Archpastoral Letter of His Beatitude, Metropolitan Herman for the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord
Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord 2007
Brother Hierarchs, Esteemed Clergy, Venerable Monastics and Beloved Faithful of The Orthodox Church in America:
Christ is Born! – Glorify Him!
In celebrating the Nativity of our Lord once again this year, we Orthodox Christians find ourselves with an approach to the Feast that is very different from that of the rest of the world.
Tragically for many in this world, their life is one without God – whether in personal belief, in practice, or both. For others, their “faith” is in a God that is hardly involved in human history or in their lives – as the popular song of a few years ago put it, “God is watching us … from a distance.” But for us Orthodox Christians, the pronouncement of the Scripture regarding the Incarnation rings out clearly: “Behold, the Virgin shall be with Child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel, which is translated, ‘God with us’” (Matthew 1:23). And the hymnography for the Feast echoes this proclamation: “God is with us! Understand ye nations, and submit yourselves, for God is with us!” Not “watching from a distance” but “with us” – around us, beside us, and to the degree we desire His presence, within us, as close as the breath in our lungs or the beat of our hearts.
For most people, today is the celebration of the birth of a beautiful, innocent and “cuddly” baby boy, one who would grow up and do more good than any other man – make the blind see, the deaf hear, the crippled walk, and the dead rise. For some, he even offers his life on the cross in exchange for men’s sins and for their salvation. But for us, this Feast marks the coming in the flesh of none other than God Himself. Jesus Christ is no mere man; He is the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, God the Son, God the Word: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
Almost everyone who celebrates this day marks it with the exchange of gifts, and all too often people focus on their “wish lists” of presents that they want to receive from Santa and his elves. But the focus for us Orthodox Christians is the question that is asked in one of the hymns of Vespers of the Nativity:
What shall we offer Thee, O Christ, Who for our sakes has appeared on earth as man? Every creature made by Thee offers Thee thanks. The angels offer Thee a hymn; the heavens, a star; the Magi, gifts, the shepherds, their wonder; the earth, its cave; the wilderness, the manger; and we offer Thee a Virgin Mother. O Pre-Eternal God, have mercy upon us.
Our Orthodox Church calls upon us to offer our gifts to Christ, rather than to seek gifts from others. We are reminded of the gifts of the wise men, on behalf of the entire human race: gold, as they acknowledged the sovereignty of the only true King; frankincense, as they knelt in worship of the only true God; and myrrh, because Christ, the bearer of the Resurrection, would abolish death and there would no longer be need of the ointment that was used in burial.
We are called to offer the Incarnate God the gifts of our faith, our hope, our love; He seeks our repentance, our confession, and our return to the narrow path that leads to His Kingdom; He desires our whole life, our membership in His Body, our commitment to the building up of His Holy Church. In return for this total offering, we will receive what Adam lost in Paradise – communion with Him! In return He offers us His Body and Blood as a pledge of eternal life with Him in His heavenly Kingdom.
Indeed, we live in an affluent society, filled with the good things of this world that beckon to us. But Christ beckons us to recall the example of King Solomon, who was gifted with unfathomable riches, fame, power, and wisdom, but was tormented because he could not satisfy the desire of his heart. He was so wealthy that all the furnishings of his palace were covered with gold; so wise, that all the rulers of the nations sought his counsel; so mighty, that all the kings of the world feared him. Yet he was utterly discontent, because he knew that even though he could obtain any earthly thing that he desired, possessions and power were just vain and empty – waterless wells unable to quench his thirst for the divine. He could not satisfy the one true desire of his heart because he could not restore the communion with God that Adam lost.
Let us heed the wisdom of Solomon and acknowledge all earthly things as unable to quench the desire of the human heart. And with the Magi, let us seek the One who has come into the world to restore the communion with God that man had lost. Offering ourselves to Him and His Church, in the form of gifts of time and talent and treasure, let us renew our faith and hope and love in the Christ Who, through His divine Incarnation, has given the gift of eternal life to each of us and to the entire human race.
Asking our Lord to favor you with every joy this Nativity Season and in the coming new year, and with the bestowal of my archpastoral blessing, I remain
With love in the Infant Messiah,
Archbishop of Washington and New York
Metropolitan of All America and Canada