December 25, 2006
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 very holy day of the Feast of the Nativity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, I greet you in the love and peace that was revealed to all of humanity through the Incarnation and sacred birth of the Son of God. Today we commemorate a unique event that has both eternal significance for our salvation and relevance to the needs and challenges of our contemporary world. Our celebration of this feast is certainly a time of intense spiritual experience. We read the Holy Scriptures and sing the hymns that proclaim the birth of the Son of God, an event that occurred over two thousand years ago in a small cave in Bethlehem. We hear about shepherds who were amazed by the angels and came to see and reverence the Christ child. We envision the Magi from the East, who were enlightened by faith and journeyed to worship the Lord with gifts. We contemplate the very humble beginnings of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, who chose to experience our human condition so that He might redeem us from the curse of sin. We join with all the heavenly powers in offering praise and glory to Christ for becoming flesh through His love for us. This is truly a great and glorious feast!
It is also a feast that should enliven our hearts and minds to recognize what is holy and true. Our attention is focused on the greatest event since the creation of the world: God becoming a human being, a very holy event that is celebrated with worship, praise, glory and honor offered to the One who brings us life. As we do this, however, we are mindful of the conditions of the world both then and now. Our Lord entered a world burdened by sin, a world marred by strife, war, exploitation, injustice, oppression and spiritual blindness. It was a world that knew very little of the holiness of God. In our contemporary times we live in a very similar environment, but it is also one that is becoming more and more challenging to the life of faith. For some nothing is sacred; nothing is holy. We see an increase of the means and methods of profaning religious faith, language and culture, and the very best qualities and aspirations of life itself for the sake of recognition, fame, and money.
On this great feast of our Lord we need to affirm our calling to be witnesses of holiness. God created us to be holy as He is holy. He calls us to live holy lives; and the life of holiness has always been a part of His divine plan for our salvation. Prior to the birth of Christ, Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, prophesied concerning His coming, "God has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and has remembered His holy covenant… that we might serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness all the days of our lives" (Luke 1:72-75). In the person of Jesus Christ the holiness of God dispelled the darkness of deceptions and falsehoods with the light of truth that offered hope and peace. In the midst of spiritual blindness and ignorance, our Lord brought the knowledge of salvation to all humankind. By sharing in our humanity He has shown us that through grace and faith we can be the holy people God created us to be.
It is precisely this witness of holiness that is urgently needed in our world today. People are becoming more and more disconnected with the truth of God. Many are conforming their lives and aspirations to desires that are rooted in ignorance of who Christ is, what He has done for us, and what we can become through Him. They cannot hear the call to live holy lives in the midst of so many distortions of truth, subjugations to sinful pleasures, vain ideas, and meaningless entertainments. They need to be shown the way to life and salvation. They need to find the truth and the knowledge of the grace of God that will transform their lives and fill their hearts and minds with peace.
As Orthodox Christians and people of genuine faith, we are called by God to offer a witness of holiness. We are exhorted to "present [our] bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God," to not be conformed to the world, "but to be transformed by the renewing of [our] minds," so that we may know the good, acceptable, and perfect will of God (Romans 12:1-2). As the presence of Christ transforms our lives, we will be living in holiness; and our hearts and minds will be filled with the truth. Further, the sanctity of our lives, words, actions, worship, and faith will guide others into holiness, truth and eternal life.
As we celebrate in a spirit of true joy the Holy Nativity of our Lord, and Savior Jesus Christ, let us contemplate the holiness of His glorious Incarnation. Let us receive this Christmas as an opportunity given to us by the Incarnate God in order to renew and strengthen our commitment to helping others find Christ and know truth and the way to salvation through the holiness of our lives. And may you and your families have a blessed Feast of the Nativity and a joyous and healthy New Year.
With paternal love in Christ,
Archbishop of America