CHRISTMAS MESSAGE from Archbishop Job of Telmessos
CHRISTMAS MESSAGE from Archbishop Job of Telmessos, Exarch of the Ecumenical Patriarch, to the Clergy, Monks and Faithful of the Archdiocese of Russian Orthodox Churches in Western Europe
“Thou hast assumed a body of lowly clay, O Christ. By sharing our humble flesh, Thou hast made our race partakers of divinity. By becoming mortal man yet remaining God, Thou hast raised us from death to life. Holy art Thou, O Lord!” (3rd Ode of the first Canon of the Feast).
Dear Fathers, Brothers and Sisters, beloved in Christ,
With these words, St. Cosmas of Maiuma, the author of the first Canon sung at Matins on this bright Feast today, reminds us that the event we are celebrating is profoundly linked to the creation of humans and the very goal of our being as intended by Divine Providence from all eternity. Indeed, God at the very beginning created human beings for participation in the Divine Life. According to the Book of Genesis, man was created in the image and likeness of God (Gen. 1:26-27). Commenting on this passage from the first Book of the Old Testament, St. Irenaeus of Lyons tells us that "the image of God is the Son (Col. 1:15), in Whose image man was made. For this reason He was made manifest in recent times, to make it clear that the image was like Him" (The Preaching of the Apostles 22). However, Christ imprinted upon us not only the image of God, but also the ability to attain the true likeness of God which allows us to achieve the ultimate goal of human life, which is not only deliverance from sin but participation in the Divine Life.
Thus, the desire to commune with the Divine Life and "become god" is in itself neither foolish nor a sin , as it is willed by the Creator Himself , provided this is carried out "by grace" and is done according to the will of God, and not according to by selfish and arrogant human will. According to St. Simeon of Thessaloniki, human sin consisted not in this purpose of our existence, but in the way of its realization, the fact that we have been "seduced by the desire to be equal to God, aspiring to become immortal gods before our time", that is to say prematurely, before the Incarnation of the Word of God, in Whom "we are now raised and live, and participate in God’s gifts and are gods". So "our desire to become gods by the transgression of the commandment was folly, because it was impossible for us, creatures, to become gods" but thanks to the Incarnation of the Word of God which we celebrate this day, our salvation is realized as is also the goal of our existence, the very reason why "He was intimately united to us through that which was done for us and died for us in the flesh, which was the pinnacle of His kindness, and by His death, He gave us immortality and glory of divinity" (De sacra Liturgia 99. PG 155, 297D -300A).
Today’s Feast brings us this significance and retains all this relevance. It is not merely the memorial of an historical event of the past, but the uninterrupted celebration of the Divine Economy of salvation for all of us. However, as St. Nicholas Cabasilas writes, “this is precisely the work of the economy that has been prepared for humans. For here God was not content to communicate only a part of His goodness to human nature, while retaining for Himself the largest share, but rather all the fullness of the Godhead (Col. 2: 9), the very richness of His nature which He has infused into it"(The Life in Christ, I, 28-29).
To celebrate the Nativity of Christ today means for us a response and a responsible attitude to flee from evil, sin and the spirit of division, to gather together around Christ in His Church which is His Body, through the celebration of the Holy Mysteries. As Cabasilas remind us, “being united with Christ is possible for those who go through everything which the Savior endured, experiencing everything He experienced and becoming everything he has become. He, therefore, has joined together a flesh and blood pure from all sin; being Himself God by nature from the beginning, He deified that which He became later, that is to say human nature; to complete this, He also died because of His flesh and rose again. Whoever wishes to be united to Him must partake of His flesh, participate in His deification and share in His burial and resurrection" (The Life in Christ, II, 2).
All this became possible thanks to the incarnation of God and the Sacraments of the Church which continue and actualize this for us. It is thanks to Him Who was born in Bethlehem for our salvation that we can rise from our human lowliness and remedy the shortcomings of our smallness, to inherit the great promises and fully realize the purpose of our existence. For, as the Apostle Peter exhorts and reminds us, "as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love." (2 Peter 1:3-7).
Dear Fathers, Brothers and Sisters, beloved in Christ. It is for this reason that on this festive day I urge you, in my turn, to maintain unity among yourselves in the Body of the Church and to cultivate love for God and neighbor in your heart. At the same time I offer you my best wishes on the occasion of the Nativity of Christ and the New Year, imploring upon you all God’s blessings and wishing that "the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Thess. 5:23).
+ Job, Archbishop of Telmessos, Exarch of the Ecumenical Patriarch
Paris, The Cathedral of Saint Alexander of the Neva
December 25, 2013/ January 7, 2014