December 30, 2012

The Sunday After the Nativity of Christ

By Sergei V. Bulgakov

On the present Sunday after the Nativity of Christ the Holy Church commemorates St. Joseph the Betrothed and the protector of the virginity of the Most Holy Theotokos, and together with him is also commemorated his flight with the All-holy Virgin and newborn Child Jesus into Egypt (Mt. 2:13). The Holy King and Prophet David is commemorated on the present day as the ancestor of ancestors of the Lord Jesus in the flesh, and St. James, the brother of the Lord, because according to tradition he took part in travel with the holy family to Egypt.

The Holy righteous elder Joseph came from the royal line of David (Mt. 1:6; Lk. 1:27). The holy Evangelist calls him "righteous" (Mt. 1:18), and this name, according to the remarks St. John Chrysostom, demonstrates that the betrothed of the Most Holy Virgin "had all virtues". He lived in Nazareth and earned his living by working with his hands, being a woodworker, i.e. carpenter. As the man was strictly god-fearing, quite honorable, quiet, meek, humble, modest, sincere, peace loving, attentive to the voice of his conscience and to the announcements from above, Joseph was quite worthy of the great honor of living as the nearest spectator of the fulfillment of the "great mystery of godliness" (1 Tim. 3:16). He was already an eighty year old man and, according to the witness of St. Epiphanius, already "lived many years as a widower", when he was taken by his selection of the Providence of God to be the protector of the virginity of the Most Holy Virgin Mary. In the opinion of some, St. Joseph died soon after his visit to Jerusalem with the twelve-year-old Jesus Christ (Luke 2:41-52), as he is not mentioned in the Gospels after that. 

The Holy King David came from simple stock, and was the youngest son of Jesse, from the root of Judah, and was engaged in shepherding sheep, but he was distinguished by a rare mind, great courage, unshakable patience, great meekness, with a touching tenderness of heart, strict godliness, had a deep faith in God and truly loved Him, living with the constant feeling of the co-presence of the unseen God and complete dependence on His leadership, and he was "a man after the heart of God" (Acts 13:22), and that is why he was selected by God to the kingdom in Israel. He reigned a thousand years before the Nativity of the Savior and was the second king of the Israelites. Before his reign, when he was still a young man, he, when the strong nation of the Philistines warred against the Israelites, left, with his firm trust in the help of God, for a one on one struggle with Goliath and with a single hit with a stone struck down the Philistine giant. Glorified for this by his compatriots, the young David with unshakable patience, meekness, and magnanimity had endured various attacks and the evil intentions of Saul. Having become the king of the Israelites, David conducted various wars with the neighboring peoples, conquered them, and in his reign had extended the limits of the kingdom to a rather significant degree. He made Jerusalem the capitol of the state. He transferred the ark of the covenant there and resolutely was going to construct a permanent magnificent temple to the Lord to house the ark; but rather the will of God was declared to him, that he would not construct the temple, but that it would be his son (Solomon), that David only prepared all that was necessary for the building of the temple and entrusted to his son his intention and desire to carry out its fulfillment. He did many things for the glory of God and for the piety of the people. He led the divine services in the tabernacle in distinct order: he determined the number and order of the servers, he started a choir with many members of singers and he himself inspired by the Spirit of God composed many "psalms", or hymns for use in the Divine Services. For his piety and righteousness he earned such love and mercy from God that God confirmed to him all the promises given to Abraham. He promised him the sureness of his throne, the blessing and multiplication of his posterity and announced to him that from his posterity will be born the Deliverer of the world (Psalm 71:17; 88:29,36; Mt. 1:1, 20:31, 21:9; Lk. 1:32,33). Although, the deeply edifying life of King David was also darkened, due to the frailty of human nature, it was a heavy downfall (2 Kings 11), but also in this downfall he taught us the greatest example of repentant contrition and firm faith in God (see Psalm 50), which gave him the opportunity and power to throw off from himself the burden of sinfulness and raise himself up for a new spiritual life. The living and indestructible faith in God was the distinctive trait of King David. This faith gave him the opportunity to forcefully deflect all of Saul's animosity against him, to sustain the shock of various kinds of misfortunes of his multitested life, to deeply repent the union with sin, to humbly turn himself over to the watchful hand of God, to patiently endure all the punishments for this sin, to rise up higher after his downfall, rather than to where he was, and exhibit in himself a high example of penance, meekness, patience, hope and piety. And "the Lord took away David's sins, and exalted his horn forever, and He gave him a royal covenant, and a throne of glory in Israel" (Sir. 47:11). Being the greatest king of the Israelites, a fearless leader, a skilful governor, a high guide and a holy man, St. David was at the same time an inimitable poet and inspired prophet. He was the originator of psalm singing, and his psalms, in which he with inspiration poured out feelings of faith and hope in God, gratitude and doxology, joy and grief, exaltation and repentant contrition, with the power and tenderness of expressions, with the highest and burning religious feeling, nothing like it exists in the books of the Old Testament. The Book of Psalms of Holy King David serves as an inexhaustible treasury of the best examples of prayers, supplications, petitions, thanksgiving to God, the healing consolations for suffering souls, for those living in poverty, for those consumed with passions, and for the down-trodden. As a God-inspired prophet (Acts 2:30), the Holy King David in his psalms proclaimed many clear and strong prophecies about Jesus Christ (see Psalms 2:2; 40:10; 21:1, 8, 9, 15, 17, 18, 22; 62:22; 87:15, 10).

One of the Seventy, in the opinion of the majority of the holy fathers of the Church, especially the Eastern, St. James was the son of St. Joseph the Betrothed, and needs to be distinguished from James, son of Zebedee (Apr. 30) and James, son of Alpheus (Oct. 9). As his father Joseph is called the father of Jesus Christ, and thus he is called "the brother of the Lord in the flesh" (Gal. 1:19), and in this sense even the All-Holy Virgin Mary may be called his mother (Mt. 13:55; Mk. 6:3). According to tradition, he accompanied the All-Holy Theotokos when she with the Baby Jesus and Joseph fled to Egypt from the wrath of Herod. After the resurrection of Jesus Christ, he was worthy of the special appearance of the Lord (1 Cor. 15:7).

If the Sunday after the Nativity of Christ falls between December 26 and December 31, its services are served on these days. If it falls on January 1 then it is served on December 26.

Apolytikion in the Second Tone
O Joseph, proclaim to David, Ancestor of God, the wonders. You have seen the Virgin with child, you have glorified with the shepherds, and you have worshiped with the Magi, and an angel appeared to you: Pray to Christ God to save our souls.

Kontakion in the Third Tone
Today David is filled with divine gladness, Joseph and James offer praise. For they rejoice in the crown of relationship with Christ, and they hymn the One who is unspeakably born on earth and cry out: O Merciful One, save those who honor Thee.