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Encyclicals from Archbishop: Christmas

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Encyclical
Christmas 2013

Nativity-Icon-final

† STYLIANOS
By the grace of God
Archbishop of Australia
to all the Reverend Clergy and devout faithful
of our holy Archdiocese


Brother Concelebrants and beloved children of the Church,

Once again, we are preparing to celebrate Christmas and the other Feasts of the sacred Twelve Days following.

Yet, the phenomena of international violence, together with crime of every kind and materialistic hysteria, do not allow us to experience the joy of the Incarnation in a sincere and God-pleasing manner. We cannot even chant the angelic hymn of peace with ‘untainted lips’ and with a clear conscience.

If, after the passage of so many centuries, the Incarnation of God has not made our world more loving, this is due not so much to the non-Christians as perhaps to the Christians of East and West, whose conduct not only fails to provide a good example, but instead provokes the non-Christians in particular.
When Mahatma Gandhi – that renowned pacifist political leader of India – was asked why he did not adopt Christianity, his reply was overwhelming: “I would have become a Christian long ago, if so-called Christians followed the teaching of Christ 24 hours a day”!

It is unfortunately true that, neither the public nor private lives of Christians could be an example for non-Christians to follow, as they rightly evaluate us based on the criterion of the Gospel of Christ.

If we take into account how many ‘treaties’ and ‘protocols’ of peace have been agreed to internationally, introduced mainly by Christian peoples, we will admit that the dream of “peace on earth” still remains distant and unfulfilled. Since, of course, true peace is not simply the absence of war, but respect for the human person, which is an image of the invisible God. And in saying the ‘human person’, we do so regardless of race, gender, colour, religion or age.
With the Birth of Christ, God becomes our neighbour and our neighbour becomes God. And all of this is not due to some blind necessity of nature, but rather to God’s immeasurable mercy and love for all humankind.

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

With fervent prayers in the Risen Christ


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

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Encyclical
Christmas 2012

Nativity-Icon-final

† STYLIANOS
By the grace of God
Archbishop of Australia
to all the Reverend Clergy and devout faithful
of our holy Archdiocese


Brother Concelebrants and beloved children in Christ Who is Born,

The God of Love, who has placed times and seasons in His own authority, invites all people to celebrate this year, once again, the mystery of the divine Incarnation, with the devotion and appreciation of sons and daughters. For, truly, only in a spirit of devotion and thanksgiving are we able to properly approach God as an infant in the Manger.

Paul, the great Apostle to the Nations, although once a fanatical persecutor of Christ, as we know, did not take long to realise and confess that “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons” (Gal. 4:4-5).

In a similar way, St John the Evangelist, who is the disciple of love par excellence, gives a related testimony with regard to the cause of the divine Incarnation when he states:

“For God so loved the world that He gave His
only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him
should not perish but have everlasting life.”
(John 3:16)

Having now identified the Love of God as the greatest cause of the divine Incarnation, it is important for us not to forget that this Love has two major characteristic features which distinguish it from any other notion of love: It is primarily a wide-ranging love, which is to say it is directed to “everyone who comes into the world”, and secondly, it is a love that cannot be repaid. In other words, it does not presuppose anything in return, but is instead given freely. This is why it is called Grace, because it is offered as a gift to each person, so long as the gift is not rejected.

In celebrating Christmas, which is the Mystery of the Incarnation of God the Word, we are called this year once more to approach God, with humility and gratitude, as an infant in the Manger, so as to taste “according to the measure of Christ’s gift” (Ephes. 4:7) the peace of God “which surpasses all understanding” (Philip. 4:7).

Indeed, St Maximos the Confessor, the most mystical and profound theologian of Byzantium, taught that, just as Mary the Mother of God carried within her womb the divine Word through the Holy Spirit, in a similar way every faithful person is able to ‘bring forth’ the Word of God, thereby becoming a ‘bearer of God’ (Theotokos) and ‘bearer of Christ’ (Christotokos).

No matter how irreverent, or even scandalous, this teaching of St Maximos may sound, we should recall that the Apostle Paul, many centuries before him, had proclaimed to all nations the unprecedented aspect of his theology, with the words: “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 2:20).

Yet, the experiential character of Christian theology, so vividly taught by St Maximos, had clearly been foretold not only by the Apostle Paul, but also by the Fathers of the early Church long before Maximos. They called the Incarnation of God the Word a “Second Creation”. A characteristic example is St Athanasios who taught that “God became man so that man might become God by grace” and that “He became poor so that we might become rich”.

Through all the above, we are provided with a full elaboration of the notion of the “fullness” of time, as invoked by Paul in his letter to the Galatians. Moreover, this is what John understood as the “grace and truth” through Jesus Christ, in contrast to the “Law that was given through Moses” (John 1:17).

Therefore, to the Lord Jesus, the Saviour of the entire world, who became flesh for the sake of all people, belongs all glory and honour and worship unto the ages.
Amen!

With fervent prayers in the Risen Christ


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

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Encyclical
Christmas 2011

Nativity-Icon-final

† STYLIANOS
By the grace of God
Archbishop of Australia
to all the Reverend Clergy and devout faithful
of our holy Archdiocese


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

The Providence of God which, in His Goodness and Love for humankind, has called everything into existence, “from non-being” into “being”, has also made us worthy not only to exist for a period of time, but to identify, in the world and in time, the wonders of the Divine Omnipotence.

Therefore, as we celebrate Christmas once again this year, in other words the Mystery of the Incarnation of God the Word (Logos), we are invited to approach God as Infant in the manger with humility and gratitude, in order that we might experience “according to the measure of the gift of Christ” (Eph. 4:7), the peace of God “which transcends all understanding” (Phil. 4:7).

Humility is imperative here because it relates to the “great Mystery of godliness”, as the Apostle Paul preaches with devoutness (1 Tim. 3:16).

Gratitude is also self-understood, because this Mystery concerns the human person directly; every human who was created “in the image of God” in order to approach “the likeness of God” (see Genesis 1:26).

If the Incarnation of God the Word for St Paul constitutes the great Mystery of godliness, for St John the Evangelist this Mystery is illumined by the abundant light of God’s love, which is the only cause and source of Creation and the salvation of the world and humanity.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son,
that whosoever believes in him should not perish,
but have everlasting life.” (Jn. 3:16)

Having now identified the Love of God as the pre-eminent cause of the divine Incarnation, we must not forget that this Love has two characteristic features which distinguish it from any other meaning of love.

It is primarily general, in that it is directed to “every person who comes into the world”, and secondly, it is unreturnable, in that it does not presuppose some exchange, but is offered free. For this reason it is called Grace, because it is offered as a gift to every person, so long as one does not reject it, denying the gift.

St. Maximus the Confessor who was the most mystical and profound Theologian of Byzantium says to us that, just as Mary the Theotokos gestated God the Word by the Holy Spirit, in the same way, every faithful is able to “gestate” the Word of God, becoming one’s self a “God-bearer” and a “Christ-bearer”.

However, as much as this teaching of St. Maximus might sound irreverent, even “blasphemous”, we should recall that centuries before him St. Paul had preached to all the nations that unprecedented point of his theology, “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 2:20).

Of course, it is not only St. Maximus who consistently insisted on this experiential character of Christian theology. Other Fathers of the Ancient Church called the Incarnation of God the Word a “Second Creation”, as for example, St. Athanasius who taught explicitly that “God became human so that we might become god by grace” and that “He became poor, that we might become rich by his grace”.

In concluding, we are able to say that the “theology”, not only of Paul, but also of Peter and John, is an extended and precise consequence of the New Testament teaching with regard to Grace, which also constitutes the “fullness” of God’s salvific Truth in the history of humankind.

Furthermore, we are able to comprehend even more clearly the deeper meaning of this “fullness” from the epigrammatic words of John “for the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (Jn. 1:17).

To God the Word, who became Incarnate for all people, be glory and honour and worship to all ages. Amen!

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 2010

Nativity-Icon-final

† STYLIANOS
By the grace of God
Archbishop of Australia
to all the Reverend Clergy and devout faithful
of our holy Archdiocese


Brother concelebrants and beloved children of the Church,

“Christ is Born – Glorify Him
Christ from the heavens – Meet Him
Christ on earth – Exalt Him
Sing to the Lord all the earth…”

These verses, dear Sisters and Brothers, are a direct quotation from a poem by St Gregory the Theologian (4th century) who, as we know, expressed the most foundational position of the Christian Church - of East and West - concerning the divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ.

These doctrinal truths, which the rationalists did not wish to accept (because it supposedly diminished the meaning of God!), were developed more extensively by that great Teacher of Christology in a series of special addresses (called the ‘Theological Orations’), which overturned all the false arguments of the Arians and all similarly-minded heretics throughout the ages.

Whoever has not felt the need for the direct presence of God for assistance and salvation amidst the tragic impasses of this life, is perhaps not in a position to know or appreciate the indescribable mystery of the Incarnation of God the Word.

Yet it was precisely concerning this ‘great mystery of piety’ that the Apostle Paul spoke in his Letters, in order to reveal how greatly God the Creator loves all.

However, even more specific concerning the love of God was St John the Evangelist, when writing:
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

If the inquisitive or disbelieving ask why God should love the world so greatly (since we gave Him no reason to show such love), they might remember that St John the Evangelist himself also said that “God is love.”
The Beloved disciple and Theologian chose just one word to describe the unfathomable essence of God. He did not choose to say ‘wisdom’ or ‘holiness’ or ‘justice’ or ‘omnipotence’ or ‘tolerance’. He said ‘LOVE’.

It is impossible for God not to love, because His essence is love. Yet because He loves, this does not mean that God is weak in relation to us, as we are when we love someone, and we say we have a ‘weak spot’ for that person.
On the contrary, God can only love, which is why He is able to do all things out of love. And so, He is not only powerful, but all-powerful!

It is, then, to love that the Incarnation of God can be attributed. And to the very same love we can attribute the corresponding miracle of the 'deification’ of the human person.
However to realise the depth and power of God’s love, we must know its two basic characteristics: Firstly, that it is all-encompassing, covering the entire creation from when it came out of nothing. Secondly, it is a love that cannot be reciprocated. In other words, it is not given in return for anything that we have done, but totally free. For this reason, in the language of the Church, the love of God is called grace. Because it is given as the gift of God, not as repayment for something else.

All these characteristics of the love of God were not so clear before the Incarnation. In spite of the infinite goodness shown towards all creation from the beginning, the “Lord of Glory” had not yet taken on “the form of a servant” in order to save the human person and the world.
Yet with the Incarnation of the Son and Word of God, divine love surpassed every previous measure. It made all benefactions up to until that point look like pale shadows and humble ‘pre-figurements’ by comparison. This is why John, the disciple of love, again tells us: “the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”
The words “came through” (rather than “appeared” or “revealed”) are sufficient to show us how drastically and absolutely the love and truth of God are identified with the Incarnate Divine Logos

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

With fervent prayers in the Risen Christ


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

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