Enyclical for the Nativity of Christ, 2006
Thy Nativity, O Christ our God, hath shined the light of knowledge upon the world: for thereby they that worshipped the stars were instructed by a star to worship Thee, the Sun of Righteousness, and to know Thee, the Dayspring from on high. O Lord, glory be to Thee.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Beloved Orthodox Christians,
Angels proclaim God’s great wonders and the humble shepherds rich in faith seek out the new born Savior, Christ the Lord. And as we hear in the gospel appointed for liturgy things new and old are revealed, for the star leads the wise men to Jerusalem and they proclaimed the marvel to the King and his court
Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, Saying, Where is He that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen His star in the east, and are come to worship Him. When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. (Matt 2:1-3)
All things are made new at these glad tidings. Truth Incarnate appeared and the promise of the ages was fulfilled and the light of God-knowledge shined upon the world, yet Herod the king was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. Perhaps it is understandable that the king would be troubled concerning a star and a prophecy that declared a new king promised from of old, but how was it that all Jerusalem, that is, those for whom the promise was made of old were troubled and perplexed? Was there no one that showed a pious interest and followed the wise men? The humble shepherds sought out the new born Christ and in contrast to this, the spiritual leaders of Jerusalem, the chief priests and scribes showed no interest and failed to follow the wise men. This, even after they proclaimed the prophesies from of old:
And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born. And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the Prophet, And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, art not the least among the princes of Judah: for out of thee shall come a Ruler, who shall shepherd My people Israel. (Matt 2: 4-6)
If one was a believer in the prophecy, one would also believe that the God of Israel Himself was setting in motion deliverance for the people of Israel. Yet, if one had one’s own comfort and status as one’s his highest priority, then this could have been bad news indeed.
How is it that the very priests were so deceived? Our Savior Himself gives us insight into why when he addressed the multitude, “How can ye believe, which receive glory one of another, and seek not the glory that cometh from the only God?” (John 5: 44)
The Lord is God and has appeared unto us and His manifestation separates lovers of God from lovers of this world. Perhaps there were those in Jerusalem that considered themselves believers or gave lip service to some form of belief, yet there was something in their lives that became a higher priority than remaining faithful to the Covenant with God or His prophesies. All we have to do is to look around us at many of the Orthodox leaders today and their betrayal of Orthodox ecclesiology to understand that there are many variations on this theme. Alas, people are confronted with the light of God-knowledge and the teachings of the Holy Fathers on the Church, and they turn their eyes away.
Lest we imitate them we must, in our own day, consider what is best for Israel, the people of God, the Church. Our Savior came not for those who are wise in their own conceits, not for those who are full. If we are to be saved we must seek God on His terms, not ours. Christianity is not convenient. In order to be saved during these last times, each and every one of us, young men and elders must imitate Saint Paul when he was confronted by our Savior outside of the walls of Damascus and likewise say, “Lord, what will Thou have me to do?” (Acts 9:6)
There are times when a stand for truth can bring temptations. When we are tempted to backslide or compromise in times of temptations let us look to the Babe in the manger Who, shortly after His birth, became a refugee to flee the wrath of the tyrant. Our Savior’s life is example enough for us, if we desire to be faithful to Him.
We Orthodox are few indeed, but we should always rejoice and remain steadfast. If we suffer temptations from the world, let us not be confused. As Ignatius of Antioch wrote in his epistle to Saint Polycarp of Smyrna:
Let not those who seem worthy of credit, but teach strange doctrines, fill thee with apprehension. Stand firm, as does an anvil which is beaten. It is the part of a noble athlete to be wounded, and yet to conquer. And especially, we ought to bear all things for the sake of God, that He also may bear with us. Be ever becoming more zealous than what thou art. Weigh carefully the times. Look for Him who is above all time, eternal and invisible, yet who became visible for our sakes; impalpable and impassible, yet who became passible on our account; and who in every kind of way suffered for our sakes.
--Epistle of Saint Ignatius of Antioch to Saint Polycarp of Smyrna Chapter 3
During these days of rejoicing let us give thanks to our God Who, being above all time, entered time for our sakes. Our Christ became Incarnate so that we may commune with Him. Let us weigh carefully the times by striving to receive the light of God-knowledge through our careful sifting of the writings of the Holy Fathers, that by so doing we may walk in the light of His Truth and may partake of His Body and Blood. Amen.