"Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and his name shall be called Emmanuel"
(which means ,God with us).
Matthew 1:23, Isaiah 7:14
Amid the flurry of shopping, decorating, and parties, each of us can lose focus on the significance of the Nativity of Jesus Christ season for our life of faith. We can become overly sentimental about Christmas. We can forget the meaning of what happened in Bethlehem over two millennia ago.
The passage above from the Book of Isaiah repeated in the Gospel of Matthew, should jolt us to a new understanding: God is with us. God Himself has broken into the world and into our lives. We have seen the glorious light of God because "God is light and in Him there is no darkness at all." (1 John 1:5). Jesus Christ is this light. Jesus Christ is one with the Father. And today, we celebrate His Nativity in the Flesh as we call the Feast in the Church calendar.
The Nativity of Christ - the Incarnation - was necessary to rescue us from ourselves. As Saint Athanasios the Great taught, humanity had turned away from the true God and became less than what God created us to be. We had forgotten that each man and each woman is created in the image and likeness of the true God. This condition still exists in our world today, when we see the dehumanizing actions of our world towards one another, from trafficking and slavery, violence and abuse, to war and persecution, and the list could go on.
So, what was Our Creator to do? How could He renew the image of God in us? He became human Himself, in His Son, Jesus Christ. Saint Athanasios writes, "The Word of God came in His own person, because it was He alone, the image of the Father, who could recreate man after the image." In other words, God took on human flesh, because we needed God to do for us what we could not or would not do for ourselves. We did not turn to God, so God comes to us as the child born of Mary in Bethlehem this day.
In the Nativity, God "Became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father" (John 1:14). By taking human flesh and living in the world, Christ has shown us how we are to treat ourselves, our neighbor, the world around us, and how to be in communion with our Heavenly Father. That fellowship does not occur by downloading a podcast or reading a few nice books, as instructional as they might be for us. Christ has taught us that communion with God requires that we immerse ourselves in our Church community, amid other disciples of Christ. God is with us in our parishes. God is with us in the Liturgy, in Sacred Scripture, in our prayer and worship, and in Holy Communion. There we experience the glory of the light of Christ.
Once we have seen the true Light of Christ, we can carry that light into the world. We actually are commanded to do so. Just as the angels - the messengers of God - shared the Good News that God is with us to the shepherds, we can share that same Good News with others. God is with us when we are with our families and friends. God is with us in our workplaces and in every action of our day, no matter how small it may seem. God is with us in our acts of charity and service that restore the dignity of those who suffer from the ills and injustices of the world, as Christ's presence renewed the image of God in us all.
May the light of the Nativity shine in your hearts, in your homes, and in all your days in this Holy Season of Light and in the coming New Year.
With Love in Our Newborn King,
@ G E R A S I M O S
Metropolitan of San Francisco
Metropolitan Gerasimos Shares Message of Pastoral Love from His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew
“Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” –Joshua 1:9
It is with great esteem and respect that I share with you this letter from His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. This poignant message to our faithful who have been suffering from the devastation of the fires is truly a message of love and compassion from our Spiritual Father and Shepherd.
Even though Constantinople is thousands of miles away from the west coast, the pastoral care and concern of His All-Holiness is deeply appreciated and reflects His love for us as well as His ongoing concern and commitment to preserving and protecting the environment. Our Mother Church serves a guide and beacon for our Archdiocese and Metropolis, carrying the torch of our faith and preserving and promoting Orthodox Christianity throughout the world.
May God, in His infinite wisdom, love and mercy, grant peace to all those who have been affected by these fires and throughout the world during this Christmas season and the New Year!
With Love in Christ,
+ G E R A S I M O S
Metropolitan of San Francisco
In the 1965 classic A Charlie Brown Christmas, Charlie Brown picks a small, weak and flimsy-looking Christmas tree for the Christmas play he and his friends are putting together. When he goes to put an ornament on it, the tree falls. Charlie Brown is devastated. However, his friend Linus says the following: “I never thought it was such a bad little tree. It’s not bad at all really—maybe it just needs a little love.” At that point, Charlie Brown’s friends rush to help decorate that vulnerable tree and it is transformed and becomes beautiful, strong and bright.
I believe the aforementioned scene captures an essential theme of the great Feast Day of Christmas: weak, broken humanity is refashioned and made spiritually beautiful, strong and bright through the abundant love of God, by God becoming a human being, a reality that Orthodox Christians refer to as the Incarnation.
Charlie Brown did not reject this little, weak tree when he first saw it. God also, did not reject His weak, broken and sinful creation. Instead, the eternal Logos came down from heaven to dwell among us and when He did, He did not shun us. Many “righteous” people in the Gospels looked at spiritually weak, sinful and broken people such as the man born blind, the harlot, the tax collector, and the woman caught in adultery and wanted nothing to do with them. Our Lord, on the other hand, showed mercy, compassion and love to these individuals, establishing the fertile soil for their spiritual rebirth.
I believe many people are spiritually broken and weak because they do not have the love of God in their lives. What does it mean to be spiritually broken and weak? It can mean to be confused, lost, empty, selfish or in despair. To be spiritually beautiful, strong and bright means to be full of genuine hope, peace, joy and love.
All people need the love of God to be to be spiritually beautiful, strong and bright. The love of God is found in the Church. And who is the Church? We are – both clergy and laity! Every baptized and chrismated Orthodox Christian constitute together the Church of Christ. Just like that little tree was transformed through the love of Charlie Brown’s friends, we too, as the Church, transform the spiritually broken and weak we encounter by giving them the love of Christ.
We, as the Church, give the love of Christ by not giving up on people because of their spiritual weakness and brokenness. We, as the Church, must see in others what others may not see in themselves: their goodness, value, worth and that they are lovable. We, as the Church, give the love of Christ by treating all people with kindness, respect, care, concern, mercy, and compassion.
The tragedy is that it is possible that this love of Christ may not be experienced in a parish. We must make sure that we do our part so that anyone who attends our services, ministries and functions, can tell others that they are loved, welcomed, cherished and embraced.
Above all, I hope we ourselves--spiritually broken and weak though we might be--have experienced transformation; being made spiritually beautiful, strong and bright through the love of God found in the Church. It is this love of Christ, and only this love, that can fulfill us and restore us.
May you and your loved ones experience the transformative love of Christ in His Church this Christmas, now and always.
Rev. Father Panagiotis Sotiras, Proistamenos Saint Basil Greek Orthodox Church - Stockton, California
"We thank you, Christ our God, for you have satisfied us with earthly gifts. Do not deprive us of your heavenly kingdom, but as you, O Savior, came among your disciples and gave them peace, come among us also and save us."
This prayer of thanksgiving is offered at the close of a meal in the Orthodox Tradition. Placing a word of thanks at the end of a meal, whether an elaborate feast such as that we will have on Thanksgiving Day or a simple supper with family or friends that we have most other days reminds us that all we have on this earth is a gift of the Most High God.
We have been blessed with many earthly gifts for which we should offer thanks to God, not just on one day of the year, but every day. Thanksgiving Day is a distinctively American holiday, and, without being overly nationalistic about it, one that sets us apart from other nations. Setting aside a day to give thanks entered our national consciousness from the very beginning. In 1777, the fledgling American nation proclaimed a day of thanksgiving so "that with one heart and one voice the good people may express the grateful feelings of their hearts, and consecrate themselves to the service of their divine benefactor." As Orthodox Christians we will offer our words of thanks to the Triune God. But all Americans will offer a moment of thanks, no matter what religion they profess.
The second phrase of the prayer, "Do not deprive us of your heavenly kingdom," invites us to reflect on the purpose of these gifts: our entry into God's kingdom. Isn't this wonderful? Our loving and gracious God has given us the means to enter into a relationship with Himself and become citizens of His eternal and heavenly Kingdom. As the Psalmist says, "When you give to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things." The Lord's hand is continually open, providing us with all that we need, and for this reason, we offer our continual thanks.
Because the Lord has been so gracious and generous to us, our response should be to be gracious and generous to those around us. This generosity can overflow into our parishes and communities. This is the work of the good steward, creating and sharing abundance, so that the Kingdom of God can be within the reach of all. We are those stewards, the instruments of God's kingdom, "distributing to all, as any have need" (cf Acts of the Apostles 2:45).
How will we share our abundance this Thanksgiving holiday? Our Thanksgiving tables will be overladen so that our families and friends can celebrate the feast. Extending an invitation and opening our homes to those without a place to go is a first step. All of our parishes have members who live alone or far from family that we can invite. Offering even a few hours of the day to work among the poor or the homeless can make a difference. There are food banks and shelters that need our help, not just on Thanksgiving but year round. Charitable giving to support the many ministries of our Church and community that serve those in need provides them with the financial resources they need. All are acts of thanksgiving in response to what God has already done for us.
May our Lord grant to you and your loved ones a Blessed, Peaceful and joyous Thanksgiving holiday.
With Love in Christ,
@Metropolitan Gerasimos of San Francisco
Archbishop Averky of Syracuse, of blessed memory, once said of converts, "they are like envelopes, they have a tendency to come unglued".
Many a convert, once they've embraced the Orthodox Faith, mistakenly given themselves over to a zealotry that is without any form of temperance. They, in their excitement at having found "The True Faith", almost over night take on external formula that seems more "spiritual", and makes them feel they are on the fast track to sainthood.
They'll notice when another parishioner seems careless in the making of the sign of the cross, all the while demonstrating for all around them, the proper way. Making sweeping signs of the cross that are done in such a way as to be almost a caricature, they follow up with profound bows, distracting fellow worshipers in the process. They make a production of the fast periods, making sure their non-Orthodox family and friends know the seriousness of the Orthodox fasting periods. Their icon corners can be larger than the pious old woman who has been Orthodox all her life, and who is known for the sanctity of her tender care for others.
These people become spiritual gluttons, while taking their new found faith into a sensuality and pride that is miles from the holiness that comes from years of struggle. Their public displays of Orthodox, often distractions for fellow worshipers, what with all the profound bows, icon kissing, and candle lighting, can actually be diversions from the important confrontation of one's own personal sin. In their newness to Orthodoxy they throw themselves into the externals and public displays, while preventing themselves from entering into the mystery of faith that comes only with the acquisition of a humble and contrite heart.
Our longing for drama and excitement in our new found faith, can, if we let it, become a distraction, leading to spiritual pride, rather than the holiness that comes with humbly receiving the faith by following the example of holy people whose lives are often hidden from us. If our Orthodoxy is expressed primarily in the externals, we put ourselves on the fast track to becoming followers of the Pharisee, rather than imitating the humility of the Publican.
My own spiritual father, Archimandrite Dimitry of blessed memory, gave me the best of advice, when he said, "little by little". Taking little steps, with the guidance and direction that comes from one's priest or spiritual father, or by council with that pious little old lady, whose face radiates the light of Christ, we will be able to enter into the Kingdom, having gained the humility and joy that does not necessitate being extravagant with the externals.
That said, the sight of faithful coming late to Liturgy, and leaving after communion, is sad indeed. The bottom line is that everyone of us needs to personally be converted to Orthodoxy. Converts have a lot to share with those who were raised from birth in Orthodoxy, for the sight of a newly converted Orthodox Christian demonstrating his faith by external witness, should be the catalyst for those raised in the faith to make a greater effort at truly entering into the services with the historic external forms of worship.
With love in Christ,
Taken from Abbot Tryphon's FB Page
Today begins a period of preparation in our Church for the great feast of the Nativity of Christ. During this period the Church invites every human being freely and simply, saying: "We are now fasting, if you want you can come along too".