2017 Nativity of Christ (PDF)


I have gathered all of the 2017 posts from my Blog related to the Nativity Fast and the Feast of the Nativity of Christ into one PDF, which is now available at 2017 Nativity Posts (PDF).

Each year I gather related posts into a PDF  for the Nativity, Great Lent, Holy Week and Pascha and other themes.   You can find a list of all the PDFs I’ve created since 2008 related to scripture, feasts or other Orthodox topics at  Fr. Ted’s PDFs.


The Incarnation of God is Our Salvation

“It is important to note that, in accordance with Irenaeus’s general understanding of the human person, the focus of Christ’s work is located in the flesh: it is in the flesh that Christ suffered, and through it that he reconciled the flesh which was in bondage, bringing it into union with God. Nevertheless, the work of redemption is solely the work of God, the incarnate Son, throughout:

‘The Lord has redeemed us through his own blood, giving his soul for our soul, his flesh for our flesh, and has poured out the Spirit of the Father for the union and communion of God and men, bringing God down to men through the Spirit, and lifting man up to God through his incarnation, and by his granting to us incorruptibility, firmly and truly, through communion with him.’  (AH 5.1.1)

Again, it is God, who in man, by himself becoming man, accomplishes the economy.

‘…That the manner of Christ’s incarnation preserved the manner of Adam’s formation is due both to the fact that Adam was a type of Christ and to the need for Christ’s flesh to be that of Adam, if he is to recapitulate all in himself, so becoming the head of all those whose ‘head’ had been Adam.'”

(John Behr, Asceticism and Anthropology in Irenaeus and Clement, p. 62 & 63)


This week in the news we learned of yet another attack in Egypt by Muslim extremists against the Coptic Orthodox Church.  Men from the so called Islamic State attacked a church in order to kill some Christians.  There is little doubt if these people had their way, they would destroy the Christian Church.

And yet they are not the first or only people who ever wished to destroy Christ and Christianity.

We heard St. Paul himself say in his letter to the Christians as Galatia:  For you have heard of my former conduct in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it.  (Galatians 1)

St. Paul’s initial reaction to Christianity?  He wanted to destroy it.  God in His omniscience did not stop him from aiding those who attempted to destroy the nascent Christian movement.  Paul was present when the first Christian martyr, Stephen, was stoned to death.  Paul was there to aid in the killing of Christians.  He declared himself to be an enemy of Christianity.

Despite Paul’s murderous intentions and hatred for Christianity, God was still able to call Paul and have him become the evangelist to the Gentiles.   Imagine if the Christians in reaction to Paul and in defense of their fellow Christians, had killed him?  The Church would have been deprived of one of the Apostolic leaders.  God was willing to wait for Paul’s conversion in order to bring Paul to salvation.

Let us pray that God will find the way to use all who would persecute us Christians!  Our prayer should never be for their death but for their conversion.  Whatever their intentions are against us, we should pray that they be saved and unite themselves to Christ.

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Even before St. Paul willed to destroy the Church, we know in the Christmas Gospel story that King Herod wanted to destroy Christ as well.

Now when the magi had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him.” (Matthew 2)

And despite the fact that Christ was a mere infant, as helpless as any human baby is, Jesus was not destroyed.  In fact, God destroyed no one in protecting the infant Jesus.  The killing was done by the enemies of Christ.

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While we contemplate the effort to destroy the Christ child, remember also what salvation is:  Christ from his conception in the womb of the Virgin unites God to creation, divinity to human beings, heaven to earth, the spiritual to the physical.   Salvation consists in the restoration of communion between God and creation.  And when Jesus was but an infant, the salvation of the universe was no larger than that baby.  Yet in that child, the reconciliation between God and humanity was already accomplished.   The Kingdom of Heaven began on earth as a seed and slowly has grown and spread into all the world.

Jesus told this parable:   “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it? It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”   (Mark 4:30-32)

The Kingdom of God did not come from heaven to obliterate the earth, replacing the things of the earth with the things of heaven.  The kingdom of God did not come on earth as some tsunami eradicating everything in its path.  Rather the kingdom of heaven entered into earth as a child in the womb of Mary.  If God used a normal human egg to begin the process of the incarnation, then the Kingdom of God started in this world only .1 mm!  The Kingdom of Heaven begins as a tiny seed, becomes a zygote and eventually an embryo and then a fetus.  The size of God’s Kingdom could actually be measured at a point in history.  It has grown slowly like the mustard shrub, transfiguring and transforming people one by one.  Reclaiming humanity from the inside.  The Kingdom of God is not an external force that smashes the universe to rid the cosmos of anything that is not part of the Kingdom.

And yet, when this kingdom of God was still no bigger than the infant Jesus, the world was seeking to destroy Him and thus to end salvation, to end our reconciliation with God, to end our communion with God.  The Kingdom of God did not come to destroy the world, but the world was seeking to destroy the Kingdom of God.  “The world” 2000 years ago, like today sets itself in opposition to the reconciliation and communion which God offers to the world.  God in love works to reconcile with humanity, humanity is still interested in its own way and cares little for the Communion which God offers.

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Imagine – at one time the salvation of the universe was no larger than a human baby, and was contained in that child and was happening in that infant.    And the salvation of us all was fragile, as fragile as a child.  Yet this is the route God choose to enact the salvation of the world.  God choose such a fragile method, fraught with the possibility of failure, for life is fragile and it is not that difficult for an infant to die.  God the Father entrusted His Son to human parents.  The Holy Trinity’s plan for the salvation of the world required human care and cooperation.  Mary and Joseph actually had to care for this child to make salvation possible.

The mystery of God and God’s infinite love being contained in a little child –  that is the wonder of Christmas.  Our salvation hinged upon the Christ child living in a world in which the Jewish King and the Roman Empire wanted him dead.

O, the mystery of God’s way!  We want God to come and smash His enemies (or maybe more truthfully our enemies) with nuclear weapons which annihilate them.  Instead, God enters the world as a child, vulnerable to all the wickedness of the world.  God’s plan for eternal salvation involves a helpless baby capable of being killed in a second.

When we think about that we come to understand something about our God, and we realize there is a lesson there about why the world continues the way it does and why God doesn’t just annihilate everything and everyone God is unhappy with.  God’s desire is that we all be saved.   “Say to them, As I live, says the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways; for why will you die, O house of Israel?”   (Ezekiel 33:11)

It is for the same reason that God kept St Paul alive and did not destroy him in his wickedness.  God waited for St. Paul to convert rather than destroy him.  “God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”  (1 Timothy 2:3)

God patiently awaits our repentance and conversion.  He is patient even with those who want to destroy Christ.   “Do you not know that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4)

We end up experiencing exactly what God’s chosen saints in every generation experienced:

“They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, ill-treated— of whom the world was not worthy—wandering over deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And all these, though well attested by their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had foreseen something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect”  (Hebrews 11:37-40).

We will be made perfect only with all those who are to be saved.



The Eucharist and Christmas

“In his worldly obedience he emptied himself, and his emptying is the only example for our path.  God who became a child, God who fled into Egypt to escape Herod,

God who sought friends and disciples in this world, God who wept from the depths of his spirit over Lazarus, who denounced the pharisees, who spoke of the fate of Jerusalem, who drove out demons, healed the sick, raised the dead, who finally, and most importantly gave his flesh and blood as food for the world, lifted up his body on the cross between the two thieves – when and at what moment did his example teach us about inner walls that separate us from the world?  He was in the world with all his Godmanhood, not with some secondary properties.  He did not keep himself, he gave himself without stint.  ‘This is my body, which is broken for you‘ – shed to the end.  

In the sacrament of the eucharist, Christ gave himself, his God-man’s body, to the world, or rather, he united the world with himself in the communion with his God-man’s body.  He made it into Godmanhood.”  (St. Maria of Parish, Mother Maria Skobtsova: Essential Writings, p. 78)



Old Testament Images of Christ’s Birth


In the five days before Christmas, one finds in Orthodox hymns for the pre-Feast of the Nativity of Christ.  These pre-Festal hymns shed light on the Feast and our understanding of who Jesus is and how He is our salvation.   There were three hymns that caught my attention with beautiful imagery.   Above, the hymn parallels the creation of the first Adam in Paradise with the birth of New Adam, Jesus,  from the Virgin Mary.  The Paradise which God planted for Adam is superseded by the Theotokos who is a spiritual Paradise.  If Paradise is some heavenly place, Mary becomes a spiritual heaven – the place where God abides on earth.   The Tree of Life which was in the middle of the original Paradise now is able to blossom forth from the Virgin.  Christ is the Divine Fruit planted in her womb, and Christ is the Tree of Life.  We can eat of this Tree of Life in Holy Communion.  The Tree of Life is no longer closed to us but is now able to give us eternal life.  Adam and Eve had lost access to the Tree of Life by their rebellious sin.  Christ again offers to us the fruit of the Tree of Life – namely Himself.  No longer will we be denied access to immortality – we are restored to the fullness of humanity that God intended for us from the beginning.


The above hymn keeps to a theme of food – from harvesting the grain to being fed.  First there is mention of the threshing-floor.  Threshing is the process of taking a plant and separating the edible grain from the inedible straw and husk.  The threshing floor is the place where this separating process takes place.  More interestingly, the threshing floor became a rich symbol of a place where God meets His people.  Our encounter with God turns out to be a threshing process – perhaps God’s own separating the wheat from the chaff, but also the required effort on our part to take God’s revelation to us and to discover what we need to get from it for our own nutrition.  The scriptures for example always require interpretation – this is a threshing process because God’s full message is sometimes hidden in the text.  We have to separate the edible grain (what we can understand and digest) from the inedible husk (the written word which contains the grain).  It is the grain which gives us life.

In 2 Samuel 24, King David purchases the threshing-floor as the very location to build the temple.  It is on this exact place – the threshing floor – where Solomon actually built it according to 2 Chronicles 3:1.   The Theotokos is compared in the hymn to this threshing-floor, or in her womb divinity is enclosed in humanity, but also that incarnation is revealed to the world.  Christ becomes the food of the world who gives eternal life to all who eat His flesh and drink His blood.  Christ is the spiritual food which if we eat we will not hunger again.  Christmas is the Feast in which God feeds His people with the manna of heaven.


Proverbs 9:1 states that Wisdom built a house to abide in (Proverbs 9:1).  Christ is God’s Wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:24).  According to the Prophet Baruch (3:37), a prophecy we read at Christmas, Wisdom walks on earth.   The “house” which Christ/ Holy Wisdom built is Mary, the Virgin Mother.  God becomes incarnate in her, and takes up his abode on earth.  He dwells in her bringing about the salvation of the world.

The Old Testament is full of images about the incarnation – prophecies of many different kinds, some predicting the coming of God in the flesh, and some foreshadowing the events.


Strange Birth

“I was a stranger and you welcomed me …”   (Matthew 25:35)


Seeing this strange birth, let us become strangers to the world and set our minds on things in heaven; for God descended to earth as lowly man to raise to heaven those who cry to him: Alleluia!  (Akathist to the Theotokos, Prayer Book – In Accordance with the Tradition of the Eastern Orthodox Church, Kindle Loc 2444-2446)


He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not. He came to his own home, and his own people received him not. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.  (John 1:10-14)


Christmas is Trinitarian

Of course, the Son of God did not consign Himself to a material body or mingle human deeds with divine ones on a whim. He did this, together with the miracles that He performed in the body, in order to obey the will of God. But the fact that He could organize and work divine purposes through a human body in a pure and marvelous manner shows that he created Himself as a man with a material body, and thus created all matter with the capacity for being filled and used to manifest His divine Person.

And He raised men through grace to become sons of His heavenly Father through the fact that He Himself was the only begotten Son of the heavenly Father. If there were no Triune God–a God who was the Father, Son and Holy Spirit–He could not have done this. The raising of man from the prison of his nature is possible thanks to the fact that God exists in Trinity. (Dumitru Staniloae, The Holy Trinity, pp. 112-113)



Christmas 2017

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth among people of good will.” (Luke 2:13-14)

The angelic proclamation on the day of Christ’s birth stirs in our hearts hope for the world: peace on earth!   It is something we Orthodox pray for at each Divine Liturgy, Vespers or Matins.   We constantly petition God to fulfill the hope which the angels heralded as possible with the nativity of the Messiah.

Despite our God-given hope and despite our prayers, we witnessed a great deal of violence in 2017 in the world.  Church communities were not spared from this scourge of terrorism during the year.  This reminds us to pay attention to the entire story of Christ’s birth – part of the Gospel Christmas story is Herod murdering the innocent children!  We like to ignore that part of the nativity narrative as it doesn’t fit our image of a sentimental season: a merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.  The birth of Jesus caused Rachel to weep inconsolably over the loss of her children (Matthew 2:17-18)!   Rather than choosing to ignore part of the Gospel, we can appreciate the truthfulness of the narrative because we live in that same world where we know such grief.

We need only look at the Church calendar in the days after the Nativity to be reminded of Christian suffering:

December 27  St. Stephen the First Christian martyr

December 28 – The Massacre of the Christians celebrating Christmas at Nicomedia  in 302AD

December 29- The Massacre of the Holy Innocent Children by King Herod

Jesus Himself was quite realistic about this when He taught:

“I have said this to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”  (John 16:33)

Hope springs eternal.  Christ Jesus is our peace (Ephesians 2:14).  God came into the world because God loves us.   God too has suffered the violence of the very world He created for us; the world which God so loves.  He has not abandoned us to the violence of the world, but is here with us even in our darkest moments.   God wishes for us abundant life in this world, but many in the world still reject God.  Christmas makes sense not because the world is a utopian paradise, but exactly because there are serious and violent problems in this fallen world.  The sentimental American Christmas preference only makes sense if we ignore the world as it really is.  Orthodoxy takes history seriously and thus values the entire Gospel of the Nativity.  We need God’s love and we need hope to bring light to the darkness.  We need Christ to be with us through all the trials and tribulations the world throws at us.

And every year we are summoned to that humble birth – in a manger, in a cave, where we still can find God’s peace.  God’s peace is not like the world’s peace, and is not dependent on it.  As our Lord said:   Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid (John 14:27).  The world is much the same as it was 2000 years ago when Mary gave birth to God’s Son.  The Gospel lesson of Christmas is proclaimed every year to renew in us faith, hope and love so that we are not overcome by the world’s sorrows, but rather we overcome the world through Jesus Christ our Lord.  From that cave, light dawned to the world.  We live in the light of Christmas.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:5).

Christ is born!  Glorify Him!


On the Birth of the Christ

“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.

And he was born from a Virgin, who knew not His purpose neither had she labored with Him to bring it to pass, nor contributed to that which He had done, but was the simple instrument of His hidden Power. That alone she knew which she had learned by her question to Gabriel: how shall this be done, because I know not a man? Then said he; do you wish to hear his words? The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee.

And in what manner was the almighty with her, Who in a little while came forth from her? He was as the craftsman, who coming on some suitable material, fashions to himself a beautiful vessel; so 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 loveliness 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 infant’s 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.”

(St. John Chrysostom, “Nativity Homily,” The Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers, pp. 112-113)


The Ancestors of Christ

the son of Enos, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God.  (Luke 3:38)

To Seth also a son was born, and he called his name Enosh. At that time men began to call upon the name of the LORD.  (Genesis 4:26)

When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Man when they were created. When Adam had lived a hundred and thirty years, he became the father of a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth.  (Genesis 5:1-3)

St Gregory Palamas comments:

“Note where this choice began. The excellent Seth was chosen from among Adam’s children, because by his well-ordered conduct, his control over his senses and his glorious virtue he showed himself to be a living heaven and so came to be one of the elect, from whom the Virgin would spring forth, that truly heavenly and divinely appropriate chariot of the supracelestial God, and through whom He would call men back to eternal sonship. Therefore all Seth’s stock were called sons of God (cf. Gen. 6:2), because it was from this race that the Son of God was to become the Son of man.

That is why the name Seth can be interpreted to mean “resurrection”, or rather “a rising up from”, which really refers to the Lord, Who promises and gives eternal life to those who believe in Him.”   (“On the Sunday of the Fathers,The Homilies, pp. 469-470)