Sermon on the Nativity

Thy Nativity, O Christ our God, has shone to the world the light of wisdom!  For by it, those who worshipped the stars, were taught by a star to adore Thee, the Sun of Righteousness, and to know Thee the Orient from on high. O Lord, glory to Thee!–Tropar of the Nativity, trans. from Liturgy Volume I, St. TIkhon’s Seminary Press

Sermon on the Nativity

Soon we shall be celebrating the feast of the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ in the flesh. What follows here in this post is an excerpt (with slight paraphrasing) of a sermon of St. Gregory the Theologian on the Nativity.

This feast is the coming of God to Man, so that we might go forth to God; or rather – to express ourselves more properly– that we might go back to God; that putting off the old man, we might put on the New; and that we who died in Adam might live in Christ, being born with Christ and crucified with Him and buried with Him and rising with Him. For I must undergo the beautiful conversion, and, as with the painful fall there was the expulsion from paradise and loss of bliss that came afterwards, so now the more blissful has come out of the painful—the saving dispensation of the Word. For where sin abounded Grace did much more abound; and if a taste condemned us, how much more does the Passion of Christ justify us? Therefore let us keep the Feast, not after the manner of a heathen festival, but after a godly sort; not after the way of the world, but in a fashion above the world; not as our own, but as belonging to Him -Christ God – Who is ours, or rather as being our Master’s; not as of slaves in infirmity, but as of healing; not as of this creation, but of the new, re-creation.

And how shall this be? Let us not adorn our porches, nor arrange dances, nor decorate the streets; let us not feast the eye, nor enchant the ear with music, nor enervate the nostrils with perfume, nor prostitute the taste, nor indulge the touch–those roads that are so prone to evil and entrances for sin. Let us not be effeminate in clothing soft and flowing, whose beauty consists in its uselessness; nor with the glittering of gems or the sheen of gold or the tricks of color, belying the beauty of nature, such are invented in opposition to the image of God; not in rioting and drunkenness, with which are mingled wantonness, since the lessons which evil teachers give are evil – or rather, from worthless seeds come worthless harvests. Let us not set up tabernacles for the belly of what belongs to debauchery. Let us not appraise the bouquet of wines, the superb and uncommon dishes of cooks, the great expense of ointments. Let us not strive to outdo each other in intemperance (for to my mind every superfluity is intemperance, as is all which is beyond absolute need); and this while others are hungry and in want, who are made of the same clay and in the same manner as all of us.

Let us leave all these to the heathen and to the heathen pomps and festivals. But we, the Object of whose adoration is God the Word, if we must in some way have luxury let us seek it in word, and in the Divine Law, and in histories – especially such as are the origin of this Feast – that our luxury may be akin to and not far removed from Him Whom hath called us together. Let us begin from this very moment and let us delight in such matters that would cleanse our minds and our ears and our thoughts, since our thoughts and conversation should be of God and things Divine; and so, when we depart from this holy Liturgy, may we have and ever cling to the enjoyment of delights that have true reality and fade not away.

If we thus honor and look to God then we, in turn, shall be looked at by our great God, Who in Trinity is worshipped and glorified, and Whom we declare to be now set forth as clearly before us as the bonds of our fleshly human nature allow, in Jesus Christ our Lord, to Who be glory forever and ever. Amen.

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She Who is Quick to Hear

She Who is Quick to Hear

We have recently commemorated the Icon of our Lady Theotokos called “Quick to hear”; its feast is November 9th        or 22nd  depending which calendar one follows.  It is this icon to which this blog site is dedicated.  This icon is at Dochiariou Monastery on the Holy Mountain.  The icon received this name  the 16th century.  At that time the steward of the monastery, Nilus, in his daily work would pass by the icon while carrying a torch.  The icon was outside the dining hall. The smoke from the torch was dirtying the icon and so one evening the Theotokos said to him as he passed the icon: “Stop dirtying my icon”.  He thought this was some of the other monks playing a joke so he continued to do this.  He was then struck blind by the Theotokos.  He repented before the icon, and was healed by her.  She again spoke and called herself “Quick to hear”.  Thus the icon received its name.

The refrain in the akathist hymn for this icon reads: “Rejoice thou who art quick to hear, fulfilling our petitions for our good”. But let us consider: What is it we should be asking for? Well, above all we should be asking for salvation, we should be hoping for life in Christ in this world which will continue in the life to come. So let us talk about one aspect of getting our souls in proper order and acceptable to God.

The Holy Fathers of our Church say that there are three powers of the soul. They are the desiring power, the incensive power or that of anger, and the intellectual power. The desiring power should be turned towards God, in love for Him. The incensive power should function as zeal for God and be turned against our invisible enemies in anger. The intellectual power should rule over the other two and be set on God, as the holy Apostle Paul teaches: “Set your minds on the things that are above” (Col. 3:2), and “be renewed in the spirit of your mind”. (Eph. 4:23)

But since the fall of our first parents these powers of the soul are distorted and turned upside down so-to-speak. The desiring power can be effected with love for money, possessions or physical pleasures. The incensive power can be turned towards things or our fellow men or even God and there can be a passion of anger or hatred. Our ability to reason becomes affected by all this.

And even if these two powers of the soul were directed properly, if we were to feed our intellect with the things of this world rather than the things of God we would be false to the dignity of being created in God’s image and the salvation He has wrought for us. As St. John the Theologian testifies: “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever”.(1John2:15-17) And the Holy Apostle Paul instructs us: “Be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” (Rom. 12:2) He also, as St. John, strictly warns us of the opposite: “walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind, having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart”. (Eph. 4:17-18)

So let us conclude by praying to the Theotokos; and to do this let us make use of the hymnology of the feast of the Icon, “She Who is Quick to Hear”. The following are the verses of Ode 7 of the second Canon for this feast:

O Lady, thou guide of thy servants to salvation, set aright the three parts of our soul, that, deemed worthy of the grace of dispassion, we may chant:  O most-hymned Lord and God of our fathers, blessed art Thou!

Direct the desiring power of our soul to divine zeal, that it may thereby love God wholly and ever strive towards Him as the all-blessed End of desire.

O Virgin, help us to turn the incensive power of our soul against the invisible enemies of our salvation, and fill our hearts with saving love towards our neighbors and God.

To our souls reasoning give wings towards God-pleasing reflection, delivering us from thoughts contrary to God, O Mistress, and strengthen us all to think, speak and do that which is good.

Through the prayers of Thy most pure Mother, Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on us!