Metropolitan Moses - 2009 Nativity Encyclical
THE HOLY ORTHODOX METROPOLIS OF PORTLAND
2009 ENCYCLICAL FOR THE NATIVITY OF CHRIST
His Eminence, Moses, Metropolitan of Portland
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit
Christ is Born!
Brothers and Sisters in Christ, blessed are we because on this day we celebrate the long awaited good tidings of that which the Prophets and righteous men desired to hear (Matt 13:16-17) for the Lord of Glory dwells among men.
As Saint Gregory the Theologian wrote in his Oration on Theophany or on the Birthday of Christ:
“CHRIST IS BORN, glorify ye Him. Christ from heaven, go ye out to meet Him. Christ on earth; be ye exalted. Sing unto the Lord all the whole earth; and that I may join both in one word, Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad, for Him Who is of heaven and then of earth.”
The long awaited Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed One is born and we see that it is not an angel, nor a man, but it is God Himself Who has come to save us. Emmanuel (God with us) “Who is of heaven” has put on our lowly nature and all things are made new. That great gulf that separated us from the unapproachable God, has been crossed and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. The chasm between time and eternity, between our earthly existence and the Kingdom of the Heavens has been crossed. God has appeared. God the Word is now the God-Man, the New Adam, Jesus the Savior and we celebrate the mystery of the divine plan, that is, God’s economia for man’s salvation.
In the epistle reading that is appointed for the liturgy, Saint Paul teaches us of the significance of His coming with the words, “Brethren, when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, born from a woman, born under the law, that He might redeem them that were under the law, so that we might receive the adoption of sons.” (Gal 4:4-5)
Yet there are many that say God’s plan for our salvation is limited Him giving us a sacred book and a moral code and anyone who lives a moral life will receive this adoption. Neither our Savior nor the Apostles and their successors taught anything like this.
Our Lord Himself declared to us all through the sacred Gospel, “Amen, amen, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born anew.” (John 3:5-7)
The God-Man came to grant us the adoption of sons and we receive this adoption only by Holy Baptism. After His death and resurrection, our Savior Christ commissioned His Apostles and priests commanding them, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matt 28:19)
The union of the Divine and Human natures in Christ is a great mystery. So also, in the Mystery of Holy Baptism, in a way past telling we are united to the Body of Christ, the Church, and in the Mystery of the Eucharist we partake of the Body and Blood of Christ. These two Mysteries were revealed only in the Incarnation of our Savior. Thus, the greatest gift given to man is the Incarnation of the God-Man, but we participate in the Incarnation only through the Mysteries of the Church, that is, only through the Priesthood of the Church.
As baptized Orthodox Christians, we do not only hear of the report of the Incarnation and live by a moral code, but we participate in the Incarnation through the Church and its Priesthood that has been given unto us by our Savior. Any virtue that we practice is not done for the sake of a moral code, but rather in order to commune with Christ Who became Man for us. Our life and our deeds are given meaning through the Mystery of communion with Christ and according to His divine plan (economia) this is accomplished by our receiving the “adoption of sons,” as Saint Paul said, by being baptized at the hand of the Church’s Priesthood, which is the hand of Christ. We say in the Creed that we believe, “In One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. I confess one baptism for the remission of sins.” The only effectual exception to the baptism of the Church is the baptism by blood of the holy martyrs.
Priests are men of clay who are capable of error and sin, but the Priesthood is inviolate, sacred and perfect. The Great High Priest is the God-Man Christ Himself, the Great Apostle and Bishop of the Church. As Saint Paul said, Apostles, bishops and priest are, “ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God.” (1Cor 4:1) This is a sacred duty and each minister at the altar will have to give answer for his stewardship, “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom they have committed much, of him they will ask the more.” (Luke 12:48) Local Churches can fall away, but the gates of hades will not prevail against the Church and its Priesthood (Matt 16:18).
There are many things that witness to the Incarnation, but the greatest witness is the Priesthood of the Church. Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us honor our Savior’s Incarnation by rightly honoring the Priesthood that Christ established and not delve into the details of God’s judgments concerning those outside of the Church. We have many examples from the lives of the saints that demonstrate that “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (James 5:16) and some amazing things have occurred to aid both those within and those without the Church. But it is not spiritually wise for us to use these singular occurrences to engage in rational speculation regarding mysteries that have not been revealed to us and that the Holy Fathers have not delved into. Let us trust in God’s love for all men and remain steadfast in the teachings that have been handed down to us.
As the Elder Ieronymos said unto a virtuous Turkish Judge:
‘Tell me, your Honor, do you have children?’
‘Yes I do.’
‘Do you have servants?’
‘Yes, I have servants also.’
‘Who obeys better your commands, your children or your servants?’
‘For sure my servants, because my children, with the confidence they have, sometimes disobey me and do whatever they want, but my servants do always whatever I tell them.’
‘Tell me, your Honor, when you will die, who will be your heirs: Your servants, who obey faithfully your commands, or your children, who disobey you?’
‘My children of course. Only they have inheritance rights, not my servants.’
‘Well then, whatever you do, your Honor, is good, but it only puts you into the category of the good servant. If you want to inherit paradise, the kingdom of heaven, you must become a son. And this is accomplished only through baptism.’
Christ is Born, brothers and sisters in Christ!
The Timeless One entered time and the Incarnation is real and living today through the Church, the Body of Christ and the Church’s Priesthood. Let us glorify the great mercy of our God Who has become Man for us by acquiring the mind of the Church and by our way of life and our love for the truth and for one another. May God bless you and your families. Amen.