Sunday after Christmas: Commemorating of David, Joseph and James

On this Sunday, we commemorate three men who had a relationship with Jesus: David, his forefather; Joseph, his foster father; and James, his brother through Joseph. Each of these man were shown mercy by God. David committed a great sin, to win the wife of Uriah, he had Uriah put into the front lines of battle, so that he was killed. The prophet Nathan brought this sin to light and David did repentance and lost his son.

Joseph found Mary pregnant and decided to divorce her, but an angel told him to take her as his wife. James was among Jesus’ relatives who did not accept him as a prophet, but after the resurrection, he repented and became the leader of the church at Jerusalem.

We might remember also three women who were among Jesus’ foremothers. Rachel was the wife of Jacob, who loved her more than Leah. However, when Jacob worked for seven years for Laban to win Rachel’s hand, Laban insisted he marry his eldest daughter Leah. Jacob then worked another seven years for Rachel. However, Rachel was barren until finally she gave birth to Joseph, Jacob’s favorite son. Jacob took his family and fled Laban, and Rachel stole Laban’s family icons. When Laban caught up with Jacob, Jacob cursed the thief of his icons, not knowing that it was his beloved wife Rachel. The curse was fulfilled when Rachel died giving birth to Benjamin. Rachel is mentioned in today’s Gospel as weeping when the children of Bethlehem are massacred by King Herod, but the gospel says, “no comfort for her, for they are no more.”

We might also mention Ruth, who was a foreigner – like the Magi. She married a Hebrew man from Bethlehem who died, and Ruth followed her mother-in-law back to Bethlehem, and there tricked Boaz into marriage, becoming the great-grandmother of David and ancestor of our Lord.

We might also mention Tamar, who lost her husband, whose brother refused to have children by her. She disguised herself as a prostitute and became pregnant with her father-in-law, Judah, who wanted to have her executed for prostitution until he was shown to be the father. So she, too, became an ancestor of Jesus through trickery.

Does not today’s feast remind us that we all have a relationship now with God through our Lord Jesus Christ and we are all in need of his mercy.

Synaxis of the Theotokos

Many Byzantine feasts have a commemoration on the day after a great feast called a “synaxis,” that is, an “assembly” or “gathering” in honor of one who participated in the feast. No more honorable person could ever be found than the holy Lady, the Mother of God.

This feast of her Synaxis was actually the most ancient, the first, celebration of her memory on the church calendar, because her giving birth to the Son of God was truly her greatest glory. It was by her free will, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word. (Luke 1:38),” that our God and Creator became one of us. It was certainly her joy that she gave birth to this child, but we commemorate on this day all the suffering she bore because of her choice, the near repudiation by Joseph, the persecution of her son by Herod, causing them to flee for their lives to Egypt, until, at the end, she had to endure seeing her beloved son crucified as a common criminal on the cross. So Simeon the prophet told her, “ “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted, and you yourself a sword will pierce, so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed. (Luke 2:34-35)” Truly, she became by her suffering an intercessor with her Son.

We must ask if we are prepared, as St. Paul, who wrote “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body. (Colossians 1:24)” We also have the comfort of knowing, if we unite our will with that of Mary, that we, too, can become bearers of God through Communion in his Body and Blood by our own free will.

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras

Christmas

The Christmas Day Liturgy Gospel is the story of the Magi, the astrologers from Persia, who discover the birth of the King of Kings by observing the stars. In this way, they are brought from the pagan superstition to worship of the one true God.
 
The Christmas Troparion is about these Magi: “Your birth, O Christ our God, has shed upon the world the light of knowledge; for through it, those who worshipped the stars have learned from a star to worship you, the Sun of Justice, and to know you, the Dawn from on High. Glory to you, O Lord!”
 
The psalms of the antiphons are chosen both because they are together in the Book of Psalms (Psalms 109-110-111) and because they shine light on the feast. The Entrance Hymn, Psalm 109:3-4) are a prophecy of Christ, “From the womb, before the morning star, I have begotten you. The Lord has sworn and he will not repent: You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchisedek.” Of Melchisedek, because, as the Vigil Ambon Prayer says, Christ is “without father (according to the flesh), without mother or ancestry (in his eternal birth from the Father, though he is born of a virgin mother, and of the house of David).
 
The Ambon Prayer explains, “For in your eternal birth a woman had no part, nor a man in your becoming flesh in time.” People today sometimes have an “allergic reaction” against dogma, but this dogma tells us what the birth of Christ means for us. It is, as St. Paul tells us, “Christ in you, the hope for glory. (Colossians 1:27)” We all come from a human father and mother, we all have a human ancestry, but our lives are limited by these circumstances. We come into the world by birth from a mother, and in the end we all must die, but the birth of Christ now gives an infinite value to the lives of each and every one of us. Psalm 86, sung at the Royal Hours, proclaims, “Zion shall be called ‘Mother’, for all (each and everyone of us) shall be her children (we are children of the one God).” The Psalm continues “It is he, the Lord Most High, who gives each his place. In his register of peoples he writes ’These are her children.’” The census of Jerusalem at the birth of Christ is thus made eternal.
 
We are all now “Christians,” registered in the name of Christ forever. Christmas, therefore, is a baptismal feast, for by baptism we are registered in the name of God, “the servant of God (name) is baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” At this Liturgy, then, we sing “All you who have been baptized into Christ have been clothed with Christ!” Truly “Alleluia!” Melchisedek also means that Christ is our High Priest. It is he alone who mediates between God and humankind, he alone is the Savior who reconciles God and humankind, and he offered the one true sacrifice, now and forever. We see his sacrifice in his death on the Cross and his Resurrection, for sacrifices do not end in annihilation, but in life. Christ’s sacrifice as the one High Priesthood, in which we all share, brings life, and it begins today, for in his very coming into this world, the sacrifice is initiated. Today, he begins to offer himself to the Father, as he prays before his passion, “not my will, but yours be done, O Father.” This is why the dogma that he is “the Transcendent One,” the “Unapproachable,” now made approachable as a homeless Baby in the cave, is essential to an understanding of the feast. It is the way we “come to share in the divine nature. (2 Peter 1:4)” Christ comes from eternity, “from before the morning star,” he alone is the light of the world, “the Dawn from on High.” All of this, in every detail, is reaffirmed in the Epistle, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to ransom those under the law, so that we might receive adoption. As proof that you are children, God sent the spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying out, ‘Abba, Father!’ So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.” (Galatians 4:4-7)
 
The Ambon Prayer is again our profession of faith, “O Christ our God, from before all ages, you shone forth from the eternal Father and were not liable to suffering.” To the one now, “encompassing all things” in his divinity and making it possible for us to be God-like, (though we were in the image and likeness of God from creation) to the one now born in the cave and wrapped in restricting swaddling clothes, we offer our simple praise, like the gifts “of the praise of the shepherds and the worship and gifts of the Magi.”
 
The worship of the Magi is mentioned first, because although they brought very expensive gifts: gold (because gold was a gift for kings); frankincense (for incense is a gift for priests, who offer incense as a sign of mediation before God), and myrrh (because myrrh was used to bury the dead, and Christ was to die for our salvation), their greatest gift is simply their worship and praise. If we can offer Christ the gift of our faith, this makes the expensive gifts of the Magi mere trifles. “O Son of God, born of the virgin, save us who sing to you, alleluia.”
Meditation by Archpriest David Petras

Holy Supper on Christmas Eve

A twelve-dish Christmas Eve supper is traditionally prepared in many Eastern European and Northern European cultures, especially those that were formerly part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, including Polish, Lithuanian and Ukrainian. The meal (Lithuanian: Kūčios, Polish: Wigilia or wieczerza wigilijna, Ukrainian: Свята вечеря, Sviata vecheria) consists of twelve meatless dishes representing the twelve months of the year. The tradition of the supper can be traced back to pre-Christian times and connected with remembrance of the souls of deceased ancestors.

In some parts of Poland a similar tradition of thirteen meatless dishes on Christmas Eve is practiced.

The specific dishes may differ from country to country, but many of them are universal. Due to the Nativity Fast, no meat, eggs or milk (including cheese) are allowed during the supper. Thus fish, mushrooms and various types of grain are the main offerings.

In Poland and Ukraine the supper begins with eating soup. Kutia, poppy milk (aguonų pienas) together with kūčiukai are served as a dessert and forms a significant part of the Lithuanian Christmas Eve menu. Poppy seeds are widely used for Christmas Eve dishes, because they symbolize abundance and prosperity.

Regarding the fish dishes, usually herring, carp or pike are eaten. In Lithuania herring (Lithuanian: silkė) dishes are rich and variable. Usually silkė su morkomis (herring with carrots), or silkė su grybais (herring with mushrooms) are served on Christmas Eve.

Mushrooms, especially dried or pickled, are also one of the main dishes eaten on Christmas Eve. Sauerkraut (Polish: Kiszona kapusta, Russian: Ква́шеная капу́ста, Kváshyenaya kapústa) with wild mushrooms or peas, red borsch, mushroom or fish soups are eaten in Poland and Ukraine.

Boiled or deep fried dumplings (Polish: pierogi, Ukrainian: вареники, varenyky, Lithuanian: auselės) with a wide variety of fillings (including sweet cabbage, mushrooms and crushed poppy seeds), are among the most popular dishes. Doughnuts filled with jam (Polish: pączki, Ukrainian: пампушки, pampushky) are served for a dessert in Ukraine, but in Lithuania sweet dishes are not common, as they are believed inappropriate for the atmosphere of the evening.

Traditional Ukrainian Sviata vecheria meal.

As for beverages, traditionally dried fruit compote or cranberry kisiel (Lithuanian: spanguolių kisielius) are common[citation needed]. In earlier times oaten kisiel was more common.

There is the whole ritual before the meal begins. Once the first star appears on the sky, each member of family washes his face, hands and legs in cold water saying: “Be as healthy as this water is.” The most brave people go to local rivers or lakes and have a short swim there. After the water procedure is finished, the family goes on with a prayer, often the Our Father. [1] After the prayer the head of the household will anoint each person present with honey, making the sign of the Cross on their forehead, saying: “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit: may you have sweetness and many good things in life and in the new year.”

Ukrainian Christmas Traditions

Christmas is a very special celebration for Ukrainians. Many traditions and rituals are observed, and each aspect of Christmas has a special meaning. Everyone is wearing their best clothes and the house has been cleaned top to bottom for the day, although all spider webs are left untouched. Legends about the generosity of spiders at Christmas mean they are not to be disturbed. What else is going on in the house?

Icons and Didukh

Didukh is the Ukrainian name for the wheat sheaf brought into the house on Christmas Eve. It is home for spirits of the ancestors for the season and is made of the very best wheat of the harvest.

Icons are a centerpiece of traditional Ukrainian homes and are usually decorated with rushnyky (embroidered or woven ritual towels). Nativity icons have special significance since they represent beliefs surrounding the birth of Jesus.

Sviatyi Vechir (Holy Supper)

There are many dishes on the table. Usually twelve meatless dishes are served during the Christmas Eve Supper or Sviatyi Vechir (Holy Supper). The food vary from region to region and from family to family, the most common include: kutia (wheat and poppy seed dish), borshch (beet soup), varenyky (perogies), kolachi (braided bread). The dishes are all meatless due to the belief that a Lenten meal cleanses the soul in preparation to welcome the Christ child into ones heart and home.

The Table

There are two tablecloths on the table. The plain bottom one is for the visiting spirits of the dead, while the top one is where the family eats. The blessing of straw is placed between the tablecloths and on the floor under the table to represent the manger. Sometimes candy and coins are hidden in the straw for the children to find after the meal. Gifts are received weeks earlier on St. Nicholas Day.

The Oven

The entire meal is prepared that day on a large oven, or pich; none of the food is prepared in advance.

The First Star

When the first star appears in the sky, like it did that first Holy Night when Christ was born, the Holy Eve. Once it is seen, the meal may start, but not a moment sooner! Supper begins with the lighting of a candle.

The Carolers

Caroling is a very important tradition in Ukraine. It is usually done between Christmas and Malanka (New Year’s Eve in accordance with the Julian calendar). Koliadky are sung for Christmas and shchedrivky were sung around Malanka. The lead caroler carries a star, which is elaborately decorated for the occasion. If you listen closely, you may be able to hear a choir singing right now!

Sunday of the Forefathers

Colossians 3:4: “When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”

This first phrase from today’s Epistle as the Church begins it’s celebration of the birth of our Lord really tells us what Christmas is all about. This is the announcement of the feast. The Word of God, appearing in our world, is the glory of the believer. He appears in humble surroundings, but invites all to the feast!

The gospel (Luke 14:16-24) tells us that those who are well off refuse the invitation, but it is “the poor and the maimed and the lame and the blind,” who come, it is those in “the highways and hedges” who are “compelled to come.” Mary probably realized this when she prophesied, “He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted the lowly.” (Luke 1:52) The angels appear to the shepherds in the fields, and they are invited to the house of the Lord. The glory of the Lord is his humility, and our glory is our humility. For all that, everyone is invited to the banquet, and the wise and the rich from Persia come with expensive gifts, though they too are outsiders, and the epistle tells us “there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all.” (Colossians 3:11)

Those who welcome Christ will put aside “anger, wrath, malice….” (Colossians 3:8) The first sticheron at Christmas chants, “let us proclaim the present mystery by which the partition has been broken and the flaming sword withheld. Now the Cherubim shall let us all come to the Tree of Life.”

This is putting Christ back into Christmas!

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras

Twenty-Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

Ephesians 6:10-17; Luke 17:12-19

In today’s Epistle, St. Paul tells us, “draw your strength from the Lord and from his mighty power. Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil ….take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” The true weapon of the Christian is not the metal sword, but the sword of the word.” Hebrews tells us, “the word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12).”

Christians do not meet violence with violence, but when persecuted, follow the Lord’s teaching, “Remember, you are not to prepare your defense beforehand, for I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute. (Luke 21:14-15)” Jesus is the Word of God, and his word is powerful indeed, and so the true power Christians comes when we speak in the truth of our Lord. Our human words may not seem that powerful, but words spoken in Christ can transform our lives. This power does not come from us, but from God, therefore, as St. Paul again says, “yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me, (Galatians 2:20)” and yesterday’s epistle says, “If we live in the Spirit, let us also follow the Spirit. (Galatians 5:25)” All this has meaning in this Christmas season. We give gifts to one another, and parents instruct their children, say “Thank you,” to those who give you gifts. The words “thank you” are more powerful than the material gifts, for they form bonds of love. As Christians, we, too, say words of “thanks” that bind us in love to God, “the giver of every good and perfect gift. (James 1:17, Ambon Prayer).”

In this church, we utter words of thanksgiving, as we offer our Liturgy, a “sacrifice of praise.” That is why we call the Liturgy the Eucharist, the Greek word for “thanksgiving.” And on Christmas, we offer words to the new-born child, “Christ is born! Glorify him.” We must not only say words with our mouth, “for, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9)” But Jesus has to lament today that only one in ten cured return to give thanks. The gospel tells us that we must give thanks to God, who alone brought us into being and who alone can give us salvation. Jesus tells us today that this is difficult, because it requires humility and an open heart. Thus only one of the ten lepers gives thanks, and the least expected, the foreigner.

Prophet of Zephaniah

Today, the Byzantine and the Latin Churches liturgically recalls the Prophet of Zephaniah. In Hebrew, the name means “Yahweh has concealed.” Zephania is known in biblical study as the ninth of twelve minor prophets (taken in literary order). The Latin Church remembers the Prophet as the one who inspired the hymn, Dies irae. The Prophet gave his message to Jerusalem to be united in their worship and faith in the true God otherwise face God’s judgement, “the Day of the Lord.”

The Prophecy of Zephaniah begins with great wrath – not for the faint-hearted! “I will completely sweep away all things from the face of the land …. Near is the great day of the Lord, near and very swiftly coming. The sound of the day of the Lord! Piercing – there a warrior shrieks! A day of wrath is that day, a day of distress and anguish, a day of ruin and desolation, A day of darkness and gloom, a day of thick black clouds, A day of trumpet blasts and battle cries against fortified cities, against lofty battlements. (Zephaniah 1:1.14-16) But there is hope in his prophecy, hope for the humble who seek Jesus in the cave of Bethlehem, “Seek the Lord, all you humble of the land, who have observed his law; seek justice, seek humility; perhaps you will be sheltered on the day of the Lord’s anger. (Zephaniah 2:3)”

Zephaniah foretells that there will always be a faithful remnant, But I will leave as a remnant in your midst, a people humble and lowly, who shall take refuge in the name of the Lord. (Zephaniah 3:12) The remnant will be those who follow Jesus in all sincerity, “They shall do no wrong and speak no lies; nor shall there be found in their mouths a deceitful tongue. (Zephaniah 3:13)” These are the humble shepherds, the rich Magi, who come to seek the Lord, and those who repent to hear the voice of the forerunner. For their sake, Christmas is a feast of joy: Shout for joy, daughter Zion! sing joyfully, Israel! Be glad and exult with all your heart, daughter Jerusalem! (Zephaniah 3:14) We sing “God is with us! on that day, and so Zephaniah confirms, “The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior (3:17)”

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras

Mary visits Elizabeth

On the Fourth Sunday [that is, today] before Christmas, the Syrian Church remembers the Visitation of Mary to her cousin Elizabeth. In the Byzantine Church, there is no feast of the Visitation, though this gospel is the common gospel for Matins of Feasts of the Theotokos.

We see here the first appearance of the Forerunner John, then a six month infant in the womb of Elizabeth, and “when Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb. (Luke 1:41)” John and Jesus are closely connected in the Feast of Light: Christmas together with the Theophany, the baptism of Jesus by John. The two: John and Jesus are to be closely connected in the preaching of the Gospel, with quite different styles, “For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they said, ‘He is possessed by a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking and they said, ‘Look, he is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is vindicated by her works. (Matthew 11:18-19″ Christmas is in the first place, the birth of Wisdom, and the coming of Christ would be “destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted. (the prophecy of Simeon, Luke 2:34)”

The Theotokos, a prophetess in her own right, today foretells what this means, “He has shown might with his arm, dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart. He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly. The hungry he has filled with good things; the rich he has sent away empty. (Luke 1:51-53)” If we have ears, we must hear this prophecy, Christmas is not a time for arrogance and power and riches, because these are about to be overthrown. There is no future in them. It is a time for humility, for earthly weakness and for poverty. We do not often see Christmas in this perspective, but it is here that the gospel and faith in Christ leads us.

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras
Icon by Christine Uveges of Eikona Studios

Looking at the Catechism

Bishop Peter Stasiuk, C.Ss.R. of Australia gives a keen perspective on the role and need for a catechism, the compendium of our Byzantine Faith.

Knowing our Eastern Christian faith is knowing that we are saved in Christ Jesus, loved by God and sent on mission. “Every adult must come to an awareness that, in order to attain salvation, it is necessary to continue one’s education and growth in the faith” (Catechetical Directory of the Ukrainian Catholic Church).

Does each family have a copy of Christ our Pascha?