PASTORAL LETTER ON THE FEAST OF THE LORD’S NATIVITY 2011
by the mercies 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, and from us hierarchical blessings.
Your coming, O Christ, has shed upon us a great light,
O You Light of Light and Radiance of the Father!
You have illumined the whole creation.
(Great Vespers of the Feast)
Most Reverend Fathers,
The Feast of the Lord’s Nativity offers us again an occasion for joy and proclamation of the wonder that took place in the Bethlehem cave, God’s descent to earth in order to bring us to God, to renew and to illumine all creation. The songs of the service of this holy feast together with the Church Fathers proclaim and interpret the wonder of the renewal of mankind and of the entire creation through the Incarnation of the Son of God.
Adam’s disobedience, instigated by Eve, brought us alienation from God and death. This is the ancestral sin or ancient sin that marks every person born of woman from Adam to Christ. But God found the way to overturn the fall and bring a remedy also through woman, through the Virgin Mary: “Today Adam’s bonds are loosed and Paradise is opened to us. Behold, the serpent is brought to naught, seeing that a woman he deceived has now become the Mother of the Creator. Oh the depths, the richness, the wisdom and the knowledge of God! That very instrument of sin that had brought death to all flesh now becomes today the first fruits of salvation to the world, through the Mother of God” (“Glory” of the Aposticha). Through a woman came sin and through a woman came salvation, turning Adam and Eve’s refusal into humility and obedience through the words Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Be it unto me according to Your Word.
It is God himself who accomplishes this remedy and renewal. The image of God in man, darkened by sin, could not be illumined and renewed by either angels or man. St. Athanasius the Great explains the necessity of the Incarnation of the Son of God himself for the salvation of man in this way: “When an image inscribed on wood is effaced by surface stains, it is necessary for the one whose image it is to come again, in order to be renewed in that material…. In the same way the Most Holy Son of the Father, Who is the image of the Father, came in our place to renew mankind created after His image and to find those who were lost” (Treatise on the Incarnation of the Son). God descended to earth and took on human nature in order to correct and renew it through this uniting of divinity with humanity. God could have saved mankind through a word or in another miraculous way, but he chose to be human like us, to bring us close and to illumine us through His Light: “For this reason (Adam’s fall),” says St. Gregory Palamas, “the Lord renewed him in a miraculous way, not only with His hand, but he held him near Himself, not only taking on human nature, which he raised up from its fall, but embracing it in an ineffable fashion and uniting Himself closely and inseparably with it, being at once God and man, born of woman, that He might be according to the nature of His creation and from that Virgin, in order to make man new” (Homilies). The same holy father explains why man could not save man: “For if he had been from (male) seed, he would not have been a new man, He would not have been the Master and Creator of the new and never-aging life, neither would He have been able, being from old material, to reveal in Himself the fullness of the Divinity that is above time, and to create from His body an unfailing spring of holiness by which to cleanse the ancestral defilement through the abundance of His power” (Homilies).
Thus the salvation of mankind is truly a re-creating and renewing of man. The proclamation of the Lord’s Nativity fills us with joy and hope because we are proclaiming our own salvation and renewal. These take place for each one of us in the water of Baptism, but also in the tears of repentance and correction. And then we receive Christ as food, “His Most Pure Body, which He took from the blameless body of the Most Pure Mother of God, Mary”, in the words of St. Simeon the New Theologian (Discourses).
Our celebration revolves around this joy infused with the sense of the renewal of our nature. It behooves us to share this joy with our fellow man, especially in this world marked by alienation from God, and at the same time confusion and disorder. The problems of our age are many, and understanding is seldom sought anymore in the Holy Scriptures and the Church, in God’s revelation to mankind. We Christians must continue to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth. We Christians must continue to proclaim to the world the joy and hope that come from the manger of Bethlehem, for unto us is born a Savior, Christ the Lord (Luke 2:11). We Christians must live as those who are renewed, as those who have forsaken the old garment of sin and have put on the garment of re-creation in Christ. We Christians must show the world the Christ that has been born for our salvation: “This is for us the present festival and this is what we celebrate today: the coming of God to men, that he might bring us to God, or, better expressed, to bring us back to Himself so that, forsaking the old man, we might clothe ourselves in the new” (St. Gregory the Theologian, Oration on the Nativity of the Savior Jesus Christ). I wish you all, priests and faithful, to receive on this glorious feast the power to witness through word and deed the Incarnation of the Son of God for our renewal and salvation.
I extend a brotherly embrace in Christ the Lord; and may you experience the holy feasts of Christmas, the New Year, and Theophany in health, peace, and spiritual joys.
Your brother in prayer to God,
Chicago, the Feast of the Lord’s Nativity, 2011