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Christmas message, 2003


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

Brother Concelebrants and beloved children in Christ who is born.

Christmas this year once again finds us uneasy and fearful; especially fearful. For, quite simply, the 12 months that passed since last Christmas did not bring any sign of peace to the people or to the nations.

Last year, we may have been distressed about the imminent war on Iraq, but at least there was a faint hope back then that it could have been postponed. There was even hope that it could have been cancelled, had they not found the notorious weapons of mass destruction that Saddam Hussein was suspected of having.

There was also the hope, right up until the last moment that good sense would have prevailed (that which prefers dialogue to confrontation and negotiation more than bloodshed).

This year without there being a planned or continually open war in any particular country anguish is all around. There is a feeling of uncertainty all over the world. There are no longer the weak and the powerful, and no longer big and small people. We are all equally 'exposed' in everything, and unprotected from everything. Our only 'protector' at the last moment is the Lord God Himself!

Who can possibly foresee the next terrorism attacks, and where or how many their victims will be? Who has the power or the method of preventing them?

Amidst this unprecedented and 'blurred' atmosphere, we remember Christmas during our childhood years with nostalgia and pain. These were the years when things were somewhat more tranquil and peaceful, and when Christians could still go to Church with a clear conscience to praise the 'Prince of peace' and sing Carols, celebrating also outside the Church building that 'God is among us'.

Today, who would dare to claim that 'God is among us'? Instead of bearing witness to His presence, Christmas rather shows, in an unspoken way, the 'absence' of God from the world, and from the Christian world in particular.

Which cunning devices and vain ambitions primarily materialism and greed has the Church not imitated today from the world of decay and apostasy?

How is the Church to act prophetically and guide the world socially on the path of peace and justice, when it itself has become more 'irreverent' than the world?

The blind love of power on the part of Church leaders appears not to have been moved, or instructed, by the humility and 'nakedness' of the Christ child in the manger.

However, the natural course of things cannot be overturned. God Himself has foreseen and designed this.

When the Church competes or imitates or conforms to the world, using the same means in order to achieve the same 'goods', it does not simply become a part of the fallen world. It does not become a poor 'copy' or a 'caricature' of the world. It, in fact, becomes a scandal and provocation perhaps even a 'curse' of the world. This is because the 'sinful' example of the Church leads the world on a more destructive course than that which it could have reached by itself!

In order to understand more clearly how tragically absent (or rather how provocatively present) the Church is in the world today, we only need to look at one tangible example:

Christmas, as we confess, is the appearance of God in the flesh. This means that 'human flesh' from within the manger was elevated and proclaimed to be the most sacred symbol of life; the most fragile and precious substance in history. It is above 'flags' and 'borders', narrow minded nationalism or other ideologies. And it is especially above and beyond economic factors and the 'prosperity' of the few at the expense of the many. There can be no stability or prosperity in safety when the human body is suffering in any part of the world.

When the Gospel proclaims that "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1:14), it is really saying that nobody can any longer approach God, or speak about God and the human person, without first serving the human body to the point of sanctifying it!

And yet, 'flesh' is the first victim of irreverence and our unprecedented inhuman behaviour. Racism wars, the plight of refugees, sickness, slavery, prostitution, drug and alcohol abuse, the ruthless exploitation of helpless children, among other examples, all target the flesh first of all. Through the flesh, they ruin the soul (if there are many people who believe there is a soul!).

They therefore crucify the entire person through the flesh, thereby dishonouring the whole world and, at the same time, God the Creator.

One could then ask, 'What is the Church of East and West, which celebrates Christmas every year, really doing or initiating so as to protect human flesh from the organised interests of an inconsolable world?

With which courageous and specific actions has the Church stood up to the 'Herod' of our times? In other words to any secular authority which openly or covertly attempts to mistreat, intimidate or defile both God and the human person?

When will we finally listen to the lamentations of Rachel who represents the earth as a whole "weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they were no more" (Matt 2:18)?

Unfortunately although the tyrants of modern times have more blood on their hands than ever before, they are no longer 'red-handed'! And they lock people up in 'white cells'. Advanced technology and trickery of the 'workers of evil' cause death everywhere, without showing any visible traces of the crime.

Yet, the human body, is tormented on the street, homeless, without shelter, starving, and thrashed about between alcoholism and drugs. It cannot be hidden even in the 'bright' cities of the so called developed world.

This 'exposed' and 'dishonoured' human flesh, which moves around as a ruin of a 'betrayed' soul, awaits the fulfilment of Christmas. Even if it does not know it, or believe it, or hope for it.

May those of us Christians who at least still believe that 'a child has been born to us, the pre eternal God' (Christmas hymn), be enabled year by year to have more sincere humility and a more creative presence in the modern world.

Perhaps only in this way will we both Clergy and lay people restore our relationship with the Lord and God of history, who was Born, Died and Rose for all people. Amen.

With fervent prayers to the Lord in Christ who is Born

Archbishop STYLIANOS
Primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in Australia

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