of our Lord God and Saviour
In remembrance of the Nativity in the flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, the feastday was established by the Church. Its very origin is related to the times of the Apostles. In the Apostolic Constitutions it says: "Brethren, observe the feastdays, and among the chief such the day of the Birth of Christ, which make ye celebration of on the 25th day of the tenth month" (from March, which in those days began the year). There also in another place it said: "Celebrate ye the day of the Nativity of Christ, in the which unseen grace is given man by the birth of the Word of God from the Virgin Mary for the salvation of the world."
In the II Century also Sainted Clement of Alexandria indicates that the day of the Nativity of Christ is 25 December. In the III Century as before Saint Hypolitus of Rome makes mention concerning the feastday of the Nativity of Christ, and designates the Gospel readings for this day from the beginning chapters of Saint Matthew. It is known also, that during the time of persecution of Christians by Maximian in the year 302, Nicomedia Christians numbering 20,000 were burned in church on the very feastday of the Nativity of Christ (commemorated 28 December). In that same century, but later on after the persecution when the Church had received freedom of religion and had become the official religion in the Roman empire, we find the feastday of the Nativity of Christ observed throughout all the Universal Church. And this is evidenced from the works of saint Ephrem the Syrian, Sainted Basil the great, Sainted Gregory the Theologian, Sainted Gregory of Nyssa, Sainted Ambrose of Milan, Sainted John Chrysostom and other fathers of the Church of the IV Century concerning this feastday. Saint John Chrysostom, in his sermon which he gave in the year 385, points out that the feast of the Nativity of Christ is ancient and indeed very ancient. In this same century also at the place of the Bethlehem Cave, made famous by the Birth of Jesus Christ, the Equal-to-the-Apostles empress Helen erected a church, which her mighty son Constantine strove after her to make resplendid. In the Codex of the emperor Theodosius from 438, and of the emperor Justinian -- in 535, is promulgated as law the universal celebration of the day of the Nativity of Christ. It is in this sense, truly, that Nicephoros Kallistos, a writer of the XIV Century, says in his history that the emperor Justinian in the VI Century established the celebration of the Nativity of Christ throughout all the world.
In the V Century the Patriarch of Constantinople Anatolios, in the VII -- Sophronios and Andrew of Jerusalem, in the VIII -- Saints John of Damascus, Cosma of Maium and the Patriarch of Tsar'grad Germanos, in the IX -- the Nun Cassia and others of names unknown, all these wrote for the feast of the Nativity of Christ many sacred hymns, used at present by the Church to the glory of this radiant festal event.
However, during the first three centuries, when persecutions hindered the freedom of Christian Divine-services, in certain places in the East -- in the Churches of Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria and Cyprus -- the feastday of the Nativity of Christ was combined together with the feastday of the Baptism of Christ on 6 January, under the in-common term "Theophany" ["Bogoyavlenie" -- which both in the Greek and the Slavonic means "Manifestation of God"]. The reason for this, actually, was from the view, that Christ was baptised at a later time on His birthday, as might be inferred concerning this from the discourse of Saint John Chrysostom who, in one of his sermons on the Nativity of Christ, says: "it is not that day on which Christ was born which is called Theophany, but rather that day on which He was baptised." Towards suchlike a viewpoint also it is possible to consider a nuance in the words of the Evangelist Luke who, speaking about the Baptism of Jesus Christ, testifies, that then "Jesus being incipient [incipiens, arkhomenos] upon His thirtieth year" (Lk 3:23). The celebration of the Nativity of Christ conjointly with Theophany in certain of the Eastern Churches continued to the end of the IV Century, and in some -- until the V or even the VI Century. Remembrance of the ancient conjoining of the feasts of the Nativity of Christ and Theophany at present enters into the making of the order of services in the celebration of these feasts. For both -- on the eve-day preceding the feast, there is a similar tradition among the people, that on the festal eve-days the fast ought to be kept until the stars appear. The order of Divine-services on the eve of both feastdays and the feastdays themselves is done the same.
The day of the Nativity of Christ from of old was numbered by the Church among the Twelve Great Feasts -- in accord with the Divine witness of the Gospel in depicting these festal events as the greatest, most all-joyful and wondrous. "Behold, I proclaim unto you glad tidings -- said the Angel to the Bethlehem shepherds -- of great joy, for all mankind. For unto you this day is born the Saviour, Who is Christ the Lord, in the city of David. And this for ye is the sign: ye will find the Infant wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger. Then suddenly with the Angel was a multitude of the heavenly hosts, glorifying God and saying: Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth peace, good-will to mankind. Those hearing of this were awestruck at the sayings of the shepherds concerning this Child. And the shepherds themselves returned back, glorifying and praising God for everything they had heard and seen" (Lk 2:10-20). Thus the Nativity of Christ, as an event most profound and extraordinary, was accompanied by the wondrous tidings to the shepherds and the Magi about the universal rejoicing for all mankind -- "for the Saviour is Born!", by the Angelic proclamation of glory to the new-born Saviour, by the worship to him by shepherds and wise-men, by the reverent awe of many, hearkening to the words of the shepherds about the new-born Child, amidst glory and praise of Him by the Shepherds.
In accord with the Divine witness of the Gospel, the fathers of the Church in their God-imbued writings also depict the feast of the Nativity of Christ as most profound, universal and all-joyous, which serves as a basis and foundation for all the other feastdays.