With appreciation and contrition, I read this post from Deacon Charles Joiner’s Orthodox Way of Life blog. It includes this excerpt from a Festal Oration on the Feast of the Nativity, delivered by St Gregory the Theologian (Then Archbishop of Constantinople) around AD 380:
Christ is born, glorify Him! Christ from heaven, go out to meet Him! Sing to the Lord and the whole earth…rejoice with trembling and joy!
So how are we to glorify and meet Him?
Let us keep the Feast, not after the manner of a heathen festival, but after a godly sort; not after the way of the world, but in a fashion above the world; not as our own but as belonging to Him who is ours, or rather as our Master’s; not as of weakness, but as of healing; not as of creation, but of re-creation.
And how shall this be? Let us not decorate our porches, nor organize dances, nor adorn our streets. Let us not feast the eye, nor enchant the ear with music… Let us not toast with fragrant wines, the specialties of cooks,… Let us not strive to outdo each other in intemperance…
We, the object of whose adoration is the Word, if we must in some way have luxury, let us seek it in word, and in the divine Law, and in histories, especially those that are the origin of this feast, so that our luxury may be akin to and not far removed from Him Who has called us together.
The Nativity according to the Flesh of our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ is preceded, like Great Lent, by a forty-day fasting season. An all-night vigil is prescribed for the eve of the Feast. Parishes don’t normally keep all-night vigils, but the Church’s message is clear: we are to approach the Feast joyfully but with reverence and sobriety, preparing ourselves to commune of our Lord at His Liturgy, which fulfills the season of blessed expectation.
Every year, the American “Christmas” season fills me with a kind of misery and frustration. This extends even to some of “our” customs: the folk traditions of our Orthodox people that surround the holiday. The services, and some of the customs, fill me with joy and gratitude; but at the same time I feel as if the whole world is conspiring to undermine the awesome holiness of the day. Then I feel that I’m being a crabby fundamentalist, judging my Christian brethren rather than attending to my own spiritual life. Then I feel even worse. And so it goes.
Deacon Charles’ post concludes, “Let’s seek ways to celebrate this spiritual event that is not like the heathen feast of pagans, but as is due the God of infinite mercy who now lives in our hearts because of His Becoming man.” It’s a reminder for me, not to complain or to judge, but to seek, in myself and in my family, ways toward a reverently joyful celebration.
A fuller version of St Gregory’s Oration can be found here, where I got the image of St Gregory.
The first image in this post is a photo of services at St Nicholas Orthodox Church, Barton OH, for the Eve of Nativity.