St. Gregory of Nazianzus
Festal Orations • Popular Patristics Series 36
Trans.Nonna Verna Harrison
(SVS Press 2008)
In the East the feast of Epiphany, January 6, originally included Christ’s birth, the adoration of the magi, and Christ’s baptism, a pattern that survives in the Armenian Church to the present day. When St. Gregory wrote his orations, the two festal dates of the Nativity and Epiphany were just beginning to be reorganized. The following excerpts—taken from St. Gregory’s Oration 38, originally titled “On the Theophany,” and his Oration 39, originally titled “On the Holy Lights”—address both the Incarnation and Baptism of our Lord. St. Gregory’s edifying words illumine our spiritual paths as we continue to meditate upon both recent feasts.
1 Christ is born, give glory; Christ is from the heavens, go to meet him; Christ is on earth, be lifted up. “Sing to the Lord, all the earth,” and, to say both together, “Let the heavens be glad and let the earth rejoice,” for the heavenly one is now earthly. Christ is in the flesh, exult with trembling and joy; trembling because of sin, joy because of hope.
3 Now is the feast of Theophany, and so also of Nativity; for it is called both, since two names are ascribed to one reality. For God appeared to human beings through birth.
4 This is our festival, this is the feast we celebrate today, in which God comes to live with human beings that we may journey toward God, or return—for to speak thus is more exact—that laying aside the old human being we may be clothed with the new, and that as in Adam we have died so we may live in Christ, born with Christ and crucified with him, buried with him and rising with him.
17 Run after the star, and bring gifts with the magi, gold and frankincense and myrrh, as to a king and a God and one dead for your sake. With the shepherds give glory, with the angels sing hymns, with the archangels dance.
18 Travel blamelessly through all the stages of Christ’s life and all his powers, as a disciple of Christ. Be purified, be circumcised, that is remove the veil that has surrounded you since birth. After this teach in the temple, drive out the traders in divine things, be stoned if necessary that you suffer this; you will escape from those throwing the stone, I know well, and you will flee through the midst of them like God. For the Word is not stoned. If you are brought before Herod, do not answer for the most part. He will revere your silence more than the long discourses of others. If you are scourged, seek the other tortures. Taste the gall. Drink the vinegar, seek the spittings, accept the blows, the beatings; be crowned with the thorns through the harshness of life in accord with God. Put on the scarlet robe, accept the reed, and the worship of those who mock the truth. Finally, be crucified with him, die with him, be buried with him willingly, so as also to be resurrected with him and glorified with him and reign with him, seeing God as far as is possible and being seen by him, who is worshipped and glorified in the Trinity, whom even now we pray to be manifest to us as clearly as is possible to prisoners of the flesh, in Christ Jesus our Lord, to whom be glory and sovereignty unto the ages of ages. Amen.
1 The holy day of lights, to which we have come and which we are deemed worthy to celebrate today, takes its origin from the baptism of my Christ, the true light, which illumines every human being coming into the world, effects my purification, and strengthens the light we received form him from the beginning, which we darkened and blotted out through sin.
2 Therefore listen to the divine voice, which resounds very strongly in me, the initiate and the initiator of these mysteries; and may it also resound in you: “I am the light of the world.” And because of this “come near to him and be illumined and your faces will not be ashamed,” being marked with the sign of the true light. It is the time for rebirth; let us be born from above. It is time of refashioning; let us receive again the first Adam. Let us not remain what we are but become what we once were.
*Image of the icon of the Nativity and Epiphany, fresco, posted with permission from St. Steven’s Serbian Orthodox Cathedral, Alhambra, CA