy and sorrow?
Adulthood chokes as well the ability to trust, to let go and give one’s self completely to love and to believe with all one’s being. And finally, children take seriously what adults are no longer capable of accepting: dreams, that which breaks through our everyday experience and our cynical mistrust, that deep mystery of the world and everything within it revealed to saints, children, and poets.
Thus, only when we break through to the child living hidden within us, can we inherit as our own the joyful mystery of God coming to us as a child. The child has neither authority nor power, yet the very absence of authority reveals him to be a king; his defenselessness and vulnerability are precisely the source of his profound power. The child in that distant Bethlehem cave has no desire that we fear him; He enters our hearts not by frightening us, by proving his power and authority, but by love alone. He is given to us as a child, and only as children can we in turn love him and give ourselves to him. The world is ruled by authority and power, by fear and domination. The child God liberates us from that. All He desires from us is our love, freely given and joyful; all He desires is that we give him our heart. And we give it to a defenseless, endlessly trusting child. (Excerpt from Celebration of Faith, Vol. 2: The Church Year,The Divine Child by Fr. Alexander Schmemann, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1994.)
A WEEK AFTER CHRISTMAS
Anthony Bloom Metropolitan of Sourozh
1985, January 13
In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.
In imagination we think ourselves 2000 years back. What wonder should fill us: a week, and the world has become different. The world that had been for thousands of years like the lost sheep was now the sheep found, taken upon His shoulders by the Son of God become the son of man. The unbridgeable gap that sin had created between God and man was now at least incipiently bridged; God had entered into history, God Himself had become man. God had taken flesh and all things visible, what we perceive in our blindness as dead, inert matter, could in His body recognise itself in glory. Something absolutely new had occurred; the world was no longer the same.
Moreover, there is another aspect to the Incarnation. God had become man, but God in Christ had spoken words of truth, that was decisive, that gradually like yeast dropped into dough was to change the world; God had revealed to us the greatness of man. Christ becoming man was evidence, is and will remain forever evidence, that man is so vast, so deep, so mysteriously deep, that he can not only contain the divine presence as a temple, but unite himself with God, вЂњbecome partaker of the divine natureвЂќ, as St. Peter puts it in his Epistle. And again that man is great, and that however far we fall away from our vocation, however unworthy we may become of it, God will never re-establish with us a relationship which is less than that of His fatherhood and our condition of sons and daughters of the Most High. The prodigal son was asking his father to receive him as a hireling now that he was unworthy of being called a son; but the father did not accept it. When the son made his confession, the father stopped him before he could even pronounce those words, because God does not accept our debasement, we are no slaves and no hirelings. Has not Christ said to His disciples, “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know the will of his master, and lo, I have told you everything.”
Again, the proclamation in Christ and by Him that what matters supremely is every person, that He lives and dies for every one of us, that it is not collective units that matter, but each of us. Each of us, tells us the Book of Revelation, possesses for God a name, a name which will be revealed to us at the end of time, but a name which no one can know but God and he who receives it, because this name is our relationship to God, unique, unrepeatable. Each of us is unique for Him. What a wonder! The ancient world knew of nations and races, it knew of slaves and owners, it knew of categories of people, exactly in the same way in which the modern world that is gradually becoming not only secular but pagan, distinguishes categories and types and groups; God knows only living men and women.
And then a new justice was introduced, or rather proclaimed by Him, not the distributive and retributive justice of the law, another justice. When Christ says to us, “let your justice be beyond that of the scribes and pharisees,” He speaks of the way in which God treats each of us. He accepts each of us as we are. He accepts good and evil, He rejoices in the good, and He dies because of and for the sake of what is evil. And that is what God calls us to remember, and how He calls us to be and to behave – not only within our Christian circle but in the whole world, to look at every person with that kind of justice; not judging and condemning, but seeing in each person the beauty which God has impressed upon it and which we call “the image of God in man”. Venerate this beauty, work for this beauty to shine in all glory, dispelling what is evil and dark and making it possible, by the recognition of beauty in each other, for this beauty to become reality and to conquer.
He has taught us also about love which the ancient world did not know, and the modern world, like the old one, is so afraid of: A love that accepted to be vulnerable, helpless, giving, sacrificial; a love that gives without counting, a love that gives not only what it possesses, but itself. That is what the Gospel, that is what the Incarnation brought into the world, and this has remained in the world. Christ said that “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot comprehend it,” but it cannot put it out either. And this light shines and shall shine, but it will conquer only if we undertake to be its heralds and the doers of these commandments of justice and of love, if we accept God’s vision of the world and bring to it our faith, that is, our certainty and our hope, which is the only power that can help others to start anew; but to start anew they must see newness in us. The world has become incipiently new by the union of God with man, when the Word became flesh; it is for us to be a revelation of this newness, the resplendence and shining of God in the darkness or the dusk of this world.
May God grant us courage and love and greatness of heart to be His messengers and His witnesses, and may the blessing of the Lord be upon you by His grace and love towards mankind always, now and forever and world without end. Amen.
Apolytikion of Holy Innocents
Be entreated, O Lord, by the sufferings endured for You by the Saints, and we pray You, heal all our pain.
Kontakion of Holy Innocents
Plagal of the Second Tone
When the King was born in Bethlehem, the Magi arrived from the East with gifts guided by a Star on high, but Herod was troubled and mowed down the children like wheat; for he lamented that his power would soon be destroyed.