ARCHIEPISCOPAL ENCYCLICAL FOR THE NATIVITY OF CHRIST (2018)
To the Most Reverend Hierarchs, the Reverend Priests and Deacons, the Monks and Nuns, the Presidents and Members of the Parish Councils of the Greek Orthodox Communities, the Distinguished Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the Day, Afternoon, and Church Schools, the Philoptochos Sisterhoods, the Youth, the Hellenic Organizations, and the entire Greek Orthodox Family in America
Beloved Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
The Nativity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ according to the Flesh is depicted throughout our churches in the familiar and radiant icon of the Nativity. Every element of the Gospel account, historically and theologically, appears before our eyes to inspire wonder, worship, and peace. In every detail, the icon proclaims without words that the Child born this day in Bethlehem is none other than the Prince of Peace. For by His birth, peace entered into a world plagued by hatred, hurt, and conflict.
Our Lord came to bring peace between heaven and earth. We see this depicted in the shepherds as they hearken to the voice of an angel. The Evangelist Luke tells us that they were greatly frightened at the angel’s appearance (Luke 2:9). But in the icon their faces manifest reverence and attention, not terror or guilt. As the great company of the heavenly host chanted Glory to God in the highest, the shepherds received and believed their message of Peace on earth, goodwill towards mankind (Luke 2:14). In that peace they journeyed to Bethlehem to seek the Child of promise. There, the shepherds witnessed God’s answer to sin and death, as forgiveness, reconciliation, and life shone forth from the cave in the face of the Prince of Peace.
Our Lord came also to bring peace among the peoples of the earth. We see this depicted in the figures of the Magi. The Evangelist Matthew tells us that these astrologers from the East followed the rising of a star (Matthew 2:2) and left their homes, traversing for many months and long miles to reach the place where the newborn King dwelt. The Magi came in peace, bearing gifts in order to honor the newborn Messiah, even as the prophets had foretold: Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn (Isaiah 60:3).
Our Lord came to bring peace within the realm of nature. We see this depicted in the animals who kneel in worship before the manger. Strange wonders happen before them; unfamiliar visitors crowd their stable. But the animals neither cower nor flee; they calmly remain to witness the miracle. The ox knows his owner, and the donkey his Master’s manger, as was foretold again by Isaiah (1:3). For so many millennia, the story of human development has been a history of cruelty towards animals; but on this night, and by Christ’s birth, there was serenity and peace.
Our Lord came to bring peace to our fallen human nature, beset by weakness and mortality. In the center of the icon we behold the Virgin Mother bowed down in adoration before her Son and God. She shows no hint of pain or trauma, even after a long journey and childbirth. For with His entrance into this world, Jesus Christ came only to heal and save, not to harm or destroy. He caused His mother no injury in His birth. In her immaculate body, the destiny for all humanity is revealed: health, restoration, and resurrection. Already at His Nativity, the icon declares, Christ is the master of life and death, and in Him is the ancient curse abolished (cf. Genesis 3:16). The Prince of Peace will destroy the final enemy, which is death (1 Cor. 15:26).
Brothers and sisters in Christ,
We glorify the Prince of Peace by spreading the peace He granted to us in His Birth. In this Christmas season—as we gather with family and friends, as we worship in the house of the Lord, as we break bread and share the bounties of our lives—let us also strive to be people of peace.
Out of the stable of Bethlehem, peace from heaven shines forth: let us therefore be quick to forgive and ready to reconcile with all those around us. From the lowly manger in Judea, peace prevails over man and beast: let us therefore be diligent as faithful stewards of God’s creation, neither exploiting nor misusing His gifts through overconsumption, materialism, or waste. Through the gifts of the Magi, peace for all peoples is foretokened: let us therefore through almsgiving and generosity be strong advocates of justice, equality, and compassion. From the face of the Holy Theotokos, peace overflows, royal and radiant: let us therefore embrace purity and complete dedication to Christ in our minds and bodies and spirits, giving glory to the Prince of Peace who came to save us.
May the peace, good will, and glory of the Christmas season be yours today and always, and unto the ages of ages. “Christ is Born! Glorify Him!”
With paternal love and heartfelt wishes in the Incarnate Lord,
† D E M E T R I O S
Archbishop of America