Celebrating the Nativity Orthodox-Style
Eastern Orthodox Christmas, celebrated on January 7th, is less about sensual pleasure than spiritual substance.
"Christ is born! Glorify Him!" These words express the great joy Orthodox Christians experience each year as they celebrate the Nativity of their Lord.
The wonder of Christmas is more than our minds can comprehend. And thus, for Christmas to be understood it must be experienced in our hearts. It is in our hearts that we understand, and it is with our hearts that we share the joy of Christ's Incarnation.
In the modern world, Christmas has been reduced to the sensual pleasures of the flesh. Each year, Christmas becomes less and less an event of spiritual substance. The joy of Christmas is now centered on what we eat, what we hang, and what we receive.
How different the spirit of Orthodox Christianity.
St. Gregory the Theologian explains: "This . . . is this what we are celebrating today: the Coming of God to man, that we might go forth, or rather that we might go back to God, that putting off the old man we might put on the New; and that as we have died in Adam so we might live in Christ, being born with Christ. Therefore, let us keep the feast, not after the manner of a pagan festival, but in a godly way.
"And how shall this be? Let us not decorate our porches, nor arrange dances, nor adorn the streets. . . . These are the ways that lead to evil and are the entrances of sin. Let us leave all these things to the pagans. But let us who are worshipers of the Word of God, if we must in some way have luxury, let us seek it in God's Word and in the law and the scriptural stories . . . ." (Oration 38)
This does not mean that the extras associated with Christmas are inappropriate. There is nothing wrong with decorating Christmas trees, hanging Christmas lights and enjoying wonderful Christmas treats.
What is important, however, is that we understand why these activities are associated with Christmas. Orthodox faith is worked out in the fabric of our lives and involves more than our worship in the Temple, extending from there into our homes and other surroundings.