The vigil services of Christmas and Epiphany begin with the chanting of
great compline, at the heart of which is the solemn singing of the
from the prophet Isaiah.
God is with us!
Understand all nations,
And submit yourselves,
For God is with us!
Hear this, even to the farthest bounds of the earth.
Submit yourselves, 0 mighty ones;
If you rise up again in your might,
You will be again overthrown.
The Lord shall destroy all who take counsel together,
And the word which you speak shall not abide with you.
For we do not fear your terror,
And we are not troubled.
But we will ascribe holiness to the Lord our God
And Him we will fear.
And if I put my trust in Him
He shall be my sanctification.
I will set my hope on Him
And through Him I shall be saved,
Lo, I and the children whom God has given me.
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.
Those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.
For to us a Child is born,
To us a Son is given.
And the government shall be upon His shoulder,
And of His peace there will be no end.
And His name shall be called the Angel of the Great Council;
The Mighty God, the Everlasting Father;
The Prince of Peace;
The Father of the world to come!
(Is 8:9-10, 17-18; 9:2, 6-7 LXX)1
These lines of the prophetic writing, which are included in many of the
songs of the services of the Winter Pascha, are also referred to
in the Gospel according to Saint Matthew.
Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When His mother
had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to
with child of the Holy Spirit; and her husband Joseph, being a just man
unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as
considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a
saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for
which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she will bear a son,
you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their
sins." All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had spoken by the
prophet: "Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and His name
shall be called Emmanuel" (which means, God with us). (Mt 1:18-23; IS
It once happened that a person hearing the Orthodox vigil on Christmas
the first time in English was greatly
iThis translation is from the Church's service book, following the
Septuagint text. Some people think that the Isaiah canticle is
pre. scribed for the festivals of the Lord's Nativity and Epiphany, but
actually the song is part of great compline whenever it is chanted, as,
example, on the evenings of the first week of Great Lent.
angered by the singing of this prophetic canticle. She came to the
very upset, and asked him how such a terrible song could be sung in
When the priest asked her which song she meant, and discovered which it
was, he was surprised that this woman, who was a member of the Orthodox
Church, had never heard the song before. It turned out that she had
heard it, but had never understood its meaning clearly because of the
foreign language in which the services had been celebrated. Her
was with the fact that the verse said, "God is with us!" and that it
all people to understand and submit themselves. How unbelievably
presumptuous, she declared, that the Orthodox would solemnly proclaim
God was with them and then be even more arrogant in demanding the others
understand and submit! Although the woman was gravely mistaken in her
interpretation of the song, her attitude betrayed a common approach to
religion in North America, where no church is !
supposed to think itself truer than others, and where submission in any
form is considered to be degrading and demeaning.
The point of Isaiah's canticle is not that God is with one particular
of people and not another. The point is rather that God is with all
in the coming of the promised Messiah. The writings of the prophet
make this teaching quite clear, as the interpretation of the gospels and
the apostolic writings of the Christian New Testament plainly testify.
Behold My servant, whom I uphold, My chosen, in whom My soul delights; I
have put My Spirit upon him, he will bring forth justice to the nations.
will not cry or lift up his voice; or make it heard in the street; a
bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not
quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not fail or be
discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the
coastlands wait for his law. Thus says God, the Lord, who created the
heavens and stretched them out, who spread forth the earth and what
from it, who gives breath to the people upon it and spirit to those
who walk in it: "I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness I
taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to
people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to
out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in
darkness. I am the Lord, that is My name; My glory I give to no other,
My praise to graven images. Behold, the former things have come to pass,
and new things I now declare; before they spring forth I tell you of
Jesus is the chosen servant of God. He is the one anointed with God's
Spirit. The very word "Messiah" means the Anointed One. He is the light
the nations. In Him shall all of the gentiles hope.2 For, as the Lord
through Isaiah, in a line quoted by Saint Paul, "I was ready to be
by those who did not ask for Me; I was ready to be found by those who
not seek Me. I said, 'Here am I, here am I,' to a nation that did not
on My name" (Is 65:1; Rom 10:20-
When the Christ appears on earth, God is truly with us, all of us; not
with the Jews but with the gentiles, not only with the Orthodox
and Christians generally but with all people, including those who do not
ask for Him and do not seek Him. All peoples and nations are called to
understand this and to submit to it, not for God's sake but for their
It is their honor, not their humiliation. It is their dignity, not their
degradation. It is their freedom, not their enslavement. It is their
All things have been delivered to Me by My Father; and no one knows the
except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and any
to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him. Come to Me, all who labor and are
heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn
from Me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find
rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light. (Mt
This is the message of the Winter Pascha. God is with us on earth. He is
our very midst as the man Jesus, whose name is Emmanuel. He has revealed
His unknowable, inconceivable, ineffable, invisible nature in the most
as the Child who is born for us, as the Son who is given to us. To
understand this and to submit to it is man's greatest glory and joy.
Today the Virgin gives birth to the Transcendent One,
And the earth offers a cave to the Unapproachable One.
Angels with shepherds glorify Him;
The wise men journey with a star;
Since for our sake the Eternal God was born as a little Child!
[Taken from, "The Winter Pascha" by Protopresbyter Thomas Hopko,
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