In the Orthodox Church, the second Sunday before Christmas is dedicated to the memory of the holy Forefathers of Christ. Forefathers are those persons who engendered each succeeding generation of the faithful looking for the coming Savior of the world. The Forefathers assumed their first priority to be nurturing and forming persons in their care in the obedience of God’s commandments and the expectation of the fulfillment of God’s promises.
For instance, the Lord said, “But Abraham shall surely become a great and populous nation, and in him all the nations of the earth shall be blessed. For I know he will order his sons and his house after him. They will keep the way of the Lord, to do righteousness and judgment, that the Lord may bring upon Abraham what He has spoken to him” (Gen. 18:18-19). The Apostle Paul wrote thus: “[T]hat the promise might be sure to all the seed, not only to those who are of the law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all (as it is written, ‘I have made you a father of many nations’)…so that he became the father of many nations, according to what was spoken, ‘So shall your descendants be’” (Rom. 4:16-17, 18; see Gen. 17:5).
Saint Paul elaborated on this same theme. “Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, ‘And to seeds,’ as of many, but as of one, ‘And to your Seed’ (i.e., masc., sing.), who is Christ. And this I say that the law, which was four hundred and thirty years later, cannot annul the covenant that was confirmed before by God in Christ, that it should make the promise of no effect. For if the inheritance is of the law, it is no longer of promise; but God gave it to Abraham by promise” (Gal. 3:16-18; see Gen. 12:3; 18:18; 22:18; 26:4; 28:14).
The Forefathers of Christ were those who believed the promise of the coming Christ (i.e., the Messiah, the Savior) and lived according to the covenant made with them by God based on God’s promise and corresponding divinely revealed way of life. God’s promise and covenant goes all the way back to the first human beings who fell away from God into sin and death (see Gen. 3:15). The list of the Forefathers begins with Adam and includes all the faithful going forward in history wherever and whenever they lived prior to the birth of God’s Son in the flesh.
“Come all who love the feast, let us praise in psalms the assembly of the Forefathers: Adam, our first Father, Enoch, Noah, Melchizedek, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; and those who came after the Law: Moses, Aaron, Joshua, Samuel and David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel, and with them the Twelve Prophets: Elijah, Elisha, and all the rest, Zachariah and John the Baptist: all those who proclaimed Christ, the Life and Resurrection of the human race!” (Vespers, Aposticha verse).
Throughout history we see two basic lines, or families/races, of human beings: the children of God perpetuated through the Forefathers of Christ, and the children of mere mortals perpetuated through unbelievers who do not acknowledge God. The genealogies in the Book of Genesis testify to this division, for instance, the line of Adam through Cain contrasted with the line of Adam through Seth (Gen. 4-5ff.). The race of the faithful continues throughout the Old Testament preserving and relying on the promise and ending in the birth of the Savior: Adam through Seth to Noah, Noah to Abraham, Abraham to Isaac and Jacob who was renamed Israel, Jacob (Israel) through Judah to David, and David eventually to Jesus Christ (see Matt. 1:1-16; Lk. 3:23-38).
While God certainly focused the vision of the faithful to expect the Savior from the Jewish nation (Jn. 4:22), the family of the Forefathers, the children of God, was always intended to include all persons everywhere regardless of national and ethnic distinctions which came later. Our first Forefather, Adam, included all of humanity within his original person. Likewise, Jesus Christ, the new Adam, includes all of humanity restored and redeemed within His person (see Rom. 5:17-19; 1 Cor. 15:45-49).
As we prepare to celebrate the Birth of God’s Son in the flesh at Christmas, we consider the holy Forefathers of Christ, all the faithful from the beginning of the world who remained committed to God’s plan of salvation. Their commitment was not only for their own personal salvation, but the Forefathers saw to it that their descendants, first and foremost, carried that same knowledge to pass on to each subsequent generation. This same trust in the promise of God in Jesus Christ and a life of obedience to the Gospel we now inherit and perpetuate among ourselves in the Church until the end of time.