+ B A R T H O L O M E W
BY THE GRACE OF GOD
ARCHBISHOP OF CONSTANTINOPLE,
NEW ROME, AND ECUMENICAL PATRIARCH,
TO THE PLENITUDE OF THE CHURCH,
GRACE, MERCY, AND PEACE
FROM THE SAVIOR CHRIST BORN IN BETHLEHEM
Christ is born, glorify Him;
Christ comes from heaven, meet Him.
Beloved brothers and children in the Lord,
It is with great joy that our Church calls us to glorify God for His loving and personal presence on earth of Christ in divino-human hypostasis, being one of the three persons of the Holy Trinity.
We must, therefore, examine very carefully the true and life-giving significance of the incarnation of the Son and Word of God. For, first, it reveals to humanity that God is personal and is made manifest to us as personal, just as He has also created us as persons; second, it reveals to us that God embraces us with His love. These two events, the personhood and love of God, express fundamental truths of our faith, which of course we have heard about many times. Nevertheless, their impact upon our lives is not as great as it should be, inasmuch as many of us do neither experience Christís brotherhood and His boundless love for us in a personal way, nor do we in turn return our love to Christ in order that, by sharing in His love, we may also share by grace in His other properties.
If others who have not known Christ and, as a result, drown in their search for an impersonal being that they perceive as divine are somewhat justified, we Orthodox Christians are not at all justified in pursuing such ways that lead to an impasse. For, instead of seeking God as person and approaching Him in the one who approach us, namely Jesus Christ, these deceived people desperately strive to become divine through their own powers, like Adam thought he could achieve by obeying the evil spirit. However, the true and personal God, who is known only through Jesus Christ the one born in a manger out of love for us promised us adoption and return to the bosom of the Father, as well as deification by grace through Christ. It is only through Christ that one may fulfill the universal human desire to transcend the corruption and isolation of an existence without love and the cultivation of communion among divine and human persons in love, which leads to eternity and incorruption.
Let us, therefore, turn the gaze of our hearts toward the newly born Jesus Christ in the manger, so that by considering how much He loves us we might love Him with all our heart, mind and being. It is only through the love of Jesus Christ that we may by grace become participants also in His divine nature, just as through love He shared in our human nature. Anthropocentric efforts and thoughts, psychedelic states and ecstasy, together with similar non-Christian experiences do not lead to an encounter of the truly personal God of love, but to a deep and cold darkness, to the gloom of eternal destruction, as well as to a sense of complete and abysmal vacuum.
For this reason, beloved children in the Lord, love Jesus Christ, who out of love for us and for our salvation became human; come to know the communion of His love, with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Indeed, there is nothing sweeter than the love of the personal God.
The great herald of divine love is the one who identified God and love, namely St. John the Evangelist and Theologian, who pronounced the supreme uttering, that God is love. After him, the great herald is St. Paul the Apostle, who love God to the end and who asked the fervent question: Who can separate us from the love of Christ?Ē Neither sorrow nor sword, neither death nor any other love can be more powerful than our love for Christ. In remembrance of the words and loving works of St. Paul, and in celebration of two millennia since his birth, we declare the coming year 2008 as the year of the Apostle Paul.
We pray paternally and fervently that Jesus Christ, who was born in a manger out of love and for our salvation, may render our hearts as His manger, through the intercessions of His ever-Virgin Mother, as well as of our predecessor St. John Chrysostom, to whose memory we had dedicated this past year, together with the intercessions of another Patriarchal predecessor, St. Niphon, restorer and second founder of the Holy Patriarchal and Stavropegic Monastery of St. Dionysius on Mount Athos, which next year celebrates the 500th anniversary since his repose, as well as of Saints John and Paul the Apostles, par excellence heralds of Godís love, but also of all the saints, so that He may reveal to everyone the person of His love.
We invoke upon all of you His grace and rich mercy. Merry Christmas; may the twelve days of Christmas be blessed; and may the New Year be spiritually and materially fruitful.
Phanar, Christmas 2007
fervent supplicant for all to God
Prot. No. 1330