A New Ecclesiastical Year is always a time of optimism in our parishes. The many ministries of our communities resume after their summer hiatus and they begin with fresh energy, filled with possibilities to see our parishes grow and our faithful grow in their faith in Christ and devotion to His Holy Orthodox Church.
The optimism and hope of the New Ecclesiastical Year are sorely needed at this time. Our summer has been difficult and painful in many places. We have seen the stories about mass shootings in Gilroy, California; El Paso and Dallas, Texas; and Dayton, Ohio. We have seen the stories of the rise of violent acts of hatred, racism, and bigotry directed towards our fellow man, simply because of their race, ethnicity, or religion. This kind of behavior and attitude goes by many names because hatred always looks for new opportunities and ways to express itself.
We as Orthodox Christians must talk about this sin. We as a Church condemn the sins of racism, bigotry and hatred. We must be especially strong in our condemnation when acts of racism, bigotry and hatred are expressed in the name of religion, including Orthodox Christianity. Nearly twenty years ago, His All-Holiness our Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew stated, "All human beings-regardless of religion, race, national origin, color, creed, or gender-are living icons of God, innately worthy of...respect and dignity. Whenever human beings fail to treat others with this respect, they insult God, the Creator."
The evidence and history of our Church is very clear. In His "Great Commission" (Matthew 28:19), our Lord and Savior commanded us to go to "all nations". There is no discrimination in the statement.
The Orthodox Church over the centuries has spread to all corners of the globe. There are Orthodox Churches literally on all the continents of our planet. Our global Church is comprised of men and women of all races, colors, languages, and cultures. As Saint Paul wrote, "There is neither Jew or Greek...for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:28). As a Church through various forums and dialogues, we are actively engaged in seeking dialogue that will produce peaceful relations with all people of all religions, even as we strive especially for the reconciliation of Christians.
We too - as Orthodox Christians and Greek Americans - have experienced discrimination and bigotry because we were "different" from our neighbors. Even today, countless of our fellow Orthodox Christians experience oppression in many parts of the world. Archbishop Iakovos, of blessed memory, marched with Martin Luther King for that reason in the 1960's. And now, just because we in the USA are not direct targets of discrimination, we cannot allow ourselves to become oppressors ourselves. We must always remember the words of Scripture, "You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt"(Exodus 22:21). Saint John the Evangelist wrote, "He who says he is in the light and hates his brother is in the darkness still."(1 John 2:9).
Beloved brothers and sisters, as we begin a New Ecclesiastical Year, even in this time of unsettling news and events, let us remember the command of our Lord and Savior: "Love one another." (John 13:34)
With Love in Christ,
+Metropolitan Gerasimos of San Francisco
+ B A R T H O L O M E W
By God's Mercy
Archbishop of Constantinople-New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch
To All the Plenitude of the Church
Grace, Peace and Mercy from the Maker of All Creation
Our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ
Dearest brother Hierarchs and beloved children in the Lord,
With the goodness and grace of the all-bountiful God, today marks the 30th anniversary since the Holy Great Church of Christ established the feast of Indiction and first day of the ecclesiastical year as "the day of environmental protection." We did not only address our Orthodox faithful, nor again just Christian believer or even representatives of other religions, but also political leaders, environmentalists and other scientists, as well as intellectuals and all people of good will, seeking their contribution.
The ecological activities of the Ecumenical Patriarchate served as the inspiration for theology to advance prominently the truth of Christian anthropology and cosmology, the Eucharistic worldview and treatment of creation, along with the spirit of Orthodox asceticism as the basis for understanding the reason for and response to the ecological crisis. The bibliography related to theological ecology or ecological theology is extensive and on the whole constitutes an admirable Orthodox witness before the major challenges of contemporary humanity and earthly life.
Concern for the ecological crisis and for the global dimensions and consequences of sin - of this alienating internal "reversal of values" in humankind - brought to the surface the connection between ecological and social issues as well as for the need to address them jointly. Mobilizing forces for the protection of the integrity of creation and for social justice are interconnected and inseparable actions.
The interest of the Ecumenical Patriarchate for the protection of creation did not arise as a reaction to or as a result of the contemporary ecological crisis. The latter was simply the motivation and occasion for the Church to express, develop, proclaim and promote its environmentally-friendly principles. The foundation of the Church's undiminished concern for the natural environment lies in its ecclesiological identity and theology. Respect and care for creation are a dimension of our faith, the content of our life in the Church and as the Church.
The very life of the Church is "an experienced ecology," an applied respect and care for creation, and the source of its environmental activities. In essence, the interest of the Church for the protection of the environment is the extension of the Holy Eucharist in all dimensions of its relationship to the world.
The liturgical life of the Church, the ascetic ethos, pastoral service and experience of the cross and resurrection by the faithful, the unquenchable desire for eternity: all of these comprise a communion of persons for which the natural reality cannot be reduced to an object or useful matter to meet the needs of an individual or humanity; by contrast, this reality is considered as an act, deed the handiwork of a personal God, who calls us to respect and protect it, thereby rendering us His "coworkers," "stewards," "guardians," and "priests" of creation in order to cultivate a Eucharistic relationship with it.
Care for the natural environment is not an added activity, but an essential expression of church life. It does not have a secular, but rather a purely ecclesiastical character. It is a "liturgical ministry." All of the initiatives and activities of the Church are "applied ecclesiology." In this sense, theological ecology does not merely refer to the development of an ecological awareness or the response to ecological problems on the basis of the principles of Christian anthropology and cosmology.
On the contrary, it involves the renewal of the whole creation in Christ, just as this is realized and experienced in the Holy Eucharist, which is an image and foretaste of the eschatological fullness of the Divine Economy in the doxological wholeness and luminous splendor of the heavenly kingdom.
Most honorable brothers and most precious children in the Lord, The ecological crisis reveals that our world comprises an integral whole, that our problems are global and shared. In order to meet these challenges, we require a multilayered mobilization, a common accord, direction and action. It is inconceivable for humankind to recognize the severity of the problem and yet continue to behave in oblivion.
While in recent decades the dominant model of economic development in the context of globalization - highlighting the fetishism of financial markers and magnification of financial profit - has exacerbated ecological and economic problems, the notion still prevails widely that "there is no other alternative" and that not conforming to the rigid validity logic of the world's economy will lead to unbridled social and financial situations. Thus, any alternative forms of development, along with the power of social solidarity and justice, are overlooked and undermined.
For our part, however, we are obliged to assume greater measures for the application of the ecological and social consequences of our faith. It is extremely vital that our archdioceses and metropolises, as well as many of our parishes and sacred monasteries, have fostered initiatives and activities for the protection of the environment, but also various programs of ecological education. We should pay special attention to the Christian formation of our youth, so that it may function as an area of cultivation and development of an ecological ethos and solidarity.
Childhood and adolescence are particularly susceptible life phases for ecological and social responsiveness. Aware of the urgency of environmental education, the Ecumenical Patriarchate devoted the Third in its series of international Halki Summits to the subject of "Theological Education and Ecological Awareness" (Istanbul, May 31st to June 4th, 2019) with a view to incorporating ecology and environmental awareness into programs and curricula of theological schools and seminaries. The solution to the great challenges of our world is unattainable without spiritual orientation.
In conclusion, then, we wish all of you a favorable and blessed ecclesiastical year, filled with works pleasing to God. We invite the radiant children of the Mother Church throughout the world to pray for the integrity of creation, to be sustainable and charitable in every aspect of their lives, to strive for the protection of the natural environment, as well as the promotion of peace and justice. And we proclaim once more the truth that there can be no genuine progress, when the "very good" creation and the human person made in the image and likeness of God suffer. Finally, through the intercession of the first-among-the-saints Theotokos Pammakaristos, we invoke upon you the life-giving grace and boundless mercy of the Creator and Provider of all.
September 1, 2019
+Bartholomew of Constantinople
Your fervent supplicant before God
"The Great Commission" was the theme of our recent Clergy-Laity Assembly: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age." (Matthew 28:19-20).
As we begin the Great Fast, these words of the Lord can enlighten our Lenten journey. We call this passage "The Great Commission" because with these words, our Lord and Savior, shortly after His Resurrection, sent forth His disciples into the world. They went from "disciples" or followers of Jesus, to "apostles" sent out by Christ to continue His mission to the world.
Our Lenten journey that will culminate in the celebration of the Resurrection of Christ will also prepare us for the apostolic work of going into the world to share the good news first proclaimed by Jesus. The Lenten practices of the Church will prepare us when we observe them: prayer, fasting, study, philanthropy and charity. Jesus Himself becomes our example. Jesus prayed to His father, so we must pray regularly during this season. The New Testament recounts many occasions when the Lord "went off to pray". The Church, in the parish, offers us many opportunities for prayer and worship.
Jesus fasted, especially during the forty days in the wilderness, before He began His public Ministry. The Church continued to observe a fast, especially before beginning significant work (Acts of the Apostles 13). The Church has taught us to fast for forty days in imitation of Christ, which also prepares us for the work of the Church.
Jesus knew the scriptures. We remember how He used the words of the Scripture to respond to those who would challenge Him or merely ask a question, whether it was the Scribes, Pharisees, lawyers, even Satan himself. We should devote time to studying the Scriptures and the Teaching of our Holy Orthodox Faith during Great Lent so that we may edify and equip ourselves for the mission ahead.
Jesus' philanthropic acts were seen in His many miracles of healing the sick and feeding the multitudes. His ultimate philanthropic act was His death on the cross and His resurrection on the third day. Great Lent is our time to increase our philanthropic and charitable acts to support reconciliation, healing, and care for those around us. Our parishes offer many opportunities for service and giving during these days.
We typically think of Great Lent in individualistic and pietistic terms. It
is a time of turning inward personally. And indeed, it has these strong elements. Yet, when we consider the goal of our Lenten journey, we can see how the inward dimension is preparing us for the outward work of sharing the Gospel with all. The first people we must share the Gospel with is our children, both at home and in your parishes. Witnessing our example, our children will see the significance of Great Lent in our lives. We should also instruct our children in the ways of the Church, connecting Lenten discipline and practices with our faith in Jesus Christ.
Brothers and sisters, "The Great Commission" has been given to each of us, just as it was given to those first followers of Christ. The Church, during Great Lent, shows us the way to prepare ourselves to celebrate the Resurrection of Christ and for our apostolic work in the world.
May our Lord grant you and your families a Holy Season of Great Lent filled with soul saving experiences as we proceed to witness His Glorious Resurrection.
With Love in Christ,
+ G E R A S I M O S
Metropolitan of San Francisco
Beloved in the Lord,
The Orthodox theologian Paul Evdokimov wrote, “We prove God’s existence by worshiping Him and not by advancing so-called proofs.” At the Great Feast of Christmas, each one of our churches become a symbolic Bethlehem, carrying us to the manger where we find the newborn child, Jesus. In our Vigil and Liturgy we will sing praises to the Almighty God as we hear the story of the Birth of our Savior. The news that Christ is born, once again, will fill us with joy and hope and we will take this message from our parishes to our homes and the world around us. That is the proof of our faith! This is how the Birth of Christ makes a difference in our salvation; that we are able to share with action this wondrous message from above. In the Holy Liturgy during our celebration of the Nativity of Our Lord, we will receive Christ the Lord as we sing the Communion Hymn that teaches us the purpose of the Incarnation: “The Lord sent redemption to His people.”
In this cynical age when various pundits regularly question the existence of God, what better response can we offer than filling our churches with hymns of praise? When the world around us makes Christmas all about searching for “the right gift”, what better response can we offer than sharing the Good News that the Savior is born? When we encounter those who sow seeds of division and relish in polarization, what better response can we offer that working even more diligently to strengthen the unity of the Body of Christ? Arguments will not change hardened hearts. Only our faith, our love for our neighbor, and our compassion can soften them.
In the Nativity of Christ, the Kingdom of God enters this world and we celebrate that “God is with us”. He came humbly, as an infant, reminding us that the Kingdom of God enters in places and ways that are not always dramatic or revolutionary, but rather quite ordinary. The Kingdom of God is at hand in the ordinary activities of our lives: in our homes, at our family gatherings, in our workplaces, in our neighborhoods. When we treat people with kindness, justice and compassion in our day-to-day activities, we bear witness to the Kingdom and grow closer to God. Saint Gregory the Theologian wrote, “God comes to live with human beings, that we may journey toward God” (Oration 38). Our journey to God begins with our journey to the symbolic Bethlehem, where we may meet the Savior, who “became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Then we can return to our daily lives filled with hope and begin to work to make all things new.
There is much work to be done. When we see the many sufferings of our neighbors, in the Alaska earthquake, the fires in California, as well as the ongoing injustices that continue to be perpetrated in our society, we must turn our minds and hearts to the Good News that the Savior is born and redemption has come to His people. We must ask ourselves how we will bear witness to the Kingdom of God in the face of these tragedies and the conditions of so many. Our first action should be prayer for those who suffer. Second, we can make charitable and philanthropic gifts to offer support. Third, speak the truth to those who are sitting in places of authority. Fourth, we can involve ourselves in the work of assisting those who have no voice and need help through our parishes and as responsible citizens of our country.
Beloved in the Lord, this Christmas Holiday is a new opportunity to go to our symbolic Bethlehem, see the newborn Christ, acknowledge Him as your Savior, and take His message of salvation into the world through your words and actions. Let us go to Bethlehem, the city of David, and meet Christ the Lord.
Beseeching the Blessings of our Almighty God upon you and your loved ones, I wish to all of you a Blessed Christmas and a New Year filled with the Joy and Grace of our Newborn Savior.
With Love in Christ,
+ G E R A S I M O S
Metropolitan of San Francisco
"The Virgin is holding the Creator in her arms as an infant."
Saint Photios the Great, Homily XVII
We are accustomed to seeing and venerating icons of the Virgin Mary holding Jesus Christ. As we contemplate and prepare for the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos over the next two weeks, we are challenged by the converse of the above statement from the great Saint, theologian, and Patriarch Photios. In the icon of the Feast of the Dormition, the Creator holds the Virgin in His arms.
As Orthodox Christians, we proclaim that the translation of Mary into the heavens at the time of her falling asleep is a great mystery and miracle. Tradition holds that at her falling asleep, the Lord entered the room and received her soul from the Archangel Michael, while an angelic choir sang nearby. We believe that Mary passed through death unharmed and already dwells with her Son in the kingdom that is to come. The icon for the Feast presents our hope to pass through death and into eternal life with Christ. We can only sing praises to God when we encounter this miracle.
In our life's experiences, the time will come when we will face the death of a loved one. As Orthodox Christians, however, we look upon death in a different way. The Dormition of the Theotokos is a reminder that we too, will depart from this life "to the source of life." We must also call to mind the words Saint Paul uses when instructing the Philippians about death: "For me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain."
These first two weeks in August always provide us the opportunity to grow in faith and be strengthened by the intercessions of the Holy Mother of God. Let us contemplate the mystery and the miracle of the Dormition of the Theotokos. Observe the fast. Attend the Paraklesis services and sing praises to the Almighty God and to the Virgin Mary. Take time to submit your name and the names of your loved ones so that we might pray for your "health, salvation, visitation, pardon and remission of sins . . . ."
For you, the faithful stewards of our Holy Metropolis, I ceaselessly pray: "commemorating our most Holy, Pure, Blessed and Glorious Lady Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary, with all the saints let us commit ourselves and one another and our whole life to Christ our God."
With Love in Christ,
+ G E R A S I M O S
Metropolitan of San Francisco
"Go quickly and tell his disciples
that he has risen from the dead."
In the Gospel of the Resurrection we hear on Holy Saturday morning, the angel tells the women who have come to the tomb, "Go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead."When the same women encounter the Risen Christ, Jesus repeats the instructions,"Go and tell my brethren to go to Galilee, and there they will see me." (Matthew 28:10). This repetition in the text is meant for all of us. Our Paschal celebration finds us at the tomb of the Lord. Like the women so many centuries ago, we are meant to be astonished. And, we are also being instructed to proclaim that the Lord has risen to everyone.
The news of the empty tomb was unbelievable then and still difficult for us to grasp today. Christ had suffered a degrading, painful death at the hands of the Romans; crucifixion was reserved for the lowest of the low. The worst criminals received this kind of punishment as a deterrent to anyone who would challenge the power of Rome. Christ's death upon the cross seemingly ended the hopes of His followers. As we read in the Gospel of Luke, they "had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel."(Luke 24:21)
But the tomb is empty. Angels tell the women, "He is Risen!" And Christ appears to His followers, showing the marks of His Passion, and is very much alive. Resurrection becomes even more meaningful and significant in light of the Passion. The two go together. As Saint Gregory the Theologian writes, "He is lifted up and nailed to the tree, but by the tree of life He restores us...He dies, but He gives life, and by His death, He destroys death." (Theological Oration 3, On the Son).
The message of Pascha fills us with joy and hope because we have seen the power of death destroyed. As we hear in one of the seasonal hymns
"Receive from us the joyous good news of Christ's Resurrection. Delight, dance, be glad, Jerusalem, as you behold Christ the king emerging from the grave like a bridegroom." So tonight we will celebrate with lit candles in our hands. Our Churches will ring their bells and decorate every icon and space with flowers. We will break the fast and prepare the sumptuous feast. We will be dressed in our finest, and sing and dance.
Our first celebration takes place in the Liturgy, where we will chant the victory hymn, "Christ is risen..."; all the hymns will be chanted in a crescendo of joy and hope. Attend to them and absorb their message. Participate in the Liturgy, and partake of the Resurrected Lord's banquet; receive Him in Holy Communion. Greet one another with Christian love because tonight, of all nights, our parishes are filled with the Good News of our Heavenly Father's love for us, of the Resurrection of His Son that gives life to the whole world.
This message is not to be contained or hidden, but to be proclaimed to all. Just as you will carry the light from your Paschal candle home, carry the Good News with you and share it. As the Lord says, "No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar or under a bushel, but on a stand, that those who enter may see the light." (Luke 11:33). Dear brothers and sisters, the angel's instructions to the women have become our instructions: Go and tell the world that Christ has risen from the dead!
I wish those who celebrate their Feast Day blessed and healthy years ahead, and pray that the Risen Christ grant all of you and your families His Blessings.
Christos Anesti! Christ is Risen! Alithos Anesti! Truly He is Risen!
With Paternal Love in the Resurrection,
+ G E R A S I M O S
Metropolitan of San Francisco
On March 25 we celebrate the event that inaugurates our salvation. The Virgin Mary learns from the Archangel that she will give birth to a son, one that will deliver us from the bondage of sin and death.
This year, because this Great Feast of our Church occurs on a Sunday during Great Lent, we briefly interrupt our Lenten rhythm to commemorate the "crown of our salvation." The meaning of the Annunciation should not be lost on us even as we pause from our Lenten disposition because in two weeks, we will celebrate the saving event of Christ's Passion and Resurrection. This blessed connection of the calendar should remind us that the Incarnation and the Passion are connected. For Christ came into the world "to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45) by giving Himself up to the Cross "for the life of the world."
The Good News of the Annunciation was a message of hope to the oppressed people of Israel. God's promise of a Messiah, the one who would restore Israel, was soon to be fulfilled. Mary sings joyfully in her Magnificat, "He has put down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of low degree" (Luke 1:52). This hopeful song was familiar to the Greek people who suffered under an oppressor for four hundred years. They too sought to be delivered. They heard the words of Mary in the Feast of the Annunciation year after year. And so, appropriately, the Feast of the Annunciation became the day when they initiated their hopeful quest for freedom.
Their quest also included songs of hope and liberation. We will hear our children sing many of these songs in the programs celebrating March 25 in our parishes. And of them all the song of freedom that all of us will sing will be "To the Champion" (Ti Ipermacho) to the Virgin Mary, "the defender and commander." This triumphant and rousing hymn continues to be our anthem, as we place our hope for a better future in the hands of God.
We live at a time where a message of hope is needed. The daily stories from near and far leave many of us shaking our heads at the state of our world. The Gospel message is the hope we need today. The Good News of Jesus Christ the Savior, whose birth was announced to Mary on March 25 and the coming day of His Resurrection, offers that hope to the world and to each of us. When we celebrate the Annunciation this year, we celebrate the joy that Mary experienced when she received the glad tidings from Gabriel that the Savior of God's people was conceived in her. And so, with Archangel Gabriel, we cry out "Rejoice, O Bride unwedded!"
Wishing to all those that are named after this glorious Feast all the blessings from God, I remain
With Love in Christ,
@ G E R A S I M O S
Metropolitan Gerasimos of San Francisco
Read the Encyclical online
"Where shall I begin the work of my salvation?" cries out a hymn of Clean Monday.
The Lenten Season, now upon us, calls us into a time of reflection on the state of our lives and our souls. We are invited by the Church to observe the Great Fast, to devote more time to prayer and worship, to engage in study, and to offer charity and serve the world around us. The hymns of the next forty days will instruct us in the fast, will encourage us in philanthropy, and will call us to renew our souls and lives through repentance. Your parish will offer many opportunities for you to participate in worship, in opportunities for study, and in philanthropic acts, and many other activities with your fellow parishioners and to carry the lessons into your homes and families.
These Lenten practices are not ends unto themselves. Rather, these disciplines serve as potent correctives to the way the world tells us we are to live all the days of our lives and not just for the next forty days. They are meant to focus our energies on improving the condition of our souls. The world says to be happy we must follow paths that lead to the accumulation of wealth, power, and status. And when we achieve all these, we are not satisfied. We become anxious, desiring to keep them, and then acquire even more.
Our Lenten disciplines remind us that we do not need all these "things" and, in fact, we can live quite well without them. The Lord says, "A man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions"(Luke 12:15). Our Lenten disciplines challenge us to break the cycle of acquisition and anxiety and to be free of "things" that instead burden us and our souls. The Great Fast teaches us that we can live simply and with less. Our time in prayer and worship of God teaches that power belongs to Him. Our charity and study teaches us that status is fleeting.
The work of our Lenten journey is an accumulation of the fruits of the Spirit. For the next forty days we will be challenged to put aside what the world values and acquire something greater. What we are to accumulate during Great Lent is a spirit of "love, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control" (Galatians 5:22). These next weeks are a time for cultivating these virtues in our lives and souls so, as a hymn states, "may be counted worthy to see the solemn Passion of Christ our God, and with great spiritual gladness to behold His Holy Pascha."
Beloved brothers and sisters, the work of salvation begins very soon. Do not despair at the task at hand. Rather, as the hymn of Clean Monday states, "Let us joyfully begin the all-hallowed season of abstinence; and let us shine with the bright radiance of the Holy Commandments of Christ our God".
May this spirit of the anticipated joy of Holy Pascha at the end of our Lenten journey, be your guide during this most Holy Season of the Great Fast.
With Love in Christ,
@ G E R A S I M O S
Metropolitan of San Francisco
"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
"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