Archpastoral Letter for the Nativity 2008
Prot. N. 189
Very Reverend and Reverend Fathers and dearly-beloved faithful of our God-saved Diocese:
CHRIST IS BORN! GLORIFY HIM!
"Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit and of the Virgin Mary and was made man."
The Fourth Article of the Nicaean-Constantinopolitan Creed
When we were little children, our parents and our Church School teachers were the first ones to instruct us in the mysteries of our Holy Faith. One of the initial words that we learned was "BoŽe," which, of course, means "GOD." Next we were taught where God lived. And if you ask almost any child today, hopefully his or her response will be, as was ours, "in heaven." This is one of the first lessons of the printed catechisms for our children. And we now knew the truth, that where God is, there is heaven. We did not know where heaven was, but we always looked upward towards the heavens when we said our prayers. We did not understand whether heaven was an actual physical place or a state of existence, nor did we have any theological understanding of this realm, but we knew that was where God dwelt!
So, "when the fullness of time came, God sent His Son (into the world), born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law," (Galatians 4:4 - 5), the Lord Almighty descended from heaven to earth. Logically, then, earth became heaven as well, since God was now residing here in the flesh. Our hymns give witness to this fact:
"Heaven and earth are united today, for Christ is born. Today, God has come upon earth, and man has gone up into heaven..."
"Jesus bowed the heaven and came down..."
"The Wise Men knew with assurance that You, the heavenly King, were born on earth..."
"You have come to dwell in a cave, O Christ our God..."
"Christ comes from heaven, meet Him. Christ is on earth, be exalted."
"The Creator, seeing man, Whom He had fashioned with His own hands, perishing, descends, bowing down the heaven...: "
"I behold a strange and wonderful mystery: the cave has become heaven..."
At every Vespers Service, the priestly prayer at the bowing of heads tells us quite clearly: "O Lord our God, You lowered the heavens when You came down for the salvation of the human race."
This theme is prevalent throughout the services of the Nativity of our Lord.
In the Old Testament, one of the most beautiful images of this concept is that of Jacob's Ladder. You may recall that Jacob was fleeing from his angry brother Esau, for he had tricked him into selling him his birthright, the privileges of the first-born. Jacob had even deceived his father Isaac into blessing this action.
Jacob's mother, Rachel, advised him to flee to Haran to the camp of his uncle Laban and to remain with him there for safety. While journeying there, one night Jacob lay down to sleep and was given a vision-dream from God; in it he saw a ladder set up, with its foot on the earth and its top touching heaven. On it angels of God were seen going up and down, and the Lord spoke to him, promising him that land as an inheritance! And God said: "This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven." (Genesis 28:17) In this, our Church Fathers and our Orthodox tradition see the foreshadowing of the coming of God the Son to the earth through the person of the Most Holy Theotokos, who is represented by that ladder.
Since heaven and earth are united this day, then what transpires in heaven, must certainly and necessarily also occur on earth.
IN HEAVEN, angels constantly praise and worship Almighty God singing "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts..." as Isaiah testifies (6:3); now ON EARTH, the angels sing their praises, "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will to men!" and worship the Infant Christ. They recognize their own Creator in each setting.
IN HEAVEN, God sits upon His throne; ON EARTH, He sits upon a new-styled throne, a manger, a food trough, within the cave.
Angels IN HEAVEN serve Him and do His bidding; now ON EARTH, they do the same, announcing His birth to a band of simple peasant shepherds, keeping watch over their flocks by night. They appear in visions to Joseph, instructing him in his duties to protect the Child and His Mother.
The majestic light of God's divinity fills the HEAVENLY REALM; now ON EARTH, an awesome new light, the Star of Bethlehem, pierces the dark sky to announce His birth. And the DIVINE LIGHT OF HEAVEN now glows amid the straw, and the beasts of burden of the EARTH.
God, the Law-giver of HEAVEN and EARTH, decreed in the Law of Moses the gifts that must rightly be presented to Him in His Temple: incense, the showbread, lambs and other animals; now in the humblest of settings, Wise men from the East, recognize that same Law-giver even though He is now veiled in the flesh as a little Child, and they bow down in adoration, presenting Him gifts suitable for God and their King: gold, frankincense, and myrrh, and the shepherds make their offerings of song and a lamb.
INDEED, EARTH HAS BECOME HEAVEN! For thirty-three years, heaven and earth were intimately united. And even though He has returned to His heavenly realm, His Presence is still among us. Of course, we see it in the majesty of creation that surrounds us, in the order of the universe, in the birth of a child, and so forth, but nowhere do we see Him more present than in His Holy House. This is where God dwells most intimately and concretely. This is where we need to run, not only on Christmas Day, but continually and at all times, to see Him, to be near to Him, and to be united with Him. And together with the Virgin Mary and Joseph, the angels, the shepherds, and the Magi, WE WILL SING His praises, SERVE Him, hearing and obeying His commandments, and OFFER Him the choicest gifts within our power, and PARTAKE of Him from the throne of the Chalice where He continues to dwell among us.
Beseeching peace, great joy, good health, and salvation for you and yours and imparting my archpastoral blessing upon each of you on this blessed and saving day, I remain
Sincerely yours in our newborn King,