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January 5, 2014

2012 Pastoral Encyclical for the New Year (Metr. Hierotheos of Nafpaktos)

By His Eminence Metropolitan Hierotheos
of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou

We are at the beginning of the year and we are used to exchanging well wishes, which are always pleasant, hopeful and encouraging. Yet things in peoples lives do not come as they wish. There are voices today who speak of a difficult year ahead and, of course, there are serious grounds to support this view that there will be difficulties. But a person has to face all the problems of life with an elevated sense of meaning. This should be done particularly by Christians.

The thoughts below refer to how the Church urges Christians to live every day of their lives and, therefore, this year. Our model should be Christ and our continuing aim will be how to live in Christ.

1. Christ, after His baptism in the Jordan River and the arrest of John the Forerunner, began His ministry preaching repentance: "Repent, for the reign of heaven is near" (Matt. 4:17). This refers to the Gospel reading on the first Sunday after the Baptism of Christ, basically the first Sunday of each new year. This is important because it determines in our lives the course for every new year.

The sacred Gospels, although not a complete biography of Christ, do present a general outline of "what Christ said, did and suffered". As to what He "said" refers to His teachings, and a primary place for this is given to His Sermon on the Mount, as well as His speeches presented in the Gospel of John, which are full of theology. As to what he "did" refers to His miracles, namely the healing of sicknesses, the remission of sins and the raising from the dead. As to what He "suffered" refers to the persecution by the Scribes and Pharisees, and especially His Passion and Crucifixion. Of course, the Gospels describe His Resurrection and Ascension into the heavens as well as the coming of the All-Holy Spirit.

If we notice carefully we will find that these three actions of Christ reveal His divine-human person. That is, Christ preached as a Prophet, worked wonders as a King, and suffered and was crucified as a High Priest. In other words, Christ united in Himself these three categories of people who were in the Old Testament, that of the Prophet, King and High Priest.

2. However, the entire work of Christ we live again within the Mystery of the Divine Eucharist, which is the sacramental repetition of the work of divine economy. We come to the church, participate in the Divine Eucharist (we do not only pray as individuals), but we also live the sacramental event of the divine incarnation of Christ.

The Small Entrance symbolically shows Christ entering the world to preach the Gospel of repentance and salvation. The Priest holds the Gospel in which is contained the teaching of Christ and after the Entrance he reads the passage prescribed by the Fathers, and so we experience what Christ said and is saying, that is, the prophetic identity of Christ is declared.

During the course of the Divine Eucharist we pray that God would send His mercy. We feel that we are sick in soul and body, and have been hurt by demonic influences and the excitement of the passions, and so we see our unworthiness, our spiritual leprosy, as well as our spiritual deadness and internal situation, and we pray that God would send His mercy. That is, we come to the Divine Eucharist hurt, frustrated, and many times we feel miracles take place, that there are internal changes. By this we are living within us the wonderworking identity of Christ, what Christ did and does. We are experiencing the sovereignty of Christ over all creation.

Then, during the Divine Liturgy with the Great Entrance, the gifts are moved from the sacred Prothesis where they were suitably prepared and deposited on the holy Altar where the bloodless mystagogy will take place, to experience the Passion of Christ. The holy Altar is terrible Golgotha on which is performed this great bloodless sacrifice of Christ. In this sense in the Divine Eucharist we also experience what Christ suffered for our salvation, and so we experience His high priestly identity.

Indeed, the Divine Eucharist is the center of our spiritual life, because in it we see Christ acting as Prophet, King and High Priest. And when we are apprenticed into the mysteries of the Reign of God, we are ruled by the great King and nourished by His Body, and we can live the mystery of the Divine Economy. Finally, the Divine Eucharist is not an individual or even a common prayer, but it is an initiation into the mystery of the Divine Economy, which is the mystery of the Incarnation of Christ and the deification of man.

3. Yet, this entire life of Christ does not end with the celebration of the Divine Eucharist, but it continues also in our personal life. After the Divine Liturgy there begins another internal liturgy. When one communes of the Body and Blood of Christ, after necessary preparation, then they receive within them Christ as Prophet, King and High Priest and so the Divine Liturgy continues.

Christ teaches within us what we must do to walk correctly and rule over our passions, giving us His grace and energy, together with our synergy, to be released from the passions and freed from their dynasty. As a Priest He inspires us to pray unceasingly to God. This means that after Divine Communion we live Christ within us as Prophet, King and High Priest, and so we increase our spiritual life. Christ continues to preach, work miracles and perform as a Priest for our salvation.

In this sense the Gospel describes the key events of the life of Christ, mystically illustrated in the Mystery of the Divine Eucharist, and it is experienced spiritually in the heart, the center of the inner man, where the love and mercy of God is revealed.

We have many problems in our lives, several anomalous situations, and we face numerous difficulties, but as Christians we should live in Christ, that is, we should enter into the life of Christ and Christ can enter into us.

With these conditions, the new year will be blessed and fruitful and this year will be profitable. We should not only see our external difficulties, but we are interested primarily and above all how we make ​​within our existence a spiritual Divine Liturgy. We should be very interested especially in what the Apostle Paul says: "For if we are faithful to the end, trusting God just as firmly as when we first believed, we will share in all that belongs to Christ" (Heb. 3:14).

Happy and blessed New Year!

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "Η ζωή τού Χριστού μέσα μας", January 2012. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.