+ 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 THE SAVIOUR CHRIST, BORN IN BETHLEHEM
FROM THE SAVIOR CHRIST BORN IN BETHLEHEM
Beloved brethren and children in the Lord,
The great and sacred day of Christmas has dawned, the metropolis and mother of all feasts, inviting each of us to spiritual uplifting and encounter with the Ancient of Days, who became an infant for us.
As St. John of Damascus underlines: “By the grace of God the Father, the only begotten Son and divine Word of God, who is in the bosom of the Father, consubstantial with the Father and the Holy Spirit, the pre-eternal and perfect God, who is without beginning, condescends to us as His servants, becoming fully human and achieves that which is newer than new, the only new thing under the sun.” (On the Orthodox Faith) This incarnation of the Son of God is not merely symbolical, like the other incarnations of the numerous gods in mythology; it is reality, a truly new reality, the only new thing under the sun, which occurred at a specific historical moment in the reign of the Emperor Octavian Augustus some 746 years (according to new astronomical data) since the establishment of Rome, in the midst of a specific people, from the house and line of David (Luke 2.4), in a specific place, namely Bethlehem of Judaea, with a very specific purpose: “He became human in order that we might become divine,” in accordance with the succinct expression of Athanasius the Great. (On the Divine Incarnation 54)
The event of incarnation of God’s Word grants us the opportunity to reach the extreme limits of our nature, which are identified neither with the “good and beautiful” of the ancient Greeks and the “justice” of the philosophers, nor with the tranquility of Buddhist “nirvana” and the transcendental “fate” or so-called “karma” by means of the reputedly continuous changes in the form of life, nor again with any “harmony” of supposedly contradictory elements of some imaginary “living force” and anything else like these. Rather, it is the ontological transcendence of corruption and death through Christ, our integration into His divine life and glory, and our union by grace through Him with the Father in the Holy Spirit. These are our ultimate limits: personal union with the Trinitarian God! And Christ’s nativity does not promise any vague blessedness or abstract eternity; it places “in our hands” the potential of personal participation in God’s sacred life and love in an endless progression. It grants us the possibility not only “of receiving adoption” (Gal. 4.5) but also of becoming “partakers of divine nature.” (2 Peter 1.4).
Of course, amid the global confusion and crisis of our time, these truths have a strange echo. Most people’s hope, resting on worldly “deities,” is falsified on a daily basis in the most terrible ways. The human person is humiliated and crushed by numbers, machines, computers, stock markets, and diverse flags of vain ideological opportunism. Nature is blasphemed; the environment groans; young people despair and protest against the injustice of the present and the uncertainty of the future. “Darkness, clouds, storms and noise” (Deut. 4.11) prevail in our world, giving the impression that even the light of hope that dawns in Bethlehem is threatened with extinction and the angelic hymn of universal joy – “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will to all people” (Luke 2.14) – is in danger of being overcome. Nevertheless, the Church calls everyone to sober attention, re-evaluation of priorities in life, and pursuit of divine traces and value in every other person of respect toward the image of God. Indeed, the Church will not cease to proclaim – with all the strength acquired by its two millennia of experience – that the child that lies in the manger of Bethlehem is “the hope of all ends of the earth,” the Word and purpose of life, redemption sent by God to His people, namely to the whole world.
We share this good news with much love from the martyric Throne of the Great Church of Christ in Constantinople, proclaiming it to all children of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and to every person that thirsts for Christ, invoking upon all of you the mercy, peace and grace of God, together with the saving gift of the only-begotten Son of God, who came down from the heavens – for us and for our salvation – and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, becoming human. To Him belong the glory, power, honor and worship, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit, to the ages.
At the Phanar, Christmas 2008
Fervent supplicant to God for all
Bartholomew, Archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch