December 25, 2023

2023 Pastoral Encyclical for Christmas (Metr. Hierotheos of Nafpaktos)

Pastoral Encyclical for Christmas


Beloved children in the Lord,

Once again we celebrate the feast of the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ in the flesh and we are given the opportunity to see its importance and to realize the great value of being Christians, disciples of Christ. It is not a typical name, but a name that shows the rebirth of our life. We are Christians and even Orthodox and we should respond to this mission.

The occasion for the formulation of these solemn thoughts is given to me by some words of Saint Ignatius the God-bearer in his letter to the Magnesians. Saint Ignatius was Bishop of Antioch in Syria during the first century AD, a disciple of John the Apostle and Evangelist. So he is one of the Apostolic Fathers of the Church, a successor of the Holy Apostles. He was martyred in Rome.

Some of his letters have been preserved, which are full of divine love for Christ and divine inspiration. One of these letters was sent to the Christians of Magnesia in Asia Minor. In this letter, among other things, he also refers to Jesus Christ, whose birth we celebrate today, as man.

It is emphasized that "the most divine Prophets lived according to Christ Jesus, that is why they were persecuted." In other words, all the Prophets in the Old Testament, as we chant in the troparia these days, saw the pre-incarnate Word, the Lord of Glory, the Angel of Great Council and prophesied His coming, and for this reason they were persecuted by their contemporaries, the Jews.

"The prophets as disciples themselves in the Spirit did wait for Him as their Teacher." Through the Holy Spirit, the Prophets became disciples of Christ and waited for him as a teacher. In this sense, the Old Testament is not the history of the Jewish Nation, but the prehistory of Christianity, and the Prophets are the forerunners of the Apostles and the Fathers of the Church and are our Forefathers.

If the Prophets who saw the pre-incarnate Son and Word of God were disciples of Christ, much more we who saw the incarnate Christ are His disciples.

However, being a disciple of Christ is not an easy task. Discipleship in Christ begins with Baptism and Chrismation and continues throughout our lives, with the observance of Christ's commandments and conscious life in the Church, participating in the Mysteries with which we are spiritually reborn.

Saint Ignatius writes that through the "mystery we receive the faith," but we must constantly strive in our lives "and for this we endure, so that we may be disciples of Jesus Christ, our only teacher." Christ is our only teacher and we wait to be His disciples, because "how can we live without Him?" Without Christ we cannot live.

And then Saint Ignatius writes some amazing words: "Therefore, being his disciples, let us learn to live according to Christianity." We must learn to live as Christianity wants, because whoever "is called by another name is not of God." Whoever is called by any other name than this, apart from the Christian one, does not belong to God. It is not possible to belong to Christ and be called by another name.

Being called, however, and being a Christian has many obligations. Because Christ, as he writes, is the "new leaven" we should throw away the bad leaven that has grown old and is sour and be changed into new leaven, and moreover be salted in Him, so that no one suffers corruption, because from the smell of decay we will be exposed.

This teaching of Saint Ignatius the God-bearer that Christ is the "new leaven" and He will renew our lives is amazing, which reminds us of the words of Christ (Matt. 13:33) and of the Apostle Paul (1 Cor. 5:6-8). It is not about an ideology, about a religion, but about a renewed life that takes place in Christ.

This is necessary, because as Saint Ignatius the God-bearer writes, "It is absurd to profess Christ Jesus, and to Judaize," that is, it is improper to talk about Christ and to live in a Jewish way, as if Christ did not become man. And he adds that "for Christianity did not embrace Judaism, but Judaism Christianity, that so every tongue which believes might be gathered together to God."

Beloved brethren,

The Son and Word of God became man to renew man and not simply to add some new morals and customs and some new traditions. Christ must become our teacher and we His disciples, to be called Christians and to be real Christians, to reject the old leaven and accept the new leaven, and this is Christ. The Christian life is a new life.

The phenomenon, therefore, of calling ourselves Christians and behaving in a Jewish or pagan way is not Christian, it is not a Christian celebration. Christ must become our teacher and we His disciples. We must not only call ourselves Christians, but also be in practice Christians and indeed Orthodox, as interpreted by our holy Fathers.

I pray that you spend these Twelve Days with health and Christian inspiration.

With paternal blessings,

The Metropolitan

+ Hierotheos of Nafpaktos & Agiou Vlasiou

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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