Friday, December 25, 2015

How Will We Celebrate Christmas Today?


By Metropolitan Seraphim of Kastoria

With awe and wonder we stand once again before the unexplainable mystery of the presence of Jesus Christ on earth. It took place in the fullness of time, in the words of the Apostle Paul: "But when the fullness of time had come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption as sons."1 There is no greater miracle in history, nor more striking event: God came to earth and became man, the cave became heaven, and the "manger held the uncontainable one." It is the only thing that is truly paradoxical "and new that takes place in this world we live, beneath the sun," theologizes Saint John of Damascus.2

"What is this mystery for me?" exclaims the theological voice of our Church, Gregory the Theologian.3 And Saint Cyril, the Patriarch of Alexandria, adds: "The heavens rejoice, the mountains are filled with gladness, Christ comes among us for the benefit of all people and to grant joy to all. He became a small and weak man to reverse humanity - the Master became a servant, the Treasurer became a debtor, the Savior became a prodigal, the Liberator became a convict."4

This feast is not simply an anniversary, a usual celebration, filled with material gifts and an exchange of greetings. Rather it shows us truths that are not erased from oblivion in our ecclesiastical history nor faded away over the centuries. This feast reveals the love of Christ for the world and humanity. It conveys to us the joy of being liberated from our passions, hatreds and enmities. The message-bearers from Heaven carried to our earth today, which is stained with the blood of thousands of people on our troubled planet through war, the most joyful message:

"And on earth peace, to men of good pleasure."5

First, "and on earth peace, to men of good pleasure."

It is the gift of Heaven.

It is the fruit of the Holy Spirit.

It is the inner state of the soul that lives strongly in the presence of God and with their fellow men.

It is the foundation for the authentic happiness of man.

In our times we have made this a slogan, an advertisement for our journey, without putting it into action in our lives.

Peace is lost today from our planet, because as people we do not seek it from its source, who is Christ. As individuals, and even more as societies, we have moved away from the Prince of Peace and the source of peace.

Christ is our peace, "who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility."6

We stand in hostility before Him. Contemptuously we speak of His person. We deny His divinity. Every effort that aims towards His presence in this new generation we fight against. We do not desire to quench our thirst by drinking water from the well of our Tradition. Rather, we seek fruits from a tree that we are diligently trying to dry up and root out from our behavior and our overall lives.

But those who in their lives, as individuals or as peoples, have accepted the Infant of Bethlehem, He has become for them a Redeemer and Savior, granting them another quality of life, pure and peaceful, calm and merciful with good fruits, without discrimination and without hypocrisy, according to the Holy Apostle James the Brother of our Lord.7

Second, "and on earth peace."

Peace is not only a matter of those who are great upon the earth, but it is the personal responsibility of all of us. The presence of Christ within us and our relationship with Him is the true guarantee of internal change, rebirth and the renewal of man, and therefore of true peace. We cannot strive for world peace, if at first we do not live in peace with our fellow human beings, our near and wide family. The Apostle Paul writes concerning this point: "If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God's church?"8

Third, "and on earth peace, to men of good pleasure."

The presence of war that beats us down mercilessly, the daily threats that besiege us, the agitation, anxiety and insecurity that dominate within us, reveal our moving away from God and His holy will. Let us obey the word of the Prophet David: "Seek peace and pursue it."9 We will encounter peace in His Person, Who bent the heavens and came to earth as man, in order to regain our value and put on once again the beauty of the first created.

We will encounter peace in the new commandment of love, since "love does no harm to a neighbor"10 and does not prefer its own interests.

We will find peace on the path of humility, since humility is the most effective means of attracting the love of Heaven.

We will taste of it richly in the hour of prayer, repentance, obedience and silence.

We will accept it in moments of good thoughts, the acceptance of others as they are, in the spirit of service that should distinguish us, since "no one should seek their own good, but the good of others,"11 according to the rule of the Apostle to the Nations Paul.

Christmas 2015. The hymn of the Angels, my brethren, sounds once again in the worship of our Holy Church: "Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth peace, to men of good pleasure."

How will we Celebrate Christmas today? Where will we lean on to find rest today in our hearts with all that is occurring around us? In what corner of the modern world manger will we open our eyes to see Christ the King and having, as a maternal covering, the love of the Theotokos and the affectionate presence of the Righteous Joseph?

Will we move forward, to comprehend the depth and substance of this feast or will we confine ourselves to the western mentality that drove away the manger of Christ and in its place put gold?

Will we perhaps seek to rid ourselves of the externals of this feast bequeathed to us from foreign places and restore once again the traditional celebration of this feast of our Orthodox Church and nation?

Will we seek the true light "of knowledge" which rises in the Cave of Bethlehem?

Will we crave for the food of the incarnate God of all the world?

These are some particular questions that should concern us and make us think.

The Prince of Peace, the Only Begotten Son and Word of God, is found once again in our midst, giving us valuable gifts, the first being peace. But on one condition: To walk along the path of His own life and peace, for "His peace is certain, changeless, settled and permanent,"12 it is immortal without end.

On this day of the Nativity in the flesh of our Lord and Savior Christ, which was a milestone in the history of mankind and a source of fuel for our path, I embrace you all, my brethren, with my love, and I wish you health, prosperity and rich blessings from our Infant Christ.

I pray better days for our country will dawn, to open our eyes and even more so our hearts to Christ in order to always celebrate Christmas forever.

Notes:

1. Gal. 4:4-5.

2. "Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith."

3. Oration 38, "On the Theophany and Birth of the Savior."

4. Homily 13, "On Palm Sunday."

5. Lk. 2:14.

6. Eph. 2:14.

7. Jam. 3:17.

8. 1 Tim. 3:5.

9. Ps. 33:15 (LXX).

10. Rom. 13:10.

11. 1 Cor. 10:24.

12. Epistle 130.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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