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December 26, 2020

Pastoral Encyclical for Christmas 2020 (Metr. Hierotheos of Nafpaktos)

Beloved brethren and beloved children in the Lord,

Today's feast is the feast of Christmas, a bright festival, from the point of view of the theology of our Church, as it is preserved in the homilies of the Holy Fathers and the hymns of the holy hymnographers.  What of it if everything outside of it is woeful? We celebrate "the Theophany" and our recalling and return to God. If all of humanity is trembling before death due to the pandemic of the virus, we Orthodox Christians celebrate by looking towards the incarnation of the Son and Word of God and the consequences it has for mankind.

Because today's feast of Christmas is permeated with Orthodox theology, therefore, in harmony with the holy hymnography of the feast, I will offer to you a spiritual message of healing by the great theologian of our Church, Saint Gregory the Theologian, whose homily on the "Birthday of the Savior" presents the entire theologial meaning of the feast of the Nativity of Christ. From this discourse I will extract a few passages, which I will present to you as a festive and theological "meal", to encourage our souls from the sorrows of these days.

According to Saint Gregory the Theologian, Eve in Paradise forgot the commandment of God to not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and thus was overcome by a small taste. This is why she was exiled from Paradise and was dressed in a leather tunic, which is the "coarser flesh, both mortal and contradictory," and confesses: "alas for my weakness!" Human nature was weakened and diseased and from it flowed death as a great beast devouring everything.

"And having been first chastened by many means (because his sins were many, whose root of evil sprang up through various causes and at sundry times), by word, by law, by prophets, by benefits, by threats, by plagues, by waters, by fires, by wars, by victories, by defeats, by signs in heaven and signs in the air and in the earth and in the sea, by unexpected changes of men, of cities, of nations (the object of which was the destruction of wickedness), at last he needed a stronger remedy, for his diseases were growing worse; mutual slaughters, adulteries, perjuries, unnatural crimes, and that first and last of all evils, idolatry and the transfer of worship from the Creator to the Creatures. As these required a greater aid, so also they obtained a greater.

And that was that the Word of God Himself — Who is before all worlds, the Invisible, the Incomprehensible, the Bodiless, Beginning of Beginning, the Light of Light, the Source of Life and Immortality, the Image of the Archetypal Beauty, the immovable Seal, the unchangeable Image, the Father's Definition and Word - came to His own Image, and took on Him flesh for the sake of our flesh, and mingled Himself with an intelligent soul for my soul's sake, purifying like by like; and in all points except sin was made man."

Thus, Christ by His incarnation became a physician for our fallen nature, and at the same time became a spritual medicine and a spiritual vaccine. He took on Himself our nature in order to heal it, He enters into us in order to refashion us, to give health to our sick mortal nature, from the spiritual point of view.

Saint Gregory goes on to say that Christ as a Physician "stoops over sufferings, and endures evil odors that he may give health to the sick." He also says that Christ "bends down into a ditch to save a beast that had fallen into it."

This is the deepest meaning of the feast of Christmas. We celebrate our spiritual rebirth, our spiritual refashioning. This is why Saint Gregory the Theologian says: "Therefore let us keep the feast, not after the manner of a festival, but after a godly sort; not after the way of the world, but in a fashion above the world; not as our own but as belonging to Him Who is ours, or rather as our Master's; not as of weakness, but as of healing; not as of creation, but of re-creation."

Beloved brethren and beloved children in the Lord,

The devil in Paradise cast his own poisonous virus into our soul and this virus since then devours our soul and body. However, there were no effective and appropriate spiritual medicines and spiritual vaccines to deal with its destructive work. The consequences of this illness prevailed everywhere, which are our sins and passions and death. The whole human race was tormented.

When the fullness of time arrived, the real Physician, Christ, came, who is the strongest medicine and the strongest spiritual vaccine, which we receive with the Mysteries, and especially with the Mystery of divine Communion, the Body and Blood of Christ, to overcome death, the spiritual and the physical.

The Church is the Spiritual Hospital, where resides the great Doctor, Christ, in which there are spiritual doctors, spiritual medicines and spiritual vaccines to defeat our greatest enemy. It is very dangerous to separate the Church as a place of healing and a society of theosis, from its sacred institution. How difficult and dangerous it is to separate a Hospital, which deals with the treatment of physical illnesses, from its administrative function. In a Hospital, its administrative organs can make a mistake, even if a doctor does not treat properly, but we do not abolish the Hospital, when we move away from it, when we seek treatment outside the Hospital.

In this time that most people are going through grief, despair and dismay from the great health crisis, and everyone is waiting for some new medicine and some new vaccine against the new virus, and we pray to God for this, we must know that there is a worse virus, which is sin, that is healed by the Son and Word of God, who incarnated in order to become a medicine and a vaccine for us, so we may also defeate the devil, sin and death in Christ.

This is what we are celebrating these days and we must celebrate in a divine manner. And we must not be disappointed by "our sicknesses", but rejoice in "the healings" in Christ Jesus, Whose infinite mercy be with you all.

With paternal blessings

The Metropolitan

+ of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou Hierotheos
Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.