December 23, 2013

Christmas Despair and Hope

By His Eminence Metropolitan Hierotheos 
of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou

We have learned from a young age to consider the celebration of Christmas as a warm family holiday. On these days everyone will gather in their homes and they will seek to offer themselves a drug to escape everyday problems and tribulations. They will enjoy this day in a way that synthesizes with modern life and thus they will remove themselves from the burning and torturing questions that plague them. The great meaning of the holiday, instead of it being a drug of regeneration will become an antidepressant, and instead of being a drug of transcending death it will become a pain killer! Many will celebrate Christmas as a holiday of a dead and buried God. In the thinking of many people, Christ is a concept and not the Living God who directs history. Yet Christmas is still considered a family holiday, which will give many excuses for an escape and forgetfulness. We will enjoy the coziness of family or winter vacations and trips and nothing more.

Many people of our time have included Christmas within the atmosphere of our morals and customs, which has become the marketing of the shopping centers. I would like to list three characteristic cases how this great holiday is celebrated.

First is the "commercialization" of the holiday. The gift-giving of Christmas will give rise to our shopping, the shopping centers will be busy, people will share their gifts and generally it will become a commercial exploitation of the holiday. It is known that in the West even the Jews await Christmas because it busies their shopping centers and moves their warehouses.

Second is the "sentimental decorating" in order to feel festive during this time. Houses will be decorated with the Christmas tree which everyone will rush to buy, store fronts will showcase the holiday colors, and municipal leaders will adorn the streets of the city, because if they do not they will be considered indifferent, and so everybody will be satisfied "with the requirements of our individual psychological desires for the holiday".

Third is the "religious verbosity" for the holiday. Newspapers will devote articles to the Birth of Christ and novice journalists will use reed pens to recall the manners and customs of our country - to praise the sweet Nazarene who became man and was born in a cave; they will present the sweet hymn of the angels who sang of peace and at the same time they will remember that peace has not come, since peace today in human societies is the bright side of war and war is the tragic side of peace. The pulpits of churches will sing of the Birth of Christ. The television stations will not be left behind. They will televise a theologian who will speak from his brain about the holiday, and so some "fussy" people will be moved to become religious.

Are all these things to be criticized? Of course not. I do not criticize them. However, I do criticize all those things that only stick to the surface, when they are only skin deep and do not touch the depth of the holiday and the basic meaning of the Birth of Christ. I criticize them when they simply become a means to satisfy some of the requirements and obligations. We are to criticize ourselves when we do these things, but in reality believe in a dead God, and when we don't feel God as a Person who regenerates us.

Within the trimmed houses there dominates death and decay, complaints and infighting, sometimes even at the festive table. The dedications of some newspapers on the holiday are at rest from the war they rage the rest of the year trying to uproot anything that has to do with Christ and the Church. And "amid our adorned and illuminated for Christmas streets, there circulates secretly, but creepily, the frost of the death of God. We celebrate Christmas without God; God remains inaccessible, a dead object of thought, and we limit ourselves to the birth of the moral Nazarene, who preached altruism and love for others" (Christos Yannaras).

And yet Christ became man that we may become gods. He became deeply humbled to elevate us. He took on the form of a servant to give us freedom. He was born in time that we may overcome time. He died in order to conquer death. He took on human nature that He may deify it and to live forever united with the Church. Within the humble cave of Bethlehem, which is the Church, Christ is born unceasingly through the sacramental life. He waits for man to also be born within the Church. The feast of the Birth of Christ is celebrated solemnly by the Church, that a "good reversal" may take place. God is neither a thing of the past, a romantic story, nor an idea or value to safeguard society, but a Person who exists unto the ages and calls man to become a person. The Living God offers hope amid despair, companionship amid solitude, love amid hatred, life amid death. To such a personal holiday does the Church call us.

Do we feel Christ born within us? We have been born also in Christ.

Source: From Poiotita Zoes, written in December 1985. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.