Nativity Encyclical of the Serbian Orthodox Church
THE SERBIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH
TO HER SPIRITUAL CHILDREN AT CHRISTMAS 2012
+ I R I N E J
BY THE GRACE OF GOD ARCHBISHOP OF PEC, METROPOLITAN OF BELGRADE KARLOVCI AND SERBIAN PATRIARCH, WITH ALL THE HIERARCHS OF THE SERBIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH TO ALL THE CLERGY, MONASTRICS,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:
PEACE FROM GOD! CHRIST IS BORN!
"Rejoice O ye righteous, rejoice O heaven, dance O mountains for Christ is born…”
(Hymn from the Nativity of our Lord Matins, tone four)
The Nativity of our Lord brings to us joyous and wonderful news that the Son of God became Man, the God-Man Jesus Christ. With His Incarnation, the prophesy of Saint Isaiah the prophet has been fulfilled: “Lo, the Virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call his name Emanuel, which is translated: “God is with us”. (Matthew 1:23; Isaiah 7:14) From that day until the end of the age, God is with us and we belong to Him. The Son of God has descended to earth, and man has ascended to heaven. Everything has been united. Angels sing with men and men participate in the angelic life. Saint John Chrysostom called Christmas the mother of all feasts, and contemplating the Birth of God in awe as a wondrous mystery, he glorifies it by saying: “I look upon an astounding mystery. Shepherds’ voices I hear in my ears. Angels and archangels sing, seraphim glorify, they all participate in the Feast, looking upon God on earth, and upon man in heaven. They look upon God, Who is in heaven, as upon Him Who is the Cause of His own descent to earth. They look upon man, who is on earth, and see how through God’s love for mankind he dwells in heaven.” God without body puts on flesh; the Invisible becomes visible, He Who is unapproachable becomes approachable, the Timeless one receives a beginning, the Son of God becomes the Son of man. This manifestation of God in our world and our life is the beginning of our own entrance into God’s world. And so, the meaning of Christmas is in the reality that God came to people so that they may come closer to Him.
When talking about the unity of the divine and human natures in the Person of Christ, Saint Gregory the Theologian with reverent amazement says: “How worthy of such wonder is this union of God with man! How marvelous is this union! He Who simply is becomes created. He Who enriches others becomes himself impoverished. He Who is the fullness empties Himself. He is emptied of His glory so that I may taste of His fullness.” Christ’s abasement is His offering of Love toward mankind. Had God not come to man, man would not have been able to come to God. Without the humility of Jesus Christ, the deification of man would not have been possible (cf. Philippians 2:6-8).
Through humility and meekness one expresses the greatest love. He who loves neglects himself and gives himself to the other. With the mouth of Saint Chrysostom, Christ says to each of us: “For you, my child, I have become impoverished, was beaten, have been brought low from my glory. I have left my Father and I have come to you who hates and rejects me. I have run to you to make you my own. I have united you with myself. And I have you with me above in the heavens, and on earth I am united with you.“ With Christ becoming Man, paradise is opened for each of us, heaven is stretched out throughout the earth, the heavenly is united with the earthly. Angels and people together celebrate our Lord, our Heavenly Father. Man begins to hope in Resurrection. Look, the Heavenly Kingdom is rejoicing! And all this is given by God’s unlimited mercy toward mankind, which has made possible this great miracle – God comes into our world.
What can we offer to our Lord in return for His limitless love for mankind?
We most often respond to His love with our lack of gratitude, since through our manner of living we make Him sadder more than we make Him joyous. But nothing warms our cold souls, bodies and hearts more than God’s love, because God is love (1 John 4:16). He who is estranged from love is estranged from God, Who enters into man only with love. We have in mind not only a heavenly reality, but also an earthly. When the power of love is manifested in our human relationships, is that not just when God embraces man, when He receives him into His arms? When God takes His abode in man, in his heart and his mind, can we not comprehend the joy of encountering the Face of the Living God? If there is so much joy when we, ephemeral beings, meet each other and when we look into each other’s faces, how great is the joy in seeing God, in meeting with God? And this is the day when we have met with God, the day in which we have seen and received God.
On Christmas God has come, has entered into our being, in order to teach us how to embrace each other and how to forgive each other. God forgave us, so how dare we not forgive each other? There is no evil that someone can bring upon us that is so great that it can overcome the goodness of this Christmas, and that it can overcome the readiness within us to forgive. Therefore, let us love each other, so that with one mind we may confess Father, Son and Holy Spirit, God of love! Let us love each other with the love with which God has loved us before even the creation of the world, with the love with which God the Father loves us in His beloved Son! Let us love each other with the love which does not seek its own, which is not arrogant, which endures, the love which hopes in everything (cf. 1 Cor. 13:7)! Let us bear in mind that such love permeates all of nature around us, the nature which God gives us, which feeds us and which gives us joy! Let us safeguard our and her health and beauty! May we not forget that the coming of God’s Son into the world has a cosmic meaning! Through this Event not only are people saved, but also all of God’s creation. By celebrating Christmas, our dear spiritual children, we always remind ourselves and each other of this inexpressible and all-encompassing divine love, and we glorify the love with which God has loved us before we have loved Him, and with which He has loved us eternally.
Besides love, which is a bond of perfection (cf. Col 3:14), today we especially need peace and good will. That is why in our hearts always, but especially at Christmas time, the angelic song needs to resonate: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men! (St. Luke 2:14) This Christmas message, dear brothers and sisters, contains in itself three great truths, and on these words, as on three foundation stones, the way, the meaning and the final goal of human life is established.
The first truth is the call to man to glorify God. Only he who has discovered the deepest meaning of life can glorify God. The deeper a person’s knowledge of God as Creator, as Providential God and Giver of all good, the deeper is that person’s joy in life and the greater is his readiness to glorify God.
The second truth is peace on earth. Peace-making is God’s attribute. With it man becomes a son of God, according to Christ’s words: Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God! (St. Matthew 5:9) Only those who make peace with God and with the people around them can find peace in their souls; only people like that are true peacemakers. They have peace in their hearts and on their lips. Otherwise, those who do not make peace with God and with others in mind and in heart may have words of peace on their lips, but in their hearts they harbor hate and war. The more God is in the hearts of men, the more there is peace on earth. The less there is of such treasure, then the more there is of thievery of earthly power and riches, of selfish unrest, and of stealing from one another.
The third truth is good will among people as the foundation of human communion. Where peace is born, there a good and gracious will begins among people. Good will is born from love, from love for God and mankind, from gracious thoughts, from the warmth of soul and heart, for true love does not seek anything for itself.
We live in a time in which these values, Christian and, we believe, eternal, have been devalued and neglected. This spiritual crisis leaves dreadful consequences for human relationships. Once again, brother does not talk to his brother, son with father, kum with kum, neighbor with neighbor. Of reasons and justifications, those that make sense and those that make no sense, there are, as always, more than enough. We ask ourselves, is it possible that lust for power and selfishness have darkened our minds so much as to make the things of this world more precious than our father, mother, brother, sister, kum, neighbor, and relatives? The time that we live in is one of upheaval, social instability and estrangement. We live in a time when everything is for sale, in which everything is on the market, even true freedom and human dignity. This earthly justice and these rights do not guarantee us even that which is ours, not even the life in which we exist and live. Is the justice of the powerful ones of this world ever manifested in any other way? Is this the first time in history that judges forget the words of the wise Solomon: He who judges the unrighteous as righteous, and the righteous as unrighteous, He is unclean and abominable before the Lord? (Wisdom of Solomon 17:16)
But, because the time is such as it is, because it is such since there is sin, and it will be such as long as there is evil in the world, Christmas comes to us as balm upon wounds, as deepest comfort which comes from God and with which He frees us from sadness and returns to us trust in His justice and His truth. Christmas returns to us trust in human goodness and love and reawakens the hope that these can not only shine in our hearts, but that they can through God’s mercy, be proclaimed through man’s institutions despite the arrogance of the powerful ones of this world and age.
Christmas is a day of comfort and hope for all refugees and those expelled from their homes, and for all those of our people who eat the bitter bread of exile. Do not be sad and do not get disheartened, our spiritual children. Remember that the greatest and the best known Refugee of mankind was no one else but the God-Child of Bethlehem! Soon after He came into this world, the Most Holy Theotokos and the Righteous Joseph had to flee with Him from the Promised Land to the Land of slavery.
Christmas is a day of joy even for the people of St. Sava dispersed, willing or unwillingly, throughout world from Europe to America and Australia. With our paternal care, we call on you not to forget your Orthodox Faith and your language. Do not forget your holy churches and the graves of your ancestors; do not forget your spiritual roots founded by St. Sava in our Holy Orthodox Faith here in this country of God called Serbia and other regions inhabited by Serbs for centuries.
Christmas is a day when the Resurrection begins, but there is no Resurrection without suffering for our dear suffering children in Kosovo and Metohija! Know, remember and teach your children so that they may teach their children (cf. Deuteronomy 6:6-9)that the exiled Hebrew people waited almost twenty centuries to return to their fathers’ land, and the Serbian people waited five centuries for the liberation of Old Serbia. Taught by the words of the Psalmist (cf. Psalm 137:5), we also exclaim: If I forget you, Kosovo, and you Metohija, may my right hand be forgotten! Having said a prayer during this 100th anniversary of Kosovo and Metohija’s liberation in 1912, let us now also put our hope in the Lord!
Christmas is a day when we are liberated from the bonds of sin, death, and Satan. This year’s Christmas, we are celebrating the beginning of the formal celebration of 1700 years since the issuance of the Edict of Milan, by which the Holy Emperor Constantine gave the freedom and the right to Christians to celebrate their faith in Christ. Unfortunately, in this jubilee year of freedom of Christian confession, this very freedom has been taken from our brothers and sisters in the Archdiocese of Ochrid, whose spiritual leader, Archbishop Jovan, is held imprisoned by those who for decades have been preventing Christ’s garment, torn apart by godless hands, to be made whole. In this day when the earth rejoices with heaven, we send words of love, comfort and encouragement to the children of the Ochrid Archdiocese together with its leader and Holy Synod.
Mindful of all the difficulties and tribulations in which we find ourselves, and of the dark clouds hovering over our martyred and suffering people, yet taught by this great Day, we call you, dear spiritual children, to stay in Christ’s faith and the faith of our holy ancestors. Know that as our faith in the God-Child Christ grows, our love toward Him and our neighbors also grows, because faith in Christ continually reveals ever newer perfection, riches and beauty, and that is why we love Him more and more. Just as there are no limits to our faith in Christ, so there are no limits to our love toward Him. Only those with great faith are rooted and anchored in love, because God’s love has brought God to earth, which is the message of Christmas that we celebrate today.
God has descended from heaven on this holy day so that from the dust He may lift us up above every heaven and above every earthly mystery. This is our joy, our celebration and our consolation granted to us by Christmas. That is why on this blessed day, dear spiritual children, we call you to gather in the Church which is Christ’s Body; gather in the Divine Liturgy which Christ has given to us, for outside of the Church there is no salvation, for outside of the Church there is no Savior. We joyously call you, return to the living God! We are truly blessed when we return to God! And who else if not God! And when would we return to God if not during these Nativity days? May this holy day be blessed, and may you all be blessed in this holy day, Christ’s Birthday. In Him we ourselves are born and reborn, in Him we become people, Godly-people, and in Him we receive our true and eternal meaning. In this way let us experience and say: God is with us, let all nations understand!
PEACE FROM GOD – CHRIST IS BORN!
INDEED HE IS BORN!
Given at the Serbian Patriarchate in Belgrade at Christmas, 2012.
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 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 Nis JOVAN
Bishop of Western America MAXIM
Bishop of Gornji Karlovac GERASIM
Bishop of Australia and New Zealand IRINEJ
Bishop of Krusevac DAVID
Retired Bishop of Zahumlje and Hercegovina ATANASIJE
Vicar Bishop of Hvostno ATANASIJE
Vicar Bishop of Jegar PORFIRIJE
Vicar Bishop of Moravica ANTONIJE
Vicar Bishop of Lipljan JOVAN
Vicar Bishop of Remezijan ANDREJ
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]