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[orthodox-synod] Sermon on the Nativity of Christ

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  • Patrick Barrett
    SERMON ON THE NATIVITY OF CHRIST by Blessed Metropolitan Anthony, First Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (From ORTHODOX LIFE, Vol. 24, No.
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 4, 2000

      by Blessed Metropolitan Anthony,
      First Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia

      (From ORTHODOX LIFE, Vol. 24, No. 6, Nov.-Dec. 1974, pp. 4-10. This sermon
      was delivered on the Feast of Nativity, 1906, when Metropolitan Anthony was
      Archbishop of Volhynia. It was translated from his WORDS, DISCOURSES, AND
      SPEECHES, published by Archbishop Nikon, New York, 1968, p. 163.)

      "For the Life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and
      show unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was
      manifested unto us" (1 John, 1,2).

      This new life is our Lord Jesus Christ, Who is now born in Bethlehem, as He
      Himself said during the last days of His earthly life: "I am the way, and
      the truth, and the life" (John 14:6).

      What is this new life, brothers, and why do people long for it? Because
      before Christ, people were dissatisfied with their former life, and even now
      all those who separate themselves from Christ are dissatisfied; they are
      dissatisfied because earthly life does not correspond to their desires. They
      want to be healthy and full, but life burdens them with sicknesses and
      hunger; they want riches and high ranks, but poverty and dishonour goad
      them, and if they do not fall into these disasters, they still remain
      dissatisfied with what they have, and desire more good things.

      Still, people have not all sought outward prosperity: there have always been
      those who were burdened by their own lawless life -- both by their own and
      that of the whole world; who were burdened by not knowing what would happen
      to them after death; who lamented the defeat or destruction of their
      fatherland; complained that there was no righteousness on earth, but rather
      deception and violence. For such people life was yet more burdensome than
      for lovers of self: the latter sought a consolation for their woes, albeit
      temporary, in drunkenness, debauchery, fighting and robbery, but the better
      people did not see a ray of light anywhere; their soul was burdened by their
      own and others' sins and then, after repentance, their evil will drew them
      again into sin. Little by little sacred hope and good desires were eaten
      away from their souls, and at last sinful passions gradually enslaved them,
      but they still did not given them full satisfaction, because all these
      admonitions cannot rejoice an elevated soul, but only increase its inner
      torment. These people were filled with a grief of a similar kind when they
      studied the people's way of life; they saw that there is never any human
      justice on earth, as the wise Solomon said: "I returned, and saw under the
      sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the bold, neither
      yet bread to the wise, nor yet bread to men of understanding, nor yet favour
      to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all" (Eccl. 9:11).
      And it is usually the sly, flatterers, cheats and robbers who take advantage
      of this chance.

      One could bring forward many more pictures from life in order to show how
      little life without Christ corresponds to our desires, be they good or bad.
      Because of this you find ordinary life burdensome, especially when you know
      human malice and have understood how impossible it is for people to hope for
      more reasonable, just life. Laws against evildoers have been thought up to
      punish them, and they have cotrived to have the innocent punished, deceiving
      the judges or else buying them with bribes or threats. People were punished
      for theft, so instead of theft they have started making each other drunk, so
      that the victim of their malice would make himself surrender his good to
      them, and his souls should also perish in wine; people tried to teach each
      other reason through philosophy, but the subtle malice of deceivers
      penetrated even here, and, under the name of philosophy, has taught youths
      the foulest concepts, convincing them that there is no good or evil on the
      earth, but only advantage and disadvantage. This is how people were
      languishing, like a bird with his leg tied: he flaps his wings, wants to
      fly, but falls down again because of the string.

      Now you will understand why the Holy Apostle John hastens to rejoice those
      who listen to and read his epistle, assuring them that a new life has
      appeared in the Saviour Who has been born. All the believing Jews had long
      been awaiting such an Envoy, or Messiah, and the wisest of the pagans had
      been waiting also. They hoped that the Messiah would both make the path of
      virtuous life easier for each person, and also establish righteousness on
      the earth, so that the sinners would no longer dominate over the righteous,
      nor the pagans over the rightly believing Jews, but they hoped, on the
      contrary, that the manifested Son of God would Himself become a righteous
      king-conqueror, subdue the pagans and establish righteousness and general
      happiness on earth, and, in general, bring a new, blessed life to the earth.

      And really, He both brought new life and called Himself the life of all. And
      those who have accepted His life, followed in His footsteps and united
      themselves with Him, have really ceased to experience that satisfaction with
      life which oppressed and still oppresses people who have not come to know
      Christ. What? Did they immediately become rich, famous, healthy, free from
      sinful passions? No, brothers, they became poorer and more inglorious than
      all; remaining in labour and fasting, they did not know the pleasure of
      bodily health, and increased the warfare with passions yet more, because
      they were now also struggling with such desires and thoughts as they had
      formerly not even counted as sins -- self-love, anger and lustful desire,
      for example.

      In what way did they become blessed? From what afflictions did the grace of
      Christ deliver them, and what condition of happiness did it bring them?

      One condition for happiness, brothers, -- willingly to refuse happiness,
      riches, glory, the desire for health, rest. They turned their hearts away
      from everything towards which people had formerly striven, except for
      virtue, and came to love everything, were reconciled with everything that
      people had formerly considered to be their greatest sorrow, except sin and
      vice. And when they disposed their hearts like this, sin ceased to be so
      alluring, virtue ceased to be burdensome; on the contrary, they began
      gradually to find in it that source of joy which the pagans had found only
      in earthly pleasures. This is the meaning of the Lord's words: "Therefore
      take no tought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or,
      Wherewithal shall we be clothed? For after all these things do the Gentiles
      seek ... But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness" (Mt.
      6:31-33). It is not said in vain, brothers, that Christ brought new life to
      the earth. We see that he turned the human soul around completely; changed
      its nature, as it were. Formerly people accumulated wealth, now they have
      started to give it away; formerly they feared prisons and torments, now the
      Apostles exultantly thank God for them; formerly they feared afflictions,
      now St. James writes to the Christians: "My brethren, count it all joy when
      ye fall into divers temptations" (1:2). On earth, as before, there is
      injustice, and sickness, and poverty, and all kinds of offences, and the
      more time passes, the more of this there will be, as the Lord predicted, as
      well as the Holy Apostles Peter, Jude, Paul and John. But the souls of
      Christians were not overwhelmed or crushed by all these afflictions. They
      came to know another blessedness -- inner and spiritual -- and if they
      grieved about anything, then it was only about their falls into sin and the
      sins of their neighbours.

      How, through what acts of His life, did our Saviour change the whole essence
      of our souls, or our lives?

      First of all, by His very Nativity. That transformation of the human soul
      and life which He accomplished in Himself, was reflected in all its clarity
      in the town of Bethlehem. This little town in those days reflected the
      entire life of the whole human race.

      The life of man is a universal struggle for comfort and earthly advantages.
      The multitude of people who had gathered in Bethlehem was crowded into
      various dwellings on a cold night; probably the poor envied the rich in
      their comfort, the rich harshly drove unwanted lodgers out of their homes,
      and became angry when the overcrowding forced them unwillingly to share
      their accomodation with others. At least, that is how it always is when a
      lot of people are crowded together.

      Looks what happens according to the customs of the new life. He to Whom all
      the houses, all the towns, and the whole universe belong, deprives Himself
      of the last human dwellings and takes up His abode together with beasts,
      committing Himself to an irrational manger instead of the throne of
      cherubim. O people! Is it for you to struggle and torment each other for
      preference in honor, cleanliness and comfort, when God does not spurn not
      being allowed in to where people are and is satisfied with an animal shed!
      Man! You murmured about your poverty, you looked with an envious eye on the
      rich and famous, you lamented the poverty of your own hut, your grieved that
      you are accounted as one of the simple folk. Go down yet lower in your
      station in life, and you will be accounted to be with God! You considered it
      a great honour to approach the doorstep of a lord, but look how easily you
      can obtain a dwelling equal to God's house. You look at palaces with desire,
      because kings live in them or have lived in them; look rather at the stall
      where the incarnate Son of God dwelt. You see where is the beginning of the
      new teaching, of the new life, of the new customs. If you follow after
      Christ in this way, no place will be crowded for you. If everyone takes to
      heart the image of Christ's life, then there will be plenty of room and no
      offence for anyone.

      But you will say: I would not grieve about poverty, but I am crushed by my
      heavy daily labour. I sow and reap bread, but other people eat it, I herd
      the flock, but the landlords drink the milk, I tailor the cloth, but others
      wear it. -- Perhaps the enemy also tempted the Bethlehem shepherds with just
      such thoughts, when they were keeping watch by night outside the town which
      was plunged in sleep, and herded the townspeoples flocks; but if they had
      accepted such thoughts, they would not have become the most blessed of
      people. There were then many people in the town who were rich, famous and
      not occupied with anything, but it was not to them that the angel appeared,
      announcing the birth of the pre-eternal One; it was not they, but these
      paupers deprived of their night's sleep who were granted the heavenly
      vision. They taught the whole world to sing those blessed words which
      resounded in the heavens: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace,
      good will among men" (Lk. 2:14). They were the first people, after Her Who
      had given birth to the super-essential One, who were granted to behold Him
      and worship Him and glorify the Most Pure Mother of the Lamb and the

      And further, Christian, go over in your mind everything that the Gospel
      reading about the Nativity of Christ has proclaimed to us. All our customs,
      all concepts changed into the new life of the whole of human nature. Are you
      grieving over the fact tht you have been subject to unjust persecution? But
      surely you are not more righteous than Christ, Who was pursued by the
      impious Herod. Are you grieving over exile or banishment? Remember the
      flight into Egypt. Do you find the yoke of the law burdensome? Gaze on the
      circumcision of the Lord and His presentation in the Temple on the 40th day.
      Or are you distressed at having to submit to one who is worse than you,
      while you yourself are more enlightened and better than others? But Jesus
      was far more superior than you to the elder Joseph and, however, He
      submitted to him. Do you consider your advisor or superior has acquired his
      authority uworthily and by chance? But the Lord Jesus revered His imagined
      father as a real one. And so understand that the burden of life is not in
      the labour, not in the poverty, not in obedience, not in bearing offences or
      even persecution -- no, but it is in considering that one has need of
      idleness and riches, self-will and constant pleasure. All this takes the joy
      of existence away from man, all this is also what causes evil passions and
      vices in him and nourishes them, and the Lord has delivered us from all
      these errors, enlightening both poverty and bearing offences, and heavy
      labour and abasement by His Nativity. This is why the whole world is now
      chanting: "Thy Nativity, O Christ Our God, has shone upon the world with the
      light of knowledge." Those who consider that envy is just cannot understand
      this; nor can those understand it who have received sufficiency and honour
      in this world, but do not want to give up even a part of it to others of
      their own free will, but oppress the poor, degrade their subordinates,
      oppress strangers and make fun of simple folk. Miserable people! You are
      more unfortunate than those whom you are mocking: they are purified by their
      afflictions and come close to the Saviour Who has been born, but you are
      removing yourselves from His new life and remain in your former death, as it
      is said: "He that loveth not his brother abideth in death" (1 Jn. 3:14).

      And so, the new life in Christ consists in willingly renouncing worldly
      goods and not grieving when they are taken away by force. Perhaps you cannot
      direct your mind this way at once. But to the extent that you willingly
      deprive yourself of earthly enjoyments, however reluctantly: fast, offend
      yourself by giving to the poor or giving way to others, do not become angry
      or take revenge for oppression, but bear offences in silence; -- to the
      extent that you crucify the old man in yourself -- to this extent will a new
      fount of grace-filled life flor out of your heart. "He that believeth on
      Me," says the Lord, "out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water:
      (Jn. 7,38). It is no longer either riches, or health, or glory, or the
      destruction of enemies that will make you rejoice, but, just as a farmer
      rejoices over a ripening field, or a hunter over a lot of wild fowl
      fluttering about, or an artist over the beauty of a sunset -- so you will
      rejoice over prayer, spiritual reading and the opportunity to be kind to
      your neighbour, either by giving, or consoling one who is grieving, calming
      one who is angry, or bringing a villain to his senses. The impious Jews did
      not want to accept this new life: they wanted earthly happiness, and the
      destruction of enemies, and human glory, and vain riches. It is the same
      thing which their foolish pupils want even now, Europeans of various
      nationalities, and many here in Russia. They have forgotten Christ, have
      come to hate Christ's abasement and love the treasures of the land of Egypt,
      not like the great Moses (Heb. 11:26), but "like the ancient foolish people
      in the wilderness".

      And they are not only returning themselves to the former pagan madness, but
      they are also trying to turn ardent youths and our people from the path of
      the Gospel, and in their blindness they promise them universal riches and
      happiness through confiscating property from the rich for common use. -- If
      this division of riches were even possible, even then, what peace, what
      happiness are possible among the envious? And if people saw their happiness
      in sufficiency of this kind, then they would not be people, but beasts, who
      need nothing except satiety and rest.

      These people know that they have gone against the Gospel, although they even
      deny it hypocritically; they deny it, but they feel that for them there is
      no teaching more hostile that the teaching of Christ -- as the Jewish
      scribes who roused the people against the Romans in quest of their own
      power, riches and honour, felt it. It is not justice, but envious malice
      that they are sowing on the earth, and, striving for rights, they multiply
      unrighteousness. Christ God taught us, brothers, to teach others not to seek
      for rights, but to renounce them, not to demand equality with the gentry,
      but self-abasement, not to fight, but to give way, not to commit crimes, but
      to bear offences. This is how the manifest Sun of Righteousness "hath given
      us light and understanding" (1 Jn. 5:20), has opened for us the path to
      eternal and blessed life; this is what all righteousness in human society is
      based on. Then let us, brothers, glorify the Lord Who has appeared, rejoice
      in His Nativity! Nothing will take this joy away from us, -- neither
      poverty, nor offences, nor labour day and night: He has blessed all this,
      and magnified it, and sanctified it with Himself in the town of Bethlehem.
      Let is draw instruction from here, and to Him, Who has loved us, glory and
      honour, power and worship, with the Father and the Spirit for ever. Amen.

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