December 30, 2023

1999 Pastoral Encyclical for Christmas (Metr. Hierotheos of Nafpaktos)

Pastoral Encyclical for Christmas


My beloved brethren,

Bright and glad is the feast and celebration today. With psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, but also feelings of gratitude and praise, we celebrate the Birth of the Son and Word of God, but also the deification of man. The heavens are merry and the earth rejoices "for the heavenly, has become the earthly," as Saint Gregory the Theologian says, that is, for Christ who was heavenly, for our salvation became earthly, without abandoning the heavenly. We feel spiritual joy for God's coming into our lives, and our own coming and return to the divine, the heavenly, as Saint Gregory the Theologian says again: "The coming of God to man, that we might go forth, or rather (for this is the more proper expression) that we might go back to God." Because the celebration of the Nativity of Christ has these two poles, that is, Christ's coming among us and our ascension to the divine. "For I must suffer the good reversal."

Today's Christmas feast takes on special significance, because it was determined worldwide to celebrate the two thousand years since the birth of Christ, and this is done as we enter the year 2000 which is the last year of the twentieth century. Thus we have a history of two thousand years since Christ became human, and of course as Christians we have the opportunity to take stock of whether we have allowed this great gift to transform our lives and renew the world. Because the incarnation of Christ is not, if I may use the phrase, a private affair of God, it is not a work that was allegedly necessary for the Divinity, but was done to save, to recreate the fallen human nature. That is why the inexorable question arises: Have Christians tasted the fruits of Christ's incarnation?

The fact is, however, that the incarnation of Christ changed the course of history, created a new situation, overturned the old world, the world of delusion and gave man a new perspective. Of course, when we speak of the renewal of the world, we do not mean that this happened simply with His Birth, but also with all the stages of the divine Economy: the Cross and the Burial, the Resurrection, the Ascension, and the coming of the Holy Spirit. All these events are united. With His Birth, Christ assumed human nature and deified it, but with the Cross, His death and Resurrection He defeated death with His own human nature. It is precisely for this reason that we can characterize history and time as the period before Christ and the period after Christ. Before Christ, human nature was fallen and mortal, after Christ it is divine and immortal.

This has big and shocking consequences. Before Christ, people belonged to a religion with beautiful ceremonies and expectations, while after Christ they are given the possibility to belong to the Church, which is the Body of Christ. Before Christ, civilization was anthropocentric, while after Christ, civilization becomes theanthropocentric. Before Christ, man's servitude to created things and other people prevailed, while after Christ the freedom of the spirit, the liberation in Christ prevails. Billions of people after Christ lived a new way of life and state and gave the testimony of the new life that Christ brought to the world. On every Christmas feast we celebrate this great event, but especially today when Christians celebrate 2,000 years since the birth of Christ.

Of course, in order for these celebrations to have an essential content, they must take place in an atmosphere of self-criticism by us, the contemporary Christians. And this means that we must think creatively about whether we, the modern Christians, taste these purposes of Christ's incarnation, whether our life and state were imbued by this great stream of deification that passed, with the Birth of Christ, to humanity. And, of course, we must ask whether the wars and conflicts between the Christian nations and the aggressive dispositions coming from Christians, the social injustices and disorders in our world, the insecurity and disappointment that are also observed in Christians, the sins and the apostasies from the Orthodox faith, if all these are compatible with the true spirit that Christ brought to the world with His incarnation.

Within these frameworks, the celebration of Christmas must take place, especially now that we are entering the 2,000th anniversary of the birth of Christ. Because otherwise the festive events will be mundane. And certainly here the words of Saint Gregory the Theologian are relevant: "Therefore let us keep the feast, not after the manner of a heathen festival, but after a godly sort; not after the way of the world, but in a fashion above the world; not as our own but as belonging to Him Who is ours, or rather as our Master's; not as of weakness, but as of healing; not as of creation, but of recreation."

With these holy thoughts, which are the result of our participation in the celebration of the Divine Eucharist, which is the mystery of kenosis and resurrection, especially on this day of Christmas, let us pray that we may all be continually nourished by the unfathomable source of the wealth of of the Lord's goodness, as manifested by His incarnation, and that our entire life, both personal and family, be flooded by the ocean of Christ's life.

With paternal prayers and blessings

† HEROTHEOS of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou
Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.  

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