Christmas Pastoral Letter of Archbishop Nicolae



through the mercy of God
Archbishop of the Romanian Orthodox Archdiocese in the Americas

To our beloved clergy and Orthodox Christians,
peace and joy from Christ the Lord who was born in a manger,
and from us, hierarchical blessings.

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich. (2 Cor. 8:9)

Most Reverend Fathers,
Beloved Faithful,

On this holy and special day of Christmas, we bow down before the manger of Bethlehem together with the shepherds and magi, humbly asking that the child Jesus will also receive our gift, as He did those of the magi. We offer ourselves as a gift to the One who offered Himself so that the world may have life, and have it to the full (John 10:10). At the Feast of the Lord’s Nativity it is fitting that we should concentrate on the meaning of the riches of God which have been poured out upon us.

From the beginning, from the first day of creation we discover the riches of God. For out of His endless love God created all things: He is the wellspring of existence for those things that exist, of life for the living, of rationality for those who partake of rationality, and for all the cause of good things (St. John of Damascus, On the Orthodox Faith). The love of God poured out upon creation shows us the riches of God. His Trinitarian existence, the perfect love shared among the three Persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, shows us that not from necessity, neither because of any lack did God create the world and man. St. Basil the Great tells us that, when You had fashioned man, taking him from the dust of the earth, and had honored him with Your own image, O God, You set him in the paradise of plenty, promising him life-eternal and the enjoyment of everlasting good things in keeping Your commandments (The Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great). God, in His riches, created man according to His image, that he might partake of life-eternal and the enjoyment of everlasting good things. The first created man was placed in paradise that he might rejoice in the rich creation of God and rule over it. And God saw all that he had made, and it was very good (Genesis 1:31). Everything was good because it had been created by the outpouring of the riches of God.

But man spurned the riches of God, that is His love, which was directing him to eternal life. Man became poor, lacking the grace of God. Man was found devoid of all the riches which God had poured out upon him. And thus he went along until the fullness of time—without, however, being forgotten by God. For again St. Basil the Great tells us that God did not turn away forever from His creation, neither did You forget the work of Your hands; but You visited him in many different ways, through Your tender mercies, You sent forth prophets; You performed mighty works by Your holy ones who, in every generation, were well-pleasing to You (The Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great). The riches of grace became the riches of the mercy of God towards his creation. Because man had turned his face away from God, he could no longer receive the love of God. Yet he received his visitation and mercy. And it was in this visitation that God foretold man’s salvation, as we read in the words of St. Paul the Apostle: But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved! (Eph. 2:4-5).

God, who is rich in mercy, found the way to bring us back to the riches of His grace. But the pathway is a paradox, one that man cannot understand or fathom. For our rich God clothed Himself with poverty, that He might enrich the impoverished world. The Word of the Father, the hope of all the ages, the joy of the angels, the salvation of the nations, the resurrection of the dead, the fountain of mercy, the root of life, came into the world in a body taken from the body of the Virgin, He emerged naked in order that He might clothe us, poor that He might enrich us, humble that He might exalt us to heaven, a babe that He might make us mature and complete and give us the light of eternal life (St. Antim the Iberian, Homilies). The rich God emptied Himself and became a man like us. He who created the heavens and the earth through the outpouring of His riches accepted to be born in a lowly manger. He who holds the world in His hand allowed Himself to be held in the Virgin’s arms. We can exclaim together with the Apostle to the Gentiles: Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable His judgments, and His paths beyond tracing out! (Romans 11:33).

In the Incarnation of the Son of God we thus discover the plan prepared by God for the salvation of mankind. The One who is rich in glory humbled Himself that He might impart to us the image of His glory. From the Lord’s Nativity in poverty the way of salvation is proclaimed to us: not in material wealth, nor in the glory of a reputation for our many accomplishments, but in relinquishment and sacrifice, in humility and mercy toward others, just as God Himself had mercy on us. The Savior’s Nativity shows us the way we can gain the riches of God. This is the work of God, Who, having created man, now, in the Incarnation, re-creates him and bestows upon him, in an unfathomable way, the riches that had been lost. The Nativity of God on earth reveals to us the way we can truly be rich in the image of the One Who is rich, of God Himself.

Beloved Faithful,

At this glorious feast I urge you to discover the riches of God revealed to us through creation and through the Incarnation of the Son of God. Let us receive the Good News of the Incarnation as evidence of the fact that God came down to earth that He might again make us rich like Himself. And our wealth is nothing other than His love, which we receive and then pass on to our neighbor. Let us prepare our souls to receive these riches and to be thankful to God for sending the Son to be born and to grow, that He might save us.

I embrace you in Christ the Lord. May you celebrate the Holy Days of Christmas, New Year’s Day, and Theophany in the riches and peace of God.

Many Years!

Your brother in prayer to God,
The Feast of the Lord’s Nativity, 2009

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