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December 27, 2021

2021 Pastoral Encyclical for Christmas (Metr. Hierotheos of Nafpaktos)

Beloved children in the Lord,

The celebration of the Nativity of Christ gives me the opportunity to communicate with you and to wish you well and rejoice with you, while referring to the great theology of the celebration of Christmas.

I feel that many people, and especially those who are psychologically sensitive, in times of difficult situations in society due to social instability, divisions and upheavals, due to physical and mental illnesses, due to various delusions, resort to reading a serious poem in order to find an inner balance and a different meaning of life.

We Christians in similar situations that prevail around us, in every dispute and in the collapse of persons and things, must resort to our own worship poetry, which was written by holy hymnographers and poets, who had an exalted understanding of the meaning of reality. And if, as the poet says, "poetry does not change our lives", ecclesiastical poetry of the celebration of Christmas, the troparia we chant in the church, are full of an exalted theological meaning that sweetens and calms our hearts, giving it spiritual intensity for exalted flights to a revelation beyond this world which Christ revealed to us.

One such poem that is beyond this world can be found in Saint Romanos the Melodist, who, among the many Kontakia he composed, also has a Kontakion that refers to the Holy and All-Revered Birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. Saint Romanos the Melodist lived during the first half of the 6th century and is one of the greatest hymnographers of our Church, who was rightly considered the "Pindar of rhythmic poetry".

The "prooimion" of this Kontakion is chanted to this day and is the well-known troparion: "The Virgin today gives birth."

In this hymn the mystery of the incarnation of the Son and Word of God is mentioned, but at the same time the universal celebration of the whole creation and of all men is presented for the birth of Christ, the "little child" who is "God before the ages". The poverty of the cave is receptive to the mystery, which the hymn summarizes using opposite or rather complementary pairs, thus connecting the terrestrial with the celestial, that is, the earthly cave which accepts the inaccessible one, the heavenly angels coexist with the angels, the heavenly star with the magi.

Who can, by chanting this hymn, remain in the worldly frustrations that come from mentally ill people? Who can remain unmoved by the coming of the "little child" who is also "God before the ages", of the Lord Jesus Christ to the apostate world?

In this entire Kontakion of Saint Romanos the Melodist, in a unique, exalted, tender and sensitive way in 24 troparia, the secret dialogue of the Most Holy Theotokos with Christ after His birth in a Manger with irrational animals is presented in an amazing and poetic way. At the same time, the dialogue of the Most Holy Theotokos with the Magi of the East who came to worship the new King is described.

Wonderful is the hymn in which the Virgin Mary is shown to be in poverty inside the cave, and yet to wonder why Christ fell in love with the Cave and rejoiced in the Manger. This hymn will be exhibited in the language written by Saint Romanos, so that we can also enjoy the rhythmic language, and then it will be quoted in translation. He writes:

Ὑψηλέ βασιλεῦ, τί σοι καί τοῖς πτωχεύσασι;

ποιητά οὐρανοῦ τί πρός γηΐνους ἤλυθας;

σπηλαίου ἠράσθης ἤ φάτνῃ ἐτέρφθης;

Ἰδού οὐκ ἔστι τόπος τῇ δούλῃ σου ἐν τῷ καταλύματι∙

οὐ λέγω τόπον, ἀλλ’ οὐδέ σπήλαιον,

ὅτι καί αὐτό τοῦτο ἀλλότριον∙

καί τῇ μέν Σάρρᾳ τεκούσῃ βρέφος

ἐδόθη κλῆρος γῆς πολύς, ἐμοί δέ οὔτε φωλεύς∙

ἐχρησάμην τό ἄντρον, ὅ κατῴκησας βουλήσει

παιδίον νέον, ὁ πρό αἰώνων Θεός.

+ + +

Exalted King, what have you to do with the impoverished?

Maker of heaven, why have you come to those born of earth?

Did you fall in love with a cave or take pleasure in a manger?

See, there is no place for your servant in the inn,

I do not say a place, not even a cave,

for that too belongs to another.

To Sarah, when she bore a child,

a vast land was given as her lot. To me, not even a fox hole.

I used the cavern where willingly you made your dwelling,

a little child, God before the ages.

In this supernatural poem it seems that the incarnation of the Son and Word of God transcends every word and every poetry, it is an implicit fact, that is why even poetry cannot approach it, but in any case it is the means by which we can most capture everything unusual and revolutionary and man with his poetic speech and rhythmic formulation is attuned a little to this implicit and indescribable mystery.

Again the pairs of opposites serve to illustrate the mystery. Christ is the "little child" and at the same time "God before the ages", He is a heavenly King and He comes to earth. He "falls in love" with the cave, He "takes pleasure" in the manger, He lives with the poor and humble. The place of His manifestation, through the monologue of the Mother of God that expresses her wonder, is identified in stages: there is no "place", "no cave", "no fox hole". And we who are "impoverished" and became like irrational animals in our deeds, see next to us the God-man Christ. This shows the transcendent love of God for us.

Beloved children in the Lord,

We live in a difficult and turbulent time, not, of course, worse than the time in which Christ was born and lived. We see next to us the collapse of many theories, situations, in which the fear of death prevails, the delusion of all kinds of saviors, the secularization of ecclesiastical things, the alteration of Orthodox anthropology. The main thing is that we live in an age where Christians live and behave as if they are pre-Christian and post-Christian, as if we were living before Christ, and as if we were in a post-Christian society, where the gospel has become socialized and we have lost our perspective that is beyond this world.

In this age when everything is being downgraded, especially the Revelation that Christ brought to the world, the Orthodox Church with its hymnography and its life, hits the "high notes", speaks of that which is New that came into the world in the person of Christ, where every despair can be filled with the new, the exalted, the unspeakable, eternity itself, Christ.

I wish to all of you that "the little and God before the ages" will fill our spiritual poverty with His own wealth, as we chant it in our own ecclesiastical poetry that is beyond this world. Let us love our ecclesiastical poetry in order to understand the life of the Composer of heaven and earth and to be filled with life that is beyond this world. Let us listen to it as something new, discarding the habit and let us unclog the barriers between the liturgical life and the hymnography of the Church and our personal life. We need this to gain stability in our faith in Christ.

With paternal love and wishes,

The Metropolitan

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