Praise be Jesus Christ!
“O Christ, what shall we offer you for your coming on earth in our humanity for our sake? The angels offer hymns of praise, the heavens give a star; the Magi present their gifts and the shepherds, their wonder; the earth provides a cave and the desert a manger….O God who are from all eternity, have mercy on us.” – from Vespers for the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord
In these days the world stands in anticipation once again, for the celebration of the Nativity of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ as a human child on earth. The season of Advent, or ‘Pylypivka’ commences with the Feast of St. Philip, the Apostle on November 14 (Gregorian calendar) or November 27 (Julian calendar). This period of 40 days culminating with the Feast of the Nativity of Christ, is meant to be a time of spiritual renewal and preparation for the celebration of this momentous event in human history.
Of course, for many of us, preparations for the Christmas season are already in full swing. Christmas presents are being purchased, festive cards and greetings are being sent, pantries are being stocked in preparation for the joyous holiday onslaught of family and friends upon our homes, and winter vacation plans are being laid. Certainly, we, as a consumer society, are well schooled in how to ‘prepare for the holidays’ and how to entertain ourselves and our family and friends.
But how are we ‘preparing for the holidays’ at a personal and spiritual level? What can we offer of ourselves to the Christ child when we come to church in a few weeks time for the celebration of his Nativity?
The author – probably a holy monk – of the verse cited above, which was taken from the vespers service for the Nativity of Christ, seriously pondered this question and calls upon us, who are living so many hundreds of years after him, to ponder this question as well. From our reading of the Holy Gospels concerning the Nativity of Christ, we know indeed that on the night when Christ was born, the angels offered their songs of praise which filled the sky, that the heavens offered a star to light the path of those who would come to give homage to the Child, that the earth offered a cave as a shelter for him from the wind and cold, that the shepherds offered their innocent wonder at the glorious sight, and that the Magi offered their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh in homage to his greatness and destiny.
In other words, each offered that which lay closest to the heart, each presented a valuable and irreplaceable treasure from within for the newborn Son of God. What then, of us? Are we not also called to offer something that lays close to our hearts, something valuable, a treasure from within for the newborn Infant? What could be better to offer than us ourselves, spiritually renewed?
As you are aware, our Ukrainian Catholic Church has recently embarked upon an ambitious path of spiritual renewal and revitalization for our parishes and our faithful under the banner: “The Vibrant Parish – A Place to Encounter the Living Christ”. In his pastoral letter to all the faithful, the spiritual father of our Church, His Beatitude, Sviatoslav Shevchuk emphasized six key elements essential to making our parishes more Christ-centered places of worship, service and gathering, among them The Word of God, Prayer and Serving One’s Neighbor (Diakonia).
As we enter the blessed time of Pylypivka, we encourage you to take these first three key elements and begin your own personal journey of spiritual rebirth, repentance and return to the Lord. Resolve to make it a priority for a few minutes every day, during the time of Pylypivka, to pick up the Holy Bible and read and meditate upon the inspired Word of God you will find there. Make it also a practice to find a comfortable nook for yourself at home and set aside a few minutes every day for a one-on-one conversation with the Lord through private prayer. And try to attend liturgical services offered in your parish church more often, even on a daily basis, if possible. And finally, during this time, make а point of reaching out in a concrete way to those in need, whether within your parish community or outside of it, striving always to see Christ in our neighbor.
It we try to follow this path during the time of Pylypivka, we will find that on Christmas Day, when we kneel finally at the crib of the newborn King, we will not have come to him empty-handed. For along with the heavens and the earth that have offered a star and a cave, and along with the angels, who have offered their song, the shepherds who brought their wonder, and the Magi their gifts of gold and fragrant spices, we will have brought the most precious gift of all – ourselves, with our hearts and souls renewed and filled with love for Him.
May the blessings of the Lord Jesus, whose birth in a cave in Bethlehem we joyfully await, descend upon all of you.
Metropolitan-Archbishop of Philadelphia
Eparch of St. Nicholas in Chicago
+Paul Chomnycky, OSBM (author)
Eparch of Stamford
Apostolic Administrator of St. Josaphat in Parma