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Encyclical
Christmas 2009

Nativity-Icon-final

THE ‘PEACE’ AND ‘GOOD WILL’ OF CHRISTMAS

CHRISTMAS MESSAGE
2009

STYLIANOS

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

Brother concelebrants and God-protected children in Christ who is born,
The ‘great and paradoxical mystery’ of the divine Incarnation, which we are called upon to celebrate each year in Church and at our homes with gratitude and devotion, on behalf of all humankind, finds us curiously and completely ‘perplexed’ each year.
If we were not overly concerned about established public opinion, we could almost say that it astonishes us!
And it astonishes us to the point of leaving us speechless, and sometimes even in a state of panic.
Although all Christians know from the outset, more or less, the central message that will formally be conveyed to us once again in order to console our largely stressful daily life, each of us nonetheless struggles to overcome a host of inner obstacles which may spoil the joy and optimism of Christmas.
However, the obstacles being mentioned here are not the ‘personal sins’ which one could express, with contrition, to a spiritual father in confession.
They are rather the scandalous socio-political situations which increasingly ‘reduce’ the horizon of the thinking person. And sometimes they make the contradictions (between the ‘divine promises’ and daily practice) unbearable, at least for those who, in spite of this, still dare to declare that ‘the Lord God lives’.
So in seeing the ‘impasse’ that our lives face in the present world, we are in danger of losing our ‘orientation’.
Yet this means that perhaps we have not taken seriously enough the assurances of Christ Himself concerning the temporary and fleeting nature of this world.
Both of these characteristics of our life in the world require great caution and spiritual ‘discernment’, so that we do not interpret them erroneously.
This danger is unfortunately a ‘given’ for all of us, whether we are clergy or lay people, educated or less educated.
Indeed, the danger becomes even greater based on the fact that Christ spoke intensely about the affliction which all of us will unavoidably taste during our life on earth:
“In the world you will have affliction; but be of good cheer.
I have overcome the world”
(John 16:33)
In a past Christmas Message, we had commented with compassionate understanding on the ‘complaint’ of a monk of Mt Athos who came from Asia Minor. He had been ‘tormented’ from a very young age, and so he would say with tears to the pilgrims who came to his Monastery: “Affliction cannot be endured, not even by a man who struggles continually.” Which is why he would add: “Only the God-Man could overcome the world”!
Yet if we carefully analyze this very human ‘complaint’ of the Athonite monk, we can see that, deep down, he was showing neither a pessimistic nor a fatalistic approach to life.
On the contrary, it was an honest and brave confession. A dual confession, in fact.
On the one hand, it acknowledged the ceaseless struggle that everyone must undergo for as long as they live.
And on the other hand, it expressed the conviction that the world can truly be “overcome”, but only in the name of Christ.
So after our absolute helplessness initially, we see ourselves almost unexpectedly making the most astonishing confession with Paul, the Apostle to the Nations, who was able to state until the end: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philip. 4:13)!
Therefore with this continually tried and tested and ‘inexhaustible’ courage of the ‘faithful servant’, each of us - and all of us together - will once again put aside this year the sorrows and ‘debris’ which has piled up around and within us, so as to enjoy the peace and good will of Christmas.
Yet above all, we must never forget the deep relationship between ‘peace’ and ‘good will’, ie. ‘good disposition’.
Without peace there cannot be good will. And without good will between us, we would be waiting for the fruits of peace in vain.
To God the Word, who became Incarnate for all people, be honour and worship to all ages. Amen!
Christmas 2009
With fervent prayers to God
Archbishop S T Y L I A N O S
Primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in Australia

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Encyclical
Christmas 2008

Nativity-Icon-final

Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia


CHRISTMAS MESSAGE
2008


STYLIANOS

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



Brother concelebrants and God-protected children in Christ who is born,


Behold before us once again, as a celebration of our thanksgiving, the awesome Mystery of the Incarnation of God the Word (Logos).


There is however a danger that we will not ‘do justice’ to the yearly celebration in worship of Christmas, if it is not coupled – at least silently - with a sincere ‘examination of our own conscience’ by every member of the Church, whether Clergy or lay people.


The ‘examination of our own conscience’ is not of course the appropriate criterion with which to measure the love of God for every person.


The fallen and ‘bankrupt’ human person is no longer the most reliable ‘measure’ of truth. And especially the truth of the living God.
Yet, from this self-examination we come to know ‘by experience’ whether we are mature enough to accept with gratitude the GIFT which, either way, we would not have been able to imagine. A gift for which we would NEVER have been worthy.
Who would have expected that, in order for man to ‘come to himself’ (see Luke 15:17), God would have to ‘come out of Himself’ (see John 16:28).


In our honest attempt to approach the awesome Mystery of the divine Incarnation, we could find no better guide than the Apostle Paul.
At any rate, it is no coincidence that the Apostle Paul was the ‘chosen vessel’ par excellence for the Love of God to attract all Nations to the ‘power of the Cross’. This is why he likewise became the pre-eminent Mystic of the unsearchable depths of divine Wisdom.


Devout commentators of the New Testament highlighted a particularly expressive passage of St Paul’s First Letter to Timothy, which is truly without parallel in terms of theological precision concerning the mystery of the divine Incarnation. However, at the same time, this passage is characterized also by a devotional melody befitting God.


In the 16th verse of the Letter’s third chapter we read the following, by way of introduction:

“And indeed great is the mystery of godliness”!

Following this, the major ‘stages’ of the mystery of God’s Incarnation are listed one by one.
In fact, the unfolding of the mentioned divine Economy (or plan of salvation) in human history is described in ascending order:


God was manifested in the flesh
Justified in the spirit
Seen by angels


Preached among the Gentiles
Believed on in the world
Received up in glory.


Scholars have observed that this very passage may have been an archetypal and customary hymn used by the early Church in Worship. We will attempt to analyse it briefly here.
In the first three stages of the ascending order, we feel that we are guided by the ‘Star of Bethlehem’, such that we will not be left out of the ’Bridal Chamber of Christ’!


The “great mystery of godliness” is on the one hand conceived pre-eternally by the Trinitarian God, but, on the other, it does not remain hidden forever, in the frozen ‘otherworldliness’ of the God imagined by the philosophers.


The “mystery concealed before all time” (Romans 14:24) concerning the God of the Bible and of the Fathers is lovingly unfolded in time.
And it not only unfolds (from above), but is also confessed doxologically through three verbs:


“manifested” - “justified” - “seen”


It is a matter of life and death for us whether or not we overlook that all three terms reflect the doubtful and ever-changing reality which we call the ‘body’.


To express concisely the great value of the ‘body’, both as a ‘field’ and as an ‘instrument’, we should say in the spirit of obvious symbolism that:

‘the body is the Achilles heel of the human person’!


Does not the Gospel forewarn us that “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak” (Mark 14:38)?


Even more astounding in this regard is the verse from Genesis which states:


Then the LORD said, ‘My spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh’ ” (Gen. 6:3)


However, regardless of several apparently negative views in Holy Scripture concerning the ‘body’ (generally) and the ‘earthly body’ and ‘earthly man’ (in particular), the Incarnation of God unexpectedly and literally turned ‘everything upside down’!
For this reason the Fathers of the Church rightly described it as a ‘Second Creation’!


With this complete overturning of nature and history, the coarse view of the body (which the Platonic philosophy of the Greeks had developed into the motto ‘the body is a tomb’) was now not only completely negated. It became instead the starting point and platform of salvation and deification of the human person by the grace of God.


These unheard of truths are contained in the meaning of the three terms which we heard earlier:


God was manifested in the flesh
Justified in the spirit
Seen by angels



In this way, in the phrase “great is the mystery of godliness”, the loving God


• Shows good will as the Father, by sending His Son and Word in the divine Incarnation


• The Son and Word ‘empties’ Himself by being sent and taking on flesh


• And the Holy Spirit justifies the struggles and perfects the history of Sufferings related to the Incarnation into the activated final Completion, which Angels and Humans proclaim for all time, until the Second Coming of the Lord.


To God who was Born and Manifested to us, be honour and worship unto all ages.


Amen!


Christmas 2008


With fervent prayers to God


Archbishop S T Y L I A N O S
Primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in Australia

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Encyclical
Christmas 2007

Nativity-Icon-final

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 celebrating once again – as every year – the wondrous Birth of Christ (the God-Man) as the uncreated God’s ‘divine Economy according to the flesh’ for the sake of the human person made in His image, we are obliged to briefly let go of the futile cares and worries of this world.

Only in so doing, could we perhaps be made worthy of taking a deep ‘sigh of relief’ within the peacefulness of the miracle.

This, at any rate, is required by the laws of the miracle: “Let every mortal flesh keep silence” (Cherubic Hymn of Holy Saturday).
It is required by God the Miracle-Worker Himself: “In the world you will have tribulation. But take courage; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

However, what does it mean to say ‘I have overcome the world’?
Who is it that ‘overcomes the world’?

Once, a very pious Elder of Mount Athos almost ‘protested’ (but like a small child) about this statement of Christ, saying: ‘That’s all very well – You overcame because You are both God and Man! But how am I supposed to overcome, since I am only man?’

This pious perplexity of the Athonite Elder is truly moving, on account of its simplicity.
At the same time, it is most instructive for all of us, being a brave awareness and confession of ‘unworthiness’.

Yet if we ‘passively’ surrender to such perplexity stemming from humility, we could perhaps run the risk of forgetting fundamental teachings of our Faith.

These teachings mainly were ‘sealed’ by the divine Incarnation with all bodily sanctity – the Incarnation which our Orthodox worship speaks about so prayerfully during Christmas.
There are mainly three ‘realities’ that the history of the world has revolved around since the beginning:

THE HUMAN PERSON – CHRIST AS GOD AND MAN – TIME

In order to appreciate the particular significance of each mentioned reality within the whole ‘Plan of divine Economy’, we need to underline that in each case, the consistent teaching of the Church is one thing, while the ever-changing opinion of the world is another.

The consistent teaching of the Church concerning the human person summarizes, as we know, the major truths of divine Revelation.

The Holy Scriptures in their entirety (both Old and New Testament) describe on the one hand the charismatic features of man, and his mission on the other. They furthermore describe his ultimate destiny in the eternity of God.

All these sacred data (features-mission-destiny) have as their root and unmistakable foundation the pre-eternal Will of God, who created the human person in His “image and likeness” (Gen.1:26).

We can therefore state – without being unrealistic or impious – that it was indeed for the human person that God made the whole Creation (both visible and invisible).

This is precisely why the great Fathers and Teachers of the Church called the divine Incarnation the ‘second Creation’!

Yet, if God did not ‘entrust’ to any of His creatures His own ‘image’, and if He did not ‘demand’ His ‘likeness’ from any other spiritual or rational being, it means that the Incarnation of God the Word opened our eyes to two astonishing truths:

• First, that the mystery of the invisible God is directly connected to the mystery of the visible person (whose body never ceases to have sanctity comparable to that of the spirit and the soul).
• Second, through His Incarnation, God gave the notion of time a redemptive power, transforming it into the ‘opportune time’, an unexpected opportunity.

Consequently, the human Person (anthropos) and the God-Man (theanthropos) are not opposite notions or realities.

They are, strictly speaking, the two radiant extremities of the mystical Axis of the unity between two natures (theandricity).

It is this Axis which permeates the universal human adventure, beneath the star of Bethlehem, which calls all to the “fullness of time” (see Gal.4:4).

To God, who became man for all people, be glory, honour and worship to all ages.

Amen!
Archbishop Stylianos
Primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in Australia
Christmas 2007

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Encyclical
Christmas 2006

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

"What shall we offer to you, O Christ!"
(Sticheron Hymn from the Vespers Service of Christmas)

Brother Concelebrants and beloved children in Christ who is born,
The annually recurring Feast of the divine 'Incarnation' is not only the starting point of the entire Ecclesiastical Year. It is not simply the historical basis, that is, of all the Feasts of Christ and the Mother of God throughout the Christian world. It is, above all, the 'key' that secures both access to, and enjoyment of, every blessing for perishable man's eternity in God.
St Paul, therefore, justifiably states that the blessings in mention are such that "eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man" (1 Cor. 2:9).

Should man attempt to 'appraise' these blessings, based solely on his worldly 'experiences' and 'knowledge' and 'desires', then it is certain that he will 'miss the point'. In other words, he will not be able to enter into the essence of the mysteries of life. And this, because one's life is not exhausted in the biology, the physiology and the vigour of the body. It extends inexplicably into the foretaste of the Kingdom of God already through the transient 'Forms' of the present world.

We could say that, having the divine 'Incarnation' as the fixed axis, things were literally turned 'upside down': A fundamental renewal and rebirth of the human race took place.
As a result, the 'impermanence', that is, the 'temporality' of the present world no longer terrifies the person of faith, it is no longer a 'gaping wound', the healing of which we do not know in terms of 'when' and 'how'.

The 'impermanence' which previously represented only uncertainty and fear in the face of the Unknown, is now converted directly into a dynamic ‘transition’.

By 'transition', however, we do not mean, of course, the 'transito' of our curiosity on the skin of the earth. Nor our invasive ambitions in outer Space.

Because all of these 'activities' which, as a rule, emanate from mischievousness, constitute an impasse whose course remains on a Horizontal level, if not in a Void. And such a course, inevitably reminds us of a snake that 'bites its own tail'!

The transition which God 'opens up' for us through His Incarnation is characterised first and foremost by a Vertical line. It is a movement whose first impetus is given by the Creator and Providential 'Lord of Hosts' (which is why this powerful movement is called 'GRACE'). In the continuity of its upward course, man is also called to 'collaborate', realised through a sense of honour to become a "co-worker with God" (l Cor. 3:9).

However, this unprecedented honour of 'collaboration' with the uncreated Creator Himself towards the moral perfection of the world was an acutely dangerous 'privilege'. It could have led us not simply to ‘failure’, but to complete 'destruction'!

It could also have led us to 'vainglory', that is, to pride, which defeated even Lucifer himself who, from an 'Angel of Light turned out to be the first sacrilegious 'Rival' of the Creator, thus teaching an attempted 'takeover' of utter ingratitude.

With such woeful 'memories' of the adventure of the first Adam, the 'second Adam' (as the Fathers expressly called the Incarnate God) came in order to teach extreme humility. Not only towards the 'will of the Father' but also in terms of the 'bankruptcy' of man!

This obedience to the will of the Father caused 'God the Word' to become 'human' in order to teach 'fallen man' not simply 'rectification' but also 'deification' (theosis) by grace.
And the extreme humility in the face of man's bankruptcy meant that, after all, the permanent 'adoption' of 'strayed' humanity was not averted. Because the 'grace of God' is - by definition - a Love which is 'unconditional' and 'non-repayable'.

Justifiably, therefore, all faithful share in the confession of the Psalmist who wrote in 'perplexity' and 'gratitude', professing:
"What shall I render to the Lord for all His benefits towards me?" (Psalm 116:12)

To Him be glory and honour and worship to the ages!
Amen.

With fervent prayers in Christ

Archbishop Stylianos
Primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in Australia
Christmas 2006

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Encyclical
Christmas 2005

Nativity-Icon-final

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.

This year, Christmas arrives to find all humanity once again restless, unsatisfied, and troubled in various ways.

It is therefore no exaggeration to say that people do not feel ‘safe’ anywhere today, regardless of which country or region of the earth they live in.

Nor do they feel ‘content’ today, even though our earth has never before known so many and various good things (in food, health, education, development and recreation).

Science and technology now enable us all the possibility of living like ‘small gods’! And yet we can no longer enjoy anything, because it appears that we have not appreciated anything correctly. We have lost our proper relationship with nature, with our fellow human being and, above all, with God.

As a worldwide community, which has now become ‘one neighbourhood’, we have unfortunately become a single pitiful group who suffer hardships as well as cause them. As strange as it may sound, nobody can state with certainty who is essentially more pitiful: the victimizers or the victims?
Of course we are informed – and frustrated – about the unbelievable sufferings in the so-called ‘undeveloped world’ (economic devastation, epidemics involving untreatable diseases, and massive death tolls through hunger or natural disasters). But the tragedy does not stop here! Even in countries of economic ‘abundance’ and countless ‘luxuries’, perceptive analysts are now recording the alarming proportions of psychosis and paranoia, such that the border between ‘happiness’ and ‘sadness’ seems very blurred indeed.

What, then, is to blame for the universal ‘misfortune’ of the modern world? How can we find some balance in our disturbed ‘relations’?

It is this precise problem – of ‘relationships’ – that the Feasts of the 12 Days of Christmas seek to address in terms of salvation. For they interpret and proclaim the astonishing truth of the Birth of God. And, by extension, the final Re-birth of the human person.

The hymns of Christmas - which are poetic forms of theology written by the greatest hymnographers of the Christian world – assist us to ‘enjoy’ the Mystery of the Birth of God which, amidst the uncertainty of our mortal life, truly sounds like a ‘strange Mystery’.

Perhaps we cannot easily imagine just how ‘paradoxical’ and ‘unbelievable’ are the messages contained in the awe-inspiring melody which informs both believers and non-believers each year that “CHRIST IS BORN”!

However, if we carefully consider that brief confession in the form of a doxology, we will have already prepared our souls to see all things in a totally different light. To see, in other words, as completely ‘changed’ the world that has tired us. The world that has angered us. The world that has terrorized us.

When we chant “CHRIST IS BORN”, we are confessing one Birth which radically changed the history of the world. A Birth which has united the Earth to the Heavens forever!

For it was not a birth like all others, which begin and finish in time. If that were the case, we would simply say ‘Christ was born’. But we instead say “HE IS BORN”! This signifies

A ‘Mystery’ without boundaries!
Without limitations.
Without exclusions.
Without fanaticism.

The ‘embrace’ of God, which was opened in Bethlehem through the pure and Ever-Virgin Mary, had, and still has, the pre-eternal purpose of ‘sheltering’ and ‘transfiguring’ every person who comes into the world.

Orthodoxy, remaining faithful to the doctrines and teachings of the Ecumenical Councils, did not accept to ‘monopolize’ God Incarnate for only one people. For one place. For only one language.
However, in order for all people and all cultures to ‘fit’ into the boundless Love of the One God, we must all share all goods of this world (be they material, educational or spiritual) like the pieces of ‘Antidoron’. And the Antidoron (literally meaning ‘instead of the Holy Gifts’, which we receive in the Eucharist) invites all people into a family relationship with ‘common gratitude’.
Only in this way will the paradoxical ‘Birth of God’ be ‘continued’ within each mortal person. That Birth which determines the ‘rebirth of the human person’!

This is at least the official teaching of the Church concerning God Incarnate. Moreover, this is how the greatest ‘Mystics’ from among the Church Fathers formulated the teaching.

St Maximos the Confessor characteristically said that, according to the example of the Mother of God (Theotokos), every faithful person – whether man or woman – should apply their own personal humility and obedience in order to ‘bear’ God the Word in the flesh, thereby becoming a ‘bearer of Christ’ (Christotokos and Christoforos).

We could not convey a brighter or more comforting ‘message’ today to our inconsolable world, than this most sacred faith, prayer and expectation of becoming ‘God-like by grace’.
To the God of Love, who came as an infant for all people, be glory and worship to the ages!

With fervent prayers to God

Archbishop STYLIANOS
Primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in Australia
Christmas 2005

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