Tuesday, December 22, 2015

December 25th as the Actual Date of the Birth of Christ (4 of 4)


...continued from part three.

6. The Remaining Calculations Until the Birth of Christ

Since St. John Chrysostom has shown that the Conception of the Forerunner happened immediately after the feast of Tabernacles, he then calculates the six months (cf. Lk. 1:26) until Christ was conceived with the Annunciation to the Theotokos according to how each month is named in Greek Macedonian. "After this sixth month, accordingly, Mary first conceived, whence also counting nine months, we shall arrive at this present month [December]. Therefore the first month from the conception of the Lord is April, which is Xanthikos, after which is Artemisios, Desios, Panemos, Laios, Gorpiaios, Hyperberetaios, Dios, Apellaios - and this present month, during which we celebrate the day. But in order that what is said might become even clearer to you again taking up the same things again in brief, I shall speak to your charity: Once a year the high priest alone entered into the Holy of Holies. And when did this happen? In the month of Gorpiaios. Then, in fact, Zechariah entered into the Holy of Holies; then also he received the glad tidings concerning John. Accordingly he withdrew from there, and his wife began to conceive. And after Gorpiaios, when Elizabeth was in the sixth month, which is Dustros, Mary began finally to conceive. So counting nine months from Xanthikos, we will come the present month, during which our Lord Jesus Christ was born."34

Summary of the Above Biblical Determinations

Based on the above hermeneutical calculations of St. John Chrysostom, it has been demonstrated that Zechariah, the father of John the Forerunner, according to the first chapter of the Gospel of Luke, offered incense in the Holy of Holies according to the prescribed ritual for the feast of Atonement, as a High Priest. In detail of this ritual, he entered the Holy of Holies alone, without being visible to the people, and he offered incense on the golden altar of incense, which is in between the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place (Holy of the Holies). Therefore this could not have been a daily offering of incense in the Holy Place, like all the priests would do on a daily basis, rather all the relevant facts point to the feast of Atonement, which was between September and October, for it was on this day only that the High Priest would be alone in the Sanctuary. Immediately after those days of Atonement and Tabernacles and upon the return of Zechariah to his home, Elizabeth conceived and became pregnant (cf. Lk. 1:24). Six months later, in March, the Son and Word of God was conceived by the Theotokos and the Holy Spirit (cf. Lk. 1:26). From this is determined nine months when Christ was born, a total of fifteen months since John the Forerunner was conceived, which falls in the end of December, in agreement with Church tradition.

The Testimony of the Church of Rome

In the same homily of St. John Chrysostom, "On the Day of the Birth of Our Savior Christ", he also invokes the testimony of the Church of Rome which celebrated the Nativity of Christ on December 25th, and this is why the homily bears the subtitle: "Which was then still uncertain, but a few years ago made known and proclaimed on the part of ones who came from the West."

Concerning this testimony, Chrysostom says: "It is clear that He was born during the first census. And it is possible for the one who desires to know exactly to read the original codices publicly stored at Rome and learn the time of the census. So what, someone says, is this to us - who are neither there nor present? But listen, and do not be unbelieving, because we have received the day from those who know these things accurately and who dwell in that city. For the ones living there, having observed it from the beginning and from ancient tradition, now have themselves transmitted the knowledge of it to us."35 The Saint goes on to explain how divine Providence caused the soul of Caesar Augustus to initiate the first census of the ecumene in order to fulfill the prophecies for the birth of Christ in Bethlehem, even though the Theotokos lived in Nazareth, and thus the power of God is revealed: "Did you notice, beloved, the economy of God, the way He manages His (purposes) through unbelievers as well as believers, that strangers to piety might learn His might and power."36

The Orthodox Acceptance of Hostile Interpretations

Despite the above evidence, typical is the opinion of the preeminent contemporary Greek liturgist John Fountoulis, who writes: "With the epiphany of false gods and emperors, the Christian Church opposed this with the epiphany of the true God and King Christ, the true theophany. Also the worship of the sun, which conquers during the winter solstice the darkness of night, was opposed with the worship of the true sun, Christ, who rose, as the prophet Isaiah said, in a world sitting in darkness and shadows." He speaks of how the feasts of Christmas and Theophany originated to replace feasts of the sun and the celebration of the winter solstice. It was by Christians replacing these winter pagan feasts, that the date for the Presentation of Christ forty days after His Nativity and the date for the Annunciation nine months before the Nativity, and even the conception of St. John the Forerunner in September originated. Thus, everything in our immoveable calendar for Professor Fountoulis begins with "Sol Invictis" during the winter solstice of December 21-22.

To the contrary, such misconceptions ignore historical facts and the biblical and patristic tradition to explain the origins of our liturgical feasts. That such a revered professor and liturgist would hold such opinions reveals that even Orthodox are under an academic/theological captivity that directly opposes Orthodox tradition, whether we are ignorant of the facts or not.

Epilogue: The Role of Divine Providence

To conclude, the feast of Christmas was not determined by Christian leaders to replace the worship of the invincible sun, but as St. John Chrysostom writes, it was according to the divine economy, or divine Providence, that the God-man was born during the census of Caesar Augustus, as we previously mentioned, and that the Annunciation to the Theotokos on March 25th, which led to creation being restored and refashioned through the Incarnation, should fall in March, when the world is said to have been created and the new year began according to Hebrew calculations. It was a very common opinion among the ancient Jews and Christians, among whom were Philo in the first century and Church Fathers in the third century, that the world was created at the vernal equinox, which was believed to fall on March 25th. Early Christian writer Sextus Julius Africanus (220 AD) speculated that the world was created on March 25th, based on his chronology of Jewish and Christian history, presumably contained in his Chronographia. So he suggested that Christ became incarnate on that date; this makes perfect symbolic sense, since at the Incarnation, the new creation began. According to Julius, since the Word of God became incarnate from the moment of his conception, this meant that, after nine months in the Virgin Mary's womb, Jesus was born on December 25. The anonymous author of the work De Pascha Computus, likely written in the 3rd century, and attributed to Cyprian, too speculated the world was created on March 25th.

For the symbolic significance of the census taking placing during the days of the Incarnation, and that it was not a coincidence, the sacred hymnographer writes: "When it was time for Your coming to earth, the first imperial taxation was held, but You also took a census, O Lord, recording the names of all men who believed in Your birth. You used the decree of Caesar for Your own end: to make manifest Your timeless and eternal Kingdom. Therefore we pay You our taxes, not with golden coins, but with the riches of Orthodox theology, O God and Savior of our souls."38 It was thus according to the economy of the Holy Trinity, and not a "coincidence" or as a replacement of a pagan feat that these sacred events took place.

Notes:

34. "On the Day of the Birth" 5, PG 49, 358.

35. Ibid. 2, PG 49, 353. "Καί τοῖς ἀρχαίοις τοῖς δημοσίᾳ κειμένοις κώδιξιν ἐπί τῆς Ῥώμης ἔξεστιν ἐντυχόντα καί τόν καιρόν τῆς ἀπογραφῆς μαθόντα, ἀκριβῶς εἰδέναι τόν βουλόμενον [...] Ἀλλ' ἄκουε, καί μή ἀπίστει, ὅτι παρά τῶν ἀκριβῶς ταῦτα εἰδότων, καί τήν πόλιν ἐκείνην οἰκούντων παρειλήφαμεν τήν ἡμέραν. Οἱ γάρ ἐκεῖ διατρίβοντες, ἄνωθεν καί ἐκ παλαιᾶς παραδόσεως αὐτήν ἐπιτελοῦντες, αὐτοί νῦν αὐτῆς ἡμῖν τήν γνῶσιν διεπέμψαντο."

36. Ibid. 3, PG 49, 354.

37. ΙΩ. ΦΟΥΝΤΟΥΛΗΣ, "Τά ἰουδαϊκά καί ἑλληνορωμαϊκά ἡμερολόγια καί οἱ χριστιανικές ἑορτές", Χριστιανική Λατρεία καί Εἰδωλολατρία (Πρακτικά ΣΤ΄ Πανελληνίου Λειτουργικοῦ Συμποσίου Στελεχῶν Ἱερῶν Μητροπόλεων), Σειρά Ποιμαντική Βιβλιοθήκη 11, Ἱερά Σύνοδος τῆς Ἐκκλησίας τῆς Ἑλλάδος-Εἰδική Συνοδική Ἐπιτροπή Λειτουργικῆς Ἀναγεννήσεως, Ἀθήνα 2005, σελ. 278ἑ.

38. Germanos the Hymnographer, Doxastikon of the Praises for Christmas.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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