As a way to wrap up this annual exercise of spending time with one of the Church Fathers in preparation for the Nativity, I would like to follow up on yesterday’s post with a reminder that St. Gregory isn’t the only one who brings up suffering and death at Christmas time. On December 26th, the day after Christmas, the Orthodox Church reads the story of Herod’s anger and his slaughtering of all the male children two years and younger in the environs of Bethlehem. Three days later, on December 29th, the Orthodox Church officially commemorates these victims with the Feast for the 14,000 Holy Innocents.
It is a reminder that though we are called to leap for joy, sing praises to God and stand in awe of all that will be accomplished by Christ through His Nativity, the world continues to be filled with suffering and death. There are those who are today slaughtered by their fellow man for no good reason what so ever. Every year we have far more than 14,000 innocents who succumb to a death brought about by their fellow human beings.
Thus, in the midst of all this joy and all this celebration — for we Orthodox Christians do not stop celebrating Christmas on the morning of December 25th — we must remember all of those who died before ever knowing Christ. Remember all of those who died before they really ever had a chance to live. Remember all those whose lives that were cut short through the selfishness and cruelty of fallen humanity.
This is our burden and also our hope. During the liturgy, the priest says these seemingly innocuous words:
Remember also, Lord, those whom each of us calls to mind and all your people.
Then, as the priest is placing all of the crumbs that are left from the Body of Christ on the paten into the Cup he prays:
Wash away, Lord, by Your holy Blood, the sins of all those commemorated through the intercessions of the Theotokos and all Your saints. Amen.
By these two prayers, and our active participation in them we have the opportunity to ask God to not only remember but to forgive and grant everything that He gives us, His children, to those whom we bring to mind. Thus, the Church lifts up to God all those babes killed by Herod before they ever had a chance to live life or to know Christ. In turn, she invites us to lift up to God all of the innocents who have been killed throughout the ages.
May God, through our prayers, be as loving and merciful as we dare to hope. Indeed, may He marvelously exceed all of our expectations. Amen.