Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015, has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany” and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.”
When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all of Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it is written by the prophet: ‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will govern my people Israel.'” Matthew 2:3-6
Good morning Prayer Team!
I guess every good story has its villain, and in the Nativity story, that “villain” is King Herod. The Magi had just come to his palace after a long journey, eager to find the “king” they had been searching for. Herod, however, did not share their joy. He was “troubled, and all of Jerusalem with him.” After all, was this new “king” going to be a threat to his rule and the rule of the Romans over the Jews? He then assembled the chief priests and scribes from the Jewish temple and grilled them about where the Christ was to be born. Even the Jewish temple leadership, those who served as “kings” over the Jews, and who you would have thought would be happy at the prospect of a king to deliver them from their Roman overlords, had to have been troubled by this news. There had to have been some collusion between Roman and Jewish leaders that this new “King of the Jews” was not going to be good for any of them. Herod would shortly order the deaths of all male children under age two in the area, so scared was he of a baby boy who might one day overthrow him. And thirty years later, the chief priests and scribes of the Jews would conspire to kill Christ and succeed, well for three days anyway.
There are a lot of King Herod’s in the world today, people who misunderstand who Christ is, and count Him, the King of Peace, as an enemy. They hate the One who personifies love.
It always perplexes me how people could be up in arms with the Ten Commandments being placed on the wall of a courthouse. Not only are they the foundation of Western law, but how can people object to the ideas of “thou shalt not steal,” or “thou shalt not commit murder”? People get angry at Christmas tree displays. I understand getting angry at people, but I’ve never gotten angry at a tree. The name “Christmas” itself gets bad press. Ironically, I’m more likely to wish someone a “blessed Nativity” than a “Merry Christmas”—I wonder which is more offensive.
The world has turned Christmas into a holiday of material gain. Commercialism is ruining the season. Stress has overtaken joy. “King Herod” and his cohorts are still trying to ruin Christmas.
So, if we are supposed to be seekers like the Magi, and if we are supposed to be trusting like the Magi, then we have to be focused like the Magi. The Magi were undeterred by the plotting of King Herod. They kept their focus only on finding Christ. And once they found Him, they stayed away from Herod. Not wanting to betray the Savior they had come to know, they went back to their country by a different way.
Sometimes it seems like the easier thing to do to just give in to the crowd, rather than do what feels like paddling upstream. It’s easier just to go to the parties than maintain a Nativity fast. It’s easier to just say “Happy Holidays” than risk offending someone with “Merry Christmas.” It’s easier to let the darkness of this season cover up the Light of Christ. No one, however, said that being a Christian would be easy. The hero in any story always has to overcome adversity and defeat the villain. Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:14-16: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” One of the responsibilities of the Christian is to be a light in the world, and that’s not always easy to do.
If the feast of the Nativity is about the presence of Christ the Light coming into the world, even the placement of the feast on the calendar has to do with light. No one knows the date of the Nativity. The date of the crucifixion has been traced the 13th day of the Jewish month of Nissan, right before Passover. So we know that the crucifixion occurred in the spring. We do not know what season the Nativity occurred in. We know that the Nativity occurred somewhere between 6 and 4 B.C. based on when King Herod died, which was shortly after the slaughter of the Innocents, which occurred two years after the Nativity.
The feast of the Nativity was placed in December in the year 336 A.D. There were other holidays celebrated at this time of year including the pagan feast of the solstice, or the shortest day of the year. So, whether the Nativity was placed on December 25 in order to “compete” with the pagan holiday, or because other holidays were celebrated at that time of year in society, hence the “holiday season,” what is a beautiful symbolism is that after the solstice, December 21, the days begin to get longer, the light begins to overtake the darkness. Through the Nativity, the Light of Christ begins to overcome the darkness of sin.
As we prepare to celebrate the Nativity, we must think of the “Light-ness” of the shepherds and the Magi. The shepherds were poor, the Magi were powerful, but both were filled with the Light of Christ because both had faith. Herod and his court were filled with the darkness of jealousy and power. We must resist the urge to go to the dark side and remain in the Light of Christ. We must stand up for what we believe in. For the Lord blesses those who praise Him and sanctifies those who put their trust in Him. (from the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, c/o Holy Cross Press) There are lots of roles in the Nativity story for us to imitate—Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, the Magi—King Herod is the one role we should not want to play.
O Christ, the true Light that enlightens and sanctifies every man who comes into the world, let the light of Your countenance shine on us, that in it we may behold the unapproachable Light. And direct our steps to keep Your commandments, by the intercessions of Your all-immaculate Mother and all the saints. Amen. (Prayer of the First Hour, from the Royal Hours, Trans. Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Let your Light shine today!
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The Orthodox Christian Network (OCN) is an official agency of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops. OCN offers videos, podcasts, blogs and music, to enhance Orthodox Christian life. The Prayer Team is a daily devotion written by Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis, the parish priest at St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, Florida. Devotions include a verse from scripture, a commentary from Fr. Stavros, and a short prayer that he writes to match the topic.
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