Tag Archives: sermons

The Celebration of Man in a Little Girl’s Birth

What a joy to be present at the “birthday party” for the beloved mother of our Lord! We began tonight, and will continue tomorrow, to rejoice at this first event of the church liturgical cycle, one of the 12 Great Feasts of the year. In honor and remembrance, I offer this sermon by:

Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann
Sermon on the Nativity of the Theotokos September 8

The Church’s veneration of Mary has always been rooted in her obedience to God, her willing choice to accept a humanly impossible calling. The Orthodox Church has always emphasized Mary’s connection to humanity and delighted in her as the best, purest, most sublime fruition of human history and of man’s quest for God, for ultimate meaning, for ultimate content of human life.

If in Western Christianity veneration of Mary was centered upon her perpetual virginity, the heart of the Orthodox Christian East’s devotion, contemplation, and joyful delight has always been her Motherhood, her flesh and blood connection to Jesus Christ. The East rejoices that the human role in the divine plan is pivotal. The Son of God comes to earth, appears in order to redeem the world, He becomes human to incorporate man into His divine vocation, but humanity takes part in this. If it is understood that Christ’s “co-nature” with us is as a human being and not some phantom or bodiless apparition, that He is one of us and forever united to us through His humanity, then devotion to Mary also becomes understandable, for she is the one who gave Him His human nature, His flesh and blood. She is the one through whom Christ can always call Himself “The Son of Man.”

Son of God, Son of Man…God descending and becoming man so that man could become divine, could become partaker of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4), or as the teachers of Church expressed it, “deified.” Precisely here, in this extraordinary revelation of man’s authentic nature and calling, is the source of that gratitude and tenderness which cherishes Mary as our link to Christ and, in Him, to God. And nowhere is this reflected more clearly that in the Nativity of the Mother of God.

Nothing about this event is mentioned anywhere in the Holy Scriptures. But why should it be? Is there anything remarkable, anything especially unique about the normal birth of a child, a birth like any other? The Church began to commemorate the event with a special feast…because, on the contrary, the very fact that it is routine discloses something fresh and radiant about everything we call routine and ordinary, it gives new depth to the unremarkable details of human life…And with each birth the world is itself in some sense created anew and given as a gift to this new human being to be his life, his path, his creation.

This feast therefore is first a general celebration of Man’s birth, and we no longer remember the anguish, as the Gospel says, “for joy that a human being is born into the world” (Jn. 16:21). Secondly, we now know whose particular birth, whose coming we celebrate: Mary’s. We know the uniqueness, the beauty, the grace of precisely this child, her destiny, her meaning for us and for the whole world. And thirdly, we celebrate all who prepared the way for Mary, who contributed to her inheritance of grace and beauty…And therefore the Feast of her Nativity is also a celebration of human history, a celebration of faith in man, a celebration of man.

Sadly, the inheritance of evil is far more visible and better known. There is so much evil around us that this faith in man, in his freedom, in the possibility of handing down a radiant inheritance of goodness has almost evaporated and been replaced by cynicism and suspicion. This hostile cynicism and discouraging suspicion are precisely what seduce us to distance ourselves from the Church when it celebrates with such joy and faith this birth of a little girl in whom are concentrated all the goodness, spiritual beauty, harmony and perfection that are elements of genuine human nature. Thus, in celebrating Mary’s birth we find ourselves already on the road to Bethlehem, moving toward the joyful mystery of Mary as the Mother to God.

Nativity of Theotokos contemporary


Thy nativity, O Virgin,
has proclaimed joy to
the whole universe!
The Sun of Righteousness,
Christ our God,
has shone on thee,
O Theotokos!
By annulling the curse,
He bestowed a blessing.
By destroying death,
He has granted us
Eternal Life.

You can leave Hell now.

What does The Resurrection mean? So much, so much.

 …you must know what Jesus Christ, the Saviour, has delivered you from. He has delivered you from a Hell whose Reception Room is on this world right now, in this time and generation, and its atmosphere is stinking up the place. Sin is nothing more that getting addicted to Hell and staying in its environment … and when it comes time to pass on, the sin-addicted soul is so used to the darkness that it doesn’t want to leave.

“I have thrown open your prison doors.
“Do not remain in this present darkness. Come out into the Light. Come with Me into the Springtime of your soul. Come back into the Eden where you belong.
“Wake up to My light and grace. Breathe the air of true liberty.
“This is the Day I, the Lord, have made for you. Rejoice and be glad in it.”

Read the rest of this short sermon here.
(Thanks to Anastasia)


Fairy finery, honey and roses

Many people were already in the church when I arrived about 11:00 p.m. on Saturday night. On the carpet in the transept opposite the choir several blankets and children were laid out. I bought a fat candle to have ready for the procession, but it wasn’t lit until an hour later, and in the meantime I was getting intoxicated by the honey-warm scent rising to my nose, feeling as though I was already breaking the fast with some rich dessert. It smelled richer than baklava.

Then the Easter lilies came into olfactory focus, blending with the beeswax. By this time my ears were full of the hymns reminding me of Christ’s rising from the tomb, in a garden, in a real place on the earth, because He was really a man of flesh and blood as we are. When He rose He must have noticed whatever flowers were blooming in that garden.

Camellia in our church garden during Holy Week

Families were arriving, and while most males were dressed in their “ordinary” best Sunday clothes, the clergy wore white vestments, and many women and girls had put together very springy and bright, often all-white, outfits. A score of little girls had flouncy skirts that would have been fancy enough for a ball, or for acting the role of a fairy in a drama. I was so happy for their being able to commemorate their Lord’s Resurrection by being their prettiest.

Even I had found a long and full eyelet skirt at a discount store, to wear with an odd assortment of other white things, and switched from black to flowered purse. There were lots of us, then, adding our white forms to the press of bodies, including the Eritreans who always wear beautiful white gauze. On this day more Eritrean men than usual wore their white gauze, too.

When the deacons and priests started around with censers, it was with the incense that is so heady I want to cry over it, knowing that “Jesus is fairer, Jesus is sweeter….” Is it made from roses? I must find out about this.

When we made our procession around the property — it was a longer route than merely around the church building — yes, there was some drizzle, but very fine, and not enough to put out anyone’s candle. We were singing our new Paschal processional hymn, which the choir tried to teach the rest of us last week, but I know I didn’t get it. Several of us noted as we were trailing along silently, too far behind in the train to hear the choir, that it had taken us ten years to learn the old Paschal hymn; it would have helped to have the choir members scattered along the line, interspersed with the rest of us and leading us.

But I think everyone was content. We were at Pascha! At one point we who were closer to the front of the long line could see across the lawn to a stream of worshipers at the end of the procession, and the view was stunning, their white garments reflecting the flickering candles they were holding up in the dark. There were hundreds of us! I didn’t think it seemed that crowded in the building.

Soon we arrived again at the doors of the church, at which the priest knocked, and then, “He is not here! He is risen!” When we went inside we heard as always on this night the Paschal homily of St. John Chrysostom, which he gave about 1600 years ago and which has never sounded sweeter to my ears, full as it is of the love and grace of God. As we float through Bright Week and through the next 50 days, its glad tidings will remind us to keep greeting one another with “Christ is risen!”

This year our Father Michael, who is over 80 years old, read the homily. Somehow his voice never weakens, and retains the strength and authority of a strong spirit. Every time he serves or preaches I am so thankful for the grace that enables him to keep going, because he is so dear. His heart is such that the message of this sermon is of the sort that would flow from his own pen and lips.

At every repetition of the phrase, “Hell [or it] was embittered,” Fr. Michael paused so that the congregation could answer with a shout: “It was embittered!” — a sort of boisterous participation that we all seem to enjoy this one time in the year.

In a hearty baritone, this is what he proclaimed:

If anyone is devout and a lover of God, let him enjoy this beautiful and radiant festival.

If anyone is a grateful servant, let him, rejoicing, enter into the joy of his Lord.

If anyone has wearied himself in fasting, let him now receive recompense.
If anyone has labored from the first hour, let him today receive the just reward.

If anyone has come at the third hour, with thanksgiving let him feast.

If anyone has arrived at the sixth hour, let him have no misgivings; for he shall suffer no loss.

If anyone has delayed until the ninth hour, let him draw near without hesitation.

If anyone has arrived even at the eleventh hour, let him not fear on account of tardiness.
For the Master is gracious and receives the last even as the first; He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour, just as to him who has labored from the first.

He has mercy upon the last and cares for the first; to the one He gives, and to the other He is gracious.

He both honors the work and praises the intention.
Enter all of you, therefore, into the joy of our Lord, and, whether first or last, receive your reward.

O rich and poor, one with another, dance for joy!

O you ascetics and you negligent, celebrate the day!
You that have fasted and you that have disregarded the fast, rejoice today!

The table is rich-laden: feast royally, all of you!

The calf is fatted: let no one go forth hungry!
Let all partake of the feast of faith. Let all receive the riches of goodness.

Let no one lament their poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed.

Let no one mourn their transgressions, for pardon has dawned from the grave.

Let no one fear death, for the Saviour’s death has set us free.
He that was taken by death has annihilated it!

He descended into Hades and took Hades captive!

He embittered it when it tasted His flesh! And anticipating this, Isaiah exclaimed: “Hades was embittered when it encountered Thee in the lower regions“.
It was embittered, for it was abolished!

It was embittered, for it was mocked!

It was embittered, for it was purged!

It was embittered, for it was despoiled!

It was embittered, for it was bound in chains!
It took a body and came upon God!

It took earth and encountered Ηeaven!

It took what it saw, but crumbled before what cannot be seen!
O death, where is thy sting?

O Hades, where is thy victory?
Christ is risen, and you are overthrown!

Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen!

Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice!

Christ is risen, and life reigns!

Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in a tomb!
For Christ, being raised from the dead, has become the first-fruits of them that have slept.

To Him be glory and might unto the ages of ages.


As I finish this post, it is Bright Tuesday. I went to church, and the gospel for today was the story of Christ meeting some of His followers on the Road to Emmaus soon after His rising from the dead. The unfolding of the scene, and imagining the Lord walking alongside and hearing them telling about the recent events — then their eyes being opened, His vanishing from their sight…. They said, “Didn’t our hearts burn within us?” And I got chills.

The altar is open all during Bright Week.