by the mercies of God
Archbishop of the Romanian Orthodox Archdiocese in the Americas
To our beloved clergy and Orthodox Christians,
peace and joy from Christ the Lord,
and from us hierarchical blessings.
For unto us is born a little child,
who is God from all eternity.
(Kontakion of the Nativity)
Most Reverend Fathers,
On this Royal Feast day, I too bring you the tidings that the God who is “from all eternity” has been born as “a little child”, bringing to each of us joy and great hope. The joy comes from that of the Holy Family and of the angels who announced the miracle in the manger of Bethlehem, and the hope is the hope of salvation through the birth of this “little child.”
The joy of the Lord’s Nativity is described in the songs of this day of great celebration: “Rejoice greatly, O Heaven! Be glad, O earth! The Lamb of God has been born on earth.” “Rejoice, holy ones; you heavens be glad; and you mountains, sing with glee, for Christ our God is born.” “The powers of Heaven rejoice, the earth and all mankind dance with glee.” This is the joy of the proclamation of the fulfillment of the prophecies, of the descent of God to earth, of the “Kingdom of God drawing near.” And it is also the joy of the birth of a child as a sign of the blessing of God.
Let us remember that the parents of the Virgin Mary, Joachim and Anna, had no children. They prayed with perseverance for many years, they had patience, and they put their hope in the help and work of God. And God listened to their prayer and blessed them more than they even hoped. For they prayed for a child that would take away the sign of infirmity and of the lack of blessing which was over their family. They received a child, the Virgin Mary, who would give the world its Savior. The blessing of God on this family represented the blessing on the human race that was awaiting its Deliverer from sin and infirmity.
Later, the joy and the blessing were poured out upon the Virgin Mary at the Annunciation: “Rejoice, you who are full of grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women!” (Luke 1:28). Mary was in prayer, just as was her custom from the temple, but still she marveled at this news. What blessing was this that was announced? The Archangel explained to her the plan of God for this pure virgin: “Fear not, Mary, for you have found favor with God. For behold you will conceive in your womb and will bear a son, and you will call him Jesus” (Luke 1:30-31). For a human being who had dedicated her life to the service of God, this news was unfathomable. What could be the meaning of this blessing which was more appropriate for a married woman desirous of bringing children into the world? What the Virgin understood and accepted was the fact that the proclamation of the archangel was the revelation of the will of God. The salvation of mankind would be fulfilled through the blessing of God and through the response of the Virgin: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; let it be unto me according to Your Word” (Luke 1:38). The response meant becoming pregnant in her womb and, later, raising a child as the fruit of the blessing of God. The response also meant a mysterious joy that this child was ordained by God to fulfill a mission, and not just any, but the salvation of the world. And that she, the Virgin Mary, had become the vehicle of the work of God.
Through these things that have been said, we understand that the Lord’s Nativity reveals to us the way in which God poured out His blessing and found the way by which to bring salvation to man. We also understand that every child is the fruit of the blessing of God upon a family, a blessing which brings much joy. The child that God sends into a family has a mission ordained by God. The parents become partakers in this mission by means of their bringing the child into the world, and by raising and teaching it. Joachim and Anna are called “the holy, righteous, godly parents” because they received the child Mary. She herself received the name ”Birthgiver of God” because she gave physical birth to the Son of God. St. John of Damascus says that “this name contains the whole mystery of salvation.” The mystery of the maternity of the Holy Virgin does not only pertain to the physical birth. For she was, and remained, a Virgin. The fulfillment of her maternity is sacrificial love. Through love for the one to whom one has given birth the egoism of man is conquered. In this love we can discover the image of love for our neighbor, says Father Georges Florovsky. In our love for our child we can understand the commandment to love our neighbor “as ourselves.” Therefore the mystery of the Savior’s Nativity through the Virgin Mary reveals the mystery of our salvation. Father Florovsky continues by saying that the love of the Birthgiver of God is all-embracing. It includes the Savior’s sacrifice on the Cross, and through that it includes us all who follow Him. The love of the Theotokos is perfected through the fact that she is the protector of Christians and intercessor for us.
Most Reverend Fathers, Beloved Faithful,
At the celebration of the Lord’s Nativity it behooves us to remember the significance of the birth of a child as a sign of the blessing of God which brings joy to the family. In our world, ever more estranged from God, we are tempted to forget what a child represents, and to follow the world in not desiring children. Christian parents must not forget the responsibility they have before God. St. Paul the Apostle tells us that woman is saved through childbearing, meaning not only their birth for this world, but also for the eternal Kingdom through baptism. According to the example of the Mother of God, motherhood and fatherhood mean sacrificial love for children. This means their Christian education, going together with them through the temptations of this world, the example of spiritual life in the family. The families that fulfill these things become co-laborers with God and fulfillers of the Divine will.
At this bright feast my desire for you all is that the Child Jesus will bring you blessing and joy. I desire that you rejoice in the children God has given you, both the physical and spiritual ones. I desire that you find the way of salvation in the Church, and that you hold tightly to the hands of all your loved ones on this pathway.
I enfold you in a brotherly embrace in Christ the Lord, and I wish you the Holy Feasts of Christmas, the New Year, and Theophany in health, peace, and spiritual joys.
Your Brother in Prayer to God
and Desirer of every Heavenly Good,
Chicago, the Feast of the Lord’s Nativity, 2012