Christmas 2017 is almost here. So here is a riddle. How many birthdays does Jesus have?
As Orthodox Christians we stand on solid bedrock when affirming the paradox that Christ has two natures, human and divine, united unconfusedly in one person. Nevertheless, the first birthday of the “only begotten Son of God, eternally begotten before all ages by the Father” is beyond rational comprehension. Of His birth before He was begotten of Mary, St. Basil the Great says it is good to be silent:
The first nativity of Christ, His actual birth from all eternity in the bosom of His Father, must be venerated in silence. We should never permit our mind to investigate this mystery. Since time and space did not exist, since no form of expressions had yet been created, since there is not a single eyewitness, nor anyone who can describe this eternal birth, how can reason form any concept for reflection? How can the tongue give expression to thoughts that cannot be formulated? The Father was, and the Son was born! 
We only arrive at this dogmatic formulation because we have seen the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ and through all those sanctified by Grace whose lives have become witness of Christ among us, even “the least of these” in whom Christ saw himself. We cannot reason logically by analogy or merely psychologically, in order to elaborate the exact determinants of how the Logos “fully assumed” human nature, but only proclaim in faith that there is no aspect of humanity that Christ does not willingly undergo in order to sanctify and perfect us in His Image and likeness.
With respect to the second birth of Christ, Iconographic images depict a mystery revealed noetically by the divine initiative which, like the first begotten Son of the Father, also remains beyond human comprehension, unaided by divine Grace. We know nothing of how this could happen, nor did she, but only that personally from her heart after hearing the noetic message, she responded to the Archangel Gabriel, “Let it be unto me according to your word.”  The event was an ineffable transformation that occurred through undergoing noetic communion with God.
The Holy Theotokos’ total self-offering to God is itself something that is shrouded in silence in the history of the Church. St. Silouan suggested that the mystery of her relationship with Christ is such that,
“The Mother of God committed to writing neither her thoughts nor her love for God and her Son, nor her soul’s suffering at the Crucifixion, because we could not have understood, for her love for God is stronger and more ardent than the love of the Seraphim and Cherubim, and all the host of angels and archangels marvel at her.” 
There is consensus among Orthodox Christian theologians, that the Holy Birthgiver of God was fully human and conceived Jesus in her womb miraculously by the Holy Spirit in a way that is beyond human comprehension. This was the understanding of the Apostles  and was later articulated and elaborated in its dogmatic formulation by the Holy Fathers at the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus who emphasized that Mary is rightly called “Theotokos” or “Birthgiver of God” in contrast to “Mother of Christ” because in his person, both the uncreated divine nature and the created human nature are seamlessly united.
In the 3rd Ecumenical Council in Ephesus, St. Cyril and others defended the faith against Patriarch Nestorius and those who sided with him against Orthodox understanding, holding that Christ had two persons (one divine, one human) existing in one body, each being complete and separate from the other. In this case, they maintained, Mary should be regarded only as Christotokos, the mother of the human person of Jesus, but not of the divine person.
The Nestorians were denying the divinity of Jesus. While they had no problem with the virginity of Mary and a miraculous birth, they denied her God-maternity, which is precisely the key issue in regards to Who Jesus is. Dr. Chrysostomos Stamoulis elaborates,
We have to remember that St. Cyril and the 3rd Ecumenical Council in Ephesus struggled against Nestorius in order to defend not Panaghia’s virginity, but the fact that she was the Mother of God. This is because it is not Her virginity but Her God-maternity that constitutes the real and great mystery; a reality and a truth that blooms through the fact of the hypostatic union of the created with the uncreated, through the true union of Logos’ divine nature with the human nature of the one and only person of Christ, which is none other than the person of God, the Word. Virginity is a secondary reality, which is ontologically true only when it points to the God-Motherhood and therefore its congruence with the incarnation, from which it derives the whole of its meaning. 
What difference does it make? Every dogmatic dilution or distortion eventually results in problems in living. For example, Dr. Chrysosotomos Stamoulis, in his study of the history of misplaced emphases on the dogmatic theology concerning the Theotokos, has suggested that the over-emphasis on Mary as Holy Virgin from a moralistic standpoint rather than grasping the more decisively important ontological meaning of being Theotokos, has contributed inadvertently to a “theological and anthropological emergency” in this regard.
I would say, therefore, that we have reached the point of producing an ontology of virginity, which means that we have taken it out of its natural womb; we have absolutized it and we have rendered it, more or less, on the one hand responsible for the fact that the necessity of Christ’s death was abrogated–which introduces a peculiar mediation—on the other hand, a tool for the total incrimination of sexuality. In this way, through offering an ontology to the virginity, the moralism inside Church and theology became gigantic and we lost the greatest miracle, that is the mystery of the hypostatic union, which, if I am not mistaken, is entirely responsible for the revocation in Christ of the necessity of death. I believe, therefore, that we find ourselves in front of an essential theological as well as anthropological emergency. We need to come back to the heart of our Christology, where we are redeemed from the sin of ideologization and we will discover again the Christ’s person. 
Dogmatic formulations misunderstood eventually give rise to anthropological problems that directly impact how we live out our embodied human lives which is the true test of authentic Christian faith, for Jesus was very clear with the Apostles, when he told them, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.” Truth is not ‘what’ but Who.
Christianity is not a concept, philosophy or religion, but a living encounter with the Person of God. It is not and could never be a self-sufficient one-way action taken to morally improve ourselves or to increase consciousness and merge with some kind of impersonal Absolute, or become all knowing if such were possible. We become ourselves through ascetical struggle born of humility and vulnerability in response to multiple encounters of love with the divine energies of Grace that occur on the border between the created and the uncreated worlds in and through the God-Man Christ: “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
For this reason, it is true as Jean Claude Larchet has stated, that “Man defined by himself independently of his relation to God that is inscribed in his very nature is a non-human being. There is no such thing as pure human nature; man is man-God or else he does not exist.”  Far more than a humanistic ideal of animal vitality linked with rationality, as Philip Sherrard recognized, “the human person is a being whose essential qualities cannot be grasped by the human mind working within the limits of rational, psychological or sensory perception.”
This brings us to the third time Christ is born. The blessed Nativity we are awaiting is not a guarantee, but a potential beyond our comprehension. God is love and offers Himself to us by creating us in the divine Image. God is also free and we are given the freedom to respond to love in order to be transformed by Communion into His likeness as well, thereby becoming ourselves. As in the case of the Holy Theotokos, we must first give our consent to the love relationship with God for “the Logos is a personal divine creative proposal awaiting a response.”  When we enter life through His birth in our hearts noetically by the Holy Spirit, our lives become a call and response of self-offering in which we undergo through Communion, the gradual transformation of our being into the likeness of God whereby His life becomes ours.
From the moment of our conception, Christ waits to be born in human hearts. “Behold I stand at the door and knock: if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him and he will eat with me.” The entire earth and all its creatures groan in travail until Christ be born in us. This is because as Fr. Dumitru Staniloae points out, the role of the human person is essential to the spiritualizing of creation. “Through the human spirit inserted within the world, the divine Spirit is Himself at work to bring about the spiritualization of the world through His operation within the soul of man, and in a special way, through His incarnation as man.” 
With such a Great Mystery and Invitation before us, let us make the journey to the blessed manger every day, bringing Him the gift of our hearts, empty and unsuitable though they be. For the magic of Christmas is that He is every gift as well as the Giver and by our willing and free consent, we shall see Him as He is as we seek to offer Him all that He offers us.
 St. Basil the Great, “On the Incarnation”, excerpted from “Christmas Meditations,” Descent of the Holy Spirit Ukranian Catholic Church, http://dhsparish.com/medxmas_basil.html
 Lk 1:38.
 Sophrony, A. St. Silouan the Athonite, (trans. Rosemary Edmonds), Essex, England: Stavropegic Monastery of St. John the Baptist, 1991, p. 392.
 For a lucid exegesis of the Scriptural evidence for this Apostolic understanding in the Gospel of John, see Karakolis, C. “The Mother of Jesus in the Gospel According to John: A Narrative-Critical and Theological Perspective.” Analogia, Athens, Greece: St. Maxim the Greek Institute, No. 1, September, 2016, pp. 1-15.
 Ibid, trans. Polyxeni Tsaliki – from personal correspondence between author and Dr. Stamoulis.
 Stamoulis, C. Έρωτας και θάνατος. Δοκιμή για έναν πολιτισμό της Σάρκωσης, Athens, Greece: Εκδ. Ακριτας, 2009, pp. 372-379. (Trans. Polyxeni Tsaliki, personal correspondence with author).
 Jn. 14:6.
 Larchet, J.C. Therapy of Spiritual Illnesses: an introduction to Ascetic Tradition of the Orthodox Church (Killian Spreecher, trans.) Vol. I., Montreal: Alexander Press, 2012, p. 26.
 Sherrard, P. The Eclipse of Man and Nature: An Enquiry into the Origins and Consequences of Modern Science. Lindisfarne Press: Massachusetts, 1987. p. 16.
 Loudovikos, N. Hell and Heaven, Nature and Person. C. Yannaras, D. Stăniloae and Maximus the Confessor on Holiness: The Sacrament of Surprise, International Journal of Orthodox Theology 5:1 (2014) urn:nbn:de:0276-2014-1027. p.
 Rev. 3:20.
 cf. Rom 8:22.
 Staniloae, D. The Experience of God: Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, Vol. II, The World, Creation and Deification. Brookline, MA: Holy Cross Press, p.81.