On the Sunday that occurs on or immediately after the eleventh of this month, we commemorate Christ's forefathers according to the flesh, both those that came before the Law, and those that lived after the giving of the Law.
Special commemoration is made of the Patriarch Abraham, to whom the promise was first given, when God said to him, "In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed" (Gen. 22:18). This promise was given some two thousand years before Christ, when Abraham was seventy-five years of age. God called him and commanded him to forsake his country, parents, and kinsmen, and to depart to the land of the Canaanites. When he arrived there, God told him, "I will give this land to thy seed" (Gen. 12:7); for this cause, that land was called the "Promised Land," which later became the country of the Hebrew people, and which is also called Palestine by the historians. There, after the passage of twenty-four years, Abraham received God's law concerning circumcision. In the one hundredth year of his life, when Sarah was in her ninetieth year, they became the parents of Isaac. Having lived 175 years altogether, he reposed in peace, a venerable elder full of days.
Apolytikion in the Second Tone
You justified the forefathers in faith, and through them betrothed yourself, aforetime, to the Church taken from out of the Gentiles. The saints boast in glory. For from their seed, there exists a noble crop, who is she who without seed has given You birth. By their intercessions, O Christ our God, save our souls.
Kontakion in Plagal of the Second Tone
You did not worship the graven image, O thrice-blessed ones, but armed with the immaterial Essence of God, you were glorified in a trial by fire. From the midst of unbearable flames you called on God, crying: Hasten, O compassionate One! Speedily come to our aid, for You are merciful and able to do as You will.
From the Synaxarion of Holy Transfiguration Monastery, Brookline, MA.
More About the Feast of the Holy Forefathers
By Sergei V. Bulgakov
The Sunday of the Holy Forefathers occurs between the 11th and the 17th of December. This Sunday commemorates all the ancestors of the people of God, the holy patriarchs living up to the law, given on Sinai, and under the law, - from Adam to Joseph the Betrothed; together with them are commemorated "those who preached Christ" the holy prophets - from Samuel to Zechariah and to John the Baptist, and all the Old Testament righteous men, who were righteous in the faith in the coming of the Messiah. Especially in the service for this day are praised "the pious youths" Ananias, Azarias, and Misael, who "in faith were thrown into the fiery furnace" and "who in the middle of the flames were cooled by the dew of the Spirit and who walked about rejoicing, are mystically a prototype of the Trinity and the incarnation of Christ" from the Virgin, who after giving birth remained a virgin. With these holy youths are commemorated also “the righteous Daniel and the wonderful prophets”, who, clearly revealing the divine second coming, saw Christ, “coming to all nations as Judge”, and who, “your mind illumined by divine radiance”, "that clearly the Virgin would give birth represented in mystical images".
"Today as we celebrate the Forefathers’ memory”, the holy Church exclaims: “let us offer praise to the fathers, who shone forth before and during the law, with righteous minds they served the Lord and Master who shone forth from the Virgin, now they delight in the unending light.” "Let us offer songs of praise to the prophets of God". "Let us honor the holy youths, for they quenched the flaming furnace, together with the prophet Daniel, and all the righteous ones who shone forth before the law, together with those who served the Master under the law.” By accomplishing “now the honor of the memory of the forefathers”, the holy Church edifies us, that we, in the expectation of the great and light-bearing day of the Nativity of Christ, is reflected by the faith and life of the holy Forefathers and, through them, has prepared ourselves, by their example, to the worthy meeting of the Lord Who came from Heaven, who has adorned their soul with virtues beforehand to be ready for the great and light-bearing day of the Nativity of our Savior worthily to meet Him with the lamp of faith and with the oil of charitable deeds, with the firm hope of life everlasting, with the light of both the joyful face of cleanliness and purity.
The Gospel and Epistle Reading
Together with them the holy Church on the present day, that its appeal be not in vain, places in the Gospel reading by the clergy about those calledin Vespers, inspiring us, that we can be distracted from worthily meeting the Lord by the predominance of flesh over spirit, the attachment to the terrestrial, the blinding by gleam of worldly goods, the predilection for vanity, the unwillingness to deny one’s self-love and pride everyday, the enslavement to passions and covetousness, and in the Epistle reading directly commands us to destroy our earthly members: fornication, impurity, passion, evil lust and cupidity, to lay aside anger, evil, blaspheming, slander, lies, and in general to take off the old man and put on the new in the image of the Creator (Col. 3:4-11).
Those Named in the Hymns
In the sacred chants for this day among the Old Testament righteous men the following are referred to by name: Aaron (the first priest, brother of Moses), Avakum [LXX for Habakkuk] (see December 2), Obadiah (see November 19), Abel (son of Adam), Abraham (see October 9), Haggai (see December 16), Adam (Forefather of the human race), Azariah (see December 17), Anna (see December 9), Barak (see. Judges 4-5), Gideon (see September 26), David (see December 26), Daniel (see December 17), Deborah (see Judges 4-5), Eleazar (see September 2), Elisha (see June 14), Enos (son of Seth, - see Genesis 5:6-11), Enoch (see Gen 5: 18-24), Esther (see Esther 1-10), Zechariah (see February 8), Elijah (see July 20), Isaac(son of Abraham), Isaiah (see May 9), Jael (see. Judges 4-5), Jacob (son of Isaac), Ezekiel (see July 21), Jeremiah (see May 1), Jesse (father of David), Jephthah (see Judges 11, 12:1-7), Joshua (see September 1), Job (see May 6), Jonah (see September 22), Joseph (see March 31), Josiah (see 4 Kings, 21:26, 22, 23:1-30), Judah (see. Gen 49:8-17), Judith (see book of Judith 1- 16), Levi (son of Jacob), Malachi (see January 3), Melchizedek (see. Gen 14:18-20), Misael (see December 17), Micaiah (see August 14), Moses (see September 4), Nahum (see December 1), Nathan (see 2 Kings 5:14), Noah (see. Gen 5:28-32, 6-9), Huldah (see April 10, 4 Kings 22:14), Hur (see Exodus 24:14), Rachel (wife of Jacob), Rebecca (wife of Isaac), Ruth (see Ruth 1-4), Samson (see Judges 13-16), Samuel (see August 20), Sarah (wife of Abraham), Seth (son of Adam, see. Gen 5:3-5), Solomon (son of David), Zephaniah (see December 3).
The Virtues of the Holy Forefathers
Singing in the service for this day “the god-pleasing life” of the Old Testament righteous men, the Holy Church thus represents our intellectual look at the whole universe of great virtues, such as: the God-loving gentleness and meekness of the first martyr in the world, Abel, the holy zeal for the glorification of the name of God, Enos, the high divine thinking and the fear of God, Enoch, the firmness in faith and piety, Noah among the general depravity of his contemporary world, the wonderful faith and obedience to the word of God, Abraham, filial obedience, Isaac up to the preparation to be offered as a burnt offering according to the command of God, the kind domestic bravery, Sarah, the penetrating maternal love, Rebecca, the mild humility, Jacob who earned the rage of Laban and Esau, the holy chastity, Joseph who was more than ready to suffer and die, rather than to sin before God, the unhampered invincible patience in the sufferings and misfortunes, Job, the meek, wise leadership, Moses and Samuel, the inspiring courage through faith, Joshua son of Nun, Barak, and Gideon, the high self-sacrificing love for their country and people, Judith and Esther, the plaintive and contrite repentance, David and Manasseh, the ascetic and divinely intellectual life, Elijah and Elisha, the zeal for the glory of God of the holy prophets, the unhampered invincible dedication to the law of God and usual patriotism of the three youths in Babylon and the rest of the good deeds of all the other Old Testament men we celebrate, "of whom the world was not worthy" (Hebrews 11:38). According to the teaching of St. Gregory the Theologian, each of these virtues stand by themselves «as a special way to salvation, and undoubtedly results in any one of the everlasting and blessed abodes; for as the generations of life are various, so are the abodes of God are many (John 14:2), and in them are divided and are assigned to everyone according to his worthiness. Therefore let one fulfill his virtue, one to another, the other of the many, and whoever, if it is possible, and in everything; only let everyone go without stopping, let everyone strive forward and follow steadily in the steps of the good leaders, who directly leads a path for him, and makes his way through the narrow gate (Matthew 7:14) to lead to the heights of the blessed heaven».
Determination of the Feast
When the Nativity falls on Sunday, - Sun. of the Holy Forefathers 11, and the Holy Fathers 18 December. When the Nativity falls on Monday -Sun of the Holy Forefathers 17, and the Holy Fathers 24 December. When the Nativity falls on Tuesday, - Sun. of the Holy Forefathers 16, and the Holy Fathers 23 December. When the Nativity falls on Wednesday, - Sun. of the Holy Forefathers 15, and the Holy Fathers 22 December. When the Nativity falls on Thursday, - Sun. of the Holy Forefathers 14, and the Holy Fathers 21 December. When the Nativity falls on Friday, - Sun. of the Holy Forefathers 13, and the Holy Fathers 20 December. When the Nativity falls on Saturday, - Sun. of the Holy Forefathers 12, and the Holy Fathers 19 December.
Homily on the Sunday of the Holy Forefathers
By St. Gregory Palamas
David indicates that our Lord Jesus Christ has no genealogy with regard to His divinity (Ps 110.4), Isaiah says the same (Isa 53.8), and later so does the Apostle (Heb 7.3). How can the descent be traced of Him “who is in the beginning, and is with God, and is God, and is the Word and Son of God” (Jn 1.1-2, 18)? He does not have a Father who was before Him, and shares with His Father “a name which is above every other name” and all speech (Phil 2.9). For the most part, genealogies are traced back through different surnames but there is no surname for God, and whatever may be said of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, They are one and do not differ in any respect.
Imposssible to recount is Christ’s descent according to His divinity, but His ancestry according to His human nature can be traced, since He who deigned to become Son of man in order to save mankind was the offspring of men. And it is this genealogy of His that two of the evangelists, Matthew and Luke, recorded. But although Matthew, in the passage from his Gospel read today, begins with those born first, he makes no mention of anyone before Abraham. He traces the line down from Abraham until he reaches Joseph to whom, by divine dispensation, the Virgin Mother of God was betrothed, being of the same tribe and homeland as him, that her own stock might be shown from this to be in no way inferior. Luke, by contrast, begins not with the earliest forebears but the most recent, and working his way back from Joseph the Betrothed, does not stop at Abraham, nor, having included Abraham’s predecessors, does he end with Adam, but lists God among Christ’s human forebears (Luke 3.23-38); wishing to show, in my opinion, that from the beginning man was not just a creation of God, but also a son in the Spirit, which was given to him at the same time as his soul, through God’s quickening breath (Gen 2.7). It was granted to him as a pledge that, if, waiting patiently for it, he kept the commandment, he would be able to share through the same Spirit in a more perfect union with God, by which he would live for ever with Him and obtain immortality.
By heeding the evil counsel of the pernicious angel, man transgressed the divine commandments, was shown to be unworthy, forfeited the pledge and interrupted God’s plan. God’s grace, however, is unalterable and His purpose cannot prove false, so some of man’s offspring were chosen, that, from among many, a suitable receptacle for this divine adoption and grace might be found, who would serve God’s will perfectly, and would be revealed as a vessel worthy to unite divine and human nature in one person, not just exalting our nature, but restoring the human race. The holy Maid and Virgin Mother of God was this vessel, so she was proclaimed by the archangel Gabriel as full of grace, being the chosen one among the chosen, blameless, undefiled and worthy to contain the person of the God-man and to collaborate with Him. Therefore God pre-ordained her before all ages, chose her from among all who had ever lived, and deemed her worthy of more grace than anyone else, making her the holiest of saints, even before her mysterious childbearing. For that reason, He graciously willed that she should make her home in the Holy of Holies, and accepted her as His companion to share His dwelling from her childhood. He did not simply choose her from the masses, but from the elect of all time, who were admired and renowned for their piety and wisdon, and for their character, words and deeds, which pleased God and brought benefit to all.
Observe also that the Holy Spirit makes it clear to such as have understanding that the whole of divinely inspired Scripture was written because of the Virgin Mother of God. It relates in detail the entire line of her ancestry, which begins with Adam, then passes through Seth, Noah and Abraham, as well as David and Zerubbabel, those in between them and their successors, and goes up to the time of the Virgin Mother of God. By contrast, Scripture does not touch upon some races at all, and in the case of others, it makes a start at tracing their descent, then soon abandons them, leaving them in the depths of oblivion. Above all, it commemorates those of the Mother of God’s forebears who, in their own lives and the deeds wrought by them, prefigured Christ, who was to be born of the Virgin.
Now these things are examples and types of greater mysteries, since it was necessary that the royal line be united in many ways with the priestly race, which would bring forth the family of Christ according to the flesh; because in many ways Christ is truly the eternal King and High Priest. And the fact that adopted sons are counted as sons, that the law approves of adoptive fathers no less and sometimes more than natural fathers, and that the same, appropriately, applies to other kinds of kinship, was a clear example and type of our adoption by Christ, our kinship with Him and our calling according to the Spirit and the law of grace. For the Lord Himself says in the Gospels, “Whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother” (Matt 12.50).
Do you see that the family and kin of Christ are not engendered according to nature, but according to grace and the law that comes from grace? This law is so far superior to the law given through Moses that, whereas those called sons according to the law of Moses are neither born of God nor do they transcend human nature, those styled sons by the law of grace are born of God, brought to perfection above nature and made sone of Abraham through Christ, more closely associated with him than sons according to blood. All who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ, according to Paul (Gal 3.27), and although they are other people’s children according to nature, they are born supernaturally of Christ, who in this way conquers nature. For as He became incarnate without seed of the Holy Spirit and the ever-virgin Mary, so He grants potential and power to those who believe in His name to become children of God. For “as many as received him,” says the evangelist, “to them He gave power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1.12-13).
Why, when he says, “which were born of God,” does he not say “and became sons of God,” but “received power to become” sons? Because he was looking towards the end and the universal restoration, the perfection of the age to come. The same evangelist says in his epistles, “It doth not yet appear what we shall be: but when He shall appear, we shall be like Him” (1 John 3.2). Then shall we be children of God, seeing and experiencing God’s radiance, with the rays of Christ’s glory shining around us, and ourselves shining, as Moses and Elijah proved to us when they appeared with Him in glory on Mount Tabor (Matt 17.3, Luke 9.30). “The righteous,” it says, “shall shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matt 13.43). We receive power for this purpose now through the grace of divine baptism. Just as a newborn infant has received potential from his parents to become a man and heir to their house and fortune, but does not yet possess that inheritance because he is a minor, nor will he receive it if he dies before coming of age, so a person born again in the Spirit through Christian baptism has received power to become a son and heir of God, a joint-heir with Christ, and in the age to come he will, with all certainty, receive the divine and immortal adoption as a son, which will not be taken from him, unless he has forfeited this by spiritual death. Sin is spiritual death, and whereas physical death is annulled when the future age arrives, spiritual death is confirmed for those who bring it with them from here.
Everyone who has been baptized, if he is to obtain the eternal blessedness and salvation for which he hopes, should live free from all sin. Peter and Paul, the leaders of the highest company of the holy apostles, made this clear. Paul said of Christ, “In that He died, He died unto sin once: but in that He liveth, He liveth unto God,” adding, “likewise we also ought to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God” (Rom 6.10-11), whereas Peter wrote, “Forasmuch then as Christ hath died for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: that ye no longer should live the rest of your time by the lusts of men, but by the will of God” (1 Pet 4.1-2). If it was for our sake that the Lord lived His time on earth, to leave us an example, and He passed His life without sin, we too must live without sin, in imitation of Him. Since He said even to Abraham’s descendants according to the flesh, “If ye were Abraham’s children, ye would do the works of Abraham” (John 8.39), how much more will He say to us who have no physical kinship with Him, “If you were My children, you would do My works”? It is therefore consistent and just that anyone who, after divine baptism, after the covenants he made then to God and the grace he received from it, does not follow Christ’s way of life step by step, but transgresses and offends against the benefactor, should be utterly deprived of divine adoption and the eternal inheritance.
But, O Christ our King, who can worthily extol the greatness of Your love for mankind? What was unnecessary for Him and what He did not do, namely, repentance (for He never needed to repent, being sinless), He granted to us as a mediator for when we sin even after receiving grace. Repentance means returning once again to Him and to a life according to His will out of remorse. Even if someone commits a deadly sin, if he turns away from it with all his soul, abstains from it and turns back to the Lord in deed and truth, he should take courage and be of good hope, for he shall not lose eternal life and salvation. When a child according to the flesh meets his death, he is not brought back to life by his father, but someone born of Christ, even though he fall into deadly sins, if he turns again and runs to the Father who raises the dead, is made alive once more, obtains divine adoption, and is not cat out from the company of the just.
May we all attain to this, to the glory of Christ and of His Father without beginning and of the life-giving Spirit, now and for ever, and unto unceasing ages. Amen.
From Homily Fifty-Seven of St Gregory Palamas, Archbishop of Thessalonica, on the Sunday of the Forefathers of the Lord, between the years 1347 and 1359.
Homilies By St. Nikolai Velimirovich