Christmas Encyclical 2007

The Serbian Orthodox Church

to her spiritual children
at Christmas, 2007


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!

"...Today Bethlehem receives Him Who is
co-enthroned with the Father,
Today angels marvelously praise
the New Born Child exclaiming:
Glory to God in the highest
and peace on earth;
good will among men."

The Church, in her daily supplications, dear spiritual children, prays first of all for the PEACE FROM ABOVE. We don't pray for some undefined peace from an unknown world; rather we pray for the PEACE which was brought and given to us by our Lord Jesus Christ. "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you." (John 14:27) Here at the beginning of the celebration of the most joyous Feast Day of the Nativity of the Son of God, our Lord, Jesus Christ, we start with prayers for the PEACE FROM ABOVE. We send to you the message of the heavenly PEACE which we hope enters your into your hearts and your souls and into your lives, as on that blessed night of the Nativity of the Emanuel it entered the hearts and souls of the shepherds of Bethlehem. To have God's peace means having peace with God, with our brother and our fellow man, and with God's entire creation. This is the privilege bestowed upon holy Christians. Even when the waves of this restless world threaten to drown and destroy everything, as is the case in our time, we remain calm and serene, filled with grace and divine peace, because we know that He Who encourages Christians of all times is faithful: DO NOT BE AFRAID! And He adds "...I am always with you even unto the end of age." (Matthew 28:20)

In the divine peace between God and the Most Holy Theotokos fulfilled in the mystery of the Annunciation, the Only-begotten Son of God was conceived as the Peace and Love of God and He was born in the quietness of Bethlehem's cave. The Most Holy Theotokos received the salutation of PEACE - "Rejoice, o blessed one!" (Luke 1:28) uttered to her by the angel of God and, accepting that peace from God, she responded: "...Here is the maiden of God - let it be to me according to your word." (Luke 1:38) This actually was the will of God: that she who found favor before God would become the birth-giver of God, for she give birth to God Incarnate - The Messiah and Savior of the world, our Lord Jesus Christ.

With the greeting: "Christ is Born!" we believe and confess that Christ - God's anointed One - was born in Bethlehem of Judea, according to the will of God! We not only believe but also know from our experience and we confess that CHRIST IS EMANUEL, which means GOD WITH US! So that GOD WOULD TRULY BE WITH US let us open and cleanse our hearts so that they may become His dwelling place. May our hearts today become a new Bethlehem, a new manger for Him Who is the uncontainable; a grace filled organ in which the birth of God's Love in Bethlehem will find its permanent abode. So, today and during these joyous Feast days, let us be hosts to our Lord. Let us receive and greet Him into our homes, receiving the least ones as Himself, without distinguishing who is who. In our churches let us celebrate Him in a way which is worthy and which befits Him. Let us keep Him as the life of our life, as the light of our being. Let all that which is ours and only human in us be submitted forever to God's will, so that we may say, as did the Most Holy Theotokos: Lord, here is your servant or handmaiden, let it be with me and in me according to your will. Why do we say this? Because from year to year around the Feast Day of the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ, that which is human is being more and more emphasized, and that which is divine is emphasized less and less. Truly we are endangered by commercial and folklore celebrations and commemorations that suppress the true essence of the Feast. If we reduce the meaning of the Feast to simply keeping our customs, our hearts will remain submerged in our individual restlessness and in the worldly tempests, and they will continue to be far away from the Lord, far away from the Divine Child Christ. Our hearts and our life are created for the Lord. Only with hearts and souls filled with God's peace will we be able to celebrate Christ the Divine Child with the song: "Glory be to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will among men!" Christ's birth is, above all, the act of God's love, which is fully and completely revealed in the incarnate and born Christ Jesus. St. John the Theologian attests to this mystery of God's love with the following words:"...God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16)

The birth of Christ is a historic event - an event which took place in a concrete historical time and a particular geographical place. He was born during the reign of the Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus and during the census of the people which he ordered. Christ was born during the reign of Herod the Great, who at the time ruled Judea. He was born in Bethlehem of Judea. His birth did not go unnoticed in Judea and the great Roman Empire, especially in the regions of the Middle East. First the angels gave witness to Bethlehem's shepherds, who then went out glorifying and praising God, making "...known all they had been told concerning this child." (Luke 2:17) Their witness quickly spread throughout Judea and Jerusalem "and all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them." (Luke 2:18) The news about this also reached King Herod who cruelly had ruled the tribes of Israel. Even though he at first belittled the stories and narratives of the people subjugated to him, his heart was shaken only when from the East the wise men had arrived and had inquired about the Judean King with the question: "Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East, and have come to worship him." (Matthew 2:2) This question greatly disturbed a crafty Herod, and the essence of this posed question has become a divider of time into old and new, of the time of foretelling and foreshadowing and the time of the fulfillment of the same. Elevated by this mystery the Holy Apostle Paul exclaims: "the old has passed away, behold, everything has become new." (II Cor. 5:17) In the newborn God-Man Christ "all has become new", but above all we are reborn in Him and by Him - with the synergy of God and man, that is synergy of the Creator and created, we have become "A NEW CREATION". This not in a mythological way, as some would interpret; rather we truly, essentially, and completely have become a new divine-human creation.

Sadly, because of the lessening of the Christian love and virtues in the world, we daily hear of and see instability, clashes and great human tragedies and natural disasters. Seeing this and hearing about it many ask: "Aren't these the latter days of the world? Aren't these the times of the fulfillment of the words of our Lord about signs of the end times and of the second coming of Christ?" People have reason to ask this and to fear. But it would be much better if we would become more filled with the fear of God, so that we might become wise stewards of the inheritance God has given us in this world instead of unwise, and that instead of constant perverters of this world we become the salt of the earth, the light to the world, the way and gate through which the world will be saved. The reason for all of these tragic events is the broken peace between God and man on one side, and the broken equilibrium between man and nature, on the other.

In this tumultuous world a various initiatives for peace are being made by individuals, groups and organizations. Yet despite this, peace in the world is not on the horizon. Why? Because the PEACE FROM GOD is being rejected and man's peace is trying to replace it - a peace of passion-controlled men which, instead of bringing peace, inflames restlessness. To make the paradox complete, even the creators of wars in the world and on our own soil, shamelessly try to deceive the world with their so called "peace initiatives." Actually, these are pseudo-peaceful intentions that serve to deceive the world. What is important to them is a peace with interest, a peace from which these "peacemakers" will gain political interests and material profit.

Today we especially greet our brothers and sisters in Kosovo and Metohija and we pray to the Divine Child Christ that He protects and strengthens them in carrying of the cross that has been laid upon their weak shoulders by the mighty of this world. As in previous years, we this year also share in sadness and concern because of the events in Kosovo and Metohija - our holy land - the heart and souls of the Serbian people and our spiritual Bethlehem and the cradle of our culture. Behold, the mighty ones of this world are today casting lots for our holy land of St. Lazarus and shamefully offend our feelings and our dignity. In the name of their interests in the Balkans and Europe, and trampling upon all the norms of international law upon which today's world rests, they want to take away from the Serbian people their cradle, their soul and heart, which will forever remain in Kosovo and Metohija. May all those who continue to break all norms of God's and human justice, and above all the rights of the Serbian people for their Homeland's cradle, pause and rethink about this fact.

In this festive spirit and joy let us not forget our brothers and sisters exiled from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, and Kosovo and Metohija. We appeal to all government officials in Serbia and Montenegro to provide a normal and decent life, doing everything that is possible for their safe return and the return of their personal property. We especially appeal to all of you dear brothers and sisters that you share this Holy Day with all those exiled. Let us remember today all of those who have remained on their homesteads and those who have returned to their burned homesteads. We know and see that they suffer daily discrimination and humiliation, just because they are Serbian and because they found the strength and courage to return and remain on their homesteads.

We appeal to government officials in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina that they show good will in solving the pressing problems of their exiled citizens of both Serbian and other nationalities. We call upon everybody to respect the basic human rights, national and religious rights of our and other peoples, all the rights guaranteed by all international conventions. That they equally - no more nor less - respect our Serbian Orthodox people, who throughout the long history of their existence and through their contributions in the aforementioned countries have left an indelible seal on the culture and history of these countries, with whom they share a centuries-old history. We have always and everywhere in love and cooperation with others created a culture of peace and love. In the spirit of that Divine peace and love, tolerance and esteem, let us renew torn down bridges among the people of good will. Let us reject disturbers of the peace, regardless of who they are. Let us have peace, love and good will with all.

We greet our young people - our children and youth. We unceasingly offer our prayers to the Lord, dear children and youth, for your protection from all the contagious temptations of our time: drugs, alcohol, and other vices. Knowing that the world remains for the young, we wish that you, in maturing and becoming our inheritors, will arm yourselves with virtues and good, so that you may defend yourselves from all temptations that the world offers and imposes upon you. In the hardest moments of your life remember the temptations suffered by our Lord Jesus Christ. Call upon Him for help and He surely will help you. A deliberate program of imposing pseudo-culture and succumbing to it poses a particular danger. Life's roads have their crossroads. It is up to you to choose the direction which leads to life eternal, at which end you will not have sorrow, but joy with all of our holy ancestors.

We are also mindful of our dear children in the Diaspora - in America, Australia, Europe, Africa and Asia, who live far away from their ancient homesteads, holy places and cemeteries. Even though you under historical circumstances and misfortunate have been forced to live in the Diaspora worldwide, don't forget that in celebrating Christmas you will find your homeland, your childhood joy, and mother's freshly baked bread. Remember your old churches and holy monasteries and teach your descendants to do the same. Safeguard the unity of our church as you would the pupil of your own eye. Gather around your bishops as children around their parents; gather and agree in good, virtues and glorifying God. Today Christ the Divine Child gathers us in our holy churches to exchange the greeting "God's Peace" with one another, to unify, to become Christ-like and to increase, God willing!

May the light of Bethlehem's cave shine upon all the people and all the nations of the world, granting the Peace from Above to all and to everybody.

Greeting you all, dear spiritual children, we once again call upon you all and all people of good will to celebrate the Feast Day of the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ in peace, joy, and a spiritual disposition.


And may you have a blessed New Year!

Given at the Serbian Patriarchate in Belgrade, at Christmas, 2007.

Your intercessors before the divine Christ-Child:

Archbishop of Pec,
Metropolitan of Belgrade-Karlovci and
Serbian Patriarch PAVLE

Metropolitan of Zagreb and Ljubljana JOVAN
Metropolitan of Montenegro and the Coastlands AMPHILOHIJE
Metropolitan of Midwestern America CHRISTOPHER
Metropolitan of Dabro-Bosna NIKOLAJ

Bishop of Sabac-Valjevo LAVRENTIJE
Bishop of Nis IRINEJ
Bishop of Zvornik-Tuzla VASILIJE
Bishop of Srem VASILIJE
Bishop of Banja Luka JEFREM
Bishop of Budim LUKIJAN
Bishop of Canada GEORGIJE
Bishop of Banat NIKANOR
Bishop for America and Canada (New Gracanica Metropolitanate) LONGIN
Bishop of Eastern America MITROPHAN
Bishop of Zica CHRYSOSTOM
Bishop of Backa IRINEJ
Bishop of Great Britain and Scandinavia DOSITEJ
Bishop of Ras and Prizren ARTEMIJE
Retired Bishop of Zahumlje and Hercegovina ATANASIJE
Bishop of Bihac and Petrovac CHRYSOSTOM
Bishop of Osijek and Baranja LUKIJAN
Bishop of Central Europe CONSTANTINE
Bishop of Western Europe LUKA
Bishop of Timok JUSTIN
Bishop of Vranje PAHOMIJE
Bishop of Sumadija JOVAN
Bishop of Slavonia SAVA
Bishop of Branicevo IGNATIJE
Bishop of Milesevo FILARET
Bishop of Dalmatia FOTIJE
Bishop of Budimlje and Niksic JOANIKIJE
Bishop of Zahumlje and Hercegovina GRIGORIJE
Bishop of Valjevo MILUTIN

Bishop of Western America MAXIM
Bishop of Gornji Karlovci GERASIM

Bishop of Australia and New Zealand IRINEJ
Vicar Bishop of Hvostno ATANASIJE
Vicar Bishop of Jegar PORFIRIJE
Vicar Bishop of Lipljan TEODOSIJE
Vicar Bishop of Dioclea JOVAN
Vicar Bishop of Moravica ANTONIJE

Archbishop of Ochrid and Metropolitan of Skoplje JOVAN
Bishop of Polos and Kumanovo JOAKIM
Bishop of Bregal and locum tenens of the Diocese of Bitolj MARKO

Vicar Bishop of Stobija DAVID

[Path of Orthodoxy translation]

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