Encyclicals from Patriarch: Christmas
By the Mercy of God
Archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch
To the Plenitude of the Church
Grace, peace and mercy from the Savior Christ, born in Bethlehem
Beloved brethren and children in the Lord,
The great and sacred day of Christmas has dawned, the metropolis and mother of all feasts, inviting each of us to spiritual uplifting and encounter with the Ancient of Days, who became an infant for us.
As St. John of Damascus underlines: “By the grace of God the Father, the only begotten Son and divine Word of God, who is in the bosom of the Father, consubstantial with the Father and the Holy Spirit, the pre-eternal and perfect God, who is without beginning, condescends to us as His servants, becoming fully human and achieves that which is newer than new, the only new thing under the sun.” (On the Orthodox Faith) This incarnation of the Son of God is not merely symbolical, like the other incarnations of the numerous gods in mythology; it is reality, a truly new reality, the only new thing under the sun, which occurred at a specific historical moment in the reign of the Emperor Octavian Augustus some 746 years (according to new astronomical data) since the establishment of Rome, in the midst of a specific people, from the house and line of David (Luke 2.4), in a specific place, namely Bethlehem of Judaea, with a very specific purpose: “He became human in order that we might become divine,” in accordance with the succinct expression of Athanasius the Great. (On the Divine Incarnation 54)
The event of incarnation of God’s Word grants us the opportunity to reach the extreme limits of our nature, which are identified neither with the “good and beautiful” of the ancient Greeks and the “justice” of the philosophers, nor with the tranquility of Buddhist “nirvana” and the transcendental “fate” or so-called “karma” by means of the reputedly continuous changes in the form of life, nor again with any “harmony” of supposedly contradictory elements of some imaginary “living force” and anything else like these. Rather, it is the ontological transcendence of corruption and death through Christ, our integration into His divine life and glory, and our union by grace through Him with the Father in the Holy Spirit. These are our ultimate limits: personal union with the Trinitarian God! And Christ’s nativity does not promise any vague blessedness or abstract eternity; it places “in our hands” the potential of personal participation in God’s sacred life and love in an endless progression. It grants us the possibility not only “of receiving adoption” (Gal. 4.5) but also of becoming “partakers of divine nature.” (2 Peter 1.4).
Of course, amid the global confusion and crisis of our time, these truths have a strange echo. Most people’s hope, resting on worldly “deities,” is falsified on a daily basis in the most terrible ways. The human person is humiliated and crushed by numbers, machines, computers, stock markets, and diverse flags of vain ideological opportunism. Nature is blasphemed; the environment groans; young people despair and protest against the injustice of the present and the uncertainty of the future. “Darkness, clouds, storms and noise” (Deut. 4.11) prevail in our world, giving the impression that even the light of hope that dawns in Bethlehem is threatened with extinction and the angelic hymn of universal joy – “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will to all people” (Luke 2.14) – is in danger of being overcome. Nevertheless, the Church calls everyone to sober attention, re-evaluation of priorities in life, and pursuit of divine traces and value in every other person of respect toward the image of God. Indeed, the Church will not cease to proclaim – with all the strength acquired by its two millennia of experience – that the child that lies in the manger of Bethlehem is “the hope of all ends of the earth,” the Word and purpose of life, redemption sent by God to His people, namely to the whole world.
We share this good news with much love from the martyric Throne of the Great Church of Christ in Constantinople, proclaiming it to all children of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and to every person that thirsts for Christ, invoking upon all of you the mercy, peace and grace of God, together with the saving gift of the only-begotten Son of God, who came down from the heavens – for us and for our salvation – and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, becoming human. To Him belong the glory, power, honor and worship, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit, to the ages.
At the Phanar, Christmas 2008
Fervent supplicant to God for all
Bartholomew, Archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch
By the grace of God
Archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome
And Ecumenical Patriarch
To the Plenitude of the Church
Grace, mercy and peace
From the savior Christ born in Bethlehem
Christ is born, glorify Him;
Christ comes from heaven, meet Him.
Beloved brothers and children in the Lord,
It is with great joy that our Church calls us to glorify God for His loving and personal presence on earth of Christ in divino-human hypostasis, being one of the three persons of the Holy Trinity.
We must, therefore, examine very carefully the true and life-giving significance of the incarnation of the Son and Word of God. For, first, it reveals to humanity that God is personal and is made manifest to us as personal, just as He has also created us as persons; second, it reveals to us that God embraces us with His love. These two events, the personhood and love of God, express fundamental truths of our faith, which of course we have heard about many times. Nevertheless, their impact upon our lives is not as great as it should be, inasmuch as many of us do neither experience Christ’s brotherhood and His boundless love for us in a personal way, nor do we in turn return our love to Christ in order that, by sharing in His love, we may also share by grace in His other properties.
If others – who have not known Christ and, as a result, drown in their search for an impersonal being that they perceive as divine – are somewhat justified, we Orthodox Christians are not at all justified in pursuing such ways that lead to an impasse. For, instead of seeking God as person and approaching Him in the one who approach us, namely Jesus Christ, these deceived people desperately strive to become divine through their own powers, like Adam thought he could achieve by obeying the evil spirit. However, the true and personal God, who is known only through Jesus Christ – the one born in a manger out of love for us – promised us adoption and return to the bosom of the Father, as well as deification by grace through Christ. It is only through Christ that one may fulfill the universal human desire to transcend the corruption and isolation of an existence without love and the cultivation of communion among divine and human persons in love, which leads to eternity and incorruption.
Let us, therefore, turn the gaze of our hearts toward the newly born Jesus Christ in the manger, so that – by considering how much He loves us – we might love Him with all our heart, mind and being. It is only through the love of Jesus Christ that we may by grace become participants also in His divine nature, just as through love He shared in our human nature. Anthropocentric efforts and thoughts, psychedelic states and ecstasy, together with similar non-Christian experiences do not lead to an encounter of the truly personal God of love, but to a deep and cold darkness, to the gloom of eternal destruction, as well as to a sense of complete and abysmal vacuum.
For this reason, beloved children in the Lord, love Jesus Christ, who out of love for us and for our salvation became human; come to know the communion of His love, with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Indeed, there is nothing sweeter than the love of the personal God.
The great herald of divine love is the one who identified God and love, namely St. John the Evangelist and Theologian, who pronounced the supreme uttering, that “God is love.” After him, the great herald is St. Paul the Apostle, who love God to the end and who asked the fervent question: “Who can separate us from the love of Christ?” Neither sorrow nor sword, neither death nor any other love can be more powerful than our love for Christ. In remembrance of the words and loving works of St. Paul, and in celebration of two millennia since his birth, we declare the coming year 2008 as the year of the Apostle Paul.
We pray paternally and fervently that Jesus Christ, who was born in a manger out of love and for our salvation, may render our hearts as His manger, through the intercessions of His ever-Virgin Mother, as well as of our predecessor St. John Chrysostom, to whose memory we had dedicated this past year, together with the intercessions of another Patriarchal predecessor, St. Niphon, restorer and second founder of the Holy Patriarchal and Stavropegic Monastery of St. Dionysius on Mount Athos, which next year celebrates the 500th anniversary since his repose, as well as of Saints John and Paul the Apostles, par excellence heralds of God’s love, but also of all the saints, so that He may reveal to everyone the person of His love.
We invoke upon all of you His grace and rich mercy. Merry Christmas; may the twelve days of Christmas be blessed; and may the New Year be spiritually and materially fruitful.
Phanar, Christmas 2007
Fervent supplicant for all to God
+ B A R T H O L O M E W
BY THE MERCY OF GOD
ARCHBISHOP OF CONSTANTINOPLE,
NEW ROME, AND ECUMENICAL PATRIARCH,
TO THE PLENITUDE OF THE CHURCH,
GRACE, PEACE, AND MERCY
FROM CHRIST OUR SAVIOUR,
BORN IN BETHLEHEM
"God on earth, man in heaven; and all became mingled together."
St. John Chrysostom
Brothers, Sisters and beloved Children in the Lord,
The human mind finds it difficult to comprehend the immense change the Birth of Christ brought about in the world. He who was born in the manger of Bethlehem was not an ordinary child like the ones that are born every day. He is the Creator of the entire universe, come down to our level, in order to lift up His creature and restore him to the heights from which he had fallen.
According to the plan of the Creator, which is full of love, man was created with the capacity to achieve divinity. Due to his own failings, however, he strayed from the right path and became enslaved to decay and death. In order to restore to man the potential to become divine, God had to become incarnate, to take on flesh, for the sake of fallen, perishable and sinful man who, being a creature of earth, could not by his own means transcend his mortal nature and become like God.
The idea of God's incarnation was something that not even the most vivid human imagination could come up with; no one dared even to consider this unexpected event as a possibility. Only the Prophets, inspired by the Holy Spirit, prophesized that such occurrence would be possible through God. Indeed, the night of Christmas, the unexpected became real. "God [is] on earth, man in heaven", exclaims St. John Chrysostom in admiration.
This world-altering event is not irrelevant to our life. Its significance is not exhausted in the fleeting celebratory festivities. We ought to contemplate the new situation with great seriousness. The Birth of Christ gives us the opportunity to transcend our mortality, ascend to heaven, live with Christ, be reconciled to God, enjoy His adoption, live in the inexhaustible joy of His love unto the ages.
Let us celebrate spiritually the grace of God offered to man together with the Angels and Saints, and let us begin a new life, worthy of the calling of the Incarnate God. The stirring event of Christ’s Birth, although it occurred inconspicuously and humbly, has caused immense changes to the Universe and particularly to the future of each person. We should take care not to undervalue its importance, simply because it took place in historically humble and simple circumstances. Nor should we celebrate the event in a boisterous and superficial manner that would befit a seasonal celebration that had no other significance for our life beyond providing an opportunity for secular revelry.
Although the events surrounding the Birth of our Lord Jesus Christ are not visible by our mortal human eyes, there are some who, by the grace of God, have seen and described the deeper events and the resulting mystical change of the world. Here is how our saintly predecessor on the Patriarchal Throne, John Chrysostom describes this sacred event, dazzled by what he has perceived:
"Angels joined the choirs of men, men had fellowship with the angels and with the other celestial powers; and one might see … reconciliation made between God and our nature, the devil brought to shame, demons in flight, death destroyed, Paradise open, the curse eradicated, sin done away with, error driven off, truth returning, the word of piety everywhere sown and flourishing in its growth, the heavenly City planted on earth, angels continually brought to the earth and abundant hope for things to come" (P.G. 57, 15-16).
Children, brothers and sisters, may we see this very hope for things to come realized in our life through the prayers of great Saint John Chrysostom, who intercedes before us to the Lord in heaven together with all the Saints. This coming year will mark the sixteen hundredth anniversary of the falling asleep in the Lord of this Saint, and thus, the Ecumenical Patriarchate proclaims this to be the year of Saint John Chrysostom, so that we may give the urge to the faithful to study his work and more closely examine his life.
Brothers and Sisters!
Christ is born: glorify Him!
Christ is come from heaven: go to meet Him!
Christ is on earth: be lifted up!
To this God who so loves mankind that He was born for us in the flesh at Christmas, be the honor, the thanksgiving, the glory and the worship unto the ages of ages. Amen.
At the Phanar, Christmas 2006
Patriarch of Constantinople
your fervent supplicant before God
+ B A R T H O L O M E W
BY THE MERCY OF GOD ARCHBISHOP OF CONSTANTINOPLE, NEW ROME, AND ECUMENICAL PATRIARCH,
TO THE PLENITUDE OF THE CHURCH, GRACE, PEACE, AND MERCY
FROM CHRIST OUR SAVIOUR, BORN IN BETHLEHEM
”For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16)
Beloved Brothers and Sisters, Children in the Lord,
The human soul feels deeply the need to be loved. The widespread sense that life has no meaning, which plagues in particular our young people, is to be blamed on the absence of love. Our fellow human beings are for the most part trapped within their individual pursuits and seek to fill the emptiness caused by the lack of love with the acquisition of material goods, carnal pleasures and fame. However, the soul is only satisfied with personal recognition and love, and not these other things.
For love exists in the Lord and holds the world together, recognizes everyone by their name and is offered generously. God created the universe through His Logos out of love, so that we all may participate in the joy whose source is this unifying personal love.
However, beginning with the first created human being and ending with today’s, humankind, throughout its entire history, has been rejecting the love Creator has offered to them and turned love away from their hearts; instead, they turned to the faceless world and sought unsuccessfully the recognition of their personal existence in the pursuit of superiority and self-absorbing satisfaction; they did not accept the love offered to them nor did they offer it back. As a result, a world of competition, hatred and bloodshed emerged, which we continue to experience as our daily reality.
God’s love never diminishes, regardless of our rejection of it; God sent His only begotten Son to the world in human form out of love, not to judge people for having gone astray but to save the world through Him (John 3:17). He was born in a humble manger by the Virgin Mary in order to show that might, fame and material riches, in which humankind has sought joy and salvation, are not the true sources of life and happiness. Christ came to Bethlehem to bring again the message of the unconditional love of God for humankind. God has continued to offer this immense love for the two thousand years since Christ’s birth. He came to the world as a weak and innocent infant, filled with love, yet threatened with death by slaughter by Herod. Herod represents a humankind that loathes love even when it is offered through the innocent and peaceful eyes of a child.
Many of today’s people, who erroneously think of God as an unyielding judge, rather than as an affectionate Father who awaits the return of His prodigal son with love and forgiveness, have distanced themselves from the Incarnate God Jesus Christ, the Logos and glory of God the Father, and the consubstantial Holy Spirit; they have broken away from the life-giving and loving Holy Trinity, and thus rendered their world secular, deprived of hope in God and genuine love. They turned to substitutions for divine love, and based their hopes on the expansion of their might in the secular world, on the amassing of more wealth, the subjugation of nations, the global expansion of trade, the promulgation of ideas against God. They disregard, even deny, the reality of death, and turn to anything to alleviate the stresses that come from living without love. Some, unable to find deliverance from despair in these pursuits, are driven to reject the greatest gift of God to humankind, life itself.
Nevertheless, beloved children, the love of God is an undeniable reality. Our Lord Jesus Christ waits to be born in the heart of each of us in order to bring to everyone the meaning of life. This means that He has chosen us to enjoy life in mutual love and to experience the fulfillment of our existence in our relationship with Him, the Incarnate God, and with our fellow human beings and all creation. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as He chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before Him in love” (Eph. 1, 3:4).
Love is the equivalent of the foundation and the roof of a building, the beginning and the end, the Alpha and the Omega of creation. The mysteries of the manger and the Birth, the Cross, the Resurrection, the Ascension and the continuing presence of Christ on earth, in general, point to love. The hymn of the angels that is chanted during the Nativity service, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace, good will among men” (Luke 2: 14) is an expression of the admiration angels felt when they realized the inconceivable love of God. Christ tolerated his crucifixion among outlaws not out of weakness, which is a quality unbefitting an omnipotent God; He tolerated it out of His love. All God’s actions are filled with love for every single person.
Let us, then, beloved children abandon the course that leads to secularism and let us return to our Father God in repentance; let us return to Jesus Christ who was born as our brother, who came to our world out of love for us who had been deceived and had distanced ourselves from Him. His love for us is a fact. In His presence there is no fear but forgiveness, peace and joy.
May the grace, blessing and abundant mercy of God be with you all during the Nativity season and throughout your lives, unto the ages of ages.
Fener, Christmas, 2005’
Patriarch of Constantinople
fervent intercessor of all before Christ