December 15, 2014

St. Nikodemos Explains How We Came to Celebrate Christmas on December 25th


On the 15th of December we Commemorate
the Ordination of Saint John Chrysostom.

We must know that on the fifteenth of the month of December, the divine John Chrysostom was ordained Patriarch of Constantinople, when the feast of Christ's Nativity began to be celebrated by him. Because at that time information had come from the West, and in time the feast followed. Wherefore an apologetic discourse was proclaimed by him which is most beautiful and most beneficial.

Note by St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite:

We note here that the discourse in which the divine Chrysostom refers to the feast of the Nativity of Christ, was not proclaimed by him on this day, as stated here by the Synaxaristes, but rather on the day of Christ's Nativity [December 25th]. He begins by saying: "That which, long ago, the Patriarchs travailed with, the Prophets foretold, and the Righteous desired to see, has come to pass, and received its completion today." This discourse is found in the fifth volume of the Eton edition. There the Saint says the following regarding the Nativity of Christ: "Although it is not yet the tenth year, from when this day has become clear and well known to us, but nevertheless it has flourished through your zeal, as if delivered to us from the beginning and many years ago." And also: "We have received the day [the 25th of December] from those who know these things accurately and who dwell in that city [Rome]. For the ones living there, having observed it from the beginning and from ancient tradition, now have themselves transmitted that knowledge of it to us."

It appears that among some, as well as in the city of Antioch, the homeland of Chrysostom, the day of the Nativity of Christ was not celebrated on the twenty-fifth of December, nor universally among all the Churches of Christians. My words are affirmed by the polymath Dositheos of Jerusalem, who writes on page 1221 of his Dodekavivlon that Archbishop John of Nicaea wrote to the Catholicos of Armenia, saying that James the Brother of God did not censure this: that the feast of the Nativity of Christ took place on the twenty-fifth of December. And because some celebrated the two feasts of the Nativity and Baptism of Christ on one day, for this reason Cyril of Jerusalem wrote to Pope Julius on this matter. Julius studied the royal statements, and he found Josephus saying that in the seventh month during the feast of Tabernacles on the day of Atonement (which was on the tenth of that month), as dictated by the Law: "This shall be a permanent statute for you: in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall humble your souls and not do any work, whether the native, or the foreigner who sojourns among you; for it is on this day that atonement shall be made for you to cleanse you; you will be clean from all your sins before the Lord" (Lev. 16:29). It was then that Zechariah saw the Angel and was made mute, and John was conceived on the twenty-third of September, and six months later, on the twenty-fifth of March, the Theotokos was announced about the Lord. Therefore she gave birth to Him on the twenty-fifth of December. Hence he informed the East about this matter. For this reason Basil the Great delivered his laudatory discourse on the Nativity of Christ on the twenty-fifth of December. And Gregory the Theologian proclaimed this in Constantinople. Emperor Honorius of Rome also showed his brother Arcadius in Constantinople that the Romans with much splendor celebrated the Nativity of Christ on the twenty-fifth of December. Anastasios the Roman, Theophilos of Alexandria and John of Jerusalem also celebrated it thus. But the sacred Augustine also, in Book 4, Chapter 5 of On the Holy Trinity, affirms that the Lord was born on the twenty-fifth of December, as well as the Ekatontaetiris of Eugenios Voulgaris.

The above mentioned John of Nicaea says that Chrysostom wrote Saint Isaac the Catholicos of Armenia about the day of the Nativity of Christ (that it is celebrated on the twenty-fifth of December, as stated in the above discourse). Because Isaac went to the Patriarch who had been exiled (for some accusation), for this reason he did not answer Chrysostom. Here Dositheos says that Chrysostom was a Priest when he wrote the above panegyric discourse on the Nativity of Christ. From what has been said, therefore, it has become clear that even before Chrysostom, the Nativity of Christ was celebrated on the twenty-fifth of December not only by the Romans in the West, but also in the East.

From The Synaxarion of the Twelve Months of the Year. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.