On December 25th (January 7) we celebrate the Feast of the Nativity in the Flesh of Our Lord, God and Saviour Jesus Christ. It is also know in the Western Tradition as “Christmas”. On this feast, which is preceded by a 40 day preparation period, we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ and the coming of heaven to earth. Through the gift of His Son God’s faithful and tender love is made present to all who seek truth. The news that “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” (John 3:16) is worthy of celebration. Let us sing and glorify God with the angels and the multitude of the heavenly hosts: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace and good will towards man.” (Luke 2:14).
The following resources are provided that we may grow in our understanding of the depth of God’s love and in turn glorify Him with our song and the purity of our life.
Table of Contents:
Nativity Gospel Story:
The Birth of Our Lord Jesus
Matthew 1:18-25 – Now the birth of Jesus the Christ took place in this way. When His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband, Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name Him Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the Prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear
a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means ‘God is with us’. When Joseph awoke from sleep he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne her firstborn son; and he named Him Jesus.
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of
David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was betrothed and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped Him in bands of cloth, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
The Shepherds and the Angels: Luke 2:8-20
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see — I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Christ – the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom He favours!”
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
The Naming of Jesus: Luke 2:1-7
After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and He was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb.
The Encounter in the Temple: Luke 2:22-38
When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtle-doves or two young pigeons.”
Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for Him what was customary under the law, Simeon took Him in his arms and praised God, saying, “Master, now You are dismissing Your servant in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation,which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to Your people Israel.”
And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about Him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to His mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed — and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband for seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshipped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.
The Visit of the Wise Men: Matthew 2:1-12
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay Him homage.” When King Herod heard this he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the Prophet: “And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd My people Israel.’”
Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found Him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay Him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary His mother; and they knelt down and paid Him homage. Then, opening their treasure-chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
The Escape to Egypt: Matthew 1:18-25
Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and His mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy Him.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and His mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the Prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”
The Massacre of Infants: Matthew 1:16-18
When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the Prophet Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation,Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”
The Return from Egypt: Matthew 1:19-23
When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Get up, take the child and His mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and His mother, and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazorean.”
When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favour of the Lord was upon Him.
Music from St. Elias Parish, in Bramton, ON:
Tropar of the Nativity (Tone 4) (UKR/ENG):
Troparion (Tone 4): Your Nativity, O Christ our God,* made the light of knowledge dawn on the world;* through it, those who worshipped the stars were taught by a star* to worship You, the Sun of Righteousness,* and to know You, the Dawn from on high.* Glory to You, O Lord.
Kondak of the Nativity
Kontakion (Tone 3): The Virgin today gives birth to Him who is above all being;* the earth offers the cave to Him whom no one can approach;* Angels with shepherds give Him glory,* while Magi make their way with a star,* for to us is born a little Child, the preeternal God.
God is with us – Знами Бог
THE ICON OF THE NATIVITY
The Birth of Jesus
Protoevangelium of James, Chapter 17
And there was a decree from the Emperor Augustus, that all in Bethlehem of Judea should be enrolled. And Joseph said: “I shall enroll my sons, but what shall I do with this maiden? How shall I enroll her? As my wife? I am ashamed. As my daughter then? But all the sons of Israel know that she is not my daughter. The day of the Lord shall itself bring it to pass as the Lord wills.”
3 And he saddled the donkey, and set her upon it; and his son led it, and Joseph followed. 4 And when they had come within three miles, Joseph turned and saw that her countenance was sorrowful; and he said to himself: “The child within her is most likely distressing her.” And again Joseph turned and saw her cheerful and happy. 5 And he said to her: “Mary! How is it that I see in your face at one time joyful, and at another time sorrowful?” 6 And Mary said to Joseph: “Because with my eyes I see a vision of two peoples; the one weeping and lamenting, and the other rejoicing and exulting.”
10 When they had travelled half-way on the road, Mary said to him: “Take me down from the donkey, for that which is in me presses to come forth.” 11 He took her down from the donkey and said to her: “Where shall I take you to hide your shame? For the place is deserted.”
1 And he found a cave there, and brought her into it; and leaving his sons beside her, he went out to seek a midwife in the district of Bethlehem.
2“And I Joseph was walking, and was not walking; I looked up at the great heavens and saw it standing still; I looked at the air and it was in awe and the birds of the sky were motionless. 3 And I looked upon the earth and saw a table set, and workers reclining with their hands were upon the table. 4 And those who were eating did not eat, and those who were taking food were not lifting it up, and those who were about to place food into their mouths did not put anything in; but their faces were all looking upwards. 5 And I saw sheep being driven forward, yet the sheep stood still; and a shepherd with hand raised ready to strike with his staff, but his hand remained upheld. 6 And I looked upon the river stream, and I saw kid-goats with their mouths upon the water and not drinking. 7Then all of a sudden, all things seemed to be unbound and they moved forward on their course.
1“Then I saw a woman coming down from the hill-country, and she said to me: ‘O man, where are you going?’ 2 And I said: ‘I am seeking a Hebrew midwife.’ 3 She answered and said to me: ‘Are you of Israel?’ 4 And I replied: ‘Yes.’ And she said: ‘And who is she that brings forth a child in the cave?’ 5 And I said: ‘A woman betrothed to me.’ And she said to me: ‘Is she not your wife?’ 6And I said to her: ‘It is Mary who was nurtured in the Temple of the Lord, and I obtained her by lot as my wife. Yet she is not my wife, but has conceived by the Holy Spirit.’”
7 And the midwife said to him: “Is this true?” 8 And Joseph said to her: “Come and see.” 9 And the midwife went with him.
10 Now when they stood in the place of the cave, behold, a luminous cloud overshadowed the cave. 11 And the midwife said: “My soul has been magnified this day, for my eyes have seen wondrous things and salvation has been born unto Israel.”
12 Suddenly the cloud withdrew from the cave and a great light appeared shining within the cave, that our eyes could not endure it. 13Gradually, that light decreased, until the infant appeared, feeding from the breast of His mother Mary. 14And the midwife cried out, and said: “This is a great day unto me, because I have seen this wondrous sight”.
15And the midwife went forth out of the cave; and Salome met her. 16 And she said to her: “Salome, Salome, I have wondrous things to relate to you: a virgin has brought forth a child, which her nature does not allow.” 17Then said Salome: “As the Lord my God lives, unless I have proof and see for myself, I will not believe that a virgin has brought forth a child.”
1And the midwife went in and said to Mary: “Show yourself; for no small controversy has arisen about you.” 2 And Salome examined her. Then, she cried out and said: “Woe is me for my iniquity and unbelief, because I have tempted the living God; and, behold, my hand is dropping off as if burned with fire.” 3 And she fell on her knees before the Lord, saying: “O God of my fathers, remember that I am the seed of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob; do not make me a reproach before the sons of Israel, but restore me to the poor; for You know, O Lord, that in Your name I have performed my services, and that I have received my reward at Your hand.”
4And, behold, an angel of the Lord stood by her, saying to her: “Salome, Salome, the Lord has heard you. 5 Take up the infant and carry him, and you will find salvation and joy.”
7 And Salome came near and took the child, saying: “I will worship Him, because a great King has been born to Israel.” 6And, behold, Salome was immediately cured, and she went forth out of the cave justified. 7And behold a voice saying: “Salome, Salome, say nothing of the wondrous things you have seen, until the child has come into Jerusalem.”
1 And, behold, Joseph made ready to remain in Judea and a great tumult arose in Bethlehem.
2Magi had arrived, saying: “Where is he that is born king of the Jews? We have seen his star in the east, and have come to worship him.” 3When Herod heard this he was greatly troubled and sent officers to the Magi. 4And he sent for the priests, and questioned them, saying: “How is it written about the Christ? Where is he to be born?” 5And they said: “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written.” And he sent them away. 6And he questioned the Magi, saying to them: “What sign have you seen in reference to the king that has been born?” 7 And the Magi said: “We have seen a star of great size shining among these stars and obscuring their light, so that the stars were no longer visible; and thus we knew that a king has been born to Israel and we have come to worship him.” 8 And Herod said: “Go and seek him; and if you find him, let me know, so that I may also go forth and pay homage to him.” 9 The Magi went forth.
10And, behold, the star which they had seen in the east went before them until it came to rest over the cave where the child was. 11When the Magi saw the infant with His mother Mary; and opening their treasures they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. 12 And being warned by a holy angel not to return to Herod in Judea, they went into their own country by another road.
1 When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the Magi, in a furious rage he sent murderers, saying to them: “Slay the children two years old and under.” 2 And Mary, having heard that the children were being killed was afraid, and took the infant and swaddled Him, and placed Him into an ox-manger.
3 And Elizabeth, having heard that they were searching for John, took him and went up into the hill-country, and kept looking where to conceal him. 4 And there was no hiding-place.
5 And Elizabeth groaned in a loud voice, saying: “O mountain of God, receive a mother with child.” 6 And immediately the mountain was cleft, and took her in. 7And a light shone about them, for an angel of the Lord was with them, keeping watch over them.
1 And Herod searched for John, and sent officers to Zachariah, saying: “Where have you hid your son?” 2 And he, answering, saying to them: “I am a minister of the Lord God, serving and attending at the Temple of the Lord; I do not know where my son is.”
3 The officers went away and reported all these things to Herod. 4 And Herod was enraged, and said: “His son is destined to be king over Israel.” 5 And he sent to him again, saying: “Tell the truth; where is your son? For you know that your life is in my hand.” 6 And Zachariah replied: “I am a martyr of God if you shed my blood; for the Lord will receive my spirit if you shed innocent blood before the entrance of the Temple of the Lord, for I do not know where my son is.”
7 And Zachariah was murdered at daybreak. 8 And the sons of Israel did not know that he had been murdered.
1 But when the hour of greeting had past, Zachariah did not come out to the priests, according to custom. 2 And the priests stood firm waiting for Zachariah, to greet him in prayer and to glorify God.
3 As his delay continued, they were all afraid. 4 One of them finally ventured to go in; and seeing clotted blood beside the altar, he heard a voice saying: “Zachariah has been murdered, and his blood shall not be wiped up until his avenger comes.” 5 Upon hearing this, he was afraid, and went out and told it to the priests. 6 And they ventured in, and saw what had happened; and the framework of the Temple made a wailing noise, and they rent their clothes from top to bottom. 7 They did not find his body, but they found his blood, which had hardened like stone. 8 Overcome with fear they went out and reported to the people that Zachariah had been murdered.
9 When all the tribes of the people had heard, they mourned and lamented for him three days and three nights. 10 After the three days, the priests took counsel together as to whom they should put in his place; and the lot fell upon Simeon. 11 It was he who was assured by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death, until he would see the Christ in the flesh.
1 I, James, wrote this history in Jerusalem, (while a disturbance arose at the time when Herod reached the end of his life. I withdrew to the wilderness until the disturbance ceased,) 2 and glorifying the Lord God, who had given me the gift and the wisdom to record this account. 4 And grace shall be with those who fear our Lord, Jesus Christ; to whom be glory unto the ages of ages. Amen.
VIDEOS: Nativity Eve – Holy Supper Celebration
This archival film from 1942 focuses on the songs and rituals of a traditional Ukrainian Christmas and New Year on the prairies. This film is part 2 of “Legacy to a New Land: A Celebration of Ukrainian Settlement in the West” released in 1991. anadian history, Canadian documentary, Ukrainian Canadian history.
Produced by the National Film Board of Canada. Order National Film Board of Canada DVDs online at http://www.nfb.ca
Christ is Born!
by Brent Kostyniuk
Ukrainians are a very spiritual, almost mystical, people. Ukrainians also like to eat! It should come as no surprise, therefore that Christmas celebrations are a rich blend of feasting and symbolism.
For Ukrainians, Christmas Eve is proceeded by a six week lenten period which begins on the Feast of St. Philip. Because of this, no pre-Christmas celebrations take place, nor are any carols sung before Christmas Eve.
Unlike most European countries which celebrate Christmas Day, Ukrainians celebrate Christmas Eve. Known as Vilia, it is a time of bounty, spirituality, and some would say, even magic. The day combines pre-Christian elements, with the realities of hard working peasant life, and of course, Christian faith.
Ukrainian peasants lived a very hard and poor life. Christmas was the time of year when that could be forgotten. It was a time of bounty. Vilia centres around two main events – Midnight Divine Liturgy and before it the holy supper, or sviatyj vechir, consisting of 12 meatless dishes symbolizing the 12 Apostles. Some suggest the dishes symbolize the 12 months of a year, a carry over from pagan times.
Vilia begins, traditionally, before sunrise, when the food preparations begin. The most important dish is kutia and is made by the father or hospodar. Whole wheat is boiled until tender, then mixed with honey, poppy seeds, and nuts. Wheat is symbolic of the closeness of the people to the land, their dependence on it, and also a reminder of Holy Communion. Poppy seeds were considered to be a magic herb
The next necessary food is the kolach. This is a braided circular loaf of bread, made from a rich, slightly sweet dough. Its shape symbolizes eternity. The kolach is placed in the centre of the table, with a candle set in the middle. Borsch (beet soup) is usually served next. Beyond this, the remaining 12 dishes are much a matter of taste. One or more fish dishes are normal, as are one or more types of pyrohy (dumplings) and holupchi (cabbage rolls). Other traditional dishes used vegetables and fruits which had been dried during summer.
Along with food, other preparations take place during the day. The house is given a good cleaning, for traditionally no housework is done for the next 12 days. On farms, animals are given extra food and bedding. This is in appreciation of the contribution they made to the family’s welfare during the year, and in recognition of the fact that livestock were the first to see the newborn Baby Jesus. This is also the reason for the meatless menu. When the dinner table is being set, a small amount of hay is placed under the table cloth, and straw on the floor. These are symbolic of the manger in Bethlehem. A clove of garlic – another magic herb – is placed at each corner of the table to ward off evil spirits, again a pre-Christian custom. One extra place is set and left empty during the meal, in the belief that the souls of departed family members join the meal. It is also available for anyone who happens to come to the door that evening. No one is to be turned away on Christmas Eve. In this same spirit, a candle is kept burning in the window. This welcomes not only Baby Jesus, but any passerby.
The didukh (did – grandfather, dukh – spirit, breath, or ghost) is an essential element of Christmas. This is a sheaf of wheat, specially reserved during the harvest. When all was prepared, the hospodar brings the didukh into the house and places it in a corner of honour. In doing so, he recites this prayer. “O, most merciful Lord, and You, Son of Righteousness, we greet You with Holy Christmas. Last year You gave us a harvest. You gave us goodness, You gave us health, You gave us wealth. Then help us this year so that it will be better.” A very ancient custom originally revolving around gods of agriculture, the didukh has come to symbolize the bounty provided by the earth. It also signifies the importance of bread for Christians. As the name implies, the didukh represents the family’s ancestors, reinforcing the idea that the entire clan is united during the magic of Christmas Eve. Traditionally, the didukh is burned on Jordan, or Epiphany, releasing the spirits who return to heaven.
The youngest child in the family has the honour of watching for the first star, a reminder of the star over Bethlehem. Only when it is spotted, can sviatyj vechir begin. A prayer is said, then the traditional Christmas greeting “Christ is Born!” is exchanged. This greeting is used by Ukrainians throughout the Christmas season. The hospodar serves kutia to each person individually, a reminder of Holy Communion. The meal proceeds in a very leisurely manner. When it is over, gifts might be exchanged, and carols sung, prior leaving for Midnight Liturgy. The Christmas season extends until February 2, when the last carols are finally sung, and thoughts turn towards the upcoming Great Fast.
Finally a disclaimer. I’m sure many Ukrainians will read this and say “That’s not the way we celebrate Christmas!” As with any folk tradition, variations exist, this is one.