His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros
Homily at the Divine Liturgy on the Sunday before the Nativity
Saint George Greek Orthodox Church
New Britain, Connecticut
December 19, 2021
Beloved Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
I rejoice to be with you for the Divine Liturgy today on this special Sunday before Christmas. Saint George is a wonderful community, and you should all be very proud of the way you have held this Parish together – especially through the pandemic.
Today, we hear the annual recitation of the genealogy of our Lord Jesus Christ. First, in the Matins, we hear the list of the Lord’s ancestors as found in the Gospel of Saint Luke. Then, in the Liturgy, we hear the other genealogy from the Gospel of Saint Matthew.
There are many reasons for the two versions – some that relate to Judaic Law, and others that define the Person and purpose of our Lord. But I would like to share with you something that is more basic as well.
When we think of the Lord – especially in this Christmas Season – we usually also think of His Virgin Mother and His guardian, Joseph the Betrothed. They are the ones depicted in the Holy Icons of the Nativity.
But today’s readings remind us of the incredible human history that preceded the Birth of the Savior – a history of both good and bad.
The deeper meaning here, is that our salvation in Christ does not occur in a vacuum. There were concrete human beings who lived and died, and from whom the Lord descended. Their stories are found in the Books that make up the Old Testament. But these are not sanitized versions of the human experience. They are filled with the same realities of life and death that persist in the modern world. They remind us of the authentic and true humanity of the Lord. He may have been perfect, but His ancestors were not.
Therefore, when we look to our own families, our own communities, and the Genos from which we descend, we do not have to idealize them. We can, and we should, accept our forefathers and foremothers for who, and for what, they were. Recognizing their faults is not necessarily opposed to praising their virtues.
The honesty that such considerations breed is healthy for our own self-assessment of who and what we are. And we must remember that future generations will look back on us and hold us to account. Being in this great historical flow is a good thing – especially if it keeps us in a realistic humility about ourselves. As the Philosopher Heraclitus said:
Πάντα ῥεῖ - “Everything flows.”
There is wisdom in seeing one’s life as part of something much greater. Today’s genealogies of the Lord Jesus demonstrate just how much He loved us. For He took up a particular lineage of humanity, in a particular place, at a particular time, for the sake of everyone, everywhere, and for all time.
This humbling of His Godhead to enter into the stream of human history is the essential fact of His Incarnation. The fruit of His Incarnation, that was planted on the Day of the Annunciation, is revealed at the Feast of the Nativity, in the Birth of the Christ Child. But He is not alone.
He is with His Holy and Virgin Mother. He is with His earthly guardian Joseph, who played the part of a father. He has a family!
And more than a current family, He has ancestors – good and bad. Just like us.
Beloved parishioners of Saint George,
We are all part of God’s family – every single one of us. And outside the walls of this beautiful Church, we are part of the larger human family, those we know, and those we do not know, just like the great river of our individual ancestors, flowing through time.
Therefore, let us not withhold our embrace and welcome from anyone. They are part of us, and we are part of them. When they fall short, let us be present to support them and help them. And when they succeed and advance, let us greet their good fortune with happiness and generosity.
Today, we have such an opportunity with your Proïstamenos, Father Spyridon. For in just a few moments, I will elevate him to the rank of Archimandrite, which is the highest office for a celibate priest. In the spirit of Christmas, I know that all of you will rejoice with him for this gift of the Church.
And in honoring him, I also honor you, his flock, for the word (Archimandrite) itself contains you as well. That is what a μάνδρα is in the Greek language – an enclosure for a flock. And Father Spyridon leads you, as the ἀρχηγός of the Parish. Thus, it is fitting to name him “Archimandrite,” just in time for Christmas.
In closing, I pray that these Holy Days of the miracle of the Nativity will lead you all to understand how much you are loved by the Heavenly Father, and how much you are part of His Family.
May He grant unto all of us a blessed feast of Christmas, and a safe, prosperous and healthy New Year.