CHRISTMAS PASTORAL LETTER 2003
UKRAINIAN AUTOCEPHALOUS ORTHODOX CHURCH - SOBORNOPRAVNA
TO THE BELOVED CLERGY, RELIGIOUS, SEMINARIANS, CANTORS, PASTORAL MINISTERS AND FAITHFUL OF OUR METROPOLIA: PEACE, HEALTH & SALVATION IN THE NEW-BORN CHRIST, WITH OUR ARCHEPISCOPAL BLESSING:
CHRIST IS BORN! GLORIFY HIM!
KHRYSTOS RODIVSYA! SLAVITE YOHO!
The season of Christmas and the time preceding it, often called "Advent" celebrate Our Lord's coming among us as a human being, just like ourselves. However, this very special feast day of the year points not only to the historical coming of Jesus, his birth, over 2000 years ago, but also his "second coming" at the end of time, as well as his coming presence among us each and every day of our lives.
Christmas challenges us to accept and recognize Christ's coming and to look forward to it with hope and with joy. Many speak of the "end-times" when Our Lord will again come, this time not to save but to judge humankind. It carries with it for some, all types of images of fear and trepidation, of grandiose occurrences and often horrific results. But in reality, the Scriptures do not support this type of image of Jesus' final coming. As Christ himself tells us in the Gospels, the fact is that we don't know for sure what the future holds. We know only that God is good, and that his goodness will prevail in the end and will ultimately guide our lives. That is why, despite human anxiety and worry, we wait for Our Lord's coming in hope, rather than in fear.
Hope, which is often given as a characteristic of Christmas is difficult to define for many. Hope is not blind optimism, nor arrogant certainty that we have all the answers directly from God, nor is it wishful thinking. For the Christian, hope is the knowledge that God will not desert us, and that while we will often endure difficult times, it is in order to see a better day. Hope gives us the strength to seek peace and demand justice, to bring about change where it is necessary, and to envision the world as God intended it to be.
Another aspect of the Christmas message is joy. It was proclaimed by the angels to the shepherds, who then suddenly left their jobs of tending the flocks to greet the new-born King. Too often we think joy means getting what we want. But, throughout the Scriptures, joyful events are filled with surprise and often inconvenience and difficulty. Mary didn't ask to become pregnant before marriage. Elizabeth her cousin, and the mother of John the Baptist, had despaired of conceiving in her old age, and it took a visit from an angel to convince Joseph that things would be OK, if he continued with his planned marriage to Mary, despite what others around the couple were obviously saying about her "being with child." Their joy - and ours too - comes not in getting what we want, but in accepting God's will, even when we don't understand it. It comes from knowing that God has a greater plan, which includes our wellbeing and ultimate happiness.
The long wait is now coming to a conclusion and Jesus' birth is upon us. As we get closer to the end of a wait, our expectations grow, often into something that can't be fulfilled. We sometimes think a new job will solve our problems at home, or moving away will fix a broken heart. Christmas especially gets saddled with unrealistic expectations - perhaps of family togetherness or the perfect gift. Is this what happens to Christmas for us? Do we expect something of Jesus or are we simply waiting to meet him and accept him for who he is? By accepting Jesus for who he is and what he teaches us, we also are assured that this faith will grant us our own inner peace and keep us away from sin which can separate us from the love of God.
Dear Faithful, these are just a few thoughts that are brought to mind, as we celebrate the beautiful feast of Our Lord's coming. Let us not forget that among the haste and tension that often accompanies the days before Christmas, that there is a much deeper meaning to this time, a meaning too often forgotten in today's world, but one which was shared by the characters in the first Christmas story. To be truly receptive to Christ, to allow him to enter into our lives completely and without exception, we must have the spirit of hope and joy that was in the hearts of Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth, the shepherds, the Magi and all those others, like ourselves, who recognized the significance of Jesus' birth and fulfilled God's will by each playing their particular role.
Our obligation as Christians is to observe Our Lord's coming both historically, presently (each day of our lives) and in the future, when we will meet him face to face. It is especially for these reasons, that we must take a spiritual approach to the holiday season, an approach of faith that is expressed in the joyful hope that God is in control of our lives and will ultimately guide all of us to himself, according to the Divine plan that he has for each one of us.
Wishing you all of the blessings that this season of hope and joy brings, we thank you for your commitment to your church, to your pastor and to our Metropolia as a whole. Be assured that each of you have a special place in our hearts and in our daily thoughts and prayers. We ask that you continue to remember us also, praying that God continue to guide and bless us, as we work to bring his message of good news to all in our spiritual care.
With the bestowal of our Archpastoral blessing upon all of you, your families, friends and loved ones, both here and oversees, we remain always,
Sincerely Yours in the New-Born Christ,
BISHOP PAUL PETER
THE COUNCIL OF HIERARCHS
UKRAINIAN AUTOCEPHALOUS ORTHODOX CHURCH
North & South America - Western Europe - Ukraine
"There is great rejoicing . . . on this Christmas morning . . . O'rr the manger . . . softly glowing . . . a bright star is shinning . . ."
(Traditional Ukrainian Carol - "Nova Radist Stala")
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