By His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros of America
At the Divine Liturgy on Christmas Eve
Holy Trinity Archdiocesan Cathedral
New York, New York
December 24, 2022
My beloved Brothers and Sister in the Lord:
Today is Christmas Eve! Even though the “eve” we speak of does not really commence until the setting of the sun. But we all call December 24th “Christmas Eve,” and I am happy to celebrate this day with you!
In the hymns of the Great Vespers, there is this lovely idiomelon:
Τὶ σοι προσενέγκωμεν Χριστέ, ὅτι ὤφθης ἐπὶ γῆς ὡς ἄνθρωπος δι' ἡμᾶς; ἕκαστον γὰρ τῶν ὑπὸ σοῦ γενομένων κτισμάτων, τὴν εὐχαριστίαν σοι προσάγει· οἱ Ἄγγελοι τὸν ὕμνον, οἱ οὐρανοὶ τὸν Ἀστέρα, οἱ Μάγοι τὰ δῶρα, οἱ Ποιμένες τὸ θαῦμα, ἡ γῆ τὸ σπήλαιον, ἡ ἔρημος τὴν φάτνην· ἡμεῖς δὲ Μητέρα Παρθένον. Ὁ πρὸ αἰώνων Θεὸς ἐλέησον ἡμᾶς.
What shall we offer Your, O Christ,
for You have for our sakes appeared on earth as man?
Truly each of the creations made by You offers You thanks:
the Angels, their hymn; the heavens, the Star;
the Shepherds, their wonder; the Magi, their gifts;
the earth, the Cave; the desert, the Manger;
and we, a Virgin Mother.
O Pre-eternal God, have mercy upon us.
I am especially touched by the gift-giving that fills every mention in this hymn. We obviously think a great deal about giving gifts during this season, and we sometimes become overwhelmed by the rush to get everything just right for those we love.
But in this hymn, we hear something different – something organic. The creation welcomes the Creator. Each of God’s creatures – animate and inanimate – bring forth a gift:
The Angels … the song that proclaims, “Glory to God in the Highest!”
The Heavens … the Star that guided the Magi.
The Shepherds … their awestruck wonder.
The Magi … the gold, the frankincense and myrrh.
The Earth … the Cave where the Lord was born in the presence of humble beasts of burden.
The Desert … the stone for the Manger in which the Babe slept.
And as for us – the whole of the human family? What do we bring as a gift? The Virgin Mother – the Holy Mary is our gift, for in her we all share the human nature that the Lord took on.
In all our liturgies and most of our services, we recite the Creed, which speaks of the relationship of our Lord with the Father:
“of one essence with the Father, through Whom all things were made.”
But the same could be said of the Lord’s relationship with His Mother. Surely, He was consubstantial with her – of one essence – for as the Apostle Paul reminds us:
But when the fullness of time came, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the Law.[*]
That “fullness of time” is now; it is Christmas. Our Lord was born completely as the son of His mother. His human nature was her human nature – all the way down to her DNA. And her human nature is ours.
So, when we say that we offer her to Him, we are offering ourselves as well. We are bringing our humanity before the Lord of Creation – with all our faults, all our shortcomings and all our sins. But the Lord does not spurn any of the gifts of creation
The Cave was probably quite dirty, yet Christ deigned to be born there.
The Manger was hard and unrelenting, yet the newborn Babe of Bethlehem slept peacefully within it.
The Shepherd wondered about a Child whose purpose lay well beyond their understanding.
And the Magi offered three precious gifts, that must seem paltry when you compare them with the vast stores of jewels, gold and all the other precious materials that the world contains.
The Heavens offered a single Star, from all the galaxies. For the singular Star lighted the way to the Child.
And the Angels – who ceaselessly chant Holy, Holy, Holy in the Heavenly Tabernacle – offered just enough to spur the Shepherds on.
You see, my friends, each creation offers what it can. For the purpose it serves.
Therefore, on this Christmas Eve, let us offer with generosity and joy the Virgin Mother of God. And together with her, let us offer ourselves anew to the Babe of Bethlehem. For the gifts we shall receive in return far exceed anything we could ever possibly imagine, as they are the “unfathomable riches of Christ.” [†]
Merry Christmas to all!
Χριστὸς γεννᾶται! Δοξάσατε!
Christ is Born! Glorify Him!
Photo: GOARCH/Dimitrios Panagos