1st Sun. after Nativity, Matt. 2:13-23; “Slaughtering Innocents- then and now”

Christ is Born!  Today we consider the flight of Joseph and Mary with the newborn infant Christ into Egypt to escape Herod’s murderous intent to kill Jesus which resulted in 14,000 infants under 2 years of age being slaughtered. Immediately upon Christ assuming flesh and being born as an infant, the enemy uses the hostile, twisted and sinful condition of our world to attempt to destroy its very Creator. Christ God, the King and Creator of the entire Universe, of all things created; material and immaterial, comes to His people, to all of humanity, entering our broken world, in complete love and humility as a little child. He completely immerses Himself in our pain and suffering and redeems all, becoming the first true and complete human being. (Trop. of the Forefeast tone 4) “Christ comes to restore the image which He made in the beginning.”  The only solution to our pain and suffering is to throw ourselves under His care and protection, seeking shelter, forgiveness and restoration in His loving arms. Today we also celebrate the “righteous ones,” St. David the king, St. James the Just – the brother of the Lord, and of course St. Joseph the betrothed, St. James’s father.

Holy tradition in our feast day services tells us in much about our most blessed Theotokos, her blessed parents Joachim and Anna and her protector and betrothed St. Joseph. The respected 2nd century writing, “The Protoevangelium of James” and the writings of St. Epiphanius of Salamis (4th century), are also treasured sources. From (Proto Evan James 9:1,2) “Joseph received the last rod: and 1o, a dove came forth of the rod and flew upon the head of Joseph. And the priest said unto Joseph: Unto thee hath it fallen to take the virgin of the Lord and keep her for thyself. 2 And Joseph refused, saying: I have sons, and I am an old man, but she is a girl: lest I became a laughing-stock to the children of Israel.” However, the urging of the High Priest, Joseph then accepts this great calling. After being gone on a building project for 6 months, Joseph returns and discovers that the young virgin Mary given to him to protect is great with child (13.1) “he smote his face, and cast himself down upon the ground on sackcloth and wept bitterly” We see where the troubled figure of Joseph at the bottom corner of the Nativity icon being tormented by Satan comes from. Joseph is reported to be an 80-year-old widower when being chosen to look after the young virgin Mary and had 4 sons and 2 daughters from his marriage to his first wife. The eldest was James the Just, who became the first bishop of Jerusalem and the Christian Church, and we also celebrate him today. We also learn through the gospel of Mark (6:3) that James the Just, had three other brothers, Joses, Simon, and Judas the apostle, and at least two sisters, Mary and Salome. Salome was one of the myrrh-bearing women and the wife of Zebedee, and mother of the apostles James and John. Talk about a royal family!

So Christ is Born, the wise men, having presented their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, representing material earthly treasure, worship, and love, have departed back home, deliberately avoiding meeting King Herod. King Herod is about to unleash his fury at being deceived by the wise men on the holy innocents around Bethlehem. In these ten short verses we are given so much to contemplate. Prophecies of the Messiah fulfilled (Hosea 11:1) “Out of Egypt have I called My Son” (Jerimiah 38:15 – Sept.) “A voice of lamentation, weeping, and mourning was heard in Ramah. Rachel does not cease mourning deeply for her children, but they are no more.” (Isaiah 40:3) “He shall be called a Nazarene” – the city they returned to when they came back from Egypt once Herod had died. Christ’s first entry into the world is not with the conspicuous glory given the arrival of a great King, or even a small territorial ruler. His glory is revealed to the pure shepherds, the searching wise men, yet there is not even a room prepared for Him at the Inn to house the Lord of all creation. After the birth of Christ, Joseph His protector is told to take his family and flee to Egypt, leaving in the night as His enemies were seeking to destroy Him. Perhaps the gifts of the Magi provided the funds to make this very hurried trip.

In great humility, the Creator and Lord of all that exists, flees in the night as a refugee from a ruthless ruler. How many times has this story been repeated over the centuries. Even in the last decade how many millions of followers of Christ have repeated this journey fleeing for their lives in Syria and the middle east. How many have been added to the chorus of martyrs asking, “How long O Lord, how long” Christ always identifies with suffering humanity.

Yesterday, we remembered the slaughter of the holy innocents, 14,000 children – all the males 2 years old and under, that Herod slaughtered in the Bethlehem area. About 1800 years before Christ’s birth, Rachel, the beloved wife of Jacob who bore him both Joseph and Benjamin, was buried in Bethlehem. Interestingly, Rachel’s son Joseph also ended up in Egypt as a ruler, and Egypt provided sustenance and protection to the 12 sons of Israel during a time of great danger. In today’s passage, Matthew ties Jerimiah’s prophecy of Rachel buried in Bethlehem and weeping for her children, given about 600 years before Christ’s birth, to the slaughter of the children by Herod. When we reflect upon these timelines and prophecies fulfilled, it helps us to realize how little we really know, and how puny our limited perspective of reality actually is. This is very helpful for growing in that most precious quality of humility, which leads to trust in God.

Herod’s slaughter of the innocents, starts the new testament assembly of martyrs we read about in Revelations (6: 9-11) who are asking “…how long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood… and a white robe was given to each of them…and they were told to rest a little while longer until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who would be killed was completed” When we remember the slaughter of the innocents we also include the victims through the centuries of hunger, thirst, the sword, freezing, and especially relevant today, the millions of holy innocents, who have been and continue to be slaughtered in our time through abortion. It is now a huge choir asking, “How long?”

Today, these holy innocents are sometimes even sacrificed for interfering with their mother’s and/or father’s envisioned future, and personal convenience. Such selfishness and focus on putting our own personal rights above all, is becoming the over-riding value of our present culture. These innocent babies are embraced by God, and may God grant that somehow their prayers and love for their mothers, and fathers can help to cause them to come to God in repentance, finding forgiveness and life in Christ. We lost a child in a miscarriage whom we named Salathiel. It is common to name miscarried children after Archangels in the Orthodox Church. Matushka and I are comforted knowing that Salathiel prays for us in God’s kingdom. She has a place in our family icon. At St. Peter’s, we held a parastas, a memorial service for our child. There were many of our brothers and sisters in attendance and it was a time of great blessing. In conversations with the attending mothers, we discovered there were more than 20 babies lost before birth in our little group. Joy is mingled with our grief and tears when we hear;

[Canon Ode 9, The Service of Burial of an Infant] “Your departure from this earthly life is a cause of grief and sorrow for your parents and all who love you, O little child; but in truth you have been saved by the Lord from sufferings and snares of many kinds.  O Savior and Master of our life: comfort the faithful parents of this departed child with the knowledge that to innocent children, who have done no deeds worthy of tears, are granted the righteousness, peace and joy of Your kingdom”

A while back at All Saints Orthodox Church in Victoria there was an Akathist service to Blessed Olga of Alaska where a total 10 departed children where prayed for. Within the next year, all of the mothers of these children gave birth to healthy babies! It is a great comfort to know that our true eternal life continues after our death and we are all on the way to being eternally joined to our loved ones departed in Christ on the birthday of our death!

The Church has always condemned abortion in the most firm and unequivocal manner, while always seeking to bring healing and forgiveness to all who come seeking God’s mercy. From the very first centuries of the Church, there has been complete rejection of the practice of abortion. The Didache – written in the late 1st or early second century says, (2:2) “…do not kill a fetus by abortion or commit infanticide.” Many Fathers in every century, Sts. Clement of Alexandria and Athenagoras in the 2nd century through to Sts. Basil, Chrysostom and many others, have all universally condemned the practice.

Abortion is not a new thing, but in this present age and place, for the first time it has somehow become twisted into a commendable and sensible act. It has also become technically very easy to accomplish. However, behind the diabolical rhetoric of those who profit from this multi-billion-dollar baby killing industry, lies the terrible spiritual and psychological damage that each participating mother must afterwards grapple with. Of course these mothers love and are deeply connected to their children growing in utter dependence within them. The pain of loss must then be pushed deep down inside and buried to be able to continue to function. In order to keep a lid on this inner burial tomb, where the pain remains, always alive, threatening to surface and break through into their conscious awareness; these mothers often feel the need to master the fierce false ideology of denial, delusion and blame, covering their pain with the armour of self justification, heavily promoted by the abortion industry. But only truth and repentance and the tender love and forgiveness of our God and Creator can transform this pain, and bring healing and hope to the millions of mothers throughout North America, who are suffering far more than the holy innocents whom they have aborted. They now dwell with God in a place of brightness and rest, where all sickness and sorrow and sighing have fled away.

It is important that we pray with great compassion and love for these mothers and fathers, who in their pain and delusion allowed their children to be taken. It is with special compassion that the Church must regard the mother who has gone through the soul-destroying trauma of an abortion; frequently done in confusion under pressure from family, society, poverty… Such unfortunates should not be beaten further, but compassionately supported and restored to life in Christ, in tenderness and love.

There are many of our sisters in Christ who have joined us, accepting God’s ever available grace and forgiveness, seeking healing from the pain, in the forgiveness and grace of God in His Church. Today we commemorate, along with Joseph the betrothed and James the brother of our Lord, King David. He received the forgiveness of God and relief from the crushing weight of his great sin of murdering his faithful servant Uriah and taking his wife Bathsheba. Even as God was faithful and forgiving to David, both in this life and in the world to come, so can any who come to Him in tears and pain and repentance, expect to find the same tender forgiveness in the ever compassionate and loving embrace of God and His Church.         CHRIST IS BORN!