I love how various feasts involve the blessing of something basic and earthy . . . water on Theophany, palms on Palm Sunday, eggs at Pascha, fruit on the Transfiguration. Irreligious and deracinated Protestants sometimes find such practices to be pagan, but they make manifest the Christian doctrine of Christ’s recapitulation and perfection of all creation. Even the pagans recognize the sacred. Calvinists do not excel in spirituality by dismissing the sacred. They rather lose all sense of transcendence. The logical conquence of Calvinism is indeed the United Church of Christ—faddish politics occasionally wrapped in scriptural swaddling clothes.
Anyway, it is also the birthday of one of America’s finest sons—and a not too distant cousin of mine—Robert E. Lee (“too” being relative in genealogy, of course). According to Google, it is Paul Cézanne’s birthday, as well.
I really appreciate the Greekness of the Greeks, and the new calendar Greeks of Tarpon Springs, Florida celebrated the feast (thirteen days ago) with their typical Hellenic enthusiasm:
Slideshow from the Albany Times Union: “Epiphany celebrations in Russia”
Here is a depiction of the practice in suburban Moscow. It is a bit more raw than the monastic setting in the previous video. Anthropological notes: the Soviet nostalgia clothing items (hat and underwear), the presence of American founding fathers on underwear and towels, and the Russians’ utter disregard of male modesty. Yep, quite familiar . . .
Reuters also has a multinational slideshow: “Epiphany in the water”
And here are the Ukrainians:
Christ is born!
Merry Christmas to everyone who follows the old calendar.
Troparion of the Nativity:
Thy Nativity, O Christ our God,
hath shone upon the world the light of knowledge;
for thereby, they that worshipped the stars
were taught by a star
to worship Thee, the Sun of Righteousness,
and to know Thee, the Dayspring from on high.
O Lord, glory be to Thee!
Kontakion of the Nativity:
Today the Virgin giveth birth to Him who is above all being,
and the earth offereth a cave to Him whom no man can approach.
Angels with shepherds give glory, and magi journey with a star.
For our sake is born a young Child, the Pre-eternal God!
I do not think that I have ever featured the Georgians before. Here is a Georgian news broadcast from yesterday that shows the ქართველები getting ready for the feast:
Their script looks so fascinating.
When the Creator beheld man, whom He had made with His hands, about to perish, He bowed the heavens and came down; and He was endued with man’s nature in very truth, becoming incarnate of a Virgin divinely pure: for He has glorified Himself.
—Troparion from the first canticle of the matins canon for the Nativity
Enjoy the feast!
Observing Advent and celebrating the Nativity of the Lord outside the services are somewhat cumbersome for Christians in America today. Fortunately, we are free to worship as we wish; comparing ourselves with Egypt’s Copts, for instance, reminds us of our blessings. Nonetheless, the popular and cultural traditions of observing the liturgical cycle outside the liturgical services do not cohere well with living in our secular society. The calendar difference for those who follow the old calendar is annoying; observing the Church calendar induces some level of festive dissonance for us. However, it remains an issue even for a new calendarist at this time of year, as Americans celebrate Christmas according to the canons of Macy rather than the tradition of the Church. The twelve days do not mean anything anymore in our society. It is yet another example of how ghetto Christianity (or “Fortress Catholicism”), where we can establish and live according to our own social rules and observances, is really the best option in a heathen age, though such truly is an acknowledgment of a profound crisis (and failure by Christians). I think that the bishops, especially those of the Roman Church, are somewhat naive in pretending that we can really transform the larger society into a “culture of life” without first evangelizing the people, which would thus change the culture. Of course, Christians could also take over politically, but we have lost our taste for political domination lately. Pagan societies are pagan until most people, or at least the ones who rule the institutions of the society, become Christians. There is no Christendom without Christians.
Moreover, I have come to suspect that the “natural law” approach to making the society less barbaric is mistaken. Many bishops think that we can “engage the culture” and leaven it by appealing to the natural rational faculty in men. I think that this is false hope and rather foolish. I cannot think of a time in history when philosophy was able to convert a society. There are too few rational people—too few philosophical people. Socrates makes a lot of good points in the Republic that people tend to overlook, and this is one of them. The many cannot be expected to entrust the truly wise and the truly virtuous with power. To do that, they would have to be already wise and virtuous, and they clearly are not.
The gospel, by contrast, has a track record of converting whole peoples. I think that the bishops should face up to that fact. All the peace conferences and rational dialogue that they can muster will not do anything. For the vast majority of people, truth comes not in argumentation but in baptism. I do not delight in this opinion. I find it very disheartening. Yet, I wonder now if the bible beaters of my youth were correct, after all. Jesus is the answer. It is a rare case when natural reason can get a man even halfway there.