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Author Topic: Is Christmas orthodox?  (Read 2793 times) Average Rating: 0
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Shiloah
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« on: September 01, 2004, 09:42:21 PM »

Don't know whether this topic has been around before.  Why does the Orthodox Church celebrate the birth of Christ December 25, when this actually was not His birth but His incarnation or conception? For those who don't know what I am talking about, please read http://www.messianic.com/articles/dates.htm

How and why did the Church start Christ's life with this pagan day.
Another question along similar lines;
Why is the Nativity of the Theotokos celebrated on the astronomical event of the rising of the ziodiacal sign Virgo at the horizon ?

These questions are not meant to provoke but I really am looking for an acceptble answer.

Kind regards and thank you,
Shiloah
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« Reply #1 on: September 02, 2004, 07:49:02 AM »

I'm not sure why you would want to resort to the "expertise" of a group which lists Major Errors of Historical Christianity and Judaism.
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« Reply #2 on: September 02, 2004, 10:25:27 AM »

Shiloah,

Did it ever occur to these philo-Judaic chauvenists (which is really what these groups are) with an essentially evangelical eschatology/soteriology, that the types that one finds throughout the ancient legends/myths of mankind were either part of the original revelation of the ancient Patriarchs (who are the parents of us all) and are a manifestation (even if warped by ignorance and corruption) of man's yearning for the Christ?   That perhaps it's even written in the stars, so that even the innocently supersticious men of old would not be left without a means of knowing?

Besides, it is very plainly said in the Scriptures that Christ and His Saints have despoiled the devil of the honours which he had once heaped upon himself and his delusions - thus if a myth created by the distorting influence of the devil called a fictional divine mother character "Queen of Heaven", I do not see why a Christian should be repelled to attribute this title to one who REALLY has been made Queen of the Heavens, and very Mother of God.

How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning  ! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! (Isaiah 14:12)

What's particularly interesting is that "Lucifer" in Hebrew refers to the "day star" or "morning star" - heylel (Strong's #01966).  This title, while apparently belonging to the devil prior to his fall from grace (though he zealously clings to it even in his depravity, such is his conceit), and stinking from that association, is taken by Christ and given in turn in measure to His Saints.

25 But that which ye have already hold fast till I come.
26 And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations:
27 And he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of my Father.
28 And I will give him the morning star.
29 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches. (Apocalypse 2:25-29)

I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, and the bright and morning star. (Apocalypse 22:16)

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« Reply #3 on: September 02, 2004, 11:15:30 AM »

Augustine,

Thanks for your post.  Your insight is certaily timely, as I've been having some frustration in my search for the historic church.  While I'm still drawn by Orthodoxy, I've been having some nagging doubts particularly regarding veneration of Mary, the saints, icons, and relics.  Although I certainly can understand and agree with rationale behind such veneration, I can't shake the notions that (1)These practices weren't part of the original apostolic deposit, and (2)these practices were introduced as accomodations to the increasing influx of pagans into the church, and that the doctrines behind them were a posteriori rationalizations for such veneration.  (Chalk it up to my Protestant upbringing or my tendency to "doubt").

In regards to (1), I'm in the process of reading Jaroslav Pelikan's The Spirit of Eastern Christendom (Volume 2 of his Christian Tradition series) and he notes how both sides of the iconclast controversy, for example, could and did cite Patristic support for their causes.  There were in particular quotes from Fathers including Epiphanius who denounced images even of Christ and the saints.  Likewise, the very early Patristic record is silent regarding such things as the sinlessness and the assumption of Mary, and there was more than one father who suggested she committed minor sins (eg John Chrysostom for instance).  Contrast this with the very flowery sounding language of the Akathist which seems like it is being addressed to a deity, subscribing very lofty, goddess-like perogatives to the Virgin Mary.  This leads to my suspicion I mentioned in (2) which was somewhat reinforced when I read a recent quote from an Orthodox priest in Greece (on this website, actually) who stated that the "common people" find it easier to pray to humans (the saints, Mary) than to God.  This statement almost gives the impression there are two Christianities: one for the masses, who spend more time praying to the saints and venerating relics and icons then worshipping God directly; and the other for the more theologically astute.  It's almost if the second group rationalizes the practices of the first group which appear to outsiders (at least) to be "folksy" superstitions.  I must admit I'm having trouble seeing how these practices, while agreeing with the theological rationale behind their (seemingly) a posteriori justifications, are not examples of innovation in praxis if not doctrine.

I hope no one interprets this sentiment expressed in this post as being disrespectful.  I'm just having honest doubts.  I've pondered focusing on the first few centuries as an historical and ecclesiastic reference point for the normative apostolic tradition (as opposed to what may have developed later regarding the cult of Mary and the saints), but right now I'm not sure I can do so without being arbitrary.  

Sorry for the frustrated rambling.
 :-
DT
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Shiloah
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« Reply #4 on: September 02, 2004, 04:12:22 PM »


 That perhaps it's even written in the stars, so that even the innocently supersticious men of old would not be left without a means of knowing?


Augustine,
thank you for taking up this post and answering to it.

There is a book out by E.W.Bullinger called "The Witness of the Stars". The author uses ancient astronomical sources to show how the  constellations witness to the accuracy of Biblical prophetic truths. ISBN 0-8254-2245-0   This book glorifies God

 (E.W.Bullinger, an Anglican clergyman, is a descendant of J.Heinrich Bullinger, the Swiss reformer   http://www.fact-index.com/h/he/heinrich_bullinger.html/  . He wrote the footnotes and Appendices   http://www.levendwater.org/companion/frameset.htm?index.html&inhoudsopgave.htm to the Companion Bible)

In this book he says the "Virgo is the only point where we can intelligently begin", and then he presents all the constellations with such amazing details and how they exactly do what you say. They 'tell the story' for all to see.

 Virgo consists of three constellations. According to this book the first constellation in Virgo is called COMA (The Woman and child). It explains that the coming "Branch" (one particular star in Virgo) will be a child, and that he should be "the desire of all nations'.

The ancient name of this constellation is Comah, "the desired or the longed for".  We have the word in Hag.2:7.
the ancient Zodiacs pictured this constellation as a woman with a child in her arms. Albumazar, an Arabian astronomer of the 8th century, says, "there arises ...a young woman, whose Persian name denotes a pure virgin, sitting on a throne, nourishing an infant boy, who has a Hebrew name by some nations called IHESU, with the signification IEZA, which in Greek is called CHRISTOS."  But bullinger goes on to say that we do not find this picture in any modern maps of the stars, and that there has been a lot of ignorantly or intentionally perverting of the constellations, and in transition from ancient to more modern languages many a meaning got lost or was hidden. In the above case, for instance, the Hebrew name was COMA 'desired'. But the Greeks had a word for hair, Co-me. This again is transferred to the Latin coma, and thus "Coma Berenicae" (the hair of Berenice) comes down to us today as the name of this constellation, and gives us a woman's wig instead of that Blessed One, "The Desire of all Nations".

So far my abbreviated quote. But this Book is a revelation. I don't see in it the mention of Christmas, but the chapter about the sign Sagittarius has the under title  The Redeemer's Triumph. And it is explained beautifully and kind of culminates with the preview of "The dragon shalt thou trample under foot".

Augustine, thank you for your thought which reminded me of this book. It definitely brings back the right perspective and reconciles with the truth reflected in our orthodox Church year.

As for the explanations in that messianic article about the calculating of the dates of birth for the Forerunner and Jesus Christ, I don't see anything objectible in it. Do you?

My apology to all who might have been offended by the post. There certainly is no offense meant. I'm simply trying to understand things better, and Augustine, you always have a way to inspire  Grin

Shiloah
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« Last Edit: September 02, 2004, 04:24:31 PM by Shiloah » Logged

"God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" 2.Cor.4:6

"One thing is education: that we learn how to love God. "
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« Reply #5 on: September 03, 2004, 09:44:34 AM »

(bump)

 ...This leads to my suspicion I mentioned in (2) which was somewhat reinforced when I read a recent quote from an Orthodox priest in Greece (on this website, actually) who stated that the "common people" find it easier to pray to humans (the saints, Mary) than to God.  This statement almost gives the impression there are two Christianities: one for the masses, who spend more time praying to the saints and venerating relics and icons then worshipping God directly; and the other for the more theologically astute.  It's almost if the second group rationalizes the practices of the first group which appear to outsiders (at least) to be "folksy" superstitions.  I must admit I'm having trouble seeing how these practices, while agreeing with the theological rationale behind their (seemingly) a posteriori justifications, are not examples of innovation in praxis if not doctrine.

Any thoughts?
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« Reply #6 on: September 03, 2004, 11:16:19 AM »

Not to be difficult or anything, but I did a google on "Comah" as a constellation, as opposed to "Coma Bernices" and all the references to it were backed by the book by Bullinger.  More research to be done on "Abulmazur" but he is hardly the only authority on Astronomy and Constellations.  Lacking other documentation, I am dubious of this "analysis" of Virgo and it's significance.  

I also found a logical flaw in the Messianic sites reasoning of the dates in that after establishing when Elizabeth's husband is told that he and his wife would have a child:

Quote
The eighth week transverses the last week of the second Hebrew month of Iyar and the first week of the third Hebrew month of Sivan, which culminates at Shavuot (Pentecost). This is the anchor point for discovering the exact time of Messiah Yeshua's birth. The angel promised Zachar'yah that his prayer had been answered, and when he went home to his wife Elisheva (Elizabeth) she conceived, it seems almost immediately. This puts the conception of Yochanan (John the Baptist) very near the time of Shavuot, the Feast of Pentecost, in the second week of the month of Sivan, the third Hebrew month.

emphasis added.  This is supposed to be the starting point for the calculations but it "Seems" that Elizabeth concieved.  That's not knowing for sure, and if it is not the case then the following calculations are wrong.  

Ebor
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« Reply #7 on: September 03, 2004, 11:54:58 AM »

Doubting Thomas,

I must admit that I'm having a bit of trouble following what exactly your question is? I do not think for a second you are being disrespectful, and I hope you won't think this post is disrespectful either, I'm just not sure exactly what you are asking?

PS. When you speak of the "cult of the saints" as though it was a later innovation, or did not come to prominence until a later time... well let me ask you this, have you read a lot of Frs. Alexander Schmemann, John Meyendorff, et al?
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« Reply #8 on: September 03, 2004, 04:04:48 PM »

One of the practices of early Christianity was to take over existing pagan temples and concecrate them to God thereby discrediting its prior use.  Same may be said of adopting pagan holydays and discrediting them also. What is more fitting then to replace the pagan with the Christian?

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« Reply #9 on: September 08, 2004, 09:46:08 AM »

There was a good article that appeared in Touchstone a while ago called Calculating Christmas.
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« Reply #10 on: September 08, 2004, 05:20:35 PM »

 Although I certainly can understand and agree with rationale behind such veneration, I can't shake the notions that (1)These practices weren't part of the original apostolic deposit, and (2)these practices were introduced as accomodations to the increasing influx of pagans into the church, and that the doctrines behind them were a posteriori rationalizations for such veneration.  (Chalk it up to my Protestant upbringing or my tendency to "doubt").

DT:

Is it odd to bring flowers to the grave of a loved one or reverantly touch or even kiss the headtsone or a photgraph of that person? Do these actions constitute worship?

St. Stephen the New in the 8th century was brought before the Emperor in Conatstantinoble. At this time Ilsam was raging through that part of the world (it still is today but it was brand new then) and the Emperor wanted St. Stephen to explain how icons were not idols....St. Stephen gave his eloquent explanation after which the emperor ordered him to place an icon on the ground and trample it since it was not "God" or "Godlike".

St. Stephen instead took out a coin that had that emperor's image on it. Placed it on the ground and trampled it. This infuriated the Emperor and ST. Stephen was executed.....

But he made his point. Images are materially just what they are made of...but images do have meaningful connections for us.

These images do go back to early Christendom. Not many icons from before the 8 century have survived from the Middle East due to Islam's rage against such images. In a time when literacy was rare and books even more rare, iconic images were used to teach the Christian Gospel. The cave recently discovered in Israel from the First Century had icons painted on its walls....

Yes it is "different" to kiss an icon for the first time....might I suggest that before kissing one...you mediate before one? The icon of Christ of Sanai is excellent for starters. Empty your head of all thoughts. Lay aside all earthly cares and just stare into Christ's face. You will in time feel the urge or compulsion to be drawn into Christ...to kiss the icon.

At www.frederica.com you can find a list of books of articles on the subject. I will PM you the title of a short book she wrote that is just about icons....
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« Reply #11 on: September 08, 2004, 09:00:52 PM »

DT:

Is it odd to bring flowers to the grave of a loved one or reverantly touch or even kiss the headtsone or a photgraph of that person? Do these actions constitute worship?
Like I said, I do understand the theological rationale behind venerating icons, and have no problem with that per se.  I was just wondering whether the rationale was an a posteriori justification of a practice that crept into the church.  However, many here have graciously pointed out to me that icons were around even before Nicea.

Quote
St. Stephen the New in the 8th century was brought before the Emperor in Conatstantinoble. At this time Ilsam was raging through that part of the world (it still is today but it was brand new then) and the Emperor wanted St. Stephen to explain how icons were not idols....St. Stephen gave his eloquent explanation after which the emperor ordered him to place an icon on the ground and trample it since it was not "God" or "Godlike".

St. Stephen instead took out a coin that had that emperor's image on it. Placed it on the ground and trampled it. This infuriated the Emperor and ST. Stephen was executed.....

But he made his point. Images are materially just what they are made of...but images do have meaningful connections for us.

And that is a powerful point.

Quote
These images do go back to early Christendom. Not many icons from before the 8 century have survived from the Middle East due to Islam's rage against such images. In a time when literacy was rare and books even more rare, iconic images were used to teach the Christian Gospel. The cave recently discovered in Israel from the First Century had icons painted on its walls....
Thanks for info.



Quote
At www.frederica.com you can find a list of books of articles on the subject. I will PM you the title of a short book she wrote that is just about icons....

Thanks for the link--I'll check it out.  And feel free to PM me.

In Christ,

DT
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« Reply #12 on: September 14, 2004, 10:27:11 PM »

... (2)these practices were introduced as accomodations to the increasing influx of pagans into the church, and that the doctrines behind them were a posteriori rationalizations for such veneration.  (Chalk it up to my Protestant upbringing or my tendency to "doubt").

DT,

I am a catechumen now, and have struggled with the same questions you have (pretty exactly), still not totally resolved.

I also started down the path of studying the beloved Professor Pelikan, but didn't get as far as you before I decided to pause and turn to Fr. Schmemann, based on high praise for his "Historical Road of Eastern Orthodoxy".  To me it seems a more warm, less clinical synopsis of the early Church (though I fully intend to get back to Pelikan, after Fr. Schmemann and a couple lives of the saints).  I found Fr. Schmemann to be a very powerful defender of the early Church and the practices that survive today.  While he makes the same case that Augustine did above (even saying that the Church did in fact adopt certain practices from pagan cultures, and makes no apology for it), he also provides the background that predates the adoption of those practices.  Bottom line, for those practices accepted by Orthodoxy, the teaching already existed before the Church adopted a cultural practice and corrected its' meaning.

Just what you needed - another book  Tongue

The reason I want to study a life or two of the saints before continuing my historical search is because I want to see the operation of the Holy Spirit in the life of a man who venerated icons, blessed Mary, prayed to reposed saints, etc.  As one man put it, Seraphim of Sarov did all these things more than most, and who wouldn't want to become the sort of man of God that he did?

George
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