In a recent post, I reflected upon the way in which the Apostolic Faith sets apart this time of year before the feast of the Nativity to await the coming of the Lord. This anticipation goes against much of the season which is already calling now Christmas, and yet sadly does not celebrate the Feast for what it is, nor when it was historically celebrated. As an example, most Americans assume that the twelve days of Christmas are some kind of countdown, when they really find their roots in December 25th and the following days. We cannot really Feast if we do not really Fast, as so many have noted over the years.
Nevertheless, as real as the expectation of Christ is during the season normally called Advent or the Philip’s Fast, there is another understanding that Christ the Eternal God is always present among us. He who was Crucified and Risen was first Incarnated on earth as an infant in a manger, and yet greater than any sequential reflections about God is His Eternal Being. As the Greek inscription “ὁ ὤν” expresses in the halo, Christ God is “the One who Is”.
Despite Ever Existing and being yet Ever the Same, the One who Is was born at a discrete point in history. And despite the emphasis on not celebrating His Birth earlier than the Feast which focuses on this event every December 25th, there is a curious reality in our prayer life as Byzantine Christians that serves as wonderful tension over our expectation of Christmas and its Eternal Reality.
During the Canon of Matins, the Odes and hymns that are unique to different times of the year are called Katavasiai.
In the 2012 Typicon which my parish follows to select the appropriate songs for each day, one particular Katavasia in the year covers November 21-December 31st, excepting December 5th.
This Canon is known as the Canon of the Birth of the Lord.
In praying Matins during this season of expectation, we are greeted with beautiful hymns such as these, which were originally written in the fourth century by St. Gregory the Theologian:
Christ is born: glorify Him. Christ from the heavens: go out to welcome Him. Christ on Earth: exalt Him. All the Earth, sing to the Lord, and praise Him with joy, O peoples, for He is glorified.
I see a strange and marvelous mystery: Heaven is a cave; the cherubic throne a Virgin; the manger has become the place in which Christ the Incomprehensible God lies down. Let us praise Him and extol Him.
What is so fascinating about this is that we sing these glorious hymns to the newborn Christ between November 21st and December 24th at Matins, in addition to December 25th-December 31st. The expectation of Nativity is punctuated by our transcendence of time, as we celebrate the very feast that we are waiting for in Matins.
Come O Jesus Our Savior, Redeem and Save Us!