5th Day of Nativity – the Holy Innocents

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Christ is Born!

January 11 / December 29

Today we commemorate the 14,000 Infants slain by Herod at Bethlehem, and its surroundings. The relics of these little saints rest in the Grotto of the 4th Century Church of the Nativity, in Bethlehem.

It was shocking to hear and understand the “Christmas” Coventry Carol for first time, when I was but a child.

Why on earth would people want to sing this, when all the other Christmas carols were warm, cozy, pockets of peace and joy? “Why? It’s ugly! Terrible!”

Mom agreed. “It is. But, they’re in heaven now, and we sing to remember this was part of what happened at Jesus’ birth.”

Even as an older youth it was painful to ponder, and still is… especially hearing the Carol now, with a grandmother’s ear. It’s a lullaby of lament… a dissonant dirge of restrained anguish. How could it not be?

Although there is great beauty in the world, this is also a world with warts and all. Earth isn’t heaven, and that’s why Christ is born… to reunite the created with the Creator.

The Coventry Carol was also my godmother’s favourite Christmas piece. She was an exceptional, amazing woman, Memory Eternal Eve! Through her, I learned to embrace the deep significance and bright sadness of this carol.

Below is a recording from a public Nativity Concert in 2014, at St. Sophia Orthodox Church, Canada.

St. Matthew 2: 16 – 18 Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men. Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying, In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.

St. Matthew 2: 13-14 …describes how St. Joseph was warned in a dream by an angel to flee Bethlehem and go to Egypt.

I came across this moving YouTube Video Tour: Grotto of the Holy Innocents at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

The doves in Bethlehem murmured since the serpent destroyed their offspring. The eagle fled to Egypt to go down to receive the promises. ~ St. Ephraim the Syrian

Glorify Him!

Christ is Born!

Beautiful Icon of the Virgin Mary and Christ, shared by Vera

Glorify Him!

Today we celebrate the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ.

What can we give Him?

What birthday gift would we ourselves most wish for?

Is there a gift that surpasses the abundant blessings already bestowed by the Holy Child born in Bethlehem… Who loosed the bonds of our sins with His swaddling bands?

Like the wise men, who followed the Star, what shall we bring to Him? What is more precious to Christ, than gold, frankincense or myrrh?

Our heart.

But how does one gift wrap sincere intention?

By bowing the knees and neck of our heart. By kneeling before His manger with determined resolve, to share loving kindness with each other and our neighbour… By doing our own small part with good will… for the sake of peace on earth… Even when external circumstances aren’t easy or peaceful.

These are gifts worthy to lay before the King, and Creator to prove We love Him, because He first loved us.

God’s greatest gift of all is eternal life. Let us, despite heartaches, run joyfully to the Holy Child, with the simple faith of a child, for such is the kingdom of heaven.

Let us nourish the Divine Infant within the warm manger of our hearts… For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.

Christ IS Born.

Today.

Now.

Let us Glorify Him!

by Parish Youth Choir

Today, we receive, a gift we did not ask for, let us bestow alms to those who cry out to us in need! ~ St. Isaac the Syrian

I have been amazed that some are utterly in doubt as to whether or not the Holy Virgin is able to be called the Mother of God. For if our Lord Jesus Christ is God, how should the Holy Virgin who bore him not be the Mother of God? ~ St. Cyril of Alexandria

And since the holy Virgin hath borne after the Flesh God united personally to the Flesh, therefore we do say that she is also Mother of God, not as though the Nature of the Word had the beginning of Its existence from flesh, for It was in the beginning and the Word was God, and the Word was with God (John 1:1), and is Himself the Maker of the ages, Co-eternal with the Father and Creator of all things. ~ St. Cyril of Alexandria

The Most Holy Mother of God prays for us ceaselessly. She is always visiting us. Whenever we turn to her in our heart, she is there. After the Lord, she is the greatest protection for mankind. How many churches there are in the world that are dedicated to the Most Holy Mother of God! How many healing springs where people are cured of their ailments have sprung up in places where the Most Holy Theotokos appeared and blessed those springs to heal both the sick and the healthy! She is constantly, by our side, and all too often we forget her. ~ Elder Thaddeus

Lazarus Comes Forth!

I am the resurrection and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live. And whosoever believeth in me shall never die. ~ St. John 11:25-26

Today Bethany proclaims beforehand the Resurrection of Christ, the owner of Life, and it rejoices at the raising of Lazarus. ~ 1st Ode in Orthros

From the earliest times, the Church has remembered the miracle of the Raising of Lazarus, and its celebration is closely tied to the Feast of the Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. Marking the end of Great Lent, Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday are a two-day festal pause, prior to Holy Week

In Constantinople, Lazarus Saturday was one of the four ancient baptismal days of the Church. We sing the Traditional Trisagion hymn at the Divine Liturgy for this day, As many as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ… Reminding us that we too, through the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, have buried our old nature. By putting on Christ, we come forth reborn anew.

Therefore we are buried with him by Baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we should walk in the newness of life. ~ Romans 6:4

In giving us, before Thy Passion an assurance of the General Resurrection, Thou hast raised Lazarus from the dead, O Christ, our God. Therefore, like the children, we also carry tokens of victory, and cry to Thee, the Conqueror of Death: Hosanna in the highest; blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord. ~ Troparion, Tone 1

Displaying Thy two energies, O Saviour, Thou hast made manifest Thy two natures: for Thou art both God and man. Though Thou art the Abyss of knowledge, Thou dost ask where they have laid the body of Lazarus. For it was Thy purpose, O Giver of Life, to raise him from the dead. Going from one place to another, Thou hast, as mortal man, appeared circumscribed; but, as God uncircumscribed, Thou fillest all things. At Thy divine word, Thou hast raised Lazarus, O Christ. I pray Thee, raise me also, dead through my many sins. As true God Thou hast known of the falling asleep of Lazarus and hast announced it beforehand to Thy disciples, giving them a proof, O Master, of the infinite power of Thy divinity. Thou who art by nature uncircumscribed wast circumscribed in the flesh; coming to Bethany, O Master, as man Thou dost weep over Lazarus, and by Thy power as God Thou dost raise him on the fourth day from the dead. ~ Beatitude Verses: Ode 3, 4 6, of the Triodion

…If he was not flesh, who wept at Lazarus’ grave? And if he was not God, who by his command brought out one four days dead? If he was not flesh, who sat on the foal? And if he was not God, whom did the crowds go out to meet with glory? ~ St. Ephraim the Syrian

Lazarus Saturday ~ Glory to God for All Things by Fr. Stephen Freeman

A Lenten Prayer

During the weekdays of Great Lent, we say the prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian (306-373 AD).

O Lord and Master of my life, a spirit of idleness, despondency, ambition and idle talking, give me not. (Prostration)

But, rather, a spirit of chastity, humble-mindedness, patience and love, bestow on me Thy servant. (Prostration)

Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my failings and not condemn my brother, for blessed art Thou unto the ages of ages. Amen. (Prostration)

Then the prayer once more in full, with one prostration at the end.

If unable to physically do a prostration, “bend the knees of your heart” instead.

Scripture brought me to the Gate of Paradise, and the mind stood in wonder as it entered. ~ St. Ephraim the Syrian

Let books be your dining table, and you shall be full of delights. Let them be your mattress, and you shall sleep restful nights. ~ St. Ephraim the Syrian

Pray for One Another

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. ~Ephesians 6:18

Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. ~ James 5:16

As bread is food for the body and virtue is food for the soul, so spiritual prayer is food for the mind. ~ St. Nilus of Mt. Sinai

No one can heal my disease except He Who knows the depths of the heart. ~ St. Ephraim the Syrian

If you do not feel like praying, you have to force yourself. The Holy Fathers say that prayer with force is higher than prayer unforced. You do not want to, but force yourself. The Kingdom of Heaven is taken by force (Matt. 11:12). ~ St. Ambrose of Optina

Abba Macarius was asked, ‘How should one pray?’ The old man said, ‘There is no need at all to make long discourses, it is enough to stretch out one’s hands and say, “Lord, as You will, and as You know, have mercy.” And if the conflict grows fiercer say, “Lord, help!” He knows very well what we need and He shows us His mercy.’ ~ Abba Macarius

For what is prayer? Prayer is the raising of the mind and heart to God- for praise and thanksgiving and beseeching Him for the good things necessary for soul and body. The essence of prayer, then is the mental ascent to God from the heart. The mind stands in the heart consciously before the face of God and, filled with proper and necessary reverence, it begins to pour out its heart before Him. This is prayer of the heart! ~ St. Theophan the Recluse

If you feel sweetness or compunction at some word of your prayer, dwell on it; for then our guardian angel is praying with us. ~ St. John Climacus

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