NEW YORK: January 2, 2009
Christmas Epistle of the First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia
Most Reverend brother Archpastors, Reverend Fathers, beloved brothers, sisters and children in Christ!
I address with heartfelt greetings the fullness of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia for the first time. For the new and lofty ministry which has been placed upon me I am in need of God's great mercy which completes that which is wanting. I ask for your prayers that the Lord will strengthen me in this new and responsible obedience.
During these holy days I congratulate you with the great feast of the Nativity of Christ from the distant city of Sydney, the cathedral see of the Australian and New Zealand Diocese. It is my prayer that we may all partake of that sublime and inalienable peace, of which the angels sang on that holy night above the town of Bethlehem, when "the Word became flesh" (John 1:14).
With the Nativity of Christ there comes also a new year. Time races by, year after year, day after day. It is not revealed to us what will come to pass with us in the course of a year. We know that all that transpires is for the good of a person. If one were to know beforehand what fortune lies in store for him, he would be in danger of becoming inactive; on the other hand, to know what inescapable sufferings are approaching us would be too difficult and unbearable. It is probably for this reason that the Lord conceals future events from us and teaches us in this way to have hope in His merciful Providence, faith and humility.
At the beginning of this past year Metropolitan Laurus, our Abba who was beloved by all, reposed in the Lord, while at the end of the year - our kind Great Lord and Father, His Holiness Patriarch Alexis of Moscow and All Russia. Both will go into history as unifiers who healed the church divisions within the Local Russian Church. We all know how easy it is to cause division, for which no special effort is needed; but to unite and help sinners to make peace demands patience, tremendous inner strength, a loving heart, magnanimity and immeasurable faith in God's mercy. Let us all honor their memory not only with ardent prayer, but also by actively following their example of service to God and to people.
With the repose of His Holiness, Patriarch Alexis, a Local Council of the Russian Orthodox Church is being convened in Moscow to deal with "church needs which have arisen" (Canon 20, Council of Antioch). Delegates from the Russian Church Abroad will take part in the election of a new Patriarch for the first time. For this reason we appeal to our delegates to address the matter of this election reverently and responsibly, for it is Christ Himself, the Head of the Church, Who beckons each of us to participate in the work of the Council.
May we all beseech the Lord with heartfelt prayer that the forthcoming Church Council will proceed in accordance with His salvific will which wisely directs all things towards good. May the participants of the Council become a vibrant power, able to bring joy to the hearts of all the faithful of the Russian Orthodox Church with the election of a new Patriarch.
Once again I greet you all with the saving and joy-filled feast of the Birth in the flesh of our Lord Jesus Church, the New Year and the approaching feast of the Lord's Baptism. I hope that you will spend these holy days in a radiant, pious and joyous manner. May the heart of each one of us become a manger for the Divine Christ Child to illumine with His grace, so that in our eyes and in our life people will be able to see reflected the light of the Star of Bethlehem, a light of hope for all of humanity.
I believe that celebrating the feast in this manner will be the best way to witness Orthodoxy to those around us who are not yet members of the Holy Church. I hope that in this radiant manner we will likewise approach the work of the Local Council.
Metropolitan Hilarion of Eastern America & New York,
First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church
Outside of Russia
Nativity of Christ, 2008/2009