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


[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.


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