2001 UAOC Hierarchs' Christmas Pastoral Letter
TO THE DEDICATED CLERGY, RELIGIOUS AND FAITHFUL OF THE METROPOLIA OF THE UKRAINIAN AUTOCEPHALOUS ORTHODOX CHURCH IN THE USA, PEACE, HEALTH AND SALVATION IN THE NEW-BORN CHRIST, WITH OUR EPISCOPAL BLESSINGS!
December25, 2001/January 7, 2002
Christ is Born! ~ Glorify Him! Khrystos Rodivsya! Slavite Yoho!
"And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to dwell in." (Isaiah 58:12)
It is hard to believe that already the time has come when as Christians, we celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. Despite the difficulties that have enveloped us these last few months, everything around us is marked with the signs of Christmas, as the day "creeps up on us." As if on an automatic program, Christmas is here. Economically and socially, there was some concern that this year's Christmas would not come. There were fears that the aftermath of the September tragedies would naturally prohibit a complete celebration of the holidays. But, as faithful as the sun rising in the morning, our Christmas rituals have begun. Even though some of us may have thought that this would be the "year without a Christmas" and despite feelings that this might be "the Christmas that almost wasn't" the familiar sounds and sights of the season are in the air. Despite commercialism, there is a certain sense of comfort in the fact that things are continuing as usual. God has a way of working in unexpected ways, and this is one of those times that Our Lord, as only God can do, makes sense out of that which is considered insensible.
Hopefully, for all of us, there has been time set aside for religious preparation and growth, taking advantage of this spiritual season, to reflect on the meaning behind the festivities. We can only pray that in each parish, there has been ample opportunity to attend pre-Christmas molebens and other services, and to avail ourselves to the sacraments of confession and communion. The sacraments, those "meeting places" between ourselves and God, are the actions which "seal" all of our Christmas expectations, enabling us to share in the new life that emerged into the world through the birth of Jesus. But, despite the usual patterns and traditions which make Christmas real for each of us in various ways, there are also many reminders that this particular Christmas will not be like any other in history, neither our own personal and family histories nor that of our corporate experience as citizens of the world.
For many of us, this will be the first time that we have experienced the feast of Christ's nativity under the circumstances that have effected the whole world this past fall. Surely, every person of good will cannot celebrate this Christmas without taking the events of September 11, 2001 into consideration. In many ways, the tragedy that befell our nation and the world give added meaning to the familiar scriptural passages, carols and other phrases associated with this season of peace, joy and self-giving.
Christmas is very much associated with history and tradition, these two aspects of human life that give meaning to our lives. We do not live as isolated individuals, floating in a vacuum in which other, separate lives are caught up, but "corporately" as a community of people sharing the same characteristics and experiences. Nothing could affirm this more than the overwhelming sense of solidarity felt after September 11. It is history and tradition which allow us to bring our lives together on various levels, the closest of which is the family unit. For all of us, these entities which contribute to making us who we are, seem to have a greater importance now than ever before, because it is clearer than ever before, how quickly we can loose these treasured elements of our lives. Through much pain and sorrow, we are reminded of how precious they really are to us, in preserving relationships over the course of years and generations. Some of us have lost loved ones since the last time we gathered together to celebrate Christmas. The trial of separation can be almost unbearable for us, but we can take comfort in the ongoing course of human life, which is made real through an understanding of our own history and the traditions which make up that remembrance of things past, bringing them ever newly into the present and guaranteeing them for the future, our posterity, our inheritance.
Everyone has a history associated with his or her particular edge in this world. Families have genealogies, sometimes recorded in special places, such as the family bible, where lists of as many relatives that memory can provide are kept, to remind present and future relatives of "from where they came" and who the important persons were, that contributed to the growth and development of that particular subdivision of the human race we refer to as "family." Sometimes, individuals spend much time and resources, searching for their "family history," because there is a void in their lives, due to the particular situations of their birth and rearing, that was not passed down to them. Those whose parents died when they were at an early age, who were perhaps raised by those other than blood relatives or who, for a variety of reasons are not able to sufficiently recall their family's history, often feel a deep and penetrating need to "discover their roots." In both church and society, much attention is given to one's cultural heritage and the values derived from understanding it properly. Such a grasp of one's personal history seems to provide stability and a way to answer many of life's often perplexing questions and paradoxes.
Tradition is a product of history. It is the tool used to define and perpetuate one's life experiences. It both celebrates and records those people, places and things which have transpired over the years that have contributed to who we are. Both secular and religious institutions have their traditions, rituals that are repeated year after year, to make present again, those defining moments that have led us as a people to where we are today. There are naturally many kinds of traditions, national, cultural, religious and family oriented. We are not speaking of traditions for which the church uses the capital "T" - those essential elements of the faith, that are considered to be key to the church's own self-understanding. We are talking about "traditions" with the small "t" which each unity of Christianity observes independently of others. Although pointing to the same truths, these local traditions speak within a certain cultural frame that differs from place to place. They give us, in fact, a greater sense of identity as a branch of the Christian family, because they are formed from the heart and soul of a people's consciousness.
Christmas is especially a time when traditions are lifted out of their mental and physical storage spaces and made alive again. Each group, each family has traditions that are important only to them, that can express like no other words or actions, what is important to that particular part of humanity. They are exhibited through many expressions - in religious rituals, such as attending church on Christmas eve or day; in the way we decorate our homes - in those particular ornaments that have been passed down from a family members, or that were gifts from cherished friends; in the sending and receiving of holiday greetings through cards that keep contact with those whose friendship we cherish, but with whom we may only correspond once a year; in the ritual-meals that we share, especially for our people, on Christmas Eve, and the more festive Christmas Day dinner; in decorating the graves of our departed loved ones, whose memory keeps families joined together. All of these and more, combine to link our celebrations, Christmas after Christmas, focusing, perhaps even subconsciously, on values that point to both human and divine realities. Now more than ever, we feel the need to be near loved ones, to reassure us that despite tragedy, we have a solid foundation that is still there, moving us, as it were, along the course of our lives, that naturally involve others whom we can rely on and trust, and whose love for us is unquestioned. These significant others can be anyone with whom we have built faithfulness and constancy - something that endures no matter what. These can be blood relatives, spouses, and long-term friends, with whom we have traveled life's journey and for whom we have unwavering love and respect. The sense of continuity is essential and it helps.
This year offers us a unique opportunity to place meaning into the holiday most popular around the world. Despite the enormous amount of grief that is still present in our consciousness, there is the chance to realize some good out of a disastrous situation that has made no discriminations in its reign of tragedy. All of us, whether Christian, Muslim, Jewish or other, both Americans and citizens of countries across the globe, have in some way been effected by the tremendous loss of human life on September 11. But, we have also been influenced for the good, and this has been apparent in so many ways during the past three months. We have seen people from all walks of life working together, to bring comfort and relief to those whose loss has been personal. There is in America and throughout the world, an increasing desire on the part of people of all faiths, to re-establish a spiritual life and a relationship with God - the same God who, although viewed quite differently by different confessions, is prayed to by one and all - the God of history and tradition, sealed long ago with Abraham, anticipated through the prophets and realized in Jesus. This is the God of creation and of life. Since faith must necessarily put beliefs into action, we have seen so many of us come forward, to work concretely for the cause of charity, helping in whatever way possible, those who have lost their loved ones - the most important people in the world to them. This has given us the chance for a renewed faith in humankind, a re-affirmation that, although evil certainly exists, and draws its heavy influence on actions of some, there are people of good will, ready to take the challenge of applying their faith in an active, self-giving way.
We celebrate the coming of this God into our world in a particular way, a real way, in our own human form, at Christmas. The incarnation of Jesus, the Son of God, is the "break-through" of divine life and grace, into a world that is visibly tarnished by the sins that we all commit. But, like each of us, Jesus has a genealogy, a worldly history, through his ancestors, as recorded in the Gospels. We are reminded of this physical history each year on the Sunday Before Christmas. In Jesus, we have "the way, the truth and the life," (Jn. 14:6) a tangible person, to whom we can turn and who understands the pain and suffering that have effected us all. Christ was not born solely for theological reasons, but to show us a livable way, a method of life that is possible for people in real situations, not only in the church or classroom. The dogmas of Christmas have to reach people through each other and we are called into a life of service, which makes us cooperators with God, his ambassadors, continuing his presence in the world.
The words of the prophet in our scriptural quotation beginning this yearly greeting, give voice to the reality of our own time, and our vocation in these days, in regard to all that has transpired in our lives over the course of the past year. As Isaiah spoke in his own time, so today, these words ring clear in our ears, about the hope offered us by God, in building a life of grace out of a tragic situation. Indeed it was for this reason that Christ was born into our world, to assure us that we can restore our human condition to that which God intended it be. To make Christmas real, we must focus on being bridge-builders between God and one another, repairing that which has been broken down and restoring hope and trust, where it has been taken away.
Let us keep the traditions that are meaningful to us, as expressions of our history, both public and personal. As we treasure these holiday moments, we can also create new traditions, based on what we have experienced this past year and our hopes for the next. These should both be comforting and challenging. They can comfort us with the sense of a continuing balance of life and must urge us on, to address what is lacking in our lives and give birth to new ways of living out our Christian vocation. What are those ways? They are embodied in the words of the prophet Isaiah, which are our scriptural theme this year. They give us the basis of the work that lies ahead of us, but it is up to us to find ways to bring them into concrete expression. What are the needs of our particular families, our communities, our parishes? What are the issues that the past year has brought to the forefront? Is there injustice right in our own backyards? Is there ethnic strife between peoples of different backgrounds? Are there problems in the "system" that we can speak out against and hope to change? Is our parish doing all that it can to promote justice and peace, or is it simply "maintaining" a setting that no longer can deal with the issues of today? These are but some of the questions that we can ask ourselves as we observe this spiritual but also "introspective" and "resolution minded" season.
Christianity is not meant to be a religion of comfort or ease. Christ assured us that his presence was to bring unity but would also divide some people. The division he spoke of has to do with honesty and the frequent stir it creates when truthful and enlightened evaluations of a situation are voiced. Jesus did not want to divide people because he was afraid of strength in numbers. His was a mission of bringing God to the people's own level and of insisting on the promotion of religious values in an honest way. This is not always easy for some to hear. It may disturb the level of comfort that they have worked hard to preserve. There is nothing inherently wrong with being comfortable, but, comfort is not of God when it prohibits justice and equality for others. In this instance, it is merely serving to perpetuate a life that is already wrong. For this, we will have to give answer, when our deeds are revealed in the final analysis of our lives.
God is loving and merciful, but also a just judge. Jesus said, "I judge as I hear and my judgment is honest, because I am not seeking my own will, but the will of him who sent me" (Jn. 6:30). We must act in the way that God would have us behave. For Christmas to live in our hearts all year long, as the pious cliché states, we have to take the values of the one whose birth we celebrate and make them our own. Being a good Christian does not mean that we offer only lip service to God by saying that we love others, as Christ loves us. There are ways to use our piety for the greater good. It is not an easy task nor is it specific. God, who sent his only Son into our world that we might have life and have it to the fullest" expects us to make life worth living wherever we have the "power" to make a difference. Each in our own way, must address this Christmas challenge. In the new year, it is our prayer that everyone will discover what this challenge is for them. Pray and ask God for help in this challenge, and surely, he will give us all that is needed to make the difference.
We are grateful to each and every one of you who has made the past year a joyful one for our Metropolia. Through personal meetings and visits, we have had the privilege of getting to know many of you better. These cherished times have also allowed us to see the good stock that God has gathered together in our clergy and faithful. You are the church and you are making history each and every day. By following traditions that are meaningful to each of us and by creating new ones which speak to the needs of our own time and space, we are together, "raising up the foundations of many generations" who shall follow after us. We are discovering ways to be "repairers of things that are breached and restorers of our own communities." Our coming together as a church, both locally in our parishes and corporately as a Metropolia, is building the future now, for those who will inherit it later. We have a solid foundation in our church from both the rich past and the active present. We are hopefully meeting needs that are not addressed or satisfied elsewhere. This is our calling - to continue to meet the needs of others and thus, to raise up an strong and healthy foundation for the future. Christmas - past, present and future, comes to life again each time we celebrate the holiday. We can provide the links between these three, so that both memory and expectation can be blessed with the presence of the one who was born to us, those many years ago, and who still lives in each of us, in our churches and families.
Dear brothers and sisters, please continue to keep us, your shepherds, in your daily prayers. Our role of service is to all of you, whatever your needs may be. It is the work of Christ that we are about together. That work has prospered among the people of our church and with everyone's ongoing work of prayer and service, the doors of our churches will continue to beckon to all who sincerely seek to worship God in "spirit and in truth." All of you can be assured of our thoughts and remembrances, especially in the Divine Liturgy, where we meet on the spiritual plane, in order to derive strength and courage for our material lives, so that the Christianity we profess in church can be brought to fulfillment in honest and tangible ways.
St. Paul reminds us that "whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, . . . these things you must practice" (Phil. 4:8). May we not be like those who chose to ignore what is true and honest, because they do not want to their own comfort to be disturbed, but may we be sincere and unafraid to face the truth of reality. Christmas is the season of light. Jesus was born into the world as its light, to open our eyes to all that is true and honest. Let our lives not be what Jesus referred to when he said, "This is the verdict: that the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil" (Jn. 3:19), but rather "whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that their works may be clearly seen as done in God" (Jn. 3:21). This Christmas, let us remember three things: tradition, which gives meaning to the good things we do, charity, which compels us to continue to do them and honesty, which not only makes our efforts sincere but allows them to speak God's truth to the heats of people today - making them worthwhile and doing what God desires of us.
May you all have a blessed, safe and happy holiday season. Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!
God Is With Us,
Archbishop of New York
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Eparch of the Americas
Coadjutor to the Primate
Archbishop of Washington
Archbishop of Toulon
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Auxiliary Bishop of Cleveland
Archbishop of Berlin-Brandenburg
Exarch of Germany
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