‘And creation rejoices’

27 December 2021

In Church hymnography, which in essence is a commentary on the Biblical message concerning the salvation of the world, the loveliness of creation is described in a clear and poetic manner, as is its participation in all the wondrous events of the divine incarnation. The natural environment exists for humankind and draws us to the Creator ‘The heavens declare the glory of the Lord; the firmament proclaims the works of his hands’ (Ps. 18, 1), writes the psalmist, while the Nobel Laureate Odysseas Elytis writes about ‘The Maker of the clouds and waves who sleeps within us’ (AxionEsti, The Passion, reading 2, 6).

But for there to be a path from the perceptible beauty of created things to him who is ‘fairer in beauty than the sons of men’ (Ps. 44, 3), from the loveliness of the creation to the Maker and Creator of all things, for us who were made ‘in the image of God’ to wake up, we need well-tuned spiritual senses. Internal purification of the massive burden and fog of the degrading passions. In this way, material creation, which is an expression of the providential action of God towards his most perfect handiwork, can become a source of inspiration. The hymn-writers, who have a pure heart, associate the beauty of creation with the radiance of the Creator and teach the faithful this.

As a result of the fall of humankind, ‘the whole creation has been groaning together in labor pains until now’ (Rom. 8, 2), but with the Nativity of the Savior ‘all things are filled with joy’, because ‘Christ has been born from the Virgin’. Creation occupies a major position in the hymns for Christmas. The holy hymn-writers sometimes present it as making ready; sometimes as joining in song and dance; at other times as expressing thanks; and at other times standing in amazement before the ‘strange mystery beyond reason and comprehension’ of God’s generous kindness towards us.

Heaven and earth, stars and cave, wilderness and manger, mountains and trees, animals and plants, all participate in the supernatural event of divine condescension and minister to the miracle. ‘Rejoice, you righteous; you heavens exult; you mountains gambol, for Christ is born’,  sings the Church and invites the earthly and the heavenly, the rational and irrational, the angels and all humankind to join in harmony and celebrate the feast together.

Interpreting the wonderful hymns for the feast, Fotis Kondoglou describes the decoration of the icon of the Nativity as follows: ‘The surround of this holy icon, with all its particulars, is joyful, because of the bright and saving mystery of the Lord’s Nativity.  The coloring of the mountains is exquisite and sweet, with light shading. Holm oaks and fragrant herbs, thyme and others, humbly adorn the rocks’.

The hymns teach us the value of humility, which elevates us, through a contradictory image. ‘You were born secretly in the Cave, but the heavens, like a voice, declared you to all, Savior, through the brightness of the star’. By the same token, all of the faithful who voluntarily humble themselves can become citizens of heaven. Along the same lines, Gregory the Theologian, in his interpretation of the ‘divine dispensation’,  talks of the self-emptying which elevates and the  ‘divine poverty’ through which we can ascend to God, having been filled with ‘his divinity’.

At Vespers for Christmas, a hymn by Anatolios, Patriarch of Constantinople, (5th century) presents all creatures offering the new-born Christ their gratitude: ‘the angels their hymn; the heavens the star; the Magi their gifts; the shepherds the miracle; the earth the cave; the wilderness the manger, and we the Virgin’. Through the Virgin, who represents the human race, all things are made new and ‘creation rejoices’.

Here I would like to refer you to the words of a modern grace-filled elder of our Church, Saint Porfyrios Kavsokalyvitis concerning the beauty of the creation and the help it can provide to us in meeting in Bethlehem, the Church, Christ. ‘Rejoice in what surrounds us. Everything teaches us and brings us to God. All things around us are beads of God’s love. The animate, the inanimate, the plants and animals, the birds, the mountains, the sea, the sunset and the starry sky. They’re the little morsels of love through which we reach the great Love, Christ. Flowers, for example, have their charm, they teach us by their fragrance, their magnificence. They talk to us of God’s love. They shed their fragrance and beauty on sinners and the righteous.

To become a Christian, you have to have a poetic soul, you have to become a poet. Christ doesn’t want ‘coarse’ souls near him. As long as Christians love, they’re poets, they’re part of poetry. Poetic hearts enfold love, bring it into their heart, embrace it, feel it deeply…

Nature’s a secret Gospel. But if people don’t have inner grace, nature’s of no benefit to them. Nature wakes us up, but can’t take us to paradise. Spirit-bearers, those who have the Spirit of God, pay attention to where it blows, they’re all eyes, all smell. All their senses are alive, but they live off God’s Spirit. They’re different. They see everything and hear everything. They see the birds, the rocks, the butterflies… As they go past a place, they’re aware of everything, a scent, for example. They live in all things: in the butterflies, the bees and so on. Grace makes them pay careful attention. They want to be with everything’.

In an age of loquaciousness, gossip and inflation of even ecclesiastical discourse, it’s almost impossible to appreciate the value of silence, or the secret divulgences of the Spirit and the divine edification of nature. We all risk losing our way to Bethlehem and we all have need of a bright star. In the modern, rationalistic day and age, it’s difficult for us to approach the divine nativity as Joseph did. But those who are able to overcome the barrier of human reason and make their heart bright, will taste, even faintly, the presence of the Redeemer, who ‘became poor for us’. They’ll taste mystically the cathartic, illuminating and deifying energy. Christ will leap ‘within, in their heart’.