UKRAINIAN CATHOLIC YOUTH & YOUNG ADULTS

Archeparchy of Winnipeg

The Nativity Icon ~ All of creation gave something that night

All of creation gave something that night:

  • the angels gave thanks with their song-the doxology that we sing every Sunday at the end.
  • the heavens gave the star {here’s another interesting bit of information…did you know that the star wasn’t really a star at all?  Even scientifically, that star cannot be explained because it behaved so differently than anything scientists have ever observed–even until this day.  It moved, it stopped, it ascended and descended, it changed direction…stars don’t behave like this. That’s because it really wasn’t a star at all.  It was the Archangel Gabriel.  After bringing Panagia the news of the Annunciation, he went straightway to take his place as a light in the sky.  The light that the Magi would follow for over 2 1/2 years.}
  • poor humble shepherds gave praise and amazement
  • earth gave its cave-not a barn-it was actually a cave in the wilderness as depicted in the icon.
  • humanity gave the Virgin; the magi brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.  the gold represented his royalty, the frankincense the dignity of His divinity, and the myrrh of course, represented His death.  Though, the Magi didn’t perceive the mystery of the gifts they gave.  And, I’m going to tell you another really neat story about the myrrh used at His burial later on in this post…

 

Everything that took place was a fulfillment of of the Old Testament prophecies.  St. Gregory of Nyssa compares the birth of Christ in a cave as the spiritual light shining forth in the shadow of death that had encompassed mankind.

So, what happened EXACTLY that night?

We all know that when Joseph and Panagia (Greek: Παναγία, fem. of panágios, pan- + hágios, the All-Holy; pronounced “pah-nah-YEE-ah”), also transliterated Panayia or Panaghia, is one of the titles of Mary, the mother of Jesus) traveled to Bethlehem, which literally translates to “House of Bread” and was where the symbol of the eucharist-manna- was delivered from Heaven.  Now, He who rained manna upon His people would Himself become the bread of the eucharist.

When they arrived, there was no room for them so they were led to a cave that housed animals and that is where Christ would be born.  Panagia then asked Joseph to help her off the donkey and help her into the cave.  He did those things and then left to find a midwife.  This all took place around sunset.

Joseph found two midwives, Zelomi and Salome.  Zelomi, went with Joseph to the cave and when they got close to it there was a cloud and an extremely bright light.  As they walked closer and closer, the light decreased and the cloud disappeared and they both beheld the infant at the breast of the Virgin.  Zelomi asked Panagia if she was the mother.  When she said yes, Zelomi replied, “Thou art not like the other daughters of Eve.” And the Theotokos responded, “As my Son has no equal among children, so His Mother has no equal among women.”  And this wasn’t said out of pride, it was said out of amazement.

I mean, can you imagine that?  Those of you who are parents know the joy and love that overflows within you the moment you hold your newborn child.  Can you imagine how the Theotokos felt?  Let alone carrying God in her womb for nine months, but to now be able to hold and kiss the face of God?  That’s incredible!

Zelomi left quickly and went out to get the other midwife, Salome.  Now, Salome was actually a relative of the Theotokos.  She was Agia Anna’s, sister’s daughter, which made them first cousins.

When Zelomi told Salome that “a virgin brought forth, a thing which nature does not admit!”  Salome said she would not believe it unless she saw proof, so she went into the cave to see for herself.

When they entered the cave, Panagia was leaning over the manger and swaddling the baby Jesus before she layed him down to sleep.
This action alone, was amazing to Salome because a woman who had given birth could not physically move so well after just giving birth. Remember, we’re not talking about giving birth in a comfy hospital bed, surrounded by pillows, epidurals and sucking on ice chips.  We’re talking about laying on the floor of a barn, surrounded by animals.

So, Salome reached down and tried to examine Panagia, the way a midwife usually did, but as soon as her hand touched Panagia’s body, it withered and literally started to burn with fire.  She groaned and cried out to the Lord until an angel appeared and instructed her to go and touch the child.  As soon as she did this, her hand was restored and she was filled with joy.  She begged forgiveness from God and from the Theotokos.

You have to understand that when we say Panagia was a virgin, before, during and after the Birth of Christ, we mean exactly that.  Her seal was never broken.  Christ passed through her like a normal delivery, but it was everything but normal.  There was no blood, no afterbirth.  The Panagia felt no pain whatsoever.  This is why she is depicted this way in the Nativity icon, to indicate her painless delivery and unneeded service of a midwife.

St. John of Damascus, who we know had his hand healed by the Theotokos, said about the birth,

“The birth surpassed the order of birthgiving as it was without pain; for where pleasure had not preceded, pain did not follow.  And just as at His conception He kept her who conceived Him a virgin, so also at His birth did He maintain her virginity intact, because He alone would pass through her and He kept her shut.”

St. Ambrose writes,

“A virgin carried Him whom the world cannot contain or support.  And when He was born of Mary’s womb, He preserved the enclosure of her modesty, and the inviolate seal of her virginity.”

And there are many, many quotes and writings similar to these.

 

Christ is shown here in swaddling clothes which are also symbolic of His future death, burial, tomb and burial clothes.  Panagia is also depicted this way in the Dormition icon.

Then, we know the Shepherds came to worship Him.  Now, the shepherds were chosen for a reason.  They didn’t just happen to be at the right place at the right time.  God chose them for very specific reasons.  St. Gregory the Great tells us that “before the birth of Christ, there was discord between us and the angels because we separated ourselves from God through sin, the angels (as God’s loyal subjects) cut us off from their fellowship.  But because we were now acknowledging Him as King, they again received us as fellow citizens.

We also see in the icon, an old man dressed in black fur, bent down whispering in Joseph’s ear.  This is the devil, who continuously tried to make Joseph doubt.  “how is it possible for a virgin to bear a child?  it is against all the laws of nature!  you’re a fool!”  Of course, Joseph struggled with doubt, but never gave in to his temptations.  He protected the Theotokos and Christ until his death.

Down in the corner, we see the two midwives, Salome and Zelomi bathing the baby Jesus.  This was done out of tradition, not because He was dirty, we already talked about how there was no blood or anything involved in His birth.

Another amazing story is that while the midwives bathed Christ, there was a woman watching nearby.  When they took Him back into the cave, the woman brought an alabaster flask and filled it with His bath water.  You see, Christ our God does not defile water, He doesn’t make it dirty.  He purifies and sanctifies it. So, this woman took the flask and hid it in a cave.  Some years later, a man found the jar and when he opened it, it had turned into myrrh.  This myrrh smelled so incredible, nothing like he had ever smelled before and so he went and sold it for 300 denarii.  We celebrate her on Palm Sunday because she used the myrrh to anoint the feet of Christ and wipe it with her hair.  She was then instructed by our Lord to take the rest and save it for His burial.

Do you see again how everything comes full circle?  These are stories that are so amazing and Christians who are against tradition, which is contrary to Scriptures anyway, miss out on!  Don’t you just love it?

Now, let’s talk again about the Magi and who they were.

They were not astrologers in the modern-day sense.  They were not bound up with metaphysics and satanism, which is why astrology today is rejected by the Orthodox Church.  The wise men simply observed the stars and their movements.  God obviously knew they were in a spiritual state suitable for seeing and worshipping His Son.  The holy fathers have said that this was not a matter of science but of inner noetic purity, which the wise men obviously had.

We mentioned earlier that the Magi brought their gifts to Christ.  But, what we didn’t talk about was when.  They’re shown in the icon of the Nativity, but they were not actually there at His birth.

It says in the Scriptures that when they came into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. (Matt 2:11)

By the time they found him, he was almost two years old.  The Wise Men followed the star for over two years.  This is the reason Herod gave the decree to kill every male child that was two years old and under.

After that, we know that the Scriptures say, they left and didn’t return through Herod’s kingdom because God had enlightened them of the evil inside of Herod.  We read in the Akathist Hymn, “the wise men left Herod as a trifler who knew not how to chant…”

But has anyone wondered what happened to them after that?  After witnessing such things, and being in such a strong spiritual state, how could they possibly just go home and return to live as it was before meeting the Son of God?

St. John Chrysostom tells us that “they returned home and continued to worship Him, even more than before.  And they preached Him and instructed many.  When St. Thomas went to that region, they came to him and were baptized.  Then they joined him and preached the gospel.

St. Gregory says this is also symbolic:  “It was impossible that having come from Herod to Christ, they would return again to Herod,” meaning, our true country is Paradise, to which, having now come to the knowledge of Jesus, we are forbidden to return by the path we left.”
…..
At the time of His birth,

  • A spring gushed forth from a rock inside the cave where He was born.
  • In Rome, oil poured forth from the ground.  So much so, that it ran into the Tiber River.
  • In Spain, a cloud appeared as bright as the sun.
  • In the Hebrew Sanctuary called the Eternal Temple, the idols within crashed to the ground.
  • In Judea, vines sprang forth even though it was the dead of winter.

So, just as the entire earth reacted when Christ drew His last breath…the sun turned black, the veil of the temple was torn in two, graves were opened and the dead lived again…

So also, the entire earth reacted when He drew His first breath.

Oftentimes, we hear people saying Happy Birthday Jesus, but we as Orthodox Christians don’t do this for one simple reason. It’s technically not His birthday because we know He always existed.  It was only His birth according to the flesh.  To us, His birth is much, much more than just a birthday.  We use the greeting, “Christ is Born!  Glorify Him!”

In this icon, we see The Flight into Egypt.  We see Christ is already older and sits upon Joseph’s shoulders, we see St. James or Iakovos with them.  Also, notice Joseph’s age again.  He is properly depicted in this icon.

So, Herod ordered the murder of the holy Innocents, those 14,000 children who became the first martyrs for Christ and we remember them on December 29, and an angel came to warn Joseph and instructed him to “take the young Child and His Mother and flee to Egypt.” (Matt 2:13)

They packed up and left. On their way into Egypt they passed through a den of thieves.  Many of them were asleep but two of them, Dismas and Gestas, awoke when the holy family passed by.

Dismas went across the Theotokos to see what she held covered up at her chest.  When she uncovered Christ, Dismas fell to his knees and said, “If God were to take human flesh, He would not be more beautiful than this child!” Then he turned to Gestas and said, “I beg thee to let these people pass by quietly.  Don’t let our comrades be roused.”  However, Gestas wouldn’t agree, so Dismas offered him forty drachmas and his belt and gave them to him before he could say no.  Gestas, realizing that it was more than he would get from robbing them, agreed.

The Lady Theotokos, full of gratitude for the kindness shown to them by Dismas, looked at him and prophesied, “My Child will reward thee richly for having spared Him this day.  The Lord God will receive thee to His right hand and grant thee pardon of thy sins.”
Indeed, more than thirty years later, at the Crucifixion of Her Son and God, he hung on a cross in between two robbers.  To the left was Gestas, who mocked and reviled the Lord.  And to the right was Dismas, who while on the cross repented of his whole life and said, “This Man has done nothing wrong, we are paying the just price for our sins.”

And as we well know, Dismas was that same day with Christ in Paradise.

Again, everything comes full circle.

So, you see.  This is what happened on Christougenna. This is what Christmas is about.  After talking about all of this, doesn’t the celebration of Santa and eight flying reindeer seem incredibly empty?  There is so much more tradition and joy in celebrating Christ than celebrating Santa.

I’m going to share something with you that my spiritual father once said to me and it’s something that I think of all the time and it rings true over and over again.  He said,

“Secular things bring happiness, not joy.  Happiness fades away but joy is unending and can only come through Christ.  When you have joy, you can be in the middle of disaster and will still feel peace.”

Seek joy, not happiness.  Seek it in Christ!

 

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