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December 17, 2013

The Celebration of Christmas (1 of 5)

By Michael Mavroforakis and Agapios Matsagouras

1. The Meaning of Christmas

Christmas is a Theophany - a manifestation of God. The Apostle Paul, in his First Epistle to Timothy, writes: "God was manifested in the flesh" (3:16). And how was God manifested in the flesh, having been born as a man? For He was a man like us, of flesh and blood. As Hebrews 2:14 says: "He shared in flesh and blood."

Christmas is the day our Holy Orthodox Church celebrates the birth in the flesh of the Son of God by the Most-Holy Theotokos in a cave of Bethlehem of Judea in the time Caesar Augustus. Our ecclesiastical history begins from that point. The manifestation of God in the flesh, this birth of God as man, is a very important event because this, with exception to the Annunciation to the Virgin Mary which precedes this, essentially marks the beginning of the salvific economy and the events that led man to redemption from sin and the ability to be resurrected and deified. Naturally, of course, if there was no mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God, there would not have been the salvific Passion which was followed by the Resurrection by which the entire human race was resurrected from death and the fall of sin.

But why is it a feast, and why is it celebrated? In the Orthodox Church of Christ, which is the Body of the Incarnate God, there is not an essential difference between an ecclesiastical feast and an event which the Church celebrates in her divine services. For a providential and salvific event, which according to the Divine Economy of the Salvation of the World happened at a given historical moment, happened in such a manner and with such a purpose so that it can remain afterwards for always. In other words, it happened in such a way, so that it can become liturgical, which means salvific for man, consistently persisting within all of ecclesiastical history on earth, until the Second Coming and throughout all of eternity. And this liturgical salvation of man transfers and extends divine events in our lives on this earth, and are truly the life of the Church, and the festal calendar of the Church is in actually our liturgy. It is the liturgy of the living God which enlivens us and saves us.

All the events of the Gospels and New Testament are events of salvation, and are summarized in the Gospel, which is the good news of the incarnation of God, the incarnation of Christ. God manifested in the flesh, God the Word received a body, and became man. And it is precisely this Divine-human event which we celebrate on Christmas. This event is the birth in the flesh of Jesus Christ as man. And this is why our Orthodox Christian feast of Christmas is an event. For every Orthodox ecclesiastical feast, especially Christmas, is for us Orthodox, our liturgical and eucharistic sharing and communion, and it establishes us in the mysterious yet real event of the Incarnation of the Savior Jesus Christ, "for us and for our salvation", as the Church says. "For today is born the Savior, Who is Christ the Lord, in the city of David."

Translated by John Sanidopoulos.