Pastoral Letter for the Feast of the Lord’s Nativity 2020

† Nicolae

by the mercies of God
Archbishop of the Romanian Orthodox Archdiocese of the United States of America and
Metropolitan of the Romanian Orthodox Metropolia of the Americas

To our Beloved Clergy and Orthodox Christians,
Grace, peace, and joy from Christ the Lord, and from us hierarchical blessings.

“All this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: ‘Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,’ which is translated, ‘God with us’” (Matthew 1:22-23).

Very Reverend Fathers, Beloved Faithful,

At this glorious feast I too proclaim to you with the angel that God is with us, that God has not forsaken us, that God has not forgotten His creation and does not ignore its suffering, that God sends us a Savior. The incarnation of the Son of God from the Virgin Mary is the source of the Christian’s hope in the providence of God for every moment of his earthly life as preparation for eternal life.

This proclamation is contained in the presentation of the event of the Lord’s Nativity by St. Matthew the Evangelist: “Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.’ So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: ‘Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,’ which is translated, ‘God with us’” (Matthew 1:18-23). This is the reassurance of the Righteous Joseph by the angel of the Lord, that what has happened with the Virgin Mary is the result of God’s action for the salvation of humankind. At the same time it is the proclamation of the Incarnate Son through the name Jesus and the revelation of God’s plan for humanity through the name Immanuel.

St. John Chrysostom explains this relationship between the names in St. Matthew’s text: “I could have asked, ‘Why then was He not called Immanuel, but Jesus Christ? The angel did not say You will call, but they will call, that is, the multitudes of people and the deeds accomplished by Christ. In this text, the name Immanuel is given by the deeds done by Christ… Therefore, the words They will call Him Immanuel mean nothing other than that they will see that God is with mankind. God has always been with mankind, but never so clearly as now.” And St. Nikolai Velimirovich reinforces this explanation: “Both of the names speak of the depths of the purpose for which Christ came into the world and His ministry in it. He comes to forgive, to have mercy on people, to save them from their sins, and therefore He will be called Savior, Jesus. Who can forgive sins except God alone? …No one knows the entire horror of sin except God Who is without sin. And no one can enter into the heart of the world in order to pull out the snake (of sin) and expel it except God alone.” These two fathers interpret the proclamation to Joseph and the two names given to the baby as the revelation of God’s descent to earth to deliver mankind from sin and the assurance of God’s care for us.

This proclamation is not one of past history, nor is it a pious remembrance of the birth of a wise man, but the proclamation of the presentness of the Nativity of Christ. On Christmas morning at Matins we joyously proclaim, “Christ is born, glorify Him! Christ is come from heaven, go and meet Him! Christ is on earth, arise to Him!” Together with the angels, the shepherds, and the magi, we are witnesses of the Incarnation of the Word, we are witnesses of the good news that God has not forgotten us and He has sent us a Savior. Christ is born in the soul of each of us, granting us that which is most precious on earth: faith and hope in the power of His redemption.

This birth makes a claim on us now, it requires us to rise up and go and meet the Christ who is from the heavens. Our salvation in Christ is not a passive process, but an active one, with participation, dedication, sacrifice. Salvation is the gift of Christ, but it is accomplished through Christ. “Christ is the fulfillment of the true nature of man—the crown of creation—because in Him man is fully united with God,” says Father Dumitru Stăniloae. Christ is the endpoint of our being raised up, but He is also the way and our help towards this endpoint: “In Christ the way has been opened for us toward the endpoint of full humanization and He is the way toward this, for He is the path toward communion with God as a community of persons… Through His Incarnation as man, Christ has made communion with Himself as God (or rather, with the entire Holy Trinity) accessible in the highest human form. Only Jesus Christ has given us the power to fully leave behind us the egoism of sin, the prison of the limits of (human) nature, and of the corruptibility which concludes in death.”

The fulfillment of salvation in Christ and through Christ is also revealed to us by Father Stăniloae in words that are profound and full of hope: “Man becomes through Jesus Christ the son of God and the brother of Jesus Christ-God. This is the highest dignity and state to which he is raised. But what else does this mean if not being raised up to the most intimate ‘I-Thou’ communion with God? He who remains in communion with God is eternal, for God cannot allow the one He loves so much that he receives him in communion with Himself, to perish…”

Beloved faithful,

For many months the entire world has been overtaken by the fear of sickness and of death, by grave questions regarding the future of each one of us, of the family, of the community, and of the world. The Christian can find the answer to these questions witnessing the faith in the Incarnation of the Son of God for our salvation, and looking to Christ as the endpoint of our living. If we want to find answers that bring peace, we must turn to Christ, we must put our hope in Him, for He is the unchanging guidepost of our existence, He is the same “yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). St. Sophrony Sakharov, our contemporary, familiar with the problems of our world, assures us that only in Christ will we find answers: “Jesus Christ is the measure of all things divine and human… In Him we find the answer to all our problems, which without Him would be impossible to resolve. He is truly the mystical axis of the universe.”

With this exhortation, I pray that the One born in a manger will grant you health and increase in faith, steadfast hope, and spiritual peace, for He is our Savior! With a brotherly embrace in Christ the Lord, I wish you Joyous Holidays and Many Years!

Your brother in prayer to God,
† Metropolitan NICOLAE
Chicago, The Feast of the Lord’s Nativity, 2020