Christmas Pastoral Letter-2014
By the mercy of God
Patriarch John X
The Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and all the East
My brother pastors of the Antiochian Holy Church
And my children throughout the Holy See
“Heaven and Earth are made one today, for Christ is born. Today God is come upon the earth, and man is gone up into the Heavens. Today He Who by nature is invisible, for man's sake is seen in the flesh. For this cause, let us also give glory and cry out to Him: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, which Thy coming hath bestowed upon us; O our Savior, glory be to Thee."
This is what our church chants on this glorious day, the day of the Creator’s presence in the flesh: the Nativity of Jesus Christ. His presence glows with peace. O Christ, how much we need Thy peaceful presence on earth, from which Thy glad tidings have gone forth unto the whole universe! O Treasure of Mercy, O Sun of Righteousness, how greatly do we need Thy presence, in a land which has grown weary of the drums of war, of dismemberment, and of abduction! The land that welcomed the apostles two thousand years ago lies wounded and hemorrhages! It is wounded, as its people are inflicted by terrorism, abduction, and unprecedented takfirism. This land and its marvelous people, however, have passed through enormous difficulties throughout history. Today they carry to the Child of the cave all their concerns, placing before His divine Cradle all their burdens, and igniting before His holy manger all the lamps of their souls. They ignite them with robust hope and the power of being made one again.
The Nativity of Christ takes place and thus obliges us to allow Him to be incarnate in our lives. The Nativity of Christ is primarily the feast of divine dispensation--God's Economy, the feast of compassion, the feast of charity and of almsgiving. And more than this, the Nativity of Christ is the feast of the incarnation of ultimate love, charity and almsgiving, in which God descended even to the abysses of the earth, and found only a cave to shelter Him, and only a humble manger in which to recline. He has done all of this out of love, out of charity and mercy toward us men. Under today's grievous circumstances in our lands, how greatly do we Antiochian Christians need to learn how to embody this act of the Lord and how to be a practical financial relief and moral uplift for our neighbor, our relative, our brother, and for our motherland! Through these acts of mercy, extended to one another and to everyone, no matter what race we belong to, we implore the tender mercies of the divine Child, Whose springs of mercies and bounties we will never be able to surpass. The pious Augustine says:
"Charity" in Greek means "Mercy". What mercy toward those who are miserable is greater than the Mercy that descended from heaven, from the Creator of heaven, and vested the Creator of earth with an earthly flesh and made Him who is consubstantial with the Father also to be consubstantial with us in our mortal state, and further, for the Lord of the universe to condescend to take the form of a servant (Phil 2: 7)?
What mercy is greater that the birth of the Creator, as the Master becomes a servant and the Redeemer is sold; He Who elevates is degraded and He Who raises up is slain? All this happened, so that He might feed our hunger, quench our thirst, console our weakness, and wipe out our iniquities, so that the lamp of our love may be rekindled. Thus, the lamp of our love toward our neighbors causes the divine compassion to abide in this creation.”
The Church is called on this day to learn how to worship “the Sun of Righteousness and Justice," that is, the Christ. She worships Him when, as much as possible, she stands in defense of the needy and the poor, and of those who suffer misfortune and injury. She worships Him, when she becomes in every region of our own homeland the right word in the face of all of those who destroy the foundations of common life. She worships Him, when she is not afraid to proclaim the truth in the face of the language of special interests. She worships Him, when she recognizes that a drop of blood shed from one person weighs more than barrels of oil and interests.
The world has evidently not yet awoken from its slumber, from what is happening in the Middle East, and in Syria in particular. The world has not yet heard, and seems not to want to hear, the wailing of the broken-hearted. The world trusts rather in the language of determination, and is satisfied with well-crafted statements. The world does not want to see the effects of terrorism, takfirism, abduction, destruction of historical monuments, and dismemberment of a united country. The world seems to overlook the repercussions of the crisis in Syria in its neighboring countries. It seems that the voices of Antiochians calling for the release of the two kidnapped Metropolitans of Aleppo: John and Paul, have fallen on deaf ears. But none of this frightens us, because we are coupled with this land; we are planted in it, and it remains our permanent abode. All our difficulties do we cast before the loving manger of Jesus, Who chose the land of the Orient, to be the ambassador of His love to the universe.
O divine Child, Who anointed us with Thy light two thousand years ago, be with our crucified homeland which will certainly be resurrected. O Lord, be with Syria, and by Thy watchful eye upon its borders and its people, make it worthy to regain the security which we once knew! Be with the displaced and kidnapped! Keep Lebanon safe and stable, spare it from the spectre of sedition and constitutional vacuum! Be with wounded Iraq and with every region of the East. O Lord, be with every bereaved mother, and with every innocent child whose school was targeted. As always, be with those who are kidnapped and displaced, and console our hearts by bringing them once again to be seen among us!
To Thee, O Christ, do we offer the tears of broken-hearted people as myrrh, and their prayers and praises as incense, and our patience in the midst of adversity as gold, becoming witnesses to Thy love toward all people and toward our families. As the Virgin did, so preserve all of this in our hearts, to walk with her and see the dawn of the Resurrection, and the resurrection of our fellow man, both in our homeland and abroad.
From this place, from the headquarters of the Holy See of Antioch in Damascus, I send forth my apostolic blessing to our children at home and abroad, and I ask the Lord and Savior through the intercessions of the Virgin Mary to protect them, and to safeguard the whole universe, and to sustain His peace through a redeemed creation.
Issued at the Patriarchal headquarters in Damascus, on the twenty second of December of the year of our Lord, two thousand and fourteen.