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Encyclicals from Patriarch: Christmas

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Encyclical
Christmas 2014

Nativity-Icon-final

+ BARTHOLOMEW
By God’s Mercy 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

Beloved brothers and sisters, children in the Lord,
"Christ is descending from the heavens; let us meet Him!"

God has appeared on earth and, at the same time, we have seen the perfect man together with the inconceivable value of the human person. Today especially, we experience the condition of humanity after the fall, as we daily affirm with the Psalmist that "all have gone stray, they are all alike corrupt; there is none that does good – no, not one!" (Psalm 13.3; Rom. 3.12-13)

Before the incarnation of Christ, humanity could never imagine the inconceivable value of the human person, which was weakened and distorted after the fall. Only the most illumined people could perceive, even before the time of Christ, the value of the human person and the response to the Psalmist's question: "What is man that God would remember him?" (Psalm 8.5), which they proclaimed in the Psalmist's words: "You have made man a little lower than the angels; you have crowned him with glory and honor." (Psalm 8.6)

Ιt is this supreme value of the human person that the divine-human Lord revealed. And since that time, we each year have heard repeated declarations on the same subject by states, governments and social groups as well international treaties about respecting the human person and human rights.

We witness with great surprise the constantly repeated "drama of Bethlehem." It is a drama because it is no longer a joyous event when we ignore the Son and Word of God born in a manger, when humanity as His creation is not respected as a "divine image."

Our holy Orthodox Church and its theology teach us that humanity and the human body deserve the utmost respect because they were united to God in the incarnate Lord. Therefore, all of us are obliged to intensify our efforts for the supreme value of the human person to be respected by everyone.

It is with great sorrow and deep regret that the Ecumenical Patriarchate follows the ongoing and increasing waves of violence and brutality, which continue to plague various regions of our planet and especially the entire Middle East, and in particular the native Christians there, often in the name of religion. We will never cease to declare to all from this Sacred Center of Orthodoxy – to our brother Primates of the Orthodox and other Christian Churches, the leaders and representatives of other religions, the heads of state and every person of good will everywhere, but above all to our fellow human beings that, whether motivated or not by others, place their own lives at risk in order to deprive others of their lives; for they, too, are created by God – that there can be no form of true and genuine religiosity or spirituality without love toward the human person. Any ideological, social or religious expression that either despises humanity created in the image of God or else teaches and permits the death of our fellow human beings, especially in the savage and primitive ways that we see, surely has nothing to do with the God of love.

Dear brothers and sisters, as we turn our attention to the situation prevailing in our world today, we condemn the tragic events stemming from hatred of other religions and enmity toward people, which we witness so frighteningly close to us as we hear and see the terror so readily through social media. In response, we offer as the only powerful antidote to contemporary violence the "ultimate poverty" of God, which always acts as love and which surprised the wise men and the entire world. This is the mystical power of God, the mystical power of the Orthodox Church, and the mystical power of the Christian faith. This is the power that conquers and overcomes every form of violence and evil through love.

This is our humble assessment of world affairs this Christmas. We pray that everyone may experience the joy of utmost respect for the human person, of our fellow human being. We also pray for the cessation of every form of violence, which can only be overcome through the love promoted and provided by the "angel of great counsel," the "prince of peace," our Savior Christ.

May the grace, boundless mercy and goodwill of the newly-born and incarnate Lord of glory, peace and love be with you all.

Christmas 2014
Your fervent supplicant to God,

+ BARTHOLOMEW
Archbishop of Constantinople-New Rome,
and Ecumenical Patriarch

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Encyclical
Christmas 2013

Nativity-Icon-final

+ BARTHOLOMEW
By God’s Mercy 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

Beloved brothers and sisters, children in the Lord,
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given.”
(Isaiah 9.5)

Many centuries ago, the Prophet foresaw and announced with enthusiasm and joy the birth of the child Jesus from the ever-Virgin Mary. Naturally, even then, there was no period of census by Augustus Caesar, no place to stay for the safety of the Holy Virgin who was carrying a child by the Holy Spirit. So the holy Joseph as her betrothed and protector was obliged to lead her to a cave, a manger with animals, “in order to give birth to a child.”

Heaven and earth received them, offering thanks to their Creator: “The angels offered the hymn; the heavens a star; the wise men gifts; the shepherds a miracle; the earth a cave; the desert a manger; and we the Mother Virgin.” The shepherds were keeping watch over their flock, protecting them throughout the night, while the angels were witnessing the Mystery in ecstasy, singing hymns to God. (From Vespers of the Nativity)

The sweetness of the Holy Night of Christmas once again embraces the world. And in the midst of human trial and pain, of unending crises, of passion and enmity, of concern and despair, it presents the mystery of the Incarnation of the Divine Word as a genuine and timely solution. For He descended as dew in a field of cotton inside the womb of the ever-Virgin Mary in order to give rise to righteousness and much peace. (See Ps. 71.7)

In the silence and peace of that sacred night of Christmas, Jesus Christ – being without beginning, invisible, incomprehensible, immaterial, ever existing and the same – enters the drama of history bearing flesh, being insignificant, simple, poor and unknown. At the same time, he comes as a “wonderful, counselor, almighty, prince of peace, everlasting father.” (Is. 9.6) Indeed, he comes as a human being, born of a Virgin Mother, to solve the complexity of sin and grant resolution to the impasse of life’s anxiety through His grace and mercy, while providing destiny, value, content, as well as an exemplary ethos and model for the human adventure.

The Lord assumed and sanctified all of human nature. The pre-eternal God condescended to become for us an embryo and be borne inside the womb of the Theotokos. In so doing, He both honored human life from its earliest stage and taught us respect toward humankind from its earliest conception. The Creator of all accepted to be born as an infant and be nurtured by a Virgin. In so doing, He honored both virginity and motherhood, spiritual and natural. This is why St. Gregory the Theologian exhorts: “O women, be as virgins, so that you may become mothers of Christ.” (Homily XXXVIII on Epiphany, PG36.313A)

So the Lord appointed the marriage of male and female in the blessed family. The institution of Christian family constitutes the cell of life and an incubator for the spiritual and physical health and development of children. Therefore, the manifold support of the institution of the family comprises the obligation of the Church and responsibility of leadership in every country.

In order for a child to be raised in a healthy and natural way, there needs to be a family where man and woman live in harmony as one body, one flesh, and one soul, submitting to one another.

We are certain that all spiritual and ecclesiastical, much like the vigilant shepherds of old, but also the leaders of our world, know and accept this divine truth and reality, which we once again proclaim from the Ecumenical Patriarchate during this Christmas period. We must all encourage the creation and function of natural families, which can produce citizens that are spiritually healthy and joyful, filled with sentiments of security, based on the feeling of safety provided by a strong and protective father as well as a nurturing and loving mother. We need families where God might find rest. We invite and urge the entire plenitude of our holy Orthodox Church to live in a manner that is worthy of their calling and do everything that is possible to support the institution of marriage.

Brothers and sisters, “the night is far gone; the day is at hand.” (Rom. 6.12) The shepherds are already headed toward Bethlehem in order to proclaim the miracle. They are inviting us to follow them “like other star-gazing wise men filled with joy” (From the Christmas Troparion of the 4th Ode), bringing “worthy gifts” “such as fine gold to the King of ages, incense to the God of all, and myrrh to the immortal that lay dead for three days.” (Anatolios, Vesperal Hymn at Christmas) That is to say, the gifts of love and our faith, which test us as Christians, especially as Orthodox Christians, in the ethos and tradition of the family, the Fathers, and the Church, which has always practiced the Orthodox way through the centuries and to this day holds together our blessed society, whose cell for sacred life and growth is the family.

Beloved brothers and sisters, children in Christ,
2013 years have passed since the birth of Christ in the flesh
2013 years have passed and, like then, Christ continues to be persecuted in the person of the weak by Herod and all kinds of contemporary Herods
2013 years have passed and Jesus is persecuted in the person of Christians in Syria and elsewhere
2013 years have passed and Christ still flees like a refugee not only in Egypt, but also in Lebanon, Europe, America and elsewhere, seeking security in an insecure world
2013 years have passed and the child Jesus remains imprisoned with the two hierarchs in Syria, Paul (Yazigi) and Youhanna (Ibrahim), as well as the Orthodox nuns and many other known and unknown Christians
2013 years have passed and Christ is crucified with those who are tortured and killed in order not to betray their faith in Him
2013 years have passed and Jesus is daily put to death in the person of thousands of embryos, whose parents prevent from being born
2013 years have passed and Christ is mocked and ridiculed in the person of unfortunate children, who experience the crisis of the family, destitution and poverty.
It is this human pain, sorrow and affliction that our Lord came and once more comes to assume during this Christmas season. After all, He said: “As you have done to one of these, the least of my brothers and sisters,” you have done to me.” (Matt. 25.40-41) It is for these that He was born of a Virgin, for these that He became human, for these that He suffered, was crucified and arose from the dead. That is to say: for all of us. Thus, let each of us lift up our personal cross in order to find grace and mercy when we seek His assistance. Then, the born Emmanuel, our Savior and Lord, will “be with us.” Amen.


Christmas 2013

+ Bartholomew of Constantinople
Your fervent supplicant before God

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Encyclical
Christmas 2012

Nativity-Icon-final

+ BARTHOLOMEW
By the Mercy 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 is on earth, exalt Him.”

Let us rejoice in gladness for the ineffable condescension of God.The angels precede us singing: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will among all people.”

Yet, on earth we behold and experience wars and threats of wars. Still, the joyful announcement is in no way annulled. Peace has truly come to earth through reconciliation between God and people in the person of Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, however, we human beings have not been reconciled, despite God’s sacred will. We retain a hateful disposition for one another. We discriminate against one another by means of fanaticism with regard to religious and political convictions, by means of greed in the acquisition of material goods, and through expansionism in the exercise of political power. These are the reasons why we come into conflict with one another.

With his Decree of Milan issued in 313AD, the enlightened Roman emperor, St. Constantine the Great, instituted freedom in the practice of the Christian faith, alongside freedom in the practice of every other religion. Sadly, with the passing since then of precisely 1700 years, we continue to see religious persecution against Christians and other Christian minorities in various places.

Moreover, economic competition is spreading globally, as is the pursuit of ephemeral profit, which is promoted as a principal target. The gloomy consequences of the overconcentration of wealth in the hands of the few and the financial desolation of the vast human masses are ignored. This disproportion, which is described worldwide as a financial crisis, is essentially the product of a moral crisis. Nevertheless, humankind is regrettably not attributing the proper significance to this moral crisis. In order to justify this indifference, people invoke the notion of free trade. But free trade is not a license for crime. And criminal conduct is far more than what is recorded in penal codes. It includes what cannot be foreseen by the prescription of statutory laws, such as the confiscation of people’s wealth by supposedly legitimate means. Inasmuch, therefore, as the law cannot be formally imposed, the actions of a minority of citizens are often expressed in an unrestrained manner, provoking disruption in social justice and peace.

From the Ecumenical Patriarchate, then, we have been closely following the “signs of the times,” which everywhere echo the “sounds” of “war and turmoil” – with “nation rising against nation, dominion against dominion, great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues, alongside dreadful phenomena and heavenly portents.” (Luke 21.10-12) In many ways, we are experiencing what St. Basil wrote about “the two types of love: one is feeling sorrow and concern upon seeing one’s beloved harmed; the other is rejoicing and striving to benefit one’s beloved. Anyone who demonstrates neither of these categories clearly does not love one’s brother or sister. (Basil the Great, Shorter Rules, PG31.1200A) This is why, from this sacred See and Center of Orthodoxy, we proclaim the impending new year as the Year of Global Solidarity.

It is our hope that in this way we may be able to sensitize sufficient hearts among humankind regarding the immense and extensive problem of poverty and the need to assume the necessary measures to comfort the hungry and misfortunate.

As your spiritual father and church leader, we ask for the support of all persons and governments of good will in order that we may realize the Lord’s peace on earth – the peace announced by the angels and granted by the infant Jesus. If we truly desire this peace, which transcends all understanding, we are obliged to pursue it palpably instead of being indifferent to the spiritual and material vulnerability of our brothers and sisters, for whom Christ was born.

Love and peace are the essential features of the Lord’s disciples and of every Christian. So let us encourage one another during this Year of Global Solidarity to make every conscious effort – as individuals and nations – for the reduction of the inhumane consequences created by the vast inequalities as well as the recognition by all people of the rights of the weakest among us in order that everyone may enjoy the essential goods necessary for human life. Thus, we shall indeed witness – at least to the degree that it is humanly possible – the realization of peace on earth.

Together with all of material and spiritual creation, we venerate the nativity of the Son and Word of God from the Virgin Mary, bowing down before the newborn Jesus – our illumination and salvation, our advocate in life – and wondering like the Psalmist “Whom shall we fear? Of whom shall we be afraid?” (Ps. 26.1) as Christians, since “to us is born today a savior” (Luke 2.11), “the Lord of hosts, the king of glory.” (Ps. 23.10)

We hope earnestly and pray fervently that the dawning 2013 will be for everyone a year of global solidarity, freedom, reconciliation, good will, peace and joy. May the pre-eternal Word of the Father, who was born in a manger, who united angels and human beings into one order, establishing peace on earth, grant to all people patience, hope and strength, while blessing the world with the divine gifts of His love. Amen.


At the Phanar, Christmas 2012
Your fervent supplicant before God
+ Bartholomew of Constantinople

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Encyclical
Christmas 2011

Nativity-Icon-final

+ 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 our Savior Born in Bethlehem

“Christ is born again and the Angels sing once more:
‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will among all.’ "
(Luke 2.14-15)

Beloved brothers and sisters, children in the Lord,

The angels chant these three majestic proclamations and yet the great majority of human beings, although celebrating the feast of Christmas, cannot perceive the significance of the angelic song, instead asking themselves whether God is truly glorified today or why God should even be glorified; where can one discern on earth the peace that is announced, and why should contemporary humanity live with good will?

It is because, in reality, most people do not glorify God – either in their deeds or through their words. Many of them doubt the very existence of God and God’s presence in their lives. There are also many people that attribute responsibility to God for the misfortunate occurrences in their lives. However, those who grumble against God err profoundly, since evil does not derive from Him. On the contrary, the loving incarnation of the divine Son and Word, together with the consequent events of His Crucifixion and Resurrection, reshape the human person to its former beauty, granting eternal life and the peace that surpasses all understanding, while rendering human beings co-heirs of the heavenly kingdom. This act of divine condescension, though embracing the ultimate humiliation, is in itself capable of glorifying humanity. Thus, even if many people fail to glorify God in their hearts, nevertheless glory is rendered – by all creation and all things that take place among humans – unto Him who dwells in the highest. We too, then, gratefully cry out with the Angels, “Glory to God in the highest,” for the immensity of His works and the incomprehensibility of His love for us.

Yet people also query the second angelic proclamation: “And on earth peace.” How can we speak of peace on earth when almost half of the planet finds itself either in the act of or in preparation for war? The sweet tone of the angelic proclamation regarding “peace on earth” is of course primarily a divine pledge that, if people adhere to the way indicated by the new-born Child, they will acquire internal peace and peaceful coexistence. But, alas, most people are moved and drawn by the cymbals of war, ignoring the sound of the pledge for peace on earth. We are not referring here to those who passionately support the use of weapons, but especially to those who transform gentle competition to unequal conflict, seeking the annihilation of any opposition. In this respect, war is experienced as reality among members of rival social groups and parties of all kinds – whether racial, political, partisan, financial, ideological, religious, athletic or any other kind, where the intense mindset of members is converted into militant rather than peaceful. However, this does not refute the truth proclaimed by the Angels, that – through the Nativity of Christ and the acceptance of His teachings – peace will indeed prevail on earth. Christ came bearing peace; and if His peace does not prevail in the world, then responsibility lies with those who fail to accept and embrace this peace, not with the God who grants it.

Since this is the stance of contemporary humanity in light of the peace offered by God, it is hardly surprising that good will is rare among people. The good intention of God toward humanity is assured, just as the favorable consequences of divine love are in principle apparent for all human beings and particularly tangible for all those who accept the angelic proclamations in practice. By contrast, for those who reject these proclamations and are given to exploiting and abusing others, the consequences are experienced as a crisis of stress and anxiety, as a crisis of economy and meaning, and finally as existential uncertainty.

Beloved brothers and sisters, children in the Lord,

All the proclamations of the Angels during the birth of the Lord are realities that exist and are experienced today in fullness by those who believe in Jesus Christ as the Divine-Human Savior of the world. Let us begin from this year to live Christmas in a way that pleases God, the giver of all good things, so that we might experience in our hearts the transcendent peace and the loving good will of God toward us. Let us render ourselves as loving human beings in our relationship to God and other people, becoming sharing persons rather than selfish individuals. Let us remove the masks that estrange and divide us from God and His human image, our fellow human being. And let us fulfill our destiny in the likeness of God by practicing our faith in Him. Let us, too, proclaim the angelic song to humankind, which is suffering terribly and cannot discover Peace and Good Will through its conventional ways. The only way of overcoming war and all forms of crisis, such as the financial one that plagues our world, is our Lord Jesus Christ, who assured us that His is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Therefore, we glorify God in the highest and Jesus Christ who condescended to dwell among us. And we proclaim with the Angels that Peace is accessible and truly exists on earth and within our hearts because we have been reconciled to God through His good will to assume flesh by His birth in the manger.

So let us experience the joy of the Nativity of Jesus Christ and the foretaste of all the benefits announced by the threefold proclamation of the Angels. Amen.


At the Phanar, Christmas 2011

+ Bartholomew of Constantinople

Fervent supplicant for all before God

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