St. Amvrossy of Optina on the Nativity

On the Old Calendar the Nativity of our Lord according to the flesh was celebrated yesterday.  I apologize for being a day late as the following is a festal greeting of St. Amvrossy of Optina written to a monastic community under his direction. This is Letter 2 taken from the book: Collections of Letters to Monastics, by our Holy Father–Elder Amvrossy of the Optina Hermitage, Optina Hermitage 1995 (2nd edition).

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 the usual simple 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 lowly cave. How has the Omnipresent One bowed the heavens and come down to earth without leaving the Father’s bosom! How the Invisible was seen! How the co-eternal Word and consubstantial Son of God became the Son of a Virgin! How He Who is pre-eternal and incomprehensible beyond everything is born from a virgin today as an infant! How He who is inaccessible to all, as an infant is today embraced by the motherly virginal arms! How the One Who covers the heavens with clouds, is today as an infant wrapped in swaddled bands! How the One who created everything in wisdom is today, as a swaddled infant, put into the manger so that He will free mankind from irrationality! How the One who feeds everything as an infant is nourished with a mother’s milk! O, the awesome mystery! O the incomprehensible thing! Now God indisputably became man so that He would make man into god, which was foretold by the prophet: “I said that ye are gods and all of you are sons of the most High”—but, what of our mortality —“and we, like men, shall die”! (Psa. 81:6) What vanity is ours, which causes us to neglect the divine adoption as sons! (cf. Rom. 8:15, 23; Gal. 4:5; Eph. 1:5)

We have more love for the slavery of passions, and because of our evil will, we voluntarily and involuntarily bend our necks before the adversary! What blindness and distortion is ours! Blessed are the ears of those shepherds who heard the angels in the air sing “Glory to God in the highest”, and the announcement of “peace on earth and God’s good will among men”. (Luke 2:14) 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 who came from afar to worship the One 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 coins of mercifulness—as though gold, another as though incense and the good-smelling censor—the glorification and the many prayers of repentance and of confession, another yet, like the fine perfumed myrrh—the grateful memory of sufferings and the reverend worship to the life-giving wounds of the one Who became incarnate and Who was crucified in the flesh for our
salvation.

But what can we do, we who are depressed and insensitive – among whom I am first – who cannot take delighted in that immortal supper in the lowly cave, not having a mind elevated from earth, 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 mercifulness and unutterable love for men of the One 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.

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