Saturday, January 7, 2017 Orthodox Christmas
Genesis, Chapter 21, Verse 14-18
14 Early the next morning Abraham got some bread and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar. Then, placing the child on her back, he sent her away. As she roamed aimlessly in the wilderness of Beer-sheba, 15 the water in the skin was used up. So she put the child down under one of the bushes, 16 and then went and sat down opposite him, about a bowshot away; for she said to herself, “I cannot watch the child die.” As she sat opposite him, she wept aloud. 17 God heard the boy’s voice, and God’s angel called to Hagar from heaven: “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not fear; God has heard the boy’s voice in this plight of his. 18 Get up, lift up the boy and hold him by the hand; for I will make of him a great nation.”
Hagar was the servant of Sarah. Hagar was also the mother of Abraham’s firstborn illegitimate son Ishmael. The situation here was horrendous, due to Sarah’s practical nature; she gave her slave to Abraham to raise as a son to give his inheritance, too. According to Islamic sources it was Ishmael that Abraham tried to offer as a sacrifice to God at the Dome of the rock in Jerusalem. A war ensued between the mother of Ishmael and the mother of Isaac. Now that Sarah had her own son--Hagar and her son was a threat to Sarah and Sarah wanted her and her son dead. Fear is the root of the evil between Sarah and Hagar. Sarah and Hagar feared the loss of life and property for their son’s; and unfortunately this in-house squabble continues today with the descendants of Abraham (The Jews and the Arabs). Here we see God sends his angel to pronounce to Hagar, dying of thirst and having to watch her son die of thirst, to not be afraid. Legend has it that the angel produced life giving water for Hagar and Ishmael and the courage to continue. Blood feuds are the worst and are usually caused by fear which leads to puffed up pride and envy. Pride and envy are a slow poison to avoid. Today would be a good day to reflect if we have given in to this type of poison.
The Three Kings
The Gospel of Matthew mentions only that several Magi -- respected priestly scholars from Persia and other neighboring countries -- came to worship the Christ Child from the East. Tradition, however, has added a few details: that there were three of them, that they were kings, and that their names were Gaspar, Melchior, and Baltasar. Devotion to the three kings is a marked feature of Epiphany and was traditionally encouraged in a number of ways. From Christmas onward, for example, the figurines of the Magi, which had been kept a distance from the crèche, were brought closer and closer until it reached the crèche on Twelfth-night. Another traditional observance was the solemn blessing of a home on the Feast of the Epiphany, after which the initials of the Magi would be written on the frame of the door, together with the year and several crosses that connected all of the letters and numbers. There is even a special blessing for the chalk in the Roman ritual.
Well if you have not got enough of the Christmas Season you can always celebrate with the Orthodox Catholics.
Some Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas on December 25th, but others mark the birth of Jesus on a variety of dates including January 7th and January 19th. It depends on which calendar the particular church follows - while western Christendom has adopted the Gregorian calendar, some Orthodox churches use the older Julian calendar to calculate the dates for holy feast days. December 25th on the original Julian calendar falls on January 7th of our calendar. Most Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas on this date; however some churches, including Armenian orthodox Christians use the revised Julian calendar and their Christmas falls on January 19th of our calendar. While Christmas is a very important religious celebration for Orthodox Christians, it falls second to Easter which they consider to be the most important date in the religious calendar.
Religious Observance of Orthodox Christmas
Most believers in the Eastern Orthodox Church prepare for Christmas with 40 days of fasting, continuing right up until late on Christmas Eve Jan 6th.
· Traditionally, when the first star appears on Christmas Eve Eastern Orthodox Christians will break their fast with a celebratory meal.
· Also on Christmas Eve, traditionally Orthodox Christians will cut a branch from a tree and bring it into their home, as a symbol that Jesus is entering their house and their hearts.
· A prayer and blessing will be said before the Christmas Eve feast begins, and the head of the family will greet each person present with the traditional Christmas greeting of 'Christ is born' to which the response is 'Glorify him!'. Then the bread will be torn by hand and shared with all present. Some families will have straw scattered around the table, as a reminder of Jesus's birth in the manger.
· On Christmas Day, Orthodox Christians will attend Divine Liturgy, which will usually be a little longer than usual due to being an exceptional religious holiday. It is traditional to light candles in honor of Jesus, as light of the world.
· Afterwards people walk in procession to a sea, lake or river. The water will be blessed as part of an outdoor ceremony, and some people will take the blessed water back to their homes.
Let us pray that all leaders will use their power in service to Christ and that they use their powers for the good of mankind.
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