+ B A R T H O L O M E W
BY THE MERCY OF GOD
ARCHBISHOP OF CONSTANTINOPLE,
NEW ROME, AND ECUMENICAL PATRIARCH,
TO THE PLENITUDE OF THE CHURCH,
GRACE, PEACE, AND MERCY
FROM CHRIST OUR SAVIOUR,
BORN IN BETHLEHEM
"God on earth, man in heaven; and all became mingled together."
St. John Chrysostom
Brothers, Sisters and beloved Children in the Lord,
The human mind finds it difficult to comprehend the immense change the Birth of Christ brought about in the world. He who was born in the manger of Bethlehem was not an ordinary child like the ones that are born every day. He is the Creator of the entire universe, come down to our level, in order to lift up His creature and restore him to the heights from which he had fallen.
According to the plan of the Creator, which is full of love, man was created with the capacity to achieve divinity. Due to his own failings, however, he strayed from the right path and became enslaved to decay and death. In order to restore to man the potential to become divine, God had to become incarnate, to take on flesh, for the sake of fallen, perishable and sinful man who, being a creature of earth, could not by his own means transcend his mortal nature and become like God.
The idea of God's incarnation was something that not even the most vivid human imagination could come up with; no one dared even to consider this unexpected event as a possibility. Only the Prophets, inspired by the Holy Spirit, prophesized that such occurrence would be possible through God. Indeed, the night of Christmas, the unexpected became real. "God [is] on earth, man in heaven", exclaims St. John Chrysostom in admiration.
This world-altering event is not irrelevant to our life. Its significance is not exhausted in the fleeting celebratory festivities. We ought to contemplate the new situation with great seriousness. The Birth of Christ gives us the opportunity to transcend our mortality, ascend to heaven, live with Christ, be reconciled to God, enjoy His adoption, live in the inexhaustible joy of His love unto the ages.
Let us celebrate spiritually the grace of God offered to man together with the Angels and Saints, and let us begin a new life, worthy of the calling of the Incarnate God. The stirring event of Christ's Birth, although it occurred inconspicuously and humbly, has caused immense changes to the Universe and particularly to the future of each person. We should take care not to undervalue its importance, simply because it took place in historically humble and simple circumstances. Nor should we celebrate the event in a boisterous and superficial manner that would befit a seasonal celebration that had no other significance for our life beyond providing an opportunity for secular revelry.
Although the events surrounding the Birth of our Lord Jesus Christ are not visible by our mortal human eyes, there are some who, by the grace of God, have seen and described the deeper events and the resulting mystical change of the world. Here is how our saintly predecessor on the Patriarchal Throne, John Chrysostom describes this sacred event, dazzled by what he has perceived:
"Angels joined the choirs of men, men had fellowship with the angels and with the other celestial powers; and one might see reconciliation made between God and our nature, the devil brought to shame, demons in flight, death destroyed, Paradise open, the curse eradicated, sin done away with, error driven off, truth returning, the word of piety everywhere sown and flourishing in its growth, the heavenly City planted on earth, angels continually brought to the earth and abundant hope for things to come" (P.G. 57, 15-16).
Children, brothers and sisters, may we see this very hope for things to come realized in our life through the prayers of great Saint John Chrysostom, who intercedes before us to the Lord in heaven together with all the Saints. This coming year will mark the sixteen hundredth anniversary of the falling asleep in the Lord of this Saint, and thus, the Ecumenical Patriarchate proclaims this to be the year of Saint John Chrysostom, so that we may give the urge to the faithful to study his work and more closely examine his life.
Brothers and Sisters!
Christ is born: glorify Him!
Christ is come from heaven: go to meet Him!
Christ is on earth: be lifted up!
To this God who so loves mankind that He was born for us in the flesh at Christmas, be the honor, the thanksgiving, the glory and the worship unto the ages of ages. Amen.
At the Phanar, Christmas 2006
Patriarch of Constantinople
your fervent supplicant before God