UAOC Hierarchs' Christmas Pastoral Letter

The Nativity of Our Lord


January 7, 2001

Christ is Born! ~ Glorify Him!

Once again, we gather as a world community to commemorate that blessed night, two thousand years ago, when God entered the world in time, and became "one of us." So much did God care about each and every member of the human race, each person, that he was willing to sacrifice to be born and live the course of a lifetime, in order to impress upon us, the most perfect example, when, "living among us, he gave us the precepts of salvation, . . and brought us to the knowledge of you, true God and Father." {Liturgy of St. Basil}.

The Liturgy of St. Basil, which we celebrate this year on Christmas day, according to the age-old prescriptions of our liturgical rites, gives us a spiritual insight into the birth of Our Lord, recalling that, "when the fullness of time had come, you spoke to us through your Son himself, . . . although remaining everlasting God, he appeared on earth and lived among us."

God entering human history in an actual, physical way through the incarnation, is the most marvelous miracle ever seen on earth. It is one which calls for a response on our part, because we cannot say that we are in the dark in regards to how we should live as God's children and how God would have us relate to him and to one another. We have been shown the way in Jesus Christ, who, besides revealing quite plainly through his teachings, what God expects from each one of us, also showed us the path of humility, though being truly God, the "reflection of the Father's glory," as the liturgy says, he "emptied himself taking the form of a slave and, became conformed to the state of our lowliness so that he might raise us to the image of his glory."

Because of the birth of Jesus, humankind was changed forever. The world, which as we well know, can be so often darkened by sin and oppression, was given the chance to change, to be transformed by the presence of God. Because Christ could change the world, so could we. Men and women were given the pure example of how to live in communion with their Creator and with each other.

To what extent this transformation of life takes place depends on us. Each of us who has been baptized into Christ is given the opportunity to make the world more God-like by allowing the Lord to be born each day in us. Too many times, we see these opportunities missed or even thwarted by others who chose their own desires over God's ways, who act as their own judge and jury, or who chose the influence of darkness rather than the light of Christ. These characters are played out in the Christmas narrative as found in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke and as depicted in churches and city squares throughout the world at this time of the year.

The Christmas story has interested people for two thousand years because it contains a microcosm of the world and the people in it and dramatically shows how God is involved with his children living on earth. Iconography, ever teaching through art, the message of God found in scripture, depicts the nativity story in its fullness. In Medieval Europe, St. Francis is known for creating the first Christmas scene as we know it today, using real characters and animals. Still today, some places present this rendition of the "live nativity scene." So important it is and so meaningful, to be a witness of these events, a citizen of Bethlehem, to understand more fully, what really came to pass that night so long ago. Many churches today have a an icon of the nativity permanently displayed on the church walls or iconostasis, or have a "perpetual nativity" where worshippers can pray all year long, reminding them of the message of the first Christmas.

Central to the Nativity is the testimony of some of the first witnesses to Christ's birth, humble and poor shepherds, and the three wise-men (magi), intellectuals of their own time, dedicated to science and philanthropy, from a spiritual upper class of a more sophisticated culture, who recognized the Truth when it was made known to them and had the wisdom to discern that God had acted in a very specific way for his people.

Of special interest is the person of King Herod, the local Jewish civil administrator, who was "greatly troubled" when he ascertained from the Magi, that the Messiah, God come to earth, had been born (Mt. 2:3). For him, the birth of Jesus, a heavenly king, was a threat to his own authority and power. As a king himself, Herod was not dedicated to serving the best interests of his people, but, by controlling them, worked hand in hand with the Roman occupying authorities of the day, in adding oppression upon his own people. As we know from history, first century Palestine was occupied by the forces of Caesar, who, as head of the Roman empire, was the precursor of a modern day superpower. Herod, who was given his power from the foreign Roman forces, ruled in place of God, for his own benefit in the religious-political circle. How many in the world today are threatened as was Herod, when God speaks through the voice of his people, calling for reform and a change which moves towards greater justice.

The nativity scene thus brings to mind life as we know it today. We can chose to be either like Herod, knowing the truth but putting the wrong, more self-serving values ahead of those of God and our own people, or, like the shepherds and the Magi, we can stand in humble awe of God's lordship over everything in our lives and use the knowledge and sense given us to work for real justice and truth.

It is with a great sense of hope and joyful anticipation that we take the pleasure to greet you at this holy time. This year stands out from all the rest of the Nativity seasons we may have celebrated in our lifetimes, because, by marking the two thousandth anniversary of the birth of the Lord Jesus, it also marks the dawn of a new period in human history, the beginning of the third millennium and the twenty-first century.

Few individuals have the opportunity to live during this type of historical milestone. With the proper reflection, one can sense the great expectations of hope that it brings to each and every one of us. It is this same hope with which the Son of God entered the course of human history on that first Christmas. If we think about how much the world has changed since the first year of the common era when Christ was born, we must also be struck by how similar things really are, as far as people's hearts are concerned.

We have lived through a period of intense change with a promising outlook for a bright future. The memory of Christmas brings us to a different time and place, but with a view on real people, who also had great hope that God was acting in history, to bring greater freedom and justice to the world. The characters in the nativity story, like ourselves, trusted in God and his ability to transform the world. The Magi, as the scriptures tell us, after seeing the child, "went back to their own country by a different route," (Mt. 2: 12) in part, to spurn the wicked intentions of Herod to eliminate the new-born Messiah and in another sense, because they were changed by the experience they had, of God taking on our human form.

We wish you and your loved ones every blessing and good intention that the season brings. We challenge each and every one of you to make the experience of peace, hope and love for all that this Christmas brings, one that will have a profound effect on the part of the globe in which you each live. The opportunity is now, to help change the things that we feel are not right about our world and give a strong sense of renewed hope for this new millennium. While we can ask ourselves what difference our isolated, individual efforts may make, let us be assured that, the world can now be brought so much closer together through the blessings of modern technology, that in this new era, we have a greater chance than ever, to touch the lives of others and to have our voice heard across the world.

Giving glory to God for every opportunity to minister to you, we assure you of our willingness to be of service to all of you and want each of you to know that the world is not too large for you to be able to call upon us at any time, should you ever desire to be in personal touch with us. As we work together for greater unity among our Ukrainian community, among Christians and really, all people throughout the world, we can only pray for a stronger sense of the peace and good will that the angels announced to humankind on that first Christmas so long ago.

Sincerely Yours in the New-Born Christ,

Carolers announce the Joyous Tidings of 2000 years of Christmas +Metropolitan Stephan
Archbishop of New York

+Archbishop Michael
Archbishop of Cleveland
Coadjutor to the Primate

+Metropolitan Alexis
Archbishop-Emeritus of New York

+Archbishop Mykola
Archbishop of Berlin-Brandenburg
Apostolic Exarch of Western Europe

+Bishop Danylo
Titular Bishop of Maramaros
Auxiliary Bishop of Cleveland

Ukrainian Version

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