Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Reflections for this Christmas Feast

On this Great Feast of Christmas I suggest that you take some time to reflect on the incredible nature of this day.

* God prepares a virgin, Mary, raising her in the Temple from the age of three.
* Mary conceives via the Holy Spirit, without a man’s seed.
* God become fully human taking on flesh from the Virgin Mary who gains the title Theotokos, birth giver of God
• God becoming the same as us in flesh but remaining fully God, transforms us.
* Jesus Christ provides the path for the salvation of all humanity through His teaching, our Baptism and participation in the sacramental life in His Church established by His Apostles.
* If we purify our hearts through a life of repentance, gained by a disciplined life guided by the Holy Spirit involving fasting, prayer and participation in the Sacraments, we will be united with God.
* Joined with Him, united with the the Holy Spirit, we will receive the power to act so that “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” as it says in the Lord’s prayer we all recite.
* Striving to do His will, repenting where we fail, we have hope in our salvation from a loving and merciful God who promises eternal life in His Kingdom.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us.
Glory be to the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit, now and forever unto the ages of ages.

May the Lord grant you many blessings on this day and in the New Year to come.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Advent - Week Seven Study Guide - The Lord Has Come

Week Seven Advent Home Study Series -
The Lord has Come!

On Wednesday the feast arrives and we celebrate the Incarnation of God, Jesus Christ. This celebration is closely linked with Theophany which is celebrated on January 6th. Traditionally Theophany was the largest celebration and today they are linked by a period of celebration of the coming of Christ between December 25th and Theophany. On Christmas we celebrate the Incarnation of God and on Theophany we celebrate His public appearance as the Son of God.  Both holidays have the same significance. Christ comes into the world as the Son of God for our salvation. This may help us appreciate even more the meaning of Christ coming into our own lives.
What is the meaning of Christmas? At its center is Christ Himself and only He can give us a true Christmas.
The meaning can be found simply stated in Matthew 1:21. Look this up and write it here.

The meaning of the name Jesus is “God saves” in Hebrew.  God is the Savior!
As we learn from the Gospel, Jesus is not just some wise prophet, but is true life. He showed us victory over Death and sin. He comes as fully God and fully human. He comes as part of God’s plan to rescue us from our fallen state, our condition of mortality, subject to sickness, suffering and death.  It is only through God’s power that this can be overcome. On Christmas He has come!

Read Matthew 1:18-25 which is the story of the Birth of Jesus.  This is read during Christmas Orthros service.
By what power was Mary going to have a baby?

What was Joseph’s initial reaction?

What did the angel tell Joseph?

What was the prophecy from Isaiah concerning the birth of Christ? (Isaiah 7:14)

Read Luke 2:1-7: This is Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus Christ.
Who was the Roman Emperor at the time of Jesus’s birth giving us the historical maker of this event?

Where was Jesus born and why?

What can help us remember at Christmas that Jesus comes to us not as a sweet baby, but as the Savior of the world?

How do you as an Orthodox Christian experience Christ as your Savior in Baptism, Divine Liturgy, Confession, daily prayers and others?

Read Romans 10:8-10 where Saint Paul emphasizes the confession of faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior and summarize it in your own words.

A Feast of Joy
Christmas is a feast of great joy. It offers an invitation to seek the fulfillment of our desires through Christ who as God becomes one of us and embraces us with His love. The Christmas message is one of hope: Christ is Emmanuel, God is with us! Rejoice! Heaven and earth are united! We do not have to look any further as Christ has totally united Himself with our human nature and transformed it.  As Saint John the Evangelist says, “The Word became a human being and full of grace and truth, lived among us. We saw His glory!…Out of the fulness of His grace He has blessed us all, giving us one blessing after another.” (John 1:14,16)

Read Luke 2:8-20 which is the remaining part of the Gospel lesson for the Christmas Vespers.
He says, I am here with good news for you which will…?

What were the angels prizes to God?

Read Mathew 2:1-12: This is the Gospel lesson for the Christmas Divine Liturgy
When the wise men came they brought…?

What is the importance of the exchange of gifts at Christmas? What are the temptations and risks in this practice? What should our priorities be in this regard as Christians?

Is Christmas a joyful holiday for you and your family?  How do you seek to experience the true Christmas Joy?

How can we help those who are lonely, suffering and depressed at Christmas?

Christmas Hymns of Joy
All things are filled with joy today:
Christ is born of the Virgin.
Orthros Hymn

All the angels in heaven greatly rejoice today.
The whole creation leaps with joy,
for the Savior and Lord is born in Bethlehem.
Vigil Hymn

Heaven and earth are united to day, for Christ is born.
Today has God come upon earth, and man gone up to heaven.
Therefore let us give glory to Him Who has brought peace by His coming.
O Savior glory to You.
Adapted vigil Hymn

Come, O faithful, and let us behold where Christ is born.
Let us join the Magi, kings from the East, and follow the guiding star.
Angels sing praises there without ceasing,
and shepherds abiding in the fields offer a joyful hymn:
glory to the highest to Him who this day is born of the Virgin.
Adapted Orthros Hymn

On Christmas we celebrate the Son of God who came to us to make us all sons and daughters of the living God.
By virtue of His divine sonship, Christ has the power to confer on us adoption –– spiritual sonship.  To whomever receives Him and believes in Him, Christ gives the right to become God’s child.  We become God’s children not by natural means, for God is our Father. (John 1:12-13)
All people are precious to God as His beloved creatures, but only those who are adopted sons and daughters, who believe in Christ and have received the Holy Spirit. “Those who are led by God’s Spirit makes you God’s children, and by the Spirit’s power we cry out to God, ‘Father! my Father’. God’s Spirit joins Himself to our spirit to declare that we are God’s children” (Rom 8:14-16).
The highest honor that one can be granted on this earth is adoption through Christ in whom we are Baptized and clothed. During Christmas Divine Liturgy we sing “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ”

Read Hebrews 1:1-12: This is the Epistle reading for the Christmas Vespers.
How has God spoken to us in these last days?

Reflecting the brightness of God’s glory. the Son is the exact….?

What did God say about the Son?

Read Galatians 4:4-7: This is the Epistle for the Christmas Divine Liturgy
When the fullness of time had come what did God do?

Why did He do this?

What else did He send?

Because we are a son or daughter what does God promise?

As a son or daughter of God what consequence follow for our daily lives?Christmas Dismissal Hymn
Your Nativity, O Christ our God,
has shone upon the world with the light of knowledge
For thereby they who adored the stars
through a star were taught worship you,
the Sun of righteousness,
and to know You as the Dawn from
heaven. Lord, glory to You!

Or Christ our God,
Your kingdom is eternal
and your rule is over all generations.
You became incarnate of the Holy Spirit
and were made man of the virgin Mary.
Your coming, O Christ, has enlightened us.
You filled all of creation with resplendent joy.
Everything that breathes praises You,
the express Image of the Father’s glory
You are eternal God,
existing before all ages,
Who was born of the virgin.
Lord, glory to You!
Christmas Vespers Hymn

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Advent - Week Six Study Guide

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On the Sunday before Christmas we remember the ancestors of Christ. These are  all those from Adam to Joseph who the Gospel includes in the genealogy of Christ. This gives us a sense of His birth and fulfillment of the hopes of all humanity.
In the Gospels there are two genealogies in Luke and Matthew. It is the one in Matthew that we read on Sunday.

Read Matthew 1:1-17
Who are the main ancestors of Christ?

What women are mentioned in the genealogy?

What is Jesus called in Vs 16 & 17 and what is the meaning of this name?

Read Luke 3:23-38
How old was Jesus when He began His work?

Who is named first in Luke’s genealogy?

Who is named last and what is he called?

The ancestry of Jesus shows that the Lord completely identifies with the human race with all their failing. He becomes a part of us. 
Can you recognize some of the sinners in His ancestry?

With the coming of Christ is the beginning of a new age, a new generation and we belong to it as Christians.  We are now part of the age of fullness and completion. God has a plan for all creation and for the salvation of humanity through the birth of Christ.  He prepared for this event as recorded in the Old Testament.
How are you seeking to find out what God’s plan is for your life within His grand plan for the world’s salvation?

What does Christmas mean to you in terms of God’s plan for your life?

What are some ways in which we can know God’s will for our personal lives?

How can you help others share in the new life of Christ?

What needs to be clearly understood is that the ancestors of Jesus were not all just and holy men.  Amongst them are also sinners; those who have committed incest, adultery, murder; and alien woman; the names of Judas, of Thamar, or David and Ruth are filled with spiritual significance.  Jesus wanted to be linked with all that and to all those. He wanted to clear a way for Himself through the sins and crimes of men.  And so it is with history of each one of us that He takes upon himself and overcomes.
The Year of Grace of the Lord, p 58.

Why Scripture is so important
You should have noticed the differences in the two genealogies in Luke and Mathew.  This tells us they each compiled their genealogy independently from source available to them. The key to them is that they are intended to emphasize the reality of Christ’s humanity and the fulfillment of God’s plan for our salvation.  The Bible is a spiritual book and not a history text. It concentrates of giving us spiritual truths about God, man, life and morality.  It is less concerned about strict consistency of places names and details.
It is important to reflect on the Orthodox teaching of Tradition.
1. The Bible is a collection of religious books chosen by the Church to lead us to the true understanding of the mystery of the living God but does not include everything about this mystery. God and life are much bigger than any book. The main concern of the Bible is to tell us about God and how He has arranged for our salvation giving us guidance about how to live in union with Him.
2. The Orthodox way of life and the Church are based on the life of Jesus Christ and not on a particular book. We must always look to Christ as the foundation of our Christian life.  We seek to know Him in all its mystical aspects.
3. When we consider the origin of the universe, what is most significant about the Biblical account is the everything visible and invisible is created by God.  This is a God who has also revealed Himself to us through Abraham, Moses, the Prophets and most clearly in Christ.  The scientist will uncover many clues about the way in which God has created the world. Each new discovery is but an uncovering of His truth. In science there is always an element of mystery as scientists try to explain the nature of creation.  What is important is to be clear that it is God who is behind this mystery we call life and that we need to value life as a precious gift from Him.
4.Regarding truth, we Orthodox Christians rely on a broad and rich consensus of Church teachings about God and our salvation. Secure in these truths we can lead a life in union with Christ and well as develop a full intellectual life. Because of this vision of Scripture, Tradition and the current life of the Church we are free from a literalist view of the Bible and a fundamentalist understanding of the authority of the Bible. We do this while honoring the Bible’s essential truth.

Read 2 Timothy 3:14-17
What has Timothy instructed about truth and faith in vs 14?

What has Timothy known since he was a child?

What are they able to do? 

What particular benefits come from the reading and use of Scripture?

What is the overall value of Scripture for Christianity?

Read Deuteronomy 10:14-21: This is one of the Vespers readings for the Sunday before Christmas.
What belongs to the Lord?

What does the Lord demand?

Who are of special concern to the Lord?

How are we to relate to the Lord?

Write all of verse 21

How often do you read the Bible?

What ways has the reading of the Bible helped you?

Remembering the ancestors of Christ, O faithful, let us sing praises to Christ, our Redeemer. Being great and mighty, the Lord magnified them among all the nations working through them signs and miracles. He appointed for us a staff of power Mary, the Holy Theotokos, from whom Christ was born. Let us praise Him Who gives life to all and salvation to our souls. Lord glory to You!
Adapted Vesper hymn for Feast of the Ancestors of Christ.

Reference: A Year of the Lord Liturgical Bible Studies by Theodore Stylianopoulos

Icon of the Nativity

The icon of the Nativity tells the story of Christ's birth and shows that all creation is taking part in His birth. The angels give thanks with their song; the heavens give the star; the Wise Men give their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The poor, humble shepherds give their praise and amazement; the earth gives the cave, and humanity gives the Virgin.
This Holy Icon has many scenes. First, it stresses the importance of the Theotokos, who is placed in the center and is the largest figure in the icon. The Christ Child, in the center of the icon, is in swaddling clothes and is lying in the manger. In the background is the dark cave where He was born. In the cave are an ox and a donkey guarding the newborn Babe. The Gospels do not speak of the ox and the donkey, but all icons of the Nativity include these animals because the animals fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah 1:3, "The ox knows his master, and the donkey his master's crib; but Israel does not know me, and the people have not regarded me." The long ray of light from the star points directly to the cave. It teaches that this bright star is an astronomical happening, and is a messenger from heaven announcing the birth of Jesus.
On the left hand side of the icon are the Wise Men, who were led by the star, riding horses to bring their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to Jesus. The Wise Men are of various ages. These details teach that regardless of age and appearance, the Good News was given to each and everyone.
Opposite the Wise Men is the scene with the humble shepherds. An angel proclaims the glad tidings. A young shepherd plays a reed instrument. This scene reveals that the music of the humans was added to the hymn of the angels. Across from the shepherd's scene is the heavenly choir of angels. They are giving glory to God. The angels serve two purposes in the Nativity of Christ. They give glory to God and announce the good news to all mankind.
In the lower right hand corner are the two women Joseph brought to take care of the Christ child. They are bathing Him just as any baby is bathed showing the humanity of Jesus.
Opposite the bathing sits a sad and worried Joseph. He is not part of the central group the Christ Child and the Theotokos. Joseph is not the natural father and is troubled and despondent. There is an old man talking to Joseph. This is Satan who is tempting Joseph and disturbing him. Satan is telling Joseph that virgin birth is impossible. He's telling Joseph that he's a fool if he believes this. This story comes to us from Holy Tradition. The sad Joseph shows us not only his personal predicament, but the dilemma of all mankind the difficulty of accepting that which is "beyond words or reason.”
The tree, which is in the middle of the lower part of the icon, is a symbol of the Tree of Jesse. This tree refers to Isaiah 11:1-2, "But a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom. The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him." King David was often mentioned as the son of Jesse and Jesus was from the House of David.


Sunday, December 8, 2013

Advent - Week Five Study Guide

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Next Sunday we celebrate the Forefathers. These are the Old Testament patriarchs, prophets and religious men and women. They are the ones who prepared the way for the coming of Christ. Through them God worked great signs.  They are righteous men and women who responded to the call of God, served Him with devotion and many who anticipated the coming of Christ. We too during this period of preparation seek to respond to God’s call. We lift our hearts in thankful prayer to God for His promises as we expectantly wait the celebration of the coming of Christ into our lives.

Who are these Forefathers?
1. Adam, Abel, Seth, Noah, Enoch and others of the earliest period of human history.
2. The Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and his twelve sons.
3. Women such as Sarah, Rebecca, Rachael, Miriam, Deborah, Ester, ruth, Judith and others.
4. The Prophets Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Zechariah, Malachi and others down to John the Baptist.
5. Special persons such as Melchizedek, Job, David and others.
6. The three young men Shadrach, Meshach,and Abednego who were rescued by God from Nebuchadnezzar’s blazing furnace.

Read Daniel 3:19-30: The Three young men Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are celebrated in many hymns of the church. They refused to worship Nebuchadnezzar’s image and were cast into a furnace of blazing fire.  But miraculously  the angel of God appeared to keep them safe from the fire.  They were surrounded in the fire by divine light. This represents the mystery of the Holy Trinity and prefigures the presence of Christ in the Virgin’s womb.
What was the king’s response to the miracle?

How did the three men serve and trust God?

What kind of idols are we tempted to worship in our current society?

What are the risks we encounter when we refuse to be controlled by them?

How can we be like our forefathers and stand up for our Orthodox Christian faith in today’s world?

In preparing for the coming of Christ take time to learn and share about the lives of our forefathers. Select at least one of the following to read and discuss within your family.
   Abraham in Genesis 12-22: God made a covenant with Abraham that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky, but He also asked him to sacrifice His son, which is prophetic of the Gospel.
   Ruth in the book of Ruth: The book of Ruth points to God’s plan of redemption and illustrates how God meets needs in large and small ways. Ruth is one of the most beautiful stories in the Old Testament.
   David in 2 Samuel 5-7: David’s story is one of perfection. He committed adultery  and was responsible for the death of her husband. He confesses his sin and seeks forgiveness, but his life and kingdom face many difficulties. God forgave him and allowed him to remain king for many years restoring him to a fellowship with Him.

With small children read the stories about Noah in Genesis 6:9-8:22; Joseph and his brothers in Genesis 42-45; or Daniel and the Three young men in Daniel 3 and 6.

Experience the real Christmas
How can we experience the real Christmas?  Think about these things.
1. The examples of the Forefathers remind us of the priority of seeking, believing in  and serving God –– always looking to Him for the fulfillment of our deepest hopes and desires.
2. The purpose of fasting is to live free from the bondage of excessive food and drink.
3. The singing of Christmas carols inspires us to anticipate Christmas as a spiritual banquet.
4. The preparation to receive Holy Communion awakens us spiritually and leads us to see how truly Christ is born in us.
5. Giving ourselves to others in need –– our attention, our love, our time and our resources –– puts flesh and blood on the meaning of Christmas.

Read Col 3:4-14: the Epistle reading for next Sunday of the Forefathers.

What is our true life?

What kind of desires must a Christian put to death?

What kind of things must a Christian get rid of?

What is God daily seeking to do with Each Christian?

What are the qualities of the new self?

Based on this reading what are some steps you might take to celebrate a real Christmas this year?Read Luke 14:16-24 the Gospel lesson of Sunday of the forefathers.
What happened just before Jesus told the Parable of the great Feast?

What did the host send his servant to tell his guests?

What were the guests’ excuses for not going to the feast?

Whom did the host then invite to the feast?

Why do you think people who are sick, suffering or in want may respond to the invitation of God’s love more often than those who have everything going for them?

What is the meaning of Christmas for those who are sick, lonely or poor? List one thing you can do this Christmas season to share the love and joy of Christ with someone in need.

The Song of the  Three Young Men
We praise you, O Lord, the God of our Fathers. May Your glorious, holy name be held in honor forever.
Refrain: Praise the Lord and honor Him for ever.
May hymns be sung to Your glory forever and may Your holy presence be praised without end. (Refrain)
May you be praised as You sit on Your royal throne. May You be praised in the dome of the heavens. May hymns be sung to Your glory forever. (Refrain)
Praise the Lord all creation, skies above, sun and moon and all the stars of heaven. (Refrain)
Praise the Lord all winds, fire and heat, nights and days, ice and cold, frost and snow, lightning and storm clouds. (Refrain)
Let the earth praise the Lord. Praise the Lord mountains and hills, trees and plants, valleys and meadows, seas and lakes, all rivers and springs of water. (Refrain)
Praise the Lord all birds of the air, cattle and wild animals, whales and fishes, and all moving creatures. (Refrain)
Praise the Lord all people of the earth, young and old, rich and poor, mighty and weak, and all faithful people. (Refrain)
Praise the Lord priests of the Lord, servants of the Lord, and all who are humble and holy. (Refrain)
Give thanks to he Lord, for He is good and His mercy lasts forever. (refrain)
Praise the Lord all who worship Him, praise God and give Him thanks, for His mercy lasts forever. (Refrain)

Prayer of Azariah:
O Lord, the God of our Fathers,
We praise and adore You;
May your name be honored forever.
You have treated us as we deserve.
In everything You have done to us
You are always honest,
and when You bring us to judgment,
You are always fair….
We come to you with repentant hearts 
and humble spirits. Accept
Our repentance as our sacrifice
to You today, so that we may obey You 
with all our hearts.
No one who trusts You will ever
be disappointed. Now with all our hearts
we promise to obey You and to worship You.
O Lord, treat us with kindness and mercy,
let us never be put to shame; rescue us 
with Your mighty hand; bring honor to Your
name. Let all people know that You alone
are Lord and God and that You rule 
in majesty over the whole world.

The Lord Himself has said that He came to call not the righteous but the lost to salvation. His coming at Christmas is especially significant for the afflicted, destitute and hopeless in spirit, health or circumstance.  Let us turn to the God of all comfort in time of suffering and distress. When the three young men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were thrown into the blazing furnace they “started walking around in the flames singing hymns to God, and praising Him as Lord.” In whatever circumstance we may find ourselves, let us fix our eyes on God, praise Him as Lord, confess our sins to Him and commit our lives to Him in complete obedience. He is near to uphold us with His mighty grace in the most trying moments.

Rejoice, O faithful, and make ready for the feast of the birth of Christ. The king of kings comes to live with His servants. Behold a most  wonderful mystery: the cave will become a heaven; the Virgin the throne of God; the manger a room where Christ the Savior will be laid in swaddling clothes. Come, people slow of heart, cast away the veil of sin that lies upon your heart; recognize the Maker Who comes to dwell among us. Let us make ready to praise Him and say: Blessed are You, O Lord, God of our Fathers, Who is born of a Virgin! Praised and glorified is Your name forever! Amen
Adapted for Hymn of Forefeast of the Birth of Christ.

Reference: A Year in the Lord, Vol 2, pp 41-50

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Advent - Week Four Study Guide

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Read Luke 13:10-17

Next Sunday we hear the story of another handicapped person, a crippled woman whom Christ heals.
Think about how you feel when you meet person who has a handicap or deformity. How do you think he or she feels? As you read this story think about how Jesus loved all people and how he approached them.
When and where did Jesus meet the crippled woman?

What was her handicap?

By what two actions did Jesus heal her?

Why was the Synagogue official angry? How do you interpret this? Can you give an example of something similar today?

Put into your own words Jesus’ answer.

How did the healed woman react?

How did the people react?

What do you suppose the regular attendance of the crippled woman to the synagogue indicated about her feeling regarding her handicap?

How can we  treat persons with a handicap and help them to be relaxed and useful? Can you give an example?

A Meditation
We are easily shocked by any good work which is not “according to the rules”… Church people are especially prone to the temptation to denigrate and condemn all that is not of  “their” orthodoxy. Let this gospel about the crippled woman and the synagogue official teach us to become humble enough, amenable enough to  all light from above to admit –– with joy and gratitude –– the good that can be done through other channels than those which, rightly or wrongly, we consider “proper.” May God make us able, when faced by any “healing on the Sabbath,” to feel what the people who surrounded Jesus felt: “All the people rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by Him.”
From Year of Grace of the Lord, pp 50-51

Saint Nicholas: On Friday, December 6th, we celebrate the feast of Saint Nicholas, one of the most popular saints.  He was a Bishop of Myra in Asia Minor in the fourth century. He was known for his generosity, his love for children and the poor, his care of the sick and his gift-giving. Here is the hymn of his feast:

The truth of your deeds has set you before your flock as a standard of faith, an example of meekness and a teacher of self-control. Thus you acquired greatness through humility and spiritual wealth through poverty. O Father and Hierarch Nicholas, intercede with Christ our God, that He may save our souls.
Dismissal Hymn of the Feast of saint Nicholas

His esteem spread throughout Europe and December 6th became a day of gift giving and a day to help those in need. Due to government intervention to disallow the celebration of saints feast days in parts of Europe, this tradition was shifted to Christmas day. Also the idea of generosity and gift giving was transformed by commercial interests into “Santa Claus”, a distortion of the life of Saint Nicholas, but one that to this day brings delight to children everywhere.
Christmas is truly a feast for children and we too must become like children to be able to rejoice in the wonder of Christmas. This is the celebration of the indescribable wonder of the eternal all powerful God coming to us in humility as a defenseless and vulnerable babe.

Looking upon Christ, who humbles Himself, let us be lifted up from the passions that drag us down; having learned in faith and good zeal not to think lofty things, let us be humbled in spirit; that by exalted works we may exalt Him who is being born.
Triode of Compline of the Forefeast, third hymn of the ninth Ode

Read Luke 6:17-23 which is the Gospel reading on his feast day.
Why do people come to Jesus?

Why did they try to touch Him?

What does Jesus call His followers in each of the beatitudes?

What does Jesus promise:
a. to the poor
b. to the hungry
c. to those who weep
d. to the persecuted

Who are warned by Jesus?

 Why do you think Jesus praises the “have nots” and warns the “haves”? Are all the poor good and all the rich evil?  What makes the difference?

Match some of the virtues of Saint Nicholas with the qualities exalted in the beatitudes.  How can they be associated with the Christmas season?

Now is the time when we begin to prepare for Christmas day. We buy gifts, decorate our workplaces and homes, we sing carols, we bake special goods to give to our friends, and are overtaken by the excitement and joy of this season.

Enjoy the Western Christmas carols. Here are some hymns from our Orthodox Tradition
Christ is born, give Him glory!
Christ comes from heaven, go out and meet Him!
Christ is on earth, be exalted!
O all the earth, sing to the Lord!
O people, sing praises in gladness,
for He has been glorified!
First Hymn of Christmas Katavasiai

Today the Virgin is on her way to give birth to the preeternal Logos
Rejoice, O inhabited earth, when you hear the good news!
With angels and shepherds, glorify Him
Who chose to appear as a new-born babe, the preeternal God.

The Christmas tree has become a traditional symbol of this season.  Now is the time that many will begin to decorate their tree. When you choose a live or freshly cut tree your room is filled with the fragrance of the evergreen branches. When decorated with lights the twinkle in a darkened room bring joy to our hearts from Christmases past.  But it should also be a reminder of God’s love, which is everlasting like the evergreen tree is green through all seasons.
This is not a tradition that goes back to the early days of Christianity, but has been a feature of the celebration of this season for about 1000 years.  It was the Nordic peoples who brought evergreen trees into their homes in dark periods of winter to bring them the gift of strength. It was in the 7th century when Saint Boniface used the evergreen to teach that the everlasting nature of the evergreen reminds us of the eternal life we can have in Christ.  Also, the triangular shape reminds us of the three persons of God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The shape of the tree points towards heaven, the lights remind us that Jesus is our hope and light in a dark world and the star on the top helps us think of the three wise men who took off from far away lands to come and see their king. As you decorate your tree give thanks to God for all these wonderful senses and for His everlasting love and light.

A suggestion: If you know of someone who sees the putting up of a tree as too much work or is not able to due to a handicap, purchase a small real or even artificial tree and then involve others in decorating it. Use your creativity as you join together in this project.

You may want to consider filling your Christmas tree this year with small icons or symbols that represent the Nativity story. Add cards with your favorite Bible verses. Have your children make their ornaments to be hung on the tree.

During the Christmas season God’s love and His message of new hope comes to us through the beauty and peace of the incarnate Christ. Yet the good news of God’s love may be entirely missed, and Christmas may be an unfulfilled dream, amidst the hectic bustle of cleaning, shopping, writing, calling, decorating, baking and visiting. The basic reason for an unfulfilled Christmas is that we focus on ourselves, how to please each other, how to feel good and how to secure happiness with all the things we regard as necessary. Yet only Christ can give us a true Christmas.  Only His presence in our hearts can bring happiness, peace, joy, warmth and security. Cling to Christ evermore closely during the Christmas season. Take the time to pray and to establish your spiritual and practical priorities. Let Christ come with you from home to school, from kitchen to shopping center, from Church to business office.

Christ our God, who has made it possible for us to pray together and who promised that when two or three are gathered in Your name You will give them what they ask: Do now fulfill our requests, insofar as it is good and according to the special need of each, granting us in this world the knowledge of Your truth and in the world to come eternal life. For You are a loving God and to You we give glory, to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.

I will make you all my kinsmen, if you keep My commandments, says Christ to mankind as He comes forth from a pure womb. Granting us peace, He commands us to have lowly thoughts, and to recognize Him as Lord and to sing: We highly exalt You forever!
Triode of Compline of the Forefeast, second hymn of the eight Ode

Which commandments are most difficult for you to keep?

What can you do to give extra effort to keep these during this preparatory period?

Reference: A year in the Lord Liturgical Bible Studies by Theodore Stylianopoulos and Meditations for Advent: preparing for Christ’s Birth by Vassilios Papavassiliou