Some 40 or 50 years ago here in America, people decorated their Christmas trees on Christmas Eve. Slowly, through the influence of merchants and media, we started to put up our decorations and trees earlier and earlier each year. As a result, we take them down earlier and earlier, not waiting for the Theophany observances of January 5-7 [January 18-20], which are specifically part of the 12-day cycle beginning on Christmas.
The Advent Season, which began for us on November 15/28, is a time for anticipating the “Good News” of the Lord’s Birth. As with all things in life, Scripture reminds us that we must be careful of being “in the world, but not of the world”. This is especially true of the celebration of Christmas. Many lament that the stores are decorated for Christmas from the end of October – an example of the over-stressing and “early-stressing” of this great Christian Holy Day. But what do we do in our homes? I have noticed that on the Friday and Saturday after Thanksgiving, people begin to put up their decorations and turn on their Christmas lights and trees.
Our Orthodox Advent tradition gives us some guidelines of which many of us perhaps are not aware. Within this 40-day preparation period, a slow progression of events and remembrances unfolds. This is seen in the general attitude, hymnology, prayers, and fasting practices which begin to intensify on the Feast of St. Nicholas (December 6/19), and progress through the feasts of St. Spyridon (December 12/25), St. Daniel (December 17/30) and St. Ignatios (December 20/Jan-uary 2). The latter is specifically called “the day of preparation”. What do you think this tells us?
The Fast of the Nativity is the Church's wise solace and aid to human infirmity. We are a forgetful people, but our forgetfulness is not unknown to God; and our hearts with all their misconceptions and weakened understandings are not unfamiliar to the Holy Spirit who guides and sustains this Church. We who fall far from God through the magnitude of our sin, are called nonetheless to be close to Him. We who run afar off are called to return. Through the fast that precedes the great Feast of the Incarnation -- which itself is the the heart and substance of our calling -- the Church helps draw us into the full mystery of what that call entails.
Like Great Lent, the fast of the Nativity is a journey. 'Come, O ye faithful, and let us behold where Christ is born. Let us join the Magi, kings from the east, and follow the guiding star' (Sessional Hymn of the Nativity Matins). Let us 'join the Magi', let us 'follow' and 'behold'. On the fifteenth of November, the Church joins together in a journey toward that salvation first promised to Adam in God's curse laid upon the serpent (Gen 3.14-15). The One who will crush the head of the serpent, of sin and the devil and all that is counter to the life God offers, is Him to whom the star leads us. The fast of the Nativity is our journey into the new and marvellous life of the Holy Trinity, which is offered by God but which we must approach of our own volition. In this act, we are joined to the story of our fathers. The gift of a new land and great blessings was freely given by God to Abraham, but in order to obtain it, 'Abram went, as the Lord had told
Today’s theme is very important and serious, and not always easy to understand: Why does God allow evil if He is goodness and love? Why, if God has created everything so excellently, as He said, “very good”, does evil exist in the world? Why doesn’t God straighten it all out? And in general, where does evil come from in man; where does envy, anger, vengefulness, and hatred come from in us? In the third chapter of Genesis we will find something written about this.
Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden? And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die. And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. (Gen. 3:1-5).
But before we comment on these verses we have to remember the following: In the book of the prophet Ezekiel, chapter 28, the causes of the origin of evil as such are discussed. There it says that before evil infiltrated the earth, the conflict erupted in Heaven. And as is written about this in other books of Holy Scripture, for example, the Book of Revelation, the devil—satan (and “satanos” is translated as “adversary”) was the first to fall from God, and a third of the angels, who were trusting and who did not ye