Archpastoral Letter for the Nativity 2010
Prot. N. 201
Very Reverend Protopresbyters, Very Reverend and Reverend Fathers, and dearly-beloved faithful of our God-saved Diocese:
CHRIST IS BORN! GLORIFY HIM!
CHRISTOS RAZDAJETSJA! SLAVITE JEHO!
"But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons." Galatians 4:4
Last year, at this festive time, I received a Christmas card which many people, I'm sure, would have found quite unusual, and yet for us Orthodox Christians, it was very appropriate. It did not depict the Christ Child in the cave surrounded by the Theotokos and Joseph, nor the adoration of the shepherds or the Magi, nor even hosts of angels singing the praises of God. Instead, it revealed the 40-day old Messiah, held in the arms of the righteous Elder Symeon, while His parents looked on. We know, of course, that this is the Feast that we now call the Meeting of the Lord in the Temple. The image was not an Orthodox icon, but it was a rather realistic portrayal of this event, and one which struck a chord in my own heart and soul. While we view the two feasts as separate events, they do share a commonality which unites them and all of the celebrations of this forty-day period and beyond. And that motif pertains to the law, and the fulfillment of and obedience to the law.
Beginning with the above epistle verse, the Holy Apostle Paul tells us that God the Father sent His Son Jesus Christ into the world as a human male. In order to do so, He, God Himself, became obedient to the law of nature, the Creator entering into creation in the same manner that every human being must. This is a profound concept of our Christian theology. Since man brought about his own downfall, he had to accept the responsibility for it and had to play a part in his own redemption. But he was totally incapable of doing that; God alone could redeem mankind. The Son of God united Himself with humanity through this miraculous and unusual birth, becoming what He had not been before; now He is the God-man (Theanthropos). He was a human man in every way except sin. And through Him our eternal salvation was accomplished! The Nativity was not an imaginary event nor a phantasm, "not in semblance or guise" as a hymn of our Church says, but a true human birth. Early heresies attempted to dispute and disprove this, but failed. The Orthodox Church clearly and precisely proclaimed the truth of this dogma. Unfortunately many people have once again succumbed to these errors in recent decades.
Not only did our Lord submit to the laws of nature, he also fulfilled the prescriptions of His own religious laws; first, that of circumcision, which initiated Him into the Hebrew faith. He did not try to circumvent this ritual of which He had no need; instead He embraced it. Listen to other hymns of our Holy Church:
"As the Fulfiller of the law, and One in nowise opposed to God, Christ showed Himself to be incarnate, and has deigned of His own will to be circumcised on the eighth day."
"The all-good God was not ashamed to be circumcised with the circumcision of the flesh, but provided Himself as an example and pattern for all, for their salvation."
On the fortieth day, again He was obedient to those God-given laws which directed the people to present their male infants to God as an offering of thanksgiving. "Now when the days of her purification (the Virgin Mary's) according the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, 'Every male who opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord') and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the law of the Lord, 'A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.'" (Luke 2:22-24)
"Receive, O Symeon, Him Whom Moses beheld in the gloom of Sinai giving the law, and Who has become a Babe, submitting to the law..." and
"He Who loves mankind, fulfilling the law of the Scriptures, is now borne into the temple..."
are but portions of the many stichiri which emphasize this truth.
At age twelve, after having been found in the temple, preaching to and teaching the elders, we learn that "He (Jesus) went down with them to Nazareth and was subject to them (his parents)... " In this we see the laws of society and family to which God was also obedient!
The Gospels continue to inform us that the Christ, the Son of God, was baptized, prayed, fasted, attended Sabbath worship every week, gave alms, celebrated all of the Jewish festivals; in essence, He was obedient to the law in every detail. He is God, and He sets the example for us to follow! By being subservient to the laws, He demonstrated His own love of God the Father and His obedience to Him, even though He was equal to Him!
Thus it is, that once again our God, the Child of Bethlehem, sets the example for us to follow. So often today, people, even faithful people, do not want to obey the laws of God, of nature, of the Church, of our families, or of society. They are tempted to set them aside or toss them out altogether in deference to their own standards and egos, insisting that they can do without many of the laws that do not really apply to them and because they know better what is best for them.
But when we pause to contemplate that our loving Saviour, the Son of God Himself, submitted to laws when, as God, He was certainly not obligated to do so, He shows us the way, because He is "the Way, the Truth, and the Life." (John 14:6) Laws have been established for the good and welfare of humanity, and when we are obedient to them, we are successful and do well in life, whether our physical or spiritual life. Being obedient to and submitting our often-stubborn self-will to the will of God, then we learn and practice one of the greatest virtues that the Incarnation calls us to learn; that is, or course, HUMILITY! God as a tiny human baby is the HEIGHT OF HUMILITY!!! As children of God, it is our sacred duty to continue to study the Laws of God daily and for all the days of our lives, and to obey them without reservation, because our God loves us and cares for us that much! Each of us needs to recommit ourselves to obedience of the laws of God so that we will be imitators of His own humility.
What the angels announced on that Holy Night two millennia ago, and what was revealed to the world, finds its culmination and fulfillment throughout this entire season. The message is the same; may we learn it and live it.
Beseeching peace, great joy, good health, and salvation for you and yours and imparting my archpastoral blessing upon each of you on this glorious and saving Feast, I remain
Most sincerely yours in the Christ Child,