Patriarchal Nativity Encyclical 2015
The Serbian Orthodox Church
to her spiritual children at Christmas, 2015
By the Grace of God
Orthodox Archbishop of Pec, Metropolitan of Belgrade Karlovci and Serbian Patriarch, with all the Hierarchs of the Serbian Orthodox Church to all the clergy, monastics, and all the sons and daughters of our Holy Church: grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, with the joyous Christmas greeting:
Peace from God! Christ is Born!
“Sing to the Lord; bless His name;
Proclaim His salvation from day to day;
Declare His glory among the Gentiles,
His wonders among all peoples.”
(Psalm 95 (96): 2-3)
With these words, dear brothers and sisters in Christ the Lord and our dear spiritual children, King David calls us to this Feast Day and to this festive celebration which the Lord Himself has prepared with His Birth from the Most Holy Virgin Mary in the Bethlehem cave. Two thousand years ago, the Most Holy Virgin Mary, together with the righteous Joseph, came to Bethlehem of Judea to be registered. Joseph’s registering among his brothers and his kinsman served in the economy of salvation and in fulfilling the prophecy told by prophet Micah: “And you, O Bethlehem, House of Ephratha, though you are fewest in number among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to me the One to be ruler of Israel. His goings forth were from the beginning, even from everlasting.” (Micah 5:1)
Today this prophecy is fulfilled. For behold, the Most Holy Virgin gives birth in Bethlehem of Judea to Him “whose goings forth are immemorial, from eternity,” God the Word (the Logos), Who in a mysterious way became incarnate from the Most Holy Virgin Mary and was born in the City of David. Seeing this—until then—unseen miracle, the angels in heaven trembled; the heavens with the star in the East and the earth with the cave in Bethlehem did the same! And we, as king David said, let us sing today to the Lord our God, let us bless His Name, always and unceasingly to all around us, let us proclaim His Salvation to all nations which are with us and around us, let us make known His glory and His marvelous miracles, His glory with which no glory of this world can compare, and His wonderful miracles which human eye has not seen and human mind cannot explain!
The birth of the Lord Jesus Christ is a historic event, which brought joy to heaven and earth, but at the same time also disturbed many in Israel and the Roman Empire. Angels and shepherds glorified Him in Bethlehem; the wise men from the East—following the guiding star—traveled toward Jerusalem, and Herod and the entire court in Jerusalem were frightened when they heard from the wise men the question: “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?” (Matthew 2:2) Earth and heaven rejoiced in their Savior, and Herod and all of Jerusalem were frightened of their righteous Judge. God the Word (the Logos) —the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity, the pre-eternal Son of God—is incarnated and is born in time as the God-Man Jesus Christ to save man: His icon, His living image! That is the essence and the meaning of this historic event and feast day. But this feast day also carries within itself another message that pertains to mankind, and that is the message of how great, exalted and allotted mankind is, a message about why God Himself deigned to be born in the cave at Bethlehem. On the other hand, this feast day testifies about the limitless love of God towards mankind and the world. God, dear brothers and sisters, and our dear spiritual children, never forsakes nor casts away man—His icon—nor this world, which He all-wisely created; He does not leave it without His mercy and His goodness. He always holds it in the palm of His hand because He is the Lord Almighty; He renews it and saves it because He is the Savior. That is the greatest and the most exalted message not only of this Christmas feast day, but also of all the salvific feasts of our Lord.
Already in the Old Testament the great and holy prophet Isaiah speaks about Immanuel’s birth—that is the birth of Him whose name means God is with us. “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and you shall call His name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14), said the prophet, and behold, it is as if he himself is a witness of this mysterious event, adding: “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. His name will be called the Angel of Great Counsel.” (Isaiah 9:5) The birth of every child is, by itself, a great joy, but how great a joy should be ours because of the Birth of the God-Child Immanuel, Jesus Christ, Who is truly Wonderful, God Almighty, and the Prince of peace! Knowing this, dear spiritual children, we rejoice and are elated today, as the angels in heaven were joyous and elated, and with them the shepherds in Bethlehem, singing: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men” (Luke 2:14), because God is with us!
Today, more than ever before, peace and good will among people and nations is needed! Peace on earth, and good will among people, are the eternal cry of heaven and earth. “What peace, what good will, and among what people?” someone might ask, and we—in the spirit of the Gospel—answer: “Christmas Peace,” which was born in Bethlehem in Judea—the New-born God-Child Jesus Christ. He is the Peace of God among us. Let us recognize Him, let us receive Him, and may He become our Peace in this turbulent world! Good will among people has to be the result of that divine Peace. This lack of good will in the world, and even among us Christians, is an indicator that God’s peace is lacking in us. In order for us to have peace among ourselves, let us first establish a personal peace with our own God—our God! Let us make peace with Him through repentance, and like Peter cry: “Lord, help us! We are perishing!” Then we will easily, as God’s children, as God’s People, and as brothers and sisters, establish good will and peace among ourselves.
What do we see in the modern world? We see that people and nations have far removed themselves from God, and not only from God, but also from each other, because the former and the latter go together. We see that the all-saving Name of God and God Himself is being used in profanity more than He is being glorified and called on for help. We see that the biggest sin, the sin of killing people and entire human communities, is committed daily, oftentimes in the name of God. This, for normal rational minds, is incomprehensible. We ask: is it possible that someone with God’s name on his lips can kill innocent children, women, captives, and refugees? In the name of which and what kind of god does he do this? In the name of which and what kind of religion does he do this? Because of this pseudo-religious perversion we lack peace and have fear in the world, and this is nothing else but the fruit of the active godlessness of pseudo-religious people. Dear brothers and sisters, our dear spiritual children, we call on you in the name of God, in the name of the New-born Christ the Lord, to safeguard yourselves and our nation from all-annihilating blasphemies against God and against sins crying to the heavens. If the Lord has come to save every person, to renew his innate calling and to give him life eternal, then can anyone dare to take from anyone this divine gift of life, be it in his mother’s womb or here on earth?
Without true peace with God it is impossible to have peace with our brothers, it is impossible to have good will among people and nations. Knowing this, dear brothers and sisters, our dear spiritual children, we call upon you to make peace with our God. Let us cry to Him as the lost prodigal son in the Gospel story, and He will receive us with His open arms!
Instead of good will and love among people and nations, we are witnessing a planet-wide expansion of egotism, envy, antagonism, and the growth of vice, which causes worry, fear and anxiety about the future of this world. Let us pray to the Divine-Child Christ that He will grant wisdom and goodness, love and peace to those who lead their people and to the entire world, so that this world can be brought out of this deepest moral and existential crisis!
In this festive joy we greet you all, our spiritual children and brothers and sisters of St. Sava throughout the world, in our fatherland and those abroad. We greet you and call upon you to make peace with our God and among ourselves and let us be children of God and the Nation of God! Let us have and show good will among ourselves and towards all people around us! Through this good will among people let us be a light to the world and salt to the earth! Let us live holy and decent lives and let us fulfill the oath of our fathers by which they pledged us for the Kingdom of heaven!
We especially greet our brothers and sisters in our martyred Kosovo and Metohija—our spiritual cradle. We pray to the God-Child Christ that He will spiritually and divinely—as He did the prophet Daniel and the holy youths in Babylon—encourage and confirm them in their determination to be and to remain faithful to the oath of our holy ancestors. We appeal to all those persecuted and those in exile from this, our holy Serbian land, as well as all those persecuted and in exile from their centuries old homesteads in Dalmatia, Lika, Slavonija, Baranja, Banija and Kordun—as well as other regions of Bosnia and Herzegovina—to do everything in their power to return to their centuries old homesteads, to rebuild them, and to advance and safeguard them for future generation.
It would be sinful to mention only those who are distressed, suffering, and persecuted among our Serbian people without also mentioning those who are distressed, suffering, and persecuted from other nations and countries—regardless of their faith—but especially our brothers and sisters in the Near and Middle East, in the Ukraine and in Africa, especially during these holy and grace filled days when we celebrate the birth of the greatest Sufferer and Persecuted One in history, the God-Man Jesus Christ, Victor over evil, death, and Satan. Let us remember them in our prayers and let us help them in deed when we can, and however much we can!
Regardless of where we live and work—in our homeland or abroad—our dear spiritual children, we are one Christian, Orthodox people of St. Sava, who have in a special and unique way formed Christmas and the Christmas ethos. Christmas is in our hearts and our souls. In celebrating Christmas with joy and peace, with everything and everyone, we learn to live in holiness and the fear of God. With the greeting “Peace from God – Christ is Born,” and with the reply “Indeed He is Born” we are formed as people of God’s peace and good will. That is our great spiritual wealth. Let us multiply it through correct and holy glorification of this great spiritual feast day! Christmas has taught us in everything that is holy, noble, and pleasing to our dear Lord. Knowing this, once more we call you to safeguard the unity of our Faith and the Church of St. Sava, and the holiness of this Christmas feast as the apple of our eye! Let us not allow anyone to divide us on any basis! The Serbian Orthodox Church was, is, and will be, a guarantor of our spiritual and national unity. In that name we greet you with the joyous Christmas greeting:
PEACE FROM GOD – CHRIST IS BORN!
INDEED HE IS BORN!
A BLESSED NEW YEAR OF OUR LORD 2016!
Given at the Serbian Patriarchate in Belgrade at Christmas, 2015.
Your intercessors before the cradle of the divine Christ-Child:
Archbishop of Pec,
Metropolitan of Belgrade-Karlovci and
Serbian Patriarch IRINEJ
Metropolitan of Montenegro and the Coastlands AMPHILOHIJE
Metropolitan of Zagreb and Ljubljana PORFIRIJE
Bishop of Sabac LAVRENTIJE
Bishop of Srem VASILIJE
Bishop of Banja Luka JEFREM
Bishop of Budim LUKIJAN
Bishop of Banat NIKANOR
Bishop of New Gracanica-Midwestern America LONGIN
Bishop of Eastern America MITROPHAN
Bishop of Backa IRINEJ
Bishop of Great Britain and Scandinavia DOSITEJ
Bishop of Zvornik-Tuzla CHRYSOSTOM
Bishop of Osijek and Baranja LUKIJAN
Bishop of Western Europe LUKA
Bishop of Zicha JUSTIN
Bishop of Vranje PAHOMIJE
Bishop of Sumadija JOVAN
Bishop of Branicevo IGNATIJE
Bishop of Dalmatia FOTIJE
Bishop of Bihac and Petrovac ATANASIJE
Bishop of Budimlje and Niksic JOANIKIJE
Bishop of Zahumlje and Hercegovina GRIGORIJE
Bishop of Valjevo MILUTIN
Bishop of Ras and Prizren TEODOSIJE
Bishop of Nis JOVAN
Bishop of Western America MAXIM
Bishop of Gornji Karlovac GERASIM
Bishop of Australia and New Zealand IRINEJ
Bishop of Krusevac DAVID
Bishop of Slavonia JOVAN
Bishop of Austria and Switzerland ANDREJ
Bishop of Central Europe SERGIJE
Bishop of Timok ILARION
Retired Bishop of Zvornik-Tuzla VASILIJE
Retired Bishop of Canada GEORGIJE
Retired Bishop of Zahumlje and Hercegovina ATANASIJE
Retired Bishop of Central Europe CONSTANTINE
Retired Bishop of Slavonia SAVA
Retired Bishop of Mileseva FILARET
Vicar Bishop of Moravica ANTONIJE
Vicar Bishop of Toplica ARSENIJE
Vicar Bishop of Jegar JERONIM
THE ORTHODOX ARCHDIOCESE OF OCHRID:
Archbishop of Ochrid and Metropolitan of Skoplje JOVAN
Bishop of Polos and Kumanovo JOAKIM
Bishop of Bregal MARKO
Vicar Bishop of Stobija DAVID
[Path of Orthodoxy translation]