Beloved in the Lord my brethren archpastors, honourable presbyters, pious deacons, God-loving monks and nuns and all faithful children of the Russian Orthodox Church. ‘Mercy unto you, and peace, and love, be multiplied’ (Jude 1:2).
It is in these days that we recall how the Son of God came down to men so that each of us may be united with him. Yet so that this opportunity may become a reality, there is required of each of us a response worthy of the divine love – our love, a love which is actual and sacrificial, a love which ‘vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil’ (1 Cor 13:4-5).
An example of this love was revealed to us in the life of His Holiness Patriarch Alexy, whom we recently accompanied on his final journey from this earthly life. Like the good shepherd of the Gospel, he ‘gave his life for the sheep’ (Jn 10:11), entrusted to his care by the Ńhief Shepherd Christ. An undoubted merit of the late Patriarch is the preservation of Church unity granted by God and which no attempts to bring schism and division into Church life could sway. The celebration of the 1020th anniversary of the Baptism of Russia in Moscow, Kiev and Minsk demonstrated clearly the will of the people of the Church for unity. Many thousands of people have again bore testimony that it is in the one Church, that it is in the fullness of the Body of Christ that the truth abides.
With the demise of His Holiness Patriarch Alexy a most important period of the history of our Church has come to a close, a time of great social change. Today we live in a completely different society, dissimilar to the society that emerged from the period of godlessness which was imposed upon us.
At the same time today the peoples who are spiritually nourished by the Russian Church are encountering difficulties in the economic and social sphere that have befallen them externally. Many people have been deprived of work and are enduring material hardship. The Church embraces with compassion all those who are now finding it hard. May the Lord strengthen and bring wisdom to all – those in power, entrepreneurs and simple workers – so that we, through the common labour of accord, mutual aid and the search for proper solutions, are able to help each other to overcome the current difficulties and emerge from them, preserving ourselves and our beloved ones, and preserving peace and harmony in our communities.
Today our Church is going through a special time: we are all drawing closer to the Local Council, at which by the will of the Holy Spirit a new primate – His Holiness the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia - will be elected. In preparing for the coming election, let us remember that love alone creates true conciliarity. ‘Love unites the many into the one body and makes their souls abodes of the Holy Spirit, for it is not in division among ourselves but in souls united that the Spirit of God abides,’ St. John Chrysostom teaches us. St. Paul warns us, ‘Look diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled’ (Heb 12:15). This root is sin; and the root of all sin is pride. There is no room for love in a proud heart. It is only when we leave no room in our souls for hatred, envy and rivalry, but when we open our hearts to love and unity that divine grace will be effective in our lives. It heals our infirmities and compensates for the paucity of our efforts. It grants to us boldness, strength and wisdom, leading the Church by the way of Christ who according to his promise abides with us ‘always, even unto the end of the world’ (Mt 28:20).
On this joyful day I congratulate you from the depths of my heart on the great and world-saving feast of the Nativity of Christ and the New Year of 2009. May it be beneficent and successful, and may we be accompanied on our pathways through life by ‘the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost’ (2 Cor 13:13).
Metropolitan of Smolensk and Kaliningrad
Locum Tenens of the Patriarchal Throne
Nativity of Christ 2008/2009 AD