Fr. Vasile Tudora is the Parish Priest at the Greek Orthodox Church of St. John the Baptist in Euless, Texas under the omophorion of Metropolitan Isaiah of Denver. Originally born in Bucharest, Romania he pursued first Medical Studies at the "Carol Davila" University of Medicine in Bucharest. Later he responded the call to priesthood and also pursued theological studies at the "Sfanta Mucenita Filoteea" Theological Institute. Due to his dual background, Fr. Vasile has a special interest in Christian Bioethics and writes articles on contemporary faith issues on his blog and various other blogs and newspapers in English and Romanian. He is married to Presvytera Mirela Tudora, and they cherish every minute of the time they spend with their 5 children: Maria, Luca, Matei, Tatiana and Elena. Beside the Church and the family, Fr. Vasile also longs for the great outdoors and experiments with digital photography.
As we approach the holy night of Nativity, comes a time when we ask ourselves the timeless question: what do I want for Christmas? If one looks around, generally electronics are popular with men, jewelry with women, gaming consoles with teens, and so on; as we could expect, mostly material things. I have yet to hear one answering, “I want the gift of prayer,” or of spiritual discernment, or unwavering faith. Most of us, caught up in the mercantile “spirit” of the season, get carried away in wanting more and more things, never enough. I read in the news recently of a man who in desperation committed suicide after his wife, who refused to finish a 5-hour Christmas shopping marathon, accused him of “being a skinflint and spoiling Christmas.”
Who can we blame at this point? After all, the false gospel of prosperity, spoken loudly throughout the land, even from some pulpits, comes to say that we should count our blessings in the material kind. The more money I have, the more goods I have, the more recognition I have, the more blessed I am. I see, however, many famous people who, according to secular standards, have received all one can imagine from life, but yet many of them live miserable and unfulfilled lives. Many of these “fortunate” ones actually fall into alcohol abuse, drug addiction, some even suicide.
As an old proverb says, money, or material things in our case, do not bring happiness. In fact, I have seen people who had nothing, and yet, they were enjoying life more than one with access to everything. Happiness, the universal pursuit of every person, is not a function of how much you could have, but how content you could be with what you already have. Most of the saints barely had any possessions and yet, every minute of their lives was spent in thanksgiving, praising the Lord for all things (1 Thes 5:18).
So is there a perfect gift we can ask for at Christmas? We find a clue in the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom where we hear, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming from You, the Father of lights” (Prayer in front of the Ambo). This might come as a bit of a surprise for the contemporary person, immersed in the commercial holiday season, but the perfect gift does not come from an overweight and trivialized Santa character, but actually from our Father Who is in heaven. He is “the source of holiness, the giver of all good things” (Prayers after Communion).
But what are these “good things”? Can we discern properly what we actually need from what we in fact lust after? The Apostle warns us, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things edify” (1 Cor 10:23-24). The things we want many times are not beneficial for us. Most material things are going to enslave us in their net. The more we have, the more we want, and it is never enough. Even things like health and long life can sometimes be detrimental if we use them for sin and not unto salvation. But God is not an automatic wish giver, and, in His great mercy, He fulfills only the prayers that are “unto salvation.”
Good or naughty, in the Holy Night of Nativity, we all receive from the Father “the perfect gift from above” coming in the form of a Holy Child, Who comes to be born in a humble manger, ready to carry on His little shoulders the entire weight of the sin of the world.
He comes renouncing His godly glory so we can be glorified in Him.
He comes to give up His life so we can be raised from the dead.
He comes on the earth so we can follow Him in heaven.
He comes to give me, the first among sinners, the gift of redemption, making me again a citizen of paradise.
The true Spirit of Christmas is the Holy Spirit that makes possible the presence of Christ in the middle of the Church at the Nativity Liturgy.
The Christmas tree is the tree of the genealogy of Christ leading through its branches to the fruit of the ages, the newborn Jesus.
The true ornaments are the lives of His Saints who shine in the eyes of God as luminaries, guiding us all to Him.
The real gifts of Christmas are the Holy Gifts offered and transformed for the life of the world, giving us eternal joy and the true happiness we actually forgot that we long for.
Bethlehem has opened Eden. Come, let us see. We have found the hidden delight. Come, let us receive the things of Paradise inside the Cave. There, we shall see an unwatered root that blossomed forgiveness. There, we shall find an undug well, from which David of old desired to drink. There, the Virgin quenched the thirst of both Adam and David, when she gave birth to her baby. So let us go there now, where He was born a newborn Child, the pre-eternal God. (Oikos of the Feast of Nativity)
A blessed Nativity to all!