Beloved in the Lord Archpastors, Reverend Presbyters and Deacons, God-loving Monastics, Dear Brothers and Sisters!
On this bright day of the great feast of the Nativity of Christ, I send my heartfelt greetings to you.
For over two thousand years, Christians throughout the world turn their thoughts with joy and hope to the event that became a turning point in the history of mankind. Our system of counting years commences from the Nativity, and is the chronology of the Christian era, which in and of itself bears witness to the unique significance of the advent of Christ the Savior.
The cave in Bethlehem where animals would find shelter from the cold winter nights, was a symbol of the world, which had moved away from its Creator and had come to endure the sorrow and darkness of the abandonment of God. Yet the radiant night of the Nativity illuminated not only the cave which gave shelter to the Most-Pure Virgin Mary, but all of creation, for the birth of the Son of God “lighteth every man that cometh into the world,” as Evangelist John witnesses (John 1:9).
One might ask: what does the true Light mean? We find the answer to this question in the same Gospel passage from St John. The true Light is the Lord Himself, the Divine Word, “Which was made flesh, and dwelt among us… full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
Through the Birth of the Savior, people gained the possibility of obtaining grace and Truth (John 1:17). Grace is Divine power given by God to mankind for salvation. It is with this power that mankind defeats sin. Without grace evil cannot be defeated, nor all that which darkens our lives.
Truth is the fundamental value of existence. If the foundation of life were untruth, error, then life would not exist. Of course, the external life of a wayward person might seem fully satisfactory. But this does not mean that error is without consequence: sooner or later it will manifest itself, including the tragedy of the fates of men.
The true Light is Divine light, Divine truth. It is unchanging and eternal and does not depend upon whether we accept it or not. When man accepts Divine truth, it will determine first of all the character of his relationship with others, the ability, in the words of the Apostle, to “bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2), that is, to display solidarity with ones neighbor, to participate in their joys and sorrows. “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:35), says the Lord. Yet these eternal Divine truths, which are the only ones that are able to transform our lives, are today no longer considered ideals. They are persistently pushed out of the consciousness of contemporary mankind by the propaganda of moral irresponsibility, of egotism, consumerism, the denial that sin is the main problem facing mankind.
It is precisely the substitution of genuine values with false ones that explains the growing so-called “human factor” in tragic events that destroys lives by the hundreds. This explains the crises which on a global scale shake the foundations of economics, politics, society, of family life, inter-generational relationships and much more.
The meaning of the celebration of the Nativity of Christ is that it draws the Savior closer to us, it helps us see His Face more clearly, to absorb His good news. The Lord again and again is mysteriously born for us in the depths of our souls, so that we “might have life, and… might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). The event of that Bethlehem night enters contemporary life, helping us to see it in a new, sometimes uncommon and unexpected way. That which has seemed to us most important and enormous, suddenly becomes insignificant and fleeting, making way for the grandeur and beauty of eternal Divine truth.
The words of the Savior resound with special power today: “I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20). These words give us hope, founded on firm conviction, that no matter what temptations faced us in this world, the Lord would not abandon His legacy.
Over this last year, the life of our Church was marked by many important events. Gathering in Moscow, at Christ the Savior Cathedral, the Local Council elected a successor to His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II following his repose. Strengthened by prayer and the support of the episcopacy, clergy and multitudinous flock, with trust in the will of God, I accepted the lot of the Patriarchal service that fell to me. While performing divine services in Moscow, in other Russian dioceses, and also in Ukraine and Azerbaijan, I experienced the joy of prayerful communion with our pious Orthodox people, with the young and the old, with people of middle age and with children. Everywhere I saw the bright faces of people expressing their profound faith. This for me has become the greatest spiritual experience and a visible witness of the unity of Holy Russia, which through the faith of its multi-national people overcomes social, material, generational, ethnic and other boundaries, preserving within the conditions of today’s political realities their spiritual unity.
This unity is strengthened by a unified Church, in which, through Divine grace, all that is temporary and fleeting is overcome. Here, before the gaze of mankind, stands the true greatness of enduring values. This is why Divine truth must serve as the main point of orientation for all human endeavor, development and progress.
It is joyous to see how many more of our contemporaries are beginning to return to their spiritual wellsprings, to value their religious and cultural tradition. And today, the celebration of this feast is shared by those believers who are firmly rooted in Orthodoxy, but those, too, who are only on the path to recovering the salvific faith, and maybe are entering the doors of the church for the first time, their hearts responding to the call of the Gospel.
I prayerfully wish you, Most Reverend Bishops, Reverend Fathers, dear brothers and sisters, abundant mercies from the God-Child Christ born in Bethlehem, that by the grace of God your joys would multiply, your ailments would heal and sorrows be consoled. May the light of the star of Bethlehem be a beacon for each one of us, and may the Lord bless the labors in the harvest-fields of establishing the life of the Church, the state in which we live, and our societies, and may we all be granted unwavering presence in the Truth of the Gospel.