Wednesday, December 11, 2013



      During this holy season we hear some Christmas songs like Silent Night, Holy Night, Away in A Manger, Come All You Faithful, Jingle Bells, I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas, Santa Claus is coming, and others which after a few days are soon forgotten by most people.  There is a difference in how divinely inspired Orthodox hymns reach the depths of minds and hearts, filling them with  the good news of the Birth of Christ, not easy to forget. Orthodox hymnology is a special grace, and is the  richest source of hymns of praise which narrate, all the aspects and events of the Nativity of Christ. Orthodox Christmas hymns are filled with the spirit of Christmas and remain indelibly written in many hearts.  Also, the fact that the Spirit inspires many hymn-writers is another reason for their beauty; here are a few samples.

Christ is born! Glorify Him!
Christ comes  from the heaven,
Go to meet Him!
Christ is on earth; Be exalted; 
Sing unto the Lord all the earth;
Praise Him in gladness O people, 
For He has been glorified!

   This Christ-centered hymn is used in Orthodoxy from mid November until Christmas, the Feast of Christ’s Birth.  Orthodox Christians observe a moderate fast beginning on November 15th and ending with the Feast Day of Christmas. This hymn begins November 21, which is the Feast of the Entrance of the Virgin  into the temple and the holy of holies where, at the tender age of three, she begins preparation that will be completed when she is betrothed to Joseph. By prayer and fasting, rejoicing in the Lord, by communion with angels, she  prepared to fulfill her awesome destiny which will cause her to become the best and  greatest person ever to come from the human race.  The greatness of her birthgiving can best be expressed in these words.  Our Father who is in heaven is giving birth and the Virgin gave birth to the same Son, our God, Jesus Christ!  At the Annunciation, the Archangel Gabriel joyfully bestowed upon her a new name saying Rejoice: “Full of Grace” and in her wondrous birthgiving she receives another name, the Ever-virgin Theotokos, for she gave  birth to God in the flesh, our Savior Jesus Christ!

      On the Feast Day of Christ’s birth, we sing the following hymn, which is offered in Orthodox Churches throughout the world.

Your Nativity O Christ our God,
Arose upon the world as 
the Light of knowledge,
For by it those 
Who worshiped the stars,
Are being taught by a star,
To adore you, the Sun if Justice
And to know you 
the Sunrise from on high,
O Lord, glory to you!

    The following short hymn of the glory of Christ’s birth was first heard from the radiant and heavenly voices of the angels, who “greeted the shepherds as they watched over their flock by night, and behold, an angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them, and they were very much afraid. And the angel said unto them: Do not be afraid; for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.  For unto you is born upon this day in the city of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: You shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger, and suddenly there was a multitude of heavenly powers praising God with this hymn:

Glory to God in the highest!
And on earth peace, 
Good will among men!”

    Many people quickly forget about Christmas in a few days or by the New Year. But Orthodox Christians have access to continuous reminders of  Christmas and in this hymn, for this praise, “Glory to God in the highest . . .”  introduced by the  angels, begins our Great Doxology, which is sung immediately before Divine Liturgy on Sundays, as we hear the angels praise, our memories go back to the Birth of Christ.

     The hymn below heralding the gladness of Christmas,  and sung at that time, is  called a kontakion: which is a brief account of the feast:

Today the Virgin gives birth
To the transcendent One;
And the earth now offers a cave
To the Unapproachable One;
Angels, together with the shepherds, 
Sing out hymns of glory.
Magi come after they had followed a star.
For unto us is born upon this day,
A new Child, who is God before the ages.

     In the Logos of God taking flesh from the Virgin and becoming a small infant, can be seen the gentleness, peace and love of God.  The Lord, in His great goodness and mercy, offers Christ and salvation to every person who desires Him, but they will be led to the Church He heads to receive Him. For without the true  Church, Christ is not reachable.  Unlike the Old Covenant between God and the Hebrews, who were a chosen people, in the new covenant, the newborn Child  offers himself to every person, in every generation with no exclusions, and thus Christ cries out: “Come unto me all you that labor and are heavily laden and I will give you rest to your souls.”  That Christ is for everyone can be seen by the fact that the Apostles were sent into all the world and to preach Christ and the Good News to all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit!

     In this temporary world everyone must die and there is no escape.  So this world is not our destination for we hope in the  heavenly world that has no end.  God did not create us and give us spirit only to be born and then die after a brief life. Without Christ we remain in our sins and without hope. Christ is our hope and our salvation and fills those who follow Him with joy.

 The Devil always does his  dirty work, for he is the hater of mankind, working either himself or through his demons, arousing disobedience and the resultant sins are the cause of the onset of all the ills of the human race. Beginning with the first man and to each of us, sin is the cause of sickness, accidents, crime, war, lying, stealing, hatred,  cheating, fornication and adultery, and eventual death. It is the cause of much destruction, including droughts, floods,  wild storms, tornadoes, earthquakes, fires, volcanoes and hurricanes. God is not the cause of any evil, because God is good and the only Lover of man. The many disasters that occur should give us reason to reflect on what we are doing with our lives and what will eventually become of us as well as what our ultimate end will be, which we can determine to some degree by the life we live. 
    While God is good and merciful, he is also just and cannot be bribed, so every one will receive what he deserves. We desperately need His great mercy. But without Jesus Christ we cannot expect mercy from God the Father, who sent Him into the world, whoever does not receive Jesus Christ and enter His Church, will be judged, for He is the Light of the world, He is the Way, the Truth,  and the Life of all men, and He clearly proclaims: “Upon this rock I will build my Church and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.”

     As we adore the Child in Bethlehem, we recall that He came to save us from this fallen world, He did not come to make this world a better place, but to bring us into His Kingdom, and Christmas is the beginning of His preaching. The child says do you see what I am doing for you? I am becoming like you but sinless. Do you see the gold the magi brought?  I am your only king. Do you see the frankincense they offered?  I am truly God. Do you see the myrrh they gave me? This shows that I will die for you on the Cross and be buried.

 The  main purpose in all men’s lives, is not to change  society to make it a better world.  It is that while we are still on this earth, each of us by sincere repentance, walk in the newness of life, as St. Paul teaches.  Christ says, and we should say with Him: “My kingdom is not of this world.” Only by changing ourselves, can we become members of  heavenly kingdom, entrance to this kingdom is the Church, hence our Divine Liturgy proclaims: “Blessed is the kingdom of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and forever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.” 

         Non-Orthodox Christmas hymn which delivers the message of Christ’s Birth: 

Joy to the World , the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.

Joy to the World, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.

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