+ B A R T H O L O M E W
BY THE MERCY OF GOD ARCHBISHOP OF CONSTANTINOPLE,
NEW ROME, AND ECUMENICAL PATRIARCH,
TO THE PLENITUDE OF THE CHURCH,
GRACE, PEACE, AND MERCY
FROM CHRIST OUR SAVIOUR, BORN IN BETHLEHEM
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life (John 3:16).
Beloved Brothers and Sisters,Children in the Lord,
The human soul feels deeply the need to be loved. The widespread sense that life has no meaning, which plagues in particular our young people, is to be blamed on the absence of love. Our fellow human beings are for the most part trapped within their individual pursuits and seek to fill the emptiness caused by the lack of love with the acquisition of material goods, carnal pleasures and fame. However, the soul is only satisfied with personal recognition and love, and not these other things.
For love exists in the Lord and holds the world together, recognizes everyone by their name and is offered generously. God created the universe through His Logos out of love, so that we all may participate in the joy whose source is this unifying personal love.
However, beginning with the first created human being and ending with today's, humankind, throughout its entire history, has been rejecting the love Creator has offered to them and turned love away from their hearts; instead, they turned to the faceless world and sought unsuccessfully the recognition of their personal existence in the pursuit of superiority and self-absorbing satisfaction; they did not accept the love offered to them nor did they offer it back. As a result, a world of competition, hatred and bloodshed emerged, which we continue to experience as our daily reality.
God's love never diminishes, regardless of our rejection of it; God sent His only begotten Son to the world in human form out of love, not to judge people for having gone astray but to save the world through Him (John 3:17). He was born in a humble manger by the Virgin Mary in order to show that might, fame and material riches, in which humankind has sought joy and salvation, are not the true sources of life and happiness. Christ came to Bethlehem to bring again the message of the unconditional love of God for humankind. God has continued to offer this immense love for the two thousand years since Christ's birth. He came to the world as a weak and innocent infant, filled with love, yet threatened with death by slaughter by Herod. Herod represents a humankind that loathes love even when it is offered through the innocent and peaceful eyes of a child.
Many of today's people, who erroneously think of God as an unyielding judge, rather than as an affectionate Father who awaits the return of His prodigal son with love and forgiveness, have distanced themselves from the Incarnate God Jesus Christ, the Logos and glory of God the Father, and the consubstantial Holy Spirit; they have broken away from the life-giving and loving Holy Trinity, and thus rendered their world secular, deprived of hope in God and genuine love. They turned to substitutions for divine love, and based their hopes on the expansion of their might in the secular world, on the amassing of more wealth, the subjugation of nations, the global expansion of trade, the promulgation of ideas against God. They disregard, even deny, the reality of death, and turn to anything to alleviate the stresses that come from living without love. Some, unable to find deliverance from despair in these pursuits, are driven to reject the greatest gift of God to humankind, life itself.
Nevertheless, beloved children, the love of God is an undeniable reality. Our Lord Jesus Christ waits to be born in the heart of each of us in order to bring to everyone the meaning of life. This means that He has chosen us to enjoy life in mutual love and to experience the fulfillment of our existence in our relationship with Him, the Incarnate God, and with our fellow human beings and all creation. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as He chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before Him in love" (Eph. 1, 3:4).
Love is the equivalent of the foundation and the roof of a building, the beginning and the end, the Alpha and the Omega of creation. The mysteries of the manger and the Birth, the Cross, the Resurrection, the Ascension and the continuing presence of Christ on earth, in general, point to love. The hymn of the angels that is chanted during the Nativity service, "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace, good will among men" (Luke 2: 14) is an expression of the admiration angels felt when they realized the inconceivable love of God. Christ tolerated his crucifixion among outlaws not out of weakness, which is a quality unbefitting an omnipotent God; He tolerated it out of His love. All God's actions are filled with love for every single person.
Let us, then, beloved children abandon the course that leads to secularism and let us return to our Father God in repentance; let us return to Jesus Christ who was born as our brother, who came to our world out of love for us who had been deceived and had distanced ourselves from Him. His love for us is a fact. In His presence there is no fear but forgiveness, peace and joy.
May the grace, blessing and abundant mercy of God be with you all during the Nativity season and throughout your lives, unto the ages of ages.
At the Phanar, Christmas 2005
+ Patriarch of Constantinople