What shall we offer you, O Christ, because you have appeared on earth as a man for our sakes? For each of the creatures made by you offers you its thanks: the Angels their hymn; the heavens the Star; the Shepherds their wonder; the Magi their gifts; the earth the Cave; the desert the Manger; but we - a Virgin Mother. God before the ages, have mercy on us
Stanza for Lord, I have cried... for Vespers on the Feast of the Nativity of Christ
Dear and beloved of the Lord your graces the archpastors, the whole of the priestly, diaconal and monastic order, pious laymen and women - the faithful children of our Holy Orthodox Church!
We follow today the wise men of old, led by the star of Bethlehem, and come to the manger of the Divine Infant our Lord Jesus Christ. We recall how the Magi 'rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh' (Mt 2: 10 - 11). In entering the feast of the Nativity of Christ we too must ask ourselves: what can we bring to the manger which has now received the God who cannot be contained?
He has no need of our pride, our fame, or our material achievements. Vain thoughts, the alarming events of life and peoples' endeavours to outdo each other will be reduced to naught in his eyes. So then may our main gift to the Saviour born of a Virgin be a strong and sincere faith, a faith an example of which the Most Pure Virgin Mary gave to us when the archangel announced the glad tidings to her: 'Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word' (Lk 1:38). Many today have gotten used to the notion that their free and independent rational mind alone can bring them contentment. Yet the Church over the many centuries of her life has seen how those who have become proud and distanced themselves from God have ultimately become unhappy and pitiful. By contrast, the example of the Most Holy Mother of God speaks to us of the heights that the human person can attain when he submits himself in faith to the will of God. 'The Virgin Mary,' writes St Ephraim the Syrian, 'is the Daughter of the Light, for through her the world and its mansions have been bathed in the Light.' May we too with faith bring to the world the Light which is Christ the Lord.
May another of our gifts offered to the manger of Bethlehem be love - the ardent and active love of one another and to all those who surround us. Let us be guided daily by the words of Christ: 'By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another' (Jn 13:35). Let us accomplish deeds of love and mercy for those who today find it hard and are lonely, who suffer and go through despondency and despair, for such people are always to be found near us.
The mutual love of man and wife, children and parents, strengthened by love of God and neighbour, has always been the foundation of the strong Christian family. The forthcoming year in Russia has been declared the Year of the Family, and in many other countries where our Church serves God concern for the family is paramount. We, the faithful children of Christ's Church, need to manifest this concern with all zeal. The whole of society, especially our young people, must discover anew the simple and eternal truth that where there is no love, mutual responsibility and the willingness to make a gift of one's life to those whom we love there can be neither contentment nor the fullness of life. Divorce, abortion, the striving for wealth and endless pleasure, the neglect of one's own children who so often are deprived of parental affection and upbringing degrade the life of the individual and the entire nation into a joyless existence filled with the pangs of conscience. Yet if in the family love, faith and the joy of mutual self-sacrifice and support for each other reign, then we will be surrounded by yet far more contented people. The fate of our peoples too will change for the better.
Dearly beloved! In this outgoing year the Lord has blessed his Church with peace, joy and success in the many labours undertaken for the salvation of the people of God. On the feast of the Lord's Ascension the fullness of unity was restored between the Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian Church Abroad, to which belong a significant part of our church people dispersed throughout the world. We are now again one Church, strengthened by communion in the sacraments and prayer, bearing witness to the truth of Holy Orthodoxy not only in our homeland but also 'unto the uttermost part of the earth' (Acts 1:8).
The confines of our Church have embraced the precious relics of the holy apostle and evangelist Luke, St Spyridon of Tremithius and St John Chrysostom. There were brought from St Petersburg to Moscow the relics of the holy and right-believing Prince Alexander Nevsky, which in turn were brought to the towns historically linked with the earthly deeds of the heavenly protector of our homeland. A great multitude of the children of the Church came to Orthodox houses of worship to venerate the saints of God, to receive from them spiritual comfort and blessing and to be healed of their infirmities of soul and body.
With the active participation of Orthodox people festivities were held in honour of the six-hundredth anniversary of the demise of St Savva Storozhevsky - disciple of St Sergius of Radonezh, prayerful intercessor for godly Russian rulers and teacher of monks. We prayed for a better future for Russia and the setting straight of her historical paths before the "Reigning" icon of the Mother of God on the ninetieth anniversary of its manifestation. We celebrated prayerfully and solemnly the ninetieth anniversary of the restoration of patriarchal rule in our Holy Church. A memorial cross was brought from Solovki Monastery to Butovo military field in Moscow in memory of the many hundreds of new martyrs and confessors of Russia, for the thousands and thousands of innocently murdered people during the years of the anti-God regime. May God grant that the memory of their spiritual heroism strengthen our nation on the paths of spiritual rebirth.
Throughout the past year I have, by the grace of God, celebrated services in the Russian capital of Moscow, visited parishes and monasteries in the Moscow region and stayed at Valaam Monastery, where I consecrated a hermitage in honour of the Smolensk icon of the Mother of God. The Lord vouchsafed me to visit the Vologda, Izhevsk and Korsun dioceses of our Church and to testify to the spiritual values and social mission of the Orthodox Church before members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. It was of this - of our faith which illumines and transforms the world - that I spoke in meetings with statesmen and people of various faiths and convictions.
The peoples who are spiritually sustained by the Russian Orthodox Church are treading firmly the path of rebirth. Many achievements have already been attained on this path. Yet life brings us difficulties, trials and temptations. In the past years attempts have been made to divide us along national, political and social lines. The Church, which has always been with her people in joy and grief, consistently reminds people that only unity can make us strong, free and capable of transforming the world. The conciliar unity of the people, from which neither the Church nor the secular authorities have any right to distance themselves, is becoming for Russian society the foundation of good deeds.
Let us preserve in holiness 'the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace' (Eph 4:3) in our Church. And during the present radiant feast let us come to know in the depths of our hearts and minds that it is unity to which the Lord, born in Bethlehem, calls us. 'How many blessings,' writes St Basil the Great, 'has the Saviour's becoming man brought us, for divided human nature, torn asunder into thousands of parts by its own powers, is now restored to unity with itself and God.'
Your graces the archpastors, dear fathers, brothers and sisters, it is on the feast of the Nativity of Christ and the forthcoming New Year that I congratulate you all. May the light of the star of Bethlehem illumine our souls, granting us strength to tread the path of Christ. May he grant us health, peace and spiritual strength and guide us through the hard path of life. May the coming year of God's beneficence be for our Holy Church and the people of our world peaceful, creative and blessed with success.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen. (1 Thes 5:28).
Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia
Nativity of Christ