Homily on the Nativity of Christ by St. John Chrysostem

image0.jpeg

 

 

 

Homily on the Nativity of Christ

 

If any man be devout and love God,

Let him enjoy this fair and radiant natal feast!

If any man be a wise servant,

Let him rejoicing behold the birth of his Lord!

If any has labored long in preparing,

Let him draw near, “for all is now ready”!

If any “has bought a field”,

Let him today approach the Sower.

If any has “bought five yoke of oxen”,

Let him with thankfulness flee to his Master’s crib.

If any has “married a spouse”,

Let him have no misgivings

And make haste to the Bridegroom.

Come “poor and maimed”!

Come “blind and lame”!

For the Lord, who prepares the banquet

Compels you to draw near!

 

He displays his glory to him who comes at the last hour

Even as unto him who has drawn near since the first hour.

And he welcomes the last, and serves the first.

And from the one he accepts honor, and from the other he accepts gifts.

 

And he both commands the deeds,

And welcomes the worship, And honors the adoration,

And praises the offering.

 

Wherefore, enter you all into the Nativity of your Lord;

And receive your King,

Both the Gentile and likewise the Jew.

You rich and you poor together, hold high festival.

You sober and you heedless, honor the day!

Rejoice today, both you who have prepared,

And you who have ignored.

The Cave is made paradise; adore you all with joy!

The fatted calf is born; let all draw near and behold!

 

Enjoy you all the feast of faith;

Receive you all the riches of loving-kindness.

 

Let no one bewail his low estate,

For the Universal King has been revealed.

Let no one weep for his iniquities,

For pardon is born in the manger!

Let no one fear death, for the Savior’s birth begets our liberty.

The Uncircumscribed Word is bound in swaddling clothes to set us free!

By condescending to be born, Divine Radiance illumines the earth.

Light comes to shine in the darkness, which shall not overcome it!

 

And Isaiah, foretelling this, did cry:

A virgin, said he, would bear a Son,

And call His name Immanuel.

The universe rejoices for the Lord has sent Word!

It rejoices for to us a Child is born!

It rejoices for to us a Son is given!

It rejoices for the government shall be upon His shoulders!

It rejoices for of His peace there shall be no end!

 

The earth received a baby, and met God face to face.

The Virgin’s womb became more spacious than the heavens.

It received He who is, who came to be that which he was not.

 

O Herod, behold your King! O World, behold your Lord!

 

Christ is Born; darkness retreat!

Christ is Born; ox and ass keep watch!  Magi come to worship!

Christ is Born, choirs of angels rejoice!

Christ is Born, all of creation is renewed!

Christ is Born, and not one creature remains untouched!

 

For Christ, being born in the flesh,

Is become the first-born of all creation!

To Him be glory and dominion unto ages of ages. Amen.

 

 

St. Herman of Alaska


St. Herman of Alaska + December 13
by Virginia Nieuwsma

In an obscure corner of what is now Alaska, on an Aleutian island called Spruce, a monk labored from the late​ 1700’s until his repose in 1837. Braving subzero temperatures, plagues and storms, and ill treatment from people who resented and misunderstood him, St. Herman lived a life marked by astonishing ascetic labor that gave birth to a deep love and concern for all with whom he came in contact. Strangely, despite the miracles associated with him not only throughout his life but also, after his death, he was all but forgotten after he reposed.

“Thirty years will pass after my death, all those who live now on Spruce Island will be dead, you alone will remain alive, and you will be old and poor; then they will remember me,” Father Herman said to his Aleut follower, Ignatius Aliaga. As with other prophecies of the saint, this one too was fulfilled, as in 1867, Bishop Peter of Alaska began a formal investigation into his life. It wasn’t until 1894 that his story became known to the outside world, and then his glorification waited another 76 years, until August 9, 1970.

Born into a merchant family in the diocese of Moscow, St. Herman became a monk when he was still a teenager, first entering the Holy Trinity Sergius Hermitage near Petersburg, then later moving on to venerable Valaam Monastery. The saint grew to love Valaam with his entire being; monks there remembered him singing at the cliros in a pleasant tenor voice, while tears streamed from his eyes. For the rest of his life, St. Herman considered Valaam his spiritual home; indeed, he called his hermitage on Spruce Island “New Valaam.” In a letter to Abbot Nazarius, he once wrote, “Your paternal kindness to my lowliness will not be erased from my heart, neither the terrible impenetrable Siberian wilds, nor its dark forests, nor will the great rivers wash away the memory; neither will rough seas extinguish these feelings. For in my mind I imagine my beloved Valaam and look always at it across the great ocean.”

In the second half of the 1700s, explorers were expanding the boundaries of Russia, and Metropolitan Gabriel asked Valaam’s Elder Nazarius to choose ten men to evangelize the Aleutians. Sadly, after five successful years of founding schools and churches, the head of the mission Archimandrite Ioasaph and his entire entourage drowned. One after another, others working on the mission left, until St. Herman remained alone.

One time, St. Herman was asked, “How do you, Fr. Herman, manage to live alone in the forest, don’t you get bored?” He answered “No, I’m not alone there! There is God, and God is everywhere! There are holy angels! How can one be bored with them? With whom is it more pleasant and better to converse, angels or people? Angels, of course!”

In addition to conversing with the angels throughout his hours of prayer and worship, St. Herman worked tirelessly. He ate and slept very little and when he slept, he used a bed that was a board, resting his head on a pillow of bricks. All his life, he wore the same simple clothing—a sleeveless deerskin shirt, his cassock and monk’s hat, a faded, patched mantle, and his shoes. In rain and storms, in the midst of winter snow or severe frost, he never changed his garments or added layers for warmth. His physical feats astonished those who knew him; one disciple saw him walking barefoot on a winter’s night, hauling a log that would have been difficult for four men to carry. With his own hands he built his cell and chapel, hauled baskets of kelp from the ocean to fertilize his garden, and in the midst of the labor meticulously kept the monk’s rule of services and prayers.

Tending his own garden and diligently observing his monastic rule didn’t keep St. Herman from reaching out with great love and concern to his Aleutian neighbors. On feast days and Sundays, he would gather them in the chapel next to his cell, and lead them in holy services; the people loved to listen to his spiritual teaching, and would visit him at all hours of the day and night, staying until early morning to absorb his instruction. The local Russian governor Yanovsky recalled, “To my amazement he spoke so powerfully, so sensibly, and argued so convincingly that it now seems to me that no education or earthly wisdom could withstand his words. We conversed every day until midnight, and even later, about the love of God, about eternity, about the salvation of the soul, and about Christian life. His sweet speech poured forth from his lips in an unceasing stream.”

Saint Herman especially loved the Aleutian children, for whom he would bake cookies, and he watched over those who were weak and powerless. He started a school for orphans, tended the sick during a plague that decimated the population, and defended the native Aleuts before the Russian fur traders who were exploiting them. The people began to tell each other of miracles they’d seen. Father Herman would tell someone of a future event and it would come to pass; animals, even bears, would eat from his hands; he placed an icon of the Mother of God in the sand and a tidal wave receded back into the ocean.

People flocked to the elder for counsel and help. Affectionately, the Aleuts began to call him their “North Star,” referring to how his teaching guided and grounded them, or the even more intimate “Apa,” which meant grandfather. Couples with troubled marriages would seek his advice. With meekness, he would reproach people for their lack of sobriety or their cruelty. He himself for years refused any titles of elevation within the church, preferring the simplest designation, “monk.” His letters reflect his simplicity and tender disposition. “Our sins,” he wrote, “do not in the least hinder our Christianity… Sin, to one who loves God, is nothing other than an arrow from the enemy in battle. The vain desires of this world separate us from our homeland; love of them and habit clothe our soul as if in a hideous garment. We who travel on the journey of this life and call on God to help us, ought to divest ourselves of this garment and clothe ourselves in new desires, in a new love of the age to come, and thereby receive knowledge of how near or how far we are from our heavenly homeland.”

As the time of St. Herman’s repose drew closer, he began to tell his disciples to prepare, giving them specific instructions about his burial and services. Everything he prophesied related to his death came to pass, exactly as he had foretold, and so it was that on December 13, 1837, he leaned his head on the chest of his disciple Gerasim and reposed. “Glory to Thee, O Lord,” he pronounced with shining face, just before taking his last breath. In various Aleutian towns, people reported seeing a pillar of light, reaching from Spruce Island to the heavens. “St. Herman has left us,” one villager reportedly said.

Fortunately for the Aleuts and all Alaskans, St. Herman hasn’t ever left them. Miracles attributed to his intercessions have happened since his repose and are still happening today. Most Native Alaskans today are still Orthodox, and they honor his memory with prayers and pilgrimages. His relics rest in the Resurrection Church on Kodiak, and Orthodox faithful from all over the world come to venerate them and ask for his prayers.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

O blessed Father Herman of Alaska,
North star of Christ’s holy Church,
The light of your holy life and great deeds,
Guides those who follow the Orthodox Way.
Together we lift high the Holy Cross
You planted firmly in America.
Let all behold and glorify Jesus Christ,
Singing His Holy Resurrection.

Blessed ascetic of the northern wilds
And gracious intercessor for the whole world,
Teacher of the Orthodox Faith
And good instructor of piety,
Adornment of Alaska and joy of all America,
Holy Father Herman
Pray to Christ God that He save our souls.​

Entry of the Most-Holy Theotokos into the Temple

ENTRY INTO THE TEMPLE OF OUR

MOST HOLY LADY MOTHER OF GOD AND EVER VIRGIN MARY

Celebrated on the 21st Day of the Month November

 

The Entry into the Temple of the Most Holy Mother of God happened, according to the preserved accounts of Holy Tradition, in the following manner. The parents of the Virgin Mary, Righteous Joakim and Anna, in praying for a solution to their childlessness, gave a vow that if a child were born to them, they would dedicate it to the service of God.

When the Most Holy Virgin reached three years of age, the holy parents decided to fulfill their vow. Having gathered together their kinsfolk and acquaintances, and having dressed the All-Pure Mary in Her finest clothes, and with the singing of sacred songs and with lighted candles in their hands they carried Her to the Jerusalem Temple. There the high-priest with a throng of priests met the maiden of God. In the Temple, the stairway led up fifteen high steps. The Child Mary, so it seemed, could not Herself make it up this stairway. But just as they placed Her on the first step, strengthened by the power of God, She quickly made it up over the remaining steps and ascended to the highest. Then the high-priest through an inspiration from above, led the Most Holy Virgin into the Holy of Holies, and herein of all people it was only the high-priest that entered one time a year with a purifying sacrifice of blood. Therefore all those present in the Temple were astonished at this most unusual occurrence.

Righteous Joakim and Anna, having entrusted their Child to the will of the Heavenly Father, returned home. The Most Blessed Mary remained in the domicile for girls, situated near the Temple. Round about the Temple, through the testimony of Holy Scripture (Exodus 38; 1 Kings 1: 28; Lk. 2: 37), and also the historian Josephus Flavius, there were many living quarters, in which dwelt those dedicated to the service of God. The earthly life of the Most Holy Mother of God from the time of Her infancy to the time of Her ascent to Heaven is shrouded in deep mystery. Her life at the Jerusalem Temple was also a secret. “If anyone were to ask me, — said Blessed Jerome, — how the Most Holy Virgin spent the time of Her youth, — I would answer: that is known to God Himself and the Archangel Gabriel, Her constant guardian”.

But in the Church tradition there were preserved accounts, that during the time of the stay of the All-Pure Virgin at the Jerusalem Temple, She grew up in a community of pious virgins, read diligently the Holy Scripture, occupied Herself with handcrafts, prayed constantly and grew in love for God. In remembrance of the Entry of the Most Holy Mother of God into the Jerusalem Temple, Holy Church from ancient times established a solemn feastday. The decretals for the making of the feast in the first centuries of Christianity are found in the traditions of the Palestinian Christians, where mention is made that the holy Empress Helen built a church in honor of the Entry into the Temple of the Most Holy Mother of God.  In the IV Century there is mention of this feast by Sainted Gregory of Nyssa. In the VIII Century Saints Germanos and Tarasios, Constantinople Patriarchs, delivered sermons on the feastday of the Entry.

The feast of the Entry into the Temple of the Most Holy Mother of God — foretells the blessing of God for the human race, the preaching of salvation, the promise of the coming of Christ.

Translation by Fr. Stephen Janos from the Moscow Patriarchate texts, “Reference Book for Clergy-Servers”

Why fast before the Nativity?

For us Orthodox Christians, we begin the Nativity Fast (Advent) on November 15th.  Why do we fast? Also, from what foods do we normally fast from during the Nativity fast?

We fast before the Great Feast of the Nativity in order to prepare ourselves for the celebration of Our Lord’s birth. As in the case of Great Lent, the Nativity Fast is one of preparation, during which we focus on the coming of the Savior by fasting, prayer, and almsgiving.

By fasting, we “shift our focus” from ourselves to others, spending less time worrying about what to eat, when to eat, how much to eat, and so on in order to use our time in increased prayer and caring for the poor. We learn through fasting that we can gain control over things which we sometimes allow to control us—and for many people, food is a controlling factor.
[We live in the only society in which an entire TV network is devoted to food!] While fasting from food, however, we are also challenged to fast from sin, from gossip, from jealousy, from anger, and from those other things which, while well within our control, we all too often allow to control us.

Just as we would refrain from eating a lot before going to an expensive restaurant for dinner—if we “ruin our appetite” we will enjoy the restaurant less—so too we fast before the Nativity in order to more fully feast and celebrate on the Nativity itself.

During the Nativity Fast, we are called upon to refrain from meat, dairy, fish, wine, and olive oil. At the same time, we are challenged, within this framework, to fast to the best of our ability, and to do so consistently.
If we must modify the extent to which we fast within this framework, it is of course possible, but in every instance our fasting should be consistent and regular, for Christ does not see fasting as an option, but as a “must.”
In Matthew Christ says, “WHEN you fast, do not be like the hypocrites,” not “IF you fast” or “IF YOU CHOOSE to fast.”

Finally, it seems quite odd that in our society—a society in which people gladly and freely spend huge sums of money for diets, most of which recommend that one refrain from red meats and dairy products—fasting is not more widely embraced. How odd that a Jenny Craig consultant or diet guru or physician will tell us to refrain from eating meat or cheese or butter and we will gladly embrace—and pay large sums of money for—his or her advice, while when the Church offers the same advice [at “no cost”] we tend to balk, as if we were being asked to do the impossible. – from OCA.org

 

Guidelines for the Nativity Fast

What are you listening for?

A monk needed to go into the big city for an errand, accompanied by one of his acquaintances. In the midst of urban uproar the monk claimed to have heard a cricket, though his companion did not believe him. Crossing the road and looking carefully under a tree the monk found the cricket, to the astonishment of his companion.
– “You must have a supernatural hearing!”
– “No. My ears are not different from yours,” said the monk. “But everything depends on what you are used to listening to.”
– “No! I would not be able to hear a cricket in this noise!” said the companion.
– “It all depends on what is important to you,” reiterated the monk. “Let’s make a demonstration.” So the monk took out a few coins from his pocket and dropped them on the asphalt. And despite of the loud noise of the city, all the people around them turned their heads thinking the scattered coins could have fallen from their pockets.
– “Do you understand now? It all depends on what is important to people… If we watch or listen to the daily news on television, our ears become accustomed only to what is ugly and evil. We become fearful and helpless! Then we will say: “Life is hard, people are evil, we live in an insecure and ugly world, you cannot trust anyone or anything…”

And meanwhile the crickets sing, the leaves rustle, the waters flow.. and we do not hear them.

-Taken from Orthodox Gladness

Homily for Sunday of All Saints and the Synaxis of the Twelve Apostles in the Orthodox Church. Fr. Philip LeMasters

There are many problems in our society and around the world that can easily distract us from what is most important in the Christian life. Even though they come to us easily, anger, judgment, worry, and fear about matters beyond our control cannot make us holy and usually only distract us from finding healing where we need it in our souls, relationships, and daily challenges. Christ calls us to play our role in saving the world by becoming living icons of His salvation that attract others to the life of the Kingdom of Heaven in stark contrast to the corrupt ways of the world. In other to do that, we ourselves must become holy. Otherwise, we will have nothing to offer the world that it does not already have.
Last Sunday was the feast of Pentecost, when we celebrated the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the Church. The Spirit has been poured out richly upon all in the Body of Christ, which shows that God wants to dwell in the hearts and souls of human beings, that He wants to make us partakers of the divine nature by grace.
Today is both the Sunday of All Saints and the Synaxis of the Twelve Apostles. Now we remember all of those who have been filled with the Holy Spirit, who have been transformed by our Lord and His love, as well as the great pillars of the Church who first answered our Lord’s call to seek the first the Kingdom of God. The root meaning of the word “saint” is holy, and we are reminded today that the great cloud of witnesses includes both those whose names and stories are celebrated openly in the Church, as well as those whose holiness is not famous. For the Lord’s blessing is for all in every generation who respond to Him with obedience, faith, humility, and love, whether they are widely known or not.
Surely, most of our Lord’s most saints haven’t been officially given a title by the Church or had their images put on icons. But they are known by God and glorified in the Kingdom because in ways, perhaps known only to God, they entered into His holiness, they embraced His love and became beacons of light in our darkened world.
But what does that have to do with you and me, who probably can’t imagine ourselves as saints? Well, the good news of the gospel is that we are all called to become holy, yes, actually to become saints. No matter who we are, what mistakes we have made in our lives, no matter what our circumstances are, we are all able to find the healing and fulfillment that the saints have known. We too are able to enter into the holiness of God, to receive and be changed by His love. He wants nothing more than to make our lives shine with the glory of His Kingdom, right now and throughout all eternity. Of course, it’s a journey, a process for all of us to become holy. It takes repentance, humility, and a refusal to give up. Remember that Jesus Christ said that He will confess us to His Father in heaven if we confess Him before other people. But if we don’t, He won’t claim us before the Father. If we want to unite our lives to Christ, we must confess Him every day in word and deed in the small details of our lives.
Do we treat other people with the love, care, and the dignity that we would show to the Lord Himself? Do we speak to others in ways that are blessings to them, that help them experience peace and joy? Don’t think only of your friends or those whom you admire. What about people who don’t like you, who have wronged you in some way, whom you find it easy to judge, or whom you just don’t like? The real test is how we treat them. We confess our faith when we live our faith. If we don’t act or talk like Christians, we deny Christ. We give the impression that we want no part of Him, and thus turn away from Him and judge ourselves. That’s not the way of the saints, however, and it must not be our way of living if we want to share in His life and play our role in the salvation of the world.
Christ tells us that we have to take up our cross and follow Him, as did the Twelve Apostles. In order to understand this hard saying, we have to remember that our Lord went to the cross for us; He bore the consequences of all human sinfulness and corruption to the point of death, burial, and Hades so that He could conquer them and bring us into eternal life through His resurrection. That is the ultimate act of love. If we want to share in the new life that He has brought to the world, we have to keep all our blessings and relationships in perspective and not make idols of them. Instead, we must offer them to the Father even as the Son offered Himself up on the cross.
We have to bear the cross of sacrificing the idolatry even of our spouses, children, parents, and other loved ones. For like us, they are simply human beings and not God. And if we make false gods of them, we will cause them and us many problems by acting as though they are the center of the universe. We will bend them and ourselves all out of shape, putting more weight on them and us than anyone can bear. Instead, we must take up the cross of loving others in Christ, for He is the source and standard of all love worthy of the name. Out of love, the Father gave the Son for the salvation of the world and the Son offered Himself in free obedience. That is sacrifice beyond what we can understand. And if we share in that love, we must sacrifice the ultimately self-centered illusion that we will find or give other people true fulfillment and happiness apart from Him. And if we put ourselves, others, and even worthy causes before faithfulness to the Lord, we will end up confessing some false God rather than Jesus Christ. That’s not the way of the saints, and it must not be our way if we want to open our lives to His glory.
If we really love others in God, we will offer our relationships with them to the Lord as best we can; and by His mercy, these relationships will become holy. That’s what’s best for others and for us; it works both ways. For example, parents shouldn’t live through their children or use them to meet their own goals, but instead guide them to become their true selves to the glory of God. Neither should we indulge our kids as though they are little gods, but we must do everything possible to help them grow into the full stature of Christ, to be those who love God with every ounce of their being and their neighbors as themselves. We offer our children to the Lord by the example we set for them, how we treat them, how we speak to them, all toward the end that we and they will put God first in our lives.
The same is true of marriage. If we have an unrealistic romantic or financial or social ideal about marriage–and think that a spouse will meet all our needs and bring us complete fulfillment in life, we will miss the true calling of husband and wife to make their life together an icon, a living image of the Kingdom of God. Mutual forgiveness, patience, self-sacrifice, self-control, and steadfast commitment are the signs of a holy marriage. Faithful spouses pray for and with one another. Faithful parents do the same with their children. When families pray and worship and serve God together in His church, they make of their life together an offering to the Lord. They confess Jesus Christ to one another and the world. They open their lives to the holiness of God and follow in the way of the saints.
Yes, this kind of family life is a cross to bear in many respects; it’s not easy and we very often fall short of it. We all struggle to fulfill our calling to confess Jesus as Lord with integrity each day in all that we say and do. But we must continue fighting the good fight, for these are the crosses that will make us holy, which little by little will purify our souls and open our lives to the healing grace of God.
Fortunately, we don’t become holy simply by our own power; if that were the case, we would have no hope for we know how weak we are. Instead, we rely on the power of the Holy Spirit with the strength given us by the boundless love of Christ, Who conquered sin and death through His cross and empty tomb. Together with all the Twelve Apostles and all the saints, we will know His holiness and joy if we take up our cross, offer our lives to Him, and confess Him in what we say and do each day.
True discipleship is rarely dramatic, flamboyant, or popular and we will sometimes wonder if we are making any progress at all, but it’s the way that ordinary people like us will grow in holiness. We keep falling down and we keep getting up. But whatever else we do, we must not give up. For through prayer, fasting, and repentance, and seeking first the Kingdom of God, we grow bit by bit into the holiness shared by all the saints. That is how we will be saved and play our role in the salvation of the world.