by Rev. Fr. George Thankachan, Ireland
The Orthodox liturgy on Christmas is usually conducted in the silence of night and is designed in such a way as to attract anyone to it. It often creates in the minds of the faithful an inexplicable experience of the coming down of heaven to earth.
Prior to the Holy Eucharist, there is a service conducted outside the church in the open space. A special service is performed at a burning fire set in a cross- shaped pit or in a container. This spiritual campfire (bonfire) is meaningful and biblically based.
In Christian religious tradition as well as in the Indian Cultural tradition, ‘fire’ is considered to be the 'Seat of God’, the medium and symbol of the presence of God. The light is that which eradicates darkness. Light implies the divine where as darkness, the evil.
(1) In the holy Bible, we see that God appears before Moses in the form of fire at the bush and as the flash of light on the Mount Sinai. (Ref:-Exodus 3:3-6, 19:16-20)).
The fire during Christmas liturgy signifies the flash of light and the burning bush Moses witnessed which symbolically communicates to us the glory and grandeur of God.
(2) According to the Christian doctrine (Nicene Creed), Jesus Christ is "the Light of Light and very God of very God". (Ref: - St.John 1:9,3:2-218:12,12:46, St. Mathew 17:2, Rev.21:23,Psalm 104:2,Daniel2:22.)
When the shepherds and the wise-men from the East who came to see baby Jesus in the manger at Bethlehem, they could see the very same glory of the very same God who appeared before Moses at the burning bush which prompted them to worship Him together with the band of angels (St.Mathew 2:11, St. Luke 2:20) This very event endorses the divinity of Christ Jesus. As His 'Incarnation' has been a spiritual event happened in history once and for all, people of all generation must get a chance to experience it.
Therefore, we too, by way of this holy ritualistic service on Christmas, are given an opportunity in the present time to see the glory of God in the physical and mental plane, for we are privileged to have access to Him (Galatians 4:4-7). There is no other way for us to experience that spiritual event which happened some 2000 years ago. Those who whole heartedly partake in this rite in all faith, hope and love will certainly find the radiant face of our saviour Jesus Christ.
When we offer frankincense during this service by chanting the angelic hymn, "As the angels and the archangels up in the heaven...." (Melpatta uyarangalil swargeeya malakhamaar sthuthikkunnathupole balaheenarum manmayarumaya njangalum sthuthichuparayunnu...) we are, in fact, offering ourselves and our gifts to our Lord and God Jesus Christ who was born for us in the city of David like the poor shepherds and the Magi. See what the Psalmist promises to God, “I will offer you whole burnt offering full of marrow; with incense and ram.” (V 65:13-15).
In liturgy, we make a travel in time-machine from present to the past transcending the time-space continuum. The Orthodox worship is, at the same time, an earthly as well as a heavenly worship.
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