the mercy of God
Archbishop of Constantinople
New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch
unto the entire plentitude of the Church
grace, mercy and peace from Christ
our Saviour born in Bethlehem
The greatest event in the history of the universe, the incarnation of the Son of God, was accomplished almost imperceptibly. As the sacred humnographer says in addressing the Lord, "Unnoticed, you were born in a cave".
Truly, the Incarnated Word of God was born from the Virgin Maiden within a cave in Bethlehem during a silent night, like all the other nights. He was wrapped in swaddling clothes like all the infants and was placed in the manger of the animals as an indication of His extreme humility.
At a certain moment the angel of the Lord appeared and declared to the vigilant shepherds that "today a Saviour was born to you, who is Christ the Lord" (Luke 2:11). And suddenly a multitude of the heavenly host appeared praising God, but after a little while all these angels departed to heaven and the silence of the night succeeded once again the short-lived doxology of the angels.
In this way, the greatest event of the ages, God's becoming man, was covered by silence. it was announced, revealed and silenced. Out of the millions of human beings that were alive at the time of the birth of Christ, only a few shepherds were informed about it.
God, then, does not project His saving work. He does not impose His presence in human hearts or in human lives. The great mystery of the divine dispensation is operative, by and large, internally and mystically. At the same time, our most essential work, the work of our appropriation of the grace of God, which sanctifies our hearts, is also mystically accomplished in us, as if in another cave.
Undoubtedly all apparent good works are useful and praiseworthy. The Lord Himself recommends to us that our light should shine before our fellow human beings, that they may see our good works and glorify our Father who is in heaven (cf. Matt. 5:16). The Apostle Paul also recommends that we learn "to lead in good works for meeting necessary needs, that we may not be fruitless" (Tit. 3:14).
Man's most serious and important work, however, is his sanctification, which is accomplished through the grace of God, the observance of the divine commandments and through inconspicuous internal work, aimed at the purification of our inner life from every evil thought.
Pursue peace with all, and sanctification, without which no one can see the Lord, the Apostle recommends. And he also adds the two fundamental elements for our sanctification. Take care lest you find yourselves far from the grace of God, and that you let no root of bitterness exist in you, which may grow and cause disturbances whereby many may be polluted (cf. Heb. 12:14-15).
All of us, the faithful, desire that our heart becomes the new cave where Christ is received, so that we may be reborn. What is required for this to be done, beyond our apparent good works, is the invisible work of the purification of our heart from every tumult and bitterness, from evil memories and vain imaginations, so that the grace of God may come to sanctify it and Christ may find it appropriate to dwell within us. There, in the purified cave of the heart of each of us the mystery will be accomplished, on account of which Christ was born in the cave of Bethlehem.
Our existence will be sanctified and deified, and we shall be reborn in the Holy Spirit. In this way, reborn and renewed, we shall partake of the whole life of Christ from His birth to His crucifixion and His subsequent resurrection and ascension into heaven.
Keeping these in mind, let us celebrate, according to St Gregory the Theologian, "not in a festive but in a godly manner, not in a worldly but in a transcendent manner, not for what are ours but for what are of the One who is ours, that is, those of the Master..., not for those of creation but for those of recreation" (PG 36:316A-13).
May we all become worthy to see Christ being born and received properly within our hearts. Then, we shall celebrate in a godly manner the joyous feast of the invisible birth of Christ through our wholehearted participation in the welcome extended to Him in the world.
The grace and rich mercy of Him, who was born in Bethlehem and was made to recline in a manger, Christ our Lord and God, be with you. Amen!