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Christmas message, 2001


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,

In the name of the living God, let us listen once again to the brief summary of the Gospel of God's indescribable dispensation towards us:

"Therefore, the Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God" (Luke 1:35).

In replying to an anxious question of the Virgin Mary, the Archangel Gabriel announced this unspeakable joy of the "mystery which was kept secret since the world began" (Romans 16:25), even before it had taken place in time. In so doing, he made no reference to physical, logical or even moral order, but gave the heavenly assurance concerning the divine and deifying self-emptying love of God:

"The Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God"!

The 'self-emptying', however, was a previously unknown factor, and, precisely for this reason, received no consideration. It was not, however, simply another normal development in the course of human history. This is why it did not require at all the contribution of both the male and female gender. It was not a work of nature, such as to have a normal outcome. Rather, it was of divine will and Providence, and "when God wills, the laws of nature are overcome".

The pre-eternal 'will' of God existed, as both an idea and plan, before the creation of the world. It remains unshakeably the Alpha and the Omega in the history of the world, regardless of how many know it, or ignores it; regardless of how many accept it, or reject it. God, who is All-wise and All-powerful and All-loving, never acts 'narrow mindedly' or 'haphazardly' as people do. God always acts according to "the riches of His goodness" (Romans 4:2). This means that He does not 'plan' and 'implement' things that are continually changing, as we do, according to our desires and temporary circumstances.

God wills and acts according to the depth of His unchanging essence, and this essence, which is unknown and unapproachable to us, has always been expressed towards His entire creation only in love, for "God is love" (1 John 4:16).

In the self-revealed essence of God, through its limitless beneficial energies, 'love' and 'love for humanity' (philanthropy) are almost synonymous terms. If the human person is truly the center and pinnacle of the whole Creation, then 'philanthropy' means more than what the term literally states. It is more than a conventional love for humankind alone.

Philanthropy is that which the Scriptures often describe as "compassion" (Colossians 3:12), covering the entire Creation, while at the same time expressing all the depth of divine Love.

Therefore, philanthropy as Love, and Love as philanthropy, do not mean that there is an exclusively mutual relationship between God and the human person - no matter how much God uses him to approach the rest of Creation, redemptively.

God's good will towards His works and, more specifically, the calling to participate in His blessedness, are free and totally without presuppositions. For this precise reason, it is always called 'grace' (which in Greek means a 'free gift') and is expressed through a whole range of gifts.

It was possible for God Himself to be 'born' as a 'human' only because He acts out of His own fullness - and not from worldly need or historical necessity - while He who is born still remains, and is called, the 'Son of God'.

It is characteristic that Christ was known by these two names throughout His life on earth: 'Son of God' and 'Son of man'. However, when referring to Himself, Christ mostly used the term 'Son of man'.

We, the faithful in each generation, are entitled to ask with reverence, "What could this double name possibly mean?" It could not be at all considered as merely 'conventional' since Christ Himself testifies to it.

This of course determines how, not only God, but also human beings, are to be understood and experienced, in Christ and through Christ.

Christian theology emphasises that we worship not only the divine nature of the one, undivided divine Word who became human, but also His human nature. In so doing, theology expresses the most astounding interpretation of God and History.

Without idolising the human person, and, more importantly, without restricting God who is infinite and. beyond comprehension, it ultimately expresses the mystery of divine Love. At the same time, it reveals to the highest degree both the love of God for man, as well as the God-like character of humanity.

It was with much pain and effort that the Church's teaching was accurately expressed concerning the union of the two natures in the one and undivided Person of Christ (described in the terms of the 4th Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon as being without confusion, without change, without division and without separation). If we had always taken this seriously, we would have first and foremost avoided all those pitiful adventures, and the totally unjustifiable schisms of Monothelitism and Monophysitism. Furthermore, a vibrant and highly caring Christianity would have embraced and sanctified the whole world, 'to the ends of the earth'.

One could therefore ask:

  1. Into this more godly view of the world, would it be possible to fit all those official and unofficial crimes of Christian history around the world, from which we try to hide the degree of our responsibility with hypocritical 'apology statements' - especially in recent years of apparently more widespread awakening in East and West?
  2. In the prelude of God's broadest love, could His world be divided - in the minds of Christians at least - into those who are 'faithful' and those who are 'unfaithful'? In light of the awesome truth of the Incarnation of God the Word, what theory of the 'clash' of civilisations or religions could possibly be justified?
  3. Given the fact that some people - belonging to their own religion or ideology - do not 'accept' our Christian faith (or even mock it or fight it), is this sufficient for us to exclude them from the Love that they all deserve, as a 'gift' of God who became man? This would be just as absurd if we did not recognise that someone was entitled to an inheritance left in his name, purely because he is unaware of, or perhaps does not 'accept', this gift!

In closing, it would of course be unnecessary to stress how timely and salvific are these fundamental truths of our Faith in God "who for us and our salvation ... was incarnate ... and became human". Especially for us Christians, but also for all the frightened and terrorised people, at this gloomy time.

From the vast embrace that this Faith opens up - let the truly unfaithful hear this at last! - none are exempt. Neither the Afghans, nor the Albanians, nor the Slavs, nor the Arabs, nor the Turks, nor the Indians, nor the Japanese, nor the Chinese, nor the Pygmies, nor the Aryans, Blacks, Aborigines, or any other race. For, very simply, "in Christ Jesus there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female" (Galatians 3:28).

To Him be the honour and glory 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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