Nativity Epistle of Archbishop Vitaly (Maximenko, +1960) of North America and Jersey City
Christ is Born, Glorify Him!
We express heartfelt greetings to our flock, who are dear to us in Christ, and to all Orthodox Russians, on this Bright Feast of the Nativity of Christ, and we prayerfully wish you health, well-being, joy for the Born Savior and salvation for your souls.
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
Yet many people, beholding world turmoil and crises, ask: what is there to be happy about, where is this world heralded by the angels? Where is this good will toward men?
The answer is not in human but in Divine Words.
Yes, today, it is proper even for the most unfortunate, the most downtrodden, to rejoice, for when man has lost all faith in human justice and have fallen into despair, the Divine Truth was born in time. He was born Who was described as being in the Order of Melchisedek, “King of Righteousness” (Hebrews 7:2), the “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6), Who bears witness of Himself “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).
The whole world, all peoples, thirst for this ancient truth. And when it was Incarnated in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ, all people of good will rejoiced together with the Angels, and all those of ill will were perturbed together with Herod. How eloquent is this picture painted through the words of this festive song!
“When the Lord Jesus was born of the Virgin, the whole creation lit up (the meaning of life was revealed). Behold: shepherds keep watch, the Magi adore, angels sing hymns of praise, and Herod trembles, for the Savior of our souls has appeared in the flesh” (Second sticheron at “Lord I have cried”).
Throughout the age-old struggle between good and evil, Jesus Christ was born to the joy of all who fight for Truth and Goodness, as their Leader and Savior, and to the horror of the wicked, as the Victor over evil and death.
Simeon the God-received so defined the purpose of Christ’s appearance on earth, having waited impatiently for many years to see the “desire of the peoples,” “this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be spoken against” (Luke 2:34).
Christ Himself bears witness of this very purpose of His coming to earth: “I am come to send fire on the earth; and what will I, if it be already kindled? But I have a baptism to be baptized with and how am I straitened till it be accomplished! Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division” (Luke 12:49-51). This is spoken by the One Who was born in the Bethlehem manger, to Whom the Angels sang “Glory to God in the highest, peace on earth.”
Indeed, this path of struggle against the evils and injustices of the world, this path of preaching in word and deed of humility, meekness, love, selflessness he embarked upon from His birth in the manger, when Herod persecuted Him and slew the children of Bethlehem, even until Golgotha, His Passions and Crucifixion, when Pilate asked cynically “What is truth?” (John 18:38).
The Lord, having desired this with His entire soul, ignited a fire on earth (may it not burn out in our souls), and was baptized with the baptism that brings us salvation, and through His three-day Resurrection from the dead, displayed victory of good over the evil of this world, the triumph of truth over untruth.
He willed that His disciples and followers also, each of them taking up their cross, followed Him upon the path of struggle, spiritual labor and bearing of the cross, and before His sufferings, left to them a legacy of peace, not earthly peace, but His own grace-filled peace, which the Angels sang upon His birth: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you” (John 14:27).
The Lord in His Birth showed the “light of wisdom” of bearing ones lifelong cross mandatory for every believing mortal, revealing His own Cross as one of obedience to the will of the Heavenly Father, the Cross of victory over sin and evil.
The believer senses, as he takes up his own cross according to Christ’s commandment, that in life’s earthly battle he is not alone, that his Leader and Helper is the Victor over evil and death, Who will not only support us on earth, but will prepare for the faithful eternal abodes in the house of His Heavenly Father.
This is why the first Christians, even under persecution and torture, possessing within themselves Christ’s peace, rejoiced and glorified Him Who was born in the lowly manger for our sakes. (In Nicomedia, 20,000 martyrs boldly received martyrdom as though they were enjoying a marriage feast; their memory is marked on the fourth day of Christmas, 28 December).
That is why all you Christians of good conscience, no matter how difficult your earthly lives might be, no matter the injustices and need you endure, rejoice together with the shepherds, angels and Magi: the peace of Christ praised on the day of the Birth of Christ and left to His disciples is now with you.
“And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful” (Colossians 3:15).
And those of you who are wicked: no matter what earthly goods and pleasures you enjoy now, tremble and fear together with Herod and Pilate.
God is with us, Understand this you nations. And submit, for God is with us. “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11).
+ Archbishop Vitaly.