John Peter E. Presson, Protopsaltis of the Metropolis of Portland and the West
admit –I am as tempted by “The Christmas Blues” as any one else.
Between a mix of childhood and adulthood memories, the constant barrage
of social “expectations” of the
perfect Christmas, the daily news footage of an “up” or “down” holiday
season judged by the track of retail sales, and Christmas parties that I
can’t eat the food. Additionally, as an Eastern Orthodox Christian who
follows the traditional Julian Calendar
(celebrating the Birth of the Saviour two weeks after everyone else), I
get now up to two months of this nonsense rammed down my throat with the
force of a pile driver. And it gets earlier and earlier every year.
What’s an Orthodox Christian to do???
Orthodox Church provides the perfect remedy to “The Christmas Blues” –a
firewall between us and the world around us. The 6 week Fast of
Preparation that begins the day after
the Feast of the Apostle Philip and ends on Christmas Day know as the
Nativity Fast or Advent for its focus on the events, persons and
prophecies pointing to Our Saviour’s Incarnation in the flesh. Much in
the same way as the Lenten Springtime that precedes
the Feast of Pascha is intensely liturgical in its focus, so is the Fast
of Advent that begins in late November, and ends on December 25 (Old
Style). As one who has attended and chanted many of these services,
this is one psaltis and liturgist’s little journey
through this blessed time:
For us Advent begins somewhat uneventfully on November 15 –the day
after the Feast of the Apostle Phillip, and proceeds as such until
November 21 –the Feast of the Entry of the Mother of God Into the
Temple. It is on this Feast that we catch the first liturgical glimmers
of the joy of Christmas: the Katavasiae from the 1st Canon of the
Feast of the Nativity:
is born! Give ye glory! Christ is come from Heaven, receive ye Him!
Christ is on earth, be ye exalted! Sing unto the Lord all the earth and
sing praises in gladness,
O ye peoples; for He is glorified.
the Son Who was begotten of the Father before the ages without change,
and in this last days was without seed made flesh of the Virgin, to
Christ our God, let us cry aloud:
Thou Who hast raised up our horn: Holy art Thou, O Lord.
of the root of Jesse, and flower that blossomed from his stem, O
Christ, Thou hast sprung from the Virgin; from the mountain densely
overshadowed has Thou come, O Praised
One, made flesh of her that knew no wedlock. O Thou Who art immateriate
and God, glory to Thy power, O Lord.
Thou art the God of peace and the Father of mercies, Thou hast sent
unto us Thine Angel of Great Council, granting us peace. Wherefore
having been guided to the light
of divine knowledge and watching by night, we glorify Thee, O Friend of
sea-monster spat forth Jonas as it had received him like a babe from
the womb; while the Word, having dwelt in the Virgin and taken flesh,
came forth from her, yet kept her
incorrupt. For being Himself not subject to corruption, He preserved His
Mother free from harm.
the impious decree, the Children brought up in godliness feared not the
threat of fire, but standing in the midst of the flames, the chanted: O
God of our Fathers,
blessed art Thou.
furnace moist with dew was the image and figure of a wonder past
nature; for it burned not the Youths whom it had received, even as the
fire of the Godhead consumed not the
Virgin’s womb into which it had descended. Wherefore in praise let us
sing: Let all creation bless the Lord, and supremely exalt Him unto all
strange and marvelous mystery do I behold; the cave is a heaven; the
Virgin a cherubic throne; the manger a space wherein Christ God the
Uncontainable One hath reclined. Him
do we magnify.
From this point we chant these Katavasiae at every Sunday Matins
until Christmas, and likewise at every Liturgy we chant the Kontakion of
the Fore feast:
this day the Virgin cometh to the cave to give birth to the Word
ineffably, Who was before all the ages. Dance for joy, O earth, on
hearing the gladsome tidings; with the
Angels and the shepherds now glorify Him Who is willing to be gazed on
as a young Child, Who before the ages is God.
On December 1st, 2nd and 3rd we celebrate the memory of the
Prophets Nahum, Abbakum, and Sophanias who all pointed the way to the
Advent of Christ.
On December 6th, we celebrate the Feast of St. Nicholas the
Wonderworker of Myra in Lycia –that great archetype of Christian giving,
to whom every Christmas gift given must be a reflection of. It is of
note that in Orthodox nations (and even in some
heterodox European nations) the traditional day of exchanging of gifts
is done on this day.
On the Sunday that falls between December 11-17 (the second Sunday
before Christmas) we find the first of the formal “Advent Sundays” –the
Sunday of the Holy Forefathers –that is all the Old Testament
Patriarchs and Prophets before and after the Law that
with faith let us all celebrate the annual memory of the Fathers before
the Law, even Abraham and those with him. Let us honour, as is meet,
the tribe of Judah. With
Daniel, let us acclaim as a figure of the Trinity the Children in
Babylon, who quenched the flame in the furnace. Cleaving steadfastly to
the predictions of the Prophets, let us cry out with a great voice
together with Elias: Behold a Virgin shall be with
child and she shall bear a Son, Emanuel; which being interpreted is: God
is with us!
From the Doxasticon of the Praises of Matins –Forefathers Sunday
December 17th, we celebrate the Prophet Daniel and the Three Children in Babylon: Ananias, Azarias and Misael.
The Sunday that falls between December 18 and the 24th is the next
formal “Advent Sunday” –the Sunday before the Nativity of Christ –often
called the Sunday of the Holy Fathers in which the entire genealogy of
the Incarnate Saviour is commemorated from
Adam and Eve to St. Joseph and the Theotokos. At Matins, the Synaxarion
recounts every one of the Royal Lineage and at the Liturgy, the Gospel
of St. Matthew (1:1-25) is read recounting the genealogy.
December 20th begins the Fore feast for Nativity:
House of Ephratha, august and Holy City, thou glory of the Prophets,
prepare the house wherein the Divine One shall be born for us.
blessed remainder of the Advent season to all, and wishing you a
glorious and peaceful Feast of the One Who is Incarnate for our sakes.