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by Archpriest, Dr. Mikhail Kapchits*
We all came to the Nativity Lent and Christmas is approaching fast. We just celebrated The Entrance into the Temple, then St. Catherine comes, then St. Andrew, St. Sabbas, St. Nicholas, St. Spyridon – the feasts are jumping one after another as if the Holy Theotokos and the saints are handing us to each other like bricks in order to finally place us in the designed tower (or rather Cave) of the Christ’s Nativity.
Our heart is longing to greet the Incarnating Christ: Christ is being born – glorify Him! We are all excited about the coming celebration: solemn services, joyful gatherings at home, family, relatives, guests, vacations… A lot of plans, a lot of care, a lot of joyful noise! We are all so excited that sometimes we just forget that only “one thing is needful” (Luke 10, 42). One thing “which shall not be taken away from” us. And this is the peaceful spirit inside us, clean heart that God desires to see!
The story that I am about to tell appears to have nothing to do with Christmas. Nevertheless, I find it quite relevant. One of the Church Fathers said that there were two neighboring bishops who had an altercation with each other. One was rich and the other was more lowly. The rich one sought to do the other a mischief.
The lowly bishop heard of this and, knowing what he was going to do, said to his clergy: ‘We shall triumph, by the grace of Christ’. They said to him: ‘My lord, who could possibly prevail against that one?’ He said to them: ‘Wait, and you shall see’. He bided his time and when his fellow bishop was celebrating a feast in honor of some holy martyrs, he gathered his clergy and said to them: ‘Follow me, and we shall triumph’. They said to themselves: ‘What can he be going to do?’
He came to the other bishop, and when he came by in the procession, the visiting bishop fell at his feet together with the clergy, saying: ‘Forgive us; we are your lordship’s humble servants’. The other was amazed and a stab of remorse went through his soul. God gave him a change of heart, and he now grasped his colleague’s feet, saying: ‘It is you who are my lord and father’.
From that time on, there was a strong bond of love between them. The lowly bishop said to his clergy: ‘Did I not tell you that we should triumph, by the grace of God’! When there is any ill feeling between you, do you likewise-and triumph’. The elder also said that a humble man has more glory than the emperor himself; for he is only praised in his presence, whereas a humble man is praised and said to be blessed both in and out of his presence.
This famous story from the “Spiritual Meadow” written by John Moschos didn’t come to my mind just because it is about two bishops fighting. It is probably true that bishops sometimes like to argue. But look how much love, humility and peace we can find in this story! Humble, quiet, remorseful, peaceful spirit makes us real witnesses of the Christ’s coming into the world.
Indeed, it is hard to even imagine anything more humble than the Lord’s Nativity. Almighty God is being born in the cave with the cattle! God came down to the world to save men and decided from the very beginning to be unworthy of being with men! It was already mentioned in the beginning that for most of us Christmas is associated with being with the family in the church and at home, joy, peace, love. We enjoy those moments of happiness and wish that they will last forever.
Unfortunately, life sometimes brings tension in the families, among friends, in school and work environment, even in the Church. The story above clearly indicates what to do if this happens: When there is any ill feeling between you, do you likewise-and triumph. Triumph ye, children, by listening to your parents! Triumph ye, spouses, by asking forgiveness from each other! Triumph ye, friends, by yielding to each other! Venerable elder Makarios from the Optina Desert said: “whenever there is humility and love, the Lord covers everything”.
Let the humble, peaceful spirit of Christmas enlighten our hearts! Wishing you all blessed Nativity, dear readers!