Christmas Greetings from the Orthodox Initiative
In addition to the abundant joy of this season, we invite you to explore our recent work, highlighted here in our Christmas distribution at St Ephraim’s Syriac Orthodox Church.
Christmas is a time when we celebrate ancient customs, regardless of which Christian tradition one belongs to. At this time of year, we remember the journey that Mary & Joseph encountered before delivering the holy child, as well as the overwhelming joy which followed. The memory of their struggle to find a place to sleep is particularly poignant given the homelessness that so many refugees are experiencing in Jordan this year. We sympathize with the struggle that the Holy family encountered and fervently hope that joy will be restored to the lives of people displaced by war.
In the Orthodox Church, Advent consists of forty days of contemplating the birth of Jesus Christ. It features many traditional feasts & fasts. From November 15th until December 24th (Nov. 28th –Jan. 6th in the old calendar), Orthodox Christians observe a penitential period when they avoid rich foods and meats, similar to the forty days of Lent which precede Easter.
The fast is not a quest for atonement, but an expression of devotion and love. This fasting period is interrupted occasionally by Feasts, including one of the twelve Great Dominical Feasts: the Presentation of the Theotokos, when Mary, then a young child, was offered to God’s service by her parents Anna & Joachim. This day is referred to as the Entry of the Most Holy Theotokos into the Temple, or the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Mary is believed to have spent nine years in the Temple preparing for her role as the Mother of God. We view her period of preparation as inspiration for our own reflection on the season.
In addition to recognizing Mary’s preparation, Christmas is a time when we also celebrate several Feast Days of the Prophets, namely Obadiah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Sophonias (Zephaniah), Hannah, Haggai. The Orthodox Calendar recognizes these prophets at this time of year because of their roles in foretelling the coming of the Lord.
The Orthodox Church is founded in traditions which have been cultivated over thousands of years. These traditions are retained to help Christians worship and grow stronger in their faith. Yet this history should not be a barricade to the true meaning of Christmas, the meaning that applies as profoundly today as it did two thousand years ago. Our Patriarch Theophilus III reminds us that Christ’s birth is not just historical but symbolic: “Christ was born for each of us.” The birth of the Holy Child not only changed the course of history but gave us access to the ultimate gift of eternal life.
Therefore, in this holy season, we join Christians in the Holy Lands and around the world in celebrating the greatest blessing we have been granted: Christ’s birth, realized for you.
The Orthodox Initiative
[The Orthodox Initiative is a Global Ministries’ partner, a program of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem.]