After my death our beloved Church abroad will break three ways ... first the Greeks will leave us as they were never a part of us ... then those who live for this world and its glory will go to Moscow ... what will remain will be those souls faithful to Christ and His Church. ~St. Philaret of NY


An Orthodox Liturgist’s Pilgrimage Through Advent

John Peter E. Presson, Protopsaltis of the Metropolis of Portland and the West

I must admit –I am as tempted by “The Christmas Blues” as any one else.  Between a mix of childhood and adulthood memories, the constant barrage of social “expectations” of the perfect Christmas, the daily news footage of an “up” or “down” holiday season judged by the track of retail sales, and Christmas parties that I can’t eat the food.  Additionally, as an Eastern Orthodox Christian who follows the traditional Julian Calendar (celebrating the Birth of the Saviour two weeks after everyone else), I get now up to two months of this nonsense rammed down my throat with the force of a pile driver.   And it gets earlier and earlier every year.  What’s an Orthodox Christian to do???

The Orthodox Church provides the perfect remedy to “The Christmas Blues” –a firewall between us and the world around us.  The 6 week Fast of Preparation that begins the day after the Feast of the Apostle Philip and ends on Christmas Day know as the Nativity Fast or Advent for its focus on the events, persons and prophecies pointing to Our Saviour’s Incarnation in the flesh. Much in the same way as the Lenten Springtime that precedes the Feast of Pascha is intensely liturgical in its focus, so is the Fast of Advent that begins in late November, and ends on December 25 (Old Style).  As one who has attended and chanted many of these services, this is one psaltis and liturgist’s little journey through this blessed time:

  • For us Advent begins somewhat uneventfully on November 15 –the day after the Feast of the Apostle Phillip, and proceeds as such until November 21.
  • November 21 –the Feast of the Entry of the Mother of God Into the Temple.  It is on this Feast that we catch the first liturgical glimmers of the joy of Christmas:  the Katavasiae from the 1st Canon of the Feast of the Nativity:

Christ is born!  Give ye glory! Christ is come from Heaven, receive ye Him!  Christ is on earth, be ye exalted! Sing unto the Lord all the earth and sing praises in gladness, O ye peoples; for He is glorified.

To the Son Who was begotten of the Father before the ages without change, and in this last days was without seed made flesh of the Virgin, to Christ our God, let us cry aloud:  Thou Who hast raised up our horn:  Holy art Thou, O Lord.

Rod of the root of Jesse, and flower that blossomed from his stem, O Christ, Thou hast sprung from the Virgin; from the mountain densely overshadowed has Thou come, O Praised One, made flesh of her that knew no wedlock.  O Thou Who art immateriate and God, glory to Thy power, O Lord.

Since Thou art the God of peace and the Father of mercies, Thou hast sent unto us Thine Angel of Great Council, granting us peace.  Wherefore having been guided to the light of divine knowledge and watching by night, we glorify Thee, O Friend of man.

The sea-monster spat forth Jonas as it had received him like a babe from the womb; while the Word, having dwelt in the Virgin and taken flesh, came forth from her, yet kept her incorrupt. For being Himself not subject to corruption, He preserved His Mother free from harm.

Scorning the impious decree, the Children brought up in godliness feared not the threat of fire, but standing in the midst of the flames, the chanted:  O God of our Fathers, blessed art Thou.

The furnace moist with dew was the image and figure of a wonder past nature; for it burned not the Youths whom it had received, even as the fire of the Godhead consumed not the Virgin’s womb into which it had descended.  Wherefore in praise let us sing:  Let all creation bless the Lord, and supremely exalt Him unto all the ages

A strange and marvelous mystery do I behold; the cave is a heaven; the Virgin a cherubic throne; the manger a space wherein Christ God the Uncontainable One hath reclined.  Him do we magnify.

  • From this point we chant these Katavasiae at every Sunday Matins until Christmas, and likewise at every Liturgy we chant the Kontakion of the Fore feast:

On this day the Virgin cometh to the cave to give birth to the Word ineffably, Who was before all the ages.  Dance for joy, O earth, on hearing the gladsome tidings; with the Angels and the shepherds now glorify Him Who is willing to be gazed on as a young Child, Who before the ages is God.

  • On December 1st, 2nd and 3rd we celebrate the memory of the Prophets Nahum, Abbakum, and Sophanias who all pointed the way to the Advent of Christ.
  • On December 6th, we celebrate the Feast of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker of Myra in Lycia –that great archetype of Christian giving, to whom every Christmas gift given must be a reflection of.  It is of note that in Orthodox nations (and even in some heterodox European nations) the traditional day of exchanging of gifts is done on this day.
  • On the Sunday that falls between December 11-17 (the second Sunday before Christmas) we find the first of the formal “Advent Sundays” –the Sunday of the Holy Forefathers –that is all the Old Testament Patriarchs and Prophets before and after the Law that preceded Christ:

Come, with faith let us all celebrate the annual memory of the Fathers before the Law, even Abraham and those with him.  Let us honour, as is meet, the tribe of Judah.  With Daniel, let us acclaim as a figure of the Trinity the Children in Babylon, who quenched the flame in the furnace.  Cleaving steadfastly to the predictions of the Prophets, let us cry out with a great voice together with Elias:  Behold a Virgin shall be with child and she shall bear a Son, Emanuel; which being interpreted is: God is with us!

   From the Doxasticon of the Praises of Matins –Forefathers Sunday

  • December 17th, we celebrate the Prophet Daniel and the Three Children in Babylon:  Ananias, Azarias and Misael.
  • The Sunday that falls between December 18 and the 24th is the next formal “Advent Sunday” –the Sunday before the Nativity of Christ –often called the Sunday of the Holy Fathers in which the entire genealogy of the Incarnate Saviour is commemorated from Adam and Eve to St. Joseph and the Theotokos.  At Matins, the Synaxarion recounts every one of the Royal Lineage and at the Liturgy, the Gospel of St. Matthew (1:1-25) is read recounting the genealogy.
  • December 20th begins the Fore feast for Nativity:

O House of Ephratha, august and Holy City, thou glory of the Prophets, prepare the house wherein the Divine One shall be born for us.

A blessed remainder of the Advent season to all, and wishing you a glorious and peaceful Feast of the One Who is Incarnate for our sakes.

John Peter Edward Presson

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