File No. 280
Protocol No. 1544
BY THE GRACE OF GOD ARCHBISHOP OF CONSTANTINOPLE,
THE NEW ROME, AND ECUMENICAL PATRIARCH
TO THE WHOLE BODY OF THE CHURCH: GRACE, PEACE AND MERCY FROM OUR SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST BORN IN BETHLEHEM
Brother con-celebrants and devout and god-loving of the Church:
"This is the cause of our festival; this is what we celebrate this day; God's advent to men". We celebrate the ineffable mystery of the divine favor and condescension, of love and of peace, of joy and of hope. We rejoice in the wonder of converse between divine and human life, the union of the uncreated and the creature. We keep glad festival because the Son of God accomplishes His compassionate intervention, taking upon Himself the poverty of our life, so as to enrich it with the gifts of His divine life.
"He Who is comes into being,
the uncreated is created.
and the infinite is confined.
He Who enriches becomes poor,
for he impoverishes my flesh
that I may grow rich in His divinity,
He who is fullness empties Himself;
for He is emptied of His glory for a time,
that I may partake of His fullness."
(Saint Gregory the Theologian)
To be sure the "strange" and "wondrous" mystery of the Incarnation of God's Son lies outside the limits of human comprehension. It is mystery not to be understood, as it "exceeds the mind's grasp and reach". Yet, through "the mystery will not bear inquiry". our most Holy Church lives the reality of the Divine Birth, saying ceaselessly, "We confess Your grace; we proclaim Your mercy; we do not conceal the great kindness". Herein exactly lies the majesty of our Orthodox life, able to vitalize any historical moment and elevate it to an occasion for participation in the divine.
Thus the historical fact of God's Son becoming man is not a datum of history alien to and unrealized in the present; it is a reality with potential for life and communion that is accessible throughout the course of history. In celebrating the Birth of Christ "in the days of Herod the King" (Mathew 2:1), the Church calls her faithful to become today's eyewitnesses and participants, in their own selves, of the mystery of the divine dispensation. "Come, faithful, let us see where Christ is born; so let us follow where the star travels..." Truly for those who believe, "there is born today of the Virgin He Who holds all creation in His grasp". Which is to say that the event in time of Christ's birth does not vanish into the remote and unrepeatable past, but is preserved within the Church as an ever-present grace and is relived in the being of the believer, a living event which seals and shapes his whole life.
In this theological context we may comprehend not only the meaning of the Birth of Christ, but also the worth of man, to whom is vouchsafed by God Himself the possibility of becoming a god-bearer, of experiencing in his heart divine "infant leapings for joy". The supreme honor and the surpassing grace given to man is precisely that he has the prerogative to recreate within his heart the wondrous mystery of the divine incarnation, that is, to offer his own corruptible nature as manger, as room for Him Who is beyond containing.
And yet, though scriptural truth raises the human personality to such a lofty state, the style and pace of modern life invariably cripple men's spiritual powers. The conventions and distractions of the world leave contemporary man little latitude to know himself. To put it otherwise, contemporary living, largely ignoring God, in consequence also ignores man. Ultimately, estranged from Christ, and in spite of his progress and successes, man is impoverished in true riches, unwise in his wisdom, powerless in his power, small, insignificant in his glory and his greatness.
Self-proclaimed saviors, "ignorant and unstable" (2Peter 3:16), wishing to exploit contemporary man's powerlessness, but also his inmost desire to give meaning to his life, push their own humanisms, promising weary modern man a new era, a new paradise without Christ. In substance these newfangled humanisms compose a wretched picture of existential confusion, of the absence of God, of death: a vicious cycle within which the consciousness and conscience of man disintegrate. The world of drugs; all manner of quash-religious and paganistic movements; anarchy; violence and terrorism; demon worship and body worship; but also religious insolence under the mantle of piety, which expresses itself as disavowal of the Church's divine precepts...all these are phenomena of the age. In one way or another they influence modern life and generate in man a fear and angst, a state of living that must be defined as pain, grief, loss of hope.
Our Holy Church does observe the contemporary scene as spectator nor does she spun wretched man of the end of the second millennium. Her wakeful concern is to offer man hope for life, the enduring optimism of the Gospel, the all-enabling conviction of the divine love and presence. Unceasing is her care to present men, "who labor and are heavy laden", the Godman Christ, "the light of knowledge", the "Sun of righteousness".
Beloved Shepherds and fellow-pastors, beloved children in the Lord:
It is apparent in our time, perhaps more than in any other period in history, that man stands in need of God's presence in his life. He can be freed of the terrors that beset him, that grind down his very being, only if he is ready to center his fragmented existence in the Divine Lord of life.
God Incarnate has left us a treasure which the ages can never exhaust: His word and His law divinely revealed in both the Old and the New Testament. The culmination of the total Divine Revelation is, as is well known, the Book of Revelation of the Apostle and Evangelist, John, written on the island of Patmos exactly 1900 years ago. Proclaiming the impending New Year 1995 as the "Year of Revelation", we call upon all who honor God revealed, and His revealed truths, and as well the "chosen vessels" through whom he spoke to us "in many and various ways" (Hebrews 1:1), that together we celebrate, as each is able, this great and solemn and holy anniversary of the whole Christian Church under heaven.
Communion with the compassionate Lord manifested in the flesh, true God and true man, can overthrow the lawless autonomy of contemporary man, liberate him from the powers of darkness, giving him a new perspective a new purpose, in his life and works. We who believe in God made flesh, do not await some "new age", nor are we disquieted over the vaunted "new order of things". For we know well that the only birthgiver of a new humanity is the Christ Who out of His infinite love took flesh. "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself." (2 Corinthians 5:17-18)
Thus for us who have been found worthy of the Orthodox faith, nothing remains but to approach the "strange wonder" of Christ's birth, the "miracle that is above all miracles", penitentially, devoutly, in contrition of heart, and so celebrate in godly manner the festival of the Nativity of Christ.
"Acknowledge the birth and leap for joy... and respect the enrollment, by which you are enrolled in heaven; and be in awe of the birth, by which you are freed of the bonds of birthgiving; And honor little Bethlehem, which has led you back to Paradise; and venerate the manger where, though lacking reason, you were nourished by the World." (Saint Gregory the Theologian)
Offering our doxology, then let us cry to our Lord made manifest in the flesh: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth the peace, with which Your advent has rewarded us, our Lord. Glory to You."
To Christ our Lord, born in Bethlehem, be glory and power to the endless ages. Amen.
Bartholomaios of Constantinople
fervent in supplication to the Incarnate Savior in behalf of all