Christmas is just around the corner and many are feeling the frustration and chaos frantically trying to tackle shopping centre crowds for last minute gift purchases and pushing loaded shopping trolleys down grocery stores isles like it’s a race against time, stocking up in a panic.
Overwhelmed with all that’s yet to be accomplished in time for Christmas Day can get anxiety levels at an all-time high. With most now already having finished up from work for the year, enjoyed the early festive celebrations with work and friends, the Christmas spirit sets in and excitement escalates as the 25th nears.
It’s rated as one of the most favourite times of the year by most; the laughter, food, social events, decorations and festivities, it’s all an enjoyable experience bringing people together at a time for the end of year celebrations. The holiday parties, driving around looking at Christmas lights and making special memories that you will reflect back on throughout your lifetime. All great however, the most important part of the holidays is getting to have time to reflect on and celebrate the coming of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, for He is the reason for the season.
Of course enjoy the fun little festivities that really does bring everyone together and fills our hearts with joy participating in traditions like baking Christmas cookies, shopping for gifts, putting up the Christmas tree, enjoying time with family and loved ones, but attending church services should also be part of tradition.
It is easy to get lost in all the stress of having all your family in the same place at the same time or scrambling to get hold of a last minute gift which all stems from love and wanting to ensure everyone is happy on Christmas Day, but showing our love for Christ often gets lost in the chaos.
We make time to go to shopping centres in search of gifts but don’t take time to attend a candlelight church service to soul search and reflect on the reason why we get to celebrate all of these things in the first place. God sent down His only son and made the ultimate sacrifice so that we could have the opportunity to live an eternal life with Him. We should be praising God every chance we get, the time that we are given to come together with family to celebrate the work of our creator is an amazing gift and something that should be cherished and celebrated in abundance.
As Orthodox Christians and all Christians, it is paramount we remember we worship Jesus Christ and not Santa Claus and equally important to teach children that from an early age, so that they understand the true meaning of Christmas and that it’s not just about the presents.
The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia suggests a good way to start is with a children’s book and recommends the Birth of the baby Jesus- the Christmas Story and there is also a children’s version of the Bible.
The story of our Saviour’s birth is one of amazing sacrifice and love, God created every single one of us and sent down His only son so that we could have a relationship with him. It is worth celebrating and sharing that God, creator of the universe, sacrificed His only son to die for our sins and rise from the grave to conquer death and make an eternity with God possible for us.
Christmas is about Christ. A time of celebrating Jesus’ birth, giving thanks to Thee and filling our hearts, homes, families, friends and strangers with love. We’re all familiar with the expression ‘The Christmas Spirit’, we feel more kindly and charitable to one another, we reach out to help those less fortunate, our hearts soften, enemies are forgiven, friends remembered, the goodness in us comes out; that’s the Holy Spirit that overcomes us. To catch the real meaning of Christmas, we only need to seek the Spirit of Christ.
GCT recently met with Fr Demos Nicolaou at his Greek Orthodox Parish, Saint Paraskevi, Saint Barbara & Saint John the Merciful in Melbourne to discuss his recent pilgrimage to the Holy Land– Jerusalem. It is said to be a life-changing experience for Christians as you visit and are taken to places where Jesus prayed, performed miracles and His ministry.
Excited to hear firsthand from Fr Demos his experience over the 12 day pilgrimage it was evident how overcome, overjoyed and overwhelmed with emotions he was, I could not only see it but feel it.
Understandably an experience difficult and almost impossible to articulate or convey, I could only compare it to the exact same emotions I was overcome with during my own experience whilst staying at a monastery in Greece a few years ago, whereby I was left speechless but so spiritually moved. Something you so deeply feel but cannot verbalise, it is beyond words.
Fr Demos kindly shared some beautiful photos and stories, making mention of the 12 days, 2 of which were in Mount Sinai, Egypt at the Monastery of Saint Catherine where the most ancient of Orthodoxy Iconography is found and where Moses received his 10 commandments. It is one of the oldest working Christian monasteries in the world, there Fr Demos and a group of his church members who joined him on the pilgrimage, attended Divine Liturgy. The church is controlled by the autonomous Church of Sinai, part of the wider Greek Orthodox Church and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The pilgrimage of faith tour explores the Holy Land and retraces the footsteps of Jesus Christ from Nativity to his Passion on Calvary (Golgotha). Fr Demos and his congregation visited the Tomb of Christ and Crucifixion, Cave of Jesus’s birth in Bethlehem, attended Liturgies, celebrated the Feast of the Cross (September 14) and beheld with their eyes what minds for so long attempted to imagine.
*The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Christ’s crucifixion and tomb are under the protection of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem
During my time with Fr Demos and in conversation about Christianity, beliefs, faith, our God, led me to take an impromptu yet very important step in my spiritual journey and that is one of confession. An act many of us fear and avoid out of embarrassment or feeling of awkwardness, confronting a priest confessing your sins brings you closer to God and your passage to purification.
To quote Fr Demos “confession is a humiliating yet humbling experience.” It is never too late to spiritually reset and reconnect with your religion and as we embark on a New Year, it is something to seriously think about and start off the New Year fresh. Not that you need to wait for a New Year to do so, at any time you can and should reach out to your priest and feel comfortable to know that you will not be judged and needless to say, it is in confidence. It is noted that for every Orthodox Christian a heartfelt confession is an opportunity to cleanse our inner life and make a new beginning in our relationship with God– an opportunity to enter once again into the life and joy of God’s Kingdom.
In an ever changing world and one so influenced by technology, the internet and daily ‘new-age’ information, cults and crazes, it’s imperative to understand and stick to the true meaning, beliefs and morals of being an Orthodox Christian.
Some important key reminders: attending church, fasting, prayer, morality, forgiveness, kindness. Christians should not be derailed and seek the services outside of the church such as clairvoyants for guidance/hope/answers or utilise stones and crystals for (their claimed spiritual energy) healing, this is considered an insult to God and our faith. The Bible is unequivocal in condemning the use of clairvoyants, psychics/mediums, tarot cards or any other aspect of occult, they have no part in conveying the revelation of God.
As Orthodox Christians we seek only God; through prayer, Christ, religious icons, Saints and a crucifix- the principal symbol of Christian religion. Holy Water and Holy Oil should only be sought from upon attending a church or monastery, that has been blessed by a bishop or priest. Actively being a good Christian, a good person with good intentions serves our soul and allows us spiritually to prosper. We must remain close to our faith, follow and practice the Word of The Lord and The Bible’s scriptures to prepare us for the afterlife.
So as we celebrate this Christmas season, take the time to pray and reflect on the many blessings God has given us and thank Him.
Merry Christmas, Kala Xristougenna and God Bless!
Here are some amazing photos from Fr Demos and his group’s Pilgrimage to the Holy Land
*Photos courtesy of Fr Demos Nicolaou www.stparaskevi.org,au
*For pilgrimage tours and information, please see Greek City Travel
*Please refer to the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia for your local church and Orthodoxy information
*More on Orthodox Christianity and Fr Demos to be continued in a future article in 2020