Gregory the Wonderworker: God has descended into the world and exalted mankind unto Heaven Thursday, Dec 31 2015 

Gregory_ThaumaturgusJust as from Adam was taken woman without his diminishing, so likewise from the Virgin was taken the body (Born of Her), wherein also the Virgin did not undergo diminishing, and Her virginity did not suffer harm.

Adam dwelt well and unharmed, when the rib was taken from him: and so without defilement dwelt the Virgin, when from Her was brought forth God the Word.

For this sort of reason particularly the Word assumed of the Virgin Her flesh and Her (corporeal) garb, so that He be not accounted innocent of the sin of Adam.

Since man stung by sin had become a vessel and instrument of evil, Christ took upon Himself this receptacle of sin into His Own flesh.

This was so that, the Creator having been co-united with the body, it should thus be freed from the foulness of the enemy, and man might thus be clothed in an eternal body, which might be neither perished nor destroyed for all eternity.

Moreover, He that is become the God-Man is born, not as ordinarily man is born—He is born as God made Man, manifest of this by His Own Divine power, since if He were born according to the general laws of nature, the Word would seem something imperfect.

Therefore, He was born of the Virgin and shone forth; therefore, having been born, He preserved unharmed the virginal womb, so that the hitherto unheard of manner of the Nativity should be for us a sign of great mystery.

[…] On this great day, now being celebrated, God has appeared as Man, as Pastor of the nation of Israel, Who has enlivened all the universe with His goodness.

O dear warriors, glorious champions for mankind, who did preach Bethlehem as a place of Theophany and the Nativity of the Son of God, who have made known to all the world the Lord of all, lying in a manger, and did point out God contained within a narrow cave!

And so, we now glorify joyfully a feast of the years. Just as hence the laws of feasts be new, so now also the laws of birth be wondrous.

On this great day now celebrated, of shattered chains, of Satan shamed, of all demons to flight, the all-destroying death is replaced by life, paradise is opened to the thief, curses are transformed into blessings, all sins are forgiven and evil is banished, truth is come.

[…] Traits pure and immaculate are implanted, virtue is exalted upon the earth, Angels are come together with people, and people make bold to converse with Angels.

Whence and why has all this happened? From this, that God has descended into the world and exalted mankind unto Heaven.

Gregory the Wonderworker (c.213-c.270): Discourse on the Nativity of Christ @ Orthodox Church in America [slightly adapted].

Ephrem the Syrian: When man’s hope had broken down, hope was increased by Thy Birth. Sunday, Dec 27 2015 

Mor_Ephrem_iconWhen man’s hope had broken down, hope was increased by Thy Birth.
—Good tidings of hope they bore, the Heavenly Ones to men.
—Satan who cut off our hope, his own hope by his own hands had cut off.
—when he saw that hope was increased:  Thy Birth became to the hopeless,
—a fountain teaming with hope.

Blessed be He Who bore the tidings of hope!

[…] Thy day has given us a gift, to which the Father has none other like;
—It was not Seraphim He sent us, nor yet did Cherubim come down among us;
—there came not Watchers or Ministers, but the Firstborn to Whom they minister.
—Who can suffice to give thanks, that the Majesty which is beyond measure
—is laid in the lowly manger!

Blessed be He Who gave us what He had won!

[…] The bosom of Mary amazes me, that it sufficed for Thee, Lord, and embraced Thee.
—All creation were too small, to conceal Thy Majesty;
—Heaven and earth too narrow, to be in the likeness of wings, to cover Thy Godhead.
—Too small for Thee was the bosom of earth; great enough for Thee was the bosom of Mary.
—He dwelt in the bosom and healed in her bosom.

Glory to all of Thee from all of us!

He was wrapped meanly in swaddling clothes, and offerings were offered Him.

—He put on garments in youth, and from them there came forth helps:
—He put on the waters of baptism, and from them there shone forth beams:
—He put on linen cloths in death, and in them were shown forth triumphs; with His humiliations, His exaltations.

Blessed be He Who joined His Glory to His Passion!

All these are the changes of raiment, which Mercy put off and put on,
—when He strove to put on Adam, the glory which he had put off.
—He was wrapped in swaddling-clothes as Adam with leaves; and clad in garments instead of skins.
—He was baptized for Adam’s sin, and buried for Adam’s death:
—He rose and raised Adam into Glory.

Blessed be He Who came down and clothed him and went up!

Though Thy Birth had sufficed, for Adam’s sons as for Adam;
—O Mighty One Who didst become a babe, in Thy Birth anew hast Thou begotten me!
—O pure One Who wast baptized, let Thy Washing wash away our filth
—O Living One who wast buried, may we gain life in Thy death!
—I will praise all of Thee in Him that fills all.

Glory to all of Thee from all of us!

Ephrem the Syrian (c.306-373): Nineteen Hymns on the Nativity of Christ in the Flesh, 16, 6; 8; 10-14.

Gregory Palamas: This great mystery of our re-creation and restoration Saturday, Dec 26 2015 

Gregory_PalamasGod who sits upon the cherubim (Psalm 99:1) is set before us as a babe on earth.

He upon whom the six-winged seraphim cannot look, being unable to gaze intently not only at His nature but even at the radiance of His glory, and therefore covering their eyes with their wings (Isaiah 6:2), having become flesh, appears to our senses and can be seen by bodily eyes.

He who defines all things and is limited by none is contained in a small, makeshift manger. He who holds the universe and grasps it in the hollow of His hand is wrapped in narrow swaddling bands and fastened into ordinary clothes.

He who possesses the riches of inexhaustible treasures submits Himself voluntarily to such great poverty that He does not even have a place at the inn; and so He enters into a cave at the time of His birth, who was brought forth by God timelessly and impassibly and without beginning.

[…] Anyone who has been vouchsafed understanding and grasped the honour which our nature received from God through being formed by His hands in His own image, will run towards Him, having come to a realization of His love for mankind, and will obey Him and learn His commandments. But how much more so if he comprehends, as far as is possible, this great mystery of our re-creation and restoration.

God formed human nature out of the earth with His own hand and breathed His own life into man (Genesis 2.7; 1 Thessalonians 5.23), whereas everything else He brought into being by His word alone. He then allowed man to be governed by his own thoughts and follow his own initiative, because he was a rational creature with a sovereign will.

Left alone, deceived by the evil one’s counsel and unable to withstand his assault, man did not keep to what was in accordance with his nature, but slid towards what was unnatural to it. So now God not only forms human nature anew by His own hand in a mysterious way, but also keeps it near Him.

Not only does He assume this nature and raise it up from the fall, but He inexpressibly clothes Himself in it and unites Himself inseparably with it and was born as both God and man: from a woman, in the first instance, that He might take upon Himself the same nature which He formed in our forefathers; and from a woman who was a virgin, in the second, so that He might make man new.

Gregory Palamas (1296-1359): Homily 58, on the Holy Nativity of the Lord. From Saint Gregory Palamas: The Homilies (Mount Thabor Publishing, 2009) @ Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Ascension, Oakland, California.

John Chrysostom: Behold a new and wondrous mystery Friday, Dec 25 2015 

Chrysostom3Behold a new and wondrous mystery.

My ears resound to the Shepherd’s song, piping no soft melody, but chanting full forth a heavenly hymn.

The Angels sing. The Archangels blend their voice in harmony.

The Cherubim hymn their joyful praise. The Seraphim exalt His glory.

All join to praise this holy feast, beholding the Godhead here on earth, and man in heaven.

He Who is above, now for our redemption dwells here below; and he that was lowly is by divine mercy raised.

Bethlehem this day resembles heaven; hearing from the stars the singing of angelic voices; and in place of the sun, enfolds within itself on every side, the Sun of justice.

And ask not how: for where God wills, the order of nature yields. For He willed; He had the power; He descended; He redeemed; all things yielded in obedience to God.

This day He Who is, is Born; and He Who is, becomes what He was not. For when He was God, He became man; yet not departing from the Godhead that is His.

Nor yet by any loss of divinity became He man, nor through increase became He God from man; but being the Word He became flesh, His nature, because of impassibility, remaining unchanged.

And so the kings have come, and they have seen the heavenly King that has come upon the earth, not bringing with Him Angels, nor Archangels, nor Thrones, nor Dominations, nor Powers, nor Principalities, but, treading a new and solitary path, He has come forth from a spotless womb.

Since this heavenly birth cannot be described, neither does His coming amongst us in these days permit of too curious scrutiny.

Though I know that a Virgin this day gave birth, and I believe that God was begotten before all time, yet the manner of this generation I have learned to venerate in silence and I accept that this is not to be probed too curiously with wordy speech.

[…] What shall I say to you; what shall I tell you? I behold a Mother who has brought forth; I see a Child come to this light by birth. The manner of His conception I cannot comprehend.

Nature here rested, while the Will of God labored. O ineffable grace! The Only Begotten, Who is before all ages, Who cannot be touched or be perceived, Who is simple, without body, has now put on my body, that is visible and liable to corruption.

For what reason? That coming amongst us he may teach us, and teaching, lead us by the hand to the things that men cannot see.

John Chrysostom (c.347-407): Nativity Sermon @ Pravoslavie.

Ephrem the Syrian: Blessed Be That Child, Who Gladdened Bethlehem Today! Friday, Dec 24 2010 

Blessed be that Child, Who gladdened Bethlehem today!

Blessed be the Babe Who made manhood young again today!

Blessed be the Fruit, Who lowered Himself to our famished state!

Blessed be the Good One, Who suddenly enriched our necessitousness and supplied our needs!

Blessed He Whose tender mercies made Him condescend to visit our infirmities!

Praise to the Fountain that was sent for our propitiation.

Praise be to Him Who made void the Sabbath by fulfilling it!

Praise too to Him Who rebuked the leprosy and it remained not, Whom the fever saw and fled!

Praise to the Merciful, Who bore our toil!  Glory to Thy coming, which quickened the sons of men!

Glory to Him, Who came to us by His first-born!

Glory to the Silence that spake by His Voice.

Glory to the One on high, Who was seen by His Day-spring!

Glory to the Spiritual, Who was pleased to have a Body, that in it His virtue might be felt, and He might by that Body show mercy on His household’s bodies!

Glory to that Hidden One, Whose Son was made manifest!

Glory to that Living One, Whose Son was made to die!

Glory to that Great One, Whose Son descended and was small!

Glory to the Power Who did straiten His greatness by a form, His unseen nature by a shape!

With eye and mind we have beheld Him, yea with both of them.

Glory to that Hidden One, Who even with the mind cannot be felt at all by them that pry into Him; but by His graciousness was felt by the hand of man!

The Nature that could not be touched, by His hands was bound and tied, by His feet was pierced and lifted up.

Himself of His own will He embodied for them that took Him.

Blessed be He Whom free will crucified, because He let it.

Blessed be He Whom the wood also did bear, because He allowed it.

Blessed be He Whom the grave bound, that had thereby a limit set it.

Blessed be He Whose own will brought Him to the Womb and Birth, to arms and to increase in stature.

Blessed He whose changes purchased life for human nature.

Blessed He Who sealed our soul, and adorned it and espoused it to Himself.

Blessed He Who made our Body a tabernacle for His unseen Nature.

Blessed He Who by our tongue interpreted His secret things.

Let us praise that Voice whose glory is hymned with our lute, and His virtue with our harp.

The Gentiles have assembled and have come to hear His strains.

Ephrem the Syrian (c.306-373): Hymns on the Nativity, 2.