December 2016 Letter
With the approach of Christmas according to the Western calendar, we notice that although our Coptic Church celebrates Christmas on a different day, yet there is a popular tradition that we all follow in our celebration.
The Christmas tree: first known in Germany in 1605, and from there it spread to the rest of Europe, then to US, and lastly to the east. This was due to a popular tradition inherited by the Germans. They say that one of the forest guardians returned to his home at night on a very cold Christmas eve. He sat warming himself with his wife and his son Hans around the fire. A small poor child knocked on the door, and the guard let him in and hosted him throughout the night to protect him from the cold. In the morning, the family woke up to hear beautiful angelic songs, and at the house’s door the visitor child – who was The Born of Bethlehem – had cut a branch of Fir tree (a type of tree that grows in the northern forests) and planted in the ground. He told them with a shining face: “I have accepted your hospitality, and this is my gift to you: a tree that remains leafy all the year round, and bears fruit in the Christmas season.” Then he disappeared.
The cave of Bethlehem: the first one to make it was St. Francis of Assisi in Italy, where he erected it at the entrance of the church in his home village of Assisi for the first time in 1224 AD. So the cave of Bethlehem is a popular tradition that originated first in Italy, and from there has spread in the rest of the Christian countries.
The cows’ manger: folk tradition inherited over the years in the east and west, tells that Christ was born in an animals’ manger (Luke 2: 1-7). However the Scriptures did not disclose anything more than that. But since the third century AD, apocryphal gospels group emerged. Among these apocryphal gospels, which were written to satisfy the curiosity of the public in identifying the events of Christ’s childhood, His passion and His life on earth after the resurrection, is the fake gospel of Matthew (available only in Latin). This gospel mentions for the first time how the ox and the donkey prostrate to the child Jesus in the manger. Christian art took advantage of this a lot. Perhaps the specific reference for the ox and the donkey is what the prophet Isaiah said: “The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master’s crib” (Isaiah 1: 3). Some commentators refer to these animals (ox and donkey) a symbol for the believers in Christ; the gentiles and the Jews.
Asking you to pray for the peace of the whole world in these troubled days, and to remember the church, the priests, the servants and their services always in your prayers, and may the blessings of St. Mary and St. Mercurius and the blessing of the Nativity fast be with us always, Amen.
Belleville, December 1, 2016