+ B A R T H O L O M E W
By God’s Mercy Archbishop of Constantinople-New Rome and
To the Plenitude of the Church
Grace, Mercy and Peace from the Savior Christ Born in Bethlehem
* * *
Venerable brothers and beloved children in the Lord,
We glorify the Most-Holy and All-Merciful God, that we are again deemed worthy this year to reach the festive day of Christmas, the feast of the pre-eternal Son and Word of God’s Incarnation “for us and for our salvation.” Through the “eternal mystery” and “great miracle” of the divine Incarnation, the “great wound,” namely humankind sitting in darkness and shadow, is rendered into “children of light and day,”while the blessed road of deification by grace is opened for us. In the theandric mystery of the Church and through her holy sacraments, Christ is born and takes shape in our soul and existence. Maximus the Confessor theologizes that “the Word of God, though born once in the flesh, is ever willing to be born spiritually in those who desire Him. Thus, He becomes an infant and fashions Himself in us by means of the virtues; indeed, He reveals Himself to the extent that we are capable of receiving Him.” God is not an abstract “idea,” like the god of the philosophers, or an unapproachable God enclosed in absolute transcendence. He is “Emmanuel,” “God with us,” closer to us than we are to ourselves, “more akin to us than our very own selves.” 
Faith in the inaccessible and fleshless Divinity does not transform our life; it does not remove the polarization between matter and spirit; nor does it bridge the gap between heaven and earth. The Incarnation of the Divine Word is the revelation of truth regarding God and humankind, which saves the human race from the dark labyrinths of materialism and anthropomonism, as well as from idealism and dualism. The Church’s condemnation of nestorianism and monophysitism signals the rejection of two broader tendencies of the human soul: on the one hand rendering anthropocentrism absolute, and on the other idolizing an idealistic understanding of life and truth, both of which are especially widespread deviations in our age.
Contemporary “nestorianism” is expressed as a spirit of secularization, as scientism and the absolute prioritization of utilitarian knowledge, as the absolute autonomy of economy, as self-saving arrogance and atheism, as the “non-civilization” of individualism and eudemonism, as legalism and moralism, as the “end of decency” and identification of sacrificial love and repentance with the so-called “morality of the weak.” By the same token, “monophysitism” is today represented by tendencies to demonize the body and natural man, by puritanism and the syndromes of “purity,” by fruitless introverted spirituality and various mysticisms, by disregarding the intellect, art and civilization, by denying dialogue and rejecting differences, with the dangerous expresser—supposedly in the name of the “one and only truth”—namely a religious fundamentalism nurtured by absolutism and rejections, while feeding violence and division. It is evident that both a nestorianizing deification of the world and a monophysitizing demonization of it leave the world and history, civilizations and cultures, exposed to the powers of the “present age,” cementing their autonomy and impasses.
Christian faith is the certainty of our salvation by the God of love, who graciously assumed our nature and once again granted us “the likeness” lost through the fall, making us worthy of true life in His Body, the Church. The theandric mystery is expressed throughout the entirety of life in the Church. The Incarnate Savior received “the flesh of the Church” and showed, “first and alone,” “the true man, who is perfect on account of both character and life as well as all other aspects.” The Church of Christ is the place of “common salvation,” “common freedom” and hope in the “common kingdom.” It is the way of living the liberating truth, the core of which is expressing the truth in love. This love transcends the boundaries of mere human action, because its source and prototype lie in divine philanthropy, which transcends human reason. “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent His only Son into the world, so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that He loved us … Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” God is present wherever love exists.
This saving truth must also be expressed in the way we celebrate the sacred Nativity of our Savior, who visited us from on high. A feast is always a “fullness of time,” a time of self-knowledge, of thanksgiving for the magnitude of divine philanthropic love, of witness to the truth of the theandric mystery and of freedom in Christ. The Christ-pleasing celebration of the Divine Word’s Incarnation is an act of resistance against secularization, against discoloration of the feast and its conversion into a “Christmas without Christ,” as well as against a celebration of Having, of consumerism and vanity—indeed, into a world filled with social tensions, reversal and confusion of values, of violence and injustice, where the “Jesus child” is once again faced with the inexorable interests of numerous, multifaceted powers.
Honorable brothers and beloved children,
Generations come and pass, while forthcoming developments are difficult to foresee. Genuine faith, though, does not face dilemmas. The Word became flesh, the “truth has come” and “darkness has subsided.” We already participate in the Kingdom while still on our journey toward the completion of the incarnate Divine Economy. We possess the unshakeable certainty that the future belongs to Christ, Who is “the same yesterday and today and forever;” that the Church of Christ is and shall remain a place of holiness and godliness, a renewal of man and world, a foretaste of the glory of the Kingdom; that it will continue “to give the witness of the Gospel” “to distribute the gifts of God in the world: His love, peace, justice, and reconciliation, the power of resurrection and expectation of eternity.” The contemporary ideology of some “post-Christian” age is baseless. “After Christ,” everything is and remains “in Christ” to the ages.
We humbly kneel before the Divine Infant of Bethlehem and His All- Holy Mother, who holds Him in her arms, while venerating the Incarnate “most perfect God,” and bestow upon the children of the Holy and Great Church of Christ throughout the world—from the ever-vigilant Phanar—our Patriarchal blessing for the Holy Twelve Days of Christmas, wishing you a healthy, fruitful and joyous new year in the Lord’s favor.
+ Bartholomew of Constantinople
Your fervent supplicant before God
“And the angel said to the shepherds, “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2:10-11
Beloved in the Lord,
The Orthodox theologian Paul Evdokimov wrote, “We prove God’s existence by worshiping Him and not by advancing so-called proofs.” At the Great Feast of Christmas, each one of our churches become a symbolic Bethlehem, carrying us to the manger where we find the newborn child, Jesus. In our Vigil and Liturgy we will sing praises to the Almighty God as we hear the story of the Birth of our Savior. The news that Christ is born, once again, will fill us with joy and hope and we will take this message from our parishes to our homes and the world around us. That is the proof of our faith! This is how the Birth of Christ makes a difference in our salvation; that we are able to share with action this wondrous message from above. In the Holy Liturgy during our celebration of the Nativity of Our Lord, we will receive Christ the Lord as we sing the Communion Hymn that teaches us the purpose of the Incarnation: “The Lord sent redemption to His people.”
In this cynical age when various pundits regularly question the existence of God, what better response can we offer than filling our churches with hymns of praise? When the world around us makes Christmas all about searching for “the right gift”, what better response can we offer than sharing the Good News that the Savior is born? When we encounter those who sow seeds of division and relish in polarization, what better response can we offer that working even more diligently to strengthen the unity of the Body of Christ? Arguments will not change hardened hearts. Only our faith, our love for our neighbor, and our compassion can soften them.
In the Nativity of Christ, the Kingdom of God enters this world and we celebrate that “God is with us”. He came humbly, as an infant, reminding us that the Kingdom of God enters in places and ways that are not always dramatic or revolutionary, but rather quite ordinary. The Kingdom of God is at hand in the ordinary activities of our lives: in our homes, at our family gatherings, in our workplaces, in our neighborhoods. When we treat people with kindness, justice and compassion in our day-to-day activities, we bear witness to the Kingdom and grow closer to God. Saint Gregory the Theologian wrote, “God comes to live with human beings, that we may journey toward God”(Oration 38). Our journey to God begins with our journey to the symbolic Bethlehem, where we may meet the Savior, who “became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Then we can return to our daily lives filled with hope and begin to work to make all things new.
There is much work to be done. When we see the many sufferings of our neighbors, in the Alaska earthquake, the fires in California, as well as the ongoing injustices that continue to be perpetrated in our society, we must turn our minds and hearts to the Good News that the Savior is born and redemption has come to His people. We must ask ourselves how we will bear witness to the Kingdom of God in the face of these tragedies and the conditions of so many. Our first action should be prayer for those who suffer. Second, we can make charitable and philanthropic gifts to offer support. Third, speak the truth to those who are sitting in places of authority. Fourth, we can involve ourselves in the work of assisting those who have no voice and need help through our parishes and as responsible citizens of our country.
Beloved in the Lord, this Christmas Holiday is a new opportunity to go to our symbolic Bethlehem, see the newborn Christ, acknowledge Him as your Savior, and take His message of salvation into the world through your words and actions. Let us go to Bethlehem, the city of David, and meet Christ the Lord.
Beseeching the Blessings of our Almighty God upon you and your loved ones, I wish to all of you a Blessed Christmas and a New Year filled with the Joy and Grace of our Newborn Savior.
With Love in Our Newborn King,
@ G E R A S I M O S
Metropolitan of San Francisco
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
Christ is born! Glorify Him!
All are welcome to join us for the Divine Services for the Feast of Epiphany (a.k.a. Theophany)! The celebration begins with the Royal Hours of Epiphany, Friday, January 4th, at 9:00 am. It continues on Saturday, January 5th at 6:00 pm with Great Vespers. The actual Feast this year falls on Sunday, January 6th, and will be celebrated with Orthros & the Divine Liturgy beginning at the normal times. Following the Divine Liturgy will be the service of the Great Blessing of the Waters. Come and see!