Monday, December 21, 2009

Preparing for the Nativity

Dear Parish Faithful,

My intention this week was to write a few meditations on the approaching Feast of our Lord's Nativity. However, the unexpected and sudden death of His Eminence, Archbishop Job has altered the course of the week for many of us. I will be leaving for Chicago sometime on Tuesday so as to be present at the funeral service(s) for Archbishop Job. Today, I am somewhat overwhelmed and have to "fit in" a few things I left for this week. Be that as it may, I am forwarding a pre-festal "message" from Fr. John Ealy, a semi-retired Orthodox priest from Florida. Fr. John very emphatically reminds us of our preparation for Nativity and the focus of the Feast.

As announced in church yesterday, we will have the Pre-festal Vespers scheduled for this evening at 7:00 p.m. I once again "invite" you into the quiet and peaceful atmosphere of the church this evening for a service that is Christ-centered from beginning to end. Then, our next services will be on Thursday morning, the eve of the Feast. These are the Royal Hours at 9:00 a.m.; 10:00 a.m.; 11:00 a.m. and Noon. We now have readers!

Matins at 7:00 p.m. on Thursday evening
Divine Liturgy on Friday, December 25, at 9:30 a.m.
Great Vespers on Saturday, December 26, at 6:00 p.m.
Divine Liturgy on Sunday, December 27, at 9:30 a.m.

Fr. Steven

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Please remember this is a special week in the Church. It is the "Holy Week" of the pre-feast services held every evening at Church. There is no Christian Feast without preparation. Orthodox Christians DO NOT feast before the feast. Doing so is participating in pagan festivities. We prepare for and celebrate the Feast by participating in the Liturgy of the Church. Here we come to know who Jesus is, why He came, and what this means to us and for us. THIS IS THE ONLY REASON FOR CELEBRATING AT THIS TIME.

December 24th is a strict fast day and not a day of celebration. The strict fast comes at the end of our ascetical Advent fast. It is not a day for family gatherings and festivities. IT IS A STRICT FAST AS A FINAL PREPARATION SO WE MAY BE ABLE TO ENTER INTO THE JOY OF OUR LORD, CELEBRATING THE COMING OF THE ONE, WHO CAME FOR US MEN AND FOR OUR SALVATION. It is the last day of preparation for the Feast. This year the Vigil for the Feast is at 7 p.m. (after the Holy Supper). The Vigil finds its fulfillment in our participation in the Eucharistic banquet at the Divine Liturgy on the morning of December 25. God reveals and gives Himself to us in Word and Sacrament.

It is important that we teach our children what we celebrate. Please remember we are not celebrating the "pagan liturgy" of santa and gifts on Christmas morning. We celebrate the gift of the coming of God in the flesh. He comes for us men and for our salvation. He returns us to paradise where we eat of the fruit divine. Eating of that fruit is our gathering at the banquet table in His Kingdom at the Eucharistic Liturgy. That "eating" begins as we stand in VIGIL when we hear God's words in the liturgical hymns proclaiming that, "CHRIST IS BORN."

The ICON of the NATIVITY and the ICON of the THEOPHANY should be the focal point of our home celebration for these Feasts of the winter Pascha. The Icon gives us the full meaning of the Feast and why we celebrate. Beginning with the Prefeast we sing the Prefeast Troparion before meals and on the Feast until Dec. 31 we sing the Troparion before meals and the Kontakion after meals.



On Monday evening we began the Pre-feast of the Nativity of our Lord. The first Hymn we hear at the pre-feast vespers, invites us with these words to come and celebrate the prefeast of Christ's Nativity: "LET US CELEBRATE, O PEOPLE THE PREFEAST OF CHRIST'S NATIVITY...WITH THE EYES OF OUR SOUL, LET US BEHOLD THE VIRGIN, AS SHE HASTENS TO THE CAVE TO GIVE BIRTH TO THE LORD AND GOD OF ALL...."


With these words we begin our "Holy Week" of preparation. God in His wisdom nourishes us with His Word at these important liturgical services. They remind us of what we are preparing for and what we will celebrate, that is, the coming of God in the flesh who is the "Lord and God of all."

Each night at vespers and compline we hear the announcement of who is coming and why He comes. To know Christ and who He is, and why He has come, all one needs to do is to come and behold the most unusual and most glorious mystery we are preparing to celebrate. It is truly a mystery. For how is it possible for the creature to give birth to the "Lord and God of all." How is it possible for the uncontainable One to be contained. How is it possible for the creator to become a creature. This is the great mystery. It is the great mystery of God's love for us, a love that is unconditional. He loved us in our sin and in our sinful condition without any strings attached. His love made the impossible possible. "God is love" is the underlying proclamation of all these prefeast services.


The prefeast of the Nativity and Theophany follows the pattern of the prefeast or Holy Week before Pascha. The style of the hymns, the tones used all remind us of that Great Week before Pascha. Both feasts, Nativity and Theophany, are Pascal Feasts. They are related to Pascha, rooted in Pascha, and their meaning is fulfilled in Pascha. The prefeast liturgical hymns remind us of this.


Come then, let us all celebrate the prefeast of Christ's Nativity. Come let us receive the word of God into our hearts through the inspired hymns of His Liturgy in His holy Church. Let us use this time to go up to Bethlehem and grow spiritually, then when the day of the Feast comes we can enter into the joy of our Lord. Let us welcome Christ into our midst, the One who existed as the Son of God in the bosom of the Father before the world began. Let us welcome Him as the only One who gives meaning to our lives.