by Metropolitan Philip
from The Word, December 1966
With great joy and gratitude for God’s unfathomable love, we greet you at this Christmas season, praying and hoping that Christ will be born in your hearts. If we look upon the birth of Christ as a mere historical event, we celebrate this holy event in vain, for Christ’s birth must serve to renew our lives and make us comprehend God’s eternal love for man whom He created in His own image and likeness.
Man was created out of God’s love to be a partaker of the divine, and when he—deceived by the malice of the devil—rent that fellowship with God, God never ceased seeking him and stretching forth His hand to lead him back to the meadows of salvation. For God loves us despite our sins. He searched for man in Paradise when he had fallen victim to the deceitful one and established a dialogue with man to prepare him for the most decisive event in the history of man. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that all who believe in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) Christ’s birth, therefore, is more than an historical event for He was born to reconcile the human with the divine, to uplift man from the swamps of his lowly existence to the vastness of truth, beauty, and goodness. Christ was born to restore the purity of the image which was stained by sin.
“When the fullness of time was come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” (Gal. 4:4,5) When the fullness of time was come “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” (John 1:14). He who is God assumed our human nature with all its aspects except sin and humbled Himself. He was born in a lowly manger to give the greatest example ever given in self-sacrifice and humility. “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for our sake He became poor, so that by His poverty we might become rich.” (II Cor. 8:9).
Christmas, therefore, is not a time for superficial pleasure. It is a time for reflection and deep thinking. It is a time for soul-searching and self-examination. History does not record only what we say but rather what we do. In this great event of Christ’s birth God has given us the opportunity to witness to Him in this most crucial time in the history of mankind. Let us not, therefore, forget that we belong to the Church of saints and martyrs, the Church which in the past never compromised with evil. We belong to the Church which challenged the world and changed the history of man.
Let us, therefore, both clergy and laity, bathe in that eternal light which shone brightly over the humble shepherds of Bethlehem. Let us rededicate ourselves for the achievements of the great tasks of Orthodoxy which are ahead of us. To do this we must begin with our own spiritual life, and our progress must go hand in hand with our spiritual progress and development. Progress in spiritual life has no limits and there is so much yet to be done for our Archdiocese in particular and Orthodoxy in general. God gave us His Son, the most precious gift He could offer us. Let us give Him ourselves in return as a spiritual sacrifice, “for a new child was born for us, God before the ages.”
May He who humbled Himself for our sakes and was born in a manger bless you and keep you always in His love. Our best wishes and prayers be with you for a very blessed Christmas and a joyous New Year.
Synaxis of the Most Holy Theotokos - December 26
Thy Nativity, O Christ our God, has shone to the world as the light of wisdom. For by it those who worshipped the stars were taught by a star to adore Thee, the Sun of Righteousness, and to know Thee, the Orient from on high. O Lord, glory to Thee.
Kontakion of the Synaxis, Tone 6
He that was born before the morning star of Father without mother is today incarnate on earth of thee without father. A star tells the glad tidings to the Magi; while Angels and Shepherds praise thy seedless childbirth, O thou who art full of grace.