Entries with tag christmas .

Why Jesus Came at Christmas

In a matter of days, we’ll be celebrating again the great feast of the Nativity of Christ: Christmas. We’ve spent weeks preparing for this day, sometimes with the stress that the holidays bring, but all the while saving room for Christ.


For those of us in the colder parts of the Northern Hemisphere, Christmastime reminds us of snow, ice-skating, hot chocolate, and evergreen trees. It’s a time of joy, a time of family, and a time for giving.


And with all of these ideas of what Christmas is about, Orthodox Christians in America struggle against the commercialization of it all, to “keep Christ in Christmas” and yet to “keep the Mass (liturgy) in Christmas” too.


As fun as it might be for some to argue about how we celebrate Christmas, I’d like instead to focus here on what Scripture provides – mostly what Christ says Himself – as the reasons for His coming into the world.


1. To be light in darkness


One reason that Jesus gave for His coming, was to fulfill the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 5:17). One message we see repeatedly from the Prophets is that God would shine light in the darkness of this world. Isaiah says, "the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone" (Isaiah 9:2). When St. John the Baptist was born, his father St. Zachariah said, "the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:78-79).


But who would be this great light for us? The Prophets Isaiah and Micah say that God Himself will be our light. "The Lord will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory" (Isaiah 60:19). "When I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me” (Micah 7:8). Jesus says that He came into the world at Christmas so that He might be our light:


I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. (John 12:44-47)


When light shines in the darkness, it reveals the darkness. St. Paul tells us that "at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light" (Ephesians 5:8). At Christmas, we are reminded that we have the gift of Light – of Jesus Christ – so we don’t have to live in darkness anymore.


2. To call and save sinners


During the Christmas season, we’re often tempted to feign perfection. We’re going to be with family, talking about our work, school, or family life and we want to look good. We want to make the best meal, buy the best presents, and show up at work or school afterwards with the best new clothes or gifts. We try so hard to keep up appearances, that we forget that Jesus didn’t come at Christmas so that we can look perfect. He came to call and save us.


Jesus tells us, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:13). “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick” (Mark 2:17). That means that Christmas isn’t about us being perfect and put together. At Christmas we don’t need more self-righteousness Christians, but more humble followers of Jesus. St. Paul tells us plainly, “the saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the first” (1 Timothy 1:15). I am the only sinner I need to notice or call out.


At Christmas, I’m reminded that Jesus came into the world that I might be healed. But more than that, He came to renew all of my life.


3. Have life abundantly


Our world tells us to live it up – you only live once! – to get the most out of this life. But Jesus tells us that He is Life (John 14:6). He says of the world, "I came that they may have life and have it abundantly" (John 10:10). Jesus came at Christmas that we might have life, that we might have Life Himself, that we might live our life most fully through our relationship with Him.


The Church, as the Body of Christ is where we encounter Christ and live in union with Him. St. Paul asks us, “Don’t you know that you all are God’s temple, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16). We as the Church have this opportunity to be part of Christ because He first came to be part of us. “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5).


Christmas matters because God came to live with man so that we could live with Him. How could life be more filled, more abundantly lived, than by being lived with God?




As Christians, we have a God who wasn’t content with leaving us in the dark. He desired to fill up our world with His own presence, His Light. He came at Christmas so that He could call us from sin to Life and that we might live life abundantly. God gives of Himself to be our gift at Christmas.


How is Jesus a Light in your life? What might He be calling you to change in your life? How might you live life more abundantly in the New Year?



Want more from Y2AM? Subscribe to our email list and get weekly tips for your spiritual life every Monday! And you can support Y2AM even more by becoming a monthly Patreon supporter. As little as $1 a month can help us continue the work we’re doing.


Sam is the Pastoral Assistant at Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Virginia Beach, Virginia. He grew up in Powhatan, Virginia and studied International Affairs and Spanish at James Madison University. Sam received his MDiv from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in 2013. He loves food, languages and good coffee.

Photo Credit: depositphotos


Saving Room for Christ

Every year I look forward to holiday foods. At Thanksgiving, it’s the stuffing and cranberry sauce. At Christmas, it’s the ham. At Pascha, it’s the lamb…and well, anything related to meat or cheese. And as a Southerner, we seem to always have deviled eggs and sweet tea at every important family gathering too.


And you better believe I make sure to save room for that food! After all, the thin guy always has to get seconds and thirds or the host isn’t happy.


But what would happen if we came to holiday meals already full? The holiday spread would become just…another meal. Just more of the same.


During the Advent season, as we are getting closer to Christmas, we are surrounded by Christmas music, Christmas lights, Christmas coffee drinks…we get so filled up with Christmastime that Christmas itself can feel anti-climactic. After weeks of worrying over gifts, planning our holiday schedule, and running here and there, the actual feast of Christmas comes and goes before we know it.


We forget to meet Jesus in that quiet cave in Bethlehem. We can get so filled up on Christmas that we forget to leave room for Christ.


Here are three things the Church offers to help us to come to the feast prepared and to meet Him this Christmas.


1. Fasting


We know to skip breakfast before going to Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner, because we want to make room for the good stuff. Similarly, the Church gives us the practice of fasting so that we can make room for Christ in our lives; or rather so that we can make Him the center of our lives. Instead of filling up on all that the world has to offer us, we are given periods throughout the year to put some limits on ourselves to train us to seek Christ. As we hunger and thirst for food before the Liturgy, we are reminded that Jesus alone can satisfy us. We come to church hungry, and the first thing we taste is Christ.


It’s easy to ignore practices like fasting as if they were just the tradition of man, until we remember that Jesus fasted (Matthew 4:1-2) and He said that His disciples were to fast, too (Matthew 9:14-15). The Church has a calendar of feasts and fasts, many of which can be hard to remember, but here’s a simple outline we can follow. Before major feasts, we prepare ourselves by fasting from certain foods and activities to prepare ourselves for the feast. We also fast throughout the year on Wednesdays and Fridays in remembrance of Jesus’ betrayal and death on the cross.   


But how can we fast this Advent period? The Nativity Fast lasts for the forty days leading up to Christmas. If you haven’t begun, you can begin today. If you don’t fast on Wednesdays and Fridays throughout the year, perhaps you could begin by fasting from meat on Wednesdays and Fridays during the Nativity Fast. If we are not accustomed to fasting, we should begin by making some step towards the tradition of the Church. As we live in an individualized culture, the temptation is to come up with something unique for ourselves instead of following the tried and true way of the Church. The best thing, though, is that you speak to your parish priest and ask his advice on what might work best for you and your family this year.


2. Confession, scripture, and prayer


Fasting during the Nativity period helps us to save room for Christ in our lives. Another practice during this period is to go to the sacrament of confession. Jesus desires that all of us who are “heavy laden” with our life’s concerns and worries will come to Him so that He can give us rest in Himself (Matthew 11:28). As we confess and we lay everything at the feet of Christ, we can walk away freer and lightened from those things we keep carrying along with us.


And as we are lightened through fasting and confession, we will have room to grow in our relationship with Christ. We can commit to saying some prayers in the morning and at night before going to sleep. We can set aside five to ten minutes each day to read scripture. When was the last time you read the whole of one of the gospels? It can be especially helpful for us to focus on one gospel, like the Gospel of Matthew or Luke during this period. As we read the life and the words of Jesus, we can encounter Him anew each time. And when we come to Liturgy on Christmas, we will be prepared to welcome Him.


3. Serving others


We worry a lot about presents during Christmastime. Did we get this person what they’d want? We think we’re thinking about people during Christmas, but usually we are just focused on the idea that we have to get everyone something. Is our focus on serving others or just getting them gifts? Are we focused on loving our neighbor? Are we remembering to love our enemy by praying for them?


Our Orthodox history is filled with saints who committed their lives to the service of the poor, the needy, the sick, and the fatherless. St. John Chrysostom served the poor in the streets of Antioch and preached the rest of his life about the importance of direct service. St. Basil devoted his life to service and his sermons continue to inspire us today to give back to those who are in need. Modern saints like St. Elizabeth the New Martyr and St. Maria Skobtsova show us that service is something we are all called to do today.


We can all find a way to give back to others who are in need today. Have you considered writing letters to those in prison through the Orthodox Christian Prison Ministry? How might you assist the work of IOCC or OCMC? How can you serve the Orthodox orphanages like those in Mexico or India? And on a local level, how can you work with local food pantries or social services help a family in need to have a Christmas dinner?




We might already feel like we’re getting swept up in the preparations for Christmas. The point for us, whether we are starting now, or if we have been preparing all Advent long, is that we commit to growing closer to Christ today. If we are emptying ourselves of our pride and worldly concerns, our hearts will be open to Christ and to the many ways we can serve our neighbor.


What is your experience of fasting? Have you been to confession recently? How could you better serve those in need?



Want more from Y2AM? Subscribe to our email list and get weekly tips for your spiritual life every Monday! And you can support Y2AM even more by becoming a monthly Patreon supporter. As little as $1 a month can help us continue the work we’re doing.


Sam is the Pastoral Assistant at Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Virginia Beach, Virginia. He grew up in Powhatan, Virginia and studied International Affairs and Spanish at James Madison University. Sam received his MDiv from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in 2013. He loves food, languages and good coffee.

Photo Credit: depositphotos



St. Nicholas and the Spirit of Charity and Giving


St. Nicholas is undoubtedly one of the most well-known and beloved Christian saints. Universally venerated among traditional Christian denominations, one would be hard pressed to find a city that doesn’t have a church named after the 4th-century Bishop of Myra.


He is known as Nicholas the Wonderworker because of the many miracles and stories attributed to him both during his life and after his repose.


One of the greatest was when St. Nicholas interceded on behalf of three innocent men condemned to death by a corrupt governor. He is said to have boldly went up to the executioner and took his sword, which was already suspended over the heads of the condemned. The governor, denounced by St. Nicholas for his wrongdoing, repented and begged for forgiveness.


Famously, St. Nicholas is also said to have aided a poor man who had three daughters but no dowry for them. At the time, remaining unmarried meant that the daughters would have fallen into lives of poverty and public ridicule, and so Nicholas decided to secretly help them. He went to their house under the cover of night and tossed three purses filled with gold coins through the window.


These are only two of the many great stories credited to St. Nicholas, but nearly all of them have to do with his devotion to charity and sacrifice.


Because of the saint’s habit of secret gift-giving, the diminutive “Saint Nick” is one of the many names given to Santa Claus, the legendary Western character who gives gifts to children on Christmas eve and is thought to be a combination of several figures, including the real St. Nicholas and several pagan winter characters.


As the weeks leading up to Christmas mark the proverbial “Season of Giving,” St. Nicholas serves as a reminder to embody a spirit of charity both during the holiday season and far beyond it.


Giving Tuesday” was exactly one week ago, a movement established as an international day of giving at the beginning of the Christmas and holiday season.


And in the last month, civil rights and anti-discrimination organizations have experienced an unprecedented increase in donations following the U.S. presidential election.


Once again, as it miraculously does every year, St. Nicholas’ famous spirit of charity and giving lives on during his feast day here and around the globe.


St. Nicholas the Wonderworker and Archbishop of Myra in Lycia is commemorated on Dec. 6.


Andrew Romanov is a Fellow at the U.N. for the Department of Inter-Orthodox, Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (un.goarch.org).


The Archdiocese is an accredited Non-Governmental Organization at the United Nations through the Department of Public Information (UN DPI) and has General Consultative Status under the Economic and Social Council of the UN (ECOSOC). It has been actively working at the United Nations for 30 years.


Jesus is Better Than We Are Bad - Eleventh Sunday of Luke

The Church sets the bar very high.

I’ve written a lot lately about earthly attachments and giving ourselves and all we have to Christ. If you’re anything like me, it can feel sort of overwhelming to think about what goes into the Christian life. The more I think about the call to give ourselves away, the more overwhelmed I tend to feel, thinking that I’ll never attain the kind of life that Christ calls me to live.

It can be easy to get discouraged.

I especially feel this as we approach the fourth Sunday of the Advent fast. I haven’t fasted nearly as well as I had planned. I haven’t kept up my schedule of reading the Scriptures as regularly as I had hoped. And I certainly haven’t even begun to pray as I would like.

It can be easy to get discouraged.

And I see myself in the central figure in this Sunday’s reading.

We read about a woman who has been bent over for eighteen years, forced to look at the ground everywhere she goes. She has been afflicted by Satan, the Lord tells us, and it has been a burden that she cannot escape.

Oh, how I understand how this situation feels.

Blessed Theophylact doesn’t exactly help all that much in his interpretation of this woman’s affliction, likening us sinners to her, writing, “Is not that man indeed bent over who is attached to the earth, and who always sins in disregard of the commandments, and who does not look for the age to come?”[1]

Great, I think. More things wrong with me: complete disregard of the commandments and not caring about the age to come. What hope is there?

Of course, that’s what I want to do when I read these texts. It’s far too easy for me to do so, to beat myself up and focus on how I need to do better, how I need to pray harder, fast stricter, etc.

But then I realized that the reading isn’t entirely or even primarily about demonstrating how wretched we are; rather we see in this passage what we see in almost every passage of Scripture: a Jesus who wants to deliver humanity from that which afflicts us.

We see a merciful Jesus.

We see this woman who is afflicted in her body, who is bent over, who has been looking at the ground for eighteen years, and then we see Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Promised One of Israel, the Word who has taken on a human body…touch her. He lays His hands on her and makes her well.

As easy as it is to look at the Scriptures, to look at our lives and see all the things that we are doing wrong, all the things that we think we need to perfect, it can be just as easy to neglect the biblical and traditional reality of how Christ comes to us.

He comes to us in a body. He comes to us in a way that is accessible to us. He comes to us to touch us, to bind Himself to us in our humanity.

And that’s what we’re preparing for with this Fast: the Incarnation of Christ, the Son of God, the Word, Power, and Wisdom of the Father.

Honestly, I find that I continually have to combat the sense that I have to earn Christ’s love, to win His approval of me, to somehow be made worthy of His grace.

But all of that is just a trap. It’s a trap to keep me in despair, to keep me from actually looking to Him who promises to come to me, to heal me.

Who promises to love me.

I don’t know how it becomes so easy to lose sight of the primacy of God’s love for us. But it almost always leads me to feel deeply ashamed and, honestly, a little bit like giving up. After all, there’s no way that I’m good enough to follow Christ.

The only response is to hang my head and walk away, sort of like the rich young ruler we read about last week.

But Christ’s offers us the grace to follow Him, and invitation to be forgiven and healed rather than “bound by Satan” (Lk. 13:16).

One of my favorite Mumford and Sons songs has this lyric:

It’s not the long walk home that will change this heart,
But the welcome I receive at every start.

This makes a lot of sense to me. When I think of the things that have made a difference in my life, it is not the times I’ve been lectured about the things I need to change. But rather, it is the experiences of extreme grace, of extreme acceptance, that has changed my life.

It is not by berating myself that I become spiritually renewed, but by allowing Christ to draw near to me, to bring his humanity to touch my own and to heal it.

Ultimately, it is not my fasting, it is not my prayer that heals me, but Christ.

And the good news of the Fast, the good news of the Gospel of Christ, which includes his taking on a human body, is that He draws near in merciful and compassionate ways that are easily accessible to humans with bodies. We don’t just have to close our eyes and bear down to see Him, but rather, He comes to us physically in the Church. To touch us. To heal us.

He is the Bread of Life that feeds us.

He is the arm of the priest embracing us in Confession.

He is the oil of unction that heals our afflictions.

There are three weeks left in the fast. We’re halfway there. Instead of being like me and focusing on everything that is wrong with us, let’s turn our attention toward the Incarnate Word of God, who comes to us mercifully, bringing the greatest present of all:




[1] Blessed Theophylact, The Explanation by Blessed Theophylact of the Holy Gospel According to St. Luke (Chrysostom Press: House Springs, 1997), p. 170.

Christopsomo: An Ancient Christmas Tradition and a Modern Recipe

Bread has always been a staple of the Greek table, inexorably associated with life and substance, the staff of life.  For Orthodox Christians, bread has always had symbolic, sacred importance; indeed, Christ himself is referred to as “the Bread of Life.”  The convergence of these two currents in Greek Orthodox society produced a nearly two thousand year-old living tradition in which the preparation and baking of bread for holidays and other special occasions has functioned as a creative, expressive medium for celebrating faith and hope.  This tradition is most well known for yielding the annual appearance of Tsoureki, the renowned “Easter bread” found in every Greek Orthodox home at Pascha.  But just as Easter has its own traditional bread, so too does Christmas.

Christopsomo—bread of Christ, or Christ’s bread—has been used to signify and celebrate Christ’s birth probably since early Byzantine times, if not earlier.  Great care goes into the annual preparation of Christopsomo in many Greek Orthodox homes.  Only the most superior ingredients are to be used, and, according to tradition, no expense should be spared in making this mildly sweet, light, yet rich, spice-infused bread.  Reflecting its religious inspiration, Christopsomo is usually round in form, the loaf serving as a circle, symbolic of eternity, the passing of this life, and the hope of life everlasting through Christ.  Indeed, the prominent chef, author, and authority on Greek cuisine and foodways, Diane Kochilas, observes that “the very fact that the bread is edible folk art, consumed, after so much hard work, is itself symbolic of the ephemeral nature of life itself.”           

Although special Christmas breads are common to many Orthodox cultures and peoples (Cesnica among Serbs, Cozonac among Romanians, Kolach among Ukrainians, and Krendel among Russians, for example), the decorative customs associated with Christopsomo are unique to Greek tradition.  In fact, all such Christmas breads are meant to be decorated in ways symbolizing good wishes, hope for the future, and God’s grace through imagery that touches on the livelihood of the family.  In rural villages, the Christopsomo is adorned with ornate, sculpted dough figures representing crops, livestock, plows, farming traditions, and more.  In the region of Kastoria, villagers traditionally honored their animals by also making small individual Christopsomo biscuits representing each of their sheep, goats, donkeys, and horses.  In fishing or other coastal or island communities, the Christopsomo may feature images of boats, fish, or sponges.  Common Christopsomo symbols found throughout Greece include grapes and vines, olive trees, sheep, and daisies, the petals of which represent the number of family members.  Despite an abundance of regional variations, the most common symbol is the Greek letter “X,” the early Christian representation for Christ. 

The Christopsomo is broken by Greek Orthodox Christians in much the same way throughout the world, whether in Albania, Cyprus, Greece, Greek America, Turkey or elsewhere.  In the historic Greek world, Christopsomo was traditionally made the day before Christmas and eaten on Christmas Day.  In the Greek Diaspora we encounter both continuity and some change in this practice.  As Marilyn Rouvelas concisely points out in her wonderful and deservedly ubiquitous book, A Guide to Greek Traditions and Customs in America, “Some families attend church on Christmas Eve and return home for a meal that begins with the cutting of the Christopsomo by the head of the household.  Others wait until a main meal on Christmas Day.  The head of the house makes the sign of the cross on the bread with a knife saying, ‘In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,’ and then cuts a piece for each person with a wish of ‘Kala Christouyena (‘Good Christmas’) or “Chronia polla’ (‘Many years’).”

With characteristic generosity and grace, and in the spirit of Christmas, the talented Diane Kochilas shares gratis with the public a traditional Cretan recipe for Christopsomo from her website, “Diane Kochilas: Greek Food for Life,” originally published in 2001 in her superlative book, The Glorious Foods of Greece:



¼ ounce beer yeast

3-4 cups hit water

5 ½ pounds flour used for bread 

3 cups plus 1 tsp sugar

1 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 cup fresh orange juice

1 tsp mastic crystals 

1 tbsp ground cinnamon

1 tbsp ground coriander

1 tbsp ground fennel seeds

4 walnuts, in their shell

1 large egg, slightly beaten with 2 tbsp water

1 ½ cup sesame seeds mixed with ¼ cup sugar

1.  Make the starter: In a large bowl dissolve the yeast in 1 cup hot water and add 1 cup flour.  Mix well, cover the bowl, allowing the yeast to rise for an hour.  Add 1 cup sugar, ½ cup oil, the orange juice and 1 cup flour.  Mix with a wooden spoon, add more flour if necessary in order to make a soft dough.  Knead until smooth.  Let sit covered in a warm place until doubled in bulk, approx. 2 hours.

2.  Using a pestle and mortar grind the mastic crystals with 1 tsp sugar.  In another bowl, large enough to fit all the remaining ingredients, mix the rest of the flour, 2 cups sugar and spices.  Create a well in the middle and place the starter there.  Start kneading working progressively and adding the rest of the water in doses until you get a firm, yet smooth dough.  Continue kneading, either by hand on a floured surface, or in a mixer with a dough hook (you might need to divide the dough mass to fit inside the mixer bowl).  Knead until smooth, about 10-12 minutes.  Add flour as needed to achieve the desired silky, non-sticky texture.  Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and leave to rise, about 2 hours, until doubled in bulk.  You can also divide the dough and knead two or four pieces separately, leaving them, if desired in the same oiled bowl or in separate ones.   

3.  Once the dough has risen, punch it down again gently.  Depending on whether you have kept one big piece or four smaller ones, divide so that there are eight equal balls altogether.  Shape these into ropes about 8 inches long.  Take two per loaf and shape into a cross, pressing to secure in the middle.  Let rest in oiled pans, covered with a kitchen towel, until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour or so.  Press a whole walnut into the middle and bake in a preheated oven at 390 degrees Fahrenheit.  Brush with an egg wash and sprinkle with sesame seeds.  Bake until golden, about 40 minutes.  Cool on a wire rack and serve. Wrapped well in cling film, the breads will last for about a week. Or, wrap well and freeze.

For a traditional round shape loaf, follow the directions above, except where the recipe calls for two 8-inch ropes of dough coil a 24-inch roll of the dough into a mounded circle (similar to a snail shell).  Of course, if you, like me, lack the basic skills for success in the fine art of baking, you can also use a very modern approach to enjoying this centuries-old custom: visit your local Greek bakery or other purveyor of fine breads and make off with several loaves of Christopsomo for home, family, and friends.

Whether you make your own Christopsomo or others do so for you, remember and take joy in the fact that when you break this bread at your Christmas table you are partaking in an ancient custom that connects you, in living tradition, to the community of Orthodox Christians past, present, and future, with whom you share this special bond in celebration of the birth of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Merry Christmas.       


Dr. Alexandros K. Kyrou is Professor of History at Salem State University, where he teaches on the Balkans, Byzantium, and the Ottoman Empire.

— 5 Items per Page
Showing 1 - 5 of 8 results.
Sam Williams
Posts: 65
Stars: 0
Date: 10/10/17
Steven Christoforou
Posts: 27
Stars: 0
Date: 10/6/17
Dr. Alexandros K. Kyrou
Posts: 25
Stars: 10
Date: 10/3/17
Rev. Dr. Tony Vrame
Posts: 24
Stars: 1
Date: 9/29/17
Christian Gonzalez
Posts: 75
Stars: 8
Date: 9/20/17
Nicholas Anton
Posts: 5
Stars: 0
Date: 9/1/17
Andrew Calivas
Posts: 3
Stars: 0
Date: 8/22/17
Anthony Constantine Balouris
Posts: 9
Stars: 0
Date: 6/28/17
Maria Pappas
Posts: 25
Stars: 0
Date: 5/12/17
Andrew Romanov
Posts: 8
Stars: 0
Date: 4/27/17