WESTERN EUROPEAN DIOCESE: 8 January 2024
Nativity Epistle of His Grace Bishop Irenei of London and Western Europe
To the Very Reverend and Reverend Clergy, Pious Monastics,
and God-fearing Flock of the Diocese of Great Britain and Western Europe:
Christ is born! Glorify Him!
The Mystery of the Life in Christ is, at certain times in the unfolding of our days, experienced amidst tremendous joy, while at others with fear and trembling. Perhaps the most perplexing are those times in which the joyful message of that Mystery comes to us amidst sorrow: when the unparalleled wonders of God’s blessings and goodness are met from within the experience of human sinfulness, weakness and distress.
We cannot but be mindful that, at the present moment, so many of our brothers and sisters are meeting the Feast of the Lord’s Nativity in such contexts. It is all but incomprehensible that the bitter conflict in our ecclesiastical Fatherland — which encompasses both modern Russia and modern Ukraine — continues now into its third calendar year; and the grief of so many lives needlessly lost in the Holy Land, the very place of the Christmas miracle’s unfolding, pains every compassionate heart. And there are other sufferings also: some amongst our flock have experienced private and familial hardships and tragedies in recent days, and it is with hearts burdened by those experiences that today they approach the Bethlehem cave.
But it is precisely to that cave that we must turn, and as Christians we do so eagerly, filled with radiant hope. The devil would have us turn away, smelling despair and defeat; but we are the children of God, ‘Who workest wonders’ (Proverbs 77.14), even in the darkest of places. Some of you have been on pilgrimage to the cave of Christ’s birth, a treasure of the suffering Holy Land: you will recall how one approaches it by descending downwards and downwards into the earth, into a place cut off from light — just as in our holy icons of the Nativity, the cave is always painted in darkest black. But it is exactly there, in the darkness, that the True Light is born. That Light shone in the darkness, ‘and the darkness comprehended it not’ (John 1.5); but the Saviour knew, and knows, that it is our darkest moments that require His light, and our deepest griefs that require His consolation.
It is this that we cherish today. The Lord comes to heal us, to console and renew us, to brighten our darkness and lift us up to Himself. My dear Fathers, Brothers and Sisters, do not hesitate to worship, adore and rejoice in the coming of Christ, even in the midst of sorrows. Rejoice, because Christ comes to us here, in these very moments! Rejoice because the One Who is born today is stronger than sin, and pain, and death! Rejoice because Christ is born, and Life shall conquer all!
I assure you of my unworthy prayers, and my love in the newborn Christ,
Bishop of London and Western Europe
Nativity of Christ
25 December 2023 / 7 January 2024