Orthodox Thought for the Day


Monday, December 31, 2012

St. Basil speaks about possessions

The bread you store up belongs to the hungry; the cloak that lies in your chest belongs to the naked; the gold you have hidden in the ground belongs to the poor. 

St. Basil the Great
(compilation by Pres. Candace
for a Junior Sunday School class)
St Basil was born in Cappadocia, which is in Asia Minor (modern day Turkey), in 329 AD. His whole family was devout and God-loving. His grandfather was martyred for not denying his faith in Jesus Christ; he was torn apart by hungry lions. His grandmother Macrina told Basil and his brothers and sisters this story of courage and faith in order to strengthen their own Christian faith.

St Basil's parents were called Basil and Emmelia, they had six children.  This was a most blessed family because both parents and all of the children became Saints in the Orthodox Church.

St Macrina was the oldest child, three of the boys became bishops. St. Basil became Bishop of Caesarea, St Gregory became Bishop of Nyssa and St Peter became Bishop of Sebaste. Basil's family had a good position in society, they had plenty of property and were wealthy.

Basil grew up and went to university, he studied Greek Literature, rhetoric (the art of speaking or writing well) and philosophy. He combined the ancient Greek spirit with his Orthodox Christian Faith. St. Basil is celebrated along with St. John Chrysostom and St. Gregory the Theologian as Saints of Education on 30 January.

St. Basil was tall, thin and had a long beard. He ate no more than was absolutely necessary for his survival; his food was poor and simple.  He chose never to eat meat.  He had just a couple pieces of clothing which were well worn, this again, being his choice.  St. Basil believed that we should be in control of ourselves at all times and have a blessed life of prayer. He said that we should season our daily work with the singing of spiritual songs (hymns) the same way that we season our food with salt when we cook.  He said that the sacred songs can only lift us up and give us joy and not sadness. Basil loved all people and devoted his life to helping all those in need; he was also a fighter for God's Truth. At the age of 28, St. Basil became a monk; at 35, he was ordained a priest and at 41, he was made Bishop of Caesarea.

Philanthropist is a Greek word meaning “friend of people” (philo + anthropos). St. Basil had great wealth but this did not interest him. Instead, he sold all his possessions and used the money to build orphanages, hospitals, homes for the aged, schools and monasteries. Our church has an organization named in honor of St. Basil—do you know what it is called?  It is called “Philoptochos,” and it means “friend of the poor,” (philo + ptochos).  

St. Basil was full of love and compassion for others—he was known to plead for mercy and forgiveness from the emperor on behalf of those in trouble or for those who had made mistakes. Another time, after an earthquake, he worked for days without sleep to dig through rubble with his own hands to save those who were trapped; he helped the injured and urged everyone to share their food with those who had none. St. Basil stood by the people and encouraged them throughout the catastrophe; he planted food in new areas and helped prevent the starvation of the people. After these things, St. Basil was made Bishop of Caesarea.

St Basil was responsible for starting monasteries where groups of monks live, work, worship, pray and dedicate their lives to God together. Up until that time, many monks lived as hermits (on their own) and not in communities. St. Basil devised strict rules for monks to follow, in order to live with each other and serve God properly. 

St Basil was not worried about offending anyone when it came to saying or doing what was right. His views often clashed with that of the emperor. One time, the emperor sent his prefect Modestus, with orders to make St. Basil support the false belief of Arius (also known as the Arian heresy) or resign from the Church. St. Basil refused to obey. Modestus threatened him and told St. Basil that he should fear him because he had the power to do anything he liked to him. Modestos told St. Basil that he could take his possessions, exile him, torture him and put him to death. St Basil said that these things did not trouble him. He said, "take my possessions, I have none except for the worn clothing I wear. Exile me, for wherever I go I am at home as all of the earth belongs to God. Torture me, I am already ill and weak and will not last long to be tortured. Kill me? I welcome death as it will bring me to God much sooner." Modestus was stunned by St Basil's answers and said that no bishop had ever spoken like this to him. St Basil replied that perhaps he had never met a real bishop before.

A saint's feast day is on the day he or she dies and goes to be with God—St. Basil died on January 1, 379. We remember and celebrate his memory on that day.

On January 1, we remember St. Basil’s day with vasilopita, a sweet bread dedicated to St. Basil.  It has a coin baked inside.  Why?

The Emperor Julian the Apostate (what is an apostate—do you know?)  It is someone who once followed the Orthodox Christian Faith and has turned away from it.  The Emperor Julian was once a schoolmate of St. Basil’s in Athens and they had studied the same things—even the Holy Scriptures.  However, instead of staying close to his Christian Faith, Julian turned away from it and his heart became cold and ugly toward God and the Christians.

Emperor Julian had a very high opinion of himself (that is called “pride”) and he marched off to war against the Persians with his troops with a plan to conquer both lands and people.  He sent a letter to St. Basil who was Archbishop of Caesarea at that time.  Although Julian and St. Basil knew each other for years, St. Basil did say the Julian was an unfit emperor and for good reason.  The Emperor’s letter stated that he required that St. Basil deliver one thousand pounds of gold to him by messenger.  He threatened that if he did not do this, Julian would destroy all the buildings of Caesarea and in their place, erect temples and statues of Roman gods in their place to humble the people and exalt himself.  Julian then closed his letter saying, “I have learned to know and condemn that which I once read,” in other words, he told St. Basil he rejected the Christian Faith he once received.

St. Basil did not waste time in writing back to Emperor Julian saying that his actions and words were shameful and that he disgraced the empire by his words and threats that sounded high and mighty but were actually the work of demons—in that Julian would insult the Church and lift himself up against God.  He went on to say how badly he felt for the ruin of Julian’s soul after they had studied the Holy Scriptures together and for the choices Julian was making.  He commented that if Julian had understood what he read, he never would have condemned it.

St. Basil went on to mention that he lived in poverty and that Julian was aware of it.  Nevertheless, St. Basil put together an offering for the Emperor from what he had—three barley loaves which would have been St. Basil’s food.  Julian accepted the gift, but in return, he gave St. Basil an insulting gift—grass from a pasture.

St. Basil responded by saying that he gave a gift from among the best he had to eat—from his own table and Julian had done the same.  This response, of course, angered Emperor Julian very much. 

Julian then threatened, “When I return from Persia, I will indeed burn down your city and take prisoner the foolish people there who have been led astray by you because you dishonor the gods (idols) whom I worship and you, too, shall receive a just reward!”

After returning to the city, St. Basil called the people to himself.  He told them about the emperor’s threats and counseled them saying, “Don’t grieve, fellow Christians, but consider what money you need to live on and bring whatever excess you have that we might gather it all together in one place.  Then, when we hear the emperor is returning, we shall cast heaps of money onto the road, that when he sees all the treasure, as the lover of money that he is, he will accept the offering and not follow through on his plan.”

Therefore, the Christians brought together a great deal of wealth, gold, silver and precious stones.  The items were placed under the care of the Church.

When St. Basil learned the Julian and the army were on their way back from war, he called together the multitude of Christians from Caesarea and commanded them to keep a three day fast.  Afterwards, he and the faithful went to the summit of the mountain called Didymos, to the Church of the Most Holy Theotokos.  There they prayed together that the will of the emperor would be changed and that the people might remain safe.

During that time, St. Basil received a heavenly vision.  He saw hosts of heaven (angels) encircling the mountain where they were praying.  He also saw a woman enthroned with great glory.  She said to the angels standing by, “Call Mercurios to me so that he might go and slay Julian the enemy of my Son.”  Who was the woman?  The Holy Theotokos, of course!  St. Basil then saw the holy Great Martyr Mercurios come and take up his weapons and leave. 

After this vision, St. Basil left the mountain with some of the clergy and went back into the city where the church of the holy Great Martyr Mercurios was.  Within that church were the relics (bones) of St. Mercurios and his weapons which were venerated or honored by the Christians.  One hundred years had passed since St. Mercurios’ martyrdom in Caesarea.  Upon entering the church, St. Basil could not find the Saint’s relics nor weapons.  He asked the keeper of the church’s vessels and he knew nothing about what had happened.  The Saint then realized that the vision he had seen was true and on that same night, June 26, 363, the ungodly apostate emperor was slain.  Saint Basil then returned to the mountain and announced, “Rejoice and be glad today, Christians!  Our prayers have been heard, a fitting punishment has come upon the ungodly emperor.  Let us offer thanks to God and go into the city, that each may receive back his money.” 

When the Christians heard this, they cried with one voice, “We thought to give the money to the ungodly emperor in exchange for our lives.  Now, shouldn’t we offer these gifts to the King of heaven and earth who granted us our lives?”  Now, St. Basil praised their eagerness.  He determined, however, that each should receive back one-third of their contribution.  The remainder of the money went to help the poor.

Regarding the portion of wealth that was returned, St. Basil had one-third of the treasure baked into large loaves of sweet bread, which were cut and shared among the people.  That is why we make Vasilopita (St. Basil’s bread) each year on January 1 and a coin is baked inside to remind us of St. Basil and what happened to the people of Caesarea in the four century.  The bread is blessed, the first piece cut is for our Lord, the second for the Theotokos and then for the poor and then to each member of the family.  If the coin is in the piece for the Lord or the Theotokos, it is given to the church.  If it is in the piece for the poor, give it to your church Philoptochos group. 

There are other episodes in St. Basil’s life that we could recount, but this will have to do for now.     

What do you think made St. Basil so great? Very few people in history have been given the title of "Great". Alexander the Great was so called because he conquered the world of his time. But St. Basil was called "Great" because he conquered (won over) the hearts and souls of men for Jesus Christ. He dedicated his life and all he had to fully loving and serving God and God honored him greatly because of it and countless numbers of people benefited from St. Basil’s love and generosity. 

St Basil, pray that we too may be unattached to personal things (possessions), become humble, compassionate, and loving toward others and burn with love for God.  Let us also be courageous in defending the One, True, Orthodox Christian Faith like you did. St. Basil, pray to God for us! 

New Year's blessings to all!

Enjoy some light-hearted singing (Greek kalanda) for the New Year 2013.  The first video will make any Greek break into a smile: 
(icon courtesy of Uncut Mountain Supply)
Found on Matushka Constantina's blog (Lessons from a Monastery), an English translation of the carol for St. Basil translated by Holy Protection Monastery in Rhodes:
St. Basil comes and passes by
He overlooks us, I know not why
He comes from Caesara Town
Mistress bring, mistress, bring, mistress, bring us something down
He carries pen and paper white
And sugar candies, sweet and bright
He brings his pen and ink for writing
You should see, you should see, you should see me in the fighting
The pen, it jumped up with one bound
And on the paper scribbled round
And then the paper started speaking
Yes, we swear, yes, we swear that the paper started speaking
The paper said, “Tis New Year’s Eve!
Oh, Mistress fair, I beg your leave;
Joy be your lot the whole year round
May your house, may your house, may your house be holy ground!”
“The New Year follows on Christ’s birth
So holy Christ who walks the earth
May bless you, every girl and boy
And fill all, and fill all—and fill all your hearts with joy!”

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Commemorating the 14,000 Holy Innocents slain by Herod in Bethlehem

"The second commandment of the teaching: You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not seduce boys. You shall not commit fornication. You shall not steal. You shall not practice magic. You shall not use potions. You shall not procure [an] abortion, nor destroy a newborn child," (Didache 2:1–2 [A.D. 70]).

The Massacre of the 14,000 Holy Innocent Infants

Commemorated by the Holy Church on 29 December

"Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremias the prophet, saying, 'In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted because they are not!" (Mt. 2:17-18; Jer. 31:15, KJV)

by Archimandrite Nektarios Serfes in Boise, Idaho

article first appeared in December, 2000

Beloved friends in Christ our Lord,

Christ is Born!

Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints!

Humbly by the grace and the joy of our Lord's Holy Nativity, I greet you with His joy and peace each one of you. Nothing has been so joyfully proclaimed then the birth of our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ! For it is Christ our true God that we live and are spiritually comforted.

The holiness of our Lord's Great Nativity can be a means for us all to look at our own spiritual lives, and ask ourselves the vital question: what kind of a true Christian life are we living at this time?

Seeing that we are Orthodox Christians by Baptism, let us fulfill the grace that has been poured out upon us every day of our lives remembering that each and every one of us are indeed precious in the sight of our Lord. And, as we are precious in Christ our Lord, so, too, are those who are with child, and those who are about to give birth.

How precious is the child within the womb of a mother who spiritually prepares herself for the birth, who knows that the birth will be blessed within our Holy Orthodox Church as is the custom after forty days. Both the mother and the new-born child are brought to the Holy Orthodox Church, and prayers are read over both of them on their entrance into the Holy Church. After this entrance, the days ahead are a time of preparation for the Holy Baptism of the newly-born child, a child so precious to our Lord God, and to the Holy Orthodox Christian community, that a Godfather and Godmother are provided to be the witnesses of this Holy Baptism, and to help assist in teaching the child the Holy Orthodox Faith throughout his or her life.

Every woman who bears a child always exults in the joy of the birth, as well as in the joy of having a living mind, heart, and soul within their womb. We must realize that within the Holy Orthodox Church and its teachings there is a clear direction against abortion. This teaching is not something new in the Eastern Orthodox Church, as it evident that in the first three centuries of the early Church, the Orthodox holy Fathers spoke frequently against abortion.

The Holy Rachel wept unceasingly when King Herod had ordered his soldiers in both Bethlehem and Judea to have all the children massacred, from the newly born up to the age of two years old. Ever since this appalling, unlawful act of the massacre of the 14,000 Holy Innocent Infants, it seems that the loving Holy Rachel has not stopped weeping to this very hour, as we continue to see abortions being performed in America and in other countries around the world, often with the approval of local governments. The Orthodox Church cries out against this act of abortion. But is it not true that our ears remain often remain closed as we are afraid of the truth? We are allowing death to happen, murder, before our eyes! Death of an innocent child!

The weeping for all martyred children by Rachel has not ceased today! It seems that this holy mother and woman continues to weep! Every time we hear about another abortion Rachel weeps again!

The idea of reacting against abortion should not cause us to act in a cruel manner, like throwing stones at the places of abortion, or violently attacking those who perform abortions. This is not the way we should react as true Christians: what we need to do is to proclaim the truth that every soul created by our Lord God is precious in His sight. No child should be aborted within any society, in any place where life exists on this earth. We can only wonder how long our Lord God Himself will allow us to persist in our weakness in allowing the act of abortion to continue to take place? Let us pray, pray, and pray again for the newly-born precious children and those waiting to be born!

Let us-I humbly cry to you-commemorate this day of prayer of the Massacre of the 14,000 Holy Innocent Infants, in Bethlehem, and Judea and reflect on this day spiritually in God-loving prayer, that we are opposed to these acts of abortion continuing in this country and every place where life exists. And at the same time let us humbly weep, with Rachel, for all the innocent precious children who have been aborted. Let us piously and humbly help the Holy Rachel as she weeps for these innocent children, and at the same time realize that within the womb of the mother there is a precious spark of life that can bring us everlasting joy! Joy in Christ, and joy for us all! Speak to any father or mother who has just had a child, and see how joyful in their eyes and hearts is this precious child!

Lord, have mercy and blessings for all newly born children!

Holy Innocent Infants of Bethlehem & Judea,

Pray unto God for us!

Please visit Eastern Orthodox Prayer For A Woman With Child for more information

Holy Innocent Children,
Pray unto God for us!

 John Sanidopoulos’ web site Mystagogy explains the history of  the martyrdoms of the Holy Innocents:  http://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2011/12/14000-infants-holy-innocents-slain-by.html

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The truth of Christ's Incarnation

Believe, too, that the Only-Begotten Son of God came down from heaven to earth for our sins, taking on the passable human nature of ours, and being born of the Holy Virgin and the Holy Spirit, His incarnation taking place, not in appearance or fantasy, but in truth.  He did not pass through the Virgin as a channel, but was truly made flesh from her.  St. Cyril of Jerusalem

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Revere the Nativity of Christ




See YouTube presentation with Nativity hymns chanted by Romeiko Ensemble—enjoy!

He who sits at the right hand of the Father, goes without shelter at the inn, that He may for us prepare many mansions in the house of His Heavenly Father … He was born, not in the house of His parents, but at the inn, by the wayside, because through the Mystery of the Incarnation, He has become the Way, by which He guides us to our home.  Venerable Bede

Monday, December 24, 2012

The closing prayer to the Akathist to the Nativity of Christ

Dear Readers, 

Christ is Born!  Glorify Him!

If you live in New Zealand or Australia or surrounding islands, Christmas Day is being celebrated on the Gregorian calendar this day.  If you live in the United States, this is Christmas Eve Day for those who follow the same.  If you are following the Julian calendar, the Feast of Christ’s Holy Nativity is not far off.  For all those who love Christ anywhere in the world, whatever location or following either calendar—holy joy to each and every one during this very special season of the year!

This morning I had opportunity to open the Book of Akathists, volume II which is published by Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, New York.  The monastery publishes two volumes of akathists, all of which are beautiful and meaningful. 

The second volume has an Akathist Hymn to the Nativity of Christ which I prayed this morning.  I looked for it on the NET, wondering if it had been made available “out there,” but did not come across it.  I would encourage everyone to consider buying this volume of akathists as it is very rich in content.  One thing that impressed me was the closing prayer for the Akathist to the Nativity of Christ which follows:

Prayer to Our Lord, God and Saviour Jesus Christ

On the Day of His Holy Nativity 

O great and unapproachable God, unoriginate Father, Son Who art equally without beginning, and Spirit Who art equally eternal, Who givest being to things which were not in existence, Who savest the perishing, Who givest life to the dead, Who doest what Thou willest among the hosts of heaven and in Thine earthly habitation, and directest all according to Thy wondrous providence!  Incline Thine ear from the heights of Thy holiness, and accept from us, Thy lowly and unworthy servants, to whom Thou hast revealed Thy great salvation from misfortunes and plague, these grateful supplications, confessions and glorifications, which we offer to Thee with heart and mouth.  For Thou has not dealt with us according to our iniquities, O Lord, neither hast Thou rewarded us according to our sins.  Thou didst say of old to the children of Israel that if they would not act to keep Thy words and all Thy commandments, Thou wouldst bring against them a nation of unashamed countenance, which would assail them in their cities until the walls thereof were broken.  And we have come to realize that this dread sentence hath been directed against us and our fathers as well.  For failing to fear Thy threat and paying no heed to Thy loving-kindness, we have forsaken the path of Thy righteousness and walked in the will of our own hearts, and have made no attempt to hold Thee, the God of men’s understanding and hearts, in our mind.  Moreover, treating the traditions of our fathers as of no import, we have abandoned Thee for others.  For these reasons, grievous ill fortune overtook us, as it did the children of Israel of old, and because we paid no heed to their lessons, mindless and savage-minded foes have come against us.  But do Thou, O compassionate and merciful Lord God, Who art long-suffering, greatly merciful and true, Who maintainest justice and workest mercy among the thousands, Who takest away iniquities, injustices and sins, having abandoned us for a little time, have mercy upon us according to Thy great mercy, and having visited our unrighteousness with the rod, as a compassionate father doth his children, so do Thou spare us.  For thou hast looked down on our tribulation, and upon our entreaties which, trusting not in our own righteousness, but upon Thy many compassions, we cast at Thy feet O Lord; and Thou hast shown us the back of our ungodly adversaries, for melting away before the face of Thy Christ, Thine enemies have vanished like smoke, and those who love Thee shine forth like the rising of the sun in their power.  We have seen, O Lord, we have seen, and in us all nations have seen, that Thou art God, and there is none other besides Thee.  Thou slayest and makest to live, Thou smites and healest, and there is no one who can deliver from Thy hand.  Wherefore, our heart hath been established in our Lord, our horn hath been lifted up in our God, and we have been gladdened in Thy salvation.  We thank Thee, O Lord, that, chastising us, Thou has chastened us but a little, lest Thou give us over utterly unto death.  Grant, O Lord, that we may hold the memory of this, Thy glorious visitation, firmly and continually within us, that made steadfast in Thee by filial fear, faith and love and protected by Thy might, we may ever, as we do today, hymn and glorify Thy holy name.  Confirm Thy blessing also upon our civil authorities, that Thy good Spirit may continually rest upon them.  In our land grant holiness unto pastors, judgment and justice to those who govern, peace and tranquility to the people, efficacy to the laws and advancement to the Faith.  O Lord of all loving-kindness, extend Thy mercy unto those who know Thee; and reveal Thyself even unto those who seek Thee not; turn the hearts even of our enemies unto Thee; and make Thyself known to all nations and people in Thy true Christ:  that from the rising of the sun, even unto the setting thereof, all nations may with one heart cry out to Thee with a voice of rejoicing:  Glory to Thee, the God and Saviour of all, unto the ages of ages!  Amen. 

May each of you find peace and joy in the celebration of our Lord’s Holy Nativity this year. 

Presbytera Candace



Sunday, December 23, 2012

Anticipating Christ's Holy Nativity

Lift up your voice, O Zion, holy city of God,
Proclaim the divine memory of the Fathers.
With Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob
Honor one whose memory is eternal:
For behold, with Judah and Levi we magnify Moses the Great,
And with him the wonder-working Aaron.
With David we celebrate the memory of Joshua and Samuel,
Calling all with divine songs and praise
To the pre-feast of Christ's Nativity,
Praying that we may receive His goodness,
For it is He who grants the world great mercy.

Orthros of the Sunday before the Nativity
, Translation from "The Winter Pascha" SVS Press



Saturday, December 22, 2012

Nativity Prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian and 19 hymns for Christ's Holy Nativity in the flesh by the same


The Nativity Prayer-Hymn of St Ephraim the Syrian

The feast day of your birth resembles You, Lord
Because it brings joy to all humanity.
Old people and infants alike enjoy your day.
Your day is celebrated
from generation to generation.
Kings and emperors may pass away,
And the festivals to commemorate them soon lapse.
But your festival
will be remembered until the end of time.
Your day is a means and a pledge of peace.
At Your birth heaven and earth were reconciled,
Since you came from heaven to earth on that day
You forgave our sins and wiped away our guilt.
You gave us so many gifts on the day of your birth:
A treasure chest of spiritual medicines for the sick;
Spiritual light for the blind;
The cup of salvation for the thirsty;
The bread of life for the hungry.
In the winter when trees are bare,
You give us the most succulent spiritual fruit.
In the frost when the earth is barren,
You bring new hope to our souls.
In December when seeds are hidden in the soil,
The staff of life springs forth from the virgin womb.

- St Ephraim the Syrian (AD 306-373)

Find here the link to Nineteen Hymns of St. Isaac the Syrian on the Nativity of Jesus Christ in the flesh  http://mb-soft.com/believe/txud/ephrai66.htm

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Twelve Days of Christmas are...when?

From the web site of St. Luke the Evangelist Orthodox Church in Chicago, Illinois:

The Twelve Days of Christmas - They're When?
By Pearl Homiak


Believe it or not, December 25th is the first day of Christmas. You'd never know it, especially if you happen to be shopping anytime after Halloween. Plastic crèches, soldiers, and Santa Clauses; Christmas trees, colored and sometimes blinking lights; red ribbons, candy canes, and homes and lawns with varying degrees of lighted decorations-all begin to mushroom each year from the beginning of November, and sometimes even sooner.

I remember that when I was very young Christmas was hardly even mentioned before Thanksgiving. No one that we knew put up a Christmas tree until a few days before Christmas (December 25th; "Orthodox Christmas" took place on January 7th in those days. However, most Orthodox people decorated for Christmas on December 25th, which was celebrated as a gift-giving day. January 7th was reserved for the religious observance of Christmas). Even department stores held off until their day-after-Thanksgiving sales. Christmas parties took place after Christmas, and people sang and played recordings of Christmas carols from Christmas Eve until New Year's Day or even up to Epiphany. The Christmas season was a meaningful time back then, but what is it now?

There is a song we all know called "The Twelve Days of Christmas" that describes gift giving over a period of time-twelve days. St. Ephraim the Syrian first mentioned the period of the "twelve days," according to one source, sometime before the year 400.

The Council of Tours made it official in 597. This period of time begins at Christmas and ends at Epiphany.

The origin of the song, "The Twelve Days of Christmas," has been recently disputed. I had no idea it was more than a cute song until a friend of mine e-mailed an explanation of it to me a few years ago. According to the missive I received, the song was actually a "catechism song" used by Catholics in England during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The song was supposedly used to teach children the tenets of the faith during this period, when law forbade practicing Catholicism. As such, the song's gifts and other images have the following religious representations (compiled from various sources):

  • True love = God
  • Me = every baptized person
  • Partridge = Jesus Christ, who, like a bird, will protect God's defenseless children
  • Pear tree = the Cross, which was made from a tree.
  • 2 Turtle doves = the Old and New Testaments; also, two turtle doves were sacrificed when Jesus was first brought to the temple,
  • 3 French hens = faith, hope, and charity (sacrificial giving); also, gold, frankincense, and myrrh from the Wise Men
  • 4 Calling birds = the four Gospels and/or the four Evangelists
  • 5 Golden rings = the first five books of the Old Testament (the Pentateuch) which gives the history of man's fall from grace
  • 6 Geese a-laying = the six days of creation
  • 7 Swans a-swimming = the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit (Romans 12:6-8); also, the seven sacraments
  • 8 Maids a-milking = the eight Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-10); also, milking symbolizes Christ's love for us
  • 9 Ladies dancing = the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23)
  • 10 Lords a-leaping = the Ten Commandments
  • 11 Pipers piping = the eleven faithful Apostles
  • 12 Drummers drumming = the twelve points of the Apostles Creed; also, the twelve Apostles preaching

Recently I came across a different source of the song. It seems that several centuries ago in France children played a non-religious memory game called "The Twelve Days of Christmas." Each child recited a verse of the song. If someone missed a verse he/she had a consequence. This game was apparently first recorded in a book published in England in the late 18th century. However, the game could have been known for a long time before that. Further, the religious application of it might have been based on the French game in the first place. Who knows? And, anyway, is it really important? There is more than one way to convey the tenets of faith, and singing representative songs is one way to do it.

We still hear the song, "The Twelve Days of Christmas," but it has nothing to do with Christianity. (I haven't found any information about children today playing a game called by the same name). Sadly, many modern-day children don't know the real story of Christmas, of Christ's Nativity. For them Christmas is only a great decorating, celebrating, and present-getting time that happens to begin revving up after Halloween and reaches its high point on December 25th. (Even Thanksgiving gets minimized). After that, everything returns to "normal," except for more celebrating on New Year's Eve.

Maybe people think the "twelve days of Christmas" start on December 13th and are the most important shopping days before Christmas. To some people "the twelve days of Christmas" might even be the twelve Saturday-and-Sunday-department-store-best-sale-days between Halloween and Christmas (there really are twelve Saturdays and Sundays during this time, and don't most people shop then?).

I see nothing wrong with shopping well in advance for the sake of my personal economy and more unique and unhurried gift selection. (In fact, one year I actually got all of my Christmas shopping done before advent started. The only store I went to during advent was the grocery story, and that as rarely as I could. What a meaningful advent and Christmas I had that year!). However, the untimely pre-season decorating, the never-ending-department-store-carol-playing, and the during-advent Christmas partying are too much for me. I'm all for getting things back into perspective. We shouldn't allow ourselves to be dictated to by advertising and department store companies. Let's put the celebration of Christmas back where it belongs.

Awhile back I decided to make changes in my Christmas-related habits to refocus my celebration of Christ's Nativity. I stopped playing tapes of Christmas carols during advent. Instead, I started playing them on Christmas day. We also continued to turn the TV off during advent, something we have done for more than twenty years (except for one chaotic year).

Over the last several years I have deliberately been sending my Christmas cards after December 25th when I can truly say, "Christ is Born! Glorify Him!" It just seems to make more sense that way. While everyone else is watching TV or snoozing after Christmas dinner, I sit down after the dishes are done and write out my Christmas cards. If I send out a Christmas letter, I write it then. Within the next couple of days, I mail out my cards with joy, rather than the hurry-up-let's-get-this-over-with anxiety that plagues pre-Christmas card-senders. If I'm not home for Christmas, then I get the cards ready for mailing the next day. So if you receive a Christmas card from me shortly after Christmas, it's not late. It's right on time!

I like the idea of Christmas starting instead of ending on December 25th. We usually don't celebrate our own birthdays until the day they occur or later. So why do we, in effect, celebrate Jesus Christ's birthday (Nativity) so long in advance? Christmas trees and outdoor decorations could still be put up ahead of time. However, they don't have to be turned on until Christmas Eve. After all, no one would light the candles on a birthday cake two months before the birthday party.

It doesn't take much effort to make these changes, but it does feel weird at first. Yet it's not a matter of bucking the establishment. It's really all about getting things back into perspective. And it just makes sense.

Our society has come a long way from St. Ephraim the Syrian's statement about the significant twelve-day period between Christmas and Epiphany. However, I question our ultimate destination. We seem to proclaim Christmas earlier and earlier as time goes on.

September 11 was a wake up call to put our lives in America back on track. I believe that means more than just becoming more patriotic. Everything Americans do in life needs to be reevaluated and adjusted so it has the proper meaning and priority. Focusing our celebration of Christmas after December 25th could help us do that.

The Twelve Days of Christmas became important to western Christians many centuries ago. However, this period ultimately degenerated to become filled with superstitions, fear, and other negative elements. The song," The Twelve Days of Christmas," was used to teach spiritual truths, then it, too, degenerated, becoming a cute folksong. From now on let's limit the pre-Christmas hustle and bustle. Let's use the real "twelve days"-between Christmas and Epiphany-to pull away from the over commercialization of Christ's Nativity. Let's start making the Twelve Days of Christmas something special and joyful-a real celebration of Christ's birth-for us in America and for our children. We will be glad we did.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Thoughts on prayer from Elder Porphyrios, part 4

Pray for the purification of each and every person so that you may imitate the prayer of the angels in your life.  Yes, the angels don't pray for themselves.  This is how I pray for people, for the Church and for the body of the Church.  The moment you pray for the Church, you are released from your passions.  The moment you glorify God, your soul is calmed and sanctified by divine grace.  This is the art I want you to learn.

God wants us to become like the angels.  The angels only glorify God.  This is their prayer, glorification of God and nothing else.  The glorification of God is a very subtle matter, it eludes human criteria.  We are very material and earth-bound, and for that reason we pray to God is a self-interested manner.  We ask Him to order our affairs, to help our businesses do well, to protect our health and to safeguard our children.  But we pray in a human way and with self-interest.  Doxology is prayer without self-interest.  The angels do not pray in order to receive something; they are selfless.  God also gave to us the possibility for our prayer to be an un-ending doxology, an angelic prayer.  This iswhere the great secret lies.  When we enter into this prayer, we will glorify God continually, leaving everything to Him, just as our Church prays 'We commend our whole life to Christ our God.'  This is the 'higher mathematics' of our religion!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Thoughts on prayer from Elder Porphyrios, part 3

Pray for those who make accusations against you.  Say, 'Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me,' not ' have mercy on him,' and your accuser will be embraced in this prayer.  Does someone say something to you that upsets you?  God knows it.  What you have to do is open your arms and say, 'Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me,' and make your accuser one with yourself.  And God knows what is torturing your accuser deep inside him and, seeing your love, he hastens to help.  He searches the desires of hearts.  What is it that St. Paul says in his Epistle to the Romans?  He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because in accord with God He makes intercession for the saints. (Rom 8:27)

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Thoughts on prayer from Elder Porphyrios, part 2

You get upset when others are unwell, whereas what you should do is devote yourself to prayer so that what is desired comes about through the grace of God.  With your own wisdom, you tell others what should be done, when that is not necessarily the best thing.  The secret is to be found elsewhere, and not in what we say or suggest to others.  The secret lies in our devotion, our prayer to God for what is best for our brethren to come about through the grace of God.  That is the best.  What we are unable to do will be done through His grace.

In my life, prayer occupies the first place.  I do not fear hell and I don't think of Paradise.  I ask only for God to have mercy on the whole world and on me.  If I repeat 'Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me' with intensity, even when I have people around me, I am not distracted from the prayer.  It is just the same as when I am on my own.  I pray, I receive everyone in the Spirit of Christ, and I am eager to pray for all the people.  I try to love Christ.  That is my aim.  Because of my many illnesses, I'm not able to speak much.  But prayer helps more than words.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Thoughts on prayer from Elder Porphyrios, part 1

When we or someone else are facing some problem, let us ask others for their prayers and let us all entreat God with faith and love.  Be sure that God is pleased with these prayers and intervenes with miracles.  This is something we haven't understood properly. We say, 'Say a prayer for me,' but without realizing the power of common prayer.

Pray for others more than for yourself. Say, 'Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me,' and you will always have others in your mind.  We are all children of the same Father; we are all one.  And so, when we pray for others, we say, 'Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me,' and not, 'have mercy on them.'  In this way we make them one with ourselves.

Prayer for others which is made gently and with deep love is selfless and has great spiritual benefit.  It brings grace to the person who prays and also to the person for whom he is praying.  When you have great love and this love moves you to prayer, then the waves of love are transmitted and affect the person for whom you are praying and you create around him a shield of protection and you influence him, you lead him towards what is good.  When He sees your efforts, God bestows His grace abundantly on both you and on the person you are praying for.  But we must die to ourselves.  Do you understand?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A few Theological verses

God Almighty sits upon a throne of cherubim,

Surrounded by His angels who forever sing this hymn;

‘Holy, Holy, Holy, O Almighty God of love,

Thy glory fills the earth below and all in Heaven above!’

In the holy Gospel that was written by Saint John

Every word is life, and we should always think thereon;

For he had heard and seen and touched the Word of God made flesh,

And recognized the risen Lord, when life began afresh.

Before the Lamb of God approached the hill of Calvary,

Where cruel soldiers crucified our Life upon a tree,

He went with His Apostles to a hidden upper room,

He taught them of humility, His passion and His tomb.

There He took some water, and He washed the feet of those

Beloved twelve Apostles, whom He called and whom He chose,

One of them then said to Him, ‘Lord do not wash my feet!’

But if they were not washed, how could salvation be complete?

Adam used his feet, alas, when walking to the tree,

For Eve his wife had told him that its fruit was good to see,

Approaching now another fruit, which God gives them to eat,

Jesus cleansed and washed the sin from His apostles’ feet.

While He sat and ate with them, He made another law,

A law of love, that Christians must obey for evermore.

He gave them food—His body—and for drink His precious blood,

And sanctified their mortal members, made of clay and mud.

And thus when Jesus Christ the Son of God became as man,

He gave this sacred food to them according to His plan.

He said that through this Sacrament, so holy and so true,

‘You’ll abide in Me, and surely, I’ll abide in you.’

For those humble fishermen, their Lord and Saviour prayed

To His eternal Father, whom He always had obeyed:

‘As We are one, may they be one, as they go forth to teach,

I’ll send the Holy Spirit, Who will show them where to preach.’

Jesus told them, ‘Do not fear, you will not be alone.

For I will always see you, and will bless you from My throne,

Working with the Spirit, you will earn a great reward,

My Church will be established, and humanity restored.’

Sanctified by Jesus’ words of truth that they had heard,

And vested in the Spirit by the risen Lord conferred,

These humble men set out to preach; their miracles were done

In the name of Jesus Christ, of God the only Son.

Their word has come to us and we have heard it, and believed,

They speak the Word of God, and their message we’ve received,

We turn to them with love, and we ask their holy prayer,

That God preserve His Holy Church, He’s put into our care.

From Christmas Poems, by Bishop Paul of Tracheia, available through Holy Cross Seminary Bookstore http://store.holycrossbookstore.com/ or through Amazon.com.