Christmas 1998


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,

"the pre-eternal God was pleased to be seen as a newborn Child"

  This final verse from the Christmas hymn of St Romanos could also have been the first. For it gives glory in chant to the unique reason, not only of the creation of everything from nothing, but also of the completely free salvation of all: the unknowable and unsearchable divine will of God.

The truth which St John the Evangelist proclaimed that "God is love" (1 John 4:8) Romanos develops more fully, and for that reason more convincingly, within the constructs of time and space.

Just as the colours of the spectrum, invisible in natural light, become visible and distinct only when they are refracted through a glass prism, in the same way the unapproachable essence of God is known and experienced only when it is refracted into uncreated Divine energies in space and time. And then we are taught by experience that the pre-eternal will of God, being one and the same with His uncreated essence, is not only wisdom and power. It is not only light and life. It is not only truth and justice. It is not only goodness and meekness. It is not only peace and sanctification. Above all these things, and with all these things, and through all these things, it is Love. "God is love".

Yet in order for all of the "riches of His goodness" (Rom 2:4) to be revealed, the invisible and unapproachable and incomprehensible God had to appear to humanity as a human being. It is a law of nature that "like things are known by like things". This is why "the Old of days", who fills the ages and governs through the ages, had to abolish the ages and sanctify the present, so as to renew "the human nature worn out by sin". The awesome and hidden Lord of hosts of the Old Testament "Whom no man has seen or can see" (1 Tim 6:16), had to be revealed and become known to people as the one "who is everywhere present and fills all things", in order to "recapitulate all things" (cf Ephes. 1: 10).

The unspeakable mystery however which Emmanuel - that is to say "God with us" - reveals in history, thereby rendering it into Divine economy, cannot be sufficiently expressed by the general term "incarnation". The "self- emptying" of God in "utter humility", is not fully expressed if we simply say that "the Word became flesh", The absolute measure of humility becomes clear only with the sharp contrast, conceived by the poetic sensitivity of Romanos the Hymnographer: "the pre-eternal God" is born as "a newborn Child".

As we can see, the Hymnographer did not consider it sufficient to say that God was born as a human being. He highlighted the vivid image of "a newborn Child", which expresses not just any child, but rather a baby, who cannot yet even speak. Have we ever imagined how unspeakable the mystery of the newborn Child is, as this is celebrated at Christmas?

The pre-eternal "Word of God" is born as having "no word", as utter stillness and silence, in order to put to shame the "verbosity" of fallen man. It is at this very point of the divine Incarnation that the "wisdom of the world" clashes with, and is defeated by, "the foolishness of the Cross", as St Paul would later teach (cf 1 Cor.18-22).

If the image of the "newborn" expresses "utter humility" in the most characteristic manner, would not the word of Scripture exhort us also to be "babes in malice"? (cf 1 Cor. 14:20)

To "become like a baby", as a moral command directly from the New Testament and from relevant commentaries of the Fathers of the Church, is not simply a rhetorical escape to a harmless and romantic symbolism. The figure of the "newborn Child", as presented and sanctified by the incarnate God, becomes a specific model and attitude of life. Unfortunately man has proven throughout the centuries that, as a rule, he maintains his "humanity" only in that which is little and measured. He loses control in that which is much and measureless, which is why he easily turns wild and becomes like one possessed. The type of Christianity known as pietism and works of the law, which gave rise to capitalism -with all its forms of imbalance and grandiosity -- will always be reproved, to the .shame of all Christians, by the wisdom of the ancient Greeks. This wisdom was presented with the well-known and concise precepts: "nothing in excess" and "everything in good measure".

The "newborn Child" represents that measure of our moral behaviour: He fully participates with all senses in the miracle of life. Yet while He participates with self-sufficiency, from the cradle, in the smallest portion- and not with rivalry, as adults do in the social arena- He becomes an exemplary model of doxological communion with the goods of life, and not greedy consumerism. Thus, that which is least for survival is transformed into that which is greatest for giving glory.

However, the temperance of the "newborn Child", as an attitude of life, becomes ever more edifying if we recall this year's Official Report of the United Nations, regarding worldwide expenditure, during the year which has nearly passed.

That Report contains information about the course of the modern world which should shock us. Here are some characteristic figures as presented in the Press.

The following was spent on the world population, which now stands at 6 billion, in 1998:

For education

$6 billion

For health and irrigation facilities

$8 billion

For food and health care

$13 billion

For drugs

$400 billion

For military expenditure

$780 billion

What can we say about these outrageous statistics? We only ask and wonder: How much longer can suffering humanity bear such collective crimes of the few and cunning, at the expense of the victims, who are always many?

Let us hope that the humility which the Holy Infant of the Manger teaches us, will lead, the Christians at least, to works only of repentance, purification and obedience, so as not to make an irony of the Angelic hymn

"Glory to God in the highest
Peace on earth
and good will to all"

To our Lord and God Who became human for our sake be all glory and honour and worship to all ages. Amen.

With fervent prayers for all of you

Archbishop STYLIANOS
Primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in Australia

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