Nativity Encyclical of the Serbian Orthodox Church
I R I N E J
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:
Blessed and most joyous news, dear brothers and sisters in Christ the Lord, begins with the words of the Holy Gospel according to Matthew: "The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham" (Matthew 1:1). That news reveals and witnesses to us and to everyone, to heaven and to earth, and to all visible and invisible worlds, a two-in-one mystery and truth.
It witnesses the truth about the only two-fold Genealogy in the history of mankind. Every genealogy lists ancestors and descendants according to one line, a human line. Only this genealogy makes an unrepeatable exception. It represents not only a human Genealogy, but also a Divine one. It contains the genealogy of the Son of God and the Son of Man, that is, of the God-Man Christ. This Descendant of the royal lineage of David, springing forth from Abraham's root, is given the name of Jesus, that is Savior, and the name Christ, which means God's Anointed One – He is given to the chosen People of God and to all mankind, God's promised Messiah, Redeemer and Savior from sin, death and demonic powers. This, then, is at the same time both the Genealogy of the Only-begotten Son of God and of the Son of Man, born of the Holy Spirit and of the Most Holy Virgin Theotokos.
So in Jesus of Nazareth the perfect God and perfect Man is revealed and given to us. Therefore, whoever loves Him fulfills the first commandment of God, the commandment to love God with all one's heart and soul, but he also fulfills God's second commandment about love towards one's neighbor. For He is at once our God and Lord, and our closest neighbor. In Him we recognize true God, but also true Man, and in that Man we recognize true humanity in its totality: we learn how and what we are to love in every human being, every bearer of same unique God-like human nature.
In Him, the God-Man, the three basic holy truths of human life are both established and given: the holiness of father and fatherhood, the holiness of mother and motherhood, and the holiness of child and a child's innocence and purity. This is indeed why our God-pleasing people dedicate to these three holy truths the three Sundays prior to Christmas under these names: Children's day, Mothers' day, and Fathers' day. First, with the Nativity of the Only-Begotten Son of God the mystery of the Eternal Father and of heavenly fatherhood is revealed to us. "He who sees me", said the Lord, "sees the Father who has sent me", and elsewhere in the Gospel He adds: "I and Father are one". At the same time, He teaches us with the Lord's Prayer that His Father is also our Father: "Our Father who art in heaven…" Therefore, earthly fatherhood only attains meaning and becomes sacred when rooted in the eternal and heavenly fatherhood,: without it we would have no right to call anyone on earth ‘father'. Only through the Birth of the eternal Only-Begotten Son of God in time does birth from a father on earth become a birth for eternity, and not for transience and nothingness.
Secondly, in celebrating Mothers' day we celebrate the sacredness of motherhood, sanctified by the childbearing of Most Holy Mother of God. With her giving birth to "the eternal God" as a "little Child" every birth is sanctified and becomes meaningful: "the heart of every mother", according to a poet, "becomes the heart of the Mother of God." What on earth is more holy and lauded then motherhood? It is so holy and exalted that even God Himself wished to be born of the Theotokos, making her womb "more spacious than the heavens"!
Thirdly, a child as the fruit of his father's and mother's love, brought forth through the power of God's eternal blessing, represents the summing-up and pinnacle of all the goodness and beauty with which God has gifted His manifold creation.
In this way, on the one hand, by Christ's Nativity the most exalted and incomprehensible mystery of God as eternal Love in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is revealed and given to us. On the other hand, by Christ's Nativity the heavenly-earthly fullness of this Trinitarian Mystery of love is being accomplished in the Church as a divine-human community and in the family as the core of this community.
When this heavenly Trinitarian Mystery of God as Love is denied, forgotten and darkened, then consequently the meaning of family is inevitably lost and its collapse as the earthly revelation and fulfillment of divine love draws near, and along with it the disintegration of human society in general. The less God and God's love abides among people, the less there is love in human relationships; the less there is true love in marriage, family, and society, the less there is love between father, mother and children, and the less there is love among people in general. Without God as love, human love loses its measure and higher meaning. It is brought down to the biological plane, to mere survival, to the idolatry of carnal desires; hedonism becomes the supreme human value.
The people of our time are on that road of making idols of carnal lust and carnal wisdom, of a carnal way of thinking. And whenever any human society in history has set on this road, it soon found itself in the entranceway to its own catastrophe and standing before the fall of its civilization.
One evil in society leads to thousands of others evils and disruptions. For example, putting hedonism on a pedestal as a god – this is exactly what is happening in our time – becomes a cause of massive child-murdering and its legalization, as never before recorded in the history of mankind. Does not abortion represent the idolizing of selfish living and egotism which, when taken to its conclusion, leads to the dehumanizing of man, his inclination toward death and nothingness? He who kills God in Himself, and a child in its mother's womb, destroys himself, jeopardizing the deepest fabric and the eternal meaning of life.
What is AIDS, that horrible disease and calamity of our time, if not, in most cases, a consequence of the desecration of the sacredness of marriage and the misuse of sexuality and physical love, and often a consequence of their unnatural use? As the misuse of God-given psychophysical powers causes many diseases, likewise the misuse of nature and the natural resources around us, man's insatiability and greed are damaging nature, polluting the air and water, vegetation and the animal world, and with them man, who lives and breathes in such a polluted world.
God has bestowed many wonderful gifts upon man. Man is called to use those gifts in the right way, not to abuse them. The fruit of these gifts and creative abilities given by God to man are contemporary man's inventions – for example, the means for mass communications: electricity, radio, film, television, newspapers, internet, etc. These and many other modern means of communication among people and the for the transmission of spiritual, scientific, practical, esthetic, cultural, and other values and human experience, can bring no small benefit to humanity, but they also can be and are being misused. Using words, pictures, games and melodies, these precious means contribute to man's edification and his spiritual and moral transformation, nurturing and perfecting the communal life of people, their unification and their general human maturity in freedom and in good, in virtuous growth toward the God-given unlimited potential of human dignity.
But if these gifts and means are misused, just as anything else in a man or around a man if misused, they are in danger of becoming a source of man's estrangement and disaster. Instead of being a source of man's illumination, transfiguration and healthy improvement, they are in danger of becoming a source of darkness and poison for human sense and conscience. Does not the reduction of man to his impulses, the enflaming of his blind instincts with pictures, words, games and music, the propagation of violence, evil and aggression, all lead to a person's enslavement rather than his freedom, to the multiplication of evil among people instead of the increase of good and goodness, to the strengthening of self-love instead of true love? Here everything is subdued to desire and profit and trade; everything becomes an article for sale: God and man, father and mother, fatherhood and motherhood, child and homeland!
Does not the propagation of harlotry and shamelessness, which through the modern media is reaching the most hidden corners of the earth, become a cause for the meaningless of marital and family love, a source of every perversion, crime and violence?
Truly, man's freedom and man's rights are unlimited. Everything is allowed to man and everything falls in the area of his rights – God has created him as such. But, is every freedom a true freedom and is everything that man thinks up a natural right, true and worthy of him? Two paths are before man: a path that leads to life and a pathway of death. Is freedom by which man makes himself and his neighbor slaves of death and nothingness truly freedom? A man is free to commit suicide and crimes of every sort. According to the measure of perverted freedom, a man is free to become a cannibal, a murderer, a bloodsucker…. But if one's freedom takes away a neighbor's freedom through violence, or if a way of using one's rights with violence toward others deprives them of their rights and of justice, such freedom becomes tyranny and lawlessness. One departure from the path of goodness and life gives birth to countless evils, death and injustice.
For example, a good characteristic of modern man is the ongoing struggle for human rights and freedom. But, what is not good about it is the mixing of good and evil, of light and darkness, of sin and virtue, of love and hate. It is certainly not good that, in the name of rights and freedoms, the misuse of the natural and God-given powers of man is equated with their use in accordance with the God-given plan and goal of man's existence. Only those who are enlightened with the light of Christ's Birth know the difference between use and misuse, between false freedom and true freedom, between the suicidal rights of man and the use of his rights in a way worthy of man and the human community, in an edifying and life-giving way.
The despising of the healthy, God-given laws of human nature, transfigured by Christ's Birth into the unlimited "measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ", and the idolizing of unnatural fornication and adultery cannot but, according to the very nature and moral order of things, end up in the demonization and annihilation of humanity in its very essence.
We cannot and should not, dear brothers and sisters, as witnesses of Christ's truth about God, man and world, being mindful of our eternal and divine-human call before God, fail to bring your attention to this and other dangers threatening mankind today and endangering his true freedom and authentic rights, profaning his divine dignity. Besides individual rights and freedoms, there exist, as we know, collective or corporate rights and freedoms – the rights of the Church, or of any faith community, the rights of nations and so on. Not even the earlier-mentioned personal rights are respected, and what can we say about these latter ones? The harshest example is, unfortunately, the attitude of many powerful people towards the rights to life, freedom and the future of the Serbian people in Kosovo and Metohija. In addition to everything else, the dreadful crime of trading in the internal organs of innocent Serbian victims of hatred and terror was taking place in the coldness, indifference, and in many cases in collaborative silence of representatives of the international community, whatever this term might mean, and they definitely knew what was happening "in the field". Moreover, they engaged in building somebody's alleged independence precisely on this foundation. But, truth and God's justice always have the last word. That is guaranteed by Christ's Birth, which we already feel and know.
Christmas is a feast day of peace and love, forgiveness and reconciliation, concord and unity. In the name of these divine-human spiritual Christmas gifts and values we call all of you, our dear spiritual children, to live and work in a spirit of invincible faithfulness to your Mother Church, her unity, centuries-old order and to the decisions of her highest and only official hierarchical bodies. Don't allow any of you to be misled by the untruths and the seductive wicked slanders of some individuals and groups which, led by their sectarian fallacies, consciously or unconsciously serving the enemies of the Church and Christ's Faith, are trying to deny the spiritual authority of the Church and her lawful hierarchy and to replace it with the false authority of self-proclaimed leaders. At the same time, it is the sacred duty of all of us to pray to the God-Child Christ, the Son of Righteousness, for the repentance and enlightenment of all who have gone astray, and for life and salvation of all the world.
In conclusion, rejoicing in God and Christmas and celebrating Christ the Divine Child as "the only new thing under the sun", let us all sing with one heart and one soul, the song of shepherds and angels:
PEACE FROM GOD – CHRIST IS BORN!
Given at the Serbian Patriarchate in Belgrade at Christmas, 2010.
Your intercessors before the cradle of the divine Christ-Child:
Archbishop of Pec,
Metropolitan of Belgrade-Karlovci and
Serbian Patriarch IRINEJ
Metropolitan of Zagreb and Ljubljana JOVAN
Metropolitan of Montenegro and the Coastlands AMPHILOHIJE
Metropolitan of Dabro-Bosna NIKOLAJ
Bishop of Sabac-Valjevo LAVRENTIJE
Bishop of Zvornik-Tuzla VASILIJE
Bishop of Srem VASILIJE
Bishop of Banja Luka JEFREM
Bishop of Budim LUKIJAN
Bishop of Canada GEORGIJE
Bishop of Banat NIKANOR
Bishop of New Gracanica-Midwestern America LONGIN
Bishop of Eastern America MITROPHAN
Bishop of Zica CHRYSOSTOM
Bishop of Backa IRINEJ
Bishop of Great Britain and Scandinavia DOSITEJ
Bishop of Bihac and Petrovac CHRYSOSTOM
Bishop of Osijek and Baranja LUKIJAN
Bishop of Central Europe CONSTANTINE
Bishop of Western Europe LUKA
Bishop of Timok JUSTIN
Bishop of Vranje PAHOMIJE
Bishop of Sumadija JOVAN
Bishop of Slavonia SAVA
Bishop of Branicevo IGNATIJE
Bishop of Milesevo FILARET
Bishop of Dalmatia FOTIJE
Bishop of Budimlje and Niksic JOANIKIJE
Bishop of Zahumlje and Hercegovina GRIGORIJE
Bishop of Valjevo MILUTIN
Bishop of Ras and Prizren TEODOSIJE
Bishop of Western America MAXIM
Bishop of Gornji Karlovci GERASIM
Bishop of Australia and New Zealand IRINEJ
Retired Bishop of Zahumlje and Hercegovina ATANASIJE
Vicar Bishop of Hvostno ATANASIJE
Vicar Bishop of Jegar PORFIRIJE
Vicar Bishop of Dioclea JOVAN
Vicar Bishop of Moravica ANTONIJE
THE ORTHODOX ARCHDIOCESE OF OCHRID
Archbishop of Ochrid and Metropolitan of Skoplje JOVAN
Bishop of Polos and Kumanovo JOAKIM
Bishop of Bregal and locum tenens of the Diocese of Bitolj MARKO
Vicar Bishop of Stobija David
[Path of Orthodoxy translation]