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ENCYCLICAL

CHRISTMAS 2008

STYLIANOS

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

Brother Concelebrants and beloved children in Christ who is born,


Behold before us once again, as a celebration of our thanksgiving, the awesome Mystery of the Incarnation of God the Word (Logos).

There is however a danger that we will not 'do justice' to the yearly celebration in worship of Christmas, if it is not coupled - at least silently - with a sincere 'examination of our own conscience' by every member of the Church, whether Clergy or lay people.

The 'examination of our own conscience' is not of course the appropriate criterion with which to measure the love of God for every person.

The fallen and 'bankrupt' human person is no longer the most reliable 'measure' of truth. And especially the truth of the living God.

Yet, from this self-examination we come to know 'by experience' whether we are mature enough to accept with gratitude the GIFT which, either way, we would not have been able to imagine. A gift for which we would NEVER have been worthy.

Who would have expected that, in order for man to 'come to himself (see Luke 15:17), God would have to 'come out of Himself (see John 16:28).

In our honest attempt to approach the awesome Mystery of the divine Incarnation, we could find no better guide than the Apostle Paul.

At any rate, it is no coincidence that the Apostle Paul was the 'chosen vessel' par excellence for the Love of God to attract all Nations to the 'power of the Cross'. This is why he likewise became the pre-eminent Mystic of the unsearchable depths of divine Wisdom.

Devout commentators of the New Testament highlighted a particularly expressive passage of St Paul's First Letter to Timothy, which is truly without parallel in terms of theological precision concerning the mystery of the divine Incarnation. However, at the same time, this passage is characterized also by a devotional melody befitting God.

In the 16th verse of the Letter's third chapter we read the following, by way of introduction:


"And indeed great is the mystery of godliness"!

Following this, the major 'stages' of the mystery of God's Incarnation are listed one by one.

In fact, the unfolding of the mentioned divine Economy (or plan of salvation) in human history is described in ascending order:

God was manifested in the flesh Justified in the spirit

Seen by angels

Preached among the Gentiles

Believed on in the world

Received up in glory.

Scholars have observed that this very passage may have been an archetypal and customary hymn used by the early Church in Worship. We will attempt to analyse it briefly here.

In the first three stages of the ascending order, we feel that we are guided by the 'Star of Bethlehem', such that we will not be left out of the 'Bridal Chamber of Christ'!

The "great mystery of godliness" is on the one hand conceived pre-eternally by the Trinitarian God, but, on the other, it does not remain hidden forever, in the frozen 'otherworldliness' of the God imagined by the philosophers.

The "mystery concealed before all time" (Romans 14:24) concerning the God of the Bible and of the Fathers is lovingly unfolded in time.

And it not only unfolds (from above), but is also confessed doxologically through three verbs:

"manifested" - "justified" - "seen"

It is a matter of life and death for us whether or not we overlook that all three terms reflect the doubtful and ever-changing reality which we call the 'body'.

To express concisely the great value of the 'body', both as a 'field' and as an 'instrument', we should say in the spirit of obvious symbolism that:

'the body is the Achilles heel of the human person'!

Does not the Gospel forewarn us that "the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak" (Mark 14:38)?

Even more astounding in this regard is the verse from Genesis which states:


"Then the LORD said, 'My spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh' " (Gen. 6:3)

However, regardless of several apparently negative views in Holy Scripture concerning the 'body' (generally) and the 'earthly body' and 'earthly man' (in particular), the Incarnation of God unexpectedly and literally turned 'everything upside down'!

For this reason the Fathers of the Church rightly described it as a 'Second Creation'!

With this complete overturning of nature and history, the coarse view of the body (which the Platonic philosophy of the Greeks had developed into the motto 'the body is a tomb') was now not only completely negated. It became instead the starting point and platform of salvation and deification of the human person by the grace of God.

These unheard of truths are contained in the meaning of the three terms which we heard earlier:

         God was manifested in the flesh

        Justified in the spirit

         Seen by angels

In this way, in the phrase "great is the mystery of godliness", the loving God

Shows good will as the Father, by sending His Son and Word in the divine Incarnation

The Son and Word 'empties' Himself by being sent and taking on flesh

And the Holy Spirit justifies the struggles and perfects the history of Sufferings related to the Incarnation into the activated final Completion, which Angels and Humans proclaim for all time, until the Second Coming of the Lord.

To God who was Born and Manifested to us, be honour and worship unto all ages. Amen!

Christmas 2008

With fervent prayers to God

Archbishop STYLIANOS

Primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in Australia


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