Christmas Message of His Holiness Alexy II, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, to the Archpastors, Pastors, Monastics and all Faithful Children of the Russian Orthodox ChurchThe earth has stretched forth its wings and receives the Creator who receives glory from the angels, a star from the heavens, praise from the shepherds, gifts from the Magi and recognition from the whole world. (Troparion from the 3rd Ode of the Canon for Compline of Christmas Eve)
Beloved in the Lord your graces the archpastors, beloved of God presbyters and deacons, honourable monks and nuns ‘fighting the good fight’ (2 Tim 4:7) and all Orthodox Christians who abide in the garden of the Church – ‘grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord’ (2 Pet 1:2).
It is with joy in my heart that I greet you all on the great feast of the Nativity in the flesh of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ. Throughout these holy days we again in prayer relive the greatest event in human history. In his great humility the Lord desired to come down to earth in human form, and he was born not in a wealthy palace, not in an abode of the powerful of this world, but in a wretched cave in the desert. It was not kings and courtiers who were the first to hear of Christ’s Nativity, but simple shepherds who watched their flock near the cave of Bethlehem. It was to them, simple men, that the words of the angel were addressed, announcing to the world the beginning of the new Christian era: ‘Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord’ (Lk 2:10-11).
My beloved! Let us listen to the angel’s message: ‘I bring you great joy.’ We often forget about this eternal, incorrupt joy, for we live in a world subject to sin and death in which we suffer from sickness and infirmity, at times experiencing parting and grief, we encounter violence and cruelty. Yet our faith teaches us, even amidst the woes of everyday life, to keep in our hearts and announce to all people the joy that has come to us from above and of which the Gospel tells us that no one can take away from us (cf. Jn 16:22).
God, who has come to us in the form of an infant, desires that our hearts become a cave and manger where he abides and that in our souls the angel’s doxology resound: ‘Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace and goodwill to all men’ (Lk 2:14). The miracle and power of the Christian faith consists of the fact that this ‘great joy’ is granted to us today in all its fullness as it was two thousand years ago. We do not recollect, but celebrate the Nativity of Christ, for having happened once it eternally fills people with peace and joy. The Lord Jesus Christ is always at the centre of our lives and witness to the world. And our Church never ceases to travel along the path marked out for her by God and preaches the saving teaching of Christ, ‘so that the world may believe’ (Jn 17:21).
My beloved! The past year has been for us a year of the Lord’s goodness. By the grace of God the successful building up of Church life has continued in Russia and abroad, where the care and pastoral responsibility of our Church extends. Our people are ever more returning to the faith of our fathers. In many towns and villages children and young people are coming to know the Orthodox faith and culture. The churches are full with parishioners of all ages and occupations. Millions of people pray to God, read religious literature and take part in the affairs of the Church. I became a witness to all this when I visited this year the dioceses of Vladimir, Kaliningrad, Nizhny Novgorod, St. Petersburg and Saransk. Our visit to the Latvian Orthodox Church, meetings and conversations with Latvia’s statesmen and prayerful communion with the Orthodox people, was every important for the maintenance of unity among the Church’s children.
A visible sign of God’s grace towards our Church was the visit within her boundaries of the right hand of the Holy Prophet John, Forerunner and Baptist of the Lord. Many of the Church’s children received a blessing from the hand that was once laid upon the Saviour’s head at his baptism. Our country was visited by other greats objects of veneration kept on the Holy Mountain of Athos – the precious hand of the Equal-to-the-Apostles Mary Magdalene, particles of the Life-Giving Cross of the Lord and the relics of the holy martyr Kirik. A multitude of believers venerating these objects received from them succour and comfort.
An important landmark in the life of the Church was the celebration this year of the three-hundredth anniversary of the Sarov Hermitage of the Dormition, the site of the spiritual endeavours of St. Seraphim of Sarov. The jubilee was marked by the revival of monastic life in this renowned abode. Henceforth under the vaults of once derelict and now restored churches the Bloodless Sacrifice ‘on behalf of all and for all’ is offered.
In the year which has now come to a close the Lord vouchsafed me once more to visit Valaam monastery, a place dear to my heart. It is a joy that the life of the sketes is being reborn in the ancient northern monastery. New testimony to this revival is the laying of the foundation stone of a Church of St. Vladimir in the Vladimir skete and the consecration of a Church of the Resurrection of Christ in the Resurrection skete.
Success in the cause of bringing together the Church in the homeland and our brothers and sisters in the Russian Church Abroad cannot but gladden the faithful. Unity and communion, broken off as a result of tragic events of more than eighty years ago, are today being restored; we see God’s beneficence in this.
The tragic events in the Holy Land brought great pain to the hearts of all believers. There, where two thousand years ago the angels announced ‘glory to God in the highest and on earth peace,’ once more the blood of innocent children has been shed. We pray to God that the land sanctified by the birth, life, sufferings and Resurrection of our Saviour will at last become a place where ‘righteousness and peace kiss each other’ (Ps 8:11).
Justifying evil with reference to religious faith is wrong. The participants of the meeting of religious leaders in Moscow this year called upon all believing people of the world to ‘respect and receive each other, in spite of their religious, national and other differences.’ Our Church, as in all epochs, serves the cause of the peoples’ well being by uniting her efforts with those of the state and society, Christians of all confessions, people of other faiths and convictions. Through common labour, through participation in public affairs and discussions we must bear witness to Christ who was incarnate, preaching him not only in word but also through our whole life.
Beloved in the Lord brothers and sisters! I address you with the apostle’s words: ‘Quench not the Spirit. Despise not prophesyings. Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. Abstain from all appearance of evil. And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (1 Thess 5:19-23).
Once again I congratulate you all on the great, world-saving feast of the Nativity of Christ and the New Year of 2007. May the Lord and Saviour grant to all of you grace, may he save and preserve those who are on their earthly pilgrimage and vouchsafe them the joy of communion with him in the life of the age to come. ‘And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also ye are called’ (Col 3:15).
Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia
Nativity of Christ