During this holy month of Kiahk in the Coptic Orthodox Church, we commemorate the events that led to the transformation of the world through the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are called to be attentive and faithful during this time as we see the Feast of the Nativity on the horizon, rapidly approaching as each day passes. It is a time for us to prepare and wait for the feast which commemorates the reality of the coming of the Son of God. St. John Chrysostom recognized the awesome significance of this feast, saying,
A feast day is about to arrive, and it is the most holy and awesome of all feasts. It would be no mistake to call it the chief and mother of all holy days. What feast is that? It is the day of Christ’s birth in the flesh.
As you know, the Church began Her preparation for this great feast two weeks ago when She took up the task of the solemn 43-day fast. It seems to many that our fasting, prayer, and ascetic life during this time is the complete opposite of the joy of the holidays we see throughout society. While others are celebrating, we are fasting with rigor and harshness while celebrating frequent Divine Liturgies. How do we explain this stark contrast between the way the Orthodox Christian prepares for the feast and the way many others prepare?
We do not see Christmas as merely a joyous event. It is true that the angels proclaimed “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2:14), but we cannot forget the significance of the event that caused the angels to sing in this manner. We celebrate the deep and profound mystery that He, Who by His nature has no birth, is born. The Great Architect of creation, by Whom all things were made, takes the flesh of His creation. He Who holds the entire universe is held in the arms of the Holy Theotokos Mary.
For this reason, we do not celebrate the Christmas season merely by focusing on the joy without appreciating the wonder. The month of Kiahk is a time for us to immerse our hearts in the wonder of the mystery of our Lord’s birth. At the end of this spiritual exercise, we will encounter the true joy of Christmas:
Today, the virgin bears Him Who is transcendent, and the earth presents the cave to Him Who is beyond reach. Angels, along with shepherds glorify Him. The Magi make their way to Him by a star. For a new Child has been born for us, the God before all ages. 1
To fully appreciate these beautiful words chanted on the Feast, our hearts must be ready. It is as any person who resolves to climb the highest peak to see the most beautiful sight from the pinnacle. Unless he has climbed from the valley below, what he sees is only another beautiful picture, not the transcendental vision he worked, struggled, and longed for with all his being. Even if we feel some joy on the Feast, we must ask ourselves whether it is the same exalted joy reflected in the hymn:
A star appeared in the East, and the wise men followed it, until it led them to Bethlehem, and they worshiped the King of ages. The Lord of glory was called a Son, according to the words of John before he saw Him, the Eternal Word became flesh, and dwelt in us and we saw Him.
This joy will be revealed to us only if we first experience the wonder of this deep and profound mystery.
May the Lord, Who condescended to come down and accept birth as one of His creation, bless this holy month and virginal fast for us until we see the joy of the Feast of His Nativity in peace. ☩
- Greek Kontakion for the Nativity, which has been adapted by the Coptic Orthodox Church as a hymn before the Mohayyar. ↩