A HAPPY AND HOLY CHRISTMAS TO YOU ALL
MAY CHRIST AND HIS BLESSED MOTHER BLESS YOU ALL
MIDNIGHT MASS HOMILY
by Abbot Paul of Belmont
MIDNIGHT MASS HOMILY
by Abbot Paul of Belmont
Christmas Eve 2013
On behalf of Fr Prior and the Monastic Community, I welcome you to this Midnight Mass and wish you and your loved ones every blessing and a very Happy Christmas.
We have just heard the Christmas story, St Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus. We’ve heard it so often that, perhaps, we no longer listen to what’s being said. On the other hand, we might long to hear each word and could happily listen to the story over and over again, hoping that each time something new will strike us. St Luke writes so beautifully that it makes for easy reading, even when the story told is hard to grasp and difficult to understand.
Take, for example, the sentence, “She wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn.” What are these swaddling clothes? In Israel at the time, when an infant was born, the umbilical cord was cut and tied, and then the baby was washed, rubbed with salt and oil, and wrapped with strips of cloth. These strips kept the newborn child warm and also ensured that the child's limbs would grow straight. Mary must have done that for her newborn son. Did she do it all alone or did Joseph assist her? That’s most unlikely, so were there other women present, who witnessed the birth of Jesus, just as later they would witness his death and resurrection, perhaps the very women who prepared Jesus for burial and dressed him with a funeral shroud? We don’t know, but it’s an intriguing thought. What the story does show us is how brave Mary was and how powerful her trust in God. When she said to the angel, “Be it done unto me according to thy word,” she accepted her part in the whole Mystery of the Incarnation and in all its terrible consequences. So we must ask ourselves tonight, what are we willing to do for God and how far are we willing to go for him? Can we even begin to follow in the footsteps of Mary?
The child was “laid in a manger,” a feeding trough for cattle to be found in every stable. No doubt it was comfortable and warm, what with the hay and the swaddling clothes, and very practical. But there’s more to it than that. Mangers were made of wood, as was the cross on which Jesus was lain to be crucified. Mangers were shaped like an open coffin, reminding us of the tomb in which he lay dead as, in darkness, he awaited the resurrection. Cattle gather around a manger to feed, just as we are gathered tonight around the altar for Mass, where we will be fed by Jesus with his own Body and Blood. Although we are used to seeing paintings of the Madonna and Child with Mary looking lovingly at her child, in the stable at Bethlehem, the House of Bread, the Holy Infant lies alone in the manger wrapped in swaddling bands. The Child in the manger is the Host on the altar, there both to feed us and to be adored, for Jesus our Messiah is Emmanuel, God with us. The question for us tonight is this: if God became incarnate, that we might eat the Bread of Life and so have God’s life in us through partaking of the Eucharist, what sacrifice am I willing to make in order that Christ may live in me and I in him? What does the Mass really mean to me and what sort of preparation do I make to receive Holy Communion?
“There was no room for them in the inn.” Just a short phrase this to explain why Mary and Joseph ended up in a stable. The village was crowded for the census, all available space was fully occupied and, in any case, no woman was allowed to give birth where others were living. Labour and childbearing must take place in private and in seclusion. But there’s more to it than that. Jesus came as an outsider, a stranger, for he was God who came to live as a man among men: his home was in heaven. St John writes in his Prologue, “He came to his own home, and his own people not accept him.” He came to be rejected, to face trial and to die on a cross and the process began even before he was born, hence the stable. But what if Mary and Joseph had come to my door? What if they turn up tonight? Will I let them in? Will I make them welcome? Or will I simply turn them away? How often have I turned my back on Jesus in the course of my life? And how often, even now, do I turn him away, when he comes to me and asks for my help in the person of others: the aged, the poor, those made outcast and despised by others, immigrants and foreigners and those who are just different from the rest of us? Is there still no room in the inn? Is there still no room for Jesus in my life?
To celebrate Christmas is to proclaim our faith in Jesus Christ. To come to Midnight Mass is to say that there is nothing and no one more important to us than Jesus. He is the centre of my life. He is everything for me. “Lord Jesus, you have given your life for me. Help me now to give my life for you. Forgive my past negligences and sins and, as I kneel before the altar of the crib tonight, give me new life, a life which is centred on you alone, a life that will never end. Amen.”
A Nativity Sermon by Pope St Leo the Great
Dearly beloved, today our Savior is born; let us rejoice. Sadness should have no place on the birthday of life. The fear of death has been swallowed up; life brings us joy with the promise of eternal happiness. No one is shut out from this joy; all share the same reason for rejoicing. Our Lord, victor over sin and death, finding no man free from sin, came to free us all. Let the saint rejoice as he sees the palm of victory at hand. Let the sinner be glad as he receives the offer of forgiveness. Let the pagan take courage as he is summoned to life. In the fullness of time, chosen in the unfathomable depths of God's wisdom, the Son of God took for himself our common humanity in order to reconcile it with its Creator. He came to overthrow the devil, the origin of death, in that very nature by which he had overthrown mankind. And so at the birth of our Lord the angels sing in joy: Glory to God in the highest, and they proclaim peace to men of good will as they see the heavenly Jerusalem being built from all the nations of the world. When the angels on high are so exultant at this marvelous work of God's goodness, what joy should it not bring to the lowly hearts of men? Beloved, let us give thanks to God the Father, through his Son, in the Holy Spirit, because in his great love for us he took pity on us, and when we were dead in our sins he brought us to life with Christ, so that in him we might be a new creation. Let us throw off our old nature and all its ways and, as we have come to birth in Christ, let us renounce the works of the flesh. Christian, remember your dignity, and now that you share in God's own nature, do not return by sin to your former base condition. Bear in mind who is your head and of whose body you are a member. Do not forget that you have been rescued from the power of darkness and brought into the light of God's kingdom. Through the sacrament of baptism you have become a temple of the Holy Spirit. Do not drive away so great a guest by evil conduct and become again a slave to the devil, for your liberty was bought by the blood of Christ.
Christmas by John Betjeman
The bells of waiting Advent ring,
The Tortoise stove is lit again
And lamp-oil light across the night
Has caught the streaks of winter rain
In many a stained-glass window sheen
From Crimson Lake to Hookers Green.
The holly in the windy hedge
And round the Manor House the yew
Will soon be stripped to deck the ledge,
The altar, font and arch and pew,
So that the villagers can say
'The church looks nice' on Christmas Day.
Provincial Public Houses blaze,
Corporation tramcars clang,
On lighted tenements I gaze,
Where paper decorations hang,
And bunting in the red Town Hall
Says 'Merry Christmas to you all'.
And London shops on Christmas Eve
Are strung with silver bells and flowers
As hurrying clerks the City leave
To pigeon-haunted classic towers,
And marbled clouds go scudding by
The many-steepled London sky.
And girls in slacks remember Dad,
And oafish louts remember Mum,
And sleepless children's hearts are glad.
And Christmas-morning bells say 'Come!'
Even to shining ones who dwell
Safe in the Dorchester Hotel.
And is it true,
This most tremendous tale of all,
Seen in a stained-glass window's hue,
A Baby in an ox's stall ?
The Maker of the stars and sea
Become a Child on earth for me ?
And is it true ? For if it is,
No loving fingers tying strings
Around those tissued fripperies,
The sweet and silly Christmas things,
Bath salts and inexpensive scent
And hideous tie so kindly meant,
No love that in a family dwells,
No carolling in frosty air,
Nor all the steeple-shaking bells
Can with this single Truth compare -
That God was man in Palestine
And lives today in Bread and Wine.
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Ecumenical Patriarch’s Christmas Message
ArticleImages_52049_554709_10101745244408292_1577064479_nHis All-Holiness, Bartholomew of Constantinople Christmas Message.
Prot. No. 1109
Patriarchal Encyclical for Christmas
By God’s Mercy Archbishop of Constantinople-New Rome
and Ecumenical Patriarch
To the Plenitude of the Church:
Grace, mercy, and peace from the Savior Christ, born in Bethlehem
Beloved brothers and sisters, children in the Lord,
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given.”
Many centuries ago, the Prophet foresaw and announced with enthusiasm and joy the birth of the child Jesus from the ever-Virgin Mary. Naturally, even then, there was no period of census by Augustus Caesar, no place to stay for the safety of the Holy Virgin who was carrying a child by the Holy Spirit. So the holy Joseph as her betrothed and protector was obliged to lead her to a cave, a manger with animals, “in order to give birth to a child.”
Heaven and earth received them, offering thanks to their Creator: “The angels offered the hymn; the heavens a star; the wise men gifts; the shepherds a miracle; the earth a cave; the desert a manger; and we the Mother Virgin.” The shepherds were keeping watch over their flock, protecting them throughout the night, while the angels were witnessing the Mystery in ecstasy, singing hymns to God. (From Vespers of the Nativity)
The sweetness of the Holy Night of Christmas once again embraces the world. And in the midst of human trial and pain, of unending crises, of passion and enmity, of concern and despair, it presents the mystery of the Incarnation of the Divine Word as a genuine and timely solution. For He descended as dew in a field of cotton inside the womb of the ever-Virgin Mary in order to give rise to righteousness and much peace. (See Ps. 71.7)
In the silence and peace of that sacred night of Christmas, Jesus Christ – being without beginning, invisible, incomprehensible, immaterial, ever existing and the same – enters the drama of history bearing flesh, being insignificant, simple, poor and unknown. At the same time, he comes as a “wonderful, counselor, almighty, prince of peace, everlasting father.” (Is. 9.6) Indeed, he comes as a human being, born of a Virgin Mother, to solve the complexity of sin and grant resolution to the impasse of life’s anxiety through His grace and mercy, while providing destiny, value, content, as well as an exemplary ethos and model for the human adventure.
The Lord assumed and sanctified all of human nature. The pre-eternal God condescended to become for us an embryo and be borne inside the womb of the Theotokos. In so doing, He both honored human life from its earliest stage and taught us respect toward humankind from its earliest conception. The Creator of all accepted to be born as an infant and be nurtured by a Virgin. In so doing, He honored both virginity and motherhood, spiritual and natural. This is why St. Gregory the Theologian exhorts: “O women, be as virgins, so that you may become mothers of Christ.” (Homily XXXVIII on Epiphany, PG36.313A)
So the Lord appointed the marriage of male and female in the blessed family. The institution of Christian family constitutes the cell of life and an incubator for the spiritual and physical health and development of children. Therefore, the manifold support of the institution of the family comprises the obligation of the Church and responsibility of leadership in every country.
In order for a child to be raised in a healthy and natural way, there needs to be a family where man and woman live in harmony as one body, one flesh, and one soul, submitting to one another.
We are certain that all spiritual and ecclesiastical, much like the vigilant shepherds of old, but also the leaders of our world, know and accept this divine truth and reality, which we once again proclaim from the Ecumenical Patriarchate during this Christmas period. We must all encourage the creation and function of natural families, which can produce citizens that are spiritually healthy and joyful, filled with sentiments of security, based on the feeling of safety provided by a strong and protective father as well as a nurturing and loving mother. We need families where God might find rest. We invite and urge the entire plenitude of our holy Orthodox Church to live in a manner that is worthy of their calling and do everything that is possible to support the institution of marriage.
Brothers and sisters, “the night is far gone; the day is at hand.” (Rom. 6.12) The shepherds are already headed toward Bethlehem in order to proclaim the miracle. They are inviting us to follow them “like other star-gazing wise men filled with joy” (From the Christmas Troparion of the 4th Ode), bringing “worthy gifts” “such as fine gold to the King of ages, incense to the God of all, and myrrh to the immortal that lay dead for three days.” (Anatolios, Vesperal Hymn at Christmas) That is to say, the gifts of love and our faith, which test us as Christians, especially as Orthodox Christians, in the ethos and tradition of the family, the Fathers, and the Church, which has always practiced the Orthodox way through the centuries and to this day holds together our blessed society, whose cell for sacred life and growth is the family.
Beloved brothers and sisters, children in Christ,
2013 years have passed since the birth of Christ in the flesh
2013 years have passed and, like then, Christ continues to be persecuted in the person of the weak by Herod and all kinds of contemporary Herods
2013 years have passed and Jesus is persecuted in the person of Christians in Syria and elsewhere
2013 years have passed and Christ still flees like a refuge not only in Egypt, but also in the Lebanon, Europe, America and elsewhere, seeking security in an insecure world
2013 years have passed and the child Jesus remains imprisoned with the two hierarchs in Syria, Paul (Yazigi) and Youhanna (Ibrahim), as well as the Orthodox nuns and many other known and unknown Christians
2013 years have passed and Christ is crucified with those who are tortured and killed in order not to betray their faith in Him
2013 years have passed and Jesus is daily put to death in the person of thousands of embryos, whose parents prevent from being born
2013 years have passed and Christ is mocked and ridiculed in the person of unfortunate children, who experience the crisis of the family, destitution and poverty.
It is this human pain, sorrow and affliction that our Lord came and once more comes to assume during this Christmas season. After all, He said: “As you have done to one of these, the least of my brothers and sisters,” you have done to me.” (Matt. 25.40-41) It is for these that He was born of a Virgin, for these that He became human, for these that He suffered, was crucified and arose from the dead. That is to say: for all of us. Thus, let each of us lift up our personal cross in order to find grace and mercy when we seek His assistance. Then, the born Emmanuel, our Savior and Lord, will “be with us.” Amen.
+ Bartholomew of Constantinople
Your fervent supplicant before God
Christmas Epistle of His Beatitude Sviatoslavby Nelson
nativity-iconThanks to the excellent site The Royal Doors for an (unofficial) English translation of the Patriarch of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic
To the Son, eternally and immaculately born of the Father,
Who—in the fullness of time—was born bodily, without seed, from a Virgin,
Let us cry out to Christ-God: Holy are You, O Lord,
Who fortified our strength!
(Canon of the Nativity).
Christ is born!
At the voice of the angel, calling to the shepherds in the dark of night, let us now hasten to the poor stable in Bethlehem. Here we see in the Blessed Virgin Mary’s arms the Son of God, who came into our world as a man. Together with them, let us rejoice and marvel; let us sing and contemplate the living and true God, who—born in a human body—gives Himself into human hands as a small, gentle and defenceless child.
Our Saviour’s Nativity reveals the depths of Divine life as well as the truth about man. He—who today appears in human flesh—existed before the creation of the world, for—as God before all ages—He is eternally and immaculately born of the Father as a son! This is the ineffable and incomprehensible mystery of Jesus Christ’s divine sonship which today is revealed and preached to all mankind. This feast makes the divine sonship accessible for all through the proclamation that God the Father loves us as his sons and daughters. In His new-born Son, we experience today our nearness to God. We experience the same warm, powerful, real and life-giving intimacy which is the Father’s intimate affection for His first-born.
Gazing into the faces of the Divine Child and His Mother Mary, let us grasp the truth the Nativity teaches us about our humanity and of His humanity, which is a sign of God’s presence: “And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger” (Lk 2:12). This child—the God of Israel, Who—in the fullness of time—was born bodily from a Virgin without seed. He bestows upon Joseph the Betrothed, the wonderful role of guardian. At the Nativity of Christ, we receive the Eternal God in our own form. For people rightly desire to be cared for and here in Bethlehem, God himself—as a child—is the one caring for the human family!
Humaneness—as a sense of and respect for the sanctity of human life—is a moving and saving path along which—on this mysterious night—the Son of God, the Son of Mary, comes to our homes, to our families, to our nation. And this divine-humanity—the God-Manhood of Incarnate Son of God—gives us a Christmas path to follow in order to love God and neighbour. By celebrating Christmas with travellers and the homeless, or in solidarity with those who are despised and whose dignity is denied, we, Christians, as true guardians and evangelists of God’s presence among us, make our world, our society more humane and dignified for man himself.
The birth of the Son of God, the Eternal Word of the Father, reveals along with the greatness and glory of our God, the Creator and Saviour, the greatness and glory of man as the crown of all creation. In His Incarnation, God reveals the special dignity of man, because He is incarnated in it—that is to say, in his own image. St. Irenaeus of Lyon says: “When the Word was made flesh… He Himself became what His image was… making man like the invisible Father through the visible Word” (Adv. Haer., 5, 16, 2).
Glorifying the dignity of the human person, Christ’s Church today sings out: “Let us cry out to Christ-God: Holy are You, O Lord, Who fortified our strength!” Just as the coming to earth of the Son of God through the Incarnation became the centre of world history, similarly the dignity of the human person is the foundation for a true and indeed humane society. The Church teaches that social institutions and their leaders must respect each human person and their prime duty is to promote the holistic growth of each person. The person can never be a means for the realization of economic, social or political agendas imposed by secular authorities. Rather governments must be vigilant when placing restrictions on freedoms or burdens on a person’s private life to never harm human dignity (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, § 131-133).
There is no future for a society in which man is demeaned. The dignity of the human person is the source for just laws and equitable social order. For in the human person the temporal and eternal, the divine and human, are united. Humanity is the door to eternity opened on Christmas Day by the Son of God’s humanity. So celebrating the Nativity means to keep open the doors of our hearts to human dignity, especially of the weak and defenceless, as was the Divine Child Himself in the arms of the Virgin Mary.
Today once again Ukrainian society is striving to build its future on the foundation of the Christian faith. The new-born Saviour is the fulfilment of the hopes of all mankind for the coming of God’s kingdom—a kingdom of justice, peace and goodness. The birth of the eternal King of Peace was announced by the angel, when he said to the shepherds: “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will come to all people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour” (Lk 2:10-11). This historic moment is important to us, for the word of the Evangelist proclaims that Christ Himself is the source of our joy and the end of our fears! In the Nativity of Christ, may our anxiety be transformed into hope, may confusion and uncertainty be directed along the path that leads to the place of our Lord’s birth. On this Christmas Day, when, according to the apostle Paul, the power of God was made manifest in human weakness (cf. II Cor. 12:9), our sense of powerlessness is turned into a realization of our self-worth. Through the action of the Holy Spirit, this realization of our self-worth becomes a force that will enable us to build a society worthy of man. That is why today we glorify the power of the divine-humanity, singing: “Holy are You, O Lord, Who fortified our strength!”
Dearly beloved in Christ! On this joyous feast day of Christ’s Nativity, I wish all of you my sincerest greetings. I wish for you goodness and peace, harmony and health. I desire to knock on the door of every Ukrainian family! With the sound of ancient carols, I wish to cheer every Ukrainian heart! Announcing the great joy of our Saviour’s birth, I want to gather around Bethlehem’s stable all of our church—both in Ukraine and abroad— into one community of God!
Today let us feel like one Christian family in which our Saviour is born. Along the path of humanity and Christian solidarity, we can touch all who defend their own dignity, the dignity of their family and their nation! Let us share our Christmas joy with those who are far from home, in hospital beds or prison bunks. Together, guided by the light of the star, let us make haste towards our neighbours in order to see in the flesh—the Invisible One; in His poverty—the Source of all goodness; in His weakness—the Almighty, as the new-born Christ-God in the embrace of the Theotokos.
Christ is born!
Let us glorify Him!
Given in Kyiv,
at the Patriarchal Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ,
19 December 2013,
on the feast day of St. Nicholas, Archbishop of Myra, the Wonderworker
Nelson | December 23, 2013 at 8:31 pm | Tags: Greek Catholic, A