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Sundays before the Nativity of Christ


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#1 Father David Moser

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Posted 30 December 2009 - 07:32 PM

A question which always seems to arise this time of year as I prepare the readings for the Sunday before the Nativity: Why is it that we read the Gospel of the genealogy of Christ (Matt 1) on the Sunday of the Fathers and not on the Sunday of the Ancestors? It seems to me that it would be more appropriate to include the genealogy of Christ on the Sunday upon which we remember his forebears in the flesh.

Fr David Moser

#2 Paul Cowan

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Posted 31 December 2009 - 01:32 AM

Cuz the deacon needs as much practise as he can get pronouncing those names.

Sorry Fr. Couldn't resist.

#3 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 31 December 2009 - 04:32 PM

A question which always seems to arise this time of year as I prepare the readings for the Sunday before the Nativity: Why is it that we read the Gospel of the genealogy of Christ (Matt 1) on the Sunday of the Fathers and not on the Sunday of the Ancestors? It seems to me that it would be more appropriate to include the genealogy of Christ on the Sunday upon which we remember his forebears in the flesh.

Fr David Moser


To begin with: I often wonder if the sources of interpretation ( printed sermons etc) contradict each other. For example the Russian sources that I used for my sermons this year clearly said that the Sunday of the Forefathers is devoted to the OT saints, ie not restricted to the saints that are among Christ's geneology. Another difference is that in the Slavonic the first preparatory Sunday is called- "of the Forefathers", while the second Sunday is called- "of the Fathers". I mention this because the lack of specific reference to Christ in the original titles for these Sundays could be what has led to a variety of interpretations as to their significance. Perhaps we also see this is in the fact that there seems to be no agreement as to which icons go with each Sunday. The Russian icon that Olga posted & referred to as being for the Sunday of the Fathers clearly says "Forefathers' on ours.

In any case for the Sunday Gospels I take it that Gospel 28 is appointed to be read two Sundays before Nativity because of it being by interpretation an invitation to the banquet (ie Kingdom) of the Incarnate One. Then on the Sunday before Nativity it is only natural that the more focused theme of Christ's geneology found in the Gospel of Matthew be referred to.

I do not know this- but I suspect that the titles of these two Sundays and the Gospels read on them may have arisen independently of each other. (Note that Gospel 28 is always appointed to be read on the Sunday of the Forefathers even though this often means displacing it from its actual numerical order- this year for example we read Gos 29, then Gos 28; which suggests that this gospel was appointed to be read on this Sunday after the lectionary was developed: perhaps originally it did not have its own Gospel?). In any case this then has led to the situation where multiple interpretations can arise of the exact meanings for each Sunday and of their relationship to the Gospels read on them.

In Christ- Fr Raphael

#4 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 31 December 2009 - 09:01 PM

A further note on this: if you look in The Gospel Commentary printed by the Old Rite parish in Erie, Pa you will see that for the Sunday of the Holy Forefathers (p 679) it is one of the very few or perhaps only Sunday to have no Gospel reading listed under the title. The sermon printed also appears to have no connection to the Gospel from Luke that we read nowadays. Meanwhile Gospel 28 appears in its consecutive place among the other Gospels but with no mention of Nativity. It also appears in a different form from that which is Gospel 28 nowadays: ie it has Luke 14: 16-24 (which is where our present Gospel 28 ends) but then adds vs 12-15.

Fr German who translated this volume from Slavonic into English writes in the Introduction that the original Greek volume dates from the 14th century. It was then translated into Slavonic from the mid-14th century and was continually re-printed during the 1600s. As an earlier form of the lectionary than we know now it seems to imply that Gospel 28 for the Sunday of the Forefathers is a later practice; and that earlier on Gospel 28 had extra verses than we now have.

Whether this means that the Sunday of the Forefathers itself is a later addition I do not know. Perhaps- since even the sermon for that Sunday in the Old Rite book seems as if it was just inserted there afterwards at some point.

In Christ- Fr Raphael

#5 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 01 January 2010 - 04:23 PM

I have found some more interesting information on this in St Gregory Palamas- The Homilies. This book of St Gregory's homilies has been recently translated & published by Christopher Veniamin who teaches at St Tikhon's Seminary in South Canaan, Pa.

In any case in a footnote (952) at the back of this book, Christopher writes:

Already in St Gregory's day, the entire month of December had taken on the character of a forefeast for Christmas. In this context, the theme of the original preparatory Sunday, the 'Sunday of the Holy Fathers', commemorating the ancestors of Christ 'according to the flesh', especially the patriarch Abraham, to whom the promise was first given, is fundamental to the whole period. Later, however, two additional preparatory Sundays were established , which broadened the original theme to include all the righteous of the Old Dispensation-all those who were well-pleasing to God from Adam to Joseph the Betrothed, including those men & women who had prophesied the coming of Christ, especially the prophet Daniel and the Three Holy Children (whose feastday falls on 17 Dec). Hence, the first Sunday before Christmas ((between 18 and 24 Dec) became known as the 'Sunday before the nativity of Christ', while the second Sunday (between 11 to 17 Dec) took on the name, 'Sunday of the Holy Forefathers of Christ'...while the third Sunday before Christmas (between 1 to 10 Dec) is simply an extension of the second, continuing the remembrance of all those who lived before and under the law, and is marked by the reading of Luke 13: 10-17, which speaks of the crippled woman who was healed by Christ on the Sabbath as a 'daughter of Abraham.'


There is a lot of information to absorb here some of which is very new and even puzzling to me (eg a third preparatory Sunday before Nativity). However from this info we can see that at least originally the Sunday before Nativity- Holy Fathers- was meant to commemorate the ancestors of Christ 'according to the flesh'. Then the Sunday before this of the Holy Forefathers was meant to commemorate all of the OT righteous. I really don't know what to say about a third preparatory Sunday however- is this possibly Byzantine practice that the Slavs no longer follow? In any case for us in the Russian tradition Luke 13: 10-17 is not read as a preparatory Gospel for Nativity; it is instead Gospel 27 read in its normal consecutive place (although it is quite likely that this would always fall within the Advent period as Christopher mentions).

A last point about the Gospel for the Sunday of the Holy Forefathers- in St Gregory's homily for this Sunday he dwells on preparing for the upcoming feast of nativity. But he nowhere mentions anything of the Gospel that we nowadays read on this Sunday (Luke 14:16-24). As with the Old Rite sermon book where this sermon looks almost like it was awkwardly inserted I am still wondering whether the Gospel that we presently read on this Sunday is a recent addition.

In Christ- Fr Raphael

#6 M.C. Steenberg

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Posted 01 January 2010 - 06:10 PM

I have found this thread most illuminating!

#7 Father David Moser

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Posted 01 January 2010 - 08:03 PM

So once upon a time, the Sunday before Nativity was a recognition of the ancestors, however, as the preparation for the feast expanded, the ancestors themselves were moved to the second Sunday and the Sunday before became the ancestors and all the other fore-runners? Am I getting this right?

Fr David Moser

#8 Paul Cowan

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Posted 01 January 2010 - 08:14 PM

So once upon a time ... Am I getting this right?

Fr David Moser


And they all lived happily ever after. The end.

#9 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 01 January 2010 - 11:08 PM

So once upon a time, the Sunday before Nativity was a recognition of the ancestors, however, as the preparation for the feast expanded, the ancestors themselves were moved to the second Sunday and the Sunday before became the ancestors and all the other fore-runners? Am I getting this right?

Fr David Moser


Dear Father,

At least as I understand it: The Sunday before Nativity developed as the Sunday to commemorate the Fathers who are part of Christ's geneology. The preceding Sunday however was expanded in development to include all of the Holy Ones who shone forth before Christ.

As I mentioned in my original post I found this very same explanation in my Russian homilies this year.

By the way when I checked the goarch site it turned out that they read Luke13:10-17 three Sundays before Nativity exactly as C Veniamin refers to from St Gregory Palamas' time. For sure this is very different from our Russian order for reading the Gospels.

In Christ- Fr Raphael

#10 Pandelis

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Posted 02 January 2010 - 12:11 AM

Dear Rev. Fathers,

Are there any commentaries (or homilies) that you have come across (printed or on the web) on the Epistle readings for these Sundays before the Nativity? The Orthodox Study Bible is very limited in its explanation and I haven't been able to find anything of substance on the internet.

Pandelis

#11 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 02 January 2010 - 01:57 PM

It is my understanding that Fr Christopher Stade has begun translating the commentaries on the Epistles. He already has published the four Gospel commentaries by Theophylact.

Of course though it will probably take quite awhile to get these out in print.

You could also turn to the commentaries of St John Chrysostom which are quite widely available.

In Christ- Fr Raphael

#12 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 03 January 2010 - 02:30 PM

As a perhaps last note about this theme. I don't know if any of you on the OC noticed last night the reference in one of the stichira at Vespers to the Forefathers even though this was the Sunday of the Fathers.

Through all of my posts I have had the thought that these two Sundays are not in fact so clearly distinct in theme: that is why we have a confusion at times over the exact difference in theme between the Forefathers & Fathers. This is why there is no clear indication of which icon goes with each Sunday. This is why the wording in the services as to theme is not so clear. And this is why the Gospel for the Sunday of the Forefathers is not clearly connected in theme to the Forefathers.

My sense is then is that this lack of absolute clarity has occurred because of how these Sundays arose over time. Basically they deal with a preparation for Nativity- obviously on the personal & spiritual level. But also as a general focus during the last Sundays and then during the 5 day forefeast of the entire significance of God's dispensation as it relates to the Nativity. This takes up the theme of how Christ's Incarnation sums up all of humanity and is not merely a historical event in time.

We should also keep in mind that it is very difficult and really there is no need to divide this focus concerning Christ's Nativity into what could seem to be separate themes.

In Christ- Fr Raphael




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