Monthly Archives: December 2014

14,000 Holy Innocents

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On December 29th, the Orthodox Church remembers the innocent children, the first martyrs, slain by King Herod.

14,000 Holy Infants were killed by King Herod in Bethlehem. When the time came for the Incarnation of the Son of God and His Birth of the Most Holy Virgin Mary, Magi in the East beheld a new star in the heavens, foretelling the Nativity of the King of the Jews. They journeyed immediately to Jerusalem to worship the Child, and the star showed them the way. Having worshipped the divine Infant, they did not return to Jerusalem to Herod, as he had ordered them, but being warned by God in a dream, they went back to their country by another way. Herod finally realized that his scheme to find the Child would not be successful, and he ordered that all the male children two years old and younger at Bethlehem and its surroundings be killed. He thought that the divine Infant, Whom he considered a rival, would be among the dead children.

The murdered infants thus became the first martyrs for Christ. The rage of Herod fell also on Simeon the God-Receiver (February 3), who declared before everyone in the Temple that the Messiah had been born. When the holy Elder died, Herod would not give permission for him to be properly buried. On the orders of King Herod, the holy prophet and priest Zachariah was also killed. He was murdered in Jerusalem between the Temple and the altar (Mt. 23:35) because he would not tell the whereabouts of his son John, the future Baptist of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The wrath of God soon fell upon Herod himself: a horrid condition struck him down and he died, eaten by worms while still alive. Before his death, the impious king murdered the chief priests and scribes of the Jews, and also his brother, and his sister and her husband, and also his own wife Mariam, and three of his sons, and seventy men of wisdom who were members of the Sanhedrin. He initiated this bloodbath so that the day of his death would not be one of rejoicing, but one of mourning.

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The Nativity Homily by Saint John Chrysostom

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BEHOLD a new and wondrous mystery.

My ears resound to the Shepherd’s song, piping no soft melody, but chanting full forth a heavenly hymn. The Angels sing. The Archangels blend their voice in harmony. The Cherubim hymn their joyful praise. The Seraphim exalt His glory. All join to praise this holy feast, beholding the Godhead here on earth, and man in heaven. He Who is above, now for our redemption dwells here below; and he that was lowly is by divine mercy raised.

Bethlehem this day resembles heaven; hearing from the stars the singing of angelic voices; and in place of the sun, enfolds within itself on every side, the Sun of justice. And ask not how: for where God wills, the order of nature yields. For He willed; He had the power; He descended; He redeemed; all things yielded in obedience to God. This day He Who is, is Born; and He Who is, becomes what He was not. For when He was God, He became man; yet not departing from the Godhead that is His. Nor yet by any loss of divinity became He man, nor through increase became He God from man; but being the Word He became flesh, His nature, because of impassability, remaining unchanged.

And so the kings have come, and they have seen the heavenly King that has come upon the earth, not bringing with Him Angels, nor Archangels, nor Thrones, nor Dominations, nor Powers, nor Principalities, but, treading a new and solitary path, He has come forth from a spotless womb.

Since this heavenly birth cannot be described, neither does His coming amongst us in these days permit of too curious scrutiny. Though I know that a Virgin this day gave birth, and I believe that God was begotten before all time, yet the manner of this generation I have learned to venerate in silence and I accept that this is not to be probed too curiously with wordy speech.

For with God we look not for the order of nature, but rest our faith in the power of Him who works.

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.

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 lowliness 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 infants 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.

Come, then, let us observe the Feast. Truly wondrous is the whole chronicle of the Nativity. For this day the ancient slavery is ended, the devil confounded, the demons take to flight, the power of death is broken, paradise is unlocked, the curse is taken away, sin is removed from us, error driven out, truth has been brought back, the speech of kindliness diffused, and spreads on every side, a heavenly way of life has been ¡in planted on the earth, angels communicate with men without fear, and men now hold speech with angels.

Why is this? Because God is now on earth, and man in heaven; on every side all things commingle. He became Flesh. He did not become God. He was God. Wherefore He became flesh, so that He Whom heaven did not contain, a manger would this day receive. He was placed in a manger, so that He, by whom all things are nourished, may receive an infants food from His Virgin Mother. So, the Father of all ages, as an infant at the breast, nestles in the virginal arms, that the Magi may more easily see Him. Since this day the Magi too have come, and made a beginning of withstanding tyranny; and the heavens give glory, as the Lord is revealed by a star.

To Him, then, Who out of confusion has wrought a clear path, to Christ, to the Father, and to the Holy Spirit, we offer all praise, now and forever. Amen.


St. Theophan the Recluse on the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ

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[Gal. 4:4–7; Mt. 2:1–12] Glo­ry to Thee, O Lord! Once again we greet the a­wait­ed bright days of Christ’s Na­tiv­i­ty. Let us be glad and re­joice. In or­der to raise our fes­tiv­i­ties to a higher lev­el in these days, the Ho­ly Church has in­ten­tion­al­ly in­sti­tuted a pre­ced­ing fast — a cer­tain a­mount of dif­fi­cul­ty, so that when we en­ter the fes­tive pe­ri­od we might feel as though lib­er­at­ed. Nev­er­the­less, the Church in no way de­sires that we should give our­selves over to pure­ly sen­su­al de­lights and flesh­ly plea­sures. Since the Church has from old­en times call­ed these days sviat­ki, or the “ho­ly days,” these days re­quire that our very fes­tiv­i­ty be ho­ly, as they are ho­ly. So that those who re­joice might not for­get them­selves, the Church has placed a short song up­on our lips to glo­ri­fy the born Christ, by which the flesh is re­strained and the soul is up­lift­ed, show­ing the prop­er oc­cu­pa­tions for these days. It says, “Christ is Born, give ye glo­ry,” and the rest. Glo­ri­fy Christ; glo­ri­fy Him, so that by this glo­ri­fi­ca­tion the heart and soul would de­light, and there­by si­lence any urge for var­i­ous oth­er deeds and oc­cu­pa­tions that might prom­ise cer­tain con­so­la­tions. Glo­ri­fy­ing Christ does not mean de­vis­ing length­y songs of prais­es to Christ. But if when con­tem­plat­ing or hear­ing a­bout the birth of Christ the Sav­ior you in­vol­un­tary shout from the depths of your soul, “Glo­ry to Thee, O Lord, that Christ is born!” — this is suf­fi­cient. This will be a qui­et song of the heart, which nev­er­the­less reach­es the heav­ens and en­ters in to God Him­self. Re­peat a lit­tle more clear­ly to your­self what the Lord has wrought for us, and you will see how nat­u­ral this ex­cla­ma­tion now is. So that this might be easier for us, we shall com­pare it to the fol­low­ing in­ci­dent. A king prom­ised free­dom to a man who was im­pris­on­ed in a dun­geon and bound with fet­ters. The pris­on­er waits a day, then an­oth­er, then months, and years. He sees no ful­fill­ment of the prom­ise, but does not lose hope, and be­lieves in the king’s words. Fi­nal­ly, he sees signs that it is com­ing soon, his at­ten­tion in­creas­es — he hears a noise; some one is ap­proach­ing with cheer­ful words. Now the locks fall and the lib­er­at­or en­ters. “Glo­ry to Thee, O Lord!” the pris­on­er in­vol­un­tar­i­ly cries. “The end of my im­pris­on­ment has ar­rived, and soon I will see God’s world!” Or an­oth­er in­ci­dent: A sick man is cov­er­ed with wounds and par­a­lyzed in all his mem­bers. He has tried all med­i­cines and var­i­ous doc­tors. His en­dur­ance is ex­haust­ed, and he is read­y to give him­self over to de­spair. He is told, “There is one very skilled doc­tor who heals ev­ery­one from those very ill­ness­es that you have. We have ask­ed him to come, and he has prom­ised to do so.” The pa­tient be­lieves them, cries out in hope, and waits for the prom­ised one… One hour pass­es, then an­oth­er, and his soul is tor­ment­ed with anx­i­ety. Fi­nal­ly, at eve­ning, some­one ar­rives… The door o­pens, and the de­sired one en­ters… “Glo­ry to Thee, O Lord!” the sick man shouts. Here is an­oth­er ex­am­ple. A thun­der­cloud hangs over the sky, and the face of the earth cov­er­ed with dark­ness. Thun­der shakes the foun­da­tions of the moun­tains and light­en­ing tears the sky from one end to the oth­er. All are in fear, as if the end of the world had come. When the thun­der pass­es and the sky clears, ev­ery­one breathes free­ly, say­ing, “Glo­ry to Thee, O Lord!” Bring these ex­am­ples clos­er to your­self and you will see our whole his­to­ry in them. The threat­en­ing clouds of God’s wrath were over us. The Lord has come — the peace­mak­er, and has dis­persed that cloud. We were cov­er­ed with wounds of sins and pas­sions; the heal­er of souls and bodies has come and heal­ed us. We were bound by the fet­ters of slav­ery; the lib­er­at­or has come and re­leased our fet­ters. Bring all of these ex­am­ples clos­er to your heart and take them in with your sens­es, and you will not be able to re­frain from ex­claim­ing, “Glo­ry to Thee, O Lord, that Christ is born!” I will not try to con­vey this joy to you in words; it is un­reach­a­ble by any words. The work that the Lord Who is born has wrought touch­es ev­ery one of us. Those who en­ter in­to com­mu­nion with Him re­ceive from Him free­dom, heal­ing, and peace; they pos­sess all of this and taste of its sweet­ness. There is no rea­son to say “re­joice” to those who ex­pe­ri­ence this with­in them­selves, for they can­not help but re­joice; but to those who do not ex­pe­ri­ence it, why say “re­joice”? They can­not re­joice. No mat­ter how much you say “re­joice” to one bound hand and foot, he will not re­joice. From whence can the joy of heal­ing come to one who is cov­er­ed with the wounds of sins? How can one who is threaten­ed by the thun­der of God’s wrath breathe free­ly? You can on­ly say to him, “Go to the In­fant wrapped in swad­dl­ing clothes in the man­ger, and seek de­liv­er­ance by Him from all the e­vils that en­com­pass you, for this In­fant, Christ, is the Sav­ior of the world.” I would like to see ev­ery­one re­joic­ing with this very joy, and not want­ing to know any oth­er joys; but not ev­ery­thing that comes from Is­ra­el is Is­ra­el. Fes­tiv­i­ties will now be­gin that are emp­ty, wild, and in­flam­ing of the pas­sions: the lust of the eyes, smok­ing, cos­tume-wear­ing. [1]My soul hat­eth… your so­lem­ni­ties: they are be­come trou­ble­some to me, I am wea­ry of bear­ing them (Is. 1:14)! Tru­ly, man­y of our so­cial fes­tiv­i­ties are re­al­ly pa­gan abom­i­na­tions; that is, some of them are brought to us straight from the pa­gan world, while oth­ers, though they ap­pear­ed lat­er in time, are pen­e­trated with the spir­it of pa­gan­ism. And they come out as if on pur­pose in great quan­ti­ties for the feasts of Christ­mas and Pas­cha. By get­ting caught up in them we give the prince of this world, our tor­men­tor, the en­e­my of God, an ex­cuse to say to God, “What have You done for me with Your Na­tiv­i­ty and Res­ur­rec­tion? They are all com­ing to me!” But let the words of the fif­tieth Psalm be re­peat­ed more of­ten in the depth of our hearts: That Thou might­est be jus­ti­fied in Thy words, and pre­vail when Thou art judged (Ps. 50:4). No mat­ter how much you tell these peo­ple to stop, they on­ly shut their ears and pay no heed; they bring these bright days of the feast to such an fi­na­le that the Lord is com­pelled to turn His eyes from us and say, We are in­ter­est­ed in en­light­ened Eu­rope. Yes, the abom­i­na­tions of pa­gan­ism that were cast out of the world were first re­stored there; they are pass­ing from there to us. Hav­ing breathed in that hell­ish poi­son, we run a­round like mad­men, for­get­ting our own selves. But let us re­mem­ber the year of 1812 — why did the French come to us then? God sent them to wipe out all the evil that we had learned from them. Rus­sia re­pent­ed then, and God had mer­cy on her. But now it seems that we have for­got­ten that les­son. If we come to our sens­es, of course, noth­ing will hap­pen. But if we do not come to our sens­es, who knows? Per­haps the Lord will again send sim­i­lar teach­ers, so that they would bring us to our sens­es and place us on the path of cor­rec­tion. Such is the law of God’s righ­teous­ness: to cure some­one from sin with the thing that en­ticed him in­to it. These are not emp­ty words, but a mat­ter that has been con­firmed by the voice of the Church. Know, ye Or­tho­dox, that God will not be mock­ed; and know, ye who make glad and re­joice on these days with fear. Il­lu­mine the bright feast with bright deeds, oc­cu­pa­tions, and fes­tiv­i­ties, so that all who look up­on us will say, “They have ho­ly days, and not some wild games with the un­righ­teous rev­el­lers who do not know God.
[1] St. The­o­phan coins the word o­bo­rot­ni­chest­vo, (from the word o­bo­rot­ni, mean­ing “were­wolf”) here, which re­fers to a strange en­ter­tain­ment in Rus­sia dur­ing the Christ­mas hol­i­days that re­sem­bles Amer­i­can Hal­low­een. Young peo­ple dress as fe­ro­cious an­i­mals like wolves and bears, and make pranks. The use of this word al­so im­plies that this prac­tice is some­thing from the realm of witch­es and sor­cer­ers.