December 26, 2023

1996 Pastoral Encyclical for Christmas (Metr. Hierotheos of Nafpaktos)

Pastoral Encyclical for Christmas


My beloved,

And again we were found worthy by God to celebrate the Birth of Christ as a man and to feel the Grace of the incarnation of the Word, but also the hope of the Theophany, our regenneration in Christ. Because, as the Fathers of the Church teach, God became man to make man a god.

Among the events connected with the Christmas feast, is the archangelic hymn "Glory to God in the Highest, and on the earth peace among those whom He is pleased" (Luk. 2:13). The angels hymned the most high God for His love for mankind and praised the peace that had come to earth. The hymn of peace can be heard in many troparia of today's feast, we chant it and sing it.

These days, however, there are many who speak of the angels' hymn about peace, but at the same time they criticize its absence and claim that this peace, of which the angels sang, is non-existent, since there are disturbances, wars and riots everywhere. Thus, one asks, does the peace that the angels sang about not exist on earth? Did Christ stop offering peace to people? We must know well that the peace that was hymned on the day of Christ's birth has nothing to do with all that we have in mind, because it is a different situation.

The Apostle Paul, referring to the great work of Christ, which he accomplished with His incarnation, says that "He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity" (Eph. 2:14-16). Therefore, speaking of peace we mean the reconciliation of man with God, which took place in the Person of Christ. This peace was praised and glorified by the angels, because with the incarnation of Christ a new reality came to the world, unknown until then, since the God-Man is the one and only in history.

Consequently, when the Church refers to peace, it does not simply mean the absence of war but the presence of Christ, and this peaceful state is enjoyed by those who live in the sacramental life of the Church. They make peace with themselves, their neighbor and God.

Indeed, peace is not a simple social good, it is not a simple emotional state, characterized by laziness and inaction, but it is a great spiritual force, much stronger than war and conflict. Because, both the wars and the conflicts between people are the fruit and result of the weakness of the so-called strong, since in this way they try to protect their fears and insecurities. Peace requires strength and self-control, since it has the ability to be imposed through spiritual and cultural means and not through violence and terrorism.

The Fathers of the Church praise and magnify inner peace as a precious good. What Saint Gregory the Theologian teaches on this subject is characteristic. He calls peace "sweet both in fact and in name", which is his "preoccupation and glory". Peace is the divine power through which God makes man at peace with Himself, it is "the mastery against the passions". Speaking of peace, he means good peace, the one that aims at a good goal, that connects man with God. Giving importance to inner existential peace, he says that an outer peace, which separates man from God, is not good and blessed.

Christ brought this inner peace to the world. That is why, shortly before His passion, He said to His disciples: "Peace be with you" (John 8:27). He gave it to the Disciples and it remains inside the Church. Of course, Christianity is not responsible for what happens in the world, because all its social applications are carried out within the space of the Church and are carried out by the humble disciples of Christ. However, one can observe that even within the Church conflicts are created, but it must be observed that Christ is not to blame for anything, because such situations are created by sick members of the Church.

Apart from the ecclesiological and ontological content of peace, which the angels hymned, no one can deny the violence of wars, which are still taking place today in many parts of the earth. Perhaps some Christian peoples will stop hostilities today, to celebrate Christmas, but tomorrow they will start the conflicts again and young blood will continue to run unjustly on the earth. This is also a form of hypocrisy, which governs contemporary people, even Christians.

We must stigmatize the hypocrisy of some powerful peoples, who want to be called Christians and who present themselves as peacemakers and mediators between conflicting peoples, but in reality they create world scandals, provoke riots and wars, either because they are dominated by feelings of superiority, or because they are distinguished by national insecurity, or even because they seek the trafficking of weapons and ammunition, these terrible war products.

This hypocritical situation is not at all the fault of Christ and Christianity, which is a Church of love and peace, but of all those who do not accept Christ and are not truly united with Him. That is why we are all called to contribute, each in his own way, to the effort to stop wars and conflicts, and for peace to prevail on earth.

However, on this holy day of Christmas, during which we felt the peace of God in our hearts, especially during the Divine Liturgy, we must fervently pray to Christ, the Lord of peace, to enlighten the thoughts and meditations of the powerful of the earth, so that the much-desired peace prevails in humanity and the mad blood of hatred and destruction stops being shed. Above all, however, we must pray fervently, so that we all get to know Christ personally and unite with Him, in order to make peace with ourselves, our family and society, because Christ is the real Peacemaker, whose infinite mercy and peace which is beyond comprehension always be with us.

With warm wishes and blessings,



Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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