NEW YORK: January 5, 2011
The Nativity Epistle of His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion of Eastern America and New York, First Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad
To the archpastors and brethren, the most honorable fathers,
& all the Orthodox children of the Russian Diaspora,
beloved in the Lord!
Seeing man perishing, whom He had created
with His own hands, the Creator, bowing
down the heavens, descendeth, and taketh on
the whole of human nature through the pure
Virgin, becoming truly incarnate, in that He
(Canon I of Christmas Matins, Ode I,
troparion 2, composed by St. Cosmas of Maiuma)
With these words of the Nativity Canon, so great in their profundity, we glorify Christ the Savior Who has now been born of the Virgin. Profound and substantial are the divine services in honor of this great feast, the Nativity of Christ. The words of its hymns and prayers are imbued with the glad tidings of the redemption of the human race, of the incomprehensible and glorious event of the divine Incarnation, which is revealed as the Savior's great loving-kindness toward us sinners!
Christ is now born of the Virgin, so that, having taken upon Himself human nature, He might bring an end to the cruel power of the tormenter of souls, the devil; for only a God Who had become man could deliver us from it. The Master of creation, Whom the angels and the whole world He created obey, lies humbly, wrapped in swaddling clothes, and forgives our offenses, calling us all to a life renewed!
By their fall into sin, Adam and Eve themselves showed their moral bankruptcy, their imperfection. Their idea of becoming gods, equal to the Trinity yet without Its participation, was naive. This audacious plan led the first man and woman into iniquity, into sin, that is to death. And thus did things continue in subsequent ages: as soon as men began to imagine themselves the equals of God, exalting themselves higher than the heavens in their pride, plunging themselves into the depths of the passions, they perished, forgetting their Creator.
And so, desiring that His creation not be destroyed, He of Whom the prophets prophesied, of Whose coming it was said in the Scriptures: "Behold, a Virgin shall conceive in her womb, and bear a Son, and shall call His name Emmanuel, which meaneth: God with us," cometh into a world sunk in the darkness of ignorance and spiritually barren. Light appears in the world—Jesus Christ, the God-man—, offering His people a new way of life, following which they will enter into union with God, into communion with Him. The Lord Himself bids us become His children, to have as close a fellowship with Him as human nature is capable of achieving.
Today, the Church invites us to rejoice and sing: "Christ is born! Give ye glory! Christ cometh from heaven!! Greet ye Him!" Let us then glorify Christ our God, Who descended to earth so as to elevate us, delivering us from sinful death! Everything is now full of great joy, for Christ gives us peace—between man and God, and man and his own conscience: "…and on earth peace among men of good will."
We must accept this peace of Christ, so full of love, foreign to falsehood and the other lusts! It is essential that all of us Christians remember that the Lord was born to redeem the sins of all humanity, and for this reason we must love our neighbor, striving to show in deed that we are disciples of Christ! Abiding in the bosom of the Holy Church of Christ, we will learn to live as Christ God, Who is now born, has commanded us.
Let us not admit into our souls even the hint of sin and impiety; let us not allow ourselves to be captivated by the dubious and vain things of this world which lead us away from the principal aim of our earthly life—to unite ourselves with God!
I also wish to draw your attention, dear brethren and sisters, to the fact that for us, the faithful children of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, it is particularly important in the fulfilling of the commandments of the Lord to express our obedience also to the old Russian ideals and traditions that our Church has followed throughout the course of its difficult ninety-year sojourn beyond the boundaries of our homeland. Marking the ninetieth anniversary of the day of the founding of the Church Abroad, which, though independent, was always conscious of itself as an integral part of the local Church of Russia, we, its faithful children, must not only remember, but must also show a living interest in the history of that vast legacy of Russian religious and social thought, which has been preserved thanks to the faithful Russian sons of the Fatherland. Our glorious First Hierarchs—such as Metropolitan Antony (Khrapovitsky), the greatest religious activist of the Russian Orthodox Church and of worldwide Orthodoxy—played a major role in formulating patriotic self-awareness among the Russian emigres. This glorious representative of the Russian land, the seventieth anniversary of whose repose we will mark next year, was not only a brilliant theologian, but also the mightiest ideologue of the Russian Diaspora. Seeing his zealous struggle of service to the homeland and the Church, many who were in despair amid the most grievous circumstances of life found faith and hope. Such was the glorious struggle of the primatial ministry of the previous leaders of our Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, which was preserved and continues to live thanks to the grace of God and their merits. How great was their spirit, and how rich the legacy left by them! Let us absorb this; let us feel deeply this great gift of Orthodox Christianity; let us preserve and increase it!
May Christ God, Who became incarnate, help us all in this, that we may abide forever in the bosom of the Holy Orthodox Church, and may with boldness and diligence direct our life according to the precepts of the Gospel, unto the acquisition of eternal salvation! Amen.
Metropolitan of New York & Eastern America,
First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad