Tag Archives: Christmas

Shaking the Tree of Anthropocentricity

by Thomas Arentzen | български | ქართული | ελληνικά | Română | Русский | Српски

christmas tree

“Rejoice, tree of leafy branches,
under which believers are sheltered …
Rejoice, O wood most blessed!”
Akathist to the Cross, Oikos 7

Rocking around the Christmas tree in my little Norwegian hometown, I got to thinking how the Christian world is filled with trees. Not only the spruce. Not primarily anyway. But the spruce, perhaps, evoked in me just then what I might call an arboreal clarity: trunks appear on all sides of us. As soon as the human being was created, God placed this earthborn creature among leaves and branches. The Tree of Life resided in the center of primeval reality, as the source of life force. On the other side of the Fall emerged the Tree of the Cross, bearing the fruit of Salvation. Their circuit of vivacious power is broken only by another tree, the one of knowledge, whose fruits are fatal. Every Christian knows the story. Still, we tend to forget that Christianity is really a tree religion.

Early Christians knew this story well; imagining Christ as the new Adam and Mary as the new Eve, they also envisioned the Cross to be the new Tree of Life. The Lord himself, when wandering the dirt roads of this earth, might speak in Dendric: “Let no one eat fruit from you ever again.” (Mark 11.14) The fig tree listened, replying by withering—or so the evangelist says. Clearly Jesus identified with greenery. He called himself a vine whose branches were disciples (John 15). And he’d search for similes adequate to describe the divine reality. How can we imagine the Kingdom, he asked rhetorically? As a seed that grows and “becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches” (Mark 4.30–32; Matthew 13.31–32). Wings hover freely above the buds that constantly grow and burst with ecclesiastical sap.

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Newness under the Son

by Carrie Frederick Frost

Cristo Redentor statue
Image credit: Donatas Dabravolskas

Is there nothing new under the sun? Is it the case that all of life is an ordered and predictable cycle? That what has been is what will be and what is done is what will be done (Eccl. 1:9)? This sense of the unending monotonous repetition of human experience is not confined to the early agricultural society in which Ecclesiastes was composed; it is known to us here in the twenty-first century. I drive the children to school today, and I will do the same tomorrow. My husband goes to the grocery store tonight only to return later in the week. The media reports the depressing stories of climate change and pandemic and will report the same next month.

The quotidian often feels monotonous and even oppressive, and this makes us seek difference and change. A new sweater brings a jolt of delight. Walking a different route to work means noticing different houses, people, dogs. But these novelties are fleeting—the sweater is only briefly new for so long and the delight wears off. The new route becomes the old route before too long. The sense that what has been is what will be sinks in. We wonder, is anything really new? Is anything truly novel? Is there any release from this cycle?

Christmas answers these questions with a resounding “yes.”

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The Star of Bethlehem or the Star of Jacob? A Forgotten Prophecy

by Rev. Dr. Eugen J. Pentiuc

This essay was first published on the website of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.

the three wise men
Image: The Three Wise Men Following the Star, Byzantine mosaic, Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, Ravena, 6th century A.D.

Nearly every year during the Nativity season printed journals and articles posted online flood us with the same resounding question: “What Was the Star of Bethlehem?”

Among the four canonical gospels, Matthew is the only one that mentions the “star of Bethlehem.”

“In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage’” (Matthew 2:1–2). Having learned from priests and scribes that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem, king Herod sent the magi to Bethlehem. “And they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh” (Matthew 2:9–11).

Not a few Christmas-triggered articles compete with one another seeking either to dismiss the historicity of the event or to find the best much for the “star of Bethlehem” among several scientifically proved celestial phenomena that have occurred between the years 6 B.C. and 4 A.D. the putative period during which the birth of our Lord is placed based on internal evidence (the closeness of Jesus’s birth to King Herod’s death) and external evidence (King Herod’s death in 4 B.C.)

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Christmas’s Great Conjunction

by John Fotopoulos | български | ქართული | Ελληνικά | РусскийСрпски

Magi visiting the Christ child

There has been a lot of excitement this December regarding an astronomical phenomenon known as a great conjunction. This great conjunction, also known as a planetary conjunction, is an alignment of Jupiter and Saturn with Earth that is visible in our night sky. A great conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn last came this close in the night sky nearly eight hundred years ago. However, this year for a few days beginning on December 21st (which also just so happens to be the winter solstice), these two planets aligned so closely that they could appear as a single point of bright light in the night sky. Because this year’s great conjunction occurs so near the date of Christmas, some have referred to this great conjunction as a “Christmas Star.”

Anyone familiar with the narratives about Christ’s birth is aware that a star led certain magi to the newborn Jesus—details that are found only in Matthew’s Gospel (Matt 2:1-12 versus Luke 2:1-21). Was this star that appeared at Jesus’s birth a great conjunction, or was it some other kind of astronomical occurrence such as a supernova or comet? A close look at Matthew’s birth narrative indicates that the star seen by the magi cannot be reconciled easily with any natural, astronomical occurrence. First of all, it is by observing this star’s rising in the sky that the magi gain the knowledge that they must find “the newborn King of the Jews” (2:2) in Jerusalem where they travel from their distant “Eastern lands” (2:1). Moreover, this same star later leads them accurately from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, at which point the star finally stops above the house of Mary and Joseph where the newborn Jesus is to be found (2:9-11).

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