Christmas message 2017/2018 from His Eminence Archbishop John of Charioupolis, Exarch of the Ecumenical Patriarch
To the clergy, monks, nuns and faithful of the Archdiocese of the orthodox parishes of Russian Tradition in Western Europe
On 15/28 November we began the Christmas fast, the period of preparation for the celebration of the physical Nativity of the Son of God.
Three themes should govern our life in this important part of our liturgical year: our spiritual desire to deepen our personal relationship with Christ; a duty of gratitude and love for the salvation offered to us; and finally the appeal of the Church who, as a concerned Mother for her sons invites us to prepare to receive in our hearts the message of the angel: “Fear not: for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you: Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” (Luke 2, 10-12)
The incarnation of the Son of God delivers humanity from his slavery and sets him on the path of salvation. Divine love elevates man to the dignity of son of God who is called to inherit the kingdom. What gratitude each one should have when contemplating the humility of the creative Word, surrounded by love and born in a manger. “But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, has quickened us together with Christ, … and made us sit together in heavenly places … with Him.” (Eph.2,4-6)
Every great feast of the Lord gives such exuberant joy to the whole Church, which offers Him solemn homage and addresses more fervent prayers to Him who created man in His own image and likeness. Christ became man for the salvation of all, but he expects us to be ready to accept Him, to open our hearts to receive the good news. We must always keep before our eyes and have in our hearts the words of the Apostle John: “He came unto his own, and his own received him not. (John 1,11) Cannot the same blindness, the same insensitivity still be found today especially among those who claim to be Christian?
If we turn to the Fathers and spiritual leaders from time immemorial we see that there are three “comings” of Christ:
– The first when he became flesh;
– The second when he is born and lives spiritually in us;
– And the third when he will return in the radiance of his glory for Judgment Day.
We often agree with the first and the third coming. As for the second – in fact the most important – we easily forget it, when in fact it is this coming that determines our life as a Christian from baptism to death.
The apostle Paul wrote in a great surge of love: “..I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.” (Gal. 2,20)
If we are the habitation of Christ, we become strong in the face of all the temptations of separation, He becomes master of our passions, desires and evil thoughts. With Him in us we gain the love of a brother, the respect of our neighbour, the ability to judge what we hear. Let us now implore Christ for ourselves and for our brothers that the Saviour will visit us and will set up his abode in us, for if we do not receive Him in our hearts, He will return for our condemnation. If He is not born in us spiritually, we will lose the fruits of the Nativity, and the third coming will not be for the crowning in glory, but for the casting out from the joy of the banquet of love.
The season of the Nativity must raise us out of our daily lukewarmness. Let us look to Almighty God before whom the mountains tremble, before whom the sun does not cease to shine, who descends from his throne of glory to put on our frailty, to humble himself before us to the point of becoming the outcast of his own creation. In the grotto lies one whose only purpose is to dispel the darkness of death which has accumulated between Himself and us.
Prepare the ways of the Lord, make straight the paths of our souls, let us fill the valleys of our passions, levelling the hills of our pride, because He, for whom all Nations are waiting, draws near. Then we shall really live the word of John the Evangelist: “But as many as received him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God.” (John 1, 12)
I wish you all a good and holy feast of the Nativity of our Saviour