of His Eminence Metropolitan Nektarios of Hong Kong and Southeast Asia
To the Reverend Priests and Deacons, the Monks and Nuns, the Members of the Parishes
of the Orthodox Metropolitanate of Hong Kong and Southeast Asia
and the entire Orthodox Family in South East Asia
On December 25th, we celebrate with spiritual joy the saving Nativity according to the flesh of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ.
Saint Gregory Palamas, Archbishop of Thessalonica, a great Father of the Holy Church, in his sermon on the Nativity of our Lord urges all of us to strive to lift up our minds, that they may better perceive the light of divine knowledge, as though brightly illuminated by a holy star. For today we see equality of honor between heaven and earth, and a way up for all those below to things above, matching the condescension of those on high. Prior to the Incarnation of the Logos of God, the Kingdom of Heaven was as far from us as the sky is from the earth; but when the King of Heaven came to dwell amongst us and chose to unite Himself to us, the Kingdom of Heaven drew near to us all.
The pre-eternal and uncircumscribed and almighty Word is now born according to the flesh, without home, without shelter, without dwelling, and placed as a babe in the manger, seen by men’s eyes, touched by their hands, and wrapped in layers of swaddling bands. He is born without suffering, as He was conceived without passion, for as His mother was shown to be above the pleasure of passion when she conceived, so she is above grievous pains when she gives birth.
The very Word of God from God emptied Himself in an indescribable way, came down from on high to the lowest state of man’s nature, and indissolubly linked it with Himself, and in humbling Himself and becoming poor like us, He raised on high the things below, or rather, He gathered both things into one, mingling humanity with divinity, and by so doing He taught everyone that humility is the road which leads upwards, setting forth today Himself as an example before men and holy angels alike.
Because of this, the angels now possess steadfastness, having learnt in a practical way from the Master that the way to be exalted and to resemble Him is not arrogance but humility. Because of this, men are easily set right, as they recognize humility as the road by which they are recalled. Because of this, the prince of evil, who is conceit itself, has been put to shame and overthrown, whereas previously he imagined that he could somehow stand and was something, inasmuch as he had enslaved some, and pulled them down with himself, through their desire for something greater, while also hoping to do the same to others through their extreme folly.
Now that Christ had been born, the devil is trampled down by those who were previously under his feet, who are no longer presumptuous, as the destroyer advised, but identify with the lowly (Romans 12.16), as the Savior taught through His deeds, and win heavenly exaltation through humility.
That is why God who sits upon the cherubim (Psalm 99.1) is set before us as a babe on earth. He upon whom the six-winged seraphim cannot look, being unable to gaze intently not only at His nature but even at the radiance of His glory, and therefore covering their eyes with their wings (Isaiah 6.2), having become flesh, appears to our senses and can be seen by bodily eyes. He who defines all things and is limited by none is contained in a small, makeshift manger. He who holds the universe and grasps it in the hollow of His hand, is wrapped in narrow swaddling bands and fastened into ordinary clothes. He who possesses the riches of inexhaustible treasures submits Himself voluntarily to such great poverty that He does not even have a place at the inn; and so He enters into a cave at the time of His birth, who was brought forth by God timelessly and impassibly and without beginning. And–how great a wonder!–not only does He who shares the nature of the Father on high put on our fallen nature through His birth, nor is He subject merely to the utter poverty of being born in a wretched cave, but right from the very start, while still in the womb, He accepts the final condemnation of our nature.
On account of Him who is born today, shepherds stand in the same choir as angels, sing the same hymn, and strike up a melody together. The angels do not take the shepherds’ pipes into their hands, but the shepherds, surrounded by the radiance of the angels’ light, find themselves in the midst of the heavenly host and are taught a heavenly song of praise by the angels, or rather a hymn both heavenly and earthly, saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace” (Luke 2.14). Now He who dwells on high and reigns over the celestial heights has the earth as His throne, and is glorified on earth as much as there (Isaiah 66.1; Acts 7.49), by His saints and His angels alike.
But what is the cause of this praise from men and angels together and this much-extolled good news which so gladdens the shepherds and all men? “Behold,” it says, “good will toward men” (Luke 2.14). For God, who was angry with the human race and subjected it to terrible curses, has come in the flesh, granting His peace and reconciling them to the heavenly Father. Behold, says the hymn, He has not been born for us angels, though now that we see Him on earth we extol Him as we do in heaven, but for you men, that is to say, for your sake and in accordance with your nature a Savior is born, Christ the Lord, in the city of David.
Brethren, let us preserve this peace in ourselves, as far as we can, for we have received it as an inheritance from our Savior who has now been born, who gives us the Spirit of adoption, through which we have become heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ (Romans 8.15, 17). Let us be at peace with God, doing those things which are well-pleasing to Him, living chastely, telling the truth, behaving righteously, “continuing in prayer and supplication” (Acts 1.14), “singing and making melody in our heart” (Ephesians 5.19), not just with our lips. Let us be at peace with ourselves, by subjecting our flesh to our spirit, choosing to conduct ourselves according to our conscience, and having the inner world of our thoughts motivated by good order and purity. Let us be at peace with one another, “forebearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you” (Colossians 3.13), and showing mercy to each other out of mutual love, just as Christ, solely for love of us, had mercy on us and for our sake came down to us. Then, recalled from the sinful fall through His help and grace, and lifted high above this world by virtues, we may have our citizenship in heavenly places (Philippians 3.20), when also we wait for our hope (Romans 8.23), redemption from corruption and enjoyment of celestial and eternal blessings as children of the heavenly Father.
May we all attain to this, at the future glorious advent and epiphany of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ, to whom belongs glory unto the ages. Amen.
With my warmest wishes for blessed Christmas and a happy new Year
Metropolitan of Hong Kong and Southeast Asia