Orthodox Observer - December 1996

Christmas 1996 Encyclical  *)

What His Birth Means

Dear Brothers in the Lord and Beloved Children.

This sacred Feast of Christmas, which the Lord has granted us to celebrate again this year, is comprised of both a commemoration and a special calling.

The commemoration is that, out of love, Christ came to the world to save humanity, to save each us, and to transform our perspective on life. He came to expunge the failures that lead us into bondage to sin, into evil, corruption and death, and to endow us with peace, joy, love and eternal life.

The Birth of Christ came about in the fullness of time. In other words, when man's failure and the alienation from God had reached a seemingly insurmountable impasse, or as St. Gregory of Nyssa says, when sin had reached the lowest point of its decrepitude.

The effect of that brilliant Nativity was to change the course of human history forever. Man again found his way to back to that communion with God, which had once been destroyed.

Today, of course, alienation still exists, and in many grievous and cruel excesses, but really none are so powerful as that kind of alienation which existed before the incarnation of the Son of God.

Whatever we see around us today that is oppressive and antagonistic, is not strong enough to reverse the new mindset and the new perspective that Christ brought to the world. This perspective becomes truly clear within the Church, which is renewed from generation to generation while renewing men and women within Herself.

It is exactly here that we encounter the calling of Christmas. We are called to embrace the mind set, the very mind of Christ described by the great Apostle of the Nations, as a mind-set of "kenosis" — of self-emptying. As St. Paul writes in Phillipians (2:7). "He emptied Himself, taking on the likeness of a slave," that we might be so enriched, so exalted unto spiritual heights of divine virtue, as to partake of the very experience of deification, of "theosis."

But for this to really take place, we need to fulfill that self-emptying, we need to deny ourselves; we need humility and to be obedient to the will of God. You see, salvation happens when there is cooperation between Divine grace and the will of man. Salvation is our very participation in Divine grace, because it is also our imitation of Christ. The vast number of the saints, both known and unknown, demonstrate this most clearly because they were revealed as pioneering witnesses of the truth.

Especially today, in the various situations we find ourselves, this message of "kenosis" —of self-emptying, (which is humility before God and obedience to His will), is one of our most essential and urgent needs. Our calling is to be bearers of peace and reconciliation.

So, let us overcome the dissension and discrimination that tears apart our relationships with our fellow man. Let us love one another and work together for the good of all, that we may manifest the unity and the riches of Christ and His Church.

The world must see our good works, that it may see Christ born in our midst and Christ forming and growing in us through the power and operation of the Holy Spirit. It is we who must reveal the mystery of the Nativity of Christ through the renewal of the mystery of His Church among ourselves.

I pray that this Christmas may be a new beginning and new departure point for this journey, in all our lives and in the life of our Church which has been so strengthened by Divine grace in this great country of ours.

My beloved: Rejoice! Be of one mind and one heart! Love one another and all mankind! Work together with zeal and love in the Vineyard of the Lord!
Christ is Born! Glorify Him!

With paternal love and fervent prayers of Christmas,

[signed: † Archbishop Spyridon]

Archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America

[ Orthodox Observer, Vol. 61 - No. 1121, December 1996, p. 1 ]


*) Encyclical addressed to: "To the Right Reverent Bishops, the Sacred Clergy, the Monks and the Nuns, the Presidents of the Parish Councils and the whole Christ-named Plenitude of the Holy Archdiocese of America" - Protocol Number 78.