December 25, 2007
Christ is born, glorify Him;
Christ comes from heaven, meet Him.
Beloved brothers and children in the Lord,
It is with great joy that our Church calls us to glorify God for His loving and personal presence on earth in the divine-human hypostasis of Christ Jesus, one of the three persons of the Holy Trinity.
We must, therefore, examine very carefully the true and life-giving significance of the incarnation of the Son and Word of God. First, it reveals to humanity that God is personal and is made manifest to us as a person, just as He has also created us as persons. Second, it reveals to us that God embraces us with His love. These two realities, the personhood and love of God, express fundamental truths of our faith, which we have doubtless heard many times. However, their impact on our lives is not as great as it might be, because many of us neither experience our brotherhood with Christ in a personal way, nor His boundless love for us. Neither do we return our love to Christ so that by sharing in His love, we may also share, by grace, in other characteristics of His Person.
If others, who do not know Christ and, as a result of their ignorance, drown in their search for an impersonal being that they perceive as divine, are to some extent justified, then we Orthodox Christians are not justified at all if we follow such fruitless pursuits. Instead of seeking God as a person and approaching Him in the One Who approaches us, namely Jesus Christ, people who are misled desperately strive to become divine through their own powers, like Adam thought, when he listened to spirit of evil. But the true and personal God, Who is known only through Jesus Christ, the One born in a manger out of love for us, promised us adoption and a return to the bosom of the Father, as well as deification by grace through Christ. It is only through Christ that one may fulfill the universal human desire to transcend the corruption and isolation of an existence without love, and to achieve communion with Divine and human persons in love. This is what leads to eternity and to immortality!
Let us, therefore, turn the gaze of our hearts toward the newborn Jesus Christ in the manger, so that, by considering how much He loves us, we might love Him with all our heart, mind and being. It is only through the love of Jesus Christ that we may become partakers by grace in His divine nature, just as through His love He shared in our human nature. Human-centered attempts and concepts, drug-induced states and ecstasies, together with similar non-Christian experiences do not lead to an encounter with the truly personal God of love. Rather, they lead to a deep cold darkness, to gloom of eternal destruction, as well as to a feeling of complete and abysmal emptiness.
For this reason, beloved children in the Lord, love Jesus Christ, Who out of love for us and for our salvation became human. Come to know the communion of His love, with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Indeed, there is nothing sweeter than the love of the personal God.
The supreme herald of divine love, the one who identified God as love, is St. John the Evangelist and Theologian, who first pronounced to us, "God is love." After him, the greatest herald is St. Paul the Apostle, who loved God to the end and who asked the fervent question: "What can separate us from the love of Christ?" Neither sorrow nor sword, neither death nor any other love can be more powerful than our love for Christ. In remembrance of the words and loving works of St. Paul, and in celebration of two millennia since his birth, we declare the coming year 2008 as the year of the Apostle Paul.
We pray paternally and fervently that Jesus Christ, Who was born in a manger out of love and for our salvation, may render our hearts to become like His manger: through the intercessions of His ever-Virgin Mother, as well as of our predecessor St. John Chrysostom, to whose memory we dedicated this past year, together with the intercessions of another Patriarchal predecessor, St. Niphon, restorer and second founder of the Holy Patriarchal and Stavropegic Monastery of St. Dionysius on Mount Athos, which next year celebrates the 500th anniversary since his repose, as well as of Saints John and Paul the Apostles, par excellence heralds of God's love, and of all the saints, so that He may reveal to everyone the person of His love.
We invoke upon all of you His grace and rich mercy. Merry Christmas; may the twelve days of Christmas be blessed; and may the New Year be both spiritually and materially fruitful.
Phanar, Christmas 2007
Fervent supplicant for all to God
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