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Christmas message, 2000


By the grace of God Archbishop of Australia
To all the Clergy and devout faithful of our Greek Orthodox Archdiocese 

Dear brother Concelebrants and beloved children in Christ who is born,

"Come all faithful, let us behold where Christ was born
Let us then follow wherever the star shall lead us!"

These two verses taken from the morning service of Christmas form more than a question or sign of wonder, more than an affirmation or teaching. As a calling and mission, they simultaneously declare that which is both given and sought after. Just as it always occurs in the critical moments when the human person comes into a direct relationship with God, and is obliged to give responsible account of all that one has received, as well as of all that one owes.

Consequently, the phrase 'Where Christ was born" and "wherever the star leads" - which we should on no account consider to be rhetorical devices - constitute the constant terms of orientation for the Christian, amidst the perpetually instability of history, which are not bound by geography or locality.

The words "where" and 'Wherever" used here do not express - and cannot express - the "place" but rather the "manner", according to the endearing language of the Fathers.

The fact that Christ was born geographically in Bethlehem of the House of David and from the tribe of Judah, is not the most decisive aspect of the divine Incarnation.

The inexpressible mystery "which was kept secret since the world began" (Rom. 16:25) consists in the how and why of the Incarnation of the Lord, which has to do with the entire human race, since God "desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim. 2:4).

With the simple but joyful words "come let us behold", we are invited again today to hear how the Saviour of the world was born. And having acknowledged the "benefaction", we are to follow "wherever the star leads us".

Only in this way does the declaration we make during our Baptism "into Christ" acquire meaning. Only then does it become sincere and binding for each member of the Church and for the entire Eucharistic gathering:

"We confess the Grace
we proclaim the mercy
we do not hide the benefaction"

In the one undivided Person of Christ the God-Man, God was "revealed in the flesh", not in "appearance" only, but by becoming "in all things like us, without sin", and yet remaining as unchanging and perfect God, without interruption. This is precisely what ensures the deification of the human "according to grace". And "deification" of course is not blasphemous or scandalous, as others have accused in the past. Deification is the undivided and unconfused co-existence of the divine and human, in accordance with the will of the loving God, until the end of the ages, and beyond, into the eternity of divine love.

However, in order for this not to sound like "pious desires" or "romantic wishes" to those who are of little faith, let us explain specifically what is meant by the Incarnation of God uniting both God and humankind "unconfusedly" and "indivisibly" in the person of Christ.

Here, "unconfusedly" means that any kind of uplifting or perfection of the human person does not occur by the power of one's own self, but through the mercy and grace of God, who made the human being susceptible to perfection. When one remembers this fundamental truth, A is impossible to be led to the hubris of "narcissism", which inevitably leads to the idolisation and demonisation of the human person. Being both created and fallen, human nature will always be in need of the love of God, a love that is uncreated and infinite, which for this reason is given at all times as a free gift and is called "grace". If we forget this, even for a moment, we then confuse the divine and the human, thereby actively preaching the worst form of heresy, and causing the most criminal schism. Similarly, the adverb "indivisibly" used here is equally significant. It declares the firm assurance that God incarnate is no longer separated from His God-like creation, namely the human person, having the God-Man as the constant point of orientation.

The divine and human form of Christ was raised "once and for all" in history as a "balance of justice". And He was raised not only so as to "restore" the upset balance due to human disobedience, but also to "reshape" the "stained" icon of God in human beings on a new basis (in the blood of the New Testament).

The mystery, which is both divine and human, which the Church, as the Body of Christ, maintains and perpetuates throughout history, is the brightest vision and the most sacred feat for those who have not denied it. The greatest crimes in the history of humanity were unfortunately not carried out by people who did not know or acknowledge the incarnated God. They were carried out by His very own people who denied Him. The words of St John the Evangelist remain an eternal and bitter "accusation" of Christians of all time:

"He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.
But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of
God" (John 1:11-12)

As the anniversary of 2000 years of historic Christianity draws to a close in a few days, all Christians without exception must confess with contrition the failure, which was to some extent common. This is a failure which was not unforeseen, or which arose due to external factors. Rather, it was programmatic and guided, which is precisely why it was also a conscious betrayal. Not only was the blood "of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world' betrayed (Rev. 13:8), but with it the blood of all the Martyrs and Confessors, the ascetics and "every just spirit perfected in the faith".

Neither the message of repentance nor the missions, the monasticism and all forms of suffering over 20 centuries were able to overturn the barbarity of the general decline of Christians, from the time they turned from being persecuted to the persecutors, not only of others but also of their very selves.

Mainly during the second Christian millennium, Christians of both east and west - but primarily those of the west - displayed a scandalous and shameful disdain for the two major dogmas of Christianity, which are also its quintessence: the dogma concerning the Holy Trinity, and the dogma concerning the Hypostatic Union of the incarnate Lord.

Indeed, it is true that these two dogmas dominate, as cornerstones, in Orthodox worship, with the use of both the triple and double sets of candies held by the presiding hierarch. Yet, where is the practical, that is to say the moral, reflection of this in our daily action and lives? Both the mystery of the Trinitarian God, and the mystery of the two natures of Christ, proclaim two fiery truths for human life and society:

Firstly, that divine life, being an unbroken continuity and eternity, signifies indivisible unity, peace, communion and blessedness of persons, and all of these are nourished and maintained only through mutual, unselfish love. And secondly, that mutual love presupposes mutual respect between the persons. Thus we have the identity of the essence, and the diversity of persons, the two basic truths of God.

However, how did we as Christians realise the "communion of persons"? How did we respect and honour the unrepeatable otherness of each person?

A comparison with the ancient heretics on these topics of life or death will show us to be worse than them. The anti-Trinitarians, the Christomachoi, the Pneumatomachoi, the Pelagians, the Monophysites, the Iconoclasts and others, fought the truth on mainly a theoretical level. We Christians however of the 2nd millennium hastily exiled and dethroned God from His own Creation, secularising nature and history. Therefore, the icon of God, the unique human person, became demoted and degraded into an individual, into a dull number. Only economic wellbeing was considered to be progress and development, as if people were nothing more than flesh and appetite. The right of all to have participation and communion in all the gifts of God has been replaced by "who can grab and consume the most".

It was not the Asians or the Africans who imposed capitalism, fascism, communism and the ecological catastrophe of the planet. It was the Europeans and Americans, baptised unfortunately into Christ. It was they who conducted both World Wars. It was they who divided earth's inhabitants into citizens of the first world, while prospering and squandering in revelry. Into citizens of the second world, who hastily try more every day to be like the first group, and even surpass them if possible. And into citizens of the third world, the most tragic victims of hunger, sickness and illiteracy.

There is no need to say more on this. The media, which normally present world catastrophes and tragedies as "news", inform us constantly. No one therefore has the excuse of "not seeing" or "not hearing".

Let us pray with repentance, and let us work with humility for a more just, honest and loving world. The third Christian millennium, which commences in several days, should not repeat the crimes of the second. Nor should the Christians design it in such an unchristian manner.

To the God of Love; who became human, suffered and was glorified for our sakes, be all honour and worship unto all ages. Amen.

With fervent prayers for all of you.

Archbishop STYLIANOS
Primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in Australia

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