We had a wonderful celebration of the Nativity of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ at Holy Cross Orthodox Church. The church was festively adorned for Christmas with a beautiful Christmas tree, wreathes, pine swags, and many poinsettias. The Christmas candle was added to our Advent Wreath and our Nativity Scene was set up near the sanctuary.
Christmas Eve and Christmas Day saw bone-chilling temperatures, and high winds with wind chills approaching -40 degrees. Schools and most community activities were cancelled due to the extreme cold and area churches cancelled their mid-week activities, — but not Holy Cross Orthodox Church.
We gathered together at 6:30 PM to celebrate the Liturgy of the Holy Eucharist for the Nativity of Christ, and then had a traditional English Christmas party after Mass. Attendance was good despite the frigid weather, and we had a blessed and merry Christmas. There were brethren at the Liturgy that we hadn’t seen for a while, and I received e-mails from others. The smell of incense mingled with that of pine, and we sang some beloved Christmas hymns during Mass: O Come All Ye Faithful; Hark the Herald Angels Sing; and Angels We have Heard on High. At Communion time our Cantor sang, O Holy Night. There was Gregorian chant for the Propers and the liturgical music was that of Merbecke.
After the Eucharistic Liturgy we gathered in the parish hall for a Christmas party and the serving tables could hardly hold all of the food! We had two kinds of soup, hot apple cider, coffee, two cheese trays and port wine cheese balls with four kinds of crackers, minced meat pies, and a vast array of wonderful and delicious deserts. To warm us in the cold night we enjoyed glasses of Port - a traditional desert wine. It was indeed a merry Christmas. Matushka Cheri and I didn’t get home until 11:00 PM!
Among the many blessings that I received at Christmas were e-mails from two Anglican priests telling me of their desire to bring their congregations into the Western Rite of the Orthodox Church. When Anglicans enter the Orthodox Church they are not joining a “new” Church, but simply returning to the Church of their Fathers, to the Church of the Apostles, to the ancient Church of the British Isles that was separated from the Orthodox Church by the Norman Conquest in 1066.
We have celebrated the birth of the Saviour of the world, and the joyous celebration will continue for the Twelve Days of Christmas. And we have much to celebrate. We all fall short in so many ways as we struggle to love God with all our heart, soul and mind, and our neighbor as ourselves, but the good news is that “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8 NKJV).
Blessed Seraphim Rose (d. 1982) said, “Understand two thoughts, and fear them. One says, ‘You are a saint,’ the other, ‘You won’t be saved.’ Both of these thoughts are from the enemy, and there is no truth in them. But think this way: I am a great sinner, but the Lord is merciful. He loves people very much, and will forgive my sins.”
Jesus came to seek and save that which was lost — you and me! The Holy Spirit then gathers the harvest into Christ’s Church. Please don’t settle for substitutes. There is a difference between the Church founded by Christ which has His promise that the gates of hell will never prevail against it, and the thousands of divided and competing denominations that are ever wrangling, changing, splitting and reconfiguring. The Church of our Fathers invites all men and women everywhere to come home. The welcome mat is out, the door is open and the lights are on. There is a place for you and your family, and you will be welcomed with open arms. You can come home again. Merry Christmas! Christ is born! Glorify Him!