† N I C O L A E
by the Grace of God
Archbishop of the Romanian Orthodox Archdiocese in America and Canada
To the Beloved Clergy and Right-Believing Christians,
Peace and Holy Joy from our Lord Jesus Christ,
And from us Hierarchal Blessings.
By God's will we celebrate together for the first time the Feast of the Lord's Birth. God has blessed each one of us and our Archdiocese during this year which is now drawing to a close. We held a Special Electoral Congress in March and a festive Congress in July, the crowning moment of which was our ordination and installation as Archbishop. For our Archdiocese that has set out on a new path, the presence of His Beatitude Patriarch Teoctist in Montréal was a gift filling us with hope. The Joy of our Lord's Birth now comes to complete the circle of these events in our life. We should take this opportunity to delve more deeply into the mystery of this great Feast.
The Kondakion of the Lord's Nativity, composed by St. Romanos the Melodist, reveals to us a measure of the mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God:
"Today the Virgin gives birth to Him Who is above being,
And the earth offers a cave, to Him Whom no one can approach;
Angels and shepherds give glory,
Magi journey with a star,
For unto us is born a young child,
The Pre-existent God."
The first verse already points out the depth of the mystery; consistent with the Prophets of the Old Covenant, the Savior of the world is born from a Virgin: "Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the Virgin is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel" (Isaiah 7:14). A Virgin, a human being totally pure, was chosen by God to fulfill the eternal plan for the salvation of the world. The manner of salvation is beyond our human understanding. How can we comprehend that a Virgin gives birth? How can we comprehend the fact that a Virgin can give being to Him Who is beyond being? Who can explain how the Creator of all accepted to be born from the womb of His own creation? Not only is it the Virgin Mary who responds "be it done to me according to Your word," but the whole earth longs to contain the "One Whom no one can approach." If humanity offered the womb of the Holy Virgin, the earth receives God to be born in its bosom: the cave. "To offer" the cave to God means to present, to provide shelter to God so that He might take on human flesh. This is what shows us the mystery of the humility of the Son of God, "Who, though He was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness" (Philippians 2:6-7). In receiving God, the cave becomes "heaven," the dwelling place of God, as the Axion of the Nativity tells us. This is what shows us the deep meaning of the Incarnation: God descended to earth and took on human flesh so that earth and man might ascend to God. That which is impossible with men, is possible with God.
A little further on the Kontakion show us the joy of those who found the Good News. It was not the kings of this world that gave God glory for sending us His Son, but rather the shepherds in the vicinity of Bethlehem. They were the first ones to whom the angel of the Lord announced the birth of Jesus: "Do not be afraid; for see - I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord" (Luke 2:10-11). And it was these very people who first heard the multitude of angels sing: "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom He favors!" (Luke 2:14) The hymn that we study tells us that the shepherds followed the angels' example and "gave glory," that is, they lifted up songs of praise to God and then announced to everyone what they had heard about the Babe. The News which they had been made worthy of by God transformed them into Apostles; in being sent to the people in order to share their joy that God had provided for them a Savior.
To the shepherd are added the Magi. Knowledgeable of the laws of this world being intense observers of the movement of the stars, but also knowledgeable of the Scriptures, the Magi were enlightened and led by a star to see with their own eyes the promised Savior. Those who worshipped the stars, "were by a star taught to worship the Sun of Righteousness," as the Troparion of the Feast tells us. The path of the Magi guided by the star has become the path of all those who wish to discover the true God and to worship Him.
The Kontakion closes with "For unto us is born a young Child, the Pre-existent God." "For us and our salvation" God "the ancient of days" is also born as "a young Child." The mystery of human salvation through the birth of the Son of God took account of the weakness of human nature to save itself by its own means, to break through the closed horizontal loop of creation subject to repetition and death. St. Maximos the Confessor says that through this exceptional form of birth, God accepted temporality which does not contradict His eternity, and human nature is restored to its original state, being overcome with the Divine Spirit. God enters time in order to give it meaning. That which seemed like an unstoppable flow toward death as a sign of our alienation from God, acquires meaning through the creation of "the only new thing under the sun: the Incarnation of the Word."
Comprehending the mystery of the Incarnation of the Word of God, according to our ability, must also bring the offering of the manger of our soul to Him who accepted to descend from the Father's bosom for our salvation. The miracle that came from the Cave in Bethlehem can be repeated in each soul that wishes to imitate the "Be it done" of the Holy Virgin. "Be it done" means for each of us a response to God's call that was addressed to all of humanity. "Be it done" means opening our hearts, and also our eyes and our ears to receive the Word of God with watchfulness, and allow Him to bear fruit in us. "Be it done" means to watch over sprouts taking root in our souls, protecting it from the storms of this world of false lights. This "Be it done" will bring us heavenly joy and peace, calm and comfort.
In the five months since our ordination and installation as Archbishop, God has preserved us and poured down upon our Archdiocese the gift of His blessings. I have visited more than half of our parishes, both in the United States and in Canada and I happily discovered the zeal of the priests and faithful, their affection for and desire to have a beautifully adorned church that reminds them of their homeland and their parents' Church. I rejoiced at meeting so many children and young people in our parishes, a sign of hope but also of responsibility for the future of our Archdiocese. I felt everyone's desire and joy at meeting the new hierarch, and their concerns, hopes and plans for the future for each particular parish. This has made me understand the great mission which awaits me, as well as its difficulties given the vastness of the Archdiocese's territory and the variety of its problems.
This mission that we have received from God cannot be developed in any which way. There are many parishes founded almost a hundred years ago by our parents and grandparents who immigrated to this continent and did not break with their homeland and their Church. Through their sacrifice today we can worship in churches built in a style both Orthodox and Romanian. It is appropriate that we should remember them and follow their example: we should build new churches where those that exist cannot accommodate the numbers as well as where there are new parishes. In this way we will complete their legacy and not forget who we are while transmitting to our children that which we in our turn have received from our parents: the Orthodox faith.
And this mission also refers to the presence of our Archdiocese in this territory, that is on the level of an Archdiocesan center. An Archdiocesan center will be an embodiment of all of our parishes, it will mean an active presence of the Archdiocese in and among the ranks of the other Orthodox Churches and the other Christian denominations on the North American continent. It will be a house for all of us. Many of you, priests and faithful, know of the decision taken by the Archdiocesan Council to relocate the Archdiocesan center to Chicago. There is a need for a new mission among the Romanians of this city, and it is a unique chance to organize this mission through the direct involvement of the Archdiocese. I urge you, with fatherly affection, to help this idea along, and to actively participate toward its completion.
I pray to God that this Glorious Feast will bring you health, peace, joy, and furtherance in all good things in the service of our neighbor and to the glory of God. I embrace you with a brotherly embrace in Christ our Lord, Who was born in the manger of Bethlehem, and I wish you a Blessed Holiday season and Many Years!
Your brother and intercessor before God,
Feast of the Lord's Nativity, 2002