by the mercy of God
Archbishop of the Romanian Orthodox Archdiocese in the Americas
To our beloved clergy and right-believing Christians,
peace and joy from Christ the Lord who was born in a manger,
and from us hierarchical blessings.
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:
“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel,
which means ‘God with us’” (Mt. 1:22-23).
Very Reverend Fathers, Beloved Faithful,
At this glorious feast I too proclaim to you the great miracle which has taken place in Bethlehem in Judaea: that the Virgin has conceived; that the Son of God has become incarnate, that God is with us. It is the proclamation of the fulfillment of the prophecies; it is the Good News which has changed the destiny of the world; it is the hope of every believer that God is with him or her.
This miracle is the fulfillment of a plan of God; it is the revelation of the mystery which was hidden from eternity and unknown to the angels. St. Paul the Apostle speaks of the fulfillment of this plan of God at the right moment, when humankind was prepared to receive this revelation: But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship (Gal. 4:4-5). The way this plan is fulfilled is above nature and beyond understanding, for today the Virgin gives birth to the Transcendent One (The Kontakion of the Feast).
Immediately in the human mind appear a multitude of questions about this event: how can a Virgin give birth, how can God the Creator descend to the breast of a creature, how can the Almighty appear as a helpless child? We find ourselves confronted with a great question: how? St. John Chrysostom expresses this bewilderment beautifully: I see the Child and the swaddling clothes, I see the Virgin’s birth without the things she needs. Everything is laden with poverty, everything is full of need. Behold riches in great poverty! How did He become poor for us when He was rich? How could He not have a bed, nothing to lie on, but be laid in an empty manger (St. John Chrysostom).
God responds, revealing to us the pathway to our redemption: through humility from love. As we sing at the Vespers of the Lord’s Nativity: Behold, the Image of the Father and His immutable Eternity has taken the form of a servant! He has come down to us from a Mother all-pure, and yet He has remained unchanged: He has remained true God as He was before, and has taken on Himself what He had not been, becoming Man out of His love for man.... Out of love for His creation the Father sent His Son to take the form of a servant, to be clothed in our nature, to be made like one of us. We all know the hymn of St. Paul, addressed to the Christians in Philippi, about the humility of the Son of God: Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross (Phil. 2:5-8). Though being God, the Son emptied Himself, humbled Himself, came down from the heights, and took on the form of a servant. As we sing at the Matins of the Lord’s Nativity: What, indeed, is lower than a cave? What is humbler than swaddling clothes—and yet the splendor of Your divinity shone forth in them resplendently.
The humility of God has a precise purpose, as we confess in the Creed: God became man for us and for our salvation. In St. Basil’s Liturgy it says that He emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being likened to the body of our lowliness, that He might liken us to the image of His glory. And the Church Fathers teach us that the Son of God became the Son of Man in order that He might make man the son of God.
This is the pathway to man’s salvation prepared by God. But this humility of the Son of God for the salvation of man results in His being exalted and honored. St. Paul goes on to tell us in the Epistle to the Philippians that therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Phil. 2:9-11). St. Gregory Palamas explains this unimagined path of exaltation through humility: Being nature above nature, God cannot be exalted to a greater height or glory. He is exalted from below, from condescending and humbling Himself in His creatures. The Glory of the Most High is condescension to things that are humble.
To our question regarding how all these things were possible, we receive a response which clarifies not only how, but also why, and what is the outcome of the humility of God. For God appeared as a humble Baby so that we could learn the path of humility. The Son of God came down to earth in order to exalt us through humility. We understand that humility does not mean to renounce what we are, but rather to be raised up to what we are called to become: sons of God through grace. The incarnation of the Son of God cannot remain merely an objective act of man’s redemption. Man must participate in this redemption. Father Stăniloae says that Christ requests our obedience and asks us to receive His love and to follow His example of humility, meekness and service…. He commands us (as God) and prays together with us and for us... (Orthodox Dogmatics, Vol. II).
My desire for you at this glorious feast is that you receive this proclamation of the humility of God through the Incarnation of the Son; that you may discover the meaning of His exaltation through humility as the pathway to our salvation; that you may have the mind of Christ, as St. Paul urges us; that you may find your own path to salvation, following the example of the humble Christ. And may this pathway be a source of hope and great joy to you at this feast when we proclaim that God is with us.
I extend to you a brotherly embrace in Christ the Lord, with best wishes that you might enjoy the holy feast days of Christmas, the New Year, and Theophany in health, joy, and peace.
Your brother in prayer unto God,
The Feast of the Lord’s Nativity, 2010