Patriarchal Nativity Encyclical 2011
The Serbian Orthodox Church
to her spiritual children at Christmas, 2011
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!
“But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son…”
With the genealogy of Jesus Christ, “the Son of David, the Son of Abraham” (Matthew 1:1), dear brothers and sisters, begins the Gospel of Christ, God’s blessed and joyous news to mankind.
On this day of the joyous Feast of the Nativity of Christ all Christian hearts throughout the world are filled with the song of the angels of God, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men”. (Luke 2:14) This Day is a great joy for the entire world “for there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord”. (Luke 2:11)
The birth of the Son of God is a great mystery of God’s love. One is never closer to another than today, on Christmas day. Adults and children are never closer to each other than on this day. A person never feels a greater need to reconcile and become closer to others than on this day. From this comes the need and custom of our people to forgive and exchange “God’s-peace” on this day, to forget personal quarrels with a wish that all those around us may come together in brotherly unity and in the spirit of love and God’s peace.
The angelic song in honor of Christ’s birth is a truth-filled song which fully tells the essence of His message, the content of His Gospel and the mission of the Holy Church which He, the Incarnate Son of God, has established. The glorification of God, peace and good will among men represent the most holy triptych of the Christmas message. In glorifying God, man lifts up and glorifies himself at the same time. By preaching God’s peace, Christ’s peace, peace without fear and violence, man contributes to the building up of God’s Kingdom here on earth. It is only with good will, in the unselfish giving of oneself to God and to those around us, that it is possible to attain true human solidarity and true unity in solving all problems and in achieving moral and material progress.
With His coming, Christ witnesses an essential Union, a new union of heaven and earth, of Creator and creation, and with His mouth He reveals a great Mystery which God incorporated into man as a pledge from the moment of his creation, and this mystery comes down to one truth: that man is the most important creation under the sun. Of course, man is the most important, precisely because God in Christ became Man. According to Saint Irenaeus of Lyon, man is called to be the reflection, the glory, the light of God on earth. We can understand this only if we take the God-Man, the Lord Christ, as the proper and true measure of all beings and all events on our planet.
Each day, we meet temptations, misfortunes and suffering, caused by others or by ourselves. Afflictions in our homes, suffering in schools, cities and villages, suffering in different countries and between nations, attest to a deep division in the world, a division which cannot be overcome with human efforts. These divisions have such a deep effect that even our God-reflecting personhood is split into soul and body, conscious and unconscious, and on and on.
Oftentimes it seems that chaos is the originator and basis of our society. However, chaos is actually present only where a consciousness about the true measure of everything and everybody is lost, and that measure is love. Actually, Christ attests with His coming to this world that love has conquered the world of evil and hate, and that love always conquers it. Love is from God. God is the source of all-encompassing love. “He who does not love does not know God, for God is love”. (1 John 4:8)
Born in a manger in Bethlehem, Christ has stopped time in His Person and around Himself, or more exactly: in Himself He has gathered all those who long for love and eternity. Manifesting Himself in the world, He is the only One who brings true and eternal joy.
Christ’s birth has brought peace into the world and has connected time with eternity. Peace and eternity will never again leave the world, regardless of all temptations and tribulations that might come along. As a bearer of His peace and eternity Christ has established His Church. The Church is the Pillar and a Bulwark of truth, a ship by which we safely sail into the peaceful harbor of our salvation.
Through the Church God heals every sickness and every human infirmity. In the Church harmony is established between heaven and earth, between the created and the uncreated, between the eternal and the temporal, between the spirit and the body. The healing which the Lord grants in the Church is not understandable if it is not comprehended and experienced as God’s love which is manifested in Christ Born, Crucified, Resurrected and Glorified for us and for our salvation. The Lord loves everyone and desires that all should be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. He calls us to participate in the work of our salvation by coming to know Him in the Church, that is, by being gathered and united in the Church and as the Church, by living in her and by her. The measure of spiritual life on earth is the Church because she is the body of Christ. Through her the Lord heals us, for He wishes that all will become participants in eternal life and eternal love.
We call all our spiritual children throughout the world to never forget that the Lord entrusted salvation to the Church, and that in her is given the only true way and direction by which we should go. The measure of spiritual life is not given to individuals, but rather it is given by the Holy Spirit to the Church as a whole, so that all may grow into perfection in harmony and peace.
The Eternal God on that long-ago, first historic Christmas, was born as a poor Child so that we might be enriched by Him, by His divine perfection as by eternal wealth. With this He teaches us and all human generations not to separate ourselves from each other, but to bear each other’s burdens, to love each other, to help the weak and the poor, to share as brothers and sisters the blessings which God has bestowed upon us, and so fulfill the Law of Christ and in a Christian way fulfill our human calling.
Every separation, dissension, animosity and tearing down of unity is in opposition to the Holy Spirit and to the spirit of the Church, or we cannot at the same time “drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons,” and we cannot “partake of the Lord’s table and of the table of demons”. ( I Cor. 10:21)
Christmas is the Feast Day when we feel the fullness of goodness and the mercy of God, shown towards mankind by God sending His Only-Begotten Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. God’s love, manifested mysteriously in Bethlehem’s cave, touches all of us on this great Day.
The celebration of Christmas is not simply a custom, a tradition, a habit, or a day of receiving and giving gifts. Christmas is the gift above all gifts, the day in which is revealed the only new thing under the sun, the day in which eternal divine youth flows into the very being of heaven and earth and into our limited, transient human nature and brings eternal youth to all.
Unfortunately, brothers and sisters, we must admit that our spiritual peace has been disquieted, and as a result our joy is not complete. It is overshadowed with fear and worry about everyday events in the world, and especially because of the tragic events in our crucified Kosovo and Metohija. These events cloud the harmonious singing of angelic song and they threaten to change peace and patience into unrest and intolerance.
We counsel our dear faithful flock, the Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija, to be persistent and to stay in their homesteads, with their Church and their holy shrines, in the land of their ancestors. The Church, as a caring Mother, is always with them and always will be with them. Without suffering there is no resurrection. May our Lord be our measure even in our suffering!
We appeal to you, dear brothers and sisters, to safeguard the sanctity of marriage, to care for and look after your children, especially to care for their religious and moral upbringing and their education. Religious classes in our public school system are a great help, but they are not the only way of educating our youth and by themselves they are not enough. This is why parents and a warm family home are a holy community and a place of growth into the stature of Christ, growth into the fullness of the Divine-Child’s love. Faith and love are taught in parents’ homes first, in the family environment. They are taught imperceptibly, just as the mother tongue is learned. God gave parents an exalted role that through the birth and raising of children they may ennoble the world and so make it better and more beautiful.
Unfortunately, many marriages are still entered into without the blessing of the Church, and there are also divorces, which are a true calamity for our Church and for our nation. Marriage is a vow before God, and it is a Holy Mystery of our Church. Man has no right to separate that which God has brought together, says Christ the Lord (Matthew 19:6).
Christ’s Birth has shown upon the world the light of knowledge and of divine knowledge. With His entry into the world a new beginning of time has dawned, the end of the pagan era and the beginning of the era of the knowledge of Christ through the Church which He founded with His precious blood.
This Day is celebrated by experiencing everything that is most beautiful and most exalted. This Day reminds man of his dual origin, heavenly and earthly. It teaches man his duties toward both his heavenly and earthly family. This Day reminds us that it is necessary to give back to our Heavenly Father and to our heavenly family in order to achieve blessings and happiness in our earthly family.
Open your hearts, you, our dear spiritual children, who are gone to far away countries, and celebrate with joy the Divine Infant, for the earth is the Lord’s everywhere, and God is everywhere and in every place. In the Church of Christ, in this holy Divine-Human community, we celebrate together with you all these joy-filled Christmas Holy Days, and we are not far away from each other.
Let us lift up our hearts, all without exception, dear brothers and sisters! This is the day which the Lord has given us that we too may be spiritually born and reborn through Christ the Lord. May the Light of the Holy Spirit, of the Spirit of the Divine Child Christ, the Spirit of God, shine in our souls and our homes!
To live a spiritual life means to work out our salvation, to be healed, to run away from sin and to seek after love. A love which is of this world does not lead anywhere but to death; only the love of the Divine-Child Christ brings life and leads to life eternal. That is why we need to love all those around us and to witness our Hope to all, as the Holy Apostle Peter says (I Peter 1:3; 3:15). Without love everything in this world of ours is condemned to sorrow, and without the Love of God Incarnate, Who is the New-Born Christ, everything is condemned to nothingness.
Worshiping the Young Child, the Eternal God, in this and all the days of our life, let us, dear brothers and sisters, forgive each other and with brotherly and sisterly love greet each other with the holy greeting:
PEACE FROM GOD - CHRIST IS BORN!
INDEED HE IS BORN!
A BLESSED AND HAPPY NEW YEAR 2012!
Given at the Serbian Patriarchate in Belgrade at Christmas, 2011.
Your intercessors before the cradle of the divine Christ-Child:
Archbishop of Pec,
Metropolitan of Belgrade-Karlovci and
Serbian Patriarch IRINEJ
Metropolitan of Zagreb and Ljubljana JOVAN
Metropolitan of Montenegro and the Coastlands AMPHILOHIJE
Metropolitan of Dabro-Bosna NIKOLAJ
Bishop of Sabac LAVRENTIJE
Bishop of Zvornik-Tuzla VASILIJE
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 Zica CHRYSOSTOM
Bishop of Backa IRINEJ
Bishop of Great Britain and Scandinavia DOSITEJ
Bishop of Bihac and Petrovac CHRYSOSTOM
Bishop of Osijek and Baranja LUKIJAN
Bishop of Central Europe CONSTANTINE
Bishop of Western Europe LUKA
Bishop of Timok JUSTIN
Bishop of Vranje PAHOMIJE
Bishop of Sumadija JOVAN
Bishop of Slavonia SAVA
Bishop of Branicevo IGNATIJE
Bishop of Milesevo FILARET
Bishop of Dalmatia FOTIJE
Bishop of Budimlje and Niksic JOANIKIJE
Bishop of Zahumlje and Hercegovina GRIGORIJE
Bishop of Valjevo MILUTIN
Bishop of Ras and Prizren TEODOSIJE
Bishop of Western America MAXIM
Bishop of Gornji Karlovac GERASIM
Bishop of Australia and New Zealand IRINEJ
Bishop of Krusevac DAVID
Retired Bishop of Zahumlje and Hercegovina ATANASIJE
Vicar Bishop of Hvostno ATANASIJE
Vicar Bishop of Jegar PORFIRIJE
Vicar Bishop of Moravica ANTONIJE
Vicar Bishop of Lipljan JOVAN
Vicar Bishop of Remezijan ANDREJ
THE ORTHODOX ARCHDIOCESE OF OCHRID:
Archbishop of Ochrid and Metropolitan of Skoplje JOVAN
Bishop of Polos and Kumanovo JOAKIM
Bishop of Bregal and locum tenens of the Diocese of Bitolj MARKO
Bishop of Stobija DAVID
[Path of Orthodoxy translation]