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Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church

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December 3, 2006

Dear Faithful in Christ,

Slava Isusu Khrystu! Glory to Jesus Christ! Gloria a Jesucristo!

This week, the liturgical calendar of the church invites us to begin preparation for the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord. Likewise, in many cultural settings, preparations are well underway for the holiday season. The religious and the secular means of pre-Christmas activities do indeed often seem mutually exclude one another.

The church's focus during the "Nativity Fast" or "Filapivka" has traditionally been on abstainence from certain foods and greater, more austere spiritual activities, while society's aim is to be as glamorous and extravagant as one's means allow, in order to have the most "happy holiday" possible.

Today, one may rightfully feel that it is impossible to reconcile the spiritual with the secular approach to preparation for the holiday season. However, both demand time and reflection. In former years, it seemed easier perhaps, to have a religious experience of Christmas, as the season did not take a heavy focus until the week before December 25 (January 7), and was kept at least, until at least the Feast of the Epiphany (January 6/19) and sometimes until the Presentation of Our Lord on February 2. Today, in most cultures, Christmas is, for all practical purposes, celebrated from Thanksgiving Day (in the USA) until December 25. With the signs, sounds and sights of Christmas all around us, it is difficult to ignore and resist the "temptation" to fall into the "holiday spirit."

As I traveled the Eastern US this past week, for the funeral of the relative of one of our priests, I noticed that in a certain town, with five different Eastern Rite parishes, one of the Orthodox churches, which I know to use the Julian Calendar, with Christmas observed on the 7th. of January, was already decorated extensively with Christmas wreaths, greenery and festive ornamentation. Even this one parish, that uses the "traditional" calendar of the church, was not immune from the cultural influence which dictates that the holiday season has arrived.

It would seem that if we are to try to prepare for the celebration of Our Lord's birth in the most spiritually advantageous manner, we must use the best of both the religious and the cultural/secular opportunities to pass this time of anticipation and good will.

In later times, the church has attempted to place a dual spirit of "joyful expectation" on the celebration of Advent or the Christmas Lent. These weeks remind us not only of the first coming of Christ, over 2000 years ago, but call us to look forward towards the second coming of our Savior, at the consummation of the world. This future coming of Christ will be quite different from the birth celebrated on the 25th. of December. It reminds us to always be vigilant, prepared and to continually anticipate the "time and the hour" of Our Lord's triumphant return.

If we focus on this teaching of faith ("He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead . . . Nicean-Constantinopolitan Creed), all the pagentry and splendor of Christmas really means nothing if we are not living our lives according to the Gospel message and the ideals Jesus imparted to his followers during his first appearance on the earth. As a people who "look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come . . . ibid - Credo), we should rather use this time of holiday preparation to remind ourselves that our King is indeed going to return and it is for this that we should be perfecting our lives daily.

As your Metropolitan and Archpastor, I ask that each of us use these coming weeks to take an honest inventory of our lives, mark out those things which need improvement in the Christian and human sense and make a serious effort to correct and improve where we may be lacking. Our God is tolerant and merciful. He will not turn away from our human weaknesses. Our God is also about justice, and as believers, expects us to work to increase this atmosphere in our own personal lives and in the lives around us of which we are a part and an influence. If we attempt to make ourselves more tolerant, merciful and just, our society as a whole will become more of a place where God's peace and justice reign, and an environment more ready to receive the Prince of Peace.

Wishing our people throughout Anglo and Latin America and in all places of the globe, a spiritually fruitful advent season, I once again assure you of my prayers, while asking for a continued remembrance in yours, so that together we may ask for a "Christian, painless, unashamed, peaceful end of our lives and for a good account before the awesome judgment seat of Christ" (Ektenia/Litany - Anhela Mirna/Angel of Peace).

Faithfully Yours in Christ,

Archbishop of New York
Metropolitan of All America
Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church