Patriarchal Nativity Encyclical 2014
The Serbian Orthodox Church to her spiritual children at Christmas, 2014
By the Grace of God
Orthodox Archbishop of Pec, Metropolitan of Belgrade Karlovci and Serbian Patriarch, with all the Hierarchs of the Serbian Orthodox Church to all the clergy, monastics, and all the sons and daughters of our Holy Church: grace, mercy and peace from God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit, with the joyous Christmas greeting:
Peace from God! Christ is Born!
“Great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh, Justified in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up in glory. ”
(I Tim. 3:16)
We are celebrating once again in this year of the Lord, brothers and sisters, the day of Christ’s Nativity, the day on which God descended to earth, the day on which the Only-begotten Son of God became incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary in order to grant us, mortal and transitory people, eternal life.
The Nativity of our Lord is the day on which God became man, so that men could become gods by grace; the Lord’s Nativity is the day of the revelation of the eternal truth about God, man and the world; the Nativity is the day on which heaven was united with earth; the day on which the eternal light of the knowledge of God shown forth; the Nativity is the day on which mankind is reconciled with God and people recognize that they are children of God – that all people are and will eternally be brothers, called to mutual love, reconciliation and forgiveness.
The joyous news of the birth of the Son of God first of all announces to us a twofold truth: the truth about the God-Man Christ, true God and true Man, the Son of man Who is the one and self-same Only-begotten Son of the Father, whose lineage cannot be expressed and Who, at the same time, is from the royal lineage of David. Similarly, according to the divinely inspired words of Holy Bishop Nicholai of Zicha: In Him both commandments of God are fulfilled: whoever loves Him loves the perfect God; whoever loves Him, loves the perfect Man, and in Him primordial humanity, all people and all creatures of God.
On the day of the Nativity, three basic, sacred realities of humanity and overall existence were revealed and given to us: the sanctity of the father and fatherhood, the sanctity of the mother and motherhood, and the sanctity of the child and childhood. That is why the Church, in preparing herself for the Nativity of Christ, prior to the Nativity, celebrates Children’s Day, Mothers’ Day and Fathers’ Day. Thus, in Christ as a Young Child Who is the Divine Child and Pre-eternal God – as we sing on Christmas – every conception in the mother’s womb and every birth is given an eternal meaning; every newborn child becomes holy. Likewise, motherhood is also holy, being sanctified by the Godly-motherhood of the Most Holy Theotokos, for a mother’s womb no longer gives birth to children for death and transitoriness. After the birth of Christ, every birth of a new child becomes a birth unto eternity; and with that earthly fatherhood becomes sacred, because its roots are in the heavenly fatherhood of God the Father, Christ’s and our eternal Parent.
With the birth of Christ, then, the glorious and indescribable Mystery of the heavenly Communion of the Father and Son and Holy Spirit, One God of love glorified in the Trinity, is made manifest and given to us. Though Him an earthly father, mother and child become a mirror of that mystery beyond comprehension, as the Church of God and as a family – a Church in miniature. The unity of the world and the unity of mankind, their oneness and indestructible communion, are established in the unity of God and the eternal Communion of love of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. By creating the visible and invisible world, God fills it with His love and calls it to grow in that love and perfection, especially when taking into account rational beings: “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48) By creating the world, God even then begins to create the Church as the community of everything that exists. And the fullness of that creation and the entire work of God is represented precisely by Christ’s Birth – the day on which God became man so that man and creation may become God-like, deified. That is why the Church as the Body of Christ is the place and the community of the fulfillment of that fullness, the place of growth and perfection “til we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:13) The family is the basic cell of such a Church of God, an image of God’s Trinitarian love. That is why Paul, the apostle to the nations, when he speaks about the sanctity of marriage, compares it with the love with which Christ loves the Church, offering and sacrificing Himself for her, and ends with the divinely inspired words: “This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the Church.” (cf. Ephesians 5:25-32)
When people deny and forget God’s love, then the family as its earthly realization and manifestation — that is, the community between male and female as the Holy Mystery of love and birth unto eternal life — falls apart. The less faith in God there is, the less there is of God and God’s love among people. There is less and less love in human relationships, and the less there is of true love in marriage, family, and society, the more there is of false love. Self-love reigns among people and in people.
The human being is by nature and calling created for love. Just as a human organism has a need for healthy food, a man likewise, by losing true love and healthy food, replaces them with surrogates of love and food. Such a man becomes incapable of comprehending and accepting eternal Truth, to Which we sing at Christmas: “Thy Nativity O Christ our God, has shown to the world the Light of Wisdom”; such a man is even less capable of comprehending and accepting the words of God Who has appeared in flesh: “I am the living Bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this Bread, he will live forever; and the Bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.” (John 6:51)
Has not our age once again turned to the path of death, the path that replaces God’s truth with lies, the path of serving creation rather than Creator? Truly, man today is in danger of replacing God with Satan, with false divinity and false knowledge, true love with that which St. John the God-seer calls “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life”. (I John 2:16) And whenever mankind has followed that path in history, it has subsequently found itself at the entryway to its own catastrophe and before the fall of its own civilization.
Our celebration of Christmas as the celebration of God’s love and of true human love, as well as of the holiness of birth into eternal life, takes place in a time of man’s use and misuse of God’s giving and gifts. That misuse consequently causes a disruption of the basic order and rules of living, it is a cause of evil and many diseases, it endangers the health of both man and nature, and it leads to the loss of life's meaning. The rejection and trampling upon the ancient Christian and general human moral foundations of life, and of the true human existence and dignity built upon them, leads to an to a disruption of our very nature and life.
Christ’s Birth calls us to return to those enduring moral values, to self-restraint, to chastity and discernment for the young, to holiness in marriage, to ascetic effort, fasting and prayer.
So then, in this, our time when everything is for sale — especially the sanctity of love and the meaning of life — the Divine Infant by His Nativity invites all people of all times to receive eternal divine love, immortal health and fullness of life, in communion with God the Father together with the Son and the Holy Spirit, One God glorified in Trinity.
On this Christmas as well we are with our brothers and sisters in Kosovo and Metohija, urging them to remain there and to live among their holy shrines.
We prayerfully remember our brother and concelebrant, the Archbishop of Ohrid and Metropolitan of Skoplje Jovan, unjustly sentenced and now serving that sentence only because he chose unity with the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. We, likewise, remember all those who unjustly suffer and are being persecuted.
We pray to the New-Born Christ that in the upcoming year there will be less unrest but more peace, less hate but more love, less discord but more unity, and we call down God’s blessing upon all of you, our dear spiritual children, wherever you might be in this world, that in peace and love for God and man you may celebrate Christmas, greeting each other with the joyous and ancient greeting:
PEACE FROM GOD - CHRIST IS BORN!
INDEED HE IS BORN!
A BLESSED NEW YEAR OF OUR LORD 2015!
Given at the Serbian Patriarchate in Belgrade at Christmas, 2014.
Your intercessors before the cradle of the divine Christ-Child:
Archbishop of Pec,
Metropolitan of Belgrade-Karlovci and
Serbian Patriarch IRINEJ
Metropolitan of Montenegro and the Coastlands AMPHILOHIJE
Metropolitan of Dabro-Bosna NIKOLAJ
Metropolitan of Zagreb and Ljubljana PORFIRIJE
Bishop of Sabac LAVRENTIJE
Bishop of Srem VASILIJE
Bishop of Banja Luka JEFREM
Bishop of Budim LUKIJAN
Bishop of Canada GEORGIJE
Bishop of Banat NIKANOR
Bishop of New Gracanica-Midwestern America LONGIN
Bishop of Eastern America MITROPHAN
Bishop of Backa IRINEJ
Bishop of Great Britain and Scandinavia DOSITEJ
Bishop of Zvornik-Tuzla CHRYSOSTOM
Bishop of Osijek and Baranja LUKIJAN
Bishop of Western Europe LUKA
Bishop of Zicha JUSTIN
Bishop of Vranje PAHOMIJE
Bishop of Sumadija JOVAN
Bishop of Branicevo IGNATIJE
Bishop of Milesevo FILARET
Bishop of Dalmatia FOTIJE
Bishop of Bihac and Petrovac ATANASIJE
Bishop of Budimlje and Niksic JOANIKIJE
Bishop of Zahumlje and Hercegovina GRIGORIJE
Bishop of Valjevo MILUTIN
Bishop of Ras and Prizren TEODOSIJE
Bishop of Nis JOVAN
Bishop of Western America MAXIM
Bishop of Gornji Karlovac GERASIM
Bishop of Australia and New Zealand IRINEJ
Bishop of Krusevac DAVID
Bishop of Slavonia JOVAN
Bishop of Austria and Switzerland ANDREJ
Bishop of Central Europe SERGIJE
Bishop of Timok ILARION
Retired Bishop of Zvornik-Tuzla VASILIJE
Retired Bishop of Zahumlje and Hercegovina ATANASIJE
Retired Bishop of Central Europe CONSTANTINE
Retired Bishop of Slavonia SAVA
Vicar Bishop of Moravica ANTONIJE
Vicar Bishop of Toplica ARSENIJE
Vicar Bishop of Remezijan JERONIM
THE ORTHODOX ARCHDIOCESE OF OCHRID:
Archbishop of Ochrid and Metropolitan of Skoplje JOVAN
Bishop of Polos and Kumanovo JOAKIM
Bishop of Bregal MARKO
Vicar Bishop of Stobija DAVID
[Path of Orthodoxy translation]