Feast of the Nativity of Christ, 2003


By the Grace of God Archbishop of Constantinople,
New Rome, and Ecumenical Patriarch,
To the plentitude of the Church,
Grace, Peace, and Mercy
From Christ our Saviour, born in Bethlehem

Beloved Brothers and Sisters, Children in the Lord,

By God's divine dispensation we celebrate once again the great and joyous feast of the birth of the Incarnate Logos of God. The most merciful God, who created man and endowed him with the gifts of self-consciousness and the capability to know and communicate with others, ultimately destining him to partake in the joy of love, did not abandon man when he rejected God's love by choosing to grow apart from His Creator. This choice, made by the first-created human beings, was detrimental. It brought about spiritual death upon humankind, turned life materialistic, and gave birth to the sin of selfishness. This was a predicament from which humankind could not escape by its own means. It was precisely for this reason that the Logos of God condescended to take on flesh and become human; by doing this, He healed human nature so that man, reborn in Christ, would love God anew in the person of Jesus Christ. This restoration of the loving relationship between humanity and God is the source of the greatest joy in the universe. It is a present that God offered to humanity and for which the angels sang in the night of Christ's birth in Bethlehem. It is this very restoration that we celebrate joyously and spiritually, sharing, in a certain measure, in all the material gifts given by God to alienated humanity-gifts that constitute a clear indication of God's love for humankind.

Most of our fellow human beings revel in a state of enthusiasm created by many opportunities which elicit worldly joy. They busy themselves with the enjoyment of abundant riches and numerous entertainments and pleasures with which wealthy countries are replete, all the while forgetting the deeper meaning of the birth of Christ. At times, even devout and faithful Christians might be misled by the secular notions heralded by others. It is a definite possibility that they might overlook the true meaning of the Incarnation of God's Logos, Jesus Christ, and that they might decide not to experience deeply this event, which is of tremendous importance for our lives.

The great importance of His birth rests on the fact that God took on flesh and becomes human in order to deify man. He took on flesh in order to offer humankind the potential for maximum growth, the potential to become one with God. All human joys and pleasures are very miniscule compared with the joy of partaking in the life of Christ.

Humankind, though, does not occupy itself with this potential. Instead, it contents itself with being mortal and malicious, while setting goals that are very limited and mundane. It tends to alter the feast of Christmas to a universal feast of seasonal nature, totally anthropocentric and completely cut off from the Church and its Christian content. To counterattack these tendencies, we Christians ought to undergo all labours in an effort to realize consciously the great spiritual meaning of the Incarnation and birth of God's Logos. This meaning concerns us directly; it affords us the opportunity to partake in the life of Jesus Christ, which is an inconceivable notion for the unfaithful, an opportunity which necessarily fills us with heavenly and inalienable joy. For us to be able to receive this joy and peace though, we must accept this opportunity and its consequences. We must love Jesus Christ, the One who gave us this opportunity; we must seek divine grace and allow ourselves to change under the influence of God's grace.

Devout Christians, Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born in a cave and was laid in a manger, expects that we open our hearts to Him, so that He will reside in them, as if inside another cave. From within our hearts, He will guide our thoughts and feelings toward everything that is good and beautiful. He will become our fellow traveller in life and will illumine our hearts with love and happiness, for happiness is born only of love. Let us clear our hearts from malevolent addictions, from bad habits, from the bondages of our souls, from sin, and from evil intentions; let us purify them by the cleansing qualities of confession, through which our souls become purer than snow. Then, we will be ready to welcome Jesus Christ with a pure heart and in holy anticipation, as an infant in the manger of our hearts. Accordingly, in time, through our practice and adherence to His commandments, "Christ will be formed in you (Galatians 4:19), to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (Ephesians 4:13).

We paternally greet you on the occasion of this distinctive day and wholeheartedly bestow upon all of you our paternal wishes and patriarchal blessings. We pray to Christ, the Prince of Peace, to put an end to the wars and the bloodshed and to bring about peace to our agitated world. We pray that you, all our beloved children and brothers and sisters, may celebrate these holy days with peace, joy and exultation under the gratifying protection of God, through the intercessions of the Most Holy Theotokos and of all the Saints.

May the grace and abundant mercy of Jesus Christ, who was born in a cave and was laid in a manger, be with you all.

Protocol No. 1074
At the Phanar, Christmas 2003
Your fervent supplicant before God,
+Bartholomew of Constantinople

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