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  • PASTORAL LETTER FOR THE FEAST OF THE LORD’S NATIVITY 2020

    PASTORAL LETTER FOR THE FEAST OF THE LORD’S NATIVITY 2020

    † NICOLAE

    by the mercies of God

    Archbishop of the Romanian Orthodox Archdiocese of the United States of America and Metropolitan of the Romanian Orthodox Metropolia of the Americas

    To our Beloved Clergy and Orthodox Christians,

    Grace, peace, and joy from Christ the Lord, and from us hierarchical blessings.

     

    “All this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: ‘Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,’ which is translated, ‘God with us’” (Matthew 1:22-23).

     

    Very Reverend Fathers, Beloved Faithful,

    At this glorious feast I too proclaim to you with the angel that God is with us, that God has not forsaken us, that God has not forgotten His creation and does not ignore its suffering, that God sends us a Savior. The incarnation of the Son of God from the Virgin Mary is the source of the Christian’s hope in the providence of God for every moment of his earthly life as preparation for eternal life.

    This proclamation is contained in the presentation of the event of the Lord’s Nativity by St. Matthew the Evangelist: Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.’ So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,’ which is translated, ‘God with us’” (Matthew 1:18-23). This is the reassurance of the Righteous Joseph by the angel of the Lord, that what has happened with the Virgin Mary is the result of God’s action for the salvation of humankind. At the same time it is the proclamation of the Incarnate Son through the name Jesus and the revelation of God’s plan for humanity through the name Immanuel.

    St. John Chrysostom explains this relationship between the names in St. Matthew’s text: “I could have asked, ‘Why then was He not called Immanuel, but Jesus Christ? The angel did not say You will call, but they will call, that is, the multitudes of people and the deeds accomplished by Christ. In this text, the name Immanuel is given by the deeds done by Christ… Therefore, the words They will call Him Immanuel mean nothing other than that they will see that God is with mankind. God has always been with mankind, but never so clearly as now.’”[1] And St. Nikolai Velimirovich reinforces this explanation: “Both of the names speak of the depths of the purpose for which Christ came into the world and His ministry in it. He comes to forgive, to have mercy on people, to save them from their sins, and therefore He will be called Savior, Jesus. Who can forgive sins except God alone? …No one knows the entire horror of sin except God Who is without sin. And no one can enter into the heart of the world in order to pull out the snake (of sin) and expel it except God alone.”[2] These two fathers interpret the proclamation to Joseph and the two names given to the baby as the revelation of God’s descent to earth to deliver mankind from sin and the assurance of God’s care for us.

    This proclamation is not one of past history, nor is it a pious remembrance of the birth of a wise man, but the proclamation of the presentness of the Nativity of Christ. On Christmas morning at Matins we joyously proclaim, “Christ is born, glorify Him! Christ is come from heaven, go and meet Him! Christ is on earth, arise to Him!” Together with the angels, the shepherds, and the magi, we are witnesses of the Incarnation of the Word, we are witnesses of the good news that God has not forgotten us and He has sent us a Savior. Christ is born in the soul of each of us, granting us that which is most precious on earth: faith and hope in the power of His redemption.

    This birth makes a claim on us now, it requires us to rise up and go and meet the Christ who is from the heavens. Our salvation in Christ is not a passive process, but an active one, with participation, dedication, sacrifice. Salvation is the gift of Christ, but it is accomplished through Christ. “Christ is the fulfillment of the true nature of man—the crown of creation—because in Him man is fully united with God,” says Father Dumitru Stăniloae.[3] Christ is the endpoint of our being raised up, but He is also the way and our help towards this endpoint: “In Christ the way has been opened for us toward the endpoint of full humanization and He is the way toward this, for He is the path toward communion with God as a community of persons… Through His Incarnation as man, Christ has made communion with Himself as God (or rather, with the entire Holy Trinity) accessible in the highest human form. Only Jesus Christ has given us the power to fully leave behind us the egoism of sin, the prison of the limits of (human) nature, and of the corruptibility which concludes in death.”[4]

    The fulfillment of salvation in Christ and through Christ is also revealed to us by Father Stăniloae in words that are profound and full of hope: “Man becomes through Jesus Christ the son of God and the brother of Jesus Christ-God. This is the highest dignity and state to which he is raised. But what else does this mean if not being raised up to the most intimate ‘I-Thou’ communion with God? He who remains in communion with God is eternal, for God cannot allow the one He loves so much that he receives him in communion with Himself, to perish…”[5]

    Beloved faithful,

    For many months the entire world has been overtaken by the fear of sickness and of death, by grave questions regarding the future of each one of us, of the family, of the community, and of the world. The Christian can find the answer to these questions witnessing the faith in the Incarnation of the Son of God for our salvation, and looking to Christ as the endpoint of our living. If we want to find answers that bring peace, we must turn to Christ, we must put our hope in Him, for He is the unchanging guidepost of our existence, He is the same “yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). St. Sophrony Sakharov, our contemporary, familiar with the problems of our world, assures us that only in Christ will we find answers: “Jesus Christ is the measure of all things divine and human… In Him we find the answer to all our problems, which without Him would be impossible to resolve. He is truly the mystical axis of the universe.”[6]

    With this exhortation, I pray that the One born in a manger will grant you health and increase in faith, steadfast hope, and spiritual peace, for He is our Savior! With a brotherly embrace in Christ the Lord, I wish you Joyous Holidays and Many Years!

    Your brother in prayer to God,

    † Metropolitan NICOLAE

    Chicago, The Feast of the Lord’s Nativity, 2020

     

    [1] Sf. Ioan Gură de Aur, Omilii la Matei, Omilia V, PSB 23, București, 1994, p. 68.

    [2] Sf. Nicolae Velimirovici, Predici, Editura Ileana, București, p. 24.

    [3] Preot Prof. Dr. Dumitru Stăniloae, Teologia Dogmatică Ortodoxă, vol. 2, București, 1997, p. 23.

    [4] Ibidem, p. 22.

    [5] Dumitru Stăniloae, Iisus Hristos sau restaurarea omului, Craiova, 1993, p. 90.

    [6] Arhim. Sofronie Saharov, Rugăciunea – experiența vieții veșnice, Ed. Deisis, Sibiu, 2007, p. 39.

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  • Pastoral Letter for the Lord’s Resurrection 2020

    † NICOLAE
    by the mercies of God
    Archbishop of the Romanian Archdiocese of the United States of America and
    Metropolitan of the Romanian Orthodox Metropolia of the Americas

    To the Beloved Clergy and Orthodox Christians of our Holy Archdiocese,
    peace and unwavering hope from Christ the Risen Lord,
    and from us Archpastoral Blessings.

    Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.
    And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works.

    (Hebrews 10:23-24)

    Most Reverend Fathers, Beloved Christians,
    Christ is risen!

    The message of the Lord’s Resurrection this year is completely different from other years, for we find ourselves, like the Myrrh-bearers and the Apostles, burdened by doubts and uncertainty due to the new epidemic that has spread through many parts of the world. Arriving at the Lord’s tomb early on Sunday morning, the Myrrh-bearers were met by an angel with the announcement, “I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified.  He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay” (Matt 28:5-6). The Apostles Peter and John ran to the tomb to discover the same reality of the empty tomb, giving rise to a multitude of questions. Just like them, many of us ask what has happened to the world, to Christians, where is the meaning of our life in this world dominated by panic and frightened at the possibility of illness and even death.

    We must immediately add that the bewilderment of the Myrrh-bearers and Apostles was dispelled by the news of the Lord’s Resurrection, confirmed by the appearances of the Risen Lord. This brings us to the subject of unwavering confession of hope, for He who promised is faithful.

    St. Peter the Apostle speaks about this hope in the Resurrection of Christ, the source of Christian life and the purpose of our earthly life: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Pet 1:3-5). Christ’s Resurrection has given us new birth into a living hope, says St. Peter, assuring us, like the Apostles and Myrrh-bearers, that from the empty tomb the destination of humanity has been changed into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. That revelation at the tomb is repeated with each of us as we receive the Mystery of Baptism and then partake of the outpouring of grace in the Mysteries of the Church. By being immersed in the baptismal water every one of us dies and is resurrected with Christ. We die to the old life of sin, of separation from God, and we rise to the new life, lived with God. Receiving this grace at baptism we through faith are shielded by God’s power [unto] salvation, again in the words of St. Peter. In the Mysteries we receive the love of God which is imparted to us as the fruit of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross and of the Resurrection. For in the name of all humanity Christ sacrificed Himself that He might regain the love of God. The offered Body was raised through the power of God, and this power and divine love are poured out upon us in every Holy Mystery of the Church, imparting to us the saving power of the Risen Christ.

    Having spoken of the living hope springing out of faith in God’s power, St. Peter addresses us who are undergoing the trials of these days: “In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Pet 1:6-7). Just as gold is tried in fire, our faith is tried through all kinds of trials… for a little while. As gold is refined of all impurities by fire and becomes more precious, our faith through testing is freed of every trace of doubt and becomes steadfast. The brilliance of gold is passing, but our steadfast faith is unto eternal glory. St. Peter’s words, written in Rome around the year 50 A.D. to the Christians who were undergoing persecutions and trials, speak of the steadfastness in faith that will be revealed and will result in praise at the Savior’s second coming. St. Peter’s words apply to every Christian who has received Baptism and believes in the Resurrection. These words of St. Peter are a source of illumination now for us who are asking who we are and where we are headed.

    Most Reverend Fathers, Beloved Faithful,

    Our doubt during these days can be healed by faith in God’s power and can bring us to unwavering confession of faith, for Christ is risen! St. Peter and the other Apostles were afraid and hid, but the Risen Christ entered through the closed doors, spoke peace to them, and sent them out to proclaim His Resurrection. St. Paul sought the Christ who was dead and hidden by the Apostles. On the Damascus Road he met the living Christ, the risen Christ. Proclaiming the Resurrection, we too confess that we have met the One who has conquered death, the One who has entered the chamber of our soul and granted us His peace. Proclaiming the Resurrection, we all receive the power to witness to our neighbors, for Christ has risen and we too will rise (cf. 1 Cor 15). Every doubt and every faltering in our faith are conquered by the message of the Lord’s Resurrection and our own. During these days we do not only proclaim our faith that we will rise at the Lord’s Second Coming, but we confess that we already live in a world that is renewed through the Resurrection, a world in which our faith and hope are being tested, that they may be unto glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Only this message can bring hope to our world that is so troubled with fear and doubt.

    I encourage all of you, clergy and faithful of our Archdiocese, to experience the Holy Feast of the Lord’s Resurrection with living hope, for Christ the Lord has conquered death and granted Resurrection to us. The One Who left the empty tomb and entered through locked doors now comes to every home and family and cannot be stopped by the isolation in which we now find ourselves. The One who conquered death now overcomes every restriction and comes down to bring peace in all our souls. I want you to rejoice and fear not, for He is risen! I encourage you, through word and deed, to bring light and hope to your loved ones and those who undergoing trials during these days. I embrace you in Christ the Risen Lord and I wish you health and hope!

    Truly He is risen!

    Your brother in prayer to God,
    † Metropolitan NICOLAE
    Chicago, The Feast of the Lord’s Resurrection, 2020

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