Throughout the Nativity fast, there are not a few Church feast days on which the typicon allows fish and wine. Christian love and discernment allows an Orthodox Christian to sit at the table with his friends and drink a glass of wine in the normal manner. We always serve a moleben of Thanksgiving on civil New Year's Eve, and that is the proper thing to do. Some people mistakenly believe that Orthodox Christians should not participate in this event. "That has nothing to do with us," they say. "We are on another calendar, and New Year's Day can only come according to the old calendar—that is, on January 14."
There was a time in Russia when New Year's Day was celebrated on September 1, and it coincided with the Church New Year. Even now, we begin the cycle of our Church feasts from that day. However, under Tsar Peter I, the civil New Year was transferred to January 1, as it was in Europe. In general, this date is quite relative, and in the final analysis we could choose any date at all to begin the New Year.
This treatise by Holy Hieromartyr Hilarion (Troitsky) (1886–1929) on the incarnation of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ was published in the early twentieth century, when European scholars (particularly in Germany) were blatantly re-writing Christian history and theology. Their light-minded efforts have resounded to our day, reiterating themselves in modern articles, books, and films, rendering St. Hilarion’s treatise ever relevant as well.
With modern religious society’s cooling toward God’s Church, there are not likely to be many people who feel in full measure how the Church celebrates the remembrance of “The Incarnation of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ”. There is perhaps only one attribute that has not yet been forgotten—the irmos, “Christ is born, give ye glory…” is sung in Church more than a month before the feast [of the Nativity] itself. After all, the Church dedicates whole weeks to preparation for the feast. In parish churches the advent of the great feast is not very noticeable, because the Church typicon has lost there all its charm, its profound theology; there the feast comes on almost immediately. I will not even talk about the fact that in the life of the laity, the feast’s approach is felt only in an increase of domestic hustle-bustle. The original element of Church life can only be caught these days in the monasteries, most notably in the lavras (especially the Kiev-Caves Lavra), where not a single canon or a single stichera is skipped. These hymns are given full voice beneath the monastic church domes and fill all present with their content. Hearing them, the Faithfull’s consciousness breaks away from the earth; not for one day or for a few hours, as in the parish churches—no, it breaks away from the earth long before the feast and remains in the heights of spiritual upliftment, spiritual rapture, for nearly an entire week. Only the Bright Resurrection of Christ is celebrated more radiantly. But in a certain sense, the Nativity services even exceed the Paschal services; and if they do not exceed them, then they at any rate bear an absolutely special character. The Paschal service is one triumphant, joyful, exultant hymn by the Church to the Risen Lord. The Nativity service has a special element of theology. Throughout the cycle of the Church’s service books, you will not find more abundant dogmatic content than in the services for the Nativity. Here, in short but powerful expressions is contained the fundamental idea of Christianity—the renewal of corrupt human nature by the incarnation of the Son of God.
Saint Spyridon of Tremithus was born towards the end of the third century on the island of Cyprus. He was a shepherd, and had a wife and children. He used all his substance for the needs of his neighbors and the homeless, for which the Lord rewarded him with a gift of wonderworking. He healed those who were incurably sick, and cast out demons.
After the death of his wife, during the reign of Constantine the Great (306-337), he was made Bishop of Tremithus, Cyprus. As a bishop, the saint did not alter his manner of life, but combined pastoral service with deeds of charity.
The question, "Is there a Santa Claus?" has led by association to the question, "Was there a St. Nicholas?" among secular historians. The issue seems to revive every December before Christmas, although everyone knows that St. Nicholas's feast day does not fall on Christmas, and he is only associated with the Nativity of Christ by the proximity of his own feast day. Well, and because he always gave people gifts.
Holy Hierarch Nicholas of Myra and Lycia is commemorated by the Church on December 6/19. Anyone who has ever prayed to St. Nicholas for help knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that he not only did exist, but still does exist, for our God is a God of the living (cf. Mt. 22:32).
A Dedicated Servant of God
More than 1,600 years ago, in the year 270 AD, St. Nicholas was born not far from Myra, in a land that is now part of the country of Turkey. In those days Orthodox Christians were persecuted for their faith. It wasn't easy to be a Christian. Many of them were tortured and executed because they believed in Christ.
Nicholas was taught by his parents to love the Lord with his whole mind, heart, soul, and with ail his strength. When they died he inherited their money. He used this to help the poor, the hungry, and the sick. Whenever he helped anyone he did it secretly, so that only God would know, He did not want praise from people; he wanted his reward to be only in Heaven.
As having nothing, and yet possessing all things. (2 Cor. 6:10)
Today we celebrate, my beloved, the memory of St. Andrew the First-Called. He has been given that name because he was the first to be called by Jesus Christ to be an Apostle. It happened like this: Soon after the Lord’s baptism by John in the Jordan, John stood on the banks with two of his disciples, John and Andrew; and when he saw Jesus coming, he said, Behold the Lamb of God. Hearing these words from him, both disciples followed after Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them walking, He said to them, what do you need? They said to Him, “Rabbi,” which means teacher. “Where do you live?” The Lord answered, “Come, and see.” They went and saw where He lived, and stayed with Him that day. It was about the tenth hour, about 4:00 in the afternoon by our reckoning. One of these two who heard about Jesus from John and followed him was Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter. He first found his brother Simon—that is, Peter—and said to him, “We have found the Messiah,” which means, Christ, and led him to Jesus.