December 24, 2014

Christ Was Born Not to Establish a New Religion

By His Eminence Metropolitan Hierotheos
of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou

My beloved brethren,
Again the love and mercy of God has made us worthy to celebrate the great feast of Christmas, the Birth of Jesus Christ as man. He who was born as God before the ages from the Father, and was born without seed in time from the Panagia as man. Two births, in eternity and in time, which have become the cause of our own regeneration. This is why the sacred hymnographers of our Church, and also all the Holy Fathers, hymn and glorify the God-man Christ, who regenerated man and renewed all of creation, giving to both man and all of creation another perspective and meaning.

In all scriptural and patristic texts it is clear that Christ was not incarnated to create a new religion, which would be included among all the older religions, but He became man, while at the same time remaining God, to create a new situation, to give man a new perspective. Christ is not a new religious leader and Christianity is not a new religion which can be added to the existing ones.

First, Christ by His incarnation proved that the so-called gods worshipped by the people were idols and non-existent fantasies. With the birth of Christ "the light of knowledge arose upon the world". He Himself proclaimed His own uniqueness: "I am the way the truth and the life" (Jn. 14:6). In His Sermon on the Mount He repeatedly said: "You have heard that it was said of old... But I say...(Matt. 5:33). In the Apocalypse He asserted: "I am the Alpha and the Omega, says the Lord God, who is, was and is to come, the Almighty" (Rev. 1:8). Within this perspective the Holy Apostles gave the testimony of their faith and suffered martyrdom. Full of the Holy Spirit the Apostle Peter confirms: "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). And the Apostle Paul, referring to the mentality of the idolaters, said that their imprudent hearts became darkened by their vain thoughts and thus they "exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles" (Rom. 1:23).

Then Christ, by His teachings, life, Cross and Resurrection, healed man from the sickness of religion, as taught by the late eminent teacher of our Church who reposed recently (Fr. John Romanides). The various other religions are trying to atone the alleged wrath of God, seeking to overcome the separation barrier between man and God, boldly using imagination and reflection and satisfying human passions. Thereby they create illusions of salvation, cultivating fanaticism and aggressiveness, and they cannot go beyond the problem of death and sin. But Christ, the true God, united human nature to the divine nature, conquered death with the Cross and His Resurrection, smashed all the idols of the so-called gods and freed man from the tyranny of death, sin and the devil.

And, of course, this means that Christianity is not a religion like the others, it is not even a religion at all, but it is the Church. This is not a religious community that aims to worship God to be redeemed, but to be the Church, which is the Body of Christ, the union of God and people, the living and the reposed. The Church is a spiritual hospital, a hospital that heals the diseased personality of man and frees him from death and corruption, liberating the powers of the soul and body from the corruptible powers of the passions and establishing the whole personality of man. It is exactly because it heals the ailing human personality, that is why this is a real family, in which love is cultivated between members, through which philanthropy and compassion develope, and even human relations are restored in society and in the entire creation.

Within this framework we claim that Christianity is not a religion, but the Church, and there is a big difference between religion and the Church. Of course, it is possible for some of the members of the Church to perceive Christianity as a religion, to religionize, that is, ecclesiastical life, altering Christianity from a way of life to a standardized religiosity, from communion with the living God to a magical and ceremonial relationship with God. Yet the Church is not responsible for this, but people who are unable to meet the high meaning and purpose of ecclesiastical life and remain in a low religious level, which they absolutize.

Today, with the great feast of the Church, the Nativity of Christ, where everything celebrates and everything is brilliant, you should feel Christ who is born today also in the Divine Liturgy, not as a leader of a religion, but as the Lord of heaven and earth, the only God and Savior, the Healer and Savior of our souls, the Head of the Church which sanctifies man, healing and helping him conquer his passions and his anthropocentrism. And living in the maze of anthropocentric and imaginary religion that cultivates fanaticism and hatred, we should embrace the teachings of Christ, and to experience His life in order to gain together with the entire world both meaning and purpose.

The grace and mercy of the incarnate Son and Word of God be with you all.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "Christmas Pastoral Encyclical", December 2001. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.