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Very Reverend Protopresbyters, Very Reverend and Reverend Fathers, and dearly-beloved faithful of our God-saved Diocese:
CHRIST IS BORN! GLORIFY HIM!
CHRISTOS RAZDAJETSJA! SLAVITE JEHO!
"The wolf shall feed with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf, the bull, and the lion shall feed together; and a little child shall lead them.” Isaiah 11:6
Once again I have the great privilege and honor of greeting you with this traditional salutation of our people as we celebrate this mystical festivity of the Birth of our Saviour, Jesus Christ.
The entire eleventh chapter of the Old Testament Book of Isaiah is a prophecy concerning the advent of the promised Messiah, and it is certainly worth noting the manner in which He would enter into the world. So often in the hymnography of our Holy Faith, not only at this festive season but throughout the liturgical year, we hear words like these: “… and having been made flesh, He Who by nature is God, FOR OUR SAKES BECAME ALSO BY NATURE MAN…” (Dogmaticon of Tone 6) and “O most pure Virgin, Christ the Maker and Deliverer and Lord proceeded from your womb, AND CLOTHING HIMSELF IN ME, set man free from the original curse of Adam…” (Theotokion of the Aposticha – Tone 6). What an honor it is for us that the Divine Nature came down to earth to lift us up to heaven! Our nature, human nature, is elevated because God took it upon Himself.
But what is even more glorious and mysterious, more loving and intimate, is the manner in which He assumed human flesh. He might have come as a mighty king, a warrior king, perhaps, seated upon a majestic imperial throne. But if we turn to the pages of history, especially events of that time period, we would find that the concept of kingship was not really an appealing or popular image. Kings of that era were usually to be feared. Often they obtained their thrones through hideous, corrupt, and violent means. Nations and peoples were often subjected to foreign kings who had conquered them, much as the Romans did to the people of Israel. And the people could only associate poverty, slavery, loss of national identity, religious persecution, and the like with the concept of royalty. Even their own kings often strayed from the faith and became tyrants over their own brethren, often murdering family members who stood in their path to the throne. We only need to recall the wicked KING HEROD, who is associated with the narrative of the Nativity. He was willing to slaughter thousands of innocent children in order to rid himself of a perceived threat to his throne. A God who came as a king would almost certainly be rejected out of great fear.
But God in His infinite wisdom and mercy, chose to come as a Little Child, a Baby, born anonymously in the humblest and poorest of settings, a cave in Bethlehem. As always, our God not only teaches us by His word, but even more by His example. For numerous are the attributes of a baby that instruct us about our God and about how to be like Him. Everyone, almost everyone, except the hardest of human beings, loves a baby, thrills at the mention of the birth of a loved one, whether among family or friends, or sometimes even strangers about whom we read in newspapers or hear about on newscasts who were born in almost miraculous, or at least unusual, deliveries. As priests, we are so often witnesses to the births of many children, over whom we say the prayers of thanksgiving on the day of birth for the mother and for the child that she has borne. We experience great joy and glory in the fact that another human being has come into the world, and that we, the race of man, have co-operated with God in the act of creation.
Physical responses of awe at the beauty of that tiny one evoke admiration and a sort of reverence from the very beginning. AND SO IT IS WITH THE SON OF GOD! The angels, shepherds, magi, and we ourselves approach this precious Babe with the awe and adoration that is due to God! We are drawn to the lovely Divine Infant!
And because we are drawn to and captivated by an infant, we wish to protect it, care for it, tend to its needs, give it every good thing that we possibly can. AND SO IT IS WITH THE CHRIST CHILD! As Joseph guarded Him and took Him safely into Egypt, so should we jealously guard our God before the blasphemers of this world who would belittle and mock Him and try to turn us from Him. We must care for Him and His Church with all that we have, giving gifts which demonstrate our love for Him.
Further, babies are innocent and pure and trusting. They raise their little hands to the adults to whom they are entrusted. They want to be held and loved, and that is so easy to do. THUS, THE SON OF GOD DESIRES THE SAME FROM US! He desires that we receive Him into our hearts, to love Him, to minister to Him, to trust Him in all of our needs. As disciples of the Lord, we need to listen to His instruction: “Assuredly, I say to You, unless you are converted and BECOME AS LITTLE CHILDREN, you will by no means enter the kingdom of Heaven.” (Matthew 18: 3) We need to claim as our own the spiritual attributes of little children: humility, dependence, lowliness, and simplicity. The Son of God did it first to show us the way.
A newborn child is also an offer of hope to the world; this baby may some day the one who will discover the cure for any number of life-threatening diseases or bring about world peace or stop world hunger. CHRIST OFFERS MORE! HE IS THE HOPE OF THE NATIONS, THE ONE WHO BRINGS SALAVTION AND THE HEAVENLY KINGDOM!
But we ought not be overly absorbed in or deceived by the emotion and nostalgia that accompany the birth of Jesus. In spite of the manner in which He is depicted in western art on Christmas cards, Bible illustrations, and advertisements with chubby facial features, golden locks of hair, twinkling blue eyes, and rosy cheeks as a child like any other, we must remember that He is not only like any other; He is also quite different. HE IS THE ONLY–BEGOTTEN SON OF GOD IN THE FLESH! This is testified to by the traditional Byzantine icons of the Feast. In them, we see the Christ Child, tiny as a baby, but with His face quite adult in nature to remind us WHO HE IS in realty and why we bow down in worship before Him. He is “the little child that shall lead them…” as Isaiah foretold.
He draws us to Himself in innocence and purity and love as a child, but we worship, obey, and serve Him as the Almighty God! Although he is subordinate to his Mother, the Ever-Virgin Mary and His foster father Joseph, dependent upon them, and obedient to them, we are now subordinate to Him, dependent upon Him, and must be obedient to Him in every way.
May we find comfort, serenity, and joy in the way that the Lord came among us, and may we follow Him and His example throughout all of our days.
Beseeching peace, great joy, good health, and salvation for you and yours and imparting my archpastoral blessing upon each of you on this awesome and radiant Feast, I remain
Most Sincerely Yours in the Infant Christ,
Metropolitan Nicholas is the Bishop of the Orthodox Diocese of Johnstown.