The Advent Period in Home Life
What is the meaning of the feast of the Nativity of Our Lord in our family life? How can we live through the preparatory period of Advent as a Christian family? Can this meaning be truly and naturally, unpretentiously, embodied in the experience of a family, a home with children, teenagers, adults and old people?SOPHIE KOULOMZIN | 16 DECEMBER 2008Source: Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North Americamy source: Pravmir.com
What is the meaning of the feast of the Nativity of Our Lord in our family life? How can we live through the preparatory period of Advent as a Christian family? Can this meaning be truly and naturally, unpretentiously, embodied in the experience of a family, a home with children, teenagers, adults and old people?
Of course, first of all, Christmas is a FEAST, a celebration, an occasion for joy. Understanding the real meaning of this joy (God coming to us to share our humanity) comes to every individual gradually, within the measure of his or her spiritual development, but the experience of joy, of rejoicing, of having a very happy time because it is Christmas is something that can be experienced by all members of the family, whatever their age, whatever their level of spirituality . . . if only there is someone within the family who remains a witness of the true meaning of this joy. The experience of a joyous celebration remains the foundation stone of understanding the meaning of the Lord’s Nativity.
CHRISTMAS MEANS JOY.
All parents realize, I think, that attending church services is not sufficient to have children and young people sincerely experience joy. The real challenge for a Christian family is to find a form of home celebration that will be enjoyable and creative for all its members, young and old and will yet keep a kind of transparency, through which the true meaning of the feast can be perceived within the spiritual capacity of each one. It may be a festive meal, a distribution of presents, lighting the Christmas tree, carol singing, or many other things. It has to be something that comes naturally, remains spontaneous, is not artificially imposed.
I was asked to write a short article on the theme of home activities during Advent. But, I believe that most parents would agree with me, it is practically impossible to plan a program of activities for the family. The family is not a school, not an institution where the whole environment can be carefully controlled, a curriculum planned, study material provided, tests carried out. A family is a unit, a “oneness,” of individuals, of individual relationships, moods, different and constantly changing stages of development. Any attempt to IMPOSE a mood, a feeling, an emotion may call forth resentment and irritation that defeats the very purpose of the effort. Anything that will be felt by other members of the family as artificial or contrived and will not become a living part of the family experience. A family tradition has to be “grown into,” has to become a natural way of life for the family.
In the past, individual Orthodox families lived within Orthodox societies and certain traditions were part of a general way of life, but today every family has to find its own AUTHENTIC way of living its own church life in a generally secular world.
I am afraid I am quite unable to write a theoretical article on the subject. I can only attempt to share with you how we tried to prepare for Christmas and live through the feast as ONE family.
I think a festive Christmas meal is enjoyed more and becomes more meaningful when it is preceded by a period of fasting and abstinence in whatever form, and for whatever length of time this is possible in your particular family situation. After the ALL NIGHT VIGIL on Christmas Eve we returned to a special lenten supper which we had around the Christmas Tree (my own particular idiosyncrasy was observed in that on that quiet occasion we lit real candles and not electric lights.) I have Ukrainian friends who have a very traditional Christmas Eve supper menu, but in our home we had never known that particular tradition.
I always wanted preparations for Christmas to involve the children’s creativity. For many, many years our home celebration involved a home Christmas play. I am fond of theatricals, especially of the kind that draws upon the children’s imagination and creativity. Old Christmas folk stories and legends adapted themselves easily to whatever number of children or grandchildren were available. Costumes and scenery were made up of odd stuff found in an old trunk in the attic, with the help of colored paper, tinsel, glue, paints. Rehearsals were part of the Advent time and they did involve a sense of effort and work in preparation for celebrating Christmas. In our particular case it also served the purpose of teaching children Russian.
On Christmas Day, after Divine Liturgy, the whole family clan assembled for a festive dinner which lasted quite long. As soon as it grew dark it was time for the play. Looking back at those plays so many years later, I can see how well they are remembered by my children (now parents of growing families), and many of our now adult grandchildren.
After the play, someone dressed up as Santa Claus, brought in all the gifts from grandparents, uncles and aunts, cousins and from children to each other and to adults. It made a huge pile. We never made a big issue of “believing in Santa Claus.” I guess the smallest children, up to about three or four years old accepted him in good faith, but whenever they began to ask questions, I always told them the story of Saint Nicholas bringing gifts secretly and how the tradition of Santa Claus was established in his memory.
Our Advent activities were usually various forms of preparing for celebrating Christmas. Some time before Christmas (in the days of “two calendars” it was usually on the “new style” Christmas) we built a manger scene, a “crиche” as we called it. Making the cave, the landscape around it, the clay figures, the lighting effects depended on the age and sophistication of the young artists and varied from year to year. We made decorations for the home, for the Christmas tree.
And then, of course, we prepared gifts. I am sure that, in terms of Christian experience of life, expressing our love to others through preparing gifts for them is a good way of preparing for the feast of Christmas. Obviously the children expected to receive gifts, just as we expect to receive a lot of things from our Heavenly Father, but they also gave gifts and that involved a lot of work, imagination and planning on their part (baking, building, sewing, painting, carpentering, etc. . .)
I regret now that we did not know how to involve our children in trying to give pleasure to people outside the family. I do believe that gift giving has to be a part of a personal relationship and I always felt hesitant about dumping useless little impersonal gifts on old people in a Nursing Home. But as I look back, I believe that it might have been possible to interest children in a personal and continued relationship with a particular person who might be lonely or friendless.
In our family in days past, the PreChristmas period was always linked to what used to be called “govenye”, “making one’s devotions” or what is now sometimes called a “retreat.” That meant that we attended church, for several week days we abstained from certain foods and amusements and went to confession and received Holy Communion on Christmas Day. It was a family experience. I realize that today when frequent communion is practiced in many families, the situation is different, but I do believe that a kind of family retreat before great Holidays is very helpful.
Of course, we made sure, as the children grew up, that they all knew well the Gospel Nativity stories and the special Christmas liturgical hymns sung in church. If there is time and place in the structure of family life for special Pre-Christmas instruction, many helpful suggestions can be found in the booklets “THE SEASON OF CHRISTMAS” published by the OCEC.
I do not think that any family can ever say with self satisfaction that it has carried out a perfect program in preparation for the celebration of a great church feast, yet I know that many young adults, who have to a certain extent drifted away from taking part in the life of the Church, still cherish the family celebration of Christmas and Easter, and this experience remains for them a link with the experience of Church life.
Mrs. Sophie Koulomzin is the “mother” of Orthodox religious education in North America. Her article comes to us from the OCEC News.
May our prayer of petition
rise before you, we pray, O Lord,
that, with purity unblemished,
we, your servants, may come, as we desire,
to celebrate the great mystery
of the Incarnation of your Only Begotten Son.
Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Advent with Jean Daniélou
by Carl E. Olson
my source:Ignatius Insight
Father Jean Daniélou's The Advent of Salvation, originally published simply as Advent in 1950, may be the best $3.00 purchase I've ever made. The out-of-print book is a classic work on the meaning of Advent. Here are a few of Daniélou's thoughts about this wonderful but often overlooked season.
Salvation and History: The Old Testament is the story of God's education of mankind, preparing man for the reception of supernatural gifts. God's covenant with Abraham marked the "opening of sacred history," just as creation had marked God's action upon the cosmos and the Incarnation marked the beginning of the world to come. The Abrahamic covenant promised salvation to the nations, to be realized in and through the God-man, Jesus Christ.
The first Advent was an outpouring of God's grace upon an unsuspecting world. Grace is "that bond between mankind and God which can never be broken, because it is founded on the manhood of Christ, in whom Godhead and manhood are henceforth joined together forever. . . . Christ has brought our humanity into the inmost life of God to stay." We enter that life through baptism, are nourished with the Eucharist, and become partakers of the divine nature: "The mystery of history is summed up in God's design of giving His spiritual creatures a share in the life of the Trinity."
John the Baptist: He prepared a way for his cousin, the Messiah, by proclaiming that the Kingdom was at hand. John, who brings grace by preparing the way for conversion, compliments Mary, who brings grace by being the Mother of God, "Since the coming of Christ goes on forever–He is always He who is to come in the world and in the Church–there is always an Advent going on, and this Advent is filled by John the Baptist. It is John the Baptist's peculiar grace that he prepares the way for what is about to happen." We can emulate John by calling for conversion, beginning with our own, and preparing the way for the world to meet the Messiah.
The Blessed Virgin: The Mother of God "did not imitate Solomon by asking for wisdom," he reflects, "She asked for grace because grace is the one thing we need." How simple and how amazing! Mary's example of faith should inform our thoughts and shape our actions during Advent. "She is the faithful virgin, who is never anything but faithful, whose fidelity was the perfect answer to the fidelity of God; she was always entirely consecrated to the one true God." Mary anticipated the birth of her Son for nine months and she now anticipates the birth of the New Creation when He returns in glory.
The Cross: It's unpopular, of course, but it is the way of Christ–and of His disciples. "The Christian, following Christ, must resemble Him wholly; and the only way to do this is by the Cross." We can only long for the coming of Christ and eternal life if we die to ourselves. We must know our place–in both this world and the world to come. God desires a unity of all men, in communion with the Father through the Son. The Cross leads to unity; pride leads to death: "The greatest obstacle anyone can put to unity is to want to make himself the center of things."
The Return of the King: "We live always during Advent," writes Daniélou, "we are always waiting for the Messiah to come." Jesus came once and He will come again, but He is not yet fully made known. "He is not fully manifest in mankind as a whole: that is to say, that just as Christ was born according to the flesh in Bethlehem of Judah so much he be born according to the spirit in each of our souls." Advent is anticipation, preparation, and contemplation of the King
.St. John the Baptist, Forerunner
by Frank Sheed
From To Know Christ Jesus | Ignatius Insight
All four evangelists begin Jesus' entry into public life with John the Baptist's emergence from his desert. Matthew leaps straight to John's mission after the return of the Holy Family from Egypt, Luke after the finding of the boy in the Temple. The other two actually begin their Gospel with it, nothing of our Lord's earthly life being told before, apart from John's "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us."
It is clear, then, that John the Baptist's mission was essential: Jesus' own mission needed it. In his Gospel, St. John interrupts his breathtaking Prologue about the Incarnation of the Word (which we Catholics read as the Last Gospel at Mass) to say: "There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. This man came for a witness, to give testimony of the light, that all men might believe through him." So that the Light of the World, the Light which of all lights could surely not be hid, needed someone to give testimony to him, needed John to give testimony to him!
Little is said in the New Testament to show why John's work was thus essential. Our Lord praises him indeed: "Amongst those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist" (Luke vii.28): and he was not lavish of praise; pause a moment and try to think of anyone else he praised. But although Jesus says (you will find it in the verse before) that John was to prepare his way, it is hard to find any hint from him as to why any preparation at all was necessary for a mission as powerful in word and as studded with miracles as his. We are not shown in the Gospels mighty things flowing from John's work into Christ's. And in the rest of the New Testament nothing much is made of St. John's mission either. St. Paul never refers to it at all, though he must have known about it, since the only description we have of John's origin is given by Paul's companion and disciple, Luke.
Thanks to Luke, all the same, the Church has been intensely aware of John ever since. He is one of that small and immeasurably select band to whom we say the Confiteor at every Mass and daily in our own prayers. Great saints have been named after him—St. John Baptist de la Salle, for instance, who founded the Brothers of the Christian Schools in the seventeenth century; St. John Baptist de Rossi, the eighteenth-century saint whose own instincts were rather like those of his namesake; in the nineteenth century the Cure of Ars, Jean-Marie-Baptiste Vianaey, who would have loved a desert but was never allowed by God to go to one. The number of not spectacularly saintiy persons. who bear his name is, of course, beyond counting—the great French writer of comedy, Moliere, for instance, was Jean-Baptiste Poquelin.
But all that this means is that the parents of the saints, to say nothing of the parents of the dramatist and of the unnumbered others, had a great devotion to the son of Zachary and Elizabeth, not that they had any clear understanding of why it was essential that Our Lord should have him for a Forerunner, or why be should have anybody for a Forerunner. What herald could he possibly need? Their devotion was almost certainly not to the prophet without whom Christ's mission would have lacked an essential element: it was to the child whose birth had been foretold by Gabriel, the child who had leapt in his mother's womb at the sound of Mary's voice as she entered the house of his parents with the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity in her womb: it was to the man who had paid with his head for telling the truth about Salome's mother.
From John's circumcision until the day he began his great mission in preparation for Christ's greater mission, there is a gap of thirty years, and only two phrases to tell us anything about them. The first: "The child grew and was strengthened in spirit"—probably the spirit here is the Holy Spirit: the whole phrase is at once like, and not quite like, what is said of Our Lord in verse 40 of Luke's second chapter. The second: "And he was in the desert until the day of his manifestation to Israel."
Zachary and Elizabeth were both old when John was born. The general view of commentators is that they died when John was young, and that it was as a child he chose the desert rather than the priesthood to which, as his father's son, he was entitled. The whole Jewish priesthood had been a mighty thing, but a foreshadowing only. Now that the Reality it foreshadowed was itself in the world, John had a duty mightier still.
To the south of Jerusalem one finds two areas of rock and chasm, one running westward, the other eastward towards the Dead Sea, where to this day a man could live in almost total solitude. Here, probably, John the Baptist made his long novitiate. It has been suggested that he spent part of the time with the Essenes, as Josephus was to do in his late teens. They were a rigorous, ascetical sect. If he did, his teaching is in reaction against theirs.
But we have no detail of his desert life, save what he ate and what he wore. He wore a garment whose shape, if it had any shape, is not told us: it was made of camel's skin—the nomads used the same material for making tents. Round his waist was a strip of leather. He ate, so Matthew and Mark tell us, locusts and wild honey: the locust is a flying insect about two inches long: the Bedouins still eat them, dried in the sun and salted to taste. What he ate and what he wore must have mattered very little to John: it was not merely asceticism that took him into the desert, he could have been ascetical at home. Solitude was what he wanted, the solitude in which the strong soul called to it reaches maturity most surely.
Did the Devil bother him? John's strange, improbable conception—of a mother past her menopause and an elderly priest—was a nine-days' wonder in and about the Temple. Satan could not have failed to know of it. The child was worth watching. And then there were the long years in the desert. There was, of course, no descent of a dove upon John, no voice from heaven: but these things had never happened to anyone, and Satan had no means of knowing that they were the sign of signs. We know that the Pharisees would later be asking themselves, and ultimately asking John, if he were the Messias. Satan could hardly have avoided wondering too.