By Sophia A. Niarchos
OYSTER BAY, N.Y. – In these final days of Christmas preparations, as activities surrounding the holiday come to their climactic conclusion on December 25, Greek News thought it fitting to offer the thoughts of priests in the metropolitan area (Fr. John Antonopoulos at St. Demetrios Church in Astoria, Fr. Elias Villis at the Church of our Savior in Rye, Fr. Robert Stephanopoulos at the Holy Trinity Cathedral in Manhattan, Fr. Emmanuel Gratsias at the Church of the Resurrection in Glen Cove, and Fr. Nektarios Cottros at St. Demetrios Church in Jamaica, Queens) about the significance of the Nativity of Christ in the lives of people today. What we found were messages of hope, messages emphasizing the positive aspects of celebrating Christmas.
While it has become commonplace to hear criticism of the commercialization of Christmas, our area clerics offer interesting perspectives on how to overcome what some consider a problem.
Said Fr. Elias: “Don’t focus on what Christmas has become; celebrate that there will be reconciliation and there will be people who will acknowledge the importance of servicing their spiritual life. We focus too much on what Christmas shouldn’t be. Instead, we should focus on affirming that good will come from this experience.”
“The emphasis this Christmas season, said Fr. John, “should be on giving a little more love, thought and understanding to members of the family. To change the commercial aspect of Christmas, we need to work on our relationships. In my Christmas letter, I remind the parishioners of St. Demetrios that Christmas is a regeneration of life and a power of hope. It is the hearty touch of one to another.”
Fr. Robert offers a different perspective to address concerns about the commercialism of Christmas:
“Commercialism can be a good thing; giving children toys brings them joy. But gift giving should be done creatively and not just because someone feels that they have to give a gift. People should think ahead about what would really be important to the person they are giving their gift to. Look at gift-giving with the right attitude, and spend some time to make it meaningful.”
In the same spirit, he remarked, “Christmas cards can be used to communicate a nicely written message.
“We should also appreciate the fact that Christmas is recognized as a national observance in America, that it’s an American holiday.”
Turning toward the relevance of Christ’s birth for our lives today, Fr. Elias, Fr. Emmanuel, and Fr. Nektarios describe the accessibility and connection between God and Man that is epitomized in the Nativity.
Fr. Elias noted that “the coming of God in the flesh is the love of God being made accessible to humankind even to the last person on earth,” while Fr. Emmanuel stated that “the celebration of the birth of Christ is the celebration of God visiting his people and making himself approachable.
“God in the Old Testament was not very easily approached. He spoke through burning bushes, thundered from the heavens, often sounded angry when speaking through the prophets, rather judgmental to say the least…
“God changed all that when…he became man in Christ Jesus…He was not judgmental…No finger pointing from him, no anger. Instead it was a message of a loving, intimate and ultimately eternal union that inspires us in return to love and imitate him in our world and amongst those around us. He instilled the potential of reconciled peaceful relationships with him and our fellow man.”
And Fr. Nektarios translates the approachability and accessibility of God to the very essence that is Man:
“When one remembers that mankind is to be Christ-like and live life in a Christ-like manner, one realizes that one lives in the love of God,” he said.
But the effect of the demands of the Christmas season on the people in their communities is not lost to these priests.
“This time of the year brings out problems that have been a part of their lives for a long time. Some people are concerned that the pace of the holiday doesn’t help them appreciate the inner meaning of Christmas. Some suffer symptoms of depression,” said Fr. Robert. “I encourage them to concentrate on what Tradition says and on the practices of the Church, and those feelings will go away.”
Fr. Elias urges his parishioners to find strength through the example of Joseph, who “was told in a dream by the archangel to leave where he was and hide the child from the King who was looking to destroy him. Just as Joseph was admonished to protect Christ, we too need to protect the seed that is trying to be borne, protect the Christ child in the Bethlehem of our hearts. Because we are bombarded with so much commercialism and the need for immediate gratification, we tend to forget the importance of sacrifice. This can even be seen in the health of our people. How many people exercise? It is a form of discipline, and while, like following the tenets of our religion, it is okay not to like it all the time, we must continue to work at it.”