St. Amvrossy of Optina on the Nativity

A Hymn to the Theotokos

The shadow of the Law is passed away with the coming of grace; for as the bush was not consumed when it was burning, thus as a virgin didst thou give birth, and a virgin didst thou remain. In the stead of a pillar of fire, there hath arisen the Sun of Righteoussness; in the stead of Moses, Christ, the Salvation of our souls. (Dogmatic of Saturday Vespers Tone 2, trans. Holy Transfiguration Monastery, Boston Massachusetts 1990, p. 108)

St. Amvrossy of Optina on the Nativity

As we shall soon be celebrating the feast of the Nativity I have chosen to post a festal greeting of St. Amvrossy of Optina which is contained in his book: Collection of Letters to Monastcis.

Letter 2, 1870

To those who are wise in the Lord! By the mercy and the long-suffering of God once again we have reached the time of the yearly feast of Christ’s Nativity. In place of simple and usual congratulations, I want to say a few words about the great mystery of this holy feast. The Holy Church in her hymns already calls the faithful to contemplate with “uplifted” minds the travels of the Master, and with purified hearts, to be mysteriously delighted with the immortal supper in the poor cave. How has the Omnipresent One bowed the heavens and come down to earth without leaving the Father’s bosom? How has the Invisible been seen? How has the co-eternal Word and consubstantial Son of God become the Son of a Virgin? How is it that He, Who is pre-eternal and incomprehensible beyond all things, is born from a virgin today as an infant? How is it that He Who is inaccessible to all, is today, as an infant, embraced by the motherly virginal arms? How is it that He Who covers the heavens with clouds, is today – as an infant – wrapped in swaddling bands? How is it that He Who created everything in wisdom is today, as a swaddled infant, put into the manger so that He will free mankind from irrationality? How is it that He Who feeds everything is nourished as an infant, with a mother’s milk? O, the awesome mystery! O the incomprehensible wonder! Now God has indisputably become man so that He would make man into god as was foretold by the prophet: “I said that ye are gods and all of you are sons of the most High”. But, what about our human condition—“and we, as men, die”? What vanity is ours and neglect over the divine adoption! We have more love for the slavery of passions; and because of our evil will we voluntarily and involuntarily bend down our necks before the adversary! What blindness and distortion is ours! Blessed are the ears of those shepherds who heard the angels sing in the sky: “Glory to God in the highest”, and the announcement of peace on earth and God’s good will among men. Blessed are their eyes which saw, like a blameless lamb, Him Who was pastured in Mary’s womb. Blessed are those who are deemed worthy of God’s good will and peace which surpasses all understanding. Blessed are the wise men that came from afar to worship Him Who was born from the Virgin and who brought to Him worthy gifts: gold as to a King, incense as to God, and myrrh as to the Immortal dead man. Blessed are also all those who worship Him in the spirit and truth, bringing Him gifts, each according to his own capacity: one the righteous pennies of mercy—as though gold; another, as though the sweet smelling odor of incense—glorification and the many prayers of repentance and confession. Yet another, like the fine perfumed myrrh—the grateful memory of sufferings and the reverend worship of the life-giving wounds of Him Who became incarnate and was crucified in the flesh for our salvation. But what can we do, who are depressed and insensitive [among whom I am first] who cannot take delight in that immortal supper in the poor cave, not having an elevated mind (from earthly things) nor a cleansed heart? Humbling and reproaching ourselves, let us pay attention with reverence to the reading and singing in the Church. And let us receive from them, as from a source of life and of immortality, the comfort and instruction and salvation by the mercy and unutterable love for men of Him Who was incarnate for us—the Son of God. To Whom is due all glory and power, honor and worship together with His eternal Father and the most-holy and good and life-giving Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

Do Thou Who wast unutterably born from the Virgin, have mercy on us who are full of shame, by the prayers of Thy most-pure Mother and all who pleased Thee!