December 28, 2023

1997 Pastoral Encyclical for Christmas (Metr. Hierotheos of Nafpaktos)

Pastoral Encyclical for Christmas


My beloved,

We celebrated today, from the early hours of the morning, and we will celebrate these days, the great event of the Birth of Christ. The feeling that remains in us, after our participation in the great festival of the month, where wonderful hymns are chanted that are written by great hymnographers, who personally experienced the mystery of the incarnation of the Son and Word of God, but mainly with our intoxication in celebration of the Divine Liturgy, it is a feeling of love, peace, redemption, inner rest and fulfillment.

The celebration of the Birth of Christ, like every Christological celebration, is a constant source of life and inspiration, which enlivened and enlivens people of all generations. How many people did not find the meaning of life, were not inspired by the lofty meaning of the Birth of Christ, were not enchanted by the wealth of God's love? This divine love that is expressed and manifested through humility, the kenosis, gives comfort to our spirit, which is troubled by human hatred and inhuman selfishness.

The Birth of Christ is the greatest challenge in the history of mankind. It is not about a simple cycle between the birth and death of a person, as we see in all religions, but about the Birth of the God-man Christ, who is the center of humanity and the world. It is a union of the created and the uncreated, the mortal and the immortal, and this, indeed, constitutes the greatest challenge in history. That is why Saint John of Damascus, referring to the Birth of Christ, says that this event is the "only thing new under the sun".

Indeed, after the creation of the world, all things are repeated. The creation is the same, as God created it, with the difference that after the fall of man it accepted decay. Every time a person is born, the word of God is activated: "Increase and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it" (Gen. 1:28). Everything is repeated. The only new thing is the Birth of the God-man, since He, who is the uncreated Word, accepts the created; He, who is the Son of God, also becomes the Son of man.

In this sense, the Birth of Christ was the greatest challenge in history. It was a challenge to the religious leadership of that time, which tormented people with the rules of external ordinances, without seeing his inner existence and search. It was a challenge to the so-called social cohesion at the time, which, however, was ensured by tyranny and the enforcement of weapons, since the people were subservient to the Romans. It was a challenge to so-called human dignity, which was simply based on external factors and external standards, since people usually like to close themselves within themselves and see only the goods of individual survival. With His birth, Christ overturned all religious, social and anthropocentric knowledge and gave new meaning to life. He Himself spoke these wonderful words: "I came to send fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!" (Luke 12:49).

Thus, with His incarnation, a strong and active fire came into the world that overturned all the previous known knowledge. He abolished the religions that exploited people, He overthrew all the tyrannical regimes that tortured and crushed human dignity, He released man from the prison of his individuality. And of course, the work of Christ was not negative, but positive, since He made the world the Church, He created a new world with a different tradition, the center of which is the God-man Christ Himself, and the content of which is love and humility, giving man the possibility to have another higher and deeper meaning of life.

The work of Christ is not limited only to the era in which He was born, but extends throughout history. Even today, Christ continues to be a challenge. Usually man likes things on the surface, i.e. sensual pleasure, the satisfaction of the senses and the enchantment of reason, as well as his preoccupation only with society. But this is a big problem, because in this case he looks like the man who decorates his own prison area. To this secularized man, the Birth of Christ shows the way out of the prison of rationalism and sensuality, it indicates the transcendence of death and decay.

Even today, Christ continues to be that heavenly fire, that mighty fire that can burn everything small and sick, everything fragmented and tyrannical. He can offer us another lofty and different meaning of life. He can get us out of the prison of individualism, the tyranny of reason and the senses. He can give birth to a new life within us.

May the Grace of Christ set our hearts on fire and give us another meaning of life, higher than the known meanings associated with the created, the human and the mortal.

May the Grace of the Incarnate Christ always be with you.

With paternal prayers and blessings,

† HEROTHEOS of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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