Orthodox America

   God Is With Us

Nativity Epistle of the Chief Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia

I greet you with the Nativity of Christ and the New Year!


Our Lord Jesus Christ was born as a man and is incarnate as God.  How human nature and divine nature can be combined remains to this day a great mystery for the scholastic, logical and philosophical mind of fallen man.   In the akathist hymn to the Mother of God, this mystery is set forth as follows: “Rejoice, height hard to climb for human thoughts; Rejoice, depth hard to contemplate even for the eyes of angels!”  And when the Mother of God, in her reverent bewilderment, asks the Archangel Gabriel, “How can this be, seeing that I know not a man?” the Archangel answers with fear, “crying out thus: Rejoice, initiate of God’s ineffable will.”  And we may be permitted to say, “Rejoice, O ineffable initiate of the mystery of the Counsel of the All-holy Trinity!”

Thus we stand before the mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God. Yet the moral power of this dogma radiates upon us in a real and sensible way in the grace of this Feast.  In all the divine words in our liturgical books concerning the Nativity of Christ, the grace of the Holy Spirit breathes forth. We chant and read the words of the troparion, the kontakion, the stichera of this feast, yet, unfortunately, we merely skim mentally over the surface of these divinely inspired words, without touching their depths where the fire of God’s grace is concealed.  And here again we are confronted by the most important goal of our entire spiritual life-the necessity of asking the Lord for the gift of heartfelt prayer.  We constantly repeat this and never cease to speak, write and very nearly cry out for this.  The human mind alone cannot penetrate to the mystery of the Word of God: this is not given to it.   To the mind is bestowed the power to understand, but not to sense.  Only prayer of the heart, with the help of God, can make the grace of each feast accessible to us: it animates, enlivens, purifies us, and fill us with joy and gladness.  This is the real reason why many chant and read on cliros, yet live like unbelievers.  Their hearts are asleep, they do not truly participate in either the singing or reading; this is a genuine tragedy for many Orthodox Christians. The history of the Church during this passing century reveals that several inveterate persecutors of the Church were former seminarians.  May the newborn Lord, through the supplications of the Theotokos, help us to remain pure and faithful to Him.   Let us again recall how the Orthodox Church hymns and glorifies the Mother of God in the akathist hymn:

“Rejoice, for thou bearest Him Who bearest all!”  Let us delve into the meaning of these simple words: The Mother of God, our Mother, bears in her own all-pure arms the Almighty God Who has created out of nothing everything visible and invisible, by His word alone.  Could she, as our Mother, fail to entreat our Saviour and hers, to bestow upon us the holy gift of prayer of the heart, that precious key to the mystical union of our soul with the grace of the Holy Spirit?  This is the gift that I desire for you all, for with it our spiritual rebirth begins.  Amen.

Metropolitan Vitaly
Nativity of Christ, 1992

Christ is Born!  Glorify Him!

Nearly two thousand years ago, Saint John the Baptist stood on the shores of the river Jordan and pointed to Christ, walking in the distance: Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.  On the faces of some of those present, a righteous awe reflected a strong belief in the Saviour, Whom they recognized as their King and Master, and these simple, honest-hearted people bowed down to Him as the Son of God.  Others wavered, unsure whether the Man approaching the river Jordan was truly the Son of God.   Still a third category of people-the proud scribes of Israel-were convinced that this Man was but a mere impostor.  Nearly two thousand years ago, Christ the Saviour stood on the shores of the river Jordan, radiant with Heaven’s light: Come unto Me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

Twenty centuries have passed, and our holy Mother Church heralds yet again the unprecedented Nativity of our Lord and Saviour: “Christ is born, give ye glory.   Christ comes from Heaven, meet ye Him. Christ is on Earth, be ye exalted.” In a world shaken by military storms we hear the heavenly and touching hymn of the angelic hosts: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

Let us reflect: the Holy Church now calls us to enjoy this Feast of our faith, to renew ourselves in the spirit, to be illuminated with triumph...  But do we truly comprehend the joy of Christ’s birth?   The meaning of the Feast lies not in its external radiance, but in the spiritual joy of communion with the higher world.  And this is achieved through purity of heart.  My son, give me thy heart.  The pure in heart-those who cleanse their hearts of falsehood and sin-shall see God.  As Christ approaches, as the memory of His Nativity is renewed, we all must prepare a place in our hearts for the King of kings.  During these feast days, let us with repentance and prayer cleanse our hearts of all earthly idols, not forgetting to perform works of charity, for our faith in Christ shall be dead unless it be exercised in good deeds.

In the canticles and readings of the day of the Lord’s Nativity, we hear about God descending to earth that we might ascend to Heaven.  During these holy days it behooves us all to avoid excessive merriment, and instead to offer more prayers of gratitude to God, Who sent His only-begotten Son into the world for the salvation of our very own souls.  Glorify the newborn Christ, meet the coming Christ our Eternal God, and the Almighty, Who is directing our lives, shall lead us on the road to goodness everlasting and full of joy.

God is with us; understand this all ye nations, for God is with us!

+ Kyrill, Bishop of Seattle
Nativity of Christ, 1992