Christmas Eve at Bigorski

24 December 2018/6 January 2019

At the threshold of the long-awaited Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ in the evening hours before the holiday, the festivity began at the holy Bigorski monastery where a great multitude of faithful came from all over our country, united in the same love toward our humble Lord, who had chosen a meager cave to come to us, and even now He wants our humble hearts as his home. According to the already established tradition of singing Christmas carols for the Christmas Eve supper, Bigorski and its numerous guests were privileged in several occasions to enjoy the rich performances of the folk group “Macedonia”. This year for the first time, in the warm welcoming atmosphere of the monastery gallery, the present guests were honored by the wonderful performance of the ethno band “ Ljubojna”, who decide to sing several byzantine carols for this first of theirs visit of Bigorski, and with their merriment already announced the Christmas joy.

Inspired by this, truly present and warm atmosphere, among some many dear and smiling faces of his spiritual children, the Bigorski Elder, Archimandrite Parthenius, expressed from the bottom of his heart the most beautiful Christmas message of love and humbleness:

My dear ones, I would like to thank you all for being here with us tonight, to rejoice together for the Nativity of our Savior. I am especially grateful to the members of the ethno band Ljubojna, who took care, with such love and sincerity, that our joy be even greater tonight.

Archimandrite Parthenius

Actually, Vera was right when she said a while ago, that we have already begun to celebrate in the spirit of Christ’s joy. That is why, beside the wonderful Christmas carols, they also sang several folk as well as some of their own personal songs, for which some might say that it is inappropriate, since the fasting period is not over yet. However, in this case, I would like to remind you of the Gospel reading which is to be read on the second Sunday before the Nativity. Namely, we are talking about that familiar story of our Savior Christ, in which He speaks about the great supper a rich man has prepared (Luke 14,16-24). In the Gospel of Mathew this supper is presented as a wedding feast for the emperor’s son (Mathew 22,1-14). Our Lord Jesus compares the Heavenly Kingdom to a king who has prepared a wedding for his son. Do you see, our Lord has invited us all to a great spiritual feast and joy. He has prepared for us a feast of faith, of eternity, of love. We have all been invited to this mysterious feast, made for the sake of the world’s salvation. At this divine supper, the Holy Liturgy, where the son of God is being offered as a spiritual nourishment, as a heavenly bread, for spiritual rejoicing of all of us.

The One Whose Nativity we celebrate today, is being born in a cave, placed in a manger, as meek, so that He could make the entire humanity meek. He is being born in humbleness so that He could teach us, people, of humbleness. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls (Matthew 11,29). That is what the message of Christianity is, the message of humbleness, of meekness and of love. This message once conquered and transformed the cruel Roman world and the other pagan nations as well. The message of Christ’s love conquered the world without any weapon or any other earthly power. Lord Jesus Christ sent the Apostles as if lambs among wolves. And yet they won and managed to attain the entire world for Christ. With this they proved that the real active power of Christianity is love itself, the self-sacrificing, the freedom of spirit, not the blind and slavery subordination to laws and rules which simply exhaust the already tired human spirit. The Messiah Christ came to the Israelites, who were literally slaves to the numerous legal regulations of Moses’s Pentateuch. Not that the Law itself was something bad. On the contrary, from the history of the Old Testament we see that through the preservation of the Law, or more specifically through the faith in the One and true God, many Old Testament persons were sanctified. In fact, the Old Testament Law was just a preparation, a kind of guardian and educator of the chosen God’s nation, until the time of our Savior’s coming, the time of grace. However, a great deal of the Israelites, especially the high priests and the national leaders, have forgotten about this transient role of the Law and became its blind followers. They venerated the letters, as if people were created for the rules and not the rules for the people. Christ our savior called this spirit a Pharisaic hypocrisy. Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy, He warned thus His disciples. (Luke 12,1).

Therefore, my Christians let us avoid this spirit of hypocrisy and condemnation and get to love Christ Who is love. We should be carriers of His message of love if we want to be real Christians. Then we could get to know the real sense of canons and rules.

Let us pray eagerly that God would enlighten our present ecclesiastic leaders, so that they would constantly have in mind the message Christ sent to the Old Testament priests: Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel (Matthew 23,24). Even today we cannot but notice how many members of the high clergy dispute over canons, over territories, titles and jurisdictions, while forgetting about the real essence of Christ’s teaching. Unfortunately, even we, the common Christians, are not that far away from this spirit. Just look into or hear the comments of some faithful regarding certain important ecclesiastic issues, such as the calendar, the primacy in the Church, the proclamation of autocephaly etc. They would get to read some theological text or something concerning the Patriarchs, the Bishops, the priests, the theologians and right away consider themselves entitled to pass judgement, to attack, to distribute justice, to defend the “real” Orthodoxy. These people simply feed on something not being right. This is not Christianity, its pure phariseeism. It really makes me sad when I see that this Old Testament Pharisaic spirit, which was condemned by Christ, is still present and active in the hearts of some Christians. But Christ with His message of love for the entire world, has clearly shown us that the hypocrisy, condemnation and divisions are not a part of His teaching. On the contrary, He gave us an example of perfect humbleness – first by being born in a meager cave, and in the end by crucifying Himself on the cross, in a loving embrace for the world. Therefore I appeal to you, instead of judging one another, simply embrace each other spiritually in His love. In this way we would be able to successfully convey the Evangelical message to the people. When young people come to me for a conversation I often tell them: “Christ would not separate you from your friends, your parties and joy. It is wrong for the Christians to be isolated and separated from the others. You should bring your friends to church, so that you would all feel well. Only in the Church one can find the eternal rejoicing, the eternal joy.” You see, today we got to sing a few wonderful folk songs from our rich Byzantine tradition, and they are all part of our joy. Actually, in Christ, not just those songs, everything gets its real sense and becomes a reason for joy. And without Him, the “Cause of all joy” even the greatest joy in this world becomes temporary, short-lived and ends with sadness.

Please let us try to be generous and to endow ourselves with Christ’s gracefulness, to keep conveying the message of joy and love, especially in this time, when people everywhere feel great spiritual hunger. Many souls around us, consciously or unconsciously, yearn to touch and know Christ – the One of love, of forgiveness, generosity and freedom, and not some christ of judging, divisions, envy. Only Christ of love could have and managed to transform the world.

My dear Christians remember this well: If you cannot attract your neighbors and the people from your surroundings and bring them to Christ and to the church, then the problem is not in them, but rather in you. That means that you are interpreting Christianity in a wrong way, that you are manifesting some other christ, not the One of the Gospel.

I would like to express my huge gratitude to the singers of the Macedonian music scene, who have presented us with a wonderful carol, called Heaven and Earth, as well as to the producers and the actors in the official video, to the organizers of the Christmas Eve procession, and to all those who unselfishly contributed, without receiving any financial compensation, for our country to become the center of Christmas joy. I was touched to tears seeing the Christmas atmosphere taking place in many of our towns. Merry children everywhere, singing the carol The Eternal God and announcing the Nativity. Such a thing could not have even been imagined, much less seen, just 6 years ago. I remember, while I was on Mount Athos, once before Christmas, in one of the monastery rooms I saw several children singing beautiful Christmas carols, similar to the ones sang in our country in the past, as part of the Byzantine tradition. I stood there admiring the beauty of the songs and then one of the guests asked me: What do you sing for Nativity in your country? I lied and said that we mostly sing the troparion of the holyday. You see, if I told them the real situation and the texts of those primitive pagan songs, not even remotely connected to the holyday, they would have thought that we were barbarians. But, now glory to God, and thanks to all the people I’ve mentioned, today Macedonia is a regional example as to a dignified way of celebrating God.

In the end I would like to stress once again that Christianity is a faith of love, freedom and beauty. Beauty will save the world, wrote Dostoevsky. Christ will save the world, but we should also become beautiful like Him and we can only do that through love, humbleness and meekness.

Greetings for the holidays!

Christ is born!