Eminent Brother Archpastors, honorable Fathers,
beloved Brothers, Sisters and Children in Christ:
I offer my words of greeting, which are inspired by Christian love, on this great feast of the Nativity of Christ! With a warm heart I wish you all that profound and inalienable peace, which was heralded by the angels above the town of Bethlehem on the holy night when “the Word was made flesh” (John 1:14).
With the holiday of the Nativity of Christ comes the New Year. Time does not stand still, but flows unceasingly year after year, day after day. The commotions, problems and bad news of these complicated times may instill in us despondency, alarm and fear of the future, distracting us from committing good deeds, from attending to our internal life and relying upon the blessed Providence of God, which always unerringly directs man towards true joy.
The Lord says in the Gospel: “But when ye shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing where it ought not (let him that readeth understand), then let them that be in Judaea flee to the mountain” (Mark 13:14). King David, whose memory is honored on the Sunday after the Nativity of Christ, exclaims: “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help” (Psalms 121:1). In church we chant: “Come, let us ascend the mountain of the Lord, even unto the house of our God.”
In their wise interpretation of the Holy Scriptures, the Holy Fathers and Teachers of the Church, as the successors of the. Apostles, always saw in the act of the ascent of a mountain the spiritual elevation of man towards God, his active striving for union with Him and for holiness. The peak of the mountain and the “house of our God” symbolize the Kingdom of God, the Church of Christ, the domain of the living God and His abode with mankind. It is the world of the spirit, of spiritual joy and true bliss in unity with God. There is our native and blessed land; there is the resolution of all problems which trouble the inner man; there is the eternal salvation of the soul.
Brothers and sisters, in observing world events, let us not fall into despair, alarm and fear, but let us hasten in a spiritual sense to “ascend the mountain.” Girding ourselves with humble gratitude for everything that God sends us, with staff in hand, let us begin our ascent to “the mountain of the Lord.” In accordance with the measure of our feeble fervency let us strive for God, uniting our active effort in living by the Gospel with our immersion into the wisdom and the mystical life of the Church, this school of piety. Let us acquire Christian virtues and sanctity, paying no heed to that which distracts us from “the one thing needful” (Luke 10:42)
It is not revealed to mankind what might befall us during the course of the coming year. This is for our benefit and edification. For if man knew in advance of the coming joy, he might resort to complete idleness, making no progress in striving to worthily receive the gift of God.
At the same time, knowing in advance of his inescapable sufferings would be too great a burden. That is likely why the Lord conceals our future from us, teaching us to hope in His Providence through faith, patience and humility.
Upon this difficult but blessed path may St John (Maximovitch) be our intercessor, this great archpastor and miracle-worker of the Russian diaspora, the 25th anniversary of whose canonization we will be ceremoniously marking in 2019.
Let me conclude my greeting to you with his words: “To the Lord lying in a manger, together with praise and laudation, may each of us bring from our heart some good deed. May the joy of the whole world fill the hearts of each of us, scattering earthly sorrows and lifting up our thoughts and strivings to Heaven. From there we will hear the joyful heralding of the angels: “For unto you is born this day… a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11).
With love in Christ, born of the Virgin,
Metropolitan Hilarion of Eastern America and New York,
First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia
Nativity of Christ, 2018/2019