Orthodox Observer - December 1997
Archbishop Spyridon's Christmas Encyclical
To the Reverend Clergy, the Presidents of the Parish Councils, the Monks and Nuns, the Philoptochos Sisterhoods, the Youth and all devout Christians of the Holy Archdiocese of America
My dear brothers and sisters, and beloved children in Christ,
The sacred feast of Christmas is known in Orthodox patristic and liturgical tradition as the "metropolis of feasts." In other words, Christmas is the first, we could say, the mother feast, of all the other Christian holidays. It is the feast that gives the first joy that culminates in the ultimate feast, the Resurrection.
All the feasts of the Church present us with different aspects of the great mystery of the salvation of mankind and of the world that has been accomplished "in Christ". These feasts give us an opportunity to approach this mystery and to make it part of our lives. But Christmas enjoys a certain preeminence, that is, a special priority because it is centered at the focal point of the history of the world's salvation -the incarnation and the taking on of human nature by our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ.
The Birth of Christ constitutes the great saving event in the history of the world. Christmas did not come about by chance but, "when the fullness of time had come." It's goal was "the culmination of the ages", the ultimate manifestation of God's plan for mankind and the world. It divides history itself into two parts, that which is "before Christ", and that which is "after Christ." The first period was a time of promise and preparation for salvation. The second period of eschatological anticipation, the ultimate realization of salvation. The Church of today is passing through this second period. She draws Her purpose out of the well of eschatological truth, and so refreshed, determines Her course.
Christmas anticipates the objective of the salvation of the world, that is, of our entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven. It looks to the restoration of the original paradise that was lost, of intimate discourse with the Creator, within the Church. This is emphasized by the inspired words that begin the service of the Sacred Proskomide. This first portion of the Divine Liturgy symbolizes the miracle of Bethlehem, "Make ready, O Bethlehem, Eden is opened to all. Be radiant, O Ephratha, for in the cave the Tree of Life has blossomed from the Virgin, whose womb has been manifested as a noetic Paradise, and partaking of the Divine Shoot we shall live and not die as Adam. Christ is born, raising the image that has fallen."
This incarnation bridges once and for all the chasm that sin had created in the relationship between God and mankind, and in the relationship between the uncreated Creator and the created world. When the Uncreated was clothed with created nature, creation was established upon an unshakable foundation. It was established upon the Body of Christ, the Church. The body that Christ received from the All Holy Theotokos was the "flesh of the Church" according to Saint John Chrysostom. On account of this we receive divine grace and are fed mystically and spiritually in the Holy Eucharist.
Christmas celebrates the fact that Christ and the Church are the foundation of the world. Together, they direct the life of the world and its future actualization. No more can divine grace and the gift of salvation be taken from the world. Nothing is able to alter the truth of the Church, the real presence of the body of Christ. Christ has entered history through the Incarnation. He has destroyed the gates of hell by His Resurrection. Christ, "the Son of the Virgin," is "the Lord of Glory". He lived as a real man, "trampled down death," "overcame the devil" and abides with us until the consummation of the ages.
This message of salvation is summarized in the most familiar hymn associated with the Nativity, "Glory of God in the highest and on earth peace, good will among all people." The glory of God, His peace and goodwill are the provisions that our world today still has need of in order to live and be saved. The Church continues to offer these necessities. They are gifts from God that are freely offered. And they become our possessions by conscious participation and faith. With these gifts, we become able to effectively confront every adversity, every dispute, opponent, and dissension. All these sins violate the natural rights of human existence and are ideals of the Body of Christ, the Church.
I pray that with the spiritual Christmas treasures of divine glory, peace and good will, that all of us together may celebrate this year the Nativity of our Lord.
[ signed: † Archbishop Spyridon ]
[ Orthodox Observer, Vol. 62 - No. 1137, December 1997, pp. 1 and 4 ]
*) Protocol Number 166/97