the grace of God Archbishop of Constantinople
New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch
to all the fullness of the Church
Grace, Mercy and Peace from the Saviour Christ who is born in Bethlehem
Brothers and beloved children in the Lord,
This exhortation from St. Gregory the Theologian, proclaimed sixteen centuries ago, remains timely to this day. And it will always remain timely, so long as life on this planet earth continues. For all of this material life, being uni-dimensional, the exclusively worldly life of humanity, is not fitting for our true nature as images of God.
Humanity usually looks downward and is attached to earthly and corruptible things, as if its entire existence is exhausted in these things, and as if the world beyond this material creation is non-existent. This is why the exhortation to "be exalted" is always timely in as much as it comprises an emphatic reminder of the superiority of humanity by comparison with earthly things. However, this exhortation is not of itself sufficient to neither move humanity, nor can it properly justify why humanity should be raised above and transcend tangible realities, rising to an apparently uncertain search for some spiritual source of satisfaction and joy.
The only reason which properly justifies this elevation of humanity above everything earthly and corruptible is the fact that "Christ is on earth," which is the first part of the exhortation as well as its explanation. Therefore, St. Gregory the Theologian cries out, be exalted, fellow human beings, because Christ has descended on earth.
Christ is not only human; He is not one of many human beings. He is fully human, but at the same time the incarnate Son and Word of God. He became flesh, assuming the form of a servant in order to raise us mere human beings beside His heavenly Father, in order to deify us. It is therefore necessary, on the occasion of His human Birth, for us to turn our attention upward, to lift up our mind and heart to the highest, in order to see where He descended from and where He invites us to rise.
He invites us to rise to the beautiful and incorruptible world of divine love, which never fails. He invites us to rise to the beautiful and incorruptible world of the peace that transcends all understanding, which God grants to those who love Him. He invites us to rise to the heavenly kingdom of the eternal and blessed life, prepared for all those who desire to love the Lord. It is only in this supreme spiritual space that all the deepest human desires are satisfied for a genuine communion in love with the most desired and beloved person, our Lord Jesus Christ. He now sits at the right hand of the Father; the beauty of His person is ineffable; and the vision of Him fills our heart with every joy, life, knowledge, perfection, and unsurpassed blessedness.
Christ, then, is on earth in order that we may be exalted to the heavenly way of existence and life, which is none other than Christ's own existence and life, namely love and sacrifice for those who are loved.
We shall not be alienated from this existence and life so long as we are in this present world and life, which God in His love and wisdom has established as our home. However, we shall be alienated from Christ's existence and life by our captivity and submission to a materialistic and earthly life, without perspective, which knows only hopeless death as its sole end.
Christ is on earth. Therefore, brothers, be exalted to the way of life that is Christ's. Out of love He healed the sick, fed the hungry, relieved the burdened, forgave the sinful, and overlooked nothing necessary to teach us the way of this new life, to render us a new leaven, a new ferment, new wine-skins, full of new spiritual wine. From this, the new humanity in Christ is appointed, one that dwells on earth and lives in heaven. This new humanity in Christ rests its feet firmly upon this earth, works good things in this world continually with its hands. Yet with its mind and heart, the new humanity is always raised upward, to the heavenly and the high, towards love for God and human beings, towards the practice of good deeds, of peace, of reconciliation, of hope, and of life.
Having these things in mind, the Holy Mother and Great Church of Christ, with its mind and heart continually turned upward, does not fail to practice good deeds on earth through its faithful members and to call these "to show leadership in good deeds for all necessary things". Evidence of this are three significant conferences which the Mother Church organized and realised in Constantinople this year, being the 2000th anniversary since the Birth of Christ in flesh. These conferences included the Congress of Orthodox Youth which met in June on the central theme "The Youth in the Church before the Third Millennium"; the International Scientific Conference which met a little later on the central theme "The Creation of the World and the Creation of Humanity: challenges and problematics in the year 2000"; and the great Clergy-Laity Congress which met in the same city one month ago with representatives from the Eparchies and Parishes of the Ecumenical Patriarchate throughout the world on the central theme "The Parish as the Cell of Church Life: experienced reality, contemporary perspective, and challenges". Through these and other activities, such as the concern for the natural environment as well as for peaceful resolution among peoples, nations, and various Churches, the concern to find solutions which cease tensions among people, the concern to proclaim throughout the world the message of Christ's presence within this world, the ministry of the monastics and laity who strive for holiness, and the general invitation and contribution for a genuine experience of life in Christ, there is ample evidence of the fact that "Christ is on earth" in order for us to be raised to the heavens. And there is ample evidence that the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church embraces in its entirety this earthly life as a forestage of the heavenly one, calling us to live on this earth in a way that raises us to the heavens. Furthermore, the presence today of our beloved brother Primates and representatives of the most holy Orthodox Churches throughout the world in this Sacred Church of the First-Throne Church of Constantinople bears witness to the fact that all of these constitute and comprise the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Orthodox Church that is united in Christ and in the Holy Spirit, in spite of any divisions in administration.
Christ is on earth. Therefore, brothers and beloved children in the Lord, exalt your life in a fitting manner for our Great Visitor.