(Menaion, 24 Dec. Old Style, Canon of the Matins, Hymn 7, Troparion 3.)
This short quotation from a Church hymn which I have just read is but a glimmer from the inestimable verbal treasury of the Church in praise of Christ’s Nativity. These words, uttered on behalf of the Mother of God, are not simply a poetic device, a rhetorical convention, but a spiritual truth, a wondrous immersion in the mystery of the Son of God and Son of man, in the mystery of the Divine motherhood. Yes, by way of theological contemplation, prayerful trepidation, amazement and awe-filled adoration entwined in words, the Church introduces us to the great mystery of godliness, of God made manifest in the flesh (cf. 1 Timothy 3:16.) The Church mirthfully invites us to an abundant verbal repast, the Church nurtures us, elates us, enlightens our minds and hearts with fathomless spiritual meaning, with Grace-filled exquisite spiritual sensations, from whence the light and joy of this great mystery we celebrate in this day gush forth.
Let us infuse in this verbal glimmer, too, the light-bearing words of St. Gregory Palamas: “He Who sits of the Cherubims as God, is laid today on the earth as Babe. He Who is invisible for the six-winged Seraphims—which cannot contemplate not only His nature but even the radiance of His glory, whereby they cover their faces with wings,—today is accessible to the sight of men and the eyes of flesh, as One Who has clothed Himself in flesh. He Who puts confines to all things Himself being confined by nothing now fits in a hastily prepared manger. He Who holds all things in His palm and makes them solid and firm is now firmly swaddled up… He Who possesses immeasurable riches now wilfully embraces such a poverty that even in the houses of men He finds no abode… and not only He Who is of the same nature with the Most High Father, in His Nativity is clothed in our fallen nature, not only He embraces this extreme poverty by being born in a mean cave, but even from His Mother’s womb He enlists Himself with the slaves: He Who is by nature the Master of all the universe.”
How poignantly great, unfathomably profound and boundlessly holy is the mystery of godliness!
But why are the souls of many who, on the face of it, celebrate Christ’s Nativity, deaf and blind for this mystery preserved in the bosom of the Church? It is because they are languished with the fatty material banquets of this world, because they have grown heavy with feelings and thoughts stuffed with earthy dust, because they are mesmerised by the flickering lights of another feast… Tiny caves with mangers, motley figures, richly adorned Christmas trees, shops, loads of food, din, vanity, seasoned but with a short church service, consisting of rites of no understandable nature, threadbare sermons to the purpose, in which many of the everlasting truths become spiritless and pusillanimous compared to the powerfully throbbing pulse of our age; and then, … then the element of the other feast takes precedence again.
Is there place at all here for Christ, for the Living God, for the Son of God Who became the Son of man? Is there a limit to the insanity of men which banishes Christ from the Feast of His Nativity? Is our time devoid of such burning in the spirit, Christ-faced men who, by word, spirit and life promulgate the mystery of godliness; is no such man—a faithful follower of Christ—to be found rejoicing at the Feast of this Mystery?
Alas! This material world with its elements ruthlessly slaps our senses with its vociferous fun, with the hullabaloo and sheen of the other feast, the feast without Christ. But Christ invisibly abides with His people to the end of times, and those faithful to Him shall exist until the end of times. For lo! Here and there, unnoticeably for us there are two or three, or even more together, who cherish in their bosom a ray of the mystery of godliness, a grain of the spiritual manna from the banquet of Faith. In these men and through these men does the great light of godliness which effuse abundantly from the hymnal theology of the Church; it spurts from the divinely enlightened thought of the Holy Fathers and echoes with a thunderous might in the words of the divine rhetor and Theologian Gregory: today “He Who was born without a mother is born without a father. He Who is fleshless is clothed in flesh. He Who is beyond the senses becomes palpable. He Who is ageless takes beginning. The Son of God becomes the Son of man.” May He be glorified, honoured and worshipped now and ever and unto eternal ages! Amen.
25 December 2008 (Old Style) / 7 January 2009
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