While the canon for the Feast of the Nativity
begins to be sung on the festival of the Entrance of the Virgin Mary into the Temple, the first prefeast hymns of Christmas
are sung on the feast of “the all-praised and first-called apostle Andrew.”
In Orthodox practice, major feasts are announced by “prefeast” verses
and hymns sung at services that come before the great feast. Generally speaking,
nothing in Orthodox liturgical celebration comes unprepared and unannounced. And it is never the case that the faithful “pretend”
that they do not know what will happen. For example, on Holy Friday it is
clearly proclaimed in the worship of the Crucified Lord that he will rise from the dead.
The Cross is contemplated and the dead Christ is adored in the light of the Resurrection.
The liturgy of the Church is never a “historical presentation.” It is rather the mystical experience of
each act of sacred history in the light of the whole, including the glorification of Christ and the outpouring of the Holy
In the Gospel according to Saint
John, Philip calls his friend Nathanael to “come and see” Jesus, but it is Jesus himself who invites Andrew to
“come and see” where he dwells and to spend the day with him, together with another disciple of John the Baptist,
who is probably the Evangelist himself:
John [the Baptist] was standing with two of his disciples; and he looked at Jesus as he walked, and said, ‘Behold, the
Lamb of God!’ The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed
Jesus. Jesus turned, and saw them following, and said to them, ‘What
do you seek?’ And they said to him, ‘Rabbi’ (which means
Teacher), ‘where are you staying?’ He said to them, ‘Come
and see.’ They came and saw where he was staying; and they stayed with
him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. One of the two who heard John speak, and follow him [Jesus], was Andrew, Simon
Peter’s brother. He first found his brother, Simon, and said to him,
‘We have found the Messiah’ (which means Christ)” [John 1.35-41].
Come and see! This is the abiding
invitation of the Church in her liturgical services. Come with faith and you will be numbered among those to whom “it
has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven” [Matthew 13.11].
You will be found with those to whom insight has been granted into “the mystery of Christ” which is “the
mystery hidden for all ages in God who created all things” which is now made manifest “through the church”
even to the angels [Ephesians 3.4, 9-10].
see! You will witness the mystery of Christ’s birth from the Virgin,
his manifestation at the Jordan in his baptism by John, his victory over the devil in the desert, his proclamation of the
good news to the poor, his announcement of liberty to the oppressed, his declaration of the acceptable year of the Lord’s
grace. You will witness his accomplishment of the signs of his messiahship: the blind see, the lame walk, the deaf hear, the dumb talk.
You will see the winds cease and the seas calmed. You will behold
the table spread “in the wilderness” in the feeding of the multitudes [Psalm 78.19].
You will witness the casting out of demons. And, most glorious of
all, you will see the dead being raised by the word of his power. You will
know indeed that “the kingdom of God has come upon you” [Mathew 12.28], and you will testify truly that “something
greater than Jonah” and “something greater than Solomon is here” [Matthew 12.41-42].
You will see what “many prophets and righteous men long to see…. And did not see it, and to hear…
and did not hear it” [Matthew 13.17]. And ultimately, you will see
the Son of God himself being lifted upon the Cross in order to give his broken body as food for his people, and his shed blood
as their drink, that their hunger and thirst for peace and joy and righteousness, and indeed for life itself, might be forever
satisfied. You will “sit at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven” which is brought to
the world by the glorified Messiah [Matthew 8.11].
To go the
way of the Winter Pascha is, according to Saint Gregory the Theologian, to “travel without fault through every stage
and faculty of the life of Christ.” It is to enter into the mysteries
of the Messiah, “all of which have but one completion: my perfection and return to the first condition of Adam.” It is to see and be seen by the great God who in Trinity is worshipped and glorified,
and whom we now set forth before you as clearly as the bonds of flesh permit, in Jesus Christ our Lord” [Oration
38, On the Theophany or Nativity of Christ].
he who was proclaimed by the voice of John the Forerunner,
“the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world,”
came bringing life and salvation to all the earth,
you, O holy Andrew, were the first to follow him.
You were offered as the first fruits of the
to Peter your brother,
found the Messiah!”
Pray that he
may enlighten and save our souls.
Rejoice, O Isaiah,
and receive the Word of God.
Prophesy to Mary
She is the Burning
Bush unconsumed by the fire of divinity.
yourself, O Bethlehem.
Open your gates,
Enter, O Magi, and see
salvation swaddled in a crib.
Behold the star
shinning above the cave;
the life-giving Lord who saves the human race.
Tell us, O Joseph,
how you led the Virgin
into the Bethlehem
the Scriptures and hearing the angel,” he says,
“I am certain that Mary will wondrously give birth to God
whom the wise men from the East will worship,
offering to him their precious gifts.”
O Lord, incarnate for our sake, glory to you!”
- Hymns from Vespers for the Feast of Saint Andrew -