(Translated by Eugenia Richards)
Εuαγγελιου (evangelion) is a Greek word, when translated into English, means Good News.
How can one appreciate this good news, when we are told that nothing had changed with the coming of Christ? We are told this by those who have never taken the gospel in their hands, but merely know something from hearsay and receive everything that is written in this book only with the mind and not with the heart.
This good news comes from the world beyond to this sinful earth. Good news from God to man who suffers and languishes in sin; good news of the possibility of rebirth into a new, pure life; good news of a bright joy and future happiness; good news that everything for this has already been done, that the Lord has given His Son for us. Man awaited this good news for so long, with such yearning and such melancholy.
How people lived before the coming of the Saviour, how they suffered and intensely awaited a little news which would indicate a new, bright path and exit from the mire of flaw and passion, in which they languished.
entire world before the time when the Saviour was to arrive, groaned within the clutches of the
Let us turn to the historians of that time, how they describe the wealthy of that period with fat double chins and eagle noses. They lived in luxurious white marble villas, in lavish surroundings, their magnificent mosaic flooring designed in intricate whimsical motifs. In the atrium there was a square shaped pool, filled with crystal water in which golden fish frolicked; this pool would disperse pleasant coolness while quenching the incandescence of a southern summer’s day. In the family rooms there was expensive furniture, gilded bronze, and on all of the décor, lay the stamp of wealth of refined taste. In the outbuildings there was a multitude of trained slaves, always ready to be of service to the master.
The masters of these villas arranged banquets almost daily. The enormous estate acquired through farming of revenues permitted spending colossal sums for this purpose.
Evening would arrive; in a flurry of activity, running about in the great room is an entire crowd of slaves of various skin colors; white, blue-eyed Caucasians, yellow, dark Phrygians and Persians, black Arabs and Negroes. They made ready the tables and couches for the chosen guests. Everything must be prepared for them and they must be dined as best as possible.
The banquet is at its peak. At the long tables the guests, wearing laurel wreaths on their heads recline on couches, draped with precious tapestries. The tables are laden with delicacies and set with vials of precious wines. The thirty-fifth course has already been served and little slaves carry about decorated pitchers with rose water for the washing of the guests’ hands. The guests have already drunk sufficiently; their eyes shine, their faces are flushed, yet again the adult slaves bring in enormous amphorae of expensive Phrygian and Phalerian wines, offering to fill emptied goblets for those who so desire.
The guests are served the thirty-sixth course: fried nightingale tongues with a spicy eastern sauce – a dish which costs unbelievable money.
This was some sort of a cult of the belly and gluttony. They ate with attentive solemnity, according to all the rules of gastronomy, as if performing a sacred ritual; they ate slowly, endlessly long, in order to protract the pleasure of satiety. But when the stomach was full and could take in nothing more, they took an emetic in order to purge it and begin again.
On the faces of all the feasters was boredom, overindulgence. They had grown tired of everything! Everyone was awaiting new inventions! Otherwise every day was yet the same thing over again! An unavoidable boredom was setting in, like the fog in a swamp, full of choking gases. The life of overindulgence ceased being a life.
of the first wealthy men of that time, the Emperor Tiberius himself, represents
almost the saddest example of this boredom of overindulgence. Located on the
Thus lived Roman high society, idle, over satiated, having lost the savor of life, not satisfied with its riches, nor with its power.
doubtful that the people, or rather the urban class, that throng which filled
the streets of
For the throng, free magnificent spectacles were arranged in the circuses and theatres. All of this created the atmosphere of an easy, idle life and attracted masses of indolent people from the countryside who were bellicose, lazy and used to living off the state, whose sole desire and constant cry was: “Bread and spectacles!”
If we descend the social ladder further, to the slave class, then here we will find only uninterrupted suffering and utterly dark sorrow. A slave was not even considered a person. This was merely an instrument, an object, the master’s possession. The master had the complete right to kill or maim a slave; for this he would answer to no one, just as he would not answer for a broken shovel or a broken pot.
Hence, in all the classes of Roman society, life was difficult, bereft of happiness, oppressive: surfeited by life, boredom, disappointment in those of highest society, lawlessness, oppression and suffering among the lowest echelons. There was nowhere to seek joy, soothing or comfort. The pagan religion gave a person no relief.
Nor could the pagan philosophy satisfy a person either, since it taught only about earthly happiness and did not free the tormented spirit from the shackles of the world and material bondage. The Epicureans stated: the science of being happy consists in creating pleasant sensations for oneself. The Stoics would take the best aspects of a person. “You are free,” they said, “therefore, you are your only master.”
What philosophy was lacking was the divine element. That god, which they called nature, the god of the philosophers is not a living, personal God, but fate, pitiless and blind, under the blow of which a person falls into despair and perishes.
One could have expected that the indication toward a new path and the means to revive life could be found among the Judean people – the only people that had preserved the true religion and an elevated understanding of God and life. But Judaism itself was undergoing a difficult crisis. It’s doubtful that anywhere in the history of the Hebrew people could one find darker pages of religious and moral decline, than in the period preceding the appearance of Christ the Saviour.
Mankind had entered into an impasse and, without the outside help of some One, great and strong could not emerge from it. In Judaism, this anticipation had existed for a long time and was nourished by the predictions of the prophets, but even outside of Judaism, in the best people of pagan society can be sensed a trembling feeling and intense desire for the coming of the Saviour and Deliverer of the world. And when the world was in an intense state, at that great and victorious moment The Lord Jesus Christ is born and preaches His Gospel to the people, this Revelation of the new paths to rebirth and true life. That is the reason why this article is called “Good News”, or the Evangelie.
There is no doubt that in this Nativity period, every Christian who senses this infinite greatness of love and mercy incarnate for our salvation – the Son of God, every Christian who realizes all the immeasurable greatness of the grace-giving fruits of the divine incarnation and the coming to us of the Only-Begotten One from the Father, would want on his behalf to bring Him a gift pleasing to Him, in order to express his sense of gratitude before Him. Well, what then, my beloved? Not only is this possible for us, but the Lord Himself requires this of us: “may you not appear before My face empty-handed”, He commanded of old through the lips of the Prophet. Let us bring to Him, as to our King, gold – tangible gifts from our surplus and labors; let us bring to Him frankincense – divine meditation and pious contemplation and feeling; and let us bring to Him, Who died for our sins, myrrh – mortification of our passions and caprices, the bitterness of repentance and self-denial.
Truth, which lay in the manger, as an infant, sits now on the throne of glory
and has no need of our material gifts; on the contrary, He gives us
everything. But for our salvation He
even now continues to appear to us, as a sacrifice, offered for our sins. During every sacred motion of the Liturgy,
one may say He is born yet again and lies in the manger, so as to again bring
Himself as a sacrifice for our sins and lie in the tomb. This manger is in essence a sacrificial
altar, on which His pre-eternal birth from God the Father is remembered, His
good act of will to save the human race through His sufferings and death and
His unutterable incarnation from the Most Holy Virgin Mary for our
salvation. This tomb is the holy Altar
on which the most holy mystery of His Body and Blood is performed. This cave, where His spiritually-mystical
birth and entombment
occurred, is the
It is not the noisy celebration that makes the feast of the Nativity of Christ joyous and pleasant, but the grace of God, which comforts the soul, sweetens and makes happy the
heart. “Work unto the Lord with fear and rejoice in Him with trembling!”
Thinking of you dear brethren this Christmas, with kind thoughts and warmest of wishes. May these holy days of the Nativity bring your hearts radiant joy and true happiness in Our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Nativity of Christ 2005/2006
Protopriest Anatoly Trepatschko