While those who follow the new calendar may have already seen some of these Christmas messages from the heads of our Local Churches, we present them again here together, as a multiple blessing for the Nativity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Brethren and beloved children in the Lord,
The sweetness of the Holy Night of Christmas once again envelops the world, and in the midst of human fatigue and labours, of crises and events, of suffering and enmities, of disquiet and disillusionment, the mystery of God becoming human appears with the same enchantment as in the past, and is just as real and contemporary as ever, urging us on so that "we who dwell on earth might learn righteousness" (Isaiah 26.9), since "a Saviour is born for us today" (Luke 2.11).
Unfortunately, however, many people in our day think like that slayer of infants, the lawless and unprincipled Herod, and exterminate their fellow human beings in a myriad of ways. The mind of the ruler of this world, twisted by egocentrism and made manifest in the person of Herod, paradoxically saw his own existence endangered by the birth of a single innocent Child,and chose as a more fitting method of safeguarding his worldly authority from the danger posed by (in his view) the birth of the child its destruction.
So that the Infant Christ, announced by the angels, could
be saved from these murderous plans, he was constrained to
flee to Egypt, and thus settled there as a "political
refugee," as we might say in today's parlance,
along with Mary his Mother, the Most-Pure Theotokos, and
Joseph the Betrothed.
In our time, regarded as one of progress, many children are constrained to settle as refugees, following their parents so as to save their lives, sought after by enemies of various names. This fact results in shame for the human race.
Therefore, on the occasion of the birth of the Child Jesus, our true redeemer and Saviour, we also proclaim from the Most-Holy, Apostolic and Ecumenical Patriarchal Throne that all societies must safeguard the secure development of children, and respect their right to life, to education, and to their proper development, which can also secure their upbringing and education within the framework of the traditional family, on the basis of love, compassion for others, peace, solidarity: all good things, which our Lord, who took flesh for our sake, grants us today.
The Saviour who has been born calls all of us to receive this message of the salvation of humankind. It is true that in the long history of humans, peoples have undertaken many removals and resettlements; it was our hope, however, that after the two World Wars and the calls for peace made by ecclesiastical and political leaders and organizations, that contemporary societies would have been able to secure the peaceful living conditions for people in their countries. Unfortunately, events have disappointed this hope, because great hordes of people have been forced, under threat of their annihilation, to walk the bitter road of flight as a refugee.
This evolving situation with the ceaselessly increasing wave of refugees increases our responsibility, yet as long as we have the blessing to live peacefully and in some comfort, let us not remain insensitive in the face of the daily drama of thousands of our fellow human beings, but rather, let us express to them our real solidarity and love, with the certainty that every good work done to them will turn out to be done to the person of the Son of God, who was born and took flesh, and who came to the world not as a king, not as one in authority, not as one powerful or rich, but was born as a naked and defenseless infant, in a little stable, without a hearth, just as many of our fellow human beings live at this very moment; and he was forced in the first years of his earthly life to emigrate to a distant land in order to be saved from Herod's hatred. We could say that the earth and the sea are drinking the innocent blood of the refugee children of today, and the insecure soul of Herod "receives its judgment."
But the divine Infant, who was born and is travelling to Egypt, is himself the real protector of today's refugees, who are being persecuted by the Herods of our day. This Infant Jesus, our God "became weak for the weak" (cf. 1 Cor. 9.22), likening himself to all of us who are powerless, overwhelmed, who are in danger and who are refugees. Our support and help to our fellow human beings who are being persecuted and uprooted - no matter their tribe, race, or religion - will be gifts for our Lord who has been born that are more valuable than the gifts of the Magi, and treasures more precious than "gold, frankincense, and myrrh" (cf. Mt. 2.11), abiding spiritual riches that cannot be taken away, which through the ages will never see corruption, but will lead us up to the kingdom of heaven.
Let each one of us offer whatever we can to the Lord, who is seen in the person of our brothers, the refugees; let us offer to the little Christ, who is being born today in Bethlehem, these precious gifts of love, sacrifice, and charity, following the example of his compassion; and let us worship him with the angels, the Magi, and the simple shepherds, crying out with all the saints: "Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth, good will to humans" (Luke 2.14).
May the grace and rich mercy of the refugee Infant Christ be with all of you!
+Bartholomew of Constantinople
the continual intercessor before God for you all
* * *
Jesus Christ is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility (Ephesians 2:14).
My dear brothers and sisters,
Man was created with a peaceful nature by the God of love. And the relationship between mankind and his Creator in paradise was totally peaceful. However, from the moment that mankind raised his ego as a banner of rebellion, this peaceful relationship with God was disrupted. From the moment that mankind elevated his personal will over the will of God, peace fled from his heart. That is when the “barrier of the dividing wall” was raised between God and mankind.
This dividing wall was broken down by the Incarnation of the Son of God. Jesus Christ hovered between heaven and earth, stretched out His arms and made peace between earth and heaven. He united mankind with God and created a new humanity, bringing peace. This peace has a dual direction: it is a reconciliation of mankind with God, as well as a reconciliation of people among themselves. Our Lord became a guarantor of peace, as the cornerstone of the body of the Church.
He called on us to become compassionate, by harnessing our ego. He called on us to consider as our neighbor, as well as God’s, the one who is compassionate. That person who obviously supports others, not because there is a racial, national or religious relationship between them, but because it is demanded of his heart. He taught us compassionate love as the only measure of our faith, our intentions and our actions.
Yet people often fail to honestly pose this question to themselves: am I a good neighbor to my fellow humans? They continue to raise their own dividing wall, hoping in vain to exclude the misery of the world. Still, the dividing wall is corroded by the tears of those seeking help. The dividing wall is demolished, as were the walls of Jericho, by the laments of the desperate. The dividing wall is conquered by armies of those in need who have only the battering ram of despair.
My dear brothers and sisters,
The refugee crisis which has struck and broken down the doors to Europe, has proved in practice that however many walls are erected, as many fences as are spread, as many minefields as are planted, desperation breaks the impermeable and seeks practical understanding. However, if thousands are struggling to escape from the furnace of civil war in Syria, there are millions in Africa and the Middle East who consider Europe as the Promised Land, the land that they strive to approach, endangering even their lives.
Today, the measure of our compassion ought to be not only our readiness to support the refugee, irrespective of his blood composition, the color of his skin or his religious convictions. Our compassion is judged by the readiness of our Christian conscience to rebel and to demand not simply the control of the crisis, but the solution to the reasons which stoke it.
And the solution will come only if the import of misery is replaced by the export to the homelands which are bleeding, of the values which flourished and bore fruits in Europe, and on top of this list must be Christian love. Only then will this endless human river of misery be halted, and also then will the hatred of terrorism cease to be smuggled aboard the boats of despair.
St Basil the Great said: “We do an injustice to as many as we could assist” (Homily on greed, PG 31, 276Α-277Β). I would add that we do an injustice to ourselves too, when we allow the thorns of terrorism to take root in the fields of misery. Therefore let us not sow denial as we will continue to reap the despair of others and our own fear. Let us sow love and peace, as our Lord did, He who was born for the evangelisation of peace to all mankind, to those far off and to those close by (Ephesians 2:17).
† THEODOROS II
Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria and All Africa
In the Great City of Alexandria
Feast of the Nativity 2016(15)
* * *
By the mercy of God
Patriarch John X, The Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and all the East
To my brother pastors of the Antiochian Holy Church, and my children throughout the Holy See
I behold a strange, most glorious mystery: heaven—the cave, the cherubic throne—the Virgin, the manger—the place where Christ lay. The uncontained God whom we magnify in song.
In a manger of love our Jesus was born, and in a cave He chose to visit our humanity.
By His descending, the Lord experienced all our weaknesses except for the sin. He did not chose the scepters or the sofas of the rich in order to preach the salvation, but the womb of a Virgin. He put us on so that we could put Him on. He dwelt in a cave so we may become citizens of Heaven. Jesus came looking for the humanity that was wounded with Adam and strayed with Eve. His incarnation reminds us of dispensation. It is the stamp of the divine love that looks for censed souls, like Mary’s, that spread Creator’s scent worldwide. This is the case of Virgin Mary, the censor that spread the light of God for mankind.
Let us put ourselves in her place, just once, and see how this girl fulfilled the will of God, and how she became an example for us in all our troubles, even 2000 years after the coming of our Lord.
Mary was not one of those earthly “mighties.” But she was a mighty in her prayer. She was not of a high class, but a girl of a humble love who obeyed God’s order. She did not complain thinking about her reputation, and she was not ashamed of getting pregnant of the Holy Spirit. Mary, the Galilaean, did not complain of the distress that happened in those days, which looks like the distress that takes place nowadays. On the contrary, she was armored with God. She was not ashamed of her Son’s Cross, but she accompanied Him to the Golgotha, and she cried, just like us, over the tyranny of the falsehood.
Mary is one of many, who see the nails of falsehood being beaten in truth’s body just like those nails which were beaten in Jesus’s hands. But Mary did not deny her God the way some of us do today, seeing how darkness is overwhelming the light. She did not ask: where is God? Cannot He watch the sorrow of my heart? But, she said: God is the strength of my heart. Surely, Mary is a human, just like us. And surely, we may cry just like her. But the strength and the uniqueness of this Virgin is the fact that she did not let the sorrow overcome the hope. She was not afraid of putting her hope in God. And we are called upon to behave the same way in these difficult days in which we pass as humans, community, country, and the whole East.
We are called upon nowadays to be united, and to follow the example of Virgin Mary and all the disciples. Their unity was mixed with an undoubted hope in God Who had gained victory over death. They buried fear because of their unity and love. And we are called upon, as much as possible, to bury our afflictions by keeping the unity of souls and hearts regardless of the geographical distances. Antioch is those hearts that are tied to Jesus. Before these bounds egoism, races, cracks, and disputes melt out in order to make Jesus shine on the front.
We, as the Christians of the East, are called upon to contemplate Jesus, Who did not incarnate in days better than ours. Because of His love we put on His name first in Antioch, and with the power of His Cross our ancestors lived on this land. We are on it and we come from it. We were born from its womb and we will be buried in it. We are staying here, and we will carry our cross following the example of our Lord. And to those who abduct our people and bishops we say: We are a part of this East. In it we live together with our brothers from all religions. We won’t spare an effort to remain in this land defending our history and existence.
We pray today for the peace in Syria, and for stability in Lebanon. We pray for the suffering East, for the bleeding Palestine. We pray for the homeless, for the displaced, for the lost, for the abducted, and for the martyr. We pray to Virgin Mary to send peace to the souls, because it is the seed of peace on earth. We pray to protect all her abducted children, amongst them the two bishops of Aleppo, Youhanna Ibraheem and Boulos Yazigi. We pray to her to be with our people everywhere bestowing humanity the mercy of the Child of peace and the Father of mercies.
Oh Jesus, Who descended to us as a Child! Come and fill us with the abundance of Your mercy, keep our children and parents. Come and stay in the cave of our souls and trim our thoughts with Your holy light. Oh Jesus, whose presence fills us with peace, bless our life! Calm with the power of Your silence every disorder, fear and turbulence. Teach us to chant together: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men!”
* * *
the one who sits for ever by the Father,
today angels godly praise
the born infant,
glory to God in the highest heaven and on earth peace,
good will to people.
(Idiomelon of Christmas Matins).
The One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Orthodox Church of Christ across the world celebrates today as it pastorally declares to its members and peacefully attests to the world a marvellous and splendid event that transcends every human concept, perception and power.
This event is the fulfilment of the prophecies of the Old Testament. It is the realization of the nations’ expectations. God, in His infinite love, oversaw the years of man’s ignorance, forgave his committed sins and transgressions and invited him to a new divine life for which he had been made from the very beginning, “And the Lord hath sent redemption to His people” (Psalm 110, 9).
Redemption is the Only-Begotten Son and Word of God. “But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as Sons”(Galatians 4, 4) according to the Apostle Paul. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us and out of His fullness we all received grace in place of grace already given” (John 1, 14&16), according to the Evangelist of love.
The incarnation of the Logos, His investment in human flesh, was not performed in compliance with the laws of nature as – “where God wishes so, the order of nature is overcome” – but according to the will of the Father, a Holy Spirit descended upon Mariam, the Virgin daughter of Nazareth, and she conceived the Son of God as man. The Son of God became the Son of man too, he was incarnate and personified. Mariam bore the Messiah, Christ, in the flesh. The event took place in this town of Bethlehem, at this plain Cavern under the reign of Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus Octavianus.
This “strange and paradoxical mystery” is indeed God’s loving and healing descent towards man. Through Jesus Christ, God “descended into the lower parts of the earth” (Ephes. 4, 9) so that man may be restored to the godlike beauty before the fall, and rise to the heavens. According to St Cyril of Alexandria, “God, who exists outside the ecumene, has come to it and made the human soul alike so that it be cleansed from sin, and He took on the human form so that man be made a citizen of heaven”.
To this mystery God had called for accomplices, helpers and witnesses. His accomplice was the ever-virgin Mary so that she might lend her flesh to His Son. Joseph was her helper and protector, the one who had accompanied Mary from Nazareth to Bethlehem, then Mary and the divine infant from Bethlehem to Egypt. His witnesses had been the magi, wise kings of the Persians, led by a star, and the simple shepherds dwelling in the adjacent town of the Shepherds. God had also called as witnesses angels from heaven, proclaiming the mystery with the hymn “Glory to God in the highest heaven and on earth peace, good will to people” (Luke 2, 14).
This angelic hymn proclaimed God’s good will to men, “and through Him to reconcile to himself all things” (Colossians 1, 20) and “to unite all things in Christ” (Ephesians 1, 10), the Incarnate and Personified, “because in Him dwelleth all the fullness of the deity in bodily form” (Colossians 2, 9), “so that in Christ they shall be brought to fullness” (Colossians 2, 10) and “they are no longer foreigners and strangers but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of His household” (Ephesians 2, 19), in His body of the Church, “of which He is the head” (Colossians 1, 18).
Opposite this mystery of man’s divinization by grace where he is “co-heir” (Romans 8, 17) with the Incarnate Jesus Christ, men have took various stances. Some, as the magi and the shepherds, rejoice upon the angelic proclamation and venerate the born infant. Others, as Herod the maniac, an imitator of the devil and killer of men, doubt and question and uncritically and indiscriminately chase away men from their paternal homes, violently and en masse, persecuting and murdering innocent children, youth, old, in contempt of human life made by God. To escape Herod’s mania, on divine encouragement, Christ fled to Egypt, demonstrating through his flee the vulnerability of His human body which, after all, would endure the holy passion on the cross before “annulling the vulnerability with His resurrection from the dead” according to St Sophronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem.
Hideous incidents of violence at the expense of Christians and other innocent fellow humans in the region of the Middle East and across the world are denounced by the Church of Christ. The Church denounces war and violence, advocating peace for those near and those far. Though persecuted, it does not persecute but prays for its persecutors. Through Baptism it accepts man in its body, the body of Christ, and blesses and cultivates and formulates man as a peaceful person believing that “blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God” (Matthew 5, 9).
The word of peace, justice, conciliation and exchange and the beginning of God’s reign on earth, already experienced within the Church, is declared on this universal feast of Christianity by the Mother of Churches from the Sacred Cavern and the Holy Manger in the Basilica of the Nativity, preserved through the centuries as the apple of the eye, with wishes to the congregation within its jurisdiction and pious pilgrims across the world for the blessing, strengthening and grace of the Lord of peace and justice, the Angel of God’s great will, the Incarnate, Personified and Born by the Virgin in the flesh, our Lord Jesus Christ.
In the Holy Town of Bethlehem,
Ardently blesser in the Lord,
Patriarch of Jerusalem
* * *
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!
"Sing to the Lord; bless His name;
Proclaim His salvation from day to day;
Declare His glory among the Gentiles,
His wonders among all peoples."
(Psalm 95 (96): 2-3)
With these words, dear brothers and sisters in Christ the Lord and our dear spiritual children, King David calls us to this Feast Day and to this festive celebration which the Lord Himself has prepared with His Birth from the Most Holy Virgin Mary in the Bethlehem cave. Two thousand years ago, the Most Holy Virgin Mary, together with the righteous Joseph, came to Bethlehem of Judea to be registered. Joseph's registering among his brothers and his kinsman served in the economy of salvation and in fulfilling the prophecy told by prophet Micah: "And you, O Bethlehem, House of Ephratha, though you are fewest in number among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to me the One to be ruler of Israel. His goings forth were from the beginning, even from everlasting." (Micah 5:1)
Today this prophecy is fulfilled. For behold, the Most Holy Virgin gives birth in Bethlehem of Judea to Him "whose goings forth are immemorial, from eternity," God the Word (the Logos), Who in a mysterious way became incarnate from the Most Holy Virgin Mary and was born in the City of David. Seeing this—until then—unseen miracle, the angels in heaven trembled; the heavens with the star in the East and the earth with the cave in Bethlehem did the same! And we, as king David said, let us sing today to the Lord our God, let us bless His Name, always and unceasingly to all around us, let us proclaim His Salvation to all nations which are with us and around us, let us make known His glory and His marvelous miracles, His glory with which no glory of this world can compare, and His wonderful miracles which human eye has not seen and human mind cannot explain!
The birth of the Lord Jesus Christ is a historic event, which brought joy to heaven and earth, but at the same time also disturbed many in Israel and the Roman Empire. Angels and shepherds glorified Him in Bethlehem; the wise men from the East—following the guiding star—traveled toward Jerusalem, and Herod and the entire court in Jerusalem were frightened when they heard from the wise men the question: "Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?" (Matthew 2:2) Earth and heaven rejoiced in their Savior, and Herod and all of Jerusalem were frightened of their righteous Judge. God the Word (the Logos) —the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity, the pre-eternal Son of God—is incarnated and is born in time as the God-Man Jesus Christ to save man: His icon, His living image! That is the essence and the meaning of this historic event and feast day. But this feast day also carries within itself another message that pertains to mankind, and that is the message of how great, exalted and allotted mankind is, a message about why God Himself deigned to be born in the cave at Bethlehem. On the other hand, this feast day testifies about the limitless love of God towards mankind and the world. God, dear brothers and sisters, and our dear spiritual children, never forsakes nor casts away man—His icon—nor this world, which He all-wisely created; He does not leave it without His mercy and His goodness. He always holds it in the palm of His hand because He is the Lord Almighty; He renews it and saves it because He is the Savior. That is the greatest and the most exalted message not only of this Christmas feast day, but also of all the salvific feasts of our Lord.
Already in the Old Testament the great and holy prophet Isaiah speaks about Immanuel's birth—that is the birth of Him whose name means God is with us. "Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and you shall call His name Immanuel" (Isaiah 7:14), said the prophet, and behold, it is as if he himself is a witness of this mysterious event, adding: "For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. His name will be called the Angel of Great Counsel." (Isaiah 9:5) The birth of every child is, by itself, a great joy, but how great a joy should be ours because of the Birth of the God-Child Immanuel, Jesus Christ, Who is truly Wonderful, God Almighty, and the Prince of peace! Knowing this, dear spiritual children, we rejoice and are elated today, as the angels in heaven were joyous and elated, and with them the shepherds in Bethlehem, singing: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men" (Luke 2:14), because God is with us!
Today, more than ever before, peace and good will among people and nations is needed! Peace on earth, and good will among people, are the eternal cry of heaven and earth. "What peace, what good will, and among what people?" someone might ask, and we—in the spirit of the Gospel—answer: "Christmas Peace," which was born in Bethlehem in Judea—the New-born God-Child Jesus Christ. He is the Peace of God among us. Let us recognize Him, let us receive Him, and may He become our Peace in this turbulent world! Good will among people has to be the result of that divine Peace. This lack of good will in the world, and even among us Christians, is an indicator that God's peace is lacking in us. In order for us to have peace among ourselves, let us first establish a personal peace with our own God—our God! Let us make peace with Him through repentance, and like Peter cry: "Lord, help us! We are perishing!" Then we will easily, as God's children, as God's People, and as brothers and sisters, establish good will and peace among ourselves.
What do we see in the modern world? We see that people and nations have far removed themselves from God, and not only from God, but also from each other, because the former and the latter go together. We see that the all-saving Name of God and God Himself is being used in profanity more than He is being glorified and called on for help. We see that the biggest sin, the sin of killing people and entire human communities, is committed daily, oftentimes in the name of God. This, for normal rational minds, is incomprehensible. We ask: is it possible that someone with God's name on his lips can kill innocent children, women, captives, and refugees? In the name of which and what kind of god does he do this? In the name of which and what kind of religion does he do this? Because of this pseudo-religious perversion we lack peace and have fear in the world, and this is nothing else but the fruit of the active godlessness of pseudo-religious people. Dear brothers and sisters, our dear spiritual children, we call on you in the name of God, in the name of the New-born Christ the Lord, to safeguard yourselves and our nation from all-annihilating blasphemies against God and against sins crying to the heavens. If the Lord has come to save every person, to renew his innate calling and to give him life eternal, then can anyone dare to take from anyone this divine gift of life, be it in his mother's womb or here on earth?
Without true peace with God it is impossible to have peace with our brothers, it is impossible to have good will among people and nations. Knowing this, dear brothers and sisters, our dear spiritual children, we call upon you to make peace with our God. Let us cry to Him as the lost prodigal son in the Gospel story, and He will receive us with His open arms!
Instead of good will and love among people and nations, we are witnessing a planet-wide expansion of egotism, envy, antagonism, and the growth of vice, which causes worry, fear and anxiety about the future of this world. Let us pray to the Divine-Child Christ that He will grant wisdom and goodness, love and peace to those who lead their people and to the entire world, so that this world can be brought out of this deepest moral and existential crisis!
In this festive joy we greet you all, our spiritual children and brothers and sisters of St. Sava throughout the world, in our fatherland and those abroad. We greet you and call upon you to make peace with our God and among ourselves and let us be children of God and the Nation of God! Let us have and show good will among ourselves and towards all people around us! Through this good will among people let us be a light to the world and salt to the earth! Let us live holy and decent lives and let us fulfill the oath of our fathers by which they pledged us for the Kingdom of heaven!
We especially greet our brothers and sisters in our martyred Kosovo and Metohija—our spiritual cradle. We pray to the God-Child Christ that He will spiritually and divinely—as He did the prophet Daniel and the holy youths in Babylon—encourage and confirm them in their determination to be and to remain faithful to the oath of our holy ancestors. We appeal to all those persecuted and those in exile from this, our holy Serbian land, as well as all those persecuted and in exile from their centuries old homesteads in Dalmatia, Lika, Slavonija, Baranja, Banija and Kordun—as well as other regions of Bosnia and Herzegovina—to do everything in their power to return to their centuries old homesteads, to rebuild them, and to advance and safeguard them for future generation.
It would be sinful to mention only those who are distressed, suffering, and persecuted among our Serbian people without also mentioning those who are distressed, suffering, and persecuted from other nations and countries—regardless of their faith—but especially our brothers and sisters in the Near and Middle East, in the Ukraine and in Africa, especially during these holy and grace filled days when we celebrate the birth of the greatest Sufferer and Persecuted One in history, the God-Man Jesus Christ, Victor over evil, death, and Satan. Let us remember them in our prayers and let us help them in deed when we can, and however much we can!
Regardless of where we live and work—in our homeland or abroad—our dear spiritual children, we are one Christian, Orthodox people of St. Sava, who have in a special and unique way formed Christmas and the Christmas ethos. Christmas is in our hearts and our souls. In celebrating Christmas with joy and peace, with everything and everyone, we learn to live in holiness and the fear of God. With the greeting "Peace from God – Christ is Born," and with the reply "Indeed He is Born" we are formed as people of God's peace and good will. That is our great spiritual wealth. Let us multiply it through correct and holy glorification of this great spiritual feast day! Christmas has taught us in everything that is holy, noble, and pleasing to our dear Lord. Knowing this, once more we call you to safeguard the unity of our Faith and the Church of St. Sava, and the holiness of this Christmas feast as the apple of our eye! Let us not allow anyone to divide us on any basis! The Serbian Orthodox Church was, is, and will be, a guarantor of our spiritual and national unity. In that name we greet you with the joyous Christmas greeting:
PEACE FROM GOD - CHRIST IS BORN!
INDEED HE IS BORN!
A BLESSED NEW YEAR OF OUR LORD 2016!
* * *
and on earth peace, good will among mankind!
Venerable and reverend fathers,
Beloved brothers and sisters,
The feast of the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ has several spiritual meanings, because the embodiment or the incarnation of the eternal Son of God is the source of many gifts and benefits for mankind.
The Son of the eternal living God becomes a mortal man in order to grant eternal life to mortal humans. The Son of God becomes a man, so that man may become a son of God by grace (John 1:12). In brief, the incarnation of God aims at the deification of the human person.
The descent of the Son of God Jesus Christ among men is the beginning of the ascent of man into the kingdom of the love of the Most Holy Trinity. But this ascent of man is based on the reconciliation between God the Holy One and man, who had fallen from a relationship with God by the sin of disobedience. God’s plan for reconciliation with mankind, who had fallen by the sin of disobedience, is preached by the angels at the Nativity of His Son as a man in Bethlehem. In this respect, St Cyril of Alexandria, in his Commentary on Luke, says that the angels sang Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will among mankind! (Luke 2:14), because the angels
are at peace with God: for never in any way do they transgress His decision, but firmly stay in righteousness and holiness. But we, wretched beings, by having set up our own lusts in opposition to the will of our Lord, had put ourselves into the position of enemies unto Him. But by Christ this has been done away: for He is our peace; for He has united us by Himself unto God the Father, having taken away from the cause of enmity, namely sin, and so made us right by faith, and calls near unto Him those who were afar off.
The Mystery of the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ in Bethlehem is symbolically and spiritually represented in the Orthodox Eucharistic service, firstly by the Office of Oblation (Proskomedia), when the liturgical gifts (bread and wine) are being prepared, in order to be brought for sanctification onto the Holy Table of the Altar, at the proper moment of the Divine Liturgy. The Table of Oblation (Prothesis) represents the cave of Bethlehem, while the small cross (asterisk) standing on a hemispheric support, above the bread laid on the Holy Diskos, is called the Star that guided the three Magi from the East, and stopped above the cave of Bethlehem, where Baby Jesus was; the name of the city of Bethlehem means the House of Bread. That is why, when covering the Holy Diskos, the priest says the following words: “the star stood over where the young Child was” (Matthew 2:9). Before the beginning of the Eucharistic Service, the ministrant prays using the same words of the angelic hymn chanted in Bethlehem: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will among mankind!” (Luke 2:14).
The Peace of God grantedto men in and by Christ is celebrated during the entire liturgical life of the Orthodox Church, but especially in the Divine Liturgy, when the following words are spoken: Peace be with you all; Peace be with you (to the readers of the Apostolic and Gospel readings); Peace be with all (before the Creed), after the exclamation Through the mercies of Your only begotten Son..., and after the Lord’s prayer Our Father.
Speaking about the peace of God accomplished and brought by Jesus Christ, St Paul the Apostle says that God the Father was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself…and has committed to us the word of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18-19). This peace is called the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, and which guards our hearts and minds through Christ Jesus (Philippians4:7).
This peace, granted to humans in and through Christ, is the foundation of the reconciliation of men with God and of the reconciliation and brotherhood of peoples among them. That is why, the Apostle of the gentiles says about Christ that He Himself is our peace, who has made both (the Jews and the gentiles) one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity (Ephesians 2:14-16).
Thus, the new man in Christ is the man in whom dwells the peace of God, and who works for the reconciliation of all people with God and among each other. That is why blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God (Matthew 5:9).
Because God is the God of peace (Romans 15:33; Philippians 4:9), peace is a gift of God and a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22), peace is accompanied by righteousness and joy, for the Kingdom of God is righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17).
The gift of the spiritual peace, the gift of the reconciliation of man with God, with himself and with the fellow human beings is asked through prayer and is cultivated through good thoughts, kind words and good deeds, so that the spiritual peace of the soul may become a source of social peace, of family peace, of community peace and of world peace.
The Holy Fathers of the Church teach us that selfish passions such as greed or obsessive love of wealth, of power and pleasure, and the like, produce turmoil in the soul, and this turmoil then reverberates over human relationships, which become tense, conflictual and even violent, especially due to the injustice and the suffering caused by greed. When human intelligence is dominated by egoistical passions of envy, vileness and lie, it produces disorder and much evil in the soul and the society, while the wisdom that is from God is first pure, then peaceful, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace and by those who make peace (James 3:17-18).
Beloved brothers and sisters in the Lord,
The Holy Gospel warns us that in the last times, which can be also understood as times of spiritual and moral crisis, because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold (Matthew 24:12), while St Paul the Apostle, speaking of the spiritual degradation of the society when the faith of human beings in God weakens and when their freedom is no more united with responsibility, tells to his disciple Timothy, bishop in Ephesus, the following: But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come:For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy,unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good,traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God,having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away! (2 Timothy 3:1-5).
In front of this spiritual and moral crisis, steadfast and fighting Christians are not discouraged, but answer back by a more intense spiritual and moral life, according to the urge: Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life! (Revelation 2:10).
The greatness of the gift of spiritual peace of the soul and of the gift of social peace within the family, the community and the entire world can be understood especially when this peace is absent, when the peace and joy of the soul are being substituted by turmoil and depression, by quarrel and violence, by rebellion and hate, by enmity and hostility, when everybody judges all the others, without perceiving his or her own flaws.
Today, when verbal and physical violence in the family, in school, in society grows, and when military conflicts and terrorism spread in many parts of the world, when many people, because of the absence of peace and joy in their souls, pursue their happiness in alcohol or drugs, while others commit suicide in order to escape depression and despair, the educational, pastoral and philanthropic activity of the Church must be intensified. Together with the family, the school and other authorized institutions, the Church has to develop even more an education and a culture of interior spiritual peace and of social peace, a culture of mutual respect and of reconciliation, instead of hate, enmity and violence present in today’s world. In this respect, St Paul’s advice to pursue peace with all people and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14) is very topical.
This perspective of a new culture of a spiritual and social peace must be studied and promoted especially starting with the year 2016, declared by the Holy Synod of the Romanian Orthodox Church the Solemn Year of Religious Education of the Orthodox Christian Youth. The positive way in which the gift of peace is acquired and cultivated by prayer and by personal and community educational activities can become the healthy and harmonious way of life in an individualistic and secularized world, agitated and stressed, technical and robotized, a world in which paradoxically much virtual but less real communication exists; in which the cities are more crowded with people, but there are less remedies for loneliness and depression.
That is why, the gift of peace and of the joy of celebrating the Nativity of Christ the Lord must be shared through prayer and spiritual and material gifts, especially during these days, to orphan children, to lonely elder persons,to the poor, to the bereaved and grieving families, to the ill and to all the troubled and helpless persons.
Thus, the peace and the joy of the angels and of the shepherds from Bethlehem will illumine the souls and the faces of those who can feel that their fellow human beings, having a kind and generous soul, become the hands of the merciful love of Christ towards every disadvantaged person, found in need or difficulty.
As in previous years, in the night of 31 December 2015 to 1 January 2016, we will all gather in churches to thank God for the blessings received from Him, especially for the gift of life, and to ask His help for the New Year that is to come.
On the feasts of the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ and of the New Year – 2016, we convey to all wishes of good health and salvation, peace and joy, together with the traditional greeting: Many years to come!
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God the Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all! (2 Corinthians 13:14).
Yours intercessor to Christ the Lord and wishing you everything that is good,
Patriarch of Romania
* * *
Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America
December 25, 2015
The Nativity of Christ
To the Most Reverend Hierarchs, the Reverend Priests and Deacons, the Monks and Nuns, the Presidents and Members of the Parish Councils of the Greek Orthodox Communities, the Distinguished Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the Day, Afternoon, and Church Schools, the Philoptochos Sisterhoods, the Youth, the Hellenic Organizations, and the entire Greek Orthodox Family in America
Beloved Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
On this blessed Feast of the Nativity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, I greet you in the grace, joy and peace that accompany this unique event. We celebrate our Lord’s holy Incarnation as a miraculous revelation of God’s grace, and through faith we see the path to redemption, restoration, and life without end. Our hearts are filled with joy, for our hope is renewed in the fulfillment of His divine promise to save us and be with us. We also experience the peace of God, which passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7), as our hearts and minds are filled with the transforming presence of Christ.
He has come to us as the Prince of Peace, offering a divine peace that is much greater than any comfort or security offered in this world. It is a peace that is available to all humanity, regardless of current challenges, threats, living conditions or stage of life. It is a peace that cannot be disturbed by the violence and insecurities of this broken world, for its origin is the God of peace, and it is sustained by His abundant grace.
In our celebration of the Feast of the Nativity, we acknowledge the power of the peace of God in several ways. In our Great Vespers service we read the prophecies of Isaiah regarding the Incarnation of Christ, affirming the biblical revelation that His peace restores a created order that has been burdened by sin, violence and death. The Prophet states that He comes with wisdom, understanding, and righteousness, bringing a peace by which the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them (Isaiah 11:6). These images reveal that the presence and peace of our Lord restores the relationships of creation to what God intended them to be. Through the power of the Incarnation, we are given a glimpse of life to come and how it will be when the earth is full of the knowledge of the Lord (Isaiah 11:9).
As the Prince of Peace our Lord also brings to us peace through justice. In the same passage from Isaiah we read with righteousness He shall judge the poor, and reprove with equity the meek of the earth (Isaiah 11:4). Those who struggle without security—the poor, the hungry, the oppressed, the refugee, the orphan, the sick—they can find peace in the midst of their challenges and afflictions. In Christ, we have peace through justice and justice through peace, as He offers salvation to all. His Incarnation is the seal of that promise.
Justice and righteousness as a foundation of divine and enduring peace shows a clear distinction between the spiritual peace granted by God and the temporal peace we often experience. In the world around us, peace is maintained through the use of force or the ability to use it when necessary. The priority of the rule of law is affirmed, with an emphasis on punishment or consequences for disrupting public order. Peace is also linked to economic stability and thwarting the chaos that could ensue if systems failed. All of these concepts of peace are important in our lives, but they are very limited. The peace of God that is revealed by Christ is a peace that we can have no matter the conditions of life, society, or level of security. It is a peace that comes through faith as we trust in the promises of God. As we see in Christ and in the lives of many Saints, it is a peace that stands in the face of great adversity, that is not dependent on any temporal security of life, status or property, but is strengthened by the hope we have in the grace of God.
As we celebrate this Feast of the Nativity in the presence of our Incarnate Lord, and we reflect on the significance of His birth and the revelation of God’s grace, may your hearts and minds be filled with His peace. Let this peace surround us as we deepen our faith in Christ, seek transformation by His grace, and commit all of our life to Him. In addition, as we proclaim “Christ is born, Glorify Him,” may we offer a witness of the peace that comes from above, revealing the love of God through our Lord’s Incarnation to all the world.
With paternal love in Christ,
Archbishop of America
* * *
Orthodox Church in America
To the Honorable Clergy, Venerable Monastics, and Pious Faithful of the Orthodox Church in America,
My Beloved Brethren and Blessed Children in the Lord,
It is my joy and privilege to greet all of you on the radiant feast of the Nativity of our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ. In some 700 communities large and small sprinkled across the North American continent, from Canada, to the United States and Mexico, we gather together to celebrate the wonder of God’s entry into human history. For many in our society this message is still as foolish as it was in the first century. But we continue to stand with the saints beside the manger, the Cross and the empty tomb to proclaim God’s sacrificial love for us and for His Creation. As we sing on Christmas Day:
I will give thanks to Thee, O Lord, with my whole
I will make all Thy wonders known
In the company of the upright, in the congregation.
Great are the works of the Lord!
They are studied by all who have pleasure in them!
His work is glory and beauty, and His righteousness endures forever.
—Christmas Day, 1st Antiphon (Psalm 111:1-3)
Truly, “Great are the works of the Lord!”
He sees a world filled with suffering and He Himself voluntarily suffers to make a path to healing.
He sees a world dying and He Himself dies to bring resurrection and unending life.
He sees a world in darkness and He Himself enters that darkness to bring a divine light that can never be extinguished.
He sees a world in bondage to the forces of evil and He submits Himself to that evil in order to destroy it forever.
The God Who is “ineffable, inconceivable, invisible, incomprehensible and eternally the same” empties Himself of power and divine privilege. He becomes a weak, fragile human being in order to share fully in our broken existence and in so doing offers the possibility of a life in communion with Him, with each other, and with all creation.
May our Lord bless each of you, your communities, and your families as you celebrate His Nativity and serve Him.
With love in the New-Born Christ,
Archbishop of Washington
Metropolitan of All America and Canada
* * *
Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the USA
For the Lord your God is God of God and the Lord of Lords ... He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing [Reading from Great Vespers of the Nativity, Deut. 10:17-18].
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 Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
On these most blessed days of the Nativity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, we are all invited to consider how we may manifest among our neighbors the love, mercy and compassion of the Christ-child. This is especially important because Christmas represents the profound and sacred point in history when the invisible God, taking the form of a servant, dwells among us. From this time forth the eternal message of salvation is not merely declared through law and prophetic message, but is finally something, as Saint John the Evangelist says, “that we have heard, that we have seen with our eyes, that we have looked at and touched with our hands [1 John 1: 1].
From this time forth, therefore, our actions are meant to reflect this tangible reality. Having heard, seen, and touched the Lord, we are called to share with the downtrodden and forgotten the same joy of the Incarnation. To do this, however, we must move beyond selfish endeavors and turn to the needs of others.
Certainly, many have contributed significantly to the Church’s evangelism and outreach ministries on parish, diocesan, and jurisdictional levels. These initiatives, however, must never be viewed apart from national and global humanitarian efforts. Through our Assembly of Bishops, we have the unique blessing to participate in the work of our agencies, and thereby become agents of the Holy Gospel in more dynamic ways than ever before. As you and your loved ones prepare to celebrate the holy feast of the Nativity, I encourage you to learn how IOCC responds to national and global humanitarian crises; how OCMC brings the good news of the Holy Gospel to all corners of the world; how OCPM cares for and offers hope to those in prisons; how OCN introduces people to Orthodoxy through digital media; and how OCF cultivates the minds and hearts of our young people on college campuses.
During the Christmas season, which is marked by an increase in God’s grace upon us, we are called to serve as the all-merciful hands of God in the world. From the very beginning of His public ministry, Jesus Christ is approached by countless people who are suffering and in desperate need of help, and in every such instance, Christ has compassion on them. In like fashion, we must feed the countless men, women and children who go to sleep on empty stomachs; provide shelter to the homeless; and visit our neighbors in prisons and hospitals.
Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ, as we prepare to receive the Incarnate Lord into the world and into our lives, let us keep in mind that the light of Bethlehem and the joy of the manger of the Nativity are meant to be witnessed and experienced by all of humanity and not just a select few. During this blessed period, I extend to you the blessings of all brother Hierarchs of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States. We wholeheartedly pray that the compassion and mercy of our Lord may be bestowed upon you and your families.
With paternal love in Christ,
+ Archbishop Demetrios of America, Chairman
Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States of America