Tuesday, 4 December 2012

December 2012

The Celebration of the Feast of the Nativity


The cycle starts with a fast of forty days that precedes the feast. It is called the Nativity fast or

Advent. For the faithful, it is a time to purify both soul and body to enter properly into and

partake of the great spiritual reality of Christ's Coming, much like the preparation for the fast

of the Lord's Resurrection.

The beginning of the fast on November 15 is not liturgically marked by any hymns, but five

days later, on the eve of the Feast of the Presentation of the Theotokos, we hear the first

announcement from the nine "Irmoi" of the Christmas Canon: "Christ is born, glorify Him!"

This period includes other special preparatory days announcing the approaching Nativity: St

Andrew's Day, November 30; St Nicholas Day, December 6; the Sunday of the Forefathers; and

the Sunday of the Fathers.

December 20th begins the Forefeast of the Nativity. The liturgical structure is similar to

the Holy Week preceding Pascha. The Orthodox Church sees the birth of the Son of God as the

beginning of the saving ministry which will lead Him, for the sake of man’s salvation, to the

ultimate sacrifice of the Cross.

On the eve of the Nativity, the Royal Hours are read and the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the

Great is served with Vespers. At these services the Old Testament prophecies of Christ's birth

are chanted.

The Vigil of Christmas begins with Great Compline because Vespers has already been served. At

Compline there is the singing of the Troparion and Kontakion of the feast with special hymns

glorifying the Saviour's birth. There are also the special long litanies of intercession and the

solemn blessing of the five loaves of bread together with the wheat, wine, and oil. The faithful

partake of the bread soaked in the wine and are also anointed with the oil. This part of the

festal vigil, which is done on all great feasts, is called in Slavonic the litya and in

Greek artoklasia, or the breaking of the bread.

The order of Matins is that of a great feast. Here, for the first time, the full Canon "Christ is

born," is sung while the faithful venerate the Nativity icon.

Concluding the celebration of the Nativity of Christ is the Liturgy. It begins with psalms of

glorification and praise instead of the three normal Antiphons. The troparion and kontakion

mark the entrance with the Book of the Gospels. The baptismal line from Galatians 3:27 once

again replaces the Thrice-Holy. The Epistle reading is from Galatians 4:4-7, the Gospel reading

is the familiar Christmas story from Matthew (2:1-12), and then the liturgy continues in the

normal fashion.