Christmas greetings from the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch BARTHOLOMEW. As the ecumenical Bishop in Orthodoxy, he is also known as “first among equals“. Bartholomew is the Ecumenical, or universal Bishop, a visible unifying and spiritual figure leading all Orthodox as one people, living in one Church, into this new millennia. Orthodoxy knows nothing of a Primacy of the Papacy. Ours is not a “monarchy” ruled by one man claiming to be “vicar” of Christ, but rather a conciliar (council) shared apostolic leadership among brother Bishops all over the world. Where each bishop, no matter the size of the diocese, or the number of parishes under his care, is an equal in the Holy Synod of all Orthodox Bishops. Yet, Bartholomew, holds a place of special significance in that he is “first among equals”, a type of “older brother” or first-born in the family whose responsiblity it is to make sure that the “family is unified, strong and healthy“. He is a godly and good man, living in a nation, Turkey, which once was the seat and source of all Christianity- but which now is an Islamic nation that openly persecutes him, and the Christian community that dwells there today. A wonderful book he recently authored is called “Encountering the Mystery” and I can only say that if you want to know the heart and soul of what it means to be an Orthodox Christian – this book will open your eyes to the fullness of the faith. At the end of this post are a couple of You Tube videos from his recent appearance on 60 Minutes. We are blest beyond words to have leaders in the Church such as Bartholomew. Not only does he understand the Great Apostolic Tradition and the mission of the Church sacramentally, but he is a clarion voice for “theology in action“, in that the incarnational reality of faith is that we act in compassion, justice, and mercy towards each other and toward all of creation. He is known as the “Green Patriach’ for his strong insistence on the care that Christians must exhibit for the creation given to us to tend and care for. All of creation is good, and has been given to us to steward. It does not belong to us – but all creation belongs to God and we show our love for Him and for each other by blessing the world in peace, which so abundantly blesses us.
His is a beautiful life and voice. May the Christmas proclamation from His All Holiness bless you this day and during the Celebration of the Feast of the Nativity.
Christ is born! Glorify Him!
By God’s Grace
Archbishop of Constantinople-New Rome
and Ecumenical Patriarch
To the Plenitude of the Church Grace, peace and mercy from the Savior Christ Born in Bethlehem
Beloved concelebrants and blessed children in the Lord,
Heaven and earth have united
Through the birth of Christ.
Today, God has appeared on earth,
And man has ascended to heaven.
The distance and separation between God and humanity resulting from sin has been abolished with the assumption of the entire human nature by the Only-Begotten Son and Pre-eternal Word of God. It was God’s good will – that is to say, His initiative and will – that the incarnation of His Son should abolish all such distance uniting heaven and earth, as well as creation with its Creator.
During the Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos, the Church chanted: “Today is the beginning of God’s good will and the proclamation of human salvation.” During that feast, through the dedication of the blessed Mary to the temple and her preparation there to become the bearer of the boundless God, the road was paved for the incarnate dispensation of God, which foretold our salvation.
During the feast of the Annunciation, when the divine conception of the Inconceivable occurred through the Holy Spirit within the womb of the Theotokos and divine nature began to coexist with human nature in order that – as St. Athanasius the Great articulated it – “we might become deified,” the Church again chanted: “Today is the beginning of our salvation and the revelation of the pre-eternal mystery; the Son of God becomes the son of the Virgin.” Thus, the “divine good will” welcomed at the Entrance, as well as the salvation commenced and revealed at the Annunciation, are today rendered a tangible reality, as we celebrate the great and holy day of Christmas. Today, “the Word assumes flesh and dwells among us” (John 1.14), while the Angels celebrate the event, chanting: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will among humankind.” (Luke 2.14)
With the Incarnation of the Divine Word, the salvation of the human race has already potentially occurred. For those who believe in Jesus, live in accordance with this faith, fulfilling His commandments and practicing His teaching, are thereby elevated to become the friends and participants of God! They become “partakers of divine nature” (2 Peter 1.14), gods by grace! This takes place exclusively within the Church, where we are reborn in Christ and adopted by the Father through Holy Baptism and through the holy Sacraments, as well as by cultivation of virtue in order to be filled with divine grace and the Holy Spirit, growing “to maturity, to the measure o the full stature of Christ” (Eph. 4.13) until we reach the level of saying, like St. Paul: “It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.” (Gal. 2.20) Those who acquire such perfection are not regarded by Christ simply as His friends or brothers, but are recognized by Him as members of His Body. This is why, from the height of the Cross, he would say to His Most Holy Mother about the Evangelist John: “Woman, here is your son,” and to John: “Here is your mother.” (John 19.26-27) Christmas, therefore, opens wide the door of human “christification” and deification by grace; and for this reason, “the entire creation rejoices in celebration and the heavens delight with us” on this day of significance and salvation.” (Hymn of December 28)
With these joyful and hopeful realities before us, from the sacred See of the Ecumenical Patriarchate at the Phanar, we extend to you our fervent festive congratulations and wholehearted Patriarch wishes on this central feast of the Christian calendar. We greet all of our beloved faithful throughout the world, the beloved children of the holy Mother Church – clergy of all levels, monastics and laity, pastors and parishioners, and especially those suffering, experiencing sorrow, need or trial. May the pre-eternal Son of God – who was born in a cave and lay in a manger – who for our sake became Son of Man, render all of us worthy of his self-emptying love and of His sacred, venerable incarnate dispensation.
At the Phanar, Christmas 2009
Bartholomew of Constantinople