In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.
First Epistle General of St John 4.9
Most Reverend archpastors, venerable fathers, honourable monks and nuns, dear brothers and sisters!
With a heart overflowing with joy, I greet all of you and address you on the radiant and life-giving Feast of the Nativity of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ, which celebrates His Incarnation. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (Gospel according to St Luke 2.14). Year after year, we glorify the ineffable benevolence shown to us by the Saviour, as we, as did the shepherds of Bethlehem, hear from the angel, “Fear not… for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people” (Gospel according to St Luke 2.10). With the eyes of the spirit, we hasten to see the coming of the Messiah, whose advent was foretold by the glorious prophets and awaited by a great multitude.
Thus, the Prophet Haggai put it that the Desire of All the Nations (Prophecy of Aggæus 2.7) “made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men” (Epistle of Apostle St Paul to the Philippians 2.7). The Lord of the Universe chose for himself not an imperial palace, not a dwelling of the rulers of this world, not a mansion of the rich and well-placed. No room was even found for Him at the inn. The Son of God is born in a cave, a stable for cattle; His cradle is a manger for the feeding of animals. “What, then, is poorer than the cave and humbler than the swaddling clothes in which the richness of the Godhead has shone forth?” He chose the utmost poverty for the Mystery of our Salvation (Hypakoe for the Nativity of Christ). Christ consciously rejected values considered important in our world… power, wealth, fame, noble birth, and high social status. He offered to us another law of life, a law of humility and love that vanquishes pride and enmity. Under this law, human frailty unites with the grace of God, becoming a force unstoppable by the powerful and mighty of this world. The power of God manifests itself not in earthly majesty and worldly comfort, but in simplicity and humility of heart.
As St Seraphim Sarovsky put it, “The Lord seeks out a heart overflowing with the love of God and neighbour. This is the altar upon which he loves to ascend. He says, ‘Son, give me thine heart, and the rest I shall give to you’, for the Kingdom of God is within the human heart (Conversation on the Goal of the Christian Life). The Lord doesn’t disdain the poor and homeless, He doesn’t despise those with little money and no prestige, even more so, He doesn’t hold in contempt the physically disabled or terminally ill. None of these things in themselves separate us from God; therefore, none of them should lead us into paralysing despair or cause destructive despair. The Saviour seeks us out. He exhorts us, “My son, give me thine heart, and let thine eyes observe my ways” (Proverbs 23.26).
The wondrous Nativity feast reminds us of the need to unceasingly follow Christ, Who said, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (Gospel according to St John 10.10), and who is the only sure path, the only unchanging truth, and the only genuine life (cf. Gospel according to St John 14.6). God is with us! We shouldn’t let inevitable difficulties frighten us, nor should any of us let the trials that befall us break us. God is with us; He takes away all the fear in our lives. God is with us, so, our souls find peace and joy. God is with us; we can complete our earthly path with steadfast hope in Him.
In following Christ, we go against the powers of this world. We don’t submit to the temptations we encounter; we firmly trample down the barriers of sin that stand in our way. Indeed, sin draws us away from God and can make our lives bitter. Sin can obscure the light of Divine love, it can plunge us into many and varied afflictions, and it hardens our heart towards others. Only the grace of the Holy Spirit, which is given to us through the Church, can vanquish sin. The power of God transforms our inner world and helps us to change the outer world according to the Lord’s will. Thus, those who fall away from Church Unity in any way lose the ability to offer truly good fruits, just like a dried-up tree.
Today, I’d like to speak in particular to the Ukrainian people. The fratricidal conflict that arose in the Ukraine shouldn’t divide the Church’s flock by sowing hatred in their hearts. True Christians can’t hate their neighbours or even hate strangers. “Ye have heard that it has been said, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy’. But I say unto you, ‘Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for He makes His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust’” (Gospel according to St Matthew 5.43-45). May these words of the Saviour become a guiding force in our lives and may anger and hostility towards others never find a place in our hearts. I call upon all believers in our multinational Russian Orthodox Church to pray fervently for the speedy cessation of all hostilities in the Ukraine, for the healing of all physical and spiritual wounds that this war imposed on people. Both at church and in our homes, let us earnestly implore God for this; let’s also pray also for those Christians in foreign lands who suffer due to armed conflicts.
On this light-bearing Nativity eve, and on all the following holy days, let’s praise and exalt our Lord and Saviour, Who, in His great love for mankind, deigned to come into the world. Like the biblical Magi, let’s bring the divine Infant Christ our gifts… instead of gold, our sincere love… instead of frankincense, our ardent prayer… instead of myrrh, a charitable and caring disposition towards both neighbours and strangers. Once more, I greet you all, my beloved, on the radiant feast of the Nativity, and I prayerfully wish you abundant blessings and bounty from the greatly compassionate Lord Jesus during the forthcoming New Year. Amen.
Patriarch of Moscow and all the Russias
6 January 2016
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