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The Nativity of Christ

‘And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger’ (Luke 2:16). Detail of a Sinai icon dated to the eighth or ninth century.

Two passages from On the Nativity of Christ, by Saint Gregory the Theologian:

Χριστὸς γεννᾶται, δοξάσατε· Χριστὸς ἐξ οὐρανῶν, ἀπαντήσατε· Χριστὸς ἐπὶ γῆς, ὑψώθητε. Ἄσατε τῷ Κυρίῳ, πᾶσα ἡ γῆ· καὶ, ἵν᾿ ἀμφότερα συνελὼν εἴπω, Εὐφραινέσθωσαν οἱ οὐρανοὶ, καὶ ἀγαλλιάσθω ἡ γῆ, διὰ τὸν ἐπουράνιον, εἶτα ἐπίγειον.

Ὢ τῆς καινῆς μίξεως· ὢ τῆς παραδόξου κράσεως· ὁ ὢν γίνεται, καὶ ὁ ἄκτιστος κτίζεται, καὶ ὁ ἀχώρητος χωρεῖται, διὰ μέσης ψυχῆς νοερᾶς μεσιτευούσης θεότητι, καὶ σαρκὸς παχύτητι. Καὶ ὁ πλουτίζων, πτωχεύει· πτωχεύει γὰρ τὴν ἐμὴν σάρκα, ἵν᾿ ἐγὼ πλουτήσω τὴν αὐτοῦ θεότητα. Καὶ ὁ πλήρης, κενοῦται· κενοῦται γὰρ τῆς ἑαυτοῦ δόξης ἐπὶ μικρὸν, ἵν᾿ ἐγὼ τῆς ἐκείνου μεταλάβω πληρώσεως.

Christ is born, glorify Him. Christ from heaven, go out to meet Him. Christ on earth; be exalted. Sing unto the Lord all the whole earth; and that I may join both in one word, Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad, for Him Who is of heaven and then of earth.

O new commingling; O strange conjunction; the Self-Existent comes into being, the Uncreate is created, That which cannot be contained is contained, by the intervention of an intellectual soul, mediating between the Deity and the corporeity of the flesh. And He Who gives riches becomes poor, for He assumes the poverty of my flesh, that I may assume the richness of His Godhead. He that is full empties Himself, for He empties Himself of His glory for a short while, that I may have a share in His Fulness.

9 comments to The Nativity of Christ

  • Antonia Colias

    Christ is Born! Glorify Him!
    My son, Andrew, was blessed immeasurably to visit the monastery these past two weeks with his friend John and my friend Elizabeth. I am grateful that they had this priceless opportunity!

  • Baron dominique

    Dear Father Justin.
    Thank you for this touching picture of Christ.
    A question ; an icon is an image more often painted on wood, here it seems to be painted on a kind of mineral support.
    Look like a fresco ?

  • Mary Bernardelli

    Such richness in these sites. I am so thankful for receiving them. I will continue to read with enthusiasm.

  • Fr. Demetri Tsigas

    I just discovered this blog and was surprised to learn that pilgrims are again allowed to visit. Are there any travel restrictions from either Egypt or Israel? How would one make arrangements to visit?

    • Father Justin

      Every day we have hundreds of visitors. Some of these are traveling to sites in Egypt. Others come from Jerusalem, wanting to include Sinai in their pilgrimage to the Holy Land. From the border crossing at Taba, or from the airport at Sharm el-Sheikh, it is a two and one-half hour drive to the monastery.

  • Fr. Demetri Tsigas

    There seems to be much discussion lately about the animals presence and even going so far as to say they were intentionally breathing on the newborn Christ child to keep him warm. Is there anything in Orthodox tradition to substantiate their presence and the keeping warm?

    • Father Justin

      The sarcophagus of Stilicho, preserved at the Basilica of Saint Ambrose in Milan, dates from the fourth century. Christ is shown wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger, with an ox and ass kneeling on either side. Thus, the ox and ass are included in some of the earliest surviving examples of Christian art.

      The Fathers of the Church very often quote Isaiah 1:3, ‘The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib: but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider.’ The ox and the ass know their master, but humankind is heedless and does not know its Master. Here is a further quotation from the same homily On the Nativity of Christ, by Saint Gregory the Theologian:

      Revere the enrolment on account of which you were written in heaven, and adore the Birth by which you were loosed from the chains of your birth, and honour little Bethlehem, which has led you back to Paradise; and worship the manger through which thou, being without sense, wast fed by the Word. Know as Isaiah bids you, your Owner, like the ox, and like the ass your Master’s crib; if you be one of those who are pure and lawful food, and who chew the cud of the word and are fit for sacrifice. Or if you are one of those who are as yet unclean and uneatable and unfit for sacrifice, and of the gentile portion, run with the Star, and bear your Gifts with the Magi, gold and frankincense and myrrh, as to a King, and to God, and to One Who is dead for you. With Shepherds glorify Him; with Angels join in chorus; with Archangels sing hymns. Let this Festival be common to the powers in heaven and to the powers upon earth.

  • Maria

    Oh Father Justin,
    The above piece is so beautiful ..!!

    I see the faces on the icon
    Both men’s and animals are pure, tender !
    I have never seen this icon before !

    Happy New Year !
    We would love to be there at Pascha

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