Nativity & Theophany

Nativity in the Flesh of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ

"But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son (Galatians 4:4) to save the human race. And when nine months were fulfilled from the Annunciation, when the Archangel Gabriel had appeared to the Most-holy Virgin in Nazareth, saying, 'Rejoice, thou that art highly favored … behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a Son' (Luke 1:28, 31), at that time there went forth a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the people of the Roman Empire should be taxed.

In accordance with this decree, everyone had to go to his own town and be registered. That is why the righteous Joseph came with the Most-holy Virgin to Bethlehem, the city of David, for they were both of the royal lineage of David.

Since many people descended on this small town for the census, Joseph and Mary were unable to find lodging in any house, and they sought shelter in a cave which shepherds used as a sheepfold. In this cave - on the night between Saturday and Sunday, on the 25th of December - the Most-holy Virgin gave birth to the Saviour of the world, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Giving birth to Him without pain just as He was conceived without sin by the Holy Spirit and not by man, she herself wrapped Him in swaddling clothes, worshiped Him as God, and laid Him in a manger. Then the righteous Joseph drew near and worshiped Him as the Divine Fruit of the Virgin’s womb.

Then the shepherds came in from the fields, directed by an angel of God, and worshiped Him as the Messiah and Saviour. The shepherds heard a multitude of God’s angels singing: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men (Luke 2:14).

At that time three wise men arrived from the east, led by a wondrous star, bearing their gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh. They worshiped Him as the King of kings, and offered Him their gifts (Matthew 2).

Thus entered into the world He Whose coming was foretold by the prophets, and Who was born in the same manner in which it had been prophesied: of a Most-holy Virgin, in the town of Bethlehem, of the lineage of David according to the flesh, at the time when there was no king in Jerusalem of the lineage of Judah, but rather when Herod, a foreigner, was reigning.

After many types and prefigurings, messengers and heralds, prophets and righteous men, wise men and kings, finally He appeared, the Lord of the world and King of kings, to perform the work of the salvation of mankind, which could not be performed by His servants. To Him be eternal glory and praise! Amen." (Prologue of Ohrid)


Preparation for the Holy Eve Supper in anticipation of Christ’s Birth

1. The didukh* – a sheaf or a bundle of wheat and/or rye, is a symbol of our livelihood and of our ancestors, whose wisdom and spirit are present in the Christian faith which they have passed on to succeeding generations. On Christmas Eve, we thank God for the food and shelter we were able to provide with His help in the past and ask for the same in the year ahead. During prayers we will also invite our ancestors to the Holy Eve Supper.

 2. Inclusion of the absent loved ones

There are times that close members of the family cannot be present at this event due to distance or illness or other circumstances. We remember them by their name in the introduction to the feast. Anyone at the table can add the name of a person (living or deceased) to be remembered. By inviting our ancestors to the Holy Eve Supper we recognize that they all continue to be part of our family, whether or not we knew them in life. Together with us they celebrate God’s love for all humanity, the Creator becoming a helpless God Child to restore humanity to its full dignity and honor.

3. Prayers* – the Christmas Tropar and “God Eternal” are sung.

The festal hymns honoring the Nativity of Our Lord will be repeated in the Great Compline, the Divine Liturgy and other services. Their poetry brings the feast into focus.

4. Prosphora is leavened bread blessed for the Holy Eve Supper. It probably is an earlier custom and not shared by all. It is like the antidoron, the unconsecrated bread distributed to the faithful at the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy.

Before the Holy Eve Supper the prosphora is cut into enough pieces* to share with everyone at the festal table. Spread with honey, symbol of sweetness of God’s gifts, it reminds us of Christ feeding the multitude. As the father offers each person present a piece of prosphora they exchanges a kiss of peace, right-left-right, on the cheek and embrace, to complete this greeting. This is often done during the singing of Eternal God.

*A piece of prosphora is placed on the plate for the absent and deceased. The same is done with bits of each subsequent dish as it is served.

5. Kutia – parboiled wheat with honey and poppy seed is a symbol of regeneration and transfiguration, and is the first dish served. The rich symbolism attached to the kutia made it a sacred and obligatory part of the Holy Eve Supper from earliest times. It was also called kolyvo when served at wakes. The themes of life and death, the unification of the living with the deceased, permeate this celebration of Christ’s birth and restoration of humanity.

    Honey – symbolizes the sweetness of God’s gifts. The parboiled wheat together with honey was offered to the catechumens, who observed strict fast and were baptized on Christmas day.

    Poppy seed – ground to smooth paste, symbolizes martyrdom and the shedding of innocent blood. Martyrdom became the seed of growing faith (John 12:24). Poppy seeds are blessed on the feast of Transfiguration and symbolize the infinite multiplication of God’s grace, which we receive through the Eucharist.

6. Garlic: 4 heads (optional)

A head of garlic placed on each table corner under the tablecloth represents purification and good health. It is also a symbol of family unity – the members holding together as do the cloves in the head.

7. Carols: to start and intersperse throughout the meal, and to close the evening home celebration. Carols are songs of praise and worship of God becoming Man to save the humankind.

8. The Festal Table

The table is the gathering place, symbolic of community. It is an intergenerational meeting place, a place for listening and offering mutual understanding and a place for sharing God’s gifts. The altar in the church and the table at home have in common the desire to have Christ in their midst, to unite around Him in this agape celebration. At the Holy Eve Supper, Christ is the guest of honor.

Three round kalachi stacked one on top of the other with a candle in its center dominate the table. They remind us of the Holy Trinity, three Persons, but One God symbolized by the candle.

Borshch – symbol of the great fast. Its red color reminds of the death of the Innocents.

Several dishes of fish – during early Christianity, the fish was the secret symbol of Christ and the Church.

All other vegetable and fruit dishes remind us the wealth of simple gifts of the earth. Even though the supper is meat and dairy free, these inventively prepared foods give a foretaste of the big feast to come and the real rewards of the Eternal Banquet.

9. The Holy Supper Opening Rituals

The rituals observed during the Holy Supper vary from region to region and even household to household. Those presented in the All-Ages Opening Experience are the ones most basic and essential to the celebration, but participants should realize, that they may tailor the procedure to meet their specific circumstances. Some suggestions are listed here:

  1. Place photographs of departed members of the family in the Icon Corner.
  2. An alternate opening: If there are children in the house, they might be given an active role in the opening ritual. The Holy Eve can start with a small procession. One child can lead with a lighted candle – the Light of the world, followed by another with an icon of the Nativity, and still another might carry the star – as of Bethlehem, followed by the head of the household with the didukh. All these come to rest close to the icons in an area near the table.

The Holy Theophany of our Lord, God and Saviour Jesus Christ

When our Lord reached thirty years from His physical birth, He began His teaching and salvific work. He Himself signified this “beginning of the beginning” by His baptism in the Jordan river. St. Cyril of Jerusalem says, ” The beginning of the world – water; the beginning of the Good News – Jordan.”

At the time of the baptism of the Lord in water, a mystery was declared to the world: that mystery which was prophesied in the Old Testament; the mystery about which in ancient Egypt and India was only fabled; i.e., the mystery of the Divine Holy Trinity. The Father was revealed to the sense of hearing; the Spirit was revealed to the sense of sight, and, in addition to these, the Son was revealed to the sense of touch. The Father uttered His witness about the Son, the Son was baptized in the water, and the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove hovered above the water.

When John the Baptist witnessed and said about Christ, “Behold, the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sins of the world” (St. John 1:29), and when John immersed and baptized the Lord in the Jordan, the mission of Christ in the world and the path of our salvation was shown. That is to say: The Lord took upon Himself the sins of mankind and died under them [immersion] and became alive again [the coming out of the water]; and we must die as the old sinful man and become alive again as cleansed, renewed and regenerated. This is the Savior and this is the path of salvation.

The Feast of the Epiphany [Theophany in Greek] is also called the Feast of Illumination. For us, the event in the Jordan river illuminates, by manifesting to us God as Trinity, consubstantial and undivided. That is one way. And, the second: everyone of us through baptism in water is illumined by this, that we become adopted by the Father of Lights through the merits of the Son and the power of the Holy Spirit. (Prologue of Ohrid)

Sunday of All Saints

We are obliged, not only to venerate the saints and to seek their assistance, but also to imitate their lives and holiness.  All Christians are called to holiness by virtue of the sacrament of Baptism.  Every person, regardless of status or condition of life, can become a saint and is duty-bound to strive for holiness of life.  Our Lord Jesus Christ addressed all people without exception when He said: "Therefore, be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect" ((Mt 5:48).  St. Paul also remind us of our duty to pursue holiness:  "This is the will of God - your sanctification" (1Cor 4:3). 

What is holiness?  It is living according to the commandments of God and the Church.  It is the daily fulfillment of God's will, constant fidelity to the duties of one's state.  Holiness is the Gospel translated into action.  The Servant of God Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky speaks beautifully of the significance of the Gospel for our lives and holiness:

"In my opinion," he says, "the source of our failures and of all the plagues that afflict our church and national life, is our failure to apply ourselves seriously to living our Christianity and the teachings of the Gospel, and for this reason, we do not convey to others the aura of holiness.... The Gospel is the road to heaven; it is a life without blemish, without reproach, without vice; it is a pure, innocent, holy life by which mortal man aspires to emulate the heavenly angels.  The Gospel is the way of the cross leading to the hill of Golgotha.  The Christian life is a life in which each person carries a cross, suffers, and follows in the footsteps of Jesus Christ.... Life according to the teachings of the Gospel is the supernatural life of God's grace, a life of God's love and of the sacrifice for God or ... it is a life in which each person seeks and aspires to holiness of life"(On Education).

The saints in heaven, then, are God's beloved and intimate friends; and our protectors, intercessors and benefactors; our guides and models on the path to virtue and sanctity.

                                                                                                     (Adapted from A Byzantine Rite Liturgical Year by Fr. Julian Katrij, OSBM)


Nativity of our Most Holy Lady, the Mother of God and Ever-virgin Mary - September 8

The Holy Virgin Mary was born of aged parents, Joachim and Anna. Her father was of the lineage of David and her mother of the lineage of Aaron. Thus, she was of royal birth by her father and of priestly birth by her mother. In this, she foreshadowed Him Who would be born of her as King and High Priest.

Her parents were quite old and had no children. Because of this they were ashamed before men and humble before God. In their humility they prayed to God, with tears, to bring them joy in their old age by giving them a child, as He had once given joy to the aged Abraham and his wife Sarah by giving them Isaac.

The Almighty and All-seeing God rewarded them with a joy that surpassed all their expectations and all their most beautiful dreams. For He gave them not just a daughter, but the Mother of God. He illumined them not only with temporal joy, but with eternal joy as well. God gave them just one daughter, and she would later give them just one grandson - but what a daughter and what a Grandson!

Mary, Full of grace, Blessed among women, the Temple of the Holy Spirit, the Altar of the Living God, the Table of the Heavenly Bread, the Ark of God’s Holiness, the Tree of the Sweetest Fruit, the Glory of the race of man, the Praise of womanhood, the Fount of virginity and purity-this was the daughter given by God to Joachim and Anna.

She was born in Nazareth, and at the age of three, was taken to the Temple in Jerusalem. In her young womanhood she returned again to Nazareth, and shortly thereafter heard the Annunciation of the Holy Archangel Gabriel concerning the birth of the Son of God, the Savior of the world, from her most-pure virgin body. (Prologue of Ohrid)

The Universal Exaltation of the Precious and Life-giving Cross - September 14

Two events in connection with the Honorable Cross of Christ are commemorated on this day: first, the finding of the Honorable Cross on Golgotha and second, the return of the Honorable Cross from Persia to Jerusalem.

Visiting the Holy Land, the holy Empress Helena decided to find the Honorable Cross of Christ. An old Jewish man named Judah was the only one who knew where the Cross was located, and, constrained by the empress, he revealed that the Cross was buried under the temple of Venus that Emperor Hadrian had built on Golgotha.

The empress ordered that this idolatrous temple be razed and, having dug deep below it, found three crosses. While the empress pondered on how to recognize which of these was the Cross of Christ, a funeral procession passed by. Patriarch Macarius told them to place the crosses, one by one, on the dead man.

When they placed the first and second cross on the dead man, the dead man lay unchanged. When they placed the third cross on him, the dead man came back to life. By this they knew that this was the Precious and Life-giving Cross of Christ. They then placed the Cross on a sick woman, and she became well.

The patriarch elevated the Cross for all the people to see, and the people sang with tears: “Lord, have mercy!” Empress Helena had a silver case made and set the Honorable Cross in it.

Later, the Persian Emperor Chozroes conquered Jerusalem, enslaved many people, and took the Lord’s Cross to Persia. The Cross remained in Persia for fourteen years. In the year 628 the Greek Emperor Heraclius defeated Chozroes and, with much ceremony, returned the Cross to Jerusalem.

As he entered the city Emperor Heraclius carried the Cross on his back, but suddenly was unable to take another step. Patriarch Zacharias saw an angel preventing the emperor from bearing the Cross on the same path that the Lord had walked barefoot and humiliated. The patriarch communicated this vision to the emperor. The emperor removed his raiment and, in ragged attire and barefoot, took up the Cross, carried it to Golgotha, and placed it in the Church of the Resurrection, to the joy and consolation of the whole Christian world. (Prologue of Ohrid)

The Protection of the Most Holy Mother of God

From time immemorial, the Church has celebrated the Most-holy Theotokos as the patroness and protectress of the Christian people, who, by her intercessory prayers, implores God's mercy for us sinners. The help of the Most-holy Mother of God has been clearly shown numerous times, to individuals and to nations, in peace and in war, in monastic deserts and in densely-populated cities. The event that the Church commemorates and celebrates today confirms the Theotokos' consistent protection of Christian people.  On October 1, 911, during the reign of Emperor Leo the Wise, there was an all-night vigil in the Blachernae Church of the Mother of God in Constantinople.  The church was full of people. St. Andrew the Fool-for-Christ was standing in the rear of the church with his disciple Epiphanius. At four o'clock in the morning, the Most-holy Theotokos appeared above the people, holding her omophorion outstretched as a protective covering for the faithful.  She was clothed in gold-encrusted purple and shone with an ineffable radiance, surrounded by apostles, saints, martyrs and virgins. St. Andrews said to Blessed Epiphanius:  "Do you see, brother, the Queen and Lady of all praying for the whole world?" Epiphanius replied: "I see, Father, and am struck with amazement!" The Feast of the Protection was instituted to commemorate this event and remind us that we can prayerfully receive the unceasing protection of the Most-holy Theotokos in any time of difficulty.  (Prologue of Ohrid) 

Blessed Vasyl Velychkovsky (1903-1973):



Ukrainian Catholic Redemptorist, Bishop, Martyr, and Patron of Prison Ministry

Feast day: June 27

His Life      

Vasyl Velychkovsky was born in 1903 in Stanyslaviv (now Ivano-Frankivsk), in Eastern Halychyna, today’s Western Ukraine. His father, Volodymyr, was a priest (a married priesthood being a part of the tradition of many Eastern Catholic Churches) and his mother Anna was also devout. Both came from families in which there were priests and members of institutes of consecrated life.

When he was only 15 and still a student, Vasyl joined the Ukrainian Halychka Army (Ukrayins'ka Halyts'ka Armiya) to fight for the independence of Ukraine during World War I. In 1920, he entered the seminary in Lviv. In 1924, he was ordained a deacon by Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky, Metropolitan Archbishop of Lviv and the Major Archbishop of Ukrainian Catholics. He then followed what he believed to be God’s call to join the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer (the Redemptorists) and become a missionary. In August 1925, he professed the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Because he had completed theological studies, in October 1925, he was ordained a priest by the Most Reverend Josyf Botsian, Bishop of Lutsk.

He taught and conducted missions and served as Superior of the Redemptorist monastery in Stanislaviv. After the Soviets occupied Western Ukraine in 1939, Fr. Vasyl Velychkovsky continued his apostolic work even as the Church was being persecuted. In 1941, he went to Central Ukraine. His activities caused suspicion among the Germans who had recently occupied the town and only three days after his arrival, Father Velychkovsky was ordered to leave. He moved to Ternopil in Halychyna and became Superior of the Dormition monastery.

The Soviets occupied Halychyna again in 1945 and the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church (the official name for the Ukrainian Catholic Church in Ukraine) was made illegal by the Soviet Communist government. On the night of April 10, the regime arrested the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic bishops. On August 7, 1945, Father Vasyl was arrested “for anti-Soviet propaganda.” He was transferred to prison in Kyiv, where the investigation of his case lasted almost a year. At his trial on June 26, 1946, the Kyiv regional court sentenced him to death by firing squad.

During three months on death row, Father Vasyl taught prisoners to pray.  He instructed them on the truths of Christian faith, and prepared them for receiving the sacraments. Finally, he was informed that his death sentence was commuted to a ten-year prison term in the coal mines of northern Russia. Despite the exhausting work, Father Vasyl celebrated the Divine Liturgy almost every day, using whatever was available for the vessels of the altar. On July 9, 1955, he was released.

Back in Lviv, he lived in a small room. During this period of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church’s underground existence, he celebrated the Divine Liturgy daily, conducted spiritual exercises, and provided spiritual leadership for many devoted Christians. In 1959, the Apostolic See appointed Father Vasyl a bishop of the underground Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church. He was ordained a bishop in 1963 in a Moscow hotel room by Metropolitan Josyf Slipyj, who had just been released from prison and was on his way to the Second Vatican Council. Metropolitan Slipyj made him the locum tenens, the person in charge of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church in Ukraine during his (Metropolitan Josyf's) absence. Bishop Velychkovsky worked to strengthen the underground Church. In 1969, he was arrested after writing a book on Our Mother of Perpetual Help.

He was sentenced to three years in a psychiatric hospital where he was tortured and given drugs that ruined his health and mind. Released in January 1972, he was exiled from Ukraine. He spent some time in Yugoslavia and went to Rome, where he met with Major Archbishop Josyf Slipyj and Pope Paul VI. Following the invitation of the Ukrainian Catholic Archbishop of Winnipeg, Metropolitan Maxim Hermaniuk, who was also a Redemptorist, Bishop Velychkovsky came to live in Canada. He gave retreats to clergy, but his visit among the Ukrainian diaspora in Canada did not last long. On June 30, 1973, Bishop Velychkovsky died at the age of 70 in Winnipeg, where he was buried.

During his pastoral visit to Ukraine in 2001, Pope (now Saint) John Paul II beatified him along with other Ukrainian Greek-Catholic martyrs, including the first Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Bishop of Canada, Blessed Nykyta Budka.

His Spirituality

Vasyl Velychkovsky expressed zeal for the salvation of souls even in his childhood. Born into a family of devoutly religious people, his father a priest, his childhood was spent in an atmosphere of faith. In 1938, in a poem dedicated to his mother, he wrote, “She knelt / at … the feet / of the Holy Icon of the Mother of God. / … There he too / … kneels on his tiny knees: / ‘Pray, my son, pray … / “Dearest Mother of God, / give me the grace to become / a holy priest, a monk!” ’ …/ He prayed / And these last words of the prayer / -- though he comprehended them / not at all -- / somehow were sown / deep in his childish soul.”

As a teenager, he wanted to enter a religious community, but there was a national uprising in Ukraine in 1918 and he postponed it to do military service. He had a generous heart and sought life in the mission-oriented Redemptorist congregation to dedicate himself more perfectly to God.

He promoted faith and served the faithful in the most difficult of circumstances and at the risk of his life while he was imprisoned and during the long years of forced labour north of the Arctic Circle.

Taking into account the testimonies of Bishop Vasyl Velychkovsky’s virtuous life, and particularly his endurance, courage and faithfulness to Christ’s Church during the period of persecution, in April 2001, his martyrdom was recognized by the Holy See and the decree of beatification was signed by Pope John Paul II.

On July 20, 2014, at the Marian Shrine of Our Lady of Zarvanytsia in Ukraine, His Beatitude Sviatoslav Shevchuk, Major Archbishop of Kyiv-Halych, solemnly proclaimed Blessed Bishop Vasyl Velychkovsky patron of prison ministry for the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church. His courage, faithfulness, and zeal for the salvation of the most abandoned gives witness and encouragement to those who themselves do prison ministry.

In 1945, while on death row, he began his prison ministry to people who had lost hope in life. Through Blessed Vasyl’s ministry, they not only recovered hope, but found a new freedom in Christ as they faced their imminent death. Later, while working in the coal mines, he began a ministry with his fellow prisoners. The prisoners began calling him their chaplain.

In the deep mine shafts, he created a small chapel. Here he would spend time praying the rosary for the prisoners and the guards, hearing the confessions of prisoners, counselling and consoling them, and on occasion celebrating the Divine Liturgy, using a tablespoon for the chalice and paten, prison bread for the hosts, and wine made from raisins which he received in care packages from home. He prayed the rosary daily on a rosary made of string and dried prison bread.

He is a patron of all those who find themselves enslaved by the circumstances of their life. He is an example for all of persevering in the Gospel even in the face of adverse conditions and persecution. His relics, a fully intact body, are now enshrined in Saint Joseph’s Ukrainian Catholic Church in Winnipeg.

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