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There’s a Lot More to Christmas Than You Were Ever Taught…

Everyone knows what Christmas is about… or do they?

Truth is, most people, including almost all who consider themselves Christians, have no clue what the original Christian tradition taught about the meaning of Christmas. Below, you get to have a sneak peak at some of this, in the form of ancient hymns.

So turn up your speakers and enjoy!

 

When you appeared, O Christ, made flesh from a woman,
She who bore you, astonished by your humility,
Tearfully said to you my Saviour,
“How can I bear you, who are eternal, as an infant?
How can I nourish you with milk,
Who nourish all creation with your divine energy?
Through deepest compassion you put on a body and deified mortal being.
O Lord, glory to you.”

– St Kassiana the Hymnographer, Stikhera for the Nativity

 

 

This Nativity night bestowed peace on the whole world-
So let no one threaten his neighbour.
This is the night of the most gentle one –
Let no one be cruel.
This is the night of the humble one –
Let no one be haughty.
Now is the day of joy –
Let us leave aside vengeance.
Now is the day of good will –
Let us abandon meanness.
In this day of peace –
Let us not be conquered by anger.
Today the Bountiful impoverished himself for our sake-
So, rich one, invite the poor to your table.
Today we receive a gift for which we did not ask-
So let us give alms to those who implore and beg us.
This present day cast open the heavenly doors to our prayers-
Let us open our door to those who ask our forgiveness.
Today the divine being took upon himself the seal of our humanity,
In order for humanity to be adorned with the seal of divinity.

– St. Isaac the Syrian, Homily for the Nativity

***
 
By your poverty you have set us free. You were united to our nature in every way. Though we were formed from dust, by this communion we are made divine.

– St. Kosmas, Canon of the Nativity

***
 
Today heaven and earth are united for Christ is born.
Today God has come to earth and mankind ascends to heaven.
Today God, who by nature cannot be seen,
Is seen in the flesh for our sake.
Let us glorify him crying,
‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace.’
Your coming has brought peace to us:
Glory to you, our Saviour.

– Monk John, Stikhera for the Nativity

 

 

Humility is the robe of the Godhead. The Word who became human clothed himself with humility and thus spoke with us in our human body.

If zeal had been appropriate for putting humanity right, why did God the Word clothe himself in the body, using gentleness and humility in order to bring the world back to his Father?

– St. Isaac the Syrian, Ascetic Homilies

 

 

We close out with a remarkable Christmas carol indigenous to Canada. This remarkable version is performed by Heather Dale, and sung in Wendat (Huron), French and English. Huron Carol was composed by Jean de Brebeuf, a missionary at Sainte-Marie Among the Hurons, in the 17th century, in the Huron language and in the melody of a traditional French folk song.

 

 

Merry Christmas!

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger

 

P.S. If you look at the words carefully and compare them to standard Western Christian teaching on the meaning of Christmas, you’ll realize you’ve been seriously short-changed. From a resilience perspective this makes a huge difference, since the ultimate key to resilience is understanding how the universe is “constructed”, because that dictates how your own mind-body organism is constructed and is meant to function. Both Taoism and early Christianity referred to this as the “way”, and you can’t follow the “way” unless you have an accurate map. In other words, spiritual teachings are not just abstract “dogma” – you end up building your life on whatever spiritual teaching you follow. It’s your map, so it had better be accurate…


Re-learning Humanity: The Christmas Truce

 

“Both sides advanced farther in one Christmas piss-up than they managed in the next two and a half years of war.”
Captain Edmund Blackadder on the Christmas Truce

On December 25th, 1914, one hundred years ago, a few months into the most destructive conflict in the history of the world to that time, beacons of humanity sprang up across the Western Front. Slowly, informally, soldiers in opposing trench lines emerged, exchanged food and drink and gifts, sang together. Some even organised games of football (soccer to the Yanks amongst you), friendly competitions that would make the circumstances of the following three years of war all the more macabre by comparison.

As large swathes of the world lie today bogged down in protracted wars of ideology and security and fear, we need to take stock of what we have, and haven’t, learned in the past century.

When the spirit of the Christmas holiday briefly overcame the decidedly un-Christmaslike proceedings of the Great War, for a brief moment, the soldiers on both sides interacted naturally, perhaps for the first time. In those conditions, they were simply human beings, no longer objectified as representatives of their nations and obstacles to the objectives of their enemies.

We sometimes forget that the Christmas Truce was simply a great, shining instance of a much broader phenomenon. Troops in opposing trench lines often came to formal and informal truces. They even created their own rules of war, allowing soldiers on both sides to come out the muck of the trenches for exercise, or to retrieve their wounded or dead comrades, in full view of the enemy without being shot. But the connections went deeper still. If you’re ever in Belgium, have a look at some of those trench lines. Some opposing trenches were literally a stone’s throw apart. Soldiers on opposite sides talked to each other, tossed food and cigarettes back and forth. Worse still, right after the truce ended, the opposing sides would invite each other’s soldiers over to their own side to avoid getting shelled! This is what the generals call “fraternising with the enemy.”

Fraternisation, literally “making brothers,” is the number one threat to any war that lacks a moral foundation, one which the generals must crush at all costs. For the soldiers on both sides to see and recognise each other as human beings rather than targets is to separate the soldiers from the logic of their generals, from the logic of war itself. If I am only human, and the enemy is only human, what are we fighting for? If the best answer available is “because they ordered me to,” a reasonable mind would conclude that it’s time to go home.

And, in fact, the famous author George Bernard Shaw was heard to suggest to the troops that they “Shoot their officers and go home.”

Of course, in World War I, the soldiers didn’t go home. The generals issued strongly-worded orders threatening stark penalties for fraternisation, and proceeded to throw their young men at each other in such huge numbers and despite such terrible losses that a conflict fundamentally born in the great power politics of Europe became an absolute and immovable thing. A war against evil. And of course, the evil had to be the other side, and not the generals getting seventy percent of their forces killed or maimed simply because they didn’t know what the hell else to do with them.

Because we never learned this lesson, because we have never had an army with the guts to go home rather than fight a political war, because we as a society have yet to acknowledge human connection as the natural dissolver of conflict, we continue to be stuck with wars in which soldiers fight and die for political whim rather than necessity. We have grown, perhaps, less accepting of the costs of war as these have been more and more graphically depicted for us, but we have a long way to go before we reach the point of choosing between war and peace with integrity.

Let’s take a moment this Christmas to celebrate the human connections made by these young people a century ago, so very few of whom would live to see another Christmas. Let us also take a moment to make sure that peace is not some nebulous wish we hold, but an attitude of creating mutual understanding wherever it can be achieved. Let us make sure that we are ready to meet everyone as human beings, and not ciphers for a flag, a nation or a group.

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger

 


The REAL Meaning of Christmas

As you walk through the bustling shopping malls listening to carol music or tune in to the talking heads of radio and television yapping about the “meaning of Christmas”, you can’t help but be struck by one inescapable fact – if the meaning of this allegedly monumental event of two millennia ago is what they say it is, then… frankly… who cares?

“Peace on earth?”  Fat chance.  And if the birth of Jesus was about putting an end to armed conflict, then it wasn’t such a great success.  “Being surrounded by family and friends?”  Heck, most of us look forward to a vacation where we can get away from our relatives.  And we won’t even discuss Santa, Rudolph, or – worse still – snow and sleigh bells.  


So what is it about?  Well, as it turns out, the ancient Christian tradition has some much needed light to shed on the event.  And when you consider what this tradition really says about Christmas, it’s actually breathtaking… and totally different than the dumbed down and distorted perspectives that most Christians have dancing in their heads.

Prepared to be challenged?  Then read on!  Just know that this is not “light reading” or fluff…

And I’ve tossed in a bit of the ancient tradition’s Christmas music for your enjoyment too, some in Byzantine chant and some in Slavic melodies, sung in English and other languages.

Jesus Who?



The ancient liturgical texts of the Christian East unambiguously affirm that the one born in Bethlehem is a divine person, and “older than ancient Adam.”  Yet he is also fully human, “not merely in appearance, but in reality.”  So he is divine and uncreated, yet he has or takes on human flesh, a human mind and a human soul.  The ancient hymns put these words into the mouth of Jesus: “I who fashioned Adam’s form, now willingly put it on.”  


And because he is divine, yet adopts a human nature, he is just one person, one single identity: “The person of your divinity and of your flesh was one.” 


What does this all mean?  For the first time in all history, the Uncreated, the Absolute being entered into the created and mortal flesh of humanity, transmitting to that flesh a life-creating power it had not known since the dawn of time.  And since man is the microcosm and mediator of creation, whatever happens to his flesh, his organism, is transmitted to all of creation:


“Hearken O heaven and give ear O earth.  Let the foundations be shaken and let trembling lay hold of the nethermost parts of the world, for our God and Creator has clothed himself in created flesh.”  


This is why the ancient texts refer to the human body of Jesus as “the double-natured seed giving life in the furrows of the earth.”  




Why Did God Become Man?  



Nine hundred years ago, a so-called theologian in Canterbury named Anselm wrote a small book with that title.  Called Cur Deus Homo? in Latin, Anselm’s answer to this question would forever distort Western perceptions of Christmas, help reduce Western Christianity to juridical moralism and sever the bond between humanity and the cosmos.  Good thing he was totally wrong!


The answer to our question is simple.  “I have come openly,” says Christ in the ancient hymns, “to restore and to glorify with myself the fallen nature of mortal man.”  The “restore” part relates to the idea of salvation.  It’s the negative part, the recovery from the undesirable condition of mortality.  


But the “glorify” part is a whole other story and equates to a concept that was erased from Western Christianity a millennium ago, the concept of “deification” (theosis in Greek).  This means that by joining the human organism to its uncreated prototype through the birth of Jesus Christ, God not only repaired the damage of the fall, but also opened up the possibility for each person to unite him or herself with the divine.  


We’re not talking about some sort of fruitcake, pseudo-mystical experience here, not about something produced by emotional frenzy or drugs or whatever.  You see, the ancient tradition maintained that you could have direct, intimate contact with God even here, now in this lifetime.  Yet if you examine Western theology closely, you’ll notice it denies that is even possible.  Disagree?  Got news for you – it’s an open and shut case and easy to prove.  However, no time to do it here.




The Day the Universe Changed



The ancient texts go on to explain in detail, if in metaphorical language, how the birth of Christ has in itself opened the path to the true life of deification for every person:


“Come, let us greatly rejoice in the Lord, as we sing of this present mystery.  The middle wall of partition has been destroyed.  The flaming sword turns back.  The Cherubim withdraw from the Tree of Life.  And I partake of the delights of paradise from which I had been cast out through disobedience.  For the express image of the Father, the imprint of his eternity, takes on the form of a servant…”


And this miraculous rebirth extends to all of creation so that, in a real and physical sense (and everything in the ancient tradition is very “physical”), all of creation – rocks and trees, mountains and streams, the birds of the air and the fish of the sea – all of it “becomes” divine, filled with divine energy (a technical term in the ancient tradition) and supremely important.  If you’re looking for a “green-friendly” theology, look no further.



It’s Not About Salvation



As you may have noticed above, the birth of Jesus isn’t just about salvation, but about something much greater.  And this fact, which the ancient Christian mystics and their modern successors have verified through their own spiritual experience, led them to a startling conclusion…


…God did not become man just to “save us from our sins”.  God would have become man even if the fall had never happened and we didn’t need help to escape our mortality.  In the words of the great mystic and theologian, St. Maximos the Confessor:


“This is the great hidden mystery.  This is the purpose for which all things were created.  It was with a view to this (God becoming man) that God brought forth all beings.”  

In the words of the 14th century writer, Gregory Palamas, who successfully defended the ancient tradition from the the dualistic, body-hating tendencies (1) inherent in the emerging Western theology of his time:  “Hence the original creation of the human being, which was formed in the image of God, was for the sake of Christ, so that the human being should be able one day to make room for its archetype.”  




What’s the Big Deal?



Well, if you know anything at all about the conventional view of Christianity, you don’t need to read this part, because the foregoing has just blown the doors off your world.  I guess what it comes down to is this.  Here we have the original, ancient version of Christianity, which claims:

  • Jesus Christ is a divine person
  • By taking on a human body and soul, he transmitted divine, vivifying power to all humanity and through humanity to all of creation
  • So on the original Christmas day, the whole universe actually experienced a dramatic change 
  • By joining the divine and human organisms together, human beings were given the possibility of “becoming god” 
  • Joining the two natures together was the purpose for which everything was created 



It blows the mind….


Wishing you and yours a most blessed Christmas!


~ Dr. Symeon Rodger






A Christmas Tale…

If I knew who originated the following tale, I’d certainly give them credit!  It’s a bit like “Christmas Meets ‘Thick Face, Black Heart'”.  Enjoy, and send it around to every teacher you know 😉
————————————————

A young man named John received a parrot as a gift. The parrot had a bad attitude and an even worse vocabulary.

Every word out of the bird’s’ mouth was rude, obnoxious and laced with profanity. John tried and tried to change the bird’s attitude by consistently saying only polite words, playing soft music and anything else he could think of to ‘clean up’ the bird’s vocabulary.

Finally, John was fed up and he yelled at the parrot. The parrot yelled back. John shook the parrot and the parrot got angrier and even more rude. John, in desperation, threw up his hand, grabbed the bird and put him in the freezer. For a few minutes the parrot squawked and kicked and screamed.


Then suddenly there was total quiet. Not a peep was heard for over a minute.

Fearing that he’d hurt the parrot, John quickly opened the door to the freezer. The parrot calmly stepped out onto John’s outstretched arms and said “I believe I may have offended you with my rude language and actions. I’m sincerely remorseful for my inappropriate transgressions and I fully intend to do everything I can to correct my rude and unforgivable behavior.”

John was stunned at the change in the bird’s attitude.

As he was about to ask the parrot what had made such a dramatic change in his behavior, the bird spoke-up, very softly, “May I ask what the turkey did?”

Merry Christmas…….
———————————————

The moral of the story?  Some people just don’t understand anything but force.  Sad but true.  Gandhi could use non-violence on the British.  Good thing he didn’t have to try it out on the Nazis or the Soviets 😉

And you can’t avoid the simple fact that every once in a while, you’ll find yourself in an absurd situation where you have to make an example out of someone, like the turkey in the story.  You can think about that one over Christmas dinner 😉

Blessings to all,

Dr. Symeon Rodger




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