December 20th begins the Forefeast of the Nativity. The liturgical structure is similar to the Holy Week preceding Pascha. The Orthodox Church sees the birth of the Son of God as the beginning of the saving ministry which will lead Him, for the sake of man’s salvation, to the ultimate sacrifice of the Cross. Of the services proscribed for this celebration, St. Jacob Parish will gather beginning on the Eve of Nativity:
December 24, 1:00p – Vespers with Divine Liturgy of St. Basil
Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great is served with Vespers. At these services, the Old Testament prophecies of Christ’s birth are chanted.
December 24, 7:00p – Vigil for the Nativity of Christ
The Vigil of Christmas begins with Great Compline because Vespers has already been served. At Compline, there is the singing of the Troparion and Kontakion of the feast with special hymns glorifying the Saviour’s birth. There are also the special long litanies of intercession and the solemn blessing of the five loaves of bread together with the wheat, wine, and oil. The faithful partake of the bread soaked in the wine and are also anointed with the oil. The order of Matins is that of a great feast. Here, for the first time, the full Canon “Christ is born,” is sung while the faithful venerate the Nativity icon.
December 25, 10:00a – Divine Liturgy for the Nativity of Christ (preceded by the Hours @ 9:30p)
Concluding the celebration of the Nativity of Christ is the Liturgy. It begins with psalms of glorification and praise instead of the three normal Antiphons. The Troparion and Kontakion mark the entrance with the Book of the Gospels. The baptismal line from Galatians 3:27 once again replaces the Thrice-Holy. The Epistle reading is from Galatians 4:4-7, the Gospel reading is the familiar Christmas story from Matthew (2:1-12).
Twelve days of Christmas
The second day of the feast starts a two-day celebration of the Synaxis of the Theotokos. Combining the hymns of the Nativity with those celebrating the Mother of God, the Church points to Mary as the one through whom the Incarnation was made possible. St Stephen, the First Martyr, is also remembered on these two days. We will gather again:
December 26, 6:00p – Great Vespers
December 27, 8:30a – Matins
10:00a – Divine Liturgy for the Sunday after the Nativity
On the Sunday after Christmas, the Church commemorates James the Brother of Our Lord, David the King, and Joseph the Betrothed. Eight days after the Nativity, is the feast of Circumcision of our Lord. The period of Christmas rejoicing extends to Epiphany during which time the Christmas songs are sung and fasting and kneeling in prayer are not called for by the Church.
Throughout this time, it is the custom of Orthodox Christians to greet each other with the words:
“Christ is Born!” and the response, “Glorify Him”