CHRISTMAS MESSAGE OF ELISEY
ARCHBISHOP OF SOUROZH
TO THE PASTORS AND ALL FAITHFUL CHILDREN
OF THE DIOCESE OF SOUROZH
OF THE RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH
Dearly beloved in the Lord, honourable pastors and God-loving laypeople, dear brothers and sisters!
I greet you with all my heart on the occasion of the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ!
“A strange and most wonderful mystery do I see ...” the Holy Church sings today as she calls us to worship the Christ Child, following the example of the shepherds and wise men of whom we hear in the Gospel, and to join with the angelic choir in glorifying God on high and proclaiming “peace on earth, goodwill towards men”.
The Child was born not in a royal court or a five-star hotel but in a lowly cave in Bethlehem that served as an enclosure for cattle. He became not simply a great prophet or the founder of a world religion. It was not just a great man that was born, one who revealed to people the Divine Law and proclaimed love as the highest value, by his own example inspiring millions of his followers to altruistic service to their fellow men. In the person of the newborn Child was revealed God Himself, the Creator of the whole world, visible and invisible,
“God became man, so that man might become god”— so says the holy hierarch Saint Athanasius the Great. The “strange mystery” that is enacted today is the mystery of the Incarnation, in which the ineffable and unapproachable God becomes one of us. He illumines our human, material, created world with the light of divine knowledge. He attains an ineffable unity with our world, establishing it as His world in the person of Jesus Christ, the Divine Child.
Each of us is called not only to accept and to confess this mystery of the profound union of God with the human race, but to enact it in his or her own life. Christ the Lord, as the Almighty God, the King of Heaven and Earth, could use His divine power to change human laws, instincts, thoughts and feelings, but He refrains from doing that, since He awaits from each of us a free and creative response to His love.
“God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (Jn. 3:16). This historical event, which took place a little more than two thousand years ago, is a providential consequence of the love of God for the world. And just as then people responded differently to the birth of the Saviour, so today one person brings to the newborn Child the gift of his heart and with trembling and joyous wonder contemplates God in Him and experiences mystical divinisation, while another shuts himself up in his fears and grudges, thereby expelling the Saviour from his life.
Today, all over the world and especially in the Middle East, flows the blood of innocent victims, as once did the blood of the infants murdered by Herod. Today also many people become refugees, as once did Saint Joseph and the Virgin Mary with the Child Jesus.
In the year which is now beginning, 2017, we will remember the tragic events of a century ago when, as a result of revolution and civil war, millions of Russian people were forced into exile all over the world. In our prayers we will glorify the New Martyrs and Confessors of the Russian Church, who shed their blood for Christ. We shall also pray for those exiled people who brought back the light of Orthodoxy to the countries of the West, including the British Isles.
The past year, 2016, was marked by joyful events in the life of our Sourozh diocese: there were the celebrations dedicated to the 300th anniversary of the Russian Orthodox presence in the British Isles; there was the blessed visit to our diocese of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill, and there was the consecration of the refurbished Dormition Cathedral in London.
May Christ, the Divine Child Who is born, renew our hearts, so that they might become a dwelling-place for Him Who cannot be contained, as once did the manger in Bethlehem long ago.
ARCHBISHOP OF SOUROZH
The Nativity of Christ 2016/17