Nativity of the Lord 2007
To the Esteemed Clergy, Monastics, and Faithful in the Diocese of the Midwest:
In the services of the Great Feast of the Nativity, we sing, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will to men!'
This angelic hymn is a 'standard feature' in our liturgical worship throughout the year. It is chanted at every Matins and Compline service, and it is prayed at the very beginning of the Divine Liturgy. Yet, on the Great Feast of the Nativity, it takes on special meaning as we give glory to the God Who, by taking on our human flesh and nature, paves for us the road to salvation by granting the world 'the peace that is from above'.
It is in the same Spirit of peace -- the 'Peace that passes all understanding,' the Peace that is embodied in the very person of Jesus Christ Himself, that I extend to you, the members of our diocesan family, my most sincere and prayerful best wishes today, as we worship the new-born Christ, and in the new year to come.
Christ is Born!
Today, we rejoice as we affirm that the 'Prince of Peace,' the 'King of Kings' and 'Lord of Lords,' is indeed 'with us.' Today, we freely accept His gift of salvation, so lovingly yet mysteriously granted to the entire world. Today, the angelic hymn, heard by one and all, announces that the long-awaited Messiah has entered our time, our space, and our humanity, to transform and transfigure it and us by His very presence. Today, we anticipate the Savior's ministry to all mankind -- and embrace our own call to become, as Saint Paul reminds us, 'fellow workers' and 'co-ministers' in bringing all creation, not just Jew and Greek, to reflect the Lord's glory and to become 'partakers of His divine nature.'
I need not remind you that we are living in precarious times. Our society, our families, and our Church continue to face innumerable challenges. Economic uncertainty, increasing violence, secularization, the obsession with the material and the 'self,' and anxiety for the future surround us. In a word, sin continues to rear its ugly head, casting a net of temptation at life's every corner and turn. The very Incarnation of Our Savior and its importance for the world have come under attack, labeled 'politically incorrect' by those who, while perhaps sincerely seeking peace in a world gripped by fear, reject the very Peace, much less glory, we celebrate on this day. While we, as Orthodox Christians, might bemoan attempts to 'take Christ out of Christmas,' even this 'misses the mark' of our true ministry as men and women of peace -- to reveal to the world, in our words and by our actions, that Christ is indeed in the world at all times and in all places, and not just on this Feast of His birth; that He makes it possible for the world to overcome sin and temptation and delight in His all-embracing peace; that He clearly calls one and all to the glory which He shared with His Father 'before the world began;' and that our attempt to 'be all things to all men, that by all means some might be saved,' are surely not in vain.
My friends, I would be remiss if, in light of what I have written above, I did not at least mention the present state of our beloved, yet suffering, Orthodox Church in America. At this time last year, I wrote to you with great hope in the recent joint meeting of the Holy Synod and Metropolitan Council. Since then, it has been a rocky road. We have seen the establishment, frustration, and dissolution of a Special Investigative Commission, the deposition of the former chancellor of the Orthodox Church in America, the inception of a new Special Investigative Committee, and the acquisition of a new administration in the Church's chancery offices. Recently, we have seen the Summary Report of the wrongdoings perpetrated against our Holy Church. And finally, after two years of waiting, we have an answer to my initial question. Yes, the allegations were true. But this, if we are serious about acquiring that Peace of which I wrote above and reflecting the 'glory of the Lord' in our lives and actions, cannot be the end, any more than the Incarnation is sufficient in the quest to 'work out our own salvation.'
My greatest responsibility is to tend to the souls of those entrusted to my care. By His Incarnation, Our Merciful Savior calls one and all -- including myself -- to repentance and confession as a means of realizing the 'Peace that passes all understanding' and a first step to acquiring 'the glory of the Lord' of which we sing today. And I dare say that without true repentance and confession, there can be no mercy or forgiveness, no peace or understanding, and no glory. Without true repentance and confession, we may join our voices with the angelic hosts in worshipping the incarnate Savior, but our words are reduced to pious platitudes, devoid of the very Spirit in Whom our journey to the Kingdom is rooted.
My dear friends, as we celebrate this great and holy feast, let us pray for Our Savior's Peace -- but let our prayer begin with our own repentance and confession, and that of our entire beloved Church, that the 'Peace from above' that He makes possible by His Incarnation will cast aside all that is ungodly in our world, in our lives, and in our Church.
Invoking God’s Blessing upon you, and with prayerful best wishes for your celebration of our Lord’s Holy Nativity, I remain
Faithfully yours in Christ,
Archbishop of Chicago and the Midwest