“The Mother of Feasts”, the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ on earth in the form of a man, “when the empersonned brightness of the Father’s glory appeared to the human race”1: this is what we are celebrating once again this year with ineffable joy and sacred hope. Christ the God-man entered human history and changed the world as we knew it by His divine teaching, His sacrifice on the Cross, His Resurrection from the dead, His Ascension into Heaven, the sending down of the Most-holy Spirit upon the Holy Twelve Apostles and the establishment of His Church, which continues its saving work without cessation.
The Church’s endurance for the last two thousand years confirms the Mystery of Divine Economy revealed in Christ Jesus, beginning with the Birth of the Divine Child in Bethlehem of Judaea. The holy Evangelists recorded the story of the Nativity and the Church has preserved and proclaimed it until this day. At this time of year, we bow down to the Divine Child, and with profound faith and great reverence, we remember what took place. Our very being is moved to renew our relationship with God when we hear that angelic hymn, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will among men”.2
Christians throughout the world are celebrating this event as we remember God’s love for all His Creation. With the hymnographer of the Church we sing those wonderful hymns of Christmas: “Christ is born, give glory! Christ comes from heaven, go to meet Him! Christ is on earth, be exalted!”3 Two thousand years have passed since the first Christmas day. And in spite of the effects of today’s globalization and secularization, for all the ignorance and rejection of the Mystery of the Nativity by so many people, the Church still celebrates it with due devotion and peaceful prayer, passionately remembering what happened at Christmas. The Church renews its hope in Him Who took on flesh, and it reminds the world that “God is with us”4. By His grace, He fills us with hope for a better, more righteous and more humane world. Christmas also reminds us of the power of faith in “the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom He sent”5 to bridge the gap between heaven and earth, to enable us to know God and to reconcile Him to all peoples, who had been alienated from their Creator, for they “worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised”6.
The Orthodox Church, with the rest of the Christian world, expresses the mystical presence of the incarnate Christ on earth with song and poetry. Using hymns and music, signs and symbols, it describes the “indescribable” and glorifies Him Whom the heavenly angels hymned, the ancient prophets and mystics glorified by their life and faith, the Apostles proclaimed, the Martyrs, Teachers and Fathers of the Church – both married and monastic – confessed, together with a cloud of witnesses – the saints and friends of Christ – knowing that Jesus “made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant,being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross”.7
This Christmas holds many fears, insecurities and anxieties for today’s world, which, like the rich fool of the Gospel, has been ensnared by the seduction of wealth, a longing for greed, excess and idolatry. This worldly way of thinking has led many astray and it afflicts young and old, rich and poor. Like an infectious disease, its effects plague us all. It must be said, as our saints have taught us, that if we do not sincerely repent of this greed and, like the Prodigal Son, return to Christ, we shall not be able to escape the many snares that surround and overwhelm us, like the thorns of the Parable of the Sower.8 We are therefore called to return to simplicity of life, collaboration and reconciliation with all peoples, the humility exemplified in the Divine Child and the peace pronounced by the angels on the holy night of His Birth. The peaceful symbiosis of all humanity can be achieved only through humility, sacrifice and the imitation of Christ’s great love for mankind.
Naturally, these are days of joy, family celebration and universal peace and reconciliation, but they are also days for contemplation and the renewal and fulfilment of our blessed hope in our Lord Jesus Christ’s love for all people. Christmas day is the Mystery of Divine Love, which provided our salvation, and the renewal of God’s promise to man who was made in His “image and likeness” that he may become a sharer and heir of His eternal Kingdom and glory. I humbly believe that everyone should keep in mind the apostolic era and the persecutions against the early Church. That heroic age is full of shining examples for our own world to imitate, a world which, for all the abundance it enjoys, is forever complaining. We remain unrepentant and are always obsessing about fleeting and temporal things. We do not think of the other life, nor do we remember the joy and nearness of Christ Who cares for all His creatures, even the “birds of the air”.9
The Orthodox Christians of this biblical eparchy of the Ecumenical Throne are called to renew our baptism and, with wisdom and close co-operation with one another and in the harmonious love of Christ, to be inspired by the letter and spirit of this season of the Nativity. With enthusiasm and an exalted sense of responsibility, let us care for those things we hold in common: our Church, our schools, our families, the Tradition and teaching of Christ our God. Our participation in church services, our humble reception of Holy Communion, the study of God’s word, continuous and unceasing prayer, reconciliation with our enemies, respect for the law, practical love and charity toward the suffering – the sick, the elderly, orphans and widows – our voluntary assistance to our neighbours and brethren: all these make for a civilized society and render the message of Christmas a reality. Christ has filled heaven and earth with His glory and joy, and daily He teaches all nations love and solidarity, peace and respect for young and old, for rich and poor, for rulers and nations.
1 Vespers of St Andrew
2 Lk. 2:14
3 Katavasia of the Nativity
4 Is. 8:10
5 cf. John 17:3
8 Luke 8:5-15
9 Matt. 6:26