Christians celebrating Chanukah has become somewhat of a mystery to me – though I should say that I am sympathetic to those who do. When I was first discerning what it meant to be a Jew who had come to believe the Christian claims, I too lit a menorah and sang the prescribed berakhot at Chanukah. I continued to make latkes and spin dreidels. There was something very comforting in the belief that I was doing now what the earliest believers in Jesus did way back when. Likewise, there was an immense sense of pride in believing that I had retained within my piety something that the Church in its ancient and medieval corruption had discarded. I had reinvented a truer, more primitive form of Christianity.
However, as I grew in my understanding of the Christian Faith – particularly its history – many of the practices of “Messianic Jews” began to lose their spark. As I continued to encounter Messianic types I began to realize that there was nothing “Jewish” about them at all. At the same time, their understanding of what it meant to serve the Messiah was fundamentally at odds with how followers of Jesus had always served Him. Rather, what I found were groups of Pentecostals who had watered Christianity down with ill-assembled bits of Rabbinic Judaism, and Rabbinic Judaism with bits of Pentecostalism, to the extent that all that was left was a group of people equally ignorant of two religions. Now, this is a broad brush to be sure. I am aware that there are faithful and perfectly intelligent members of those communities, and perhaps even a few that are actually Jewish!
Joking aside, what is truly sad about it all is that these Jewish practices are not at all how Christ and the Apostles worshiped in the first century. We must give Judaism far more credit: it has undergone two thousand years of development just as Christianity has. Judaism is not Christianity without Jesus nor is it merely Old Testament Religion; the assumption that it is, is harmful to both Jews and Christians alike. As Fr. Edersheim has said, “the difference between Judaism and Christianity is as great as between Judaism and early heathenism.” Unfortunately, most within these groups are looking to Rabbinic rites and traditions for some kind of continuity between the religious expressions found during the time of our Lord, and the Church as She stands today. The great irony is that this is done precisely because those same people have jettisoned – for being too “Catholic” – the very rites and traditions already native to Christianity that provide this sought-after continuity. At the end of the day, the banality of the everyday Christian experience has so much more richness and authenticity than the rites that feign antiquity (often beneath a thin Hebrew veneer) but were really invented just yesterday.
I say all this not to disparage Messianic or Hebrew Roots folk in particular – despite how this all may come across – the faulty assumptions I am getting at are prevalent in those traditions to be sure but are by no means limited to them. There are many Christians who are not a part of those communities at all who practice Chanukah and throw parish Seders all the while proclaiming “this is how Jesus did things!” I admit that I have attended many such services myself and had a grand time! At one point in my life, I even insisted on them. Whatever one’s tradition, these practices typically stem from the same root cause highlighted above, and, I will argue, are redundant for Christians. My point is – as we learned during the liturgical movements of the 19th and 20th centuries – the Traditions of the Church are almost always the more ancient practice, whilst reconstructions of perceived long-lost rituals tend to disappoint. It is because we distrust what we have received that we look elsewhere, despite the fact that history is usually on the side of the Tradition. A clear look at Christian history will reveal that what we perceive as lacking is more often than not a native feature of the Catholic Tradition; Chanukah is just such a feature. It does not need to be salvaged precisely because it was never discarded to begin with.
Maccabees in the Church
It is common knowledge that the Maccabean books were retained within the Christian Canon, but not the Masoretic Text utilized by Rabbinic Judaism. First and Second Maccabees are retained within the historic Canon of the Western Church – both Roman Catholic and Protestant alike. Along with these, Third and Fourth Maccabees are held to be Scripture within the Eastern Orthodox Canon. Finally, the Ethiopian Tewahedo Orthodox Church contains First, Second, and Third Meqabyan, often called “Ethiopian Maccabees” which differs from the four already mentioned. It is evident then that the Christian Tradition in its breadth has enshrined quite a bit of the Maccabean legacy. I once remarked to my priest that I found it curious that Judaism had a fixed annual festival for the commemoration of the events found in these books, but it has not retained the books themselves. And yet, Christians have retained all of these books to one degree or another, and yet have no such festival. We chuckled at the time, but I would come to find that I was in fact mistaken.
August 1st is the traditional commemoration in the Western, Eastern Orthodox, and all Syriac Traditions of the mother and seven brothers whose martyrdom is recorded in 2 Maccabees 7. (Another list of five different martyrs is recorded in the Ethiopian books and they are likewise venerated in that Tradition.) In the Latin Rite, this commemoration was the only feast of any Old Testament Saint on the General Calendar. The fact that this feast is shared by both halves of the Roman Church, and transcends the divisions of Miaphysite, Church of the East, and Maronite liturgies, speaks monumentally to its importance. In the Fourth Century, St. Gregory of Nazianzus wrote a sermon titled In Praise of the Maccabees wherein he encourages the veneration of the Martyrs and disapproves of the little regard paid to the commemoration. St. Gregory writes that they “deserve universal recognition for their unswerving devotion to the ways of their fathers.” If St. Gregory is criticizing others for neglecting the commemoration, it is safe to assume that it predates him but had fallen into neglect. Yet, by the time of St. Leo the Great in the Fifth Century, the feast had grown exceedingly. Whereas St. Gregory mentions that many did not commemorate the martyrs because they were before the time of Christ, St. Leo writes enthusiastically:
We give thanks, dearly beloved, to the Lord our God that, even if I should be silent, your assembly here shows how great is the solemnity of this day. You have come together with such single-minded enthusiasm and such a devout spirit that the meeting itself bears witness to the splendor of the feast, and rightly so, even if the sermon did not mention it.
Now, it is also possible that the Maccabean Martyrs were venerated even before they had their own feast on the Christian Calendar. The Most Rev. Philip Carrington – prolific Anglican Theologian, Seventh Bishop of Quebec, and later Metropolitan of All Canada – gives three standard winter Christian Commemorations of the Fifth Century: St. Stephen on December 26th, St. John and St. James of Jerusalem on December 27th, and St. Paul and St. Peter on December 28th. He goes on to say that “other calendars show that these winter commemorations were widespread by this date even in the West, though they were reduced in time to St. Stephen, St. John, and the Holy Innocents” as we still find them today. Why? “Our first thought is that these names were deliberately appended to Christmas Day but this will not do. The old Syrian Church knew nothing of Christmas Day.” Even today, the Calendar of the Armenian Apostolic Church still follows a similar pattern, yet they have never accepted December 25th as Christmas. This tells us that these commemorations predate Christmas, and yet they were almost universally appended to December 25th. Now, two of these names are recorded in the Apostolic Constitutions explicitly: St. Stephen and St. James. According to Archbishop Carrington, these two may have very well been the beginning of the early Winter Calendar. This is significant because the Apostolic Constitutions also explicitly marks the “25th of the Ninth Month,” not long after mentioning their commemoration. Therefore:
[W]e may hazard the guess that what we have here is a continuation in the Jerusalem church of the old Jewish Festival of Hanukkah (dedication) which took place on the “twenty-fifth day of the ninth month,” and provided the occasion on which those who gave their lives in the Maccabean wars were solemnly remembered.
The ninth month of the Jewish Calendar generally corresponds to December and these commemorations would have taken place within Chanukah. Archbishop Carrington’s point is that these two Jerusalem Martyrs – and those later added to their company – were likely celebrated here because this season was when Jerusalem Martyrs (i.e., Maccabean Martyrs) were always celebrated. The Jerusalem Church simply continued to do what it had always done at this time. Whatever the case, the veneration of these Maccabean Saints throughout the whole Church is likely what produced the cult of St. Felicitas of Rome (not to be confused with St. Felicity who was martyred with St. Perpetua) and St. Symphorosa the Tiburtine, who according to both hagiographies were martyred with their seven sons –a clear nod to the Maccabean narrative. So then it would seem that like the inclusion of the many stories of the Maccabees in the various Biblical Canons, so too does the veneration of their heroes extend to every branch of Christ’s One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.
This is all very interesting and goes to show that Maccabean Piety is historically important to the Church, but let’s see if we can get a little closer to Chanukah: After his conversion to Christianity, St. Constantine – yes, Saint Constantine – erected many large and beautiful churches throughout the Roman Empire. There is one of these magnificent temples in particular near Jerusalem which has been noted by ancient Christian historians as significant and proves of interest to our own inquiry – The Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Eusebius in the Fourth Century describes its grandeur in painstaking detail, believing it to be the fulfillment of the prophesied Heavenly Jerusalem. He writes: “on the very spot which witnessed the Saviour’s sufferings, a new Jerusalem was constructed… And it may be that this was that second and new Jerusalem spoken of in the predictions of the prophets, concerning which such abundant testimony is given in the divinely inspired records.” Later in the Fifth Century, Socrates Scholasticus likewise refers to it as the “New Jerusalem” in his Church History, and goes on to add that Emperor Constantine insisted that the consecration be immediately followed by a festival. Per the Emperor’s command, the Bishops “set forward with all dispatch to Jerusalem” where they celebrated a “festival in connection with the consecration of the place.” Now here is where it gets interesting: the Fifth Century historian Salamanes Hermias Sozomenos writes concerning this festival:
Since that period the anniversary of the consecration has been celebrated with great pomp by the church of Jerusalem; the festival continues eight days, initiation by baptism is administered, and people from every region under the sun resort to Jerusalem during this festival, and visit the sacred places.
Now, Sozomen (as he is more commonly called) was a Palestinian Christian born 74 years or so after the consecration of the Holy Sepulchre and raised near Gaza. He likely knew people who knew people who were at the Church’s consecration a generation before, and according to his testimony, the eight day festival instituted by Constantine persisted to his day. Egeria (also Etheria or Ætheria), the famous pilgrim to the Holy Land in the Fourth Century gives a detailed account of the yearly festival in her diary as well. “So when these days of dedication are come,” she writes, “they are kept for eight days,” and “there is none who does not turn his steps to Jerusalem on that day for such rejoicing and for such high days.” What’s significant about this? Well, there was a Christian association between the Holy Sepulchre and the Holy Temple that stood in Jerusalem. This festival lasting eight days in celebration of the Sepulchre’s consecration – the refounding of God’s Temple in Zion – is an intentional reference to 1 Maccabees 4:56‒59 and 2 Maccabees 10:6 where the eight day Feast of the Dedication (Chanukah) was instituted. This new feast of the Dedication of the Holy Sepulchre was likewise yearly celebrated. This means that the Fourth Century knew both this dedicatory feast in Jerusalem as well as the feast of the Maccabean Martyrs that St. Gregory bore witness to. This festival practice did not last merely to the time of Sozomen though; no, both the commemoration of the martyrs and the dedication remain to the present whether or not we realize it. Constantine’s feast of dedication is the first ever recorded octave in Christian history, and – as the reader likely knows – many more eight day commemorations have been added to other feasts on the Christian Calendar and are still celebrated. The eight days of Chanukah have quite literally permeated the Church’s worship all the year round.
But wait, when was the last time you celebrated an eight day festival in commemoration of the Holy Sepulcher? Likely never. Surely there must be more? And there is! The Syriac Traditions are unique in that their liturgical year begins or ends (depending on if you are Western or Eastern) with the consecration of the Church. The first or last Sunday of the year is called Consecration Sunday, Consecration of the Church, or Hallowing of the Church in English. The Sunday immediately following this Sunday is the Sunday of Renewal or Dedication Sunday. The Rev. Dr. Irénée-Henri Dalmais O.P. – a renowned Twentieth-Century professor of Eastern Liturgy at the Institut supérieur de liturgie – refers to these two Sundays as simply “the two Dedication Sundays.” These two Sundays together with two more after them make up the four week Season of Dedication. The Most Rev. Arthur Maclean – head of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Assyrian Mission in the Nineteenth Century and later Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church – tells us that during “this period the lections deal specially with the Church,” in all senses of the word. These Sundays provide beautiful reflections on the nature of the Church as the Eternal Temple of God in both its heavenly and temporal forms: “from everlasting to everlasting, Thou hast made, Lord, this holy house the foundation of thy throne.” It is only after these beautiful reflections, and the churches have been made ready by the dedications, that the Syriac Tradition then begins annunciation readings looking forward to the coming of Christ at Christmas. Why? Where does this season come from? Bishop Maclean theorizes that these Sundays were perhaps left over from the annual celebration of the dedication of “some great Church” which had since passed into obscurity and forgotten. However, sixty-seven years later Fr. Dalmais provides another reading:
No doubt the Palestinian feast of the “dedication of all the altars in the world,” subsisted with polemic intent for the Jewish feast of the Encaenia [Greek: “rededication,” i.e., Chanukah], the anniversary of the dedication of the temple at Jerusalem, which was celebrated in December.
According to Fr. Dalmais, the Syriac Feast of Dedication was to the Palestinian Christian Community what Chanukah was to the Jewish Community. The Rev. Tower Andrious – a priest in the East Syriac Tradition – agrees! He points out that the Dedication Sunday is called “renewal” in East Syriac liturgical books, the same word in Syriac used for the feast of dedication in Jerusalem mentioned in John 10:22. “Therefore,” writes Fr. Andrious, “we can confirm that the roots of the time of ‘sanctifying the Church’ arise from the ‘renewal’ feast in Jerusalem.” In addition, we know that before the reformation of the Feast, it was anciently celebrated for five weeks, and not merely four. The four weeks as we find them today correspond to the four dedications – two for the tabernacle and two for the temple – found in the Old Testament. The fifth week originally corresponded with the rededication of the Second Temple by the Maccabees. According to Dr. Matthew Black – Professor of Biblical Criticism and Biblical Antiquities at the University of Edinburgh in the 20th Century – it would seem that in order to retain four Sundays “the consecration of the second Temple by Zerubbabel and its reconsecration by Judas Maccabaeus” are telescoped into a single week, thereby enrolling “Zerubbabel among the Maccabees.” Moreover, Fr. Dalmais believes both Chanukah and the Dedication Sundays were originally celebrated in December in parallel, and were likely in competition with one another. Dr. Black confirms this somewhat: according to the oldest dates of the feast, the fifth Maccabean week of the dedication would have fallen on or very near the 25th of Kislev (Chanukah). If this is the case, why then is the feast now celebrated in November? Well, Fr. Dalmais tells us that when the period of “Annunciations” was instituted in preparation for Christmas, this Christian feast of “Dedication” was pushed back a month. Now, if we take Fr. Dalmais’s claims seriously that the Syriac Dedication Sundays are of Jerusalem origin and anciently celebrated in December at the same time as Chanukah, and that Dr. Black is correct in asserting that the feast originally culminated in the commemoration of the Maccabees at that same time, then the “great church” referenced by this commemoration as theorized by Bishop Maclean is none other than the Jerusalem Temple with its several dedications recapitulated in the worship of the Church. This feast then – as the evidence indicates – is an ancient Christian “Feast of Dedication” which continues to be celebrated within several branches of Christ’s Holy Church.
Another Feast of Dedication in the Church
So then, we have explored three historic Maccabean Feasts in the Christian Tradition: the Feast of the Martyrs, the Feast of the Sepulchre, and the Syriac Feast of the Dedication. Two of these feasts are still celebrated today, and two have direct links to Chanukah. Though the Feast of the Sepulchre is not as universally or elaborately celebrated as it once was, its Maccabean eight day celebration – the octave – has become the nigh universal pattern for many more of the Church’s feasts. This alone demonstrates the immense continuity between Second Temple religion and Christianity; this already provides a “Chanukah” native to the Christian Tradition that does not necessitate the utilization of late Rabbinic Rituals. Yet, there is one more – albeit unexpected – Maccabean feast left for our consideration: Christmas.
Now, if you are a diligent reader, you may have noticed in Footnote 16 that Dr. Black casually makes a connection between December 25th (i.e., Christmas) and Chislev 25th (i.e., Chanukah). Even if you are not a careful reader, you may also know that he is not the only one to do so! Why? The Rev. Dr. Michael Bird and the Rt. Rev. Dr. N.T. Wright in their introduction to New Testament Theology: The New Testament in its World informs us that the rededication of the Temple by Judah Maccabee took place exactly three years after its desecration by the Greeks – on December 25th, 164 B.C. If you think that’s a little suspicious, you can pull out a copy of Concordia Publishing House’s excellent edition of the Apocrypha With Notes, and it’ll tell you the same thing: the Ninth Month (Chislev) “corresponds to December, 164 B.C.” The Hasmonean rededication of the Second Temple – providentially no doubt – took place on Christmas Day, 164 years before Christ’s birth (give or take).
The Rev. Dr. Alfred Edersheim – famous convert from Rabbinic Judaism, priest in the Anglican Tradition, and the author of The Life & Times of Jesus the Messiah – seizes upon this historical curiosity. Interestingly, he thought that this is why the German name for Christmas, Weihnachten, could be traced etymologically to the “Night of the Dedication.” It was his belief that the Feast of Dedication taking place on December 25th was precisely why the Ancient Church chose that date for the commemoration of the Feast of the Nativity. He writes:
The feast commenced on the 25th of Chislev (December), and lasted for eight days… the date of the feast of dedication – the 25th of Chislev – seems to have been adopted by the ancient Church as that of the birth of our blessed Lord – Christmas – the dedication of the true Temple, which was the body of Jesus”
Now, Fr. Edersheim is by no means the only one to make this argument. As mentioned above, Archbishop Philip Carrington argued that the Christian Winter Calendar was formed around Chanukah well before it was ever assigned as the date of Christmas. Likewise, Fr. Edersheim’s own work on the subject is really a re-presentation of the writing of another “learned Jewish convert, whose name is far too little known in this country”: the prolific German convert to Christianity from Rabbinic Judaism, Dr. Selig Cassel (baptized Paulus Stephanus Cassel). It is in Dr. Cassel’s Christmas: Origins, Customs, and Superstitions (unfortunately yet to be translated from German) that the arguments are traced out in more depth.
Like the Jewish theologians Solomon Franco, Fr. Christian W.H. Pauli, Fr. Edersheim, and Fr. Paul Levertoff in our own Tradition (may the memory of the righteous be a blessing!), Dr. Cassel was a tremendous scholar of Rabbinic Theology and Jewish Antiquities. In 1893 the Jewish Chronicle referred to him as a “scholar and writer of a higher type” and “perhaps the first man to recognize what was really meant by writing a history of the Jews” (sorry Josephus). Much of Dr. Cassel’s scholarship sought to highlight the points of continuity between the Christian Tradition and Second Temple worship – Christmas was no exception. He points out that there was a “triad of festivals” commanded in the Torah requiring all Israel to present themselves to the Lord:
Three times a year all your males shall appear before the LORD your God at the place that he will choose: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, at the Feast of Weeks, and at the Feast of Booths. They shall not appear before the LORD empty-handed. (Deuteronomy 16:16)
He then goes on to point out – no doubt drawing on the Rabbinic Legend of Shimon Kefa – that there is also a Christian triad: Easter, Pentecost, and Christmas. Easter corresponds to Passover, and Pentecost corresponds to Shavuot. In fact, the names of these Christian feasts retain their Jewish titles. Pascha comes from Pesach, and Pentecost is merely the Greek name of the Shavuot. Curiously, Christmas does not correspond to Sukkot (Feast of Booths) at all. Why? Dr. Cassel tells us that there are two reasons. Firstly, Sukkot had become intimately united with the land of Israel and centered around the Temple in Jerusalem. This is significant as the Church’s celebrations are those that are performed anywhere at any time. We have a paschal sacrifice every Sunday in the Eucharist, for example, regardless of where we are located. Secondly – and more importantly – by the time of the Second Temple, Sukkot was associated with the creation of water. The emphasis – argues Cassel – had moved away from the erecting of the Temple to praying for rain. In those days, wine and water were poured on the Temple’s altar daily throughout Sukkot. Even today, the feast is accompanied by prayers for rainfall. Cassel argues that this is why it is so significant that Christ stood up at Sukkot and said: “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” (John 7: 37‒38) As the water was once poured on the old altar, the water of the Spirit is now poured on the altar of our hearts. This is no doubt profound, but clearly the displacing of the temple theme was problematic. So what was the Church to do? It would, says Cassel, use the other feast commemorating the building of the Temple: Chanukah.
Dr. Cassel does not see this as mere pragmatism on the part of the early Christians, however. It is his assertion that this was perfectly expected following what was already the general sentiment of Jews at the time. He reminds the reader that the founding of the second temple by Zerrubabel took place during the prophesying of Zechariah and Haggai, “the prophets of the new Temple.” Haggai writes:
Consider from this day onward, from the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month. Since the day that the foundation of the Lord’s temple was laid, consider: Is the seed yet in the barn? Indeed, the vine, the fig tree, the pomegranate, and the olive tree have yielded nothing. But from this day on I will bless you. (Haggai 2:18‒19)
The foundation of the Second Temple was laid on the 24th of the Ninth Month, and this is a significant event. Ezra tells us that it was at the laying of the Temple’s foundation that the priests of Israel adorned in their “vestments came forward with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, to praise the Lord, according to the directions of David king of Israel.” (Ezra 3:10) It was at the laying of the foundation that all of the people of Israel lifted up their voices and shouted and the Elders of Israel wept. (Ezra 3:11‒13) It was an exceedingly significant day. The Lord said to the Prophet Zechariah: “Let your hands be strong, you who in these days have been hearing these words from the mouth of the prophets who were present on the day that the foundation of the house of the Lord of hosts was laid, that the temple might be built.” (Zechariah 8:9) What does this have to do with Chanukah? Dr. Cassel writes: “if ‘from now on,’ on the evening of the 24th of the Ninth Month a wonderful festival was celebrated, the lamps of the temple burning, the incense fragrant, and the people praising God the Savior in hymns, then the connection becomes evident.” The Jewish day being reckoned from sundown to sundown, the Evening of the 24th of the ninth month is the start of Chanukah. Dr. Cassel asserts that the Hasmoneans established the Feast of Chanukah on the 25th because of its association with this refounding of the Temple by Zerubbabel and the prophecy of Haggai which would have lived on in the minds and hearts of faithful Jews in the Second Temple period; the Temple’s foundation and its rededication were commemorated – as is still done in the Christian Syriac Tradition – in a single event. It is likely that this two-fold association was known to the early Christians: St. Chrysostom says “This feast [of dedication] was a great and national one. For they celebrated with great zeal the day on which the Temple was rebuilt, on their return from their long captivity in Persia.” St. Cyril of Alexandria likewise supposed that the Feast of Dedication was “when Zorobabel at a later time, together with Jeshua, rebuilt the temple, after the return from Babylon.” To these Ancient Fathers, the Feast of Chanukah was the Feast of the Temple’s rebuilding; Sukkot may have been associated with Solomon’s Temple, but Chanukah is the feast of the Second Temple. Therefore, were the Christians to look for a third feast to complete the triad, Chanukah and not Sukkot would have been the obvious choice.
Still, there is a spiritual dimension Dr. Cassel highlights. A connection between the Feast of the Nativity and the Feast of Dedication would not have been forged by the Ancient Church had there not been something intrinsic to the latter which informed the former. Likewise, if the Feast of the Nativity is indeed based on Chanukah, then the prophecy of Haggai has something to say about the Nativity as well. We recall that Haggai prophecies concerning the “desire of nations” who is Christ, and concerning the coming of the New Temple which the Church has always seen as fulfilled in Christ. St. Cyril of Alexandria comments on the prophecies in Haggai Chapter Two: “At the time of the coming of our Savior the divine temple emerged as incomparably more glorious, so much better and more eminent than the former…” St. Jerome tells us that the foundation of the temple described by Haggai is none other than Christ. Even Theodore of Mopsuestia – uncharacteristically – links Haggai Chapter Two to the Savior. There is a long Christological tradition associating the Body of Christ with the Temple that manifests itself in this passage of the Minor Prophet. Our Lord Himself supplies such a link at the Feast of Dedication (Chanukah) in John Chapter Ten. “It is very remarkable,” writes Fr. Edersheim, “that on that very occasion Christ for the first time told them ‘plainly’ that His human nature was the Temple of the Divine, and finally in His own words, ‘that the Father is in Me, and I in Him.’ Indeed, this ‘lesson,’ spoken by the Lord on Christmas Day in the Temple, ought to form part of our Christmas reading.” It cannot be coincidence, observes Cassel and Edersheim, that it is at the Feast of the Dedication of the Temple that our Lord declares Himself to be the true temple, the place wherein God dwells – nor should it be overlooked that the Church has since celebrated the emergence of the temple of the Lord’s Body, His Birth, on that very same day. Even more amazing is the fact these prestigious writers are not the first to trace Christmas Day in this way. No, neither Fr. Edersheim nor Dr. Cassel is the first to find the roots of Christmas in Haggai’s prophecy. The Eleventh Century Theologian Rupert of Deutz writes:
When the prophet says, “from this day onwards,” [Haggai 2:15‒18] I will not have it understood as any day other than the day of the birth of him whom is treated of, namely Jesus Christ, the Temple of the Lord, as the “Temple made without hands”… on the 24th of the ninth month Christ was born [at midnight] of the Virgin.
The commemoration of the Feast of Dedication as the date for the Feast of the Nativity by the Ancient Church was not merely due to the fact that it was the Feast of the Second Temple, but because Christ Himself is the promised Temple. The date “had been fixed from of old, when Haggai spoke: ‘Consider now from this day and upward, from the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, even from the day that the foundation of the Lord’s temple was laid, consider it…. From this day will I bless you.’ … [“this day” being] the corresponding Temple-festival, as fixed in prophecy and in history; but, above all, the meaning and import of the Incarnation of Christ – His taking unto Himself a true body – all point to one conclusion.”
Finally, after all of this Dr. Cassel provides two more pieces of proof for his conclusion. He believes that there is plain evidence within the Church Fathers for the selection of this day. He reminds us that the Apostolic Constitutions – the same document referenced earlier by Archbishop Carrington – writes:
Brethren, observe the festival days; and first of all the birthday which you are to celebrate on the twenty-fifth of the ninth month.
Here we have a direct commandment from the Ancient Church to celebrate the birth of Christ in precisely the same language used by the Books of Maccabees for the celebration of the Feast of Dedication. (1 Maccabees 4:52) If reckoned according to the Jewish Calendar, this is Kislev 25 – Chanukah. Dr. Cassel goes on to substantiate this by pointing out that St. Clement of Alexandria in his Stromata writes:
And there are those who have determined not only the year of our Lord’s birth, but also the day; and they say that it took place in the twenty-eighth year of Augustus, and in the twenty-fifth day of Pachon.
St. Clement gives the twenty-fifth day of Pachon or Pashons. This month is the ninth month of the Coptic Calendar. Therefore, nearly two centuries before the writing of the Apostolic Constitutions, St. Clement has once more provided the 25th of the Ninth month as the Nativity of our Lord. Dr. Cassel and Fr. Edersheim see this as corroborating St. Chrysostom’s claim that celebrating the Feast of the Nativity on the 25th of December was an ancient custom. This leads Dr. Cassel to conclude that the association between the Feast of the Nativity and the Feast of the Dedication is the logical conclusion of the evidence and that our own Rev. Dr. John Lightfoot – another renowned Anglican scholar of Talmud and Judaica – would have come to the same conclusion given the right circumstances.
What do we make of this information? Well, at the very least we can conclude that there are several verified Maccabean commemorations within the Church stemming from our reverence for their books. Christians celebrate Christmas on the exact day that the Second Temple was rededicated by the Maccabees in B.C. 164. The Church does so by gathering around her altars and making a sacrifice (eucharistically) to God as the Maccabees did. The first octave ever celebrated by Christians was by the Palestinian Church in Jerusalem based on the practice of the Maccabees – Christmas retains this Octave. These and other aesthetic similarities between Christmas and Chanukah were enough to convince the early Messianic Jewish writer Chaim Yedidiah “Theophilus” Lucky that Christmas was indeed a Christian Chanukah without him ever diving into any of the more substantial arguments of Dr. Cassel mentioned above. Regardless of whether or not someone may agree with what I have presented – I think that it is safe to conclude that from the Christian perspective, the whole substance of Chanukah rests profoundly within Christmas; all that Chanukah was and is, is gathered together and summarized in the birth of the Savior; he is both Temple and Light. Whether by the Church’s intention or by providence alone, the heritage of the Maccabees has never been lost to the Church. Quite the opposite is true: in our zealous love for them, we have multiplied their festivals within our calendar! At Christmas, we see the fulfillment of the Temple they loved in the heavenly Temple – the very Body of Christ – and by His insurmountable grace we become a part of that temple day by day, and even more profoundly so when we participate in the heavenly sacrifice on that holiest night when Christ was born. Those precious martyrs that St. Gregory held aloft for all to emulate are present with us at that Holy Table. They now in glory see Him face to face for whom their bodies burned, and we like them continue to burn for Him with love here below.
The only question that remains is, what are Christians to do about it? What additions are acceptable for a Christian who would like to celebrate the miracles of Chanukah? What is lacking? Absolutely nothing. Think about it: what else is left? We already mark the date of the rebuilding, rededication, and (in Christ’s Body) recapitulation of the Temple. We enter the sanctuary at nightfall as they did in Jerusalem. We make our Eucharistic sacrifices. We deck the halls with greenery and ivy as the Hasmoneans (2 Maccabees 10:7). We sing songs and fill our homes with lights the same as they did. We continue to count the eight days (1 Maccabees 4:56, 2 Maccabees 10:6) which culminate in the Circumcision of our Lord – bringing to completion the dedication of the Temple of His precious Body. We even go on to count twelve days like the Elders of Israel after our Teacher Moses consecrated the Tabernacle. (Numbers 7) These things are native to our Tradition and are the very practices of the Jerusalem Temple we continue to commemorate. The only difference is that we worship in the Heavenly Temple – Christ’s Body – which was the pattern revealed to our Teacher Moses for the construction of the holy Tabernacle. (Exodus 25:40, Hebrews 8:5) We already do it all.
All that is left for us to do is highlight the already present connection to the Feast of Dedication in our celebrations. We can be more intentional about counting the eight days like Christians before us. We may take our cue from Fr. Edersheim and the Syriac Tradition and prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ in the Christmas services. For those within the Anglican Tradition, we may celebrate with a Solemn Evensong before what is commonly called “Midnight Mass.” I have put together just such a service drawn from Anglican Divines who in their own way have already highlighted the connection between Christian worship and the Jerusalem Temple. I have provided it below. Still, if this or some other service is used, it is only highlighting what is already intrinsic to Christmas. I would encourage Christians to revel in our Tradition rather than look elsewhere for something that has been available to us all along.
I close with the words of Fr. Edersheim:
Whatever our special views or conclusions may be, Christ is the true Temple, and His Incarnation the real Dedication of the Temple. God grant that from our homes the true Light of Christ, “a light to lighten the Gentiles,” may shine forth into the wintry darkness of the heathen world, and also “so shine before men, that they may see our good works, and glorify our Father which is in heaven.”
Solemn Evensong for the Feast of the Dedication
- The term “Canon” is not here being used synonymously with “inspired.” ↑
- Gregory Nazianzus, Select Orations, trans. Martha Vinson (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2003), 72. ↑
- Leo the Great, Sermons, trans. Jane Patricia Freeland C.S.J.B & Agnes Josephine Conway S.J. (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1996), 362. ↑
- Most Rev. Philip Carrington, The primitive Christian calendar: A study in the making of the Markan Gospel, 74. ↑
- Ibid. ↑
- Eusebius of Caesarea, The Life of Constantine, Book III, Ch. 33. ↑
- Socrates Scholasticus, Church History, Book I, Ch. 33. ↑
- Salamanes Hermias Sozomenos, Ecclesiastical History, Book II § 26. ↑
- Etheria, The Pilgrimage of Etheria, 95. ↑
- The Catholic Encyclopedia says that the eight days are “in imitation of the dedication of the Jewish Temple.” There is no doubt that the eight days celebrated by the Maccabees were themselves done in reference to the eight days celebrating the consecration of Solomon’s Temple. (2 Chronicles 7) Likewise, the eight days of Solomon’s consecration was done in reference to the consecration of the Tabernacle on the eighth day by Moses. (Leviticus 9) – If one is uncomfortable with a direct Maccabean connection, we may still say that the Maccabean dedication is included in the Sepulcher Festival’s general reference to temple dedications. Still, I think there is good reason to highlight Maccabees’ eight days in particular. The people celebrated fourteen days at Solomon’s dedication, and the elders sacrificed for twelve days at Moses’. The Maccabean eight days would have been the most recognizable. ↑
- Rev. Dr. Geevarghese Panicker, An Historical Introduction to the Syriac Liturgy, 37. ↑
- Most. Rev. Arthur John MacLean, East Syrian Daily Offices. ↑
- Ibid. ↑
- Ibid. ↑
- Irénée-Henri Dalmais O.P., Eastern Liturgies, 134 n2. ↑
- Rev. Tower Andrious, The Ecclesiastical Liturgical Year for the Church of the East, 27. ↑
- Dr. Matthew Black, The Festival of Encaenia Ecclesiae in the Ancient Church with special Reference to Palestine and Syria, 82. ↑
- Dr. Black writes: “The date in the oldest Syrian missals for the fourth or fifth Sunday of the celebration, so near to 25 December (=25 Kislev); the probable celebration on the fifth Sunday of the Maccabaean encaenia, and the predominantly Old Testament character of the whole festival; the popular nature of the festival in Palestine and its duration (both Hannukah and Tabernacles also lasted for eight days); all these are arguments in favour of such an origin [i.e., Chanukah]. Moreover, the Palestinian Malkites, who, though officially aligned with the Greek Church, have preserved ancient Palestinian material in their service-book (such as the eight-week duration of Lent attested by Etheria for the churches of Palestine), while celebrating in September the Festival of the Cross, do not follow the Greek calendar in recognising 13 September as a festival of the Church of the Anastasis: but they do have a lection for the ‘encaenia [dedication] of churches,’ which falls in Christmas week.” ↑
- Irénée-Henri Dalmais O.P., Eastern Liturgies, 134. ↑
- Wright & Bird, The New Testament in its World, 92. ↑
- The Apocrypha: The Lutheran Edition with Notes, 169. ↑
- Rev. Dr. Alfred Edersheim, Christmas, A Festival of Jewish Origin. ↑
- Rev. Dr. Alfred Edersheim, The Temple in Ministry and Services, Ch. XXVII § 2. ↑
- Rev. Dr. Alfred Edersheim, Christmas, A Festival of Jewish Origin, n1. ↑
- The Jewish Chronicle, February 3 1893, 10-11. ↑
- Dr. Selig Cassel, Weihnachten – Ursprünge, Bräuche, und Aberglauben, 92. ↑
- Mishnah Sukkah 4:9; Tosefta Sukkah 3:18. ↑
- See Rabbi Ismar Schorsch’s Sukkot-A Festival of Water. ↑
- The close association between Sukkot and Chanukah can be seen in the transferring of ritual practice between the two. Rabbi Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter’s Sefat Emet also closely associates Sukkot and Chanukah. ↑
- Dr. Selig Cassel, Weihnachten – Ursprünge, Bräuche, und Aberglauben, 101. ↑
- Ibid, 101. ↑
- Eleventh Century Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (Rashi) says that the prophecy of Haggai Chapter Two was fulfilled by the Hasmonians. Twelfth Century Rabbi David Kimhi (Radak) taught the same thing. At a more recent date, Rav Yoel Bin-Nun writes: “The connection between Chaggai’s [Haggai] prophecy and Chanukah, according to Rashi, is a direct one: it was the Hasmoneans who completed the foundation and the construction of the Second Temple, and were responsible for the Divine Presence dwelling inside it, by saving Judea from foreign rule during the time of Shimon the Hasmonean. Did the Jews of the Hasmonean generation understand and interpret their role in this light? We cannot be certain, but it would seem that they did. In any event, can it be coincidental that the rededication of God’s House, in the days of the Hasmoneans, on the 25th of Kislev, appears so well suited to the final prophecy of Chaggai, which was uttered in the 24th day of the ninth month (Kislev), on the eve of the laying of the foundation for the Sanctuary?” (The Day of Laying the Foundation of God’s Sanctuary According to the Prophecies of Chaggai and Zekharia, abridged here.) ↑
- St. John Chrysostom, Homily 61 on the Gospel of John, § 1. ↑
- St. Cyril of Alexandria, On the Gospel According to John, Book VII. ↑
- St. Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on the Twelve Prophets, 75. ↑
- St. Jerome, Commentary on Haggai. ↑
- Theodore of Mopsuestia, Commentary on the Twelve Prophets, 320. ↑
- Rev. Dr. Alfred Edersheim, Christmas, A Festival of Jewish Origin. ↑
- Dr. Selig Cassel, Weihnachten – Ursprünge, Bräuche, und Aberglauben, 114. ↑
- Rev. Dr. Alfred Edersheim, Christmas, A Festival of Jewish Origin. ↑
- The Apostolic Constitutions, Book V § 3 ↑
- St. Clement of Alexandria, Stromata, Book I, Ch. 21 ↑
- Although St. Clement does go on to mention that others have provided alternative dates, it is interesting that they are all still the “Twenty Fifth” of their respective months. It would seem that the Twenty Fifth of some month is a special date associated with the birth of the Lord. It must testify to some ancient tradition that we have lost. ↑
- Dr. Selig Cassel, Weihnachten – Ursprünge, Bräuche, und Aberglauben, 116. – Casssel believes that Lightfoot differed from his own view only because of the Puritan association of the 25th of December with “Popery” and the suppression of Christmas altogether by Cromwell’s damnable “Protectorate.” ↑
- See his article on page 14 of The Messianic Jew: Organ of the Jewish Messianic Movement, Vol. 1, No. 1, published in December, 1910. ↑
- Rev. Dr. Alfred Edersheim, Christmas, A Festival of Jewish Origin. ↑