Posted by: oldbelieving | February 16, 2009

Nativity Homily of Fr. Pimen Simon, Old Rite Church of the Nativity, Erie, PA

I thought this was a great sermon when I heard Fr. Pimen deliver it, so I asked him if he would email a copy, and allow me to post it for others to be edified, and he graciously obliged. Hope you all enjoy!

Christmas Sermon – Jan. 7, 2009

“The Master Who worketh wonders saved His people drying out the wet waves of the sea in ancient times and when of His own will He was born of the Virgin He laid a path which leadeth us to heaven as One Who shareth equally the nature of the Father and of earthly men do we glorify Him.”

The Canon-which is a Greek word which means ‘rule’-is the centerpiece of a Vigil, or even a Moleben or Panahida. It is the composition that teaches us the meaning of the feast or the meaning of the service, while at the same time being a vessel of glorification. The Canon normally consists of 8 Odes – in Great Lent 9 – but because the 2nd Ode is highly repentant, it is used only in such a period of extreme repentance as Great Lent. Each Ode of the Canon is introduced by an Irmos, a hymn. The word ‘irmos’ means ‘Connection’ or ‘Link’. Each of the first eight Odes is based on a particular theme. The first eight Odes are concerned with Old Testament events:
Odes 1 and 2 are centered on Moses and the Exodus – and especially the passage through the Red Sea.
Ode 3 – is based on the Prophetess Anna, the mother of the Prophet Samuel.
Ode 4 – The Prophet Habbakuk.
Ode 5 – The Prophet Isiah.
Ode 6 – The Prophet Jonah.
Odes 7 & 8 – the three Hebrew Children – Ananias, Azarias and Misael.
Ode 9 – the Mother of God.

With these Irmosi, all the rest of the canon is joined into one whole. After singing the Irmos, there are tropari, or prayers, that compose the rest of each Ode. These tropari are now usually read, although they were originally chanted to the same melody as the Irmos. Now the tropari are sung only in the Paschal Canon.

Concerning the general content of the Canon, the Irmosi remind the faithful of the Old Testament period and events as a foreshadowing of the events of the New Testament. For example the passage through the Red Sea commemorates the miraculous manner in which God saved His people and so the 1st Irmos for Christmas, while reminding us of how God saved His people in their flight from Egypt and Pharaoh, will use that event to compare how God provides eternal salvation to His people by the coming of Christ – the God-man in the flesh. If this is unclear from my poor explanation, perhaps it will help to reflect on the 1st Irmos of the Paschal Canon which reminds us that the Resurrection of Christ can also be directly related to the passage through the Red Sea. Remember the words in Воскресение день—It is the Day of Resurrection—where it is said “for Christ God hath brought us from death unto life, from earth unto heaven as we sing the triumphal hymn”. This triumphal Paschal hymn is incomparably greater than the hymn of the Israelites as they sang: ‘Sing to the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously!”, but it is a direct result of God’s intervention to save mankind even as that parting of the Red Sea saved God’s people once in time.
I decided to use the 1st Irmos of the 2nd Canon for the Nativity because it is sung only on this feast and its post celebration. The more familiar Христос Раждается is one of our favorites, and should be, as the very first words begin “Christ is Born”. But that Irmos and all the Irmosi of the 1st Canon are sung during the Nativity Fast at all feasts and on all Sundays as the Katavasia (or descent—thus the choirs descend into the middle of the church). It is a seasonal hymn proclaiming the soon to come Nativity and the actual Nativity. But the Irmosi of the Second Canon, while known much less by all of us, and even more sung less effectively by us who sing on the choir because of their limited usage, must be seen as conveying the definitive message of the Church for the Feast since they are not sung until the actual day of the Nativity of our Lord. So again let me remind you of its precise words so that we can focus on them and understand what the Church deems us to understand, to cherish, to worship. “The Master Who worketh wonders saved His people drying out the wet waves of the sea in ancient times, and when of His own will He was born of the Virgin He laid a path which leadeth us to heaven as One Who shareth equally the nature of the Father and of earthly men do we glorify Him.”

Today on this blessed Christmas morning, this night of the miraculous birth of God in the flesh through the Virginal Conception brought to pass by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit unto the Virgin Mary, the God-Bearer, the Theotokos, – the Master, that is the same Master who from before time and from the beginning of time, He who worketh and hast always worked wonders; even as He saved His people by drying out the waves of the Red Sea in their ancient time of peril with the evil pharaoh and his minions charging after them to destroy them, NOW of His own will is born of the Virgin. The Irmos continues to magnify the fact that even as He cleared a path through the Red Sea to provide His people a temporal salvation from their tormenting enemy, so now by this wondrous birth of Jesus, an event so far greater than the miracle at the Red Sea, He has laid a path which leadeth us to heaven. Who is able to perform this great miracle? Who is it that can save us now and for all eternity from our tormenting enemy, Satan, and his minions who seeks to entice us, to trap us, to pierce our bodies and souls with his sharp sword of deception, and to annihilate us to satisfy his wrath at us and at the same time to quench his thirst for revenge against the God Who dared to create us and adopt us as His children? It is the same God Who then saved the Israelites and now saves us by His coming in the flesh. The Irmos is completed by explaining that the Master who saved Moses and the Israelites is the same Master born today in Bethlehem of Judea in extreme humility and laid in the crudest manger in a cave, surrounded by lowly animals rather than servants in rich adornment,; it is He Who shareth equally the nature of the Father and of us earthly men. He is God. He is man. He is the God-man; perfect God and perfect man. What is our reaction to be to this incredible event, this incredible night, this incredible announcement by the angels to the shepherds? The Irmos’ last words complete the Church’s message: Him do we glorify. As the popular Christmas Carol says “Come all ye faithful….”. This is our only obligation tonight – to lift up our hearts, our minds, our souls, our hymns. Him, let us glorify!

And let me take one more step in examining the Canon, the Rule, the center of our Vigil this evening. The very 1st Troparion of that 2nd Canon which follows this Irmos reads: ‘Thy sacred womb which was depicted by the bush which burned without being consumed, manifestly bore the Word and mingled God with a human image, loosing the wretched womb of Eve from the bitter curse of old. Let us glorify Him, ye mortals.” So do you again see the pattern? Ode 1 is used by the Church to consider Moses the prophet and his work as a servant of God to save His, i.e. God’s people. When God speaks to Moses on Mt Sinai, He is heard in the presence of a miraculous bush which is burning, but somehow, beyond any human conception, is not being consumed. And, likewise, beyond any human conception, the Virgin Mary, she who is foreshadowed by the burning bush, gives birth but preserves Her virginity. As the Dogmation of Tone 4 says: “Who hath ever heard of a Virgin giving birth and preserving her virginity?” And even more wondrous, as the troparion continues, is the fact that this Virgin who bears a child without an earthly father has borne the Word of God, and not merely a new creature, but the Creator Who as St John says in the opening of his beloved Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” And now we are clearly told that the burning and unconsumed bush, i.e. the Virgin Mary has borne the Word, thus mingling God with a human image. God the Creator, the ineffable One, the incomprehensible One, the Infinite One, has deigned to be borne in the flesh, thus mingling the human with the divine. To call Him the God-man is a strange sounding term. But what other term describes what has come to pass tonight? A man-child has been borne, but he is still our God, remaining unchanged, that is remaining God even in this creature. He is God and man. Two distinct persons with two natures and two wills – divine and human – neither overwhelming or annihilating the other – perfect God, perfect man—the God-man. The result brought about by this wonder of wonders? The Troparion continues: “This bearing of the Word by the unconsumed bush, the Theotokos (how appropriate a term – she who bears the Theos-God)—looses the wretched womb of Eve from the bitter curse of old.” Because our foremother Eve did embrace that enticement and entrapment of which I spoke earlier, she and all humanity were cursed to be borne into a life of pain, sorrow, and eventual death without even the hope or possibility of eternal bliss. When Eve succumbed to Satan in Eden, she proclaimed her willingness to say “Yes” to the devil and to say “No” to God. But when the Virgin resounded with her famous words at the Annunciation, “Behold the handmaiden of the Lord, Be it unto me according to Thy word”, she exclaims for all mankind a resounding “Yes” to God and “No” to the devil. Now, God seeing the impossibility of mankind to save itself, condescends to save mankind the only way possible – that is for God to live that very existence given to each of us, but to live it as intended – without succumbing to the enticement of the devil to disobey God and thus to destroy ourselves. This God-man will live in the manner in which God had intended for mankind to live – in holiness, in righteousness, in love, in charity, in humility, in compassion, in chastity, in sobriety, in goodness. And when He will die to save us and will descend into Hades (which was only intended for Satan and his minions), Hades will have no power at all and the God-man will destroy it, as indicated in the words of the troparian ‘loosing the wretched womb of Eve from the bitter curse of old’.

The baby Jesus, the God-man, not some cutesy fairy-tale-like babe who now appears as the theme for many Christmas cartoons, is our Saviour, our Deliverer, our God born in the utmost humility on this Christmas morn. And so this troparion ends with precisely the same declaration as did the Irmos which immediately preceded it: ‘Let us glorify Him, ye mortals’. Not only are these the words of the Israelites on the other side of the Red Sea – they are the words of the angels announcing the greatest birth ever known—Glory to God in the highest.

My dear Brothers and Sisters in the Lord Jesus Christ, I congratulate you on this our Престолный Праздник, the Feast to which our altar is consecrated. I congratulate you on the joy of the Lord born in Bethlehem. I congratulate you on a job well done in keeping the Fast given to us for our spiritual benefit. I congratulate you on fulfilling your calling to give alms to the poor and to offer your precious time to serve the poor. I congratulate you for recognizing that the prime goal of the Fast is not related to food, but related to metanoiа, that is repentance – turning your life around to God. I congratulate you for communing during the Fast and preparing yourself to commune on this blessed morning of our Lord’s Nativity. I congratulate you on committing yourself and all your life to Christ our Savior, the God-man born in Bethlehem, wrapped in swaddling clothes laid in a manger. Tonight angels glorify Christ, the God-man in the heavens as we do on earth. Tonight the celestial powers bow before our Savior as did the Magi when they found Him by following the Star. Tonight all creation stands in awe at the incarnation of their Creator in the flesh of a man. Tonight salvation hath come to the world.

St Paul wrote in part to the Galatians 4:4-7: “And in light of the fact that he announces to them the Good News we are no longer slaves which we became because of the ancestral sin passed on to us from Adam and Eve, but sons and daughters of God and if so, heirs of God through Christ.” Let me finish with St Paul’s letter to Timothy which is appointed for the Saturday after the Nativity and is the charge I would imagine him giving to us if he were writing to us on this blessed morning: I Timothy 6:11-16 But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness. Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses. I give thee charge in the sight of God, who quickeneth all things, and before Christ Jesus, who before Pontius Pilate witnessed a good confession; That thou keep this commandment without spot, unrebukable, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ: Which in his times he shall shоw, who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords; Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom be honour and power everlasting. Amen.

May God bless you and all of your loved ones today and throughout this holy Nativity-Theophany season. Christ is Born!

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Responses

  1. “And now we are clearly told that the burning and unconsumed bush, i.e. the Virgin Mary has borne the Word, thus mingling God with a human image. God the Creator, the ineffable One, the incomprehensible One, the Infinite One, has deigned to be borne in the flesh, thus mingling the human with the divine. To call Him the God-man is a strange sounding term. But what other term describes what has come to pass tonight? A man-child has been borne, but he is still our God, remaining unchanged, that is remaining God even in this creature. He is God and man.”

    Amen!! 🙂

    “Two distinct persons with two natures and two wills – divine and human – neither overwhelming or annihilating the other – perfect God, perfect man—the God-man.”

    Wait…two persons? O_o

  2. Dear Sirs,

    Please, help me with the translation of the following feasts into Russian:
    Mary working day, Mary feast eve, Mary feast, Mary special day, deads
    working day, deads feast

    or at least when these feasts are.

    Thank you in advance!!!


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