ARCHPASTORAL NATIVITY EPISTLE
“And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus,
for He will save His people from their sins.”
– St. Luke 1::21
To all the devout faithful in Christ of the Orthodox Archdiocese of Edmonton and Canada who have gathered to joyfully celebrate the Holy Nativity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, to their loved ones near and far, and to those who are unable to be with us for just and righteous cause, we prayerfully greet you one and all – our Orthodox brethren in the Lord – with these faith affirming and life giving words:
ХРИСТОС НАРОДИВСЯ! CHRIST IS BORN!
СЛАВІМО ЙОГО! GLORIFY HIM!
St. Ephraim the Syrian – a venerable and holy Father of our Orthodox faith – wrote these words concerning the Birth of Christ centuries ago; these ancient words still speak to us today…
“Pure is the present night, in which the Pure One appeared, Who came to purify us! Let our hearing be pure, and the sight of our eyes chaste, and the feeling of the heart holy, and the speech of the mouth sincere! The present night is the night of reconciliation; therefore, let no one be wrathful against his brother and offend him! This night gave peace to the whole world, and so, let no one threaten. This is the night of the Most Meek One; let no one be cruel! This is the night of the Humble One; let no one be proud! Now is the day of joy; let us not take revenge for offences! Now is the day of good will; let us not be harsh. On this day of tranquility, let us not become agitated by anger! Today God came unto sinners; let not the righteous exalt himself over sinners! Today the Most Rich One became poor for our sake; let the rich man invite the poor to his table! Today we received a gift which we did not ask for; let us bestow alms to those who cry out to us and beg! The present day has opened the door of heaven to our prayers; let us also open our door to those who ask of us forgiveness! Today the Godhead placed upon Himself the seal of humanity, and humanity has been adorned with the seal of the Godhead!”
These are eloquent, lofty words indeed! They challenge us to approach this Feast of the Nativity of our Savior in special and particular ways…. with joy and goodwill, with purity and holiness of heart, with sincere words, and with a desire for forgiveness and reconciliation. St. Ephraim suggests that this Feast cautions us as well…to be careful not to be angry or wrathful with anyone, even those who have gravely hurt us; to be meek and humble of heart; to be peaceful in our approach to those who threaten us with words or actions which are offensive; to be charitable and to give to those in need. Yet we are also reminded, “today we [each] receive a gift which we did not ask for,” that “the present day has opened the door of heaven to our prayers,” and that “Today God came to sinners.”
As we reflect and think about those words, we need to ask ourselves a question: What critical message does the Feast of the Nativity of Jesus Christ deliver to mankind? Is the Birth of our Savior only about maintaing a good moral code and way of life or is there something much more important to remember as true Orthodox Christians? Did Jesus Christ take flesh and become like us in all things except sin, just to deliver a message that we need to conduct our lives in an kind and upright fashion (be merely good people) or is there something much more we need to understand? The First Holy Epistle of St. Paul to Timothy (1 Timothy 1:15) provides an important answer: “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am first.” Again, in St. Matthew’s Holy Gospel (Matthew 1: 21) we read these words, “And she [the Virgin Mary] will bring forth a Son and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”
Christ is Born not to just teach us how to be good, kind and generous people…Jesus is Born to save us from our sins! How do you fit yourself into that idea as you celebrate the Birth of our Savior today such that He comes to save you from your sins? That’s not a popular approach in our modern society, within Christianity generally and sadly and more specifically in the context of the Holy Orthodox Church especially world Orthodoxy! With the promotion of personal gratification and indulgences without few boundaries, our society promotes only the “I” and not the other. Increasingly less and less people acknowledge God as King and Master of all. Many see themselves almost as little gods of their own little worlds. In many ways we think we are (or need to be) super human beings…super Moms and Dads, super Grandparents, who need to have almost super human children and grandchildren, in extra-ordinary and awesome ways! And yes, the world in general excuses away sinfulness and evil by calling them other things like: bad behavior, just being human, being weak, having a tough childhood, being different, celebrating my uniqueness, and so forth.
Again, St. Paul writes to Timothy and says, “This is a faithful saying and worthy of ALL ACCEPTANCE, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am first.”
We are reminded by St. Ephraim, “today we [each] receive a gift which we did not ask for” and that “the present day has opened the door of heaven to our prayers.” The gift we receive today is salvation in Jesus Christ…in other words, we are offered what is necessary to be saved from our sins and from eternal death. Today our Savior opens the door of heaven to our heartfelt prayers!
Beloved brothers and sisters, if our precious, true Orthodox faith is to survive, each and every one of us needs to affirm that “the real reason for the season” of the Lord’s Nativity is that we need a Savior to save us, not only from our selves as weak, frail human beings, not only to save us from an often dark and terrible world, but to save us sinners! As you hear these words can you honestly say to yourself, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am first.” ? If you can admit that this is what the Feast of the Birth of Jesus Christ really means, then you are already walking on the path to salvation unto life-everlasting!
Sadly however, today, many people believe that they do not need Christ the Savior in their lives. Others worship Christ in a uninvolved, philosophical way, but do not invite Him into their real, actual and personal lives. Theyrepeat their “mantra” that goes soemthing like, “I am spiritual but not religious” and therefore I do not need the Church (which is the ark of salvation). Without Christ, our world will continue to darken and to know continued unrest, war, violence, and destruction. This is the world we see today: turmoil, wars, divisions, persecution of Christians, rampant secularism, materialism and apathy towards Orthodox spiritual and Church life. The Incarnation of the Son of God brings salvation by faith to believers, some hope, and a modicum of peace as solutions to sin and human suffering. Yet faith, hope and peace can only come if we embrace and accept them as offered, living our lives as Christ teaches, and glorifying God by who we are and how we live. Only then can we say that we have worthily celebrated the Nativity of our Savior. If good is to triumph in our world it will only be through salvation in Jesus Christ whereby our faith and love move others to know the Savior and follow Him.
“Christ is born! Glorify Him! Christ descends from the heavens, welcome Him! Christ is now on earth, O be jubilant! Sing to the Lord, the whole earth, And sing praises to Him with joy, O ye people, For He has been exalted!”
A most precious gift is waiting for all mankind to accept Who is Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior!
With Archpastoral blessings, fervent prayers, and special remembrances at our Cathedral Nativity Services and Holy Divine Liturgy in Edmonton, I remain,
His unworthy servant & steward,
(Vladyka) +Joseph – Archbishop
Orthodox Archdiocese of Edmonton & Canada