Post date: Nov 26, 2012 2:17:13 AM
I am fascinated by the relationship between Church and time. We can start with the fact that the day begins in the evening, according to Genesis (there was evening and there was morning, day one), which is why we celebrate Vespers on the evening before the day we usually think of as the feast. There is the fact that so many hymns use the word 'today' to refer to events that, historically speaking, happened long ago. In the Divine Liturgy we speak of remembering the second coming of Christ. There is much to talk about in each of these aspects. Today, however, I would like to focus on the fact that most of our great feasts have a pre-feast and a post-feast; a looking forward to and looking back from the feast.
In the case of Christmas, this looking forward takes place in two steps. We begin fasting in preparation for Christmas on November 15. Then, on November 21, during Orthros, we sing for the first time, "Christ is born, therefore glorify." It is as if the joy of Christmas, unable to be contained by the one day of December 25, bursts out and reaches back across time, giving us the first proclamation of the good news of the Incarnation of the Son of God.
Over the next few weeks, there will be many things to remind us of the upcoming feast. The air turning crisp, the snow, the smell of Christmas trees will draw us into the spirit of season. We will continue to sing Christmas hymns during Orthros. The feast of St. Nicholas, who defended the divinity of Jesus, will remind us of what exactly the coming feast is. The whole period gives us an opportunity to become attuned to Christmas so that, when the feast arrives, we may embrace it in the proper frame of mind (I actually have in mind here the Greek word φρονήμα as it is used in Church writings and ‘frame of mind’ is the best approximation I can find).
This is what we need in order to be prepared for a feast. We often say that Orthodoxy is a way of life. What this means is that Orthodoxy shapes us: the way we think, the way we feel, the way we understand life. This is a process, rather than an instantaneous change. Even saints who were blessed to experience the grace of God at an early age, like St. Silouan the Athonite, speak of the distance they still needed to travel on the path of salvation. It takes time to be truly and lastingly shaped in the likeness of God—the same time that weaves in and out of feast and fast, and brings together past, present, and future in the rhythm of the Church.
Let us be attentive to the time we have and sanctify it through our prayers and Christian living.
With love in Christ,