The Serbian Orthodox Church to her spiritual children at Christmas, 2013
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!
“I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.
For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, Who is Christ the Lord”
(St. Luke 2:10-11)
With these words, dear brothers and sisters, our dear spiritual children, the angel of the Lord appears to shepherds in Bethlehem and delivers to them the great joy that Christ the Lord and Savior is born. Despite the great fear they felt because of the angel’s appearance among them, they were illuminated by the glory of the Lord. The angel also announces this same great joy of the all-joyous Feast of the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ to us who are gathered in the holy churches, in our homes, in the hospitals and other establishments, those who are on the roads and work places. Knowing this, instead of fear and wonder, let us rejoice and be glad, together with all the heavenly powers, and let us submit ourselves to the glory of the Lord! May it fill and completely overtake us all as once it did the shepherds in Bethlehem of Judea!
In our celebration of the God-Child Christ let us join the choirs of angels, archangels and all the holy heavenly powers who, then in Bethlehem, and today in our churches and unceasingly in heaven, glorify and exalt the God-Child Christ, Born of the Virgin, Who is the Incarnated Love of God; the Love which gives and sacrifices Itself for us and for our salvation! The birth of the Incarnated Love of God is the greatest and the most magnificent divine-human event. That is why Christmas is a feast of eternal and timeless joy.
How is it possible that God Himself, that is, the Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, takes on flesh, is born, and becomes man? This question brings us into a mystery before which all wise men of this world remain silent and astounded. Until that miraculous appearance of the angel in Bethlehem of Judea, who had ever heard that God had become incarnate, that he had been born as man? No one! Only the prophet in the Old Testament had prophesied: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and you shall call His name Emmanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14) The prophet only prophecies, but does not give answer to the question of why God has been incarnated, has been born and has become a man. In the words of the angel, we receive the answer. He proclaims: Christ the Lord was born for us and for our salvation. Just as God, out of love and love alone, has created everything, and has made man as the crown of everything created, in like manner, out of the same love, He is born from the Virgin to renew and regenerate His entire creation, and above all, us, with love. In approaching the mystery of the Birth of the Divine-Child Christ, the Holy Apostle Paul speaks about divine humility, “self-emptying”, kenosis. God, he writes, “humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even to death on a cross”. (Philippians 2:8) That is the expanse of the limitless and untouchable mystery of God’s love; love that co-suffers with the fallen Adam and Eve to the extent first of descending into Bethlehem’s cave and then into the depths of hell. That is the same God’s love which co-suffered with fallen humanity even as it dwelt in darkness and the shadow of death. Knowing this, Saint John the Theologian inspired by the Holy Spirit announces the glad tidings: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)
Today, as we celebrate the Nativity of the God-Man, the Lord Jesus Christ, above all let us forgive one another and let us say brother to brother: ‘Peace from God! Christ is born!’ Let us show that we can be and that we are people of God’s love, people who amid all the temptations of this age can be faithful and honorable. Besides bringing us great joy, Christ brings and gives us that Peace of God which He Himself is. That is why we begin the Christmas celebration with the greeting: ‘Peace from God! Christ is born!’ With this greeting we express our burning desire and our daily need that God’s peace enters into each one of us, but also amongst us, God’s children, His inheritance in this world, first as the Light of our life, the Light of the world, the Truth and the Way, and then all else.
In these joyous days of the feast of the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ, let us pay special attention to the commandment which God gave to the first man and the first woman in paradise by saying to them: “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it…”. (Genesis 1:28) In this exalted and holy commandment of God the preeminent meaning of the mystery of man as a God-like being is concisely contained – that is, to be a parent and steward of everything that God has created and has entrusted to his care.
Someone might ask, How is this possible? It is possible because each person is a living icon of God, created in the image of God, and God is the Creator, Father and Parent. The commandment to be fruitful and multiply is the first holy commandment given to mankind, because without being fruitful and multiplying there is no love neither towards God nor towards our neighbor. To be a parent is the greatest gift given to human beings. The spirit of our time in which we live and the “culture” which is being brutally imposed upon us are directed against the dignity of man as parent. As mature and honorable people, as people with holy ancestors and a holy history, let us with the power of our faith and love toward God and people resist this cruelty directed against our people! The best answer to all the unprecedented offers and demands of those who would spoil God’s and natural law is to do the will of God.
By the birth of the God-Child Christ of the Most Holy Virgin Theotokos, motherhood is blessed and in the most perfect way is sanctified. We put nothing above this exalted and holy gift! Let us not look for excuses and justifications for our egoistic comfort and indifference toward our salvation and the salvation of the world! Let us respect freedom and the rights of everybody, but let us also know that every misuse of our freedom as a consequence reaps sin, that is death. But we are not created for sin and death, but rather for virtue and eternal life.
In these joyous days we prayerfully remember the suffering of our crucified and oath-given Kosovo and Metohija, that cradle of our people’s soul and of our most noble feelings. We pray to the Divine-Child Christ that God’s will be done with our Kosovo and Metohija. The brothers Jugovic and the old Jug Bogdan defended Kosovo and Metohija from the Ottoman Turks in 1389, and the new Jugovici’s, the heroes born by the upright Serbian mothers who sacrificed and dedicated themselves in giving birth to sons and daughters for the holy Serbian Kosovo and Metohija for the honorable cross and the golden freedom, have made it free. Our Kosovo and Metohija are dreadful places of existence because the suffering there does not stop and the injustice there becomes greater from day to day. Unrest and violence rule Kosovo and Metohija. For decades and centuries now they have been stealing this province, the historic Old Serbia, from our hearts and our beings.
But, brothers and sisters, they are not succeeding in taking it away, for Kosovo and Metohija is more than territory. It is our covenant! We call God’s peace down upon Kosovo and Metohija, peace above all among our brothers Serbs, and peace among all people of good will! To our brothers and sisters in Kosovo and Metohija we send this message: know that you are not alone and not forgotten, with you is our entire Serbian nation as well as the entire justice-loving world, which is co-suffering and praying with you. Rejoice and be at peace, unity and love among yourselves and with all people! Above all, be in peace, unity and love with our saints and martyrs who with their spiritual struggle have glorified the Lord, and the Lord has glorified them with His glory and grace!
We wish a happy and blessed Christmas to our brothers and sisters in Dalmatia, Croatia, Slovenia and Lika, Kordun and Banija, who once again, as twenty some years ago, are experiencing persecution and suffering because of their name, alphabet and language. The entire freedom and justice-loving world stands in silence and is dumbfounded before the fact that the alphabet, in this case the Cyrillic alphabet of the Holy brothers Cyril and Methodius, is being persecuted. We are especially concerned with the fact that the question of the Cyrillic alphabet is being used as the screen for continued persecution of the Serbian people in Croatia, for the intimidation of Serbs, and the prevention of their return to their homesteads. We pray to the Divine-Child Christ that He with His divine love will fill the hearts and souls of those who harbor intolerance and even hatred towards all that is Serbian and Orthodox. A person or a nation without love – what are they? May love reign instead of hatred!
With special fatherly and pastoral love, we today prayerfully remember our brothers and sisters exiled from Kosovo and Metohija, from Dalmatia and the entire Krajina, Bosnia and Herzegovina, who for years now have celebrated Christmas stripped of their rights for a fair return of their property. The Divine-Child Christ was Himself in exile in Egypt, but when the time had been fulfilled and those who sought to destroy him died, He came back to His own country in Nazareth, the land of his fathers and forefathers. We pray to the Divine-Child Christ that He with his mercy and goodness return our persecuted ones to the land of their fathers and forefathers, and in doing so, that He wipes the tears from their faces and that He comforts them.
Likewise, today we prayerfully remember our brothers in suffering and martyrdom in Syria, Egypt, Iraq and other countries throughout the Middle East, who before the eyes of the entire world are being subjected to spiritual and biological genocide. They are our brothers from whom and through whom we have received spiritual culture and civilization. This Christmas, thousands of refugees are saddened and crying because of their lost children, parents, relatives and friends. Thousands of them are without roofs above their heads, freezing in cold and deplorable shelters and tents. Tens and hundreds of their churches and monasteries are desolate, burned and destroyed. Metropolitans and nuns, kidnapped and in captivity, fear under uncertainty whether they will be executed or kept alive. And all this has been done to them because of the name of Jesus, in Whom they believe and Whom they confess. The tragic picture of our brothers from the Middle East best witnesses how terrible and awful it is when hatred replaces love and faith. To fall is not as terrible as to remain in a fallen state, in deception, in fallacy, which is crowned by such hatred toward the True God and His servants.
We wish a virtuous and blessed Christmas to our imprisoned brother and concelebrant, Archbishop of Ochrid and Metropolitan of Skoplje Jovan, and all his persecuted and suffering Orthodox Church in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. The government there holds him imprisoned unjustly, and they prohibit freedom of faith and conscience to his faithful flock because they have decided for the unity of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. That ethno-phyletistic schism is the biggest tragedy of our Church in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Unfortunately, schismatics have placed politics and ethno-phyletism above the unity of the Church. We appeal to the government of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to immediately and without delay release our father, brother and concelebrant the Archbishop of Ochrid and Metropolitan of Skoplje Jovan, and to afford full rights and freedom as guaranteed by law to God’s Church, the Archdiocese of Ochrid. We also appeal to the international community, who before their very eyes see how basic human and religious rights are being violated in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, that they take the measures necessary to prevent further discrimination against the Church and her people.
We likewise are saddened by and protest against the continuous attacks of the regime in Montenegro on the identity, status and freedom of the Serbian Orthodox Church, and by their attempts to interfere with her internal life and canonical order. We publicly ask those ideologues, self-proclaimed autocephalists, otherwise mainly atheists, why in the spirit of their own version of a democratic and secularist society they do not have the courage to publicly ask for the same reorganization of the Roman Catholic Church and that its seat be in Montenegro and not in the Vatican, as they ask for the Orthodox Church.
To all of you, dear brothers and sisters, our spiritual children, to you in the Fatherland and to you dispersed throughout the world, we wish a happy and blessed Christmas. Even though in some cases we are separated by thousands of miles, today, however, Christ God brings us all together around Himself to glorify Him; that we as brothers and sisters, as God’s People, may gather around Him receiving spiritual nourishment. Today we are closer to one another because we are close to Christ the Lord, because we are all one great family of St. Sava at the spiritual banquet of Divine Infant Christ Who even now, as before, proclaims: be one as the Father and I are one!
No one has the right to endanger or to bring into question the unity of our people, the unity of our Church of St. Sava. All those who, for their own personal incentives and interests, because of their own pride and vanity, would tear at the fabric of our Holy Church, need to know that sooner or later, they will be met by God’s justice. We call all to spiritual attentiveness and wisdom. That is the most necessary, because all around us and among us are those who wish to see us torn apart and disunited. Our Church of St. Sava is and remains the lasting guarantor and foundation of our spiritual, ecclesiastical and national unity. Only in the Church and through the Church are we with Christ the Lord and in Christ the Lord. He who has separated himself from the Church has separated himself from Christ the Lord. Let us all, therefore, remain faithful to the Lord, who was Born for us, in the unity of His Church!
PEACE FROM GOD – CHRIST IS BORN!
INDEED HE IS BORN!
Given at the Serbian Patriarchate in Belgrade at Christmas, 2013.
Your intercessors before the cradle of the divine Christ-Child:
Archbishop of Pec,
Metropolitan of Belgrade-Karlovci and
Serbian Patriarch IRINEJ
Metropolitan of Zagreb and Ljubljana JOVAN
Metropolitan of Montenegro and the Coastlands AMPHILOHIJE
Metropolitan of Dabro-Bosna NIKOLAJ
Bishop of Sabac LAVRENTIJE
Bishop of Srem VASILIJE
Bishop of Banja Luka JEFREM
Bishop of Budim LUKIJAN
Bishop of Canada GEORGIJE
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 Timok JUSTIN
Bishop of Vranje PAHOMIJE
Bishop of Sumadija JOVAN
Bishop of Branicevo IGNATIJE
Bishop of Milesevo FILARET
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
Retired Bishop of Zvornik-Tuzla VASILIJE
Retired Bishop of Zahumlje and Hercegovina ATANASIJE
Retired Bishop of Central Europe CONSTANTINE
Retired Bishop of Slavonia SAVA
Vicar Bishop of Jegar PORFIRIJE
Vicar Bishop of Moravica ANTONIJE
Vicar Bishop of Lipljan JOVAN
Vicar Bishop of Remezijan ANDREJ
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