Nativity Encyclicals of Orthodox Primates

December 2017/January 2018

    

In honor of the great feast of the Nativity in the flesh of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ, we present here a collection of Nativity encyclicals from some of our Orthodox primates from around the world, which help to expound upon the depth of meaning of the feast and to draw our hearts and minds to greater attention and devotion to the Lord and His saving will for us.

Constantinople:

Bartholomew
By God’s Mercy Archbishop of Constantinople-New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch
To the Plenitude of the Church
Grace, Mercy and Peace from the Savior Christ Born in Bethlehem
* * *

Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ, dear children,

By the grace of God, we are once again deemed worthy to reach the great feast of the birth of the divine Word in the flesh, who came into the world to grant us “well-being,”[1] remission of sin, of captivity to the works of the law and death, in order to grant us true life and great joy, which “no one can take from us.”[2]

We welcome the “all-perfect God,”[3] who “brought love into the world,”[4] who becomes “closer to us than we to ourselves.”[5] Through kenosis, the divine Word condescends to the created beings in “a condescension inexplicable and incomprehensible.”[6] He “whom nothing can contain” is contained in the womb of the Virgin; the greatest exists in the least. This great chapter of our faith, of how the transcendent God “became human for humankind,”[7] while remaining an “inexpressible” mystery. “The great mystery of divine Incarnation ever remains a mystery.”[8]

This strange and paradoxical event, “which was hidden for ages and generations,”[9] is the foundation of the gift of human deification. “There is no salvation in anyone else; for there is no other human name beneath heaven through which we must be saved.”[10]

This is the supreme truth about salvation. That we belong to Christ. That everything is united in Christ. That our corruptible nature is refashioned in Christ, the image is restored and the road toward likeness is opened for all people. By assuming human nature, the divine Word establishes the unity of humanity through a common divine predestination and salvation. And it is not only humanity that is saved, but all of creation. Just as the fall of Adam and Eve impacts all of creation, so too the Incarnation of the Son and Word of God affects all of creation. “Creation is recognized as free when those who were once in darkness become children of light.”[11] Basil the Great calls us to celebrate the holy Nativity of Christ as the “common feast of all creation,” as “the salvation of the world—humanity’s day of birth.”[12]

Once again, the words that “Christ is born” are unfortunately heard in a world filled with violence, perilous conflict, social inequality and contempt of foundational human rights. 2018 marks the completion of seventy years since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which, after the terrible experience and destruction of World War II, manifested the common and noble ideals that all peoples and countries must unwaveringly respect. However, the disregard of this Declaration continues, while various abuses and intentional misinterpretations of human rights undermine their respect and realization. We continue either not to learn from history or not to want to learn. Neither the tragic experience of violence and reduction of the human person, nor the proclamation of noble ideals have prevented the continuation of aggression and war, the exaltation of power and the exploitation of one another. Nor again have the domination of technology, the extraordinary achievements of science, and economic progress brought social justice and the peace that we so desire. Instead, in our time, the indulgence of the affluent has increased and globalization is destroying the conditions of social cohesion and harmony.

The Church cannot ignore these threats against the human person. “There is nothing as sacred as a human being, whose nature God Himself has shared.”[13] We struggle for human dignity, for the protection of human freedom and justice, knowing full well that “true peace comes from God,”[14] that the transcendent mystery of the Incarnation of divine Word and the gift of human deification reveals the truth about freedom and humanity’s divine destiny.

In the Church, we experience freedom through Christ, in Christ and with Christ. And the very summit of this freedom is the place of love, which “does not seek its own”[15] but “derives from a pure heart.”[16] Whoever depends on himself, seeks his own will, and is self-sufficient—whoever pursues deification by himself and congratulates himself—only revolves around himself and his individual self-love and self-gratification; such a person only sees others as a suppression of individual freedom. Whereas freedom in Christ is always oriented to one’s neighbor, always directed toward the other, always speaks the truth in love. The aim of the believer is not to assert his or her rights, but rather “to follow and fulfill the rights of Christ”[17] in a spirit of humility and thanksgiving.

This truth about the life in Christ, about freedom as love and love as freedom, is the cornerstone and assurance for the future of humankind. When we build on this inspired ethos, we are able to confront the great challenges of our world, which threaten not only our well-being but our very survival.

The truth about the “God-man” is the response to the contemporary “man-god” and proof of our eternal destination proclaimed by the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church (Crete, 2016): “The Orthodox Church sets against the ‘man-god’ of the contemporary world the ‘God-man’ as the ultimate measure of all things. “We do not speak of a man who has been deified, but of God who has become man.” The Church reveals the saving truth of the God-man and His body, the Church, as the locus and mode of life in freedom, “speaking the truth in love,” and as participation even now on earth in the life of the resurrected Christ.”

The Incarnation of the divine Word is the affirmation and conviction that Christ personally guides history as a journey toward the heavenly kingdom. Of course, the journey of the Church toward the kingdom, which is not realized remotely or independently of historical reality—or its contradictions and adventures—has never been without difficulties. Nevertheless, it is in the midst of these difficulties that the Church witnesses to the truth and performs its sanctifying, pastoral and transfiguring mission. “Truth is the pillar and ground of the Church ... The pillar of the universe is the Church ... and this is a great mystery, a mystery of godliness.”[18]

Brothers and sisters, children in the Lord,

Let us celebrate together—with the grace of the divine Word, who dwelt in us, as well as with delight and fullness of joy—the feasts of the Twelve Days of Christmas. From the Phanar we pray that our Lord and Savior—who was incarnate out of condescension for all people—may in this coming new year grant everyone physical and spiritual health, along with peace and love for one another. May He protect His holy Church and bless the works of its ministry for the glory of His most-holy and most-praised Name.

Christmas 2017
X Bartholomew of Constantinople
Your fervent supplicant before God

***

Alexandria:

THEODOROS II

BY THE GRACE OF GOD POPE AND PATRIARCH OF ALEXANDRIA, THE ENTIRE LAND OF EGYPT AND ALL AFRICA

TO THE FULNESS OF THE APOSTOLIC AND PATRIARCHAL THRONE OF ALEXANDRIA

GRACE AND MERCY AND PEACE FROM OUR LORD AND GOD AND SAVIOUR JESUS CHRIST

BORN IN BETHLEHEM.

"Today Christ is born in the city of Bethlehem, the heavens are glad and all of creation rejoices”!

My dear brothers and sisters, my children,

Today is the Feast of the Nativity of Christ! The celestial and angelic hymns are heard again. “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, goodwill to all men”. Once again the Church bells ring out on the entire planet, announcing that “a Saviour is born for us today”.

We celebrate, each in his or her own way, God’s great condescension, for the salvation of mankind. His love, will once again teach us in practice, its messages. A God of love and a God of humility.

“He whom nothing can contain” becomes incarnate, to give strength and courage to weak and disappointed humanity. The eternal Lord is born to take the world out of its impasse. A world which thus far does not seem to have heard either the Angelic hymn, nor the message of “peace from above”.Wars, global and civil conflicts, civil wars, terrorism, refugees, uprooting, face us on a daily basis.

God responds to us: He is born humbly, in a beast’s manger. He is warmed by the breath of the animals. He is born in a cave. That is why no one recognized Him, no one understood Him, none of those whose eyes were turned “to earth” found Him. Only the shepherds “living in the fields”, innocent and humble souls, received an angelic visit and were deemed worthy to be first to see “Him who upholds all” lying in the manger.

Everyone was waiting for Him to come! For centuries Heaven was planning His coming. For centuries, the unruly, sinful, and pathetic generation of mankind, struggled between doubt and ignorance, helplessness and impasse. Thousands of years before, Prophets foresaw and prophesied that which we celebrate today. Philosophers and tragic poets proclaimed his coming.

And Heaven replied! And the Son and Word of God came, “born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law”. Emmanuel was born, so that mankind could see with its own eyes what God is, to touch Him, to mock Him, to deny Him, to betray Him, to condemn Him, to kill Him and to worship Him, Resurrected on the third day.

The message of the Feast of the Nativity is addressed to us all, my brothers and sisters. Not only today, but every minute, every moment of our lives. We should do it, to experience it, a rule of faith, a sheltered harbor in all the wrecks of our lives. Humanity, as never before, needs to leave human hearts open, keeping them warm and pure, so that Jesus may be born in them. We need not look for Him in palaces and luxurious rooms. A humble shack, like those that are everywhere in Africa is enough. He desperately seeks warmth and comfort. Tonight, God knocks on the door of our heart. Are we going to keep Him waiting?

My brothers and sisters, my blessed children,

Let us all transport ourselves noetically to the troubled parts of the Middle East, to the outskirts of Judea, to see where, but mainly why Jesus was born. Let us enter the cave, kneel before Him and say to Him: “Christ, mankind has not enjoyed the virtues of peace, as much as it desired. It lives in wars, killing joy and peace. It lives in distress and the fear of an uncertain future. The world is reminiscent of an immense battlefield, where every person turns against his brothers. Despite all the conferences and the movements for peace, it has remained, for twenty and more centuries, an "elusive dove", an uncertain dream. Let us transcend it! Let us put aside the passions that incite us to acts of violence! Let us spread arms of love, embracing every human being. Then we will experience the Nativity all the time.

Many blessed years!

THEODOROS II

†Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria and All Africa

In the Great City of Alexandria

Feast of the Nativity 2017

***

Antioch:

By the God’s Grace, His Beatitude Patriarch John X Patriarch of Antioch and of All the East

To all my brothers, the Shepherds of the Antiochian Orthodox Church, and to my spiritual children throughout the Apostolic See of the Church of Antioch.

“Beholding him that was in God’s image and likeness fallen because of the transgression, Jesus bowed the heavens and came down; and without suffering change, He made His dwelling in womb of a Virgin.”

The Entreaty, Great Vespers of the Nativity

In this remarkable image, St. John of Damascus, the son of our Antiochian church, summarized the Event of the glorious Nativity and of its symbolism. When God, the Creator of all, saw the First Adam is separated from God because of disobedience, and having lost the beauties of paradise and His grace, He sent His only-begotten Son to every human person, who was made in His image and likeness, in order to restore man to his original beauty.

The Lord has penetrated heavens and the heavens of heavens, for the sake of the salvation of man. He has penetrated time and entered our created time and blessed it as well. He continues to penetrate and reach out to men’s hearts and minds, with much care, peace and ease as well. He was born in a cave so He may enlighten our souls by His love. The Lord came to us while tears fill our eyes. His presence added sweetness. The Lord came to us and found warmth in a cave and was borne in a manger, so that He may say to us that His silence is mightier than any human words. For He continues, even during our present time to penetrate the depth of our souls, and instill His light in them.

We are called today not to choke the presence of God in our souls and nourish them with good works. We are called to seek the presence of the divine Child in our midst: in our hearts and in every segment of our lives. We are called to seek Him in the midst of our misery, our difficulties, and our sad and joyous moments. We are called to feel His presence at times of pleasures as well as in times of necessities throughout our entire life; that Jesus Who bowed the heavens and came down from the highest of His glory, and dwelt in a cave, and from that cave He lifted us by His Cross and His glorious resurrection to an everlasting glory. Today we meditate and knock on the door of His heart; we worship Him and say: Give us, O Lord, the light of your peace. Sooth our hearts by your mercies, bestow your peace on earth. For from your light, O divine Child and in your light we, Antiochian Christians, receive power. By your Gospel which planted in our hearts we can stand firm on our land and homes. From the steadfastness of our forefathers who have put on Christ, and baptized in your name, we also put on the shield of our faith, and take on your cross in the midst of our difficulties, and remain citizens of the Great East; we have full confidence, knowing that as you have removed the stone from the entrance of your grave, you can remove as well the heavy weight from our hearts. In your light shall we see the light. And in your power, despite all circumstances, we shall remain, shepherds and sheep, as one heart and one mind, carrying the weight of one another, so your gospel may be fulfilled. And to all brothers and sisters representing all faiths and all sorts of social fabrics, we extend the hearts and our open hands for the sake of general welfare, serenity, and peace to our nations and to every existing human person.

It is about time that darkness may be scattered from the East and for the people of the East to live in peace on earth in their birth place. It is about time for wars to cease in the land where Christ was born and from which heavenly religions were launched. The message of our East is that of freedom, peace, and of open hearts to the entire world. Neither is there any trace of Takfirism & violence, abandonment and terrorism, in our past and present time. We pray that the light of the cave will cast away the darkness of wars, and to instill in the minds of all people that our region is not an open market to sell arms, and that the destiny of our people should not end dead on the shores of other nations.

We offer our prayers today for the peace in Syria, for the stability of Lebanon, for the safety of Palestine, and for the welfare of the bleeding Iraq; for every spot and all peoples. We offer our prayers for Jerusalem and for its sacred shrines and institutions so Jerusalem may continue to be the city of prayers. We pray for peace of the whole world; we ask our Lord to crown the New Year with His goodness and blessings. We offer our prayers for all those who are captives; especially the two hierarchs: Metropolitan Paul Yazigy and Archbishop Youhanna Ibrahim. We pray for the kidnapped, homeless, and those who live in travail. On the eve of the Nativity we offer our prayers for those who have preceded us in the hope of resurrection and life eternal, that the divine Child will embrace them into His warm heart and surround them with His divine mercy.

As we remember the East during these difficult days, we shall never ignore the active Antiochian presence throughout the world. We pray that Christ the Child will bestow His mercies on the entire world and on all our spiritual children of the Antiochian See, in the Middle East and the entire world.

From the heart of the church of Antioch to the hearts of all people, we extend to you the best greetings in the name of Christ who is born in Bethlehem. We can indeed recall that Christianity was born in the East, and lived together fraternally with the others, and that the Christian Church of Antioch stretches her hands and embrace all her children, and is proud of them, wherever they are, for through them and by their active presence, the Antiochian Church carries the gospel of Christ and its message of the good news to the entire world.

Issued from our Patriarchal Headquarters
Damascus, Syria
December 20, 2017

***

Jerusalem:

“He that was begotten of the Father before the
morning star without a mother, is today on
earth become incarnate of thee without a father;
wherefore, a star announceth the good tidings to the
Magi; and the Angels with shepherds hymn thy seedless
childbirth, O Full of Grace.”

(Kontakion: Synaxis of the Most Holy Theotokos)

During the joyous and glorious period of the Holy Twelve-days the Church as much as the whole of humanity celebrate a divine and heavenly event, an event that is at the same time splendid and marvelous, strange and paradox. We celebrate the event of God’s peaceful visit and healing intervention in man’s life. The Church proclaims the event of the incarnate Epiphany of God in the world. It confesses that God, who has created man according to His image and likeness, remodeled him by the Son’s resemblance to man according to the divine beauty given to him before the fall. In the presence of His Only-Begotten Son and Word, God became incarnate, He was made flesh, He became human. “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us” (John 1.14) Through the Incarnation and nativity in the flesh of His Son by the Ever-Virgin, during the reign of Caesar Octavius Augustus in Bethlehem, God revived and pulled man out of the depths of his fall and corruption and lifted him in the heights of heaven, making him “partaker of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1.4). For this offering, grace and unspeakable joy given to humanity, the Church chants with the hymn writer today: “the Lord hath sent forth redemption to his people”; with the Evangelist: “a Saviour has been born to us today, who is Christ”; and with the hymn writer: “Our Saviour from on high hath visited us” and “Christ is born, give ye glory, Christ is on earth, be ye exalted”.

Eye-witnesses to this unheard of mystery, namely God’s incarnate presence in the world, are; the Ever-Virgin, who contributed to this reality, and conceived by the Holy Spirit, became pregnant and gave birth in the flesh and swaddled Christ; Joseph the elder, her companion from Nazareth to Bethlehem for Caesar’s census, from Bethlehem to Egypt on their escape, and to their return in Nazareth, from which the Lord was called a Nazarene. Eye-witnesses are also simple farmers, shepherds watching over their flocks, who drew nigh in order to see and experience the mystery, after the invitation and the vision of angels, who were chanting in heaven the angelic hymn: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2.14). Moreover, eye-witnesses were men of science, Magi Kings from Persia, researchers of the universe. They were called from afar by a star in heaven, to herald the beginning of the Church of nations, so that from the idolatry of the stars they would come to the worship of the Sun of Righteousness. And indeed, in this simple and humble Cave they beheld in ecstasy “the babe lying in a manger” (Luke 2.16), and recognizing Him they bowed and worshiped the Incarnate God made man in the flesh by the Virgin, and offered Him their gifts of reverence “gold, and frankincense and myrrh” (Matthew 2.11).

In this manner did the wealth of Christ’s Divinity shine upon men, in the humility of the Cave and the poverty of the swaddling clothes. Christ took upon Himself the form of a man, humbling Himself, so that in this form He would sanctify and glorify man. “Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich” (2 Cor. 8.9). Being true God, strong and mighty, He took on the feebleness of the human flesh and became God-human, one person in two natures, “who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him” (Acts 10.38).

This philanthropy of God is preached in the Holy Spirit by the Church, the Body of the Incarnate God, our Lord Jesus Christ who was Crucified in the flesh and Resurrected from the dead for the salvation of the world. Christ has bequeathed the Church with the perpetuation of His peace-making, reconciling, sanctifying and salvific mission in the world. The Church manifests and preaches His mission to its members, but also to all those who by their free will do not accept the message of the Lord of peace, but act remorselessly and inhumanly instead, just like Herod did to the new-born King and the infants. They neither sharpen their plows for plowing, nor their sickles for reaping; on the contrary, they sharpen their swords in order to rend each other to pieces. They spend the wealth of God’s creation to compatible and incompatible weapons and wars, they sacrifice hundreds of thousands of innocent people through atrocious terrorist acts and they dare say this is done in the name of God. The Church speaks to them in love. It teaches peace, to those near and afar. It sanctifies the people, tames their morals and remains an oasis, a paradise and the visible manifestation of the Kingdom of God on earth. It shares its spiritual and material goods with the people philanthropically. It tolerates persecution; being slandered, it forgives and prays. It calls everybody, saying: “come and see” (John 1.46).

This is done also by the Church of Jerusalem in the Holy Land, which defends and preserves the Holy Shrines and of course the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem, built by Constantine and Justine the Emperors. The Church of Jerusalem prays from the God-receiving Cave for the peace of the whole world, peace in the Middle East and the Holy Land, for the progress, prosperity, divine blessing and salvation of the noble Christmas pilgrims, for the glory of the born-in-flesh Jesus Christ together with the Father in the Holy Spirit unto the ages of ages.

In the Holy Town of Bethlehem, CHRISTMAS 2017

Fervent supplicant for all before God,

THEOPHILOS III

Patriarch of Jerusalem

***

Serbia:

+IRINEJ

By the Grace of God

Orthodox Archbishop of Pec, Metropolitan of Belgrade Karlovci and Serbian Patriarch, with all the Hierarchs of the Serbian Orthodox Church, to all the clergy, monastics, and all the sons and daughters of our Holy Church: grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, with the joyous Christmas greeting:

PEACE FROM GOD! CHRIST IS BORN!

“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation;
old things have passed away;
behold, all things have become new!”

(II Corinthians 5:17)

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The foundation of God's New and Eternal Covenant was laid on this very day, the first Christmas in history. Because today, our beloved spiritual children, the preeternal God accomplished a work greater than the creation of the universe and fulfilled the promise given to our first parents, the promise that the prophets had foretold from time immemorial, and which the Most Pure, the Most Blessed and Ever-Virgin Mary accepted in peace. God the Logos became man and dwelt among men. (cf. St. John 1:14) The Son of the Heavenly Father became a contemporary of mankind so that man could become co-eternal with God. The Lord Almighty “emptied himself, taking the form of a servant” (Philippians 2:7) and became one in body with our lowliness, so that he could make us equal to the image of His glory. That is why the Godly-wise Apostle Paul elatedly said: “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past understanding!” (Romans 11:33)

At that time, the most beautiful and inspired hymn: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will among men!” the multitude of angelic hosts sang, while the heavens with the star pointed to Bethlehem, the birth city of the Holy Prophet and King David, the Home of bread, where truly the Living Bread Who came down from heaven has appeared. In the quiet spiritual light of Christmas night the human face of the pre-eternal and Only-Begotten Son joyfully welcomed the sight of shepherds (cf. St. Luke 2:4-15). Being that this magnificent mystery of piety – the appearing of the Son of God in the flesh – is inconceivable to angels and men, the primordial plan of God’s all-encompassing love began to be revealed in the sacred silence of a Bethlehem cave filled with meekness and inexpressible goodness. And truly, piously approaching the city of David together with heavenly and earthly choirs of saints, we see with spiritual eyes how in Him through Whom everything was created that is in heaven and on earth “dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.” (Colossians 2:9) This divinely revealed truth is proclaimed in our Holy Church countless times with the words that the Son of God “for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became man.”

The salvation that the Creed speaks about, dear brothers and sisters, surpasses every human expectation. God did not become man in order to show His glory and majesty, nor to appear in this world accompanied by heavenly hosts as its Master. The Savior was willing to be born from the Most Holy Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary so that man, through the grace and power of the Holy Spirit, in baptism and through participation in the Holy Liturgy and the life in Christ, could be reborn and could become god by grace, a brother and co-dweller of the God-Man. He made this possible for us thanks to the true birth for eternal life granted to us by holy baptism, by holy chrismation and by the entire sacramental life culminating in the Divine Liturgy, accompanied by our efforts to obtain the Gospel’s holy virtues. Beginning by truly belonging to the Community of God’s children, the Church, we participate by grace in the divine life of Christ and are being saved and are saved in the Church.              

In the brightest light and miraculous joy of Christmas, ancient folk wisdom has composed a toast: “Give, O Lord, health and happiness to this house, may healthy children be born, may wheat and vineyard be fruitful, may the goods in the field, stable and barnyard multiply!” Truly, deep is the meaning and far-reaching is life’s message of this old wisdom. Dear spiritual children, neither our country, nor beautified cities and villages, nor the economic growth to which we so aspire, nor all the goods of this world, will be worth anything if as a people we are gradually, but surely, disappearing, that is, if we have more deaths than births. It was not difficult for our Christian ancestors during our tumultuous history, from its beginning, after the most difficult temptations and troubles, and sometimes literally from the ashes, to reestablish the state, economy, culture and all that which has always made them members of true European civilization. That was always accomplished by them because their homes were filled with faith, virtue and strength, while their children multiplied with great number. Let us bear in mind the law of God and let us be mindful of God’s commandments given to our forebearers Adam and Eve which says: “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it!” (Genesis 1:28) Therefore, beloved in Christ Jesus, let us not forsake the fulfillment of this commandment! The Lord of love Himself willingly accepted to be born in the flesh and dwell among us, and with His birth from the Virgin Mary, He sanctified and gave meaning to motherhood and childbirth forever.                

In these holy days of Christmas we fervently pray for our brothers and sisters in Faith in our Homeland and abroad, with the hope that the Divine-Child Jesus Christ may kindle in their hearts and homes the humble joy of Bethlehem's light, with which heaven and earth are enlightened and shine brightly. We especially call upon all the faithful, in this silent night, to be of one heart and one soul with the much-suffering Serbian Orthodox people who are faithfully safeguarding and defending every step of the holy land in Kosovo and Metohija, which has been, may we never forget, given to us by God as an eternal pledge. Tumultuous times have come and gone. During all that time our ancestors indelibly bore in their hearts the Patriarchate of Pech, Gracanica, the Church of the Theotokos of Levish, Banjska, Dechani, the Holy Archangels and thousands of other altars throughout Kosovo and Metohija. They knew and remembered who had set foot on that holy land back in the seventh century and even earlier as it is recorded by the Byzantine chronicles. They knew who left written records on pieces of pottery from the ninth century and who opened the first schools at monasteries, wrote books, painted frescoes and icons, built temples, opened the first hospitals, wrote slavonic books. They knew that the Grand Zupan of Ras Vukan defended the city Zvecan in the eleventh century. They knew which rulers from the Nemanjic, Lazarevic, Brankovic, Petrovic, Obrenovic and Karadjordjevic dynasties built holy shrines throughout the Serbian lands. Our ancestors knew all that, dear brothers and sisters. And we, their descendants, know that as well. We know something else. We know that our suffering people in Kosovo and Metohija have stayed to confess their holy Orthodox Faith as martyrs and to courageously testify to their Serbian name. We know as well as they do, and we forget nothing of it, for Kosovo and Metohija is our Jerusalem, our holy land. And that is why we can, together with King David who wrote psalms, prayerfully promise: “If I forget you, O Jerusalem”, if I forget you Kosovo and Metohija, “may my right hand be forgotten.” (Psalm 136 [137]:5)                

Our brothers according to the Faith, not only in Kosovo and Metohija, but elsewhere as well, face tribulations. Especially today, the Divine Christ-Child inspires us that we, Orthodox Christians and children of the Church, empowered by His grace and in response to His commandment, may return good to all, as brothers and friends, regardless of how others treat us anywhere, whether in our homeland, in the surrounding areas, or in the entire world, regardless of their faith and nationality, knowing that the God of love asks us what we are doing to others, not what they are doing to us.                

Today, when the Most Holy Virgin Mary gives birth to the Pre-eternal God, we pray for all people, but especially the young, suffering the vices of narcotics, alcohol, perversity, laziness, anger, love for money, jealousy, arrogance, intemperance, lack of compassion and all other vices which promise visible happiness, while destroying the God-given honor of man and making him a slave. We pray that the Lord of Hosts will strengthen them so that they may recognize the truth and the image of God in themselves and so rise and rid themselves of the yoke of the wrong choice. Our Lord Jesus Christ said: “…You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free…Whoever commits sin is a slave of sin.” (St. John 8:32, 34) We are free in the true sense of the word only when we live a virtuous life, which stems from a creative communion of love with God. Opposite to that, the misuse of God’s gifts and the potential we have, as well as the choice of the wrong lifestyle, weakens and destroys our freedom, undervalues our being, produces a feeling of emptiness and lack of meaning, and in the end, leads to spiritual slavery. True freedom is, our dear spiritual children, freedom for Christ, for others, for life and health; freedom for eternity. Such freedom can be given to us only by God, because He truly is Freedom, courage and strength. Only by this freedom, which implies adherence to God’s will and self-restraint towards our neighbors and created nature, can we in our nation overcome the previously unheard of conflicts which we, unfortunately, so often hear and read about, between spouses, parents and children, relatives and kumovi.                

The Good News of Christ’s Nativity today is also proclaimed to a world where weapons resound; a world where violence is taking place between individuals and nations, where inequality and social injustice occur, a world where innocent children are victims of war, abuse and hunger and above which the threat of nuclear catastrophe hovers daily. Nevertheless, though concerned, without losing hope we pray to the Divine-Child of Bethlehem to enlighten the darkness and to turn to goodness those who hold the levers of power in their hands.                

Let us not fear! Instead of earthly worries and fear, we pray that peace from God fills our hearts! Such peace is not passive and indifferent, rather it is a dynamic, creative, and above all an unceasingly active power, with power to transform and bring salvation not only to us but to all those around us. The grace-filled experience of Saint Seraphim attests: “Obtain the spirit of peace and thousands around you will be saved.”              

God Who is with us, Emmanuel, is that Peace through Whom the peace of the Heavenly Kingdom comes. Such peace certainly cannot be identified with previous, contemporary or future attempts to bring peace on earth without taking into account the relationship at whose center is the Triune God. Christ’s peace is unique because it is founded on the inexpressible and incomprehensible love of the Heavenly Father, “Who so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. (St. John 3:16) The God-Man Lord Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary in order to die on the Cross and resurrect from the dead, giving peace and the blessing of eternal life to all creation. This reality of gaining peace which conquers sin and death, dear spiritual children, we experience not only today on this feast day of the Nativity of Christ, but also each time we gather in our holy churches for the Divine Liturgy and when we partake of the Living Christ.                

Celebrating today’s Feast Day, let us pray that our hearts may become Bethlehem’s cave in which Christ the Son of God is born, so that we are enlightened by the light of Bethlehem’s star and illumined with the wisdom of wise men from the east, inspired by the Holy Spirit, Who overshadowed the Mother above all mothers and calmed the anxieties of the righteous Joseph, confidently exclaiming on all four sides of the world and announcing the coming of Him Who saves us:  

PEACE FROM GOD - CHRIST IS BORN!

Given at the Serbian Patriarchate in Belgrade at Christmas, 2017.

Your intercessors before the cradle of the divine Christ-Child:

Archbishop of Pec,
Metropolitan of Belgrade-Karlovci and
Serbian Patriarch IRINEJ

The Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia:

Beloved in the Lord Brethren Archpastors, Honorable Fathers, Brothers and Sisters

It is with a feeling of the greatest joy that I express my heartfelt greetings on the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ and the approaching feast day of the Baptism of the Lord!

As expressed in one of our church prayers celebrating this holy event, when God deemed it good to appear on Earth, the entire world hastened to bring him gifts: “The Angels offer a hymn; the heavens, a star; the Wise Men, gifts; the shepherds, their wonder; the earth, its cave; the wilderness, a manger.”

What will we offer as a gift to the Almighty God, Who is now born a helpless Infant? “My son, give me thine heart” (Proverbs 23:26), says the Lord. Our hearts, our love, is the only gift most worthy in the eyes of God. To offer God one’s heart means to give Him all of ourselves: our mind in obeying the Gospel, our will and obedience to the commandments, submitting and actively striving for God, not as a servant but as His offspring, for whom happiness and bliss is to live in Christ and with Him.

In this past year, the fullness of the Local Russian Orthodox Church prayerfully marked the 100th anniversary of the sorrowful events connected with the Revolution and the beginning of the epoch of godless persecutions, but also the 100th anniversary of the reestablishment of the Patriarchate in Russia, when St Tikhon, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia the Confessor, ascended to the Patriarchal throne, which was to be his personal Golgotha. In 2018, we intend to continue this prayerful commemoration, remembering Holy Hieromartyrs Vladimir of Kiev, Andronik, Archbishop of Perm, the Righteous Royal Passion-bearers, Holy Grand Duchess Elizabeth and Nun Barbara, who offered their hearts to Christ, the Church and their people to the extent that no earthly power could tear them from God’s love, no earthly circumstances: not “tribulation, or distress, or persecution” (Romans 8:35).

And so as we celebrated the Nativity of Christ and participate in the prayerful commemoration of this year, let us seek out the renewal of our inner strength and edification, let us pay heed to both Holy Scripture and the history of our Fatherland, let us strive to learn of the lives of these holy people and contemplate their personalities in order to enrich ourselves spiritually and intellectually. Let us bring these labors as a gift to the Child Who offered Himself to the Cross, remembering that we must extract from ourselves our wicked and dark hearts, so that in exchange for this Sacrifice we receive the gift of peace in our hearts, bright and renewed, a gift earned by the Holy Martyrs and Confessors of the Russian Church.

As we bend our knee before the Christ Child and joyously experience this world-saving event, I prayerfully ask on behalf of all of you God’s mercies and blessings, heavenly aid in your labors and good deeds, good health, joyful celebrations and a happy New Year!

With love in the Nascent Christ,

+HILARION,

Metropolitan of Eastern America and New York,

First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia.

Nativity of Christ 2017/2018.

***

Orthodox Church in America:

Christ is born! Glorify Him!

My beloved Brethren and Blessed Children in the Lord,

As we come to the end of the civil year, we reflect back on a period in which tragedy, acts of terrorism, shootings in public spaces, political confusion, and sexual misconduct allegations dominate the news. The darkness which enshrouds the world adds to the burden of our personal and family struggles: addictions, estrangement, divorce and all manner of conflict wrought by human passions. We might be tempted to wonder how love could have so definitively fled from the hearts of human beings.

The feast of the Nativity in the Flesh of our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ is a reminder to all of us that “heaven and earth today make glad prophetically” and angels and men “keep spiritual feast for God, born of a woman, has appeared in the flesh to those that sit in darkness and shadow.” The light that we receive today is not merely a physical light that pierces the gloom which surrounds us, but rather a transfiguring light that both reveals God’s love for us and inspires us to grow in our love for God.

There is no philosophy or ideology that can overcome the irrationality of the world. It is only the transfiguring light of Christ – His divine and sacrificial love – that can accomplish this. It is only through love that we can, with the animals and the manger, “accept Him who by His Word has loosed us dwellers on earth from acts that are against reason.” When we despair at the tragedies in the world and in our lives, let us remember that it is precisely in the midst of such darkness that the Word of God chose to be incarnate.

Archimandrite Zacharias suggests that “when we are confronted by the ruins of human love and find ourselves completely broken, then two solutions can be given: either we turn to God with our pain, so that God enters our life and renews us, or we continue to be deceived by our human plans and slide from one tragedy and barrenness of soul to another, hoping that one day we will find perfection.”

The world longs for authentic love but seems to remain mired in the global tragedies that we witness every day. In our horizontal and human relations with one another, what is missing is God Himself, a third and divine-human Person to purify and heal our imperfect and broken relationships. Whether it be husband and wife, brother and sister, or larger communities, true love and abiding peace can only be found through our communion with God.

In our Orthodox context, this takes place through the Divine Liturgy and through our efforts to nurture the sacrificial love of God in our own hearts. “Paradise begins on earth through love for God and love for our fellows. In this lies the entire wealth of eternal life, for man has been created to give eternal glory to God. His delight is to return this glory to His image, man, who then returns greater glory to his Creator.”

Today’s feast is a reminder that it is through this cycle of glorification and love between God and man that we find our true fulfillment. May the new-born Christ grant us the courage to keep His love in our hearts, to connect with our fellows through prayer, sacrifice, and humility, and to remember that, no matter the degree of our own brokenness or the brokenness of the world, Christ has come to give us hope for renewal, “for what He was, He has remained, true God: and what He was not, He has taken upon Himself, becoming man through love for mankind.”

With love in the New-Born Christ,

+ Tikhon
Archbishop of Washington
Metropolitan of All America and Canada

***

Assembly of Canonical Bishops of the USA:

Come, believers, let us see where Christ has been born. Let us follow where the star guides with the Magi, kings of the East. Angels sing praises there without ceasing. Shepherds abiding in the fields offer a fitting hymn, saying: Glory in the highest to Him Who has been born today in a cave from the Virgin and Mother of God, in Bethlehem of Juda (Kathesma of the Nativity)

To the Reverend Priests and Deacons, the Monks and Nuns, the Presidents and Members of Parish Councils, the Day, Afternoon, and Church Schools, the Members of Philanthropic Organizations, the Youth and Youth Workers, and the entire Orthodox Christian Family of the United States of America.

Beloved Faithful in Christ,

With the Magi, the kings of the East, each of us is invited to embark on a lifelong journey to meet the Savior—the Son of God, born in the flesh by the Virgin. Our High Priest, Jesus Christ, has shared in our humanity, and thus sympathizes with us. The Lord of lords and King of kings (1 Tim 6:15) assumes flesh and becomes man under some of the harshest conditions: He is born in an uninviting cave; He is lain in a cold manger; and days after His birth, He is forced to seek refuge in foreign lands. Because Christ has endured suffering in the flesh, we are now granted absolute comfort!

The encounter between God and man does not occur in shopping centers, Christmas markets, or ornate storefronts. Such festive places certainly bring a smile to our faces, especially to our children, but they fail to offer us salvation. Worth more than a precious ornament, and more valuable than fragrant perfumes, God’s mercy is freely offered to the world by the birth of the Son of God.

Beloved faithful, as we go about our daily lives in our blessed country where we enjoy freedoms and liberties, we are invited to noetically enter the grotto of the Nativity and with our physical eyes gaze upon the homeless who suffer from the elements and see in them Christ wrapped in swaddling clothes. And as we join the angelic hosts in doxology, we are to give voice to the marginalized and destitute. Perhaps most importantly, let us listen to the cries of the countless children who are misguided and abused, and embrace them as the Christ-child Himself.

During our most recent meeting, the Hierarchs of the Assembly had the opportunity to reflect upon the condition of our youth in America. As we listened to expert reports and data from professionals in the fields of youth ministry and emerging leadership, and as we engaged in open discussion, we acknowledged that more can and must be done for our children and young adults. Therefore, as we gather to celebrate the Nativity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, please consider how you might be part of this work.

Together with my brother Hierarchs of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States, I extend blessings and prayers that God will bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work (Cor. 9:8). Have a joyous Christmas celebration and a blessed New Year, 2018.

With love in Christ, the incarnate God

+Archbishop Demetrios of America
Chairman

    

1/7/2018



[1] Gregory the Theologian, Oration XXXVIII, on Theophany, namely the Nativity of the Savior, iii, PG 36, 313.

[2] John 10:18.

[3] Doxastikon of the Aposticha from the Great Vespers of Christmas.

[4] Nicholas Cabasilas, The Life in Christ, vi, PG 150, 657.

[5] Ibid. vi PG 150, 660.

[6] John of Damascus, An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, iii, 1, PG 94, 984.

[7] Maximus the Confessor, Various chapters on Theology and Economy concerning virtue and vice, First Century, 12, PG 90, 1184.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Col. 1:26.

[10] Acts 4:12.

[11] Iambic Katavasia on the Feast of Theophany, Ode VIII.

[12] Basil the Great, Homily on the Nativity of Christ, PG 31, 1472-73.

[13] Nicholas Cabasilas, The Life in Christ, vi, PG 150, 649.

[14] John Chrysostom, On Corinthians 1, Homily I, 1, PG 61, 14.

[15] 1 Cor. 13:5.

[16] 1 Tim. 1:5.

[17] Theotokion, Aposticha of the Ainoi, October 12.

[18] John Chrysostom, On Timothy I, Homily XI, PG 62, 554.

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