Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, was born to the Most Holy Virgin Mary in the city of Bethlehem during the reign of Emperor Augustus (Octavian). Caesar Augustus decreed that a universal census be taken throughout his empire, which then also included Palestinian Israel. Jews used to be counted in the city from which their family came. The Most Holy Virgin and the Just Joseph, since they descended from the house and the line of King David, had to go to Bethlehem to be counted and taxed.
In Bethlehem, they did not find a place in any of the inns in the city. Thus, the Man-God, the Savior of the world, was born in a cave which served as a stable.
“I contemplate a strange and most glorious mystery,” the Church sings fearfully, “Heaven, a cave; the Virgin the Throne of the Cherubim; the manger a room, in which is placed Christ, the God whom nothing can contain. (Irmos from the 9th Ode of the Canon of the Nativity).
Having given birth to the divine child without work, the Blessed Virgin “wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him down in a manger” (Luke 2, 7). In the midnight silence (Solomon’s Wisdom 18: 14-15), the proclamation of the birth of the Savior of the world was heard by three shepherds who watched over their flocks at night.
An angel of the Lord (Saint Cyprian says it was Gabriel) came before them and said to them: “Do not be afraid: for, behold, I bring you good news of great joy, which will be for everyone. For unto you is born today in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord ”(Luke 2: 10-11). The humble shepherds were the first to worship Him Who deigned to take the form of a humble servant for the salvation of mankind. Besides the good news to the shepherds of Bethlehem, the Nativity of Christ was revealed to the Magi by a wonderful star. Saint John Chrysostom and Saint Theophylact, commenting on the Gospel of Saint Matthew, say that it was not an ordinary star. Rather, it was “a divine and angelic power which appeared in the form of a star.” Saint Demetrius of Rostov says it was a “manifestation of divine energy” (Story of the Adoration of the Magi). On entering the house where the child was lying, the Magi “bowed down and worshiped him; and when they had opened their treasures, they presented him with gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh ”(Mt 2:11).
In the Apostolic Constitutions (Section 3, 13) it is said: “Brothers, observe the feast days; and first of all the birth of Christ, which you will celebrate on the twenty-fifth day of the ninth month. In another place it also says: “Celebrate the day of the Nativity of Christ, the day when an invisible grace is given to man by the birth of the Word of God from the Virgin Mary for the salvation of the world.
In the 2nd century, Saint Clement of Alexandria also indicates that the day of the Nativity of Christ is December 25. In the third century, Saint Hippolytus of Rome mentions the Feast of the and names the evangelical readings for this day from the first chapters of Saint Matthew.
In 302, during the persecution of Christians by Maximian, 20,000 Christians of Nicomedia (December 28) were burned in the church on the very day of Christ’s Nativity. In this same century, after the persecution where the Church had received freedom of religion and had become the official religion in the Roman Empire, we find the feast of the Nativity of Christ observed throughout the Church. Evidence of this can be found in the works of Saint Ephraim the Syrian, Saint Basil the Great, Saint Gregory the Theologian, Saint Gregory of Nyssa, Saint Ambrose of Milan, Saint John Chrysostom and other Church Fathers of the 4th century.
Saint John Chrysostom, in a sermon he gave in the year 385, points out that the feast of the Nativity of Christ is old, and even very old. In the same century, in the grotto of Bethlehem, made famous by the birth of Jesus Christ, the Empress Saint Helena had a church built that her powerful son Constantine had adorned after his death. In the Codex of Emperor Theodosius as early as 438, and of Emperor Justinian in 535, the universal celebration of the day of the Nativity of Christ is decreed by law. Thus, Nicéphore Calliste, writer of the fourteenth century, says in his History that in the sixth century, the Emperor Justinian instituted the celebration of the Nativity of Christ throughout the world.
Patriarch Anatolius of Constantinople in the fifth century, Sophrones and Andrew of Jerusalem in the seventh, Saints John of Damascus, Cosmas of Medium and Patriarch Germanus of Constantinople in the eighth, Nun Cassiana in the ninth, and others whose names are unknown , wrote many sacred hymns for the feast of the Nativity of Christ, which are still sung by the Church on this radiant feast.
During the first three centuries, in the churches of Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria and Cyprus, the Nativity of Christ was combined with the feast of his baptism on January 6 and called “Theophany” (“Manifestation of God “). This was because of the belief that Christ was baptized on the anniversary of his birth, which can be inferred from Saint John Chrysostom’s sermon on the Nativity of Christ: “This is not the day of Christ’s birth. which is called the theophany, but rather on the day that he was baptized.
In support of such a view, it is possible to cite the words of the evangelist Luke who said that “Jesus began to be about thirty years old” (Luke 3:23) when he was baptized. The joint celebration of the Nativity of Christ and his Theophany continued until the end of the 4th century in some Eastern Churches, and until the 5th or 6th century in others.
The present order of offices preserves the memory of the ancient joint celebration of the Feasts of the Nativity of Christ and of the Theophany. On the eve of the two Feasts, there is a similar tradition of fasting until the stars appear. The order of divine services on the eve of the two feast days and the feast days themselves is the same.
The Nativity of Christ has long been counted among the twelve great feasts. It is one of the greatest, happiest and most wonderful events in the history of the world. The angel said to the shepherds: “Behold, I bring you good news of great joy, which will be for everyone. For to you is born today in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. Then suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of heavenly hosts, glorifying God and saying: Glory be to God in the Most High, and peace on earth, benevolence towards men. Those who heard these things were amazed at what the shepherds told them about the Child. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen ”(Luke 2: 10-20).
Thus, the Nativity of Christ, a most profound and extraordinary event, was accompanied by the wonderful news announced to the shepherds and the Magi. It is a cause of universal joy for all mankind, “for the Savior is born! “
In accordance with the testimony of the Gospel, the Fathers of the Church, in their writings inspired by God, describe the Feast of the Nativity of Christ as the deepest and most joyful, serving as the basis and foundation for all other Holidays.